Grand Central Station, 1989:
Photos of 1980s New York by Richard Sandler.
Interesting times ahead in Lebanon:
Saudi Arabia is to give Lebanon's army a grant of $3bn (£1.8bn, 2.8bn euros).
Lebanese President Michel Suleiman made the announcement in a televised address after the funeral of a senior Lebanese politician killed in a car bomb attack. He said it would help fight terrorism.
Mohamad Chatah, a Sunni Muslim, was a staunch critic of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanon's Shia Hezbollah movement that backs him.
Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah have taken opposite sides in the Syrian conflict.
"The king of the brotherly Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is offering this generous and appreciated aid of $3bn to the Lebanese army to strengthen its capabilities," Mr Suleiman said in his address.
He said it was the largest assistance provided in Lebanon's history and would be used to buy weapons from France.
Three billion dollars - at the risk of stating the obvious - is no small change. And straightaway we see Lebanon flexing its new-found muscle:
Lebanese troops have fired at Syrian warplanes violating its airspace, for what is thought to be the first time since the conflict in Syria began.
Lebanon's National News Agency said the army had responded to a raid on Khirbet Daoud, near Arsal in the Bekaa Valley.
Syrian government forces have fired into Lebanon in the past, targeting rebels sheltering over the border.
The Lebanese authorities had until now not responded militarily, hoping they would not be dragged into the war.
It appears that, with the US sitting this one out, the Sunni powers are taking their own steps to counter Iranian influence - with the help of their new-found ally, France.
It's not good news for Hezbollah, who already, as Michael Young has argued, have found themselves out of their depth in the Syrian conflict - "transformed into cannon fodder in a battle against Al-Qaeda, when its initial goal was merely to defend Assad rule".
But then it's not good news for anyone anxious to see an end to the escalating Sunni-Shia conflict:
As a direct challenge to Hezbollah, the Saudi gift—and the Lebanese president's acceptance—has potential to change the balance of power in Lebanon and the region. It also threatens to raise sectarian and political tensions further in a region already made volatile by the three-year, heavily sectarian civil war next door in Syria.
The well-known painting by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze celebrates the surprise attack by Washington's men against the Hessian forces at Trenton, New Jersey in the Battle of Trenton, Christmas 1776. It's a sufficiently iconic moment in the story of the American Revolution for regular Christmas Day re-enactments:
It's also, I've just learned, the title of a sonnet:
A hard, howling, tossing water scene.
Strong tide was washing hero clean.
"How cold!" Weather stings as in anger.
O Silent night shows war ace danger!
The cold waters swashing on in rage.
Redcoats warn slow his hint engage.
When star general's action wish'd "Go!"
He saw his ragged continentals row.
Ah, he stands – sailor crew went going.
And so this general watches rowing.
He hastens – winter again grows cold.
A wet crew gain Hessian stronghold.
George can't lose war with's hands in;
He's astern – so go alight, crew, and win!
Written by in 1936 by David Shulman, it may not seem a particularly inspired piece of work at first glance, but there is one element of the poem that makes it extraordinary: it's an anagrammatic sonnet. That is, every line is an anagram of the title, "Washington Crossing the Delaware".
Just as a magician does not like to disclose his modus operandi, so I am loath to disclose mine. As Mr. Hofstadter pointed out, I wrote the sonnet in 1936; and now, after waiting 60 years, I find that nobody so far has equaled or surpassed it.
Indeed. It may seem like pointless game-playing, but it's also an astonishing tour de force.
An Islamic extremist leader in northeastern Nigeria says the bloody insurgency will continue because Allah says they must decapitate and mutilate.
In a video newly released Saturday, Abubakar Shekau claims responsibility for the Dec. 20 attack on a tank battalion barracks and says his men would have eaten their enemies, but Allah forbids cannibalism.
As anyone who's followed the career of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan will know, his favourite method of cowing the opposition is to accuse them of plotting against him. It's politics fuelled by paranoia. The most famous case to date, and seemingly the most successful, was the "Ergenekon" trial, which ended in August with the conviction of nearly three hundred defendants - former generals, politicians, journalists - on the charge of belonging to a clandestine ultra-nationalist terrorist organization dubbed Ergenekon, dedicated to the overthrow of the government by a military coup.
Now Erdogan is in trouble, and it may well be that the old tactic of reaching for the nearest conspiracy theory has, this time, let him down:
In May and June, Istanbul and other cities were rocked by demonstrations against the government that took Erdogan and company by surprise. The size and duration of the protests unhinged the government. It was then that Erdogan made a critical mistake. Instead of searching for a political solution, he decided not just to confront the demonstrators but also to delegitimize them and their demands by inventing a vast external conspiracy as the source of the protests. He and his supporters in the government, media, and elsewhere unleashed a virulent and non-stop campaign backed by imaginary information of how "an interest lobby," the United States, European countries, the German airline Lufthansa, the foreign media, the Financial Times, Reuters, CNN, and the Economist, to name a few, and of course the Jews and Israel together cooperated in this endeavor. The protesters and their allies in civil society and even in some business circles were therefore nothing more than the pawns of this evil cabal.
