Thursday, August 03, 2006

Catholic and Shia Engagement: Faith and Reason in Theory and Practice.

Now here is a really interesting account of what Shi'ism is all about from a fairly sympathetic Catholic perspective. Note that The Tablet is a British Catholic Magazine.

So who are the Shia? The usual way to describe Shi'ism's essence is to say that its adherents have always championed the claim of Ali, the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, to be their prophet's true successor.

They believe that rule over the Muslim community must rest solely with Ali's descendants. Shia is indeed a contraction of Shi'at 'Ali - Ali's faction. After Muhammad's death, Muslims who favoured other candidates repeatedly blocked the accession of Ali to the caliphate. When he finally did come to rule, they withheld their allegiance. Later they crushed his family and followers on a desolate plain in modern Iraq in 680. This event, commemorated annually by Shia though the observance of a period of mourning, provided Shia Islam with a deeply emotive drama of martyrdom.

A line of Ali's descendants, the Imams, were persecuted and allegedly martyred for representing a living challenge to tyrannical rule. It is this sense of suffered injustice that came to pervade Shi'ism. The fate of martyrs was all the more poignant as they had been slain by fellow Muslims. To mourn them was also to grieve for the lost of unity of Islam. Even today, Muslim "ecumenism" remains an intellectual exercise, with almost no place in the intimate dialogue between Shia hierarchy and believers. What began as a dissident position on the matter of succession in the seventh century blossomed in time into a full religious tradition, distinguished from Sunni Islam by its own reading of theology and sacred history.

Anthony O'Mahony, "The rise of Shia," The Tablet 7/29/2006

I hope this is not true

All that is good news for President Ahmadinejad, who claims that Sunni radicalism has reached the limits of its capabilities in the fight against the global system led by the US and that it is now the turn of the Shia, led by Iran, to be in the driving seat.

“Hezbollah has fought Israel longer than all the major Arab armies combined ever did,” President Ahmadinejad told a crowd in Tehran this week. He also promised that Muslims would soon hear “very good news” about the jihad against the United States.

Amir Taheri, "This is just the start of a showdown between the West and The Rest," The Times 8/2/2006

This article is just about the most depressing analysis of the current mess.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Will Israel Loose?

I think Israel may well loose this war - anything that looks like a Hezbollah draw is an Israeli loss. That would be a disaster, since Israel's reputation as invincible is an important part of its defense. This must be one dumb administration: I want the US to win in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Israel vs Lebanon, but now "we" are involved are involved in two wars, perhaps three, in which "we" cannot afford to lose, but see no way to win.

See the analysis by Shmuel Rosner in Slate 7/31/2006

Dumb Statistic of the Moment

Apart from a few states on the Pacific Coast and in the mid-Atlantic, Democrats are now a captive party of the Northern Tier. We haven't won an electoral vote in the South so far this century.

Bruce Reed in Slate 8/1/2006


There's a lot to dislike about Gibson. He is given to furious tirades against homosexuals of the sort that make one wonder if he has some kind of subliminal or "unaddressed" problem. His vulgar and nasty movies, which also feature this prejudice, are additionally replete with the cheapest caricatures of the English. Braveheart and The Patriot are two of the most laughable historical films ever made. (Englishmen don't form picket lines outside movie theaters when "stereotyped," but still.) He has told interviewers that his wife, the mother of his children, is going to hell because she subscribes to the wrong Christian sect (a view that he justifies as "a pronouncement from the chair"). And it has been obvious for some time to the most meager intelligence that he is sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred.

Christopher Hitchens, Slate 8/1/2006

Ham and High

I used to live in Hampstead before I moved to the United States (19 years ago this week). This local story (from the Hampstead and Highgate Express 7/28/2006 on reactions to a current tabloid press scandal surrounding George Michael is truly amazing. Britain has become another country from the one I left.

What is really of is that the various voices quoted are all being very tolerant and accepting but cannot bring themselves to say "used condoms." That is very British.

