28 October 2005

A Beautiful Day in the Neighberhood....

Can you say schadenfreude? .... good.... I knew you could.

23 October 2005

And one more note on Islam: The Mosque

When I was at Franklin Sherman elementary school in McLean in the early 60's, my sixth grade class went into Washington for a field trip. One of the places we went was the Mosque that had been built for the personnel of Muslim embassy workers and as a show case for Islam in the New World. It was a fascinating trip for a 12 year old, and I can remember parts of it clearly: the fountain in the inner courtyard, the young North Africans by the fountain that one of the teachers spoke to in French, and the guide telling us in clear but limping English the basics about Islam. I have been back to the mosque several times over the years. Each time, though I only stand and watch as a tourist, I have been touched by a sense of quiet serenity enhanced by both the worshippers and the architecture. It has always been a restful, even spiritual feeling.

Except for the last time. I went with my lady of the time, and though she covered herself as advised she received some hard stares. She took it as hostility, and from her perhaps I picked up that same feeling. It was disturbing: a place I had found contemplation and serenity gone hard and icy. To this day I do not know if there really was a change, or we were simply being too sensitive to a place we did not really understand.

I will go back soon.

Another note on Islam

Akbar S Ahmed, in Discovering Islam, has the following quote;

"Understandably in the capitols of the West, among non-Muslims, Muslims, like the Egyptian scholar Muhammad Abduh, saw many of the Islamic virtues -- piety, cleanliness, compassion, knowledge -- 'I saw no Islam but many Muslims.' At home he despaired -- 'I saw Islam but no Muslims.'"

This is an important observation and sentiment, but I have never been sure exactly what Muhammad Abduh meant. Does anyone know?

A Note about Muhammad

Muhammad was a modest man. If you seek to learn of his life from the Koran you will be disappointed. Other than a few unconnected incidents referred to obliquely there is nothing there about the man. Later Muslims tried to preserve as many eyewitness accounts about Muhammad as they could discover after his death. In some cases, long after his death. Martin Lings has taken these accounts to form a narrative of Muhammad's life in English, entitled Muhammad: his life based on the earliest sources.

One of the best and most authoritative accounts was by Ibn Ishaq who tells the story of Muhammad's ascent into Heaven on the back of a winged creature called Buraq. While in Heaven Muhammad approached the Lote Tree of the Uttermost End, which as one of the oldest commentators on the Koran says, 'marks the end of the knowledge of every knower, be he Archangel or Prophet-Messenger. All beyond is a hidden mystery, unknown to any save God Alone.'

According to Ibn Ishaq it was at the Lote Tree, enshrouded in the Divine Light, that Muhammad received the Revelation which contains the creed of Islam: 'The messenger believeth, and the faithful believe in what hath been revealed unto him from his Lord. Each one believeth in God and His angels and His books and His messengers: we made no distinction between any of his messengers. And they say: we hear and we obey; grant us, Thou our Lord, Thy forgiveness; unto Thee is the ultimate beginning.' [my emphasis]

For my own reasons, this message about God's messengers and books appeals to me greatly.

Quotes for the Week:

These quotes actually are from The Week, a wonderful magazine that offers 'the best of the U.S. and international Media'. Pick up a copy at your newstand and if you like it, subscribe.

'It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.'
Ralph Waldo Emerson
[I hope any readers of this blog are prepared to consider themselves 'old friends']

'Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't.'
Mark Twain

'Jean-Paul Sartre was 24 and Simone de Beauvoir 21 when they met in Paris in 1929. While both were fiercely intelligent... only Sartre was ugly.'
Staff writer in 'Book of the Week'

16 October 2005

The Whine of Trolls

The Whine. I first learned of it listening to late night radio call-in shows on my way to work at the Tampa International Airport. Then I forgot it, until I heard it again when I worked in the reference department of the Leon County Library. There are, or were, people who call up library reference desks to run the staff through their paces by asking them weird and difficult questions they think up for no other purpose (I do not regard in this category the drunks who once called in from a bar to ask what Triple Sec was: that had a valid purpose). Such people were emotionally stunted and it gave them a sick feeling of value to have us at their call. They all seemed to have a peculiar whine lurking in the margins of their voices. It was precisely the same whine I had heard on all those late night call-ins, those with crack pot ideas who were on a first name basis with the hosts.

Now, decades later, when I read the ad hominem attacks masquerading as opinions, if I lean close to the screen I can hear the same pathetic whine.

Delayed Casualties from WTC

In Friday's edition of the Lykesboro Herald-Tribune was found an obituary for a young man of only 23. Unlike most obits for young men, there was no story on the front page about his death from crime or accident.

A friend told me later that he had spent time as a rescue worker at the World Trade Center back on 9/11. He must have breathed in a lot of that vile dust that blanketed lower Manhattan. He died of respiratory illness. His family and friends think it was caused by the dust. This can't be. Our government assured everyone that the dust was not toxic enough to cause serious illness.

Troubling Statistics from World History

In my readings I came across this little fact.

A late nineteenth century tally from the German colony of South-West Africa lists the animals shot by settlers and policemen over the previous year. At the top of the list, under the heading "mammals" is entered "female Bushmen: 400".

You have to give that a bit of thought before it really sinks in.

07 October 2005

Quote for the Week

"A Last judgment is Necessary because fools flourish.'
William Blake

01 October 2005

Blogs, Blather, and Credentials

For the moment I only have two blog links up, one to 'Andrew Sullivan' and one to 'Ragged Thots'. I'll also put up 'Healing Iraq', even though its author has quit updating (the situation in Iraq is too hot and too violent to concentrate). These three are my role models for what a good blog should be. Sullivan is a pro, quite literally. While I am less sure of George on 'Ragged Thots' his blog is smart and personal, while Zeyad at 'Healing Iraq' presents a brilliant portrait of Iraqi society you won't find in the MSM. Unless, perhaps, you read Anthony Shaddid. These three blogs present an ideal that I wish to aim for.

This is important because most blogs and virtually all comments responding to political blogs are blather. Some of it is less solipsistic than others but still, blather. When I get off my high horse though I realize that this is just what may make blogland a revolutionary instrument. Mass media for the masses and by the masses. Its demotic nature, available to anyone with a desire to communicate, leads to a lot of dross, but one man's dross is another man's nugget.

So why do I think I may have anything to say? For many, everything I write will be the same self-absorbed blather I am complaining of. And that's fine. I am discovering that the true value of a blog is the writing of it, not the reading of it. The effect on the author is key: it makes one think more systematically and seriously before posting. A half-formed thought that seems brilliant appears vapid and trite when reduced to print. But it is better when printed. The embarrassment leads to self knowledge, and hopefully to improvement.

So what are my credentials? Well, I wrote a book once and a publisher was willing to print it. It was reviewed well but sold poorly. I've published six or seven articles, two of which I am proud of, and a handful of encyclopedia type entries, one of which I am very proud of because it impressed an historian I greatly respect.

What else? I believe I was the first person to use the always useful phrase "his mind turned to bat shit" back in the early 70's. I also created a joke that entered the general population (like a successful virus). That last one may be the most creative thing I ever did.

That's it. Those are my credentials. Oh, yes! I earned a Ph.D from a demanding professor, and I can read Latin. And children and cats like me. How's that?