Thursday, July 13, 2006

The War in the Middle East


We are now facing a major regional conflict in the middle east.

Ignore the New York Times, Washington Post, or BBC.

For Lebanon see the Daily Star

For Israel, see Ha'aretz

Commentators in the press, from the White House and academia seem not to know who differences between Sunni and Shia, nor that there are different types of Shia. I have seen almost no-one refer to the very large Christian communitues in the country (the majority being an Eastern Church (the Maronites) in communion with Rome. Commentary in the British and the American Press seems to be describing different wars. And all the commentators from the areas affected are spinning like crazy.

Meantime, as usual, every other crisis in the world gets ignored. Today, genocide continues in Dafur, there was another Tsunami in Indonesia, and something weird is happening in North Korea - it's all enough to make one despair.

Pray for peace.

Another Brick in the Graveyard

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Simple, Shallow, and Banal

On the issue of anonymous blog posters, there is an interesting discussion going on over at an article by Timothy Garton Ash at the Guardian. This comment (by Nagajchaos) was interesting:

Bad ideas in your last paragraph: anonymity is not the issue. The issue is that the Blogosphere has revealed a central truth we educators have known for years. Most people are simple, shallow, banal, and relatively inarticulate. It takes a rare degree of perception, insight and understanding to construct a decent argument. That's why there are so few of them. Naming the writers will not improve the quality of their arguments. That the vicious and stupid are sometimes encouraged to be nasty by their anonymity is unfortunate, but naming them will not make them go away. Not any more. The best thing to do is to respond well to those who respond well.

More at the article

Textbooks and Authors

From today's New York Times

This is how the 2005 edition of "A History of the United States," a high school history textbook by the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Daniel J. Boorstin and Brooks Mather Kelley, relates the cataclysmic attacks of 9/11 for a new generation of young adults:

"In New York City, the impact of the fully fueled jets caused the twin towers to burst into flames. The fires led to the catastrophic collapse of both 110-story buildings as well as other buildings in the area. The numbers of people missing and presumed dead after this assault was estimated to be 2,750."

The language is virtually identical to that in the 2005 edition of another textbook, "America: Pathways to the Present," by different authors. The books use substantially identical language to cover other subjects as well, including the disputed presidential election of 2000, the Persian Gulf war, the war in Afghanistan and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security .

Just how similar passages showed up in two books is a tale of how the largely obscure $4 billion a year world of elementary and high school textbook publishing often works, for these passages were not written by the named authors but by one or more uncredited writers. And while it is rare that the same language is used in different books, it is common for noted scholars to give their names to elementary and high school texts, lending prestige and marketing power, while lesser known writers have a hand in the books and their frequent revisions.

As editions pass, the names on the spine of a book may have only a distant or dated relation to the words between the covers, diluted with each successive edition, people in the industry, and even authors, say.

[more at the article

The Time's article discusses something that almost never reaches the general public - the problems of the "new edition" cycle of college textbooks. I have been involved in these and I am quite sure that many of the writers are dedicated and careful. More than that texts (even in medieval history) do need to change as new information comes to light, and perhaps more importantly as the histories of hitherto disregarded people are incorporated. [George Ostrogorsky's History of the Byzantine State, in many respects admirable, manages to avoid mention of any non-imperial woman in its index.]

But the three-year new edition cycle of some books is driven by another cause: the efforts of publishers to avoid loosing sales by students reselling books after a course. Perhaps the best solution would be for students to simply keep their textbooks - after all, if they are interesting enough, the books you buy in college should form the basis for a future library.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Torture is not American

If you are American, do you believe that this man would agree to crushing the testicles of a captured enemies' children, or to threatening a capitive (however evil) with castrating his son?

Bush agreed to to it. [See Andrew Sullivan's blog for the most impassioned discussion on this issue - is it just Brits who are so upset at this?]

For God's sake, you people among whom I have lived for twenty years but still do not understand, can you live up to being American? Can you be a light for the nations? A City set on a Hill?

Because if you can't, you're not American.

