Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Fact-checker request

Writing about the cartoon brouhaha in today's Opinion Journal, Muslim (I think Persian) Amir Taheri writes:
There is no Quranic injunction against images, whether of Muhammad or anyone else. When it spread into the Levant, Islam came into contact with a version of Christianity that was militantly iconoclastic. As a result some Muslim theologians, at a time when Islam still had an organic theology, issued "fatwas" against any depiction of the Godhead.
I have no animosity toward Taheri, and I hope his assessment of Islam is true, but I've always heard the influence of iconoclasm as going from Islam to Christianity. Which is it? Could it be both? (I've observed these confluent streams in many areas, from philosophy to politics to baby names.) Can anyone suggest any good source material where I could look it up?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

I've been memed!

I've been memed! (First time ever -- I'm very honored)

4 jobs you have had in your life:
  • Telephone receptionist at car dealership (used a PBX system like Lily Tomlin's Ernestine character)

  • College English teacher (freshman composition)

  • Word processor (sounds like something that comes out of a squeeze tube, and sometimes felt like it, too)

  • News editor

4 Movies You Could Watch Over and Over:
  • Steel Magnolias

  • Fantasia

  • Shall We Dance (1937)

  • The Gods Must Be Crazy (and sequel)

4 Places You Have Lived:
  • Milwaukie, Ore.

  • St. Francisville and Baton Rouge, La.

  • Columbia, Mo.

  • Portland, Ore. ("And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.")

4 TV Shows You Love To Watch
  • Stargate SG-1

  • Dead Zone

  • Um

  • Uh

4 Places You Have Been On Vacation
  • Oregon (from Louisiana)

  • Louisiana (from Oregon)

  • Ozarks (from central Missouri)

  • San Juan Islands, Wash.

4 Websites You Visit Daily:

4 Of Your Favorite Foods
  • Anything Greek

  • Butter beans with bacon

  • My first four-napkin hamburger after Lent

  • Latte

4 Places You Would Rather Be Right Now

4 Bloggers You Are Tagging

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Dialects brown and pink

I'm listening to a murder mystery on CD by Walter Mosley, titled Fear Itself, set in the brown community of Los Angeles of the 1950s. The POV character is a very literate bookstore owner who grew up in New Iberia, La. His friend and fellow hero is a less-educated man whose point of origin I seem to have missed. The POV character runs across people who have moved to LA from Mississippi, Illinois, Tennesee, as well as pink people.

The reader, Don Cheadle, does a great job of all the dialects. The author mentions what a variety of colors "Negroes" have in the 1950s, and the reader captures those colors in his voice.

The odd thing is that he doesn't do pink people as well. When brown actors or comedians try to imitate pink people, they tend to overemphasize their Rs, and the rhythm is just a little too clipped. It's not that brown people can't speak in a way that's indistinguishable from pink people -- see Condoleeza Rice (no politics, please, I'm just talking about dialects here) -- but in my experience, when I've heard people deliberately trying to "talk white," they didn't quite pull it off -- in the same way that some northern actors have trouble talking "southern" and pinks don't do a convincing job of "talking black" (although since I'm not an aficionado of rap and hiphop, that may have changed without my knowing it).

Maybe the problem is that there is no one "white" dialect, just as there's no one "black" dialect or one "Southern" dialect or one "Northern" dialect. When I went to school in Baton Rouge, La., I could tell what high school kids went to after just a couple of minutes of hearing them talk.

But that's not a hit against this reading of Fear Itself. Readers have plenty of chances to hear various "white" dialects -- from Italian-influenced New Jersey accents to Hispanic-Southern Texas to whatever planet Valley Girls come from. But I've never heard anybody do the brown American voices as well as Cheadle does in this reading.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

A mother's grief

The young mother sat on the floor beside the small white casket bedecked in white, pink and red flowers, and beside her sat a man in a dark suit and overcoat with a white scarf draped around his neck.

I had told her I planned to be here between 9 and 10 tonight, too late for the funeral vigil, which conflicted with school, and too early for the funeral Liturgy, which conflicted with work, but I wanted to spend a few minutes in prayer for this 12-year-old girl, whose suffering with leukemia was done, and her mother, father, grandmother and little brother, whose suffering was, if not beginning, then certainly intensifying.

I went to a chair as far away from them as I could and closed my eyes and tried to focus on the reason I had come. Before me, at the front of the church, an icon of Christ hung on a cross, his arms open in welcome and surrender. On the other side, the resurrected Christ pulls Adam and Eve from the place of the dead. On the iconostasis in front, he carries a book that reads, "You did not choose me. I chose you." Overhead a 12-foot-diameter Christ Pantocrator looks down, an icon that always makes me think of my childish view of God as someone who looks down on small creatures to see what they're up to now.

The voices came from the two sitting on the floor -- the child's parents, though I didn't know her dad. I couldn't hear the words, and was trying not to, but their quiet tones taunted my reluctant curiosity with the observation that the man was speaking English and the woman Russian. (In fact, she speaks excellent English with a Russian accent, but at that distance and volume, the Russian inflection, vowels and tone came across without the words.)

Above the altar, the Theotokos -- Virgin Mary -- sat enthroned with the child Christ on her lap. Mark Twain said that anyone over 40 is responsible for his own face, and it has to be part of the sorrow of losing a child never to know what sort of face she would create for herself. The Theotokos herself faced that specific sorrow (along with many others) -- her son was a young adult when he went to the cross and hadn't had time to "make" his own face in Twain's sense.

The dad collected himself, looked around the church, and left. The mother planned to spend the entire night there, alone if necessary. She began to read Psalms -- the same practice Orthodox Christians do from Holy Friday to the beginning of the Easter Vigil Liturgy on Holy Saturday -- we call it keeping watch at the tomb. I don't know if the funeral practice came first or the Paschal practice, but tying the two together, we experience it as a preparation for both separation and resurrection.

When parishioners pray the Psalms at the tomb of Christ, though, there's a sense of anticipation that none of us can avoid -- Pascha's coming; Pascha is almost here; soon we'll be crying, "Christ is risen!" and breaking eggs together and opening Pascha baskets and feasting.

But I heard the mother's voice, soft and yet clear, praying the anguish of David, and knew that Pascha is a very long way off for her, for she faces a seemingly endless Lent that she's aware hasn't really begun yet.

If you're praying people, please remember Irina, whose grief is unfathomable.