Thursday, April 29, 2004

First Amendment protections

A couple of scattered things converged in my mind last evening: Paypal and the online gambling controversy and the case of David Williams who was fired from the Oregon State University newspaper for questioning the appropriateness of certain black role models.

Online gambling supporters are outraged that the U.S. government is cracking down on the promotion of online gambling:
The sad thing is, none of these media giants have the guts to challenge the Justice Department on this. What about First Amendment protection here?

I don't have a law degree, and I'm willing to be persuaded about the First Amendment implications of online gambling, but I don't see the word "gambling" anywhere in the First Amendment (or, for that matter, the word "pr0nography"):
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

I bring up pr0nography because people say, "First they came after Larry Flynt, but I didn't say anything because I didn't publish a sleasy, degrading rag. Then they came after online gambling advertisers, but I didn't say anything because I wasn't trying to get people hooked on an activity that could ruin their lives. Then they came after politically incorrect opinion writers, and there was no one left to protest."

Oregon has, I'm told, one of the most liberal pr0nography situations in the United States. Pr0nography marts scattered across town; no state law preventing "exotic gift" shops from opening next door to churches and schools; a justice system that will protect the sleasy magazine at every turn.

BUT when it comes to a young man suggesting that accused criminals may not be the best representatives of the black community, he gets fired--and from a state university newspaper.

So the ACLU speaks up for the sleasy magazine publisher, but there's still no one to speak for the politically incorrect opinion writer, who is exactly what the First Amendment writers were trying to protect.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Plot points and conflict

My lessons in fiction:

I've finally figured out what a plot point is.

It's a place where the character must either change goals or radically change the means of pursuing those goals.

If it's at the beginning of a story, it's the inciting incident. At that point, the character's everyday life is over, whether it's because Gandalf has brought a troop of dwarves to visit or because a tomboyish FBI agent is assigned to go undercover in a beauty pageant or because the time has come for a carpenter to begin his life as a traveling rabbi.

The character pursues the new goal until something happens to change the goal again. He may succeed at the goal and find out it's not the ultimate good, or he may fail utterly and find out he's been trying all the wrong way. He comes to a point where he must choose between two equally terrifying (for different reasons) courses. That is the crisis.

The climax is the working out of the choice at the crisis. At the end, the world or the character is irreparably changed from the beginning of the story.

Another thing I've had trouble with is motivation. What is the character trying to accomplish?

When the character wakes in the morning, what is the goal that drives his choice of activities through the day? If he's a subsistence hunter-gatherer, it might be providing enough food for the family for the day. If she's a high-powered business woman, it might be making the next deal. If he's neurotic, it might be escaping from emotional pain. If she's an alcoholic, it might be taking or not taking the next drink.

Many people have to navigate among conflicting goals. The businesswoman may be a mother; the hunter-gatherer may be a cave painter; the neurotic may be trying to keep his girlfriend; the alcoholic may be trying to keep her job. Incompatible goals, besides being human, can be a source of conflict.

Pardon me for thinking out loud here. I've got two reasons (not competing goals, though) for doing so. First, verbalizing it will help me learn it. Second, recording it here will make it easier to review later.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Doing my part

I got a call today from the Department of Homeland Security. A nice man, whose name I didn't catch, wanted to ask about some attempted credit card fraud against us last year.

In December someone tried to use our Visa card to buy something in Indonesia. We heard about it from the credit card company. We took it as an ordinary hassle of modern life, joked about how much more interesting or credit cards' lives are than ours, changed the credit card numbers, asked ourselves how the number got to Indonesia, and moved on.

It turns out that ours was one of three numbers used in an attempt to buy "military goods" (the man paused and cast around for the right phrase) in Indonesia. Ours was the second of the three numbers the investigator had called, and he was having trouble putting the data together. We and the other cardholder don't live anywhere near each other; we haven't been out of the country; we haven't been on a cruise. I offered to look through our account records for charges at the time. It turns out that the only thing we have in common with cardholder 1 is that both of us bought an item through E-Bay using Paypal.

Perhaps (just perhaps, mind you, based on incomplete information) someone who works at Paypal could use his inside information to collect credit card numbers--whether by deliberate selection or at random. And suppose he passed on the numbers to someone in the market for "military goods" overseas. If these three widely spaced credit card thefts were handled by local or state authorities, or even if federal, if they were not connected together, it would be difficult to connect the thefts to anyone at Paypal. And there would be a never-ending flood of credit card numbers from around the world to choose from. I wonder if this is a fluke or the tip of an iceberg.

Paypal has already faced some allegations of connection with terrorists; the state of New York basically chased the company out of the online gambling business, reasoning that online gambling can serve as an international money laundering operation. When E-Bay bought Paypal, the gambling stopped.

But that's about an accusation of customers using Paypal for nefarious activities. I can't find anything about Paypal employees being accused of stealing. Of course, it would only take one.