Support for George Michael's defence of cruising on Heath
28 July 2006

LOCAL groups have come out in defence of gay cruising on Hampstead Heath - but want visitors to pick up their condoms.

They have spoken out after pop legend George Michael defended an encounter with a middle-aged stranger at London's notorious gay hotspot.

The former Wham frontman laughed off the rendezvous with a 58-year-old van driver, who he compared to fat comedian Bernard Manning.

The 43-year-old, who lives in Highgate, said: "Sorry if people don't like the fact I cruise on Hampstead Heath but the police absolutely accept that it goes on at night. I'm not ashamed of it.

"It's the only place in London where that is the case - so it's generally a safe place.

The gay cruising scene centres on West Heath, which covers about 70 acres of the 800 acre-park.

Tony Hillier, chairman of the Heath and Hampstead Society, said: "Gay cruising on the Heath is the subject of international gay tourist websites. It's very popular. If this sort of thing is going to go on at night, it probably doesn't disturb the average Hampstead resident. But what does is the absolutely filthy mess left behind.

"Dog walkers, people with children shouldn't have to worry about what they are going to find behind the next bush."

He added that the society was part of the "very enlightened" Sexual Activities Working Group on the Heath and, rather like the successful campaign to get dog owners to pick up their pet's mess, the group was working to train gay cruisers to clean up their litter too.

He added: "The current budget for clearing up the mess, which is frankly disgusting, is £80,000 a year.

"They just have to be reminded there's a lot of other people who use the Heath."

The Camden's Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Forum said: "There needs to be a clear public acknowledgement that the reasons many engage in public sexual activity are complex - in many cases reflecting personal experiences of homophobia. They need to be supported by police with a view to their own safety."

But visitors to the Heath were split on the subject of cruising.

Richard Hudson, 30, a nurse from Birmingham, said: "It's famous this place for it. Why not just let them get on with it? It's not illegal, is it?"

But Nathalie Benjamin, 17, said: "It's sort of obscene. At any time of day it's just wrong."

At times the Heath has proven to be a very dangerous place for cruisers. Several years ago, a notorious violent robber, known as Gold Tooth, targeted gay men visiting the Heath.

Richard Gentry, manager of the Heath Constabulary, said they patrolled the perimeter of West Heath.

He said: "We don't condone the activity and are working very closely with organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust, trying to get the message across about people taking their litter home. Anyone acting inappropriately will be dealt with."

Sunday, July 30, 2006

The Longue Duree in the United States

New research from around the world has begun to reveal a picture of humans today that is so different from what it was in the past that scientists say they are startled. Over the past 100 years, says one researcher, Robert W. Fogel of the University of Chicago, humans in the industrialized world have undergone a form of evolution that is unique not only to humankind, but unique among the 7,000 or so generations of humans who have ever inhabited the earth.

The difference does not involve changes in genes, as far as is known, but changes in the human form. It shows up in several ways, from those that are well known and almost taken for granted, like greater heights and longer lives, to ones that are emerging only from comparisons of health records.

The biggest surprise emerging from the new studies is that many chronic ailments like heart disease, lung disease and arthritis are occurring an average of 10 to 25 years later than they used to. There is also less disability among older people today, according to a federal study that directly measures it. And that is not just because medical treatments like cataract surgery keep people functioning. Human bodies are simply not breaking down the way they did before.

GINA KOLATA, So Big and Healthy Grandpa Wouldn't Even Know You, New York Times 7/28/206

It is a little strange that this fascinating article is written by a health/science reporter. Scientific and health measurements form the basis of the facts in this article, but it is about much more than science.

History is often seen as analyzing events, but for forty years now, historians have been interested in social phenomena that remain the same or change very slowly. This longue duree [long duration] addresses the sorts of issues raised in the NY Times' article, and claims that such transitions are needed to understand the past as the much more studied "changes."