Weekly WikiLinks, 17 November 2016

It’s been a week since the elections, and I’ve been reconsidering my politics-free approach. Due to the tone of one particular candidate turned president-elect, it seems very privileged of me to turn around and ignore communities that are threatened by the normalization of discrimination, harassment, and assault. I do respect people who want nothing to do with this, and I hope to find balance with external affairs and internal interests. With that in mind, on Monday I decided to become a card-carrying member of the Democratic Socialists of America1. I will write more about what I’ve been thinking and feeling recently.

  1. The Democratic Socialists of America is the largest socialist organization in the United States and a member of the Socialist International, an global umbrella group of socialist parties. From an anecdotal scroll through the DSA’s Twitter feed, it seems many people are joining either out of spite from Establishment Democrat behavior or out of hope for what Senator Bernie Sanders brought to the primaries. DSA is entirely member-funded and publishes a quarterly newsletter called Democratic Left.
  2. Omar Ibn Said was a Fula writer and scholar born to a wealthy family in the Futa Tooro region of Senegal. He was captured in battle and enslaved and sent to the United States. He escaped only to be recaptured. While he supposedly converted to Christianity and died still enslaved, many believe he continued to practice Islam. He wrote Arabic manuscripts while in captivity.
  3. Chinguetti is perhaps the oldest town in the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. Legend says that it was founded in 777, a significant year in Islam. The sand covered this place until it was refounded in the 13th century. Most people who visit Mauritania know Chinguetti as the city of libraries, much like its Saharan twin city Timbuktu in the Republic of Mali. There was a French Foreign Legion fortress here during French colonial administration, which they ran from Saint-Louis in what is now Senegal.
  4. Most Americans know about the horrible internment camps for Japanese-American citizens during World War II. There were also Aleut internment camps in Southwest Alaska, following the invasion of a small Japanese force on the islands of Attu and Kiska.
  5. George Catlin was an American painter most famous for his travels and depictions of Plains Indians in the 19th century. He was inspired by the Lewis and Clark expedition and wanted to learn more about indigenous Americans before their culture vanished due to westward expansion.

  1. I don’t think there is an actual card. But if there was, I would carry one. I might be carrying a different sort of card soon. 

Elections and the View from Afar

On Tuesday, I was scheduled to visit the U.S. Embassy in Nouakchott to renew my aging passport. The complex is next to the Spanish Embassy. It is heavily guarded, as are most Western embassies and consulates in the city. I passed through a few checkpoints before entering the grounds. When I reached the first building, I was asked for my appointment papers, passport, and to turn over my phone. To my right was the consular services room. It had glass windows on its side. I was told to wait there for the person who would take my application and passport renewal fees.

As I was sitting, I noticed the portraits of Barack Obama and John Kerry hanging beneath the administrator windows. I’ve been abroad for most of President Obama’s tenure. I have experienced very little anti-Americanism in Sierra Leone and Mauritania. I started thinking about the next president’s portrait, hanging in an American embassy in an Islamic republic in West Africa, how awkward this face will appear, looking down on Mauritanians and Americans working for our interests abroad, in diplospeak. How will this president conduct himself on the world stage—with people of color, women, Muslims?

I shuttered at this thought. For all his faults and his foreign policy, President Obama at least conducted himself throughout his eight years with some decorum. I’m not so sure about No. 45.

Weekly WikiLinks, 9 November 2016

No, there’s no political scandal here. Every Wednesday, I’ll share five articles from Wikipedia that have caught my attention through another source like books or film, or from browsing—often aimlessly, sometimes deliberately. Most of them won’t be time-sensitive or related to current events, as I explained in my previous post many months ago. Okay, let’s dive into the wondrous world of Wikipedia.

  1. The space opera sub-genre is not men and women singing falsetto in zero gravity. It describes literature, films, or television shows with melodramatic elements that are set entirely or mainly in space. I’ve had the pleasure of watching Syfy’s new show The Expanse recently. The world that writer duo James S.A. Corey has (or have) created for the Expanse novels is spectacular; 200 years into the future, Mars, the asteroid belt, and moons on larger planets have been colonized. Mars and Earth are in a cold war, and the communities in the Asteroid Belt are caught in the middle.
  2. Silbo Gomero is the whistled language of La Gomera, one of the Canary Islands of Spain off the coast of the Western Sahara. El Silbo is still used by Gomerans to communicate from up to 5 kilometers across the ravines and valleys of the island. The language has two vowels and four consonants. It is believed to have pre-dated Spanish colonization. They also teach Silbo Gomero in schools.
  3. The Tanzimat reforms were enacted to modernize the Ottoman Empire starting in 1839. They were influenced by the Napoleonic Code and the modernization of Europe. The Tanzimat reforms were seen as a way to revive a declining old war empire. The abolition of slavery, the first Ottoman post offices, the decriminalization of homosexuality, the first census (males only this time), and the replacement of guilds with factories were all part of these reforms.
  4. The benefits of spending a few weeks to study Esperanto has been well researched. Due to its regular grammar and easy phonetics, Esperanto can be used as a bridge to other spoken languages. Esperantists are also very passionate and helpful. Try Duolingo for a little bit and see if it’s interesting to you.
  5. I had no idea the British overseas territory of Saint Helena even existed until I was using the West Africa page to help an EAL student with some geography. The remote island is the second-oldest British overseas territory. It was uninhabited when the Portuguese found it. Napoleon was exiled there by the British. There’s only a few thousand people who live on the island, as many islanders have moved to the UK.