Let Canada take the title: it deserves it if you choose to become some oppressive empire with no rule of law except that of one one rather intellectually limited Yankee (even if he claims to be a Texan).

To be Free, Celebrate

From Andrew Sullivan

if you're a gay person who hasn't talked to a co-worker or family member about why marriage matters, then you're not part of this movement. Stop relying on judges or political lobbies - and fight the fight yourself: person by person, again and again and again. Never duck an opportunity to engage; never let a dumb argument go unchallenged; never be intimidated by those wanting you to be silent or talk about something else. In the immortal words of Quentin Crisp:

It is not the simple statement of facts that ushers in freedom; it is the constant repetition of them that has this liberating effect. Tolerance is the result not of enlightenment, but of boredom.

By the way, I am not interested in the acceptance or toleration of gay people. I am interested in celebrating us.

Many of you who read this are my friends, do you really I would be better if I where straight? God, I may be a bad gay person, but I would be such an asshole as a straight person.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Muslims and Catholics as Terrorists

I was discussing earlier with a friend the current atrocity in Bombay. He asked if there was an underlying problem with Islam.

My thoughts

I think Muslims will always think they are superior, just as will Catholics, Jews, and Southern Baptists. Religions are about truth systems, and obviously people of a given religion will think they are superior.

What is essential is to realize that these killers represent neither the mainstream nor best of "The Religion of Being at Peace with God and Neighbour" (i.e. Islam). Islam, in its holy texts (Qur'an and Hadith), main law schools, and main historical manifestations (Abbasid Baghdad, Ayyubbid Cairo, Ottoman Istanbul, Mughal India) has taught and practiced respect of life, protection of the poor and orphans, and insisted on seeing all people as children of God.

Some people seem to be judging Muslims now, as if Rwanda (where all were Catholic) represented Catholicism.

Think about that: the entire history of Catholicism being captured by those Tutu priests who participated in genocide. That would not be fair to Catholicism, and we are not fair to Islam to associate it with maniacs.

How to Be Happy

Life has been tough in the past two years, but I have recently discovered two perfectly legal ways to "get happy". One is a kind of forced meditation, the other is opening up to ones' own life experience.

1. Simply to sit down and force yourself to remember happy days. I mean specific days, the ones which make life worth living (My Mother hugging me and telling me she would always love me as her son, gay or not; lying one night with he who still remains the love of my live and thanking God; seeing the sun rise over the Dead Sea as I climbed Masada with a group of incandescent UNF students,....There are so many more.) Try it when you are depressed.

2. The other came about, rather oddly, when I was bored in a Lakeland Motel recently. I began to read Job in the Gideons's Bible there (which I stole - I hope that's OK). Lo and behold, I have not actualy tried to read the King James version for 30 years. But, to try to put this humbly, my reading ability has improved a lot since I was 15. The translation is sheer, almost overwhelming, poetry.

Bobby Charlton and Zidane

The Zidane Story

It has probably amazed a number of my friends how involved I have been with the world cup. In an earlier post I addressed why it is hard for a very openly gay guy to admit liking football - the ritual, the continuous flow of the game, the cute guys....

I was born in Manchester in 1960. There will only ever be one greatest footballer for me - Bobby Charlton. But Zidane is number two, and Zidane remains number two for me, even after the World Cup incident. The Italian called his mother an Arab terrorist and Zidane lost his cool. He lost his cool defending the honor of his mother.

That is no reason not to admire the man who has most helped France get over its racism to Franco-Algerians, and who in all normal encounters is the model of a gentleman.

Vive Zidane! [If you read French, Le Monde has the most extensive coverage.]

Bombings in India

Something really bad has just happened in India - at least seven bombings of commuter trains.

There is a really probability of massive attacks on Muslim populations in India if these turn out to be Jihadist related. I fact I predict such conflicts unless some miracle happens - India needs a political leader now as at no other time.

This is a new development in terrorism - the deliberate effort to create mass communal conflict by a small group. In Northern Ireland the IRA never attacked Protestant religious institutions (only British/Government ones) and the Protestant UVF and the Orange Order never attacked a Catholic Church.

