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The worst moments in the siege of Dammaj came in late November and early December of last year. During those weeks, the villagers in this little-visited, extraordinarily pious settlement in the northwest corner of Yemen had no access to the only hospital in the region, and dwindling supplies of food. Meanwhile, from day to day, snipers in the hills picked off the citizens as they walked to their mosque. The origins of this conflict lie in the age-old Sunni-Shia split. The attacking army is made up of fighters who adhere to a tradition within Shia Islam known as Zaydism.

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For years, those obsessed with forcing Israel to make all kinds of concessions to the Palestinians—on territory, on settlements, on refugees, on Jerusalem, on security, on water, on air space, on everything, in fact—argued that the occupation was the powder keg on which the kings and colonels of the Arab world sat waiting for it to explode. This was and is a curiously Judeo-centric perspective on the world.

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There's lots of Yemen commentary flying around the Internet right now, and an environmental blog obviously isn't going to be anyone's go-to place for it, but via Kevin Drum, I was surprised to see how many of Yemen's problems are exacerbated by resource issues. Here's Richard Fontaine and Andrew Exum in the Los Angeles Times: Yemen's economy depends heavily on oil production, and its government receives the vast majority of its revenue from oil taxes. Yet analysts predict that the country's petroleum output, which has declined over the last seven years, will fall to zero by 2017.

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To build a building is hard; to criticize a building is, by comparison, easy. For a serious critic, the impulse to write uncomplimentary things should always provoke a bout of preliminary introspection. Does one write from the lofty principle that truth must be spoken to power, or at least to fashion? Will the reader come away from this exercise in scorching criticism of buildings and urban spaces with a heightened appreciation for the built environment and its importance to our daily lives?

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A FRIEND RECENTLY TOLD me that his most important pedagogical tool as an architect is this maxim: the architect's primary ethical responsibility is to be the guardian of the public realm, in contrast to the myriad others who currently configure our built landscape— clients, politicians, contractors, developers, and NIMBY-driven "community action" committees.

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Bad Fences

How Saudi Arabia and Yemen's fraught relationship threatens us all.

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Basket Catch

How good an ally is Yemen's government?

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