Tag Archives: Crime and Punishment

No Swimming, Wading, Dog-Bathing or Skateboarding

A very specific sign outside the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton.

A very specific sign outside the Woodrow Wilson School, Princeton.

If the rather disparate ideas of swimming, wading, dog-bathing, or skateboarding in an empty, frigid, December fountain plaza in the middle of an Ivy League campus ever occur to you:  please don’t.

First of all, the nice people in charge here at Princeton have put up a very explicit sign forbidding such conduct.  (Note the word PROHIBITED is in all-caps.)

Second, they’ve erected an enormous procession of Chinese Zodiac-themed statues overlooking the potential location of your chicanery.  Leering and toothy, these figures seem like they have been placed here just to ensure, in case you’ve missed the sign, that the bejesus will be scared out you.  Any crazy thoughts of splashing around in the waterless fountain will safely subside after you glance up from your frolic to notice twelve sets of beady eyes and bronzed teeth (is the rabbit the scariest of them all?) staring at you.

However you look at it, it’s a little weird, a little NQR.

Just in case you missed the sign.

Just in case you missed the sign and feel like taking a dip.


Why I Will Be Boycotting NFL Football

This photo says it all.  NQR.  I’d rather watch WWF than NFL right now, until they get back the real referees.

The Green Bay Packers robbed of a victory. Incontrovertible proof that the final play was an interception.

By the way, here is a link to participate in an organized boycott of the NFL by angry Packer’s fans like me.


Terrible Product Name – Fierce ANL Fuse

Found this one just now, while searching for a car adaptor for my kids’ Wii video game system.

Since, earlier, I posted some weird company names from the Middle East — Butt Sweet House, Mohammad Ibrahim Law Firm (which advertises using its acronym), and Coq Magique — I thought it would only be fair to show an American counterpart.  What’s more, there is absolutely no reason, no language barrier, no cultural misunderstanding, that should allow such a name as this to ever, ever hit the market.  Pure copywriting failure.

The image speaks for itself.  Enjoy.

"Fierce ANL Fuse" proudly sold at a Best Buy near you.


Utter Academic Infamy

Over the last few week’s one of my courses has introduced me to a man known as Ibn Tabrazadh who was born about a thousand years ago in Baghdad.  He was a scholar of hadith and a fairly widely circulating scholar at that, with many later thinkers and jurists quoting from him or being ‘downstream’ from him in the flow of the semi-oral traditions and teachings that surround many of the hadith works and commentaries.

But, for one reason or another, Ibn Tabrazadh’s primary bibliographic entry in Dhahabi’s compendium absolutely vilifies him.  I provide, here, a few of the choice quotes (translations my own) of how lovingly Ibn Tabrazadh has been remembered.  May these be lessons to us all, that no matter the scope of our work, the appreciation (or lack thereof) for our earthly endeavors is certainly up-for-grabs, the product of the whims and morals of those who follow us.  It also should be a lesson to not-piss-off-your-fellow-academics-or-writers as they wield the pens (or iPads) upon which legacies rise or fall.

Whether Ibn Tabrazadh deserves this degree of infamy, I truly don’t know.  Only these few words from Dhahabi remain to enlighten us.  The quotations make me laugh rather than feel any strong moral revulsion.  But I do feel a nagging sort of NQR-ness about amusing myself at the expense of this man, even across such a chasm of time and culture.

1.  Called المؤدب or ‘litterateur’ which, I feel, was likely a first glancing salvo launched from within the strict canons of academia.

2.  Called ضعيف or ‘weak’ in his trustworthiness as a narrator of hadith (this is the overall measure applied to his reliability after consideration of all the information in this biography — not a real shocking conclusion, if you read on).

3.  Called خليعا and ماجنا and كاغد all of which are new words for me but mean, roughly, ‘depraved’ and ‘shameless’ and ‘scoundrel’

(it gets worse)

4.  Called يؤدب الصبيان or, roughly, a ‘tutor of boys,’ which is a double-edged insult, both elucidating the fact that he used his hadith knowledge to earn money and, also, hinting that he was only good enough to instruct youngsters.  Certainly not an anachronistic reference to Penn State.

5.  More bluntly, one commentator in his biography says, لم يكن يفهم شيئا من العلم which means “he didn’t know a damn thing about knowledge.”

6.  He was called ‘negligent in religion’ (I think this is the true source of the invective) . . . متهاونا بأمور الدين

7.  One person remembers that he ‘saw him more than once urinate while standing . . . and then sit without cleaning himself either with water or stones’ (an offense probably akin to peeing-on-the-toilet-seat-and-not-wiping-it-up nowadays).  In arabic, very seriously toned, راينه غير مرة يبول من قيام . . . وقعد من غير استنجاء بماء ولا حجر (Note that Dhahabi himself ventures a guess, by way of apology for this egregious defamation, that perhaps Ibn Tabrazadh had a fatwa excusing him from cleansing himself.)