It's a mistake to think that terrorism is always the same. In the early days or terrorism (think of groups like the Irgun Zvi Leumi and its Arab equivalents) they used to think of legitimate targets and and aimed to induce terror among the living not death as an end ititself. [IZL tried to scare Arabs out of Eretz Yisrael/Palestine, the Arabs did the same thing.]

History always contextualizes terrorism. Catholics and Protestants in Ireland fought over history, but they did not systematically seek to deny the history of the others. In both the Balkans and Israel, by contrast there has been for almost a hundred years now an efforst to write opponents out of history.

Neither Greek nor Israeli tour guides, for example, ever credit 500 years of Ottoman history. Israel and the Turkish government do, to their credit, preserve the monuments of of all the cultures that have flourished in their territories, although they mount official "stories" which leave much out. In Israel, Masada is spectacular (and a symbol of Jewish resistance), but Sepphoris, where the Jews gave in to Roman forces, survived, and went on to create Talmudic Judaism, is almost never shown to tourists. Because its lesson - Jews often flourished by submitting to greater military might - but the managed to create incredible learning and literature, does not fit with Israel's guiding myth.

Outside Israel and Turkey, both of which have very responsible archeological ministries, it has become common in the eastern Mediterranean to destroy the evidence of "opposing cultures." [In the Irish context this would be as if the Republic of Ireland had systematically destroyed all the great cathedrals of Ireland, which belong to the (Anglican) Church of Ireland rather to than the Roman Catholic majority. [However badly you might thing of Dev (De Valera), it's impossible to imagine him ever even thinking of such a thing.]

In Serbia, EVERY mosque is destroyed, In Kosovo, priceless centers of Serbian history have been either destroyed or saved only with massive effort. In Athens, all mosques have had their minarets cut off (who says Freudianism is wrong?), and in Salonica, which did not have a Christian majority until the Nazis killed the Jews, only one mosque with a minaret survives. Going there today, you would scarcely know, as you visit the "Aristotle University" that you are in fact walking on one of the largest Sephardic Jewish cemeteries ever known, nor that the MAIN language of the city until the 1940s was Judeo-Spanish (Ladino or Judezmo.)

Every terrorism is culture based.

The question is, how can we cure deviant cultures.

Is that politically incorrect? To talk of "deviant cultures"? Here I take my stand with St. Thomas Aquinas. He argued that if a culture arose in which, for example, rape and infanticide were norms, the entire culture must be considered deviant. There are certainly varieties of allowed human cultural norms. But, the great saint insisted there are natural laws that no agreement between members of a culture can abrogate.

In effect the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (thanks to the efforts of that great Lesbian Eleanor Roosevelt) is an attempt to encode St. Thomas' insight into international law.

And this is how we do it - we must all agree that, even if it takes decades, any promoter, doer, cooperator, in mass death, genocide, or torture will NEVER be able to rest in peace.

That certainly includes current Islamic terrorists. But others need to know the law will never give up on them. Pinochet was brought to trial; we need to bring more and more such men/women to trial so that every killing bastard knows that the world will never give up going after them.

And that includes any American official who has betrayed his/her country's most siesmic claim - "all men are created equal with certain inalienable rights". They too must face the Court of Humanity. And gaol if necessary.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Christian Sex Toys

Now I can see why Christians should be interested in TEXT TOYS (concordances etc.) but this website on "Intimacy Products for Married Couples" [thanks WM] goes one step step further. Basically it uses the Song of Songs to justify selling dildos and clitoral stimulators!

The twenty-second book of the Bible is Song of Solomon. We believe that God intended that such love, as spoken of in Song of Solomon, be a beautiful and normal part of marital life. Unfortunately this gift from God has been grossly distorted and abused by both ancient and modern people. Book22 is offering quality products to enhance the intimate life of God's children. Our hope is that our products will serve as intimacy enhancers for your marriage.

Intermittent Posting

Posting has been intermittent for the past few days since I am facing a dodgy internet connection. Plus it has been depressing watching all the wrong teams win in the World Cup.

I'll be back to normal soon.