There were two problems with this campaign. First, Erdogan, possibly misled by his advisors, appears to have not understood the depth of the protests and the extent to which this was about his increasingly authoritarian tendencies. More importantly, the AKP brass came to believe that this strategy solidified his electoral base in advance of the March 2014 municipal elections. Second, it damaged Turkey's image abroad and harmed Ankara's most important international alliances. Indeed, U.S. President Barack Obama, who two weeks before the Gezi protests in May and June had dined with Erdogan in the White House, has allegedly stopped talking to him. Washington and European capitals were understandably shocked that they were blamed for attempting to overthrow him....
The public this time seems far more skeptical of the conspiracy theories.....the explanations have stretched credulity: They range from the foreign conspirators planting the money and equipment to monies collected to build a school somewhere in Turkey or to be donated to a Balkan university -- take your pick...
Uncharacteristically, Erdogan this time yielded under pressure and reshuffled his cabinet. While he may recover, he is a much more diminished person at home and internationally. He will suffer losses in the municipal elections, but he has time to recover even if not completely before the presidential and general elections. Still, the Gezi protests have had a cumulative impact on his predicament. At home it is becoming more and more difficult for the public to buy into the fantastical conspiracy theories that target Turkey and Erdogan.
On the increasing Islamisation of Indonesia, from Andreas Harsono at (surprisingly) CiF:
Here’s a seasonal snapshot from Indonesia’s Aceh province: on 20 December, dozens of militant Islamists rallied outside one of the largest hotels in Banda Aceh, the provincial capital, threatening violence if the hotel management attempted to organise Christmas or New Year’s Eve celebrations. The protest was to support an edict from the province’s leading Islamic cleric’s organization, the Consultative Ulama Council, prohibiting Muslims from any recognition of the Christmas season.
Hostility to Christmas is, of course, nothing new among Islamic clerics.
An October 2007 regulation in Aceh on the construction of houses of worship has resulted in unreasonable limitations on the ability of religious minorities to build and renovate churches and temples. In May 2012 alone, that law prompted authorities to forcibly close 17 Christian churches and a house of worship for one of Aceh’s many indigenous native faiths. On 17 June 2012 Islamist militants destroyed the GBI Peunayong Protestant church on the pretext that it was illegal. Governor Irwandi Yusuf had inflamed the situation by declaring in May 2011 that several non-Sunni sects and religions followed “deviant teachings.”
Such intolerance is becoming distressingly common across Indonesia. Indonesia's Setara Institute, which monitors religious freedom in Indonesia, documented 243 incidents of physical violence in the first 10 months of 2013, compared with 264 in all of 2012, up from 216 in 2010.
Women in Aceh are under siege from four Sharia-inspired criminal bylaws enacted in July 2003 that impose punitive restrictions on freedom of association and expression. These laws apply to both women and men, but local activists say that the Sharia police, who enforce them, apply them more often and more harshly against women and girls.
One of the laws imposes “seclusion,” making it a crime for two adults of the opposite sex who are not married or related by blood to be together in an isolated place. This broadly worded law has been interpreted to prohibit merely sitting and talking in a quiet space with a member of the opposite sex. The authorities have even targeted people eating or studying together. Sharia police officials say they sometimes force women and girls suspected of violating the seclusion law to submit to “virginity exams,” which are invasive and demeaning. Violators face between three and nine lashes from a rattan cane.
Another restrictive bylaw imposes “Islamic” public dress requirements for Muslims. In practice it imposes far more onerous restrictions on women, requiring them to cover their hair with the hijab headscarf in public and forbidding them from wearing body-hugging clothing. In Banda Aceh, the Sharia police regularly organise sweeps against women with tight jeans. Aceh’s Sharia police chief told Human Rights Watch, “We focus on everybody, but it’s usually women that make mistakes.” Police arrested Putri Erlina, 16, in 2012, allegedly for violating her town’s seclusion law. After local media reported her arrest, Erlina wrote a note saying she could not endure the shame and hanged herself.
A series of bylaws enacted in recent years in Aceh’s 23 regencies have further restricted women’s rights. The city of Lhokseumawe rolled out a regulation last January banning women from straddling motorcycles – only riding side-saddle is permitted. In neighboring Bireuen, a local regulation enacted in May prohibits women from dancing. In Meulaboh, in western Aceh, a decree imposed in January 2010 forbids women from wearing pants.
The mayor of Lhokseumawe gave his reasons for the new regulations - "Women sitting on motorbikes must not sit astride because it will provoke the male driver....We want to save women from things that will cause them to violate shariah law. We wish to honour women with this ban because they are delicate creatures".