8.  (Again, to the heart of the matter) . . . cited for not undertaking prayers.  لا يقوم لصلاة

9.  And, more explicitly than before, he is accused of كان يطلب الأجر على رواية الحديث ‘being in the habit of requesting payment before reciting hadith.’

10.  Lastly, reminiscent of Dante, a later scholar says that he dreams of a dead Ibn Tabrazadh ‘wearing a blue robe . . . in a House of Fire inside a House of Fire.’  رايت عمر بن طبرزذ في النوم بعد موته وعليه ثوب أزرق . . . في بيت من نار داخل بيت من نار

Dude.  Not the kind of stuff I want written on my headstone!


Bad Hotel Name

Of all the NQR items I noticed during the course of my explorations throughout the Middle East and the surrounding areas, none are quite as not right as the four I’ll include in this series — business names gone awry.

The reason these names seem so poignantly incorrect must be firmly attributed to the western perspective brought to them.  Surely they can’t have been intentional.  Surely the business owners must have had good reason for choosing such names.  Surely they must have been (and must still remain) blissfully ignorant of the associations an American, or a European, will likely make with their chosen labels.

Anyway, here is the first:  Hotel ‘Clytemnestra’ near Mycene in Greece.

Clytemnestra was the (perhaps mythical) Queen of the Mycenaens at the time of Homer’s epic Iliad.  Sister to the famous Helen and wife of Agammemnon who was the leader of the Greeks at the seige of Troy — she murdered her husband in his bathtub when he returned (after 10 years) from his adventures.

Hotel advertisement near Mycene, Greece. Photo taken by Bridget Buchholz.

Now, admittedly, Agammemnon provoked Clytemnestra both by being absent for so long and by bringing his new young concubine Cassandra with him in his chariot to the doorstep of his palace.  However, this doesn’t dull the shiver in my spine at the thought of a modern-day hotel that not only calls itself Clytemnestra but also advertises a nice warm bath to the world weary traveler!

It’s also worth noting that having a bath is a mark of distinction for hotels in the area — a legitimate point of comparison and surely an attraction for most hotel-goers.


Grand Theft Auto

Oman, and most of the Gulf Countries for that matter, have a very low incidence of crime, including theft.  But, whereas the more familiar types of street-crime and violence are largely subdued by a culture that relies heavily on a Quranic thou-shalt-not (or else!) mentality, white collar crimes, and shady-dealing in general, certainly occur.

From the Wall Street Journal.

The experience I am about to relate has been echoed and seconded by many of my friends and associates here in Oman.  It’s not an uncommon one, even back in the U.S., although the scope of larceny and the almost invincible monopoly that car dealerships have here in Oman, with only one company licensed to sell each brand of car, makes the matter much more frustrating and lends a familiar (though larger scale) fleecing a definite air of being Not Quite Right.

Here’s what happened:

1.  I took my Volkswagen Jetta to the sole VW dealership in Oman because the alternator died.

2. They tried to charge me 400 Omani rial, or 1038.96 US dollars, for a new alternator.

3.  I looked online, bought one from a website and had it shipped here for about 300 US dollars.

4.  The dealership replaced the alternator in an impressively timely fashion and even came in well under the labor estimate they provided me.  I was happy.

5.  Then, just as I was about to sign for the car, the sales rep in the maintenance department told me that the A/C unit was no longer working.

6.  The A/C was working when I brought the car in.

7.  They said it wasn’t.

8.  I said it was.

9.  I got mad and reverted to a stereotypical Type-A American neanderthal approach, going red-faced and making a scene in their precious glimmering showroom (they sell Audis and Bentleys from the same building).

10.  The manager came out.  We ‘discussed’ things.  We had tea.  He said he would personally check on the car.

11.  I called the US Embassy to see if there was any legal recourse, any sort of consumer-affairs bureau or hotline I could contact in the event of being unable to come to terms privately with the manager or the company.  (There is, actually, a newly established hotline that went into place after the recent protests here in Oman, one of the government’s responses to claims of ministerial corruption.  The number, if you need it, is 2481-7013.)

12.  In the meantime I asked the sales rep from the maintenance department for an estimate on how much the A/C would cost to fix (it has been 110F or more every day for the last two weeks here in Muscat, A/C is a lifesaver!)

13.  Quote for new compressor, new condenser, new A/C fanbelt:  1800 Omani rial = 4675.33 in US dollars.  The helpful sales rep, himself a hired Philipino worker who probably makes about 1/3 the pay a similar guy would make in the US, noted how much I had saved by ordering the alternator from America and had a good chuckle, with his Indian co-worker, about the outrageous prices his own company charges for parts.

14.  I prepared to really dig-in my heels and fight with the management over the damage their maintenance workers OBVIOUSLY did to my A/C unit.  My position, from which I told myself I would not budge:  “The thing worked when I dropped the car off.  It sure as hell better work when I take it home.”

15.  With a smile on his face, the manager returned to me, maybe fifteen minutes later, saying:  “All is fine.  A/C is working.”

While, superficially, this was a great relief (I was able to drive the car home that day and have had no problems with it since then) I have come to the conclusion that the whole thing was a charade, a ploy to get me to do more work on the car, work that WASN’T EVEN NECESSARY.

If this sort of thing happened in America, on this scale, Ralph Nader would actually have a chance to win the Presidency.  Blah.  Not Right At All.


Equal Opportunity Slaughter

Male pharoah at Merowe, Sudan, slaying his prisoners.

While the record is certainly not blank with regard to a history of powerful and influential women — Catherine the Great, Joan of Arc, Catherine de Medici, Eleanor Roosevelt, Queens Victoria and Elizabeth, Rosa Parks, Cleopatra — nowhere does a graphical depiction of absolute equality between the sexes exist with such profudity as that which still stands at the Temple Complex of Merowe in Northern Sudan.

Here, on the left hand wall of a massive, 20-ft high bas relief, a male pharoah raises his sceptre to smite the knot of enemy heads he grasps by the hair.  In traditional Egyptian iconography, the pharoah stands three or four times the size of those he is about to kill, a statement of his superiority and a nice artistic touch to allow the masses in their domination to be better portrayed, often literally, under foot.  The pharoah’s dog waits, teeth bared, between his legs to feast on the carcasses of the slain.

Female pharaoh, partaking in the slaughter with apparent gusto.

This bas relief itself really doesn’t depart too widely from many of the other Egyptian retellings of war conquest.  What sets it apart is the matching right-hand panel of this same wall.  Here, the queen partakes in a very equal-opportunity sort of slaughter, with an equal number of enemy prisoners gathered by their locks in her hand while her other arm — this time with sword rather than with sceptre — hovers menacingly above them.

The best part of all of this, the part that stands in such stark contrast (an almost ‘Not Quite Right‘ sort of contrast) when compared to the lithe images of other female Egyptian rulers like Nefertiti, is this woman’s stylized yet very full, very womanly figure.  It is nice to see power displayed in such a way:  equal, unsparing, and devoid of the expectation that a woman in power rules through guile or charm rather than through the sort of brute physicality this long-gone pair of pharoahs demonstrated.


Coffee in Chop Chop Square

Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, isn’t known as a tourist hotspot.  It’s right in the middle of the Saudi Arabian desert, high, hot/cold, dusty, and policed by a force called the Mutawwa who ensure strict adherence to Islamic standards of morality, arresting unescorted women, shutting down public revelry, enforcing modesty in dress, generally outlawing fun.  So, it was with some surprise that we spent three quite full days ‘touring’ the sites of Riyadh.

First, the souq was a real souq, a working souq, where anything could be purchased and where the prices were reasonable.  We (errr . . . my wife Angie) bought a decent version of a brand-name purse for about $40.

Then we toured Musmak Fort where the Family Saud, on horseback, stormed the front gate in 1902 to re-unite Arabia.  All the displays had been removed to participate in a touring exhibit, but the painted and carven doors were beautiful and the place had a cleanness and realness to it that made it simple and interesting.

The third event, the National Museum, was also well-worth our time, on par with Smithsonian for presentation but with a Saudi and Islamic skew to all the displays.

Deira Square, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Yet, the most moving, the most gut wrenching of the sites we visited was Deira Square.  Called “Chop-Chop Square” by the expat community, it is the site where Saudi Arabia conducts its public executions and corporal punishments, Friday mornings after communal prayer.  While the larger social issue of capital/corporal punishment, its pros and cons, has been debated elsewhere, the Not Quite Right moment, the contrast, made itself felt on the square itself, even on a non-execution day.  It’s a big place, colonnaded, and on three of the four sides it is bordered by Musmak Fort, the souq, and a big government mosque.  It is a communal area.  And it has been invaded by commercialism:  coffee shops, snack shops, vendors selling cashews and candy tucked away under the colonnades.

I found myself — mocha in one hand, a bag with my wife’s new faux Versace purse in the other — standing at the spot where Saudi’s condemned kneel and look upward at a dust-filled sky as the sword of righteousness dispatches them.

In that place, drinking my coffee, I was the element of Not Quite Right.