I wasn't going to mention Paypal in this post. I was going to write to Paypal and find out what the organization has to say about its internal security procedures. I went to the Paypal website and couldn't find a way to e-mail the company except by choosing an item from its list. For some reason, "What is your position on giving credit card numbers to potential terrorists?" is not one of the menu items. Calling the phone number revealed that the company's voice routing is as unresponsive as its e-mail.

So I don't have a Paypal response to my concerns. To cancel my account, I would have had to update my credit card, since the one Paypal has is expired. I think I'll leave it that way, open but useless.

The Swan

My friend Anne blogged about the new reality show, The Swan, last week:
I'm outraged by the continual message that only one type of body is beautiful and the rest of us need life-threatening measures in order to get one.

I watched the first episode with my daughter and kept asking what they were doing to these unique and interesting women. It was only the women's sense of unworthiness that made them candidates for this surgery that tried to make cookie-cutter bimbos of them.

And now Cup of Chicha has a detailed post that verbalizes a lot of my horror and some I didn't think of. If you've managed to escape the show, this is a good read, because the show captures and propagates a cultural phenomenon.
Unfortunately, The Swan is loathsome to the degree that it takes itself seriously, and, thanks to the panel's complete lack of intellect, it takes itself very, very seriously. The Swan simply isn't smart enough to realize how disturbing it really is: the panel applauds the idea that the women's husbands will no longer recognize them because it marks their success in creating 'transformation,' not because they know their applause will reveal a shockingly brazen attitude towards the relationship bewteen appearance, familiarity, and emotional attachment. And, while Kelly and Rachel only have a boyfriend and a husband who might fail to recognize them, future contestants will have children. (At 24, I still remember the day when I was five and my father, having just shaved his beard, picked me up from a friend's party. I cried and cried; even if I recognized him, my emotions for him didn't --a face being both love's cue and its subject.)

Source: The Old Hag, who includes this great sentence: "Related: none of these women is ugly AT ALL -- upon waking, we easily eclipse all of them, and we're still cute!"

Monday, April 26, 2004

Can someone help this man?

He's drowning, and I can't swim well enough to save him (metaphorically).

Pejman, an Iranian-Jewish attorney and one of the best voices in the blogosphere, has innocently walked into dangerous country. He asks:
How does the Trinity work, exactly?
Jesus died for our sins, according to Church teachings. Does that mean that we are now without original sin?
And the answers he's gotten: Aiyiyiyiyi.

One man writes:
About original sin: I don't need to tell you that o.s. is a kind of metaphor for flawed human nature, with its innate propensity to evil. Having been born just one month after V.I. Lenin went to his reward; having been 12 when my German-speaking mother developed the habit of throwing her apron over her head while listening to Hitler on the short-wave (moaning "Schrecklich, schrecklich!") all the while; having learned at 15 that my eldest brother's best friend, a brilliant idealistic young Jew who volunteered to fight in Spain, had been shot by his comrades for the crime of insufficient Stalinism, I personally have never had any problem with believing in original sin.
Which I think is very good, but then:
Sadly, the doctrine is that the death of Jesus enables forgiveness of personal trespasses for those who sincerely repent. It did not expunge original sin. That is what the sacrament of baptism is all about. The squalling infant at the baptismal font is in danger of never being admitted to the presence of God even if it should have the misfortune of dying innocent of personal transgression. Hence the "need" for baptism to expunge the stain of original sin.
It is purely ritual, independent of any personal volition. Once admitted to christianity by baptism, one cannot cease to be christian, one can only become an apostate. The catechism will more than suffice to explain this draconian doctrine.

Sorry to go on at such great length. Briefly, the Father is the God of the Torah--pure disembodied Intellect, Will, and Power. He thinks; He thinks in words; the Word of God made human flesh is Jesus, the Son. The Holy Spirit is the eternal relationship of love between Father and Son. There you have it: a huge, indigestible lump of mystery that has to be taken on faith. If one can swallow that, all the rest--Incarnation, Immaculate Conception (which means the man Jesus was born free of original sin), virgin birth, miracles, crucifixion and resurrection, moral precepts--all is relatively easy.
And this:
Father = Brahma - Creator
The Son = Vishnu - Sustainer
Holy Ghost = Shiva - Destroyer

A Hindu take on the Christian holy trinity.
The "Holy Trinity" is peppers, onions, & celery, as any New Orleanian could tell y... what? We're not talking Red Beans & Rice recipies? D'oh! At least with Red Beans, there's never been a war over the ingredients. (As opposed to how the whole "Pops, Junior, & The Spook" thing works...)
Here's one that's not bad:
Re: the Trinity, think of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit with this analogy:

God is the sun in the sky. Jesus is the light emananting from the sun. The Holy Spirit is the heat emananting from the sun. All of them are one with separate properties, and each is dependent upon and useless without the other. What good would the sun be if it gave no light or heat? And heat and light could not exist without a source.
I love this one:
Pejman, What a marvelous question, and one that I cannot deign to answer. However, the spark you started grew into a raging fire as noted in all of the above answers from other worthies. I know that the Trinity is accepted by faith, whether understood or not. My grandfather was a Methodist Minister and I remember a wonderful sermon he gave on the subject. I remember being mesmerized by his eloquence, but I do not remember the text. Regardless, the upshot of his sermon was that the concept of the Trinity was a matter of faith, not proof.
My grandfather explained it all in a sermon, which I forgot. It's probably a little like those dreams when you finally understand your own Purpose in Life and then wake up.
Sinfulness is our nature, our natural state without Grace. Salvation, Christ's death on the cross, is the redemptive intercession of a loving God that enables Grace into our lives.
No, no, no. Humanness is our nature. Sinfulness is added on.
[quoting from another post]"Seems to me a subtlety about this also separates the Catholic and Orthodox Churches, but I forget the details."

IIRC (and to vastly simplify), in large part it came down to a dispute over whether the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, or just the Father.

The religious wars that have resulted from this has caused me to have some sympathy towards the notion that the Devil invented the notion of the Trinity in order to give men yet another reason to kill one another.
Thank you for that vast simplification.

And then there's this:
I recently read the version of the New Testament most popular in the USA (King James) and came away with the idea, sort of, that the Father is the God of the Jews, the Son came about when God through Mary created Jesus as a human and the Holy Ghost was God within when the individual accepts Jesus' life as the son of God, his death by crucifixion and resurrection. And further that the holy trinity is the one God. As for original sin, I see it simply as disobedience of God. Hope my 2 cents doesn't cloud the issue further, but you either believe or not, it's our freedom to choose that makes us culpable for our actions. I also believe anyone who wants to harm others over the differences of opinion on this subject has totally missed the point of the Christ. Good luck.
"Begotten, not made," the creed says. Thanks for the wish of luck. We're all going to need it.
It also is the reason the Arabs didn't sign on - that whole "3=1" thing is a little much for anyone familiar with math. You have better luck with ignorant goat-herders and fishermen.
Uh, the Middle East was Christian until the Muslim conquests beginning in the seventh century. Muhammed himself may have missed the Trinitarian nuance, having come into contact with Nestorian Christians. But St. Athanasius, who did a lot of the fourth-century groundwork in the Trinity, was from Alexandria (Egypt).

I like this one a lot:
Sheldon Vanauken, a student of C.S. Lewis, compared God to an author, and Christ as the character in the story who is the author. He's creator and unlimited, and he injects himself into the story (the World) as one character, who leads and is the sacrificial lamb. And as one of the characters he's the same as us, limited and subject to temptation.
And here's one that has me wondering if I missed something:
One can go on and on : one of the major causes of the Great Schism of 1054 between the western and Orthodox churches was over whether Christ was both man and God, or man and God separately.
After a nice quote from Francis Schaefer, this one finds sibling rivalry among the three Persons of the Trinity:
If God is self-sufficient, He must also be capable of sacrifice without dependence on creation. Sacrifice involves three components: the sender and recipient of the sacrifice, and the thing to be sacrificed. Prior to creation, what would the persons of the Trinity have to sacrifice? Attention. Remember the old saying, "Two's company, three's a crowd?" All things being equal, when two people are together each receives 100% of the other's attention. Throw in a third person, and each person present must divide his/her attention between two people. Jesus could sacrifice his life on Earth because He has always sacrificed.
Perhaps predictably, the Presbyterian response goes on for two screens. (I skipped it.)

This one gets right to the heart of the translogical logic:
There most certainly is a Christian doctrine of the Trinity that is not a matter of sectarian opinion, and it is really quite simple. This formulation is very ancient and considers the Trinity as a doctrine made up of six propositions along with the assumption that there is only one God. Each of these propositions are quite easily found in the Bible. They are as follows:

1. The Father is God
2. The Son is God
3. The Holy Spirit is God.
4. The Father is not the Son.
5. The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
6. The Holy Spirit is not the Father.
Not a bad baseline, to my mind.

OK. I'm going to weigh in. I won't drown, just get all wet.

I'm back. My answer went on for two screens also, and if there's any justice after my snarky comment above, no one will read it either.

Sunday, April 25, 2004


Kenai sleeps in the back yard with her head on her front paws and her back legs lying useless under her. She is more than 16 years old, and her face, which once had the expression of a mischievous racoon, is now gray. Every few hours she barks her distress. She's not in constant pain, but she can't move without someone lifting and carrying her back end. I think it may be time for the long last ride.

She came to us as a puppy, the whelp of a malamute mother and a golden retriever father, the most adventurous of a litter of eight puppies, seven of whom, I believe, ended up in the pound as too much dog for suburban owners to handle.

And Kenai was a lot to handle. When she reached her full size of 105 pounds, she was as strong as a horse, and she considered herself the Alpha Female of every walk she took. She never met a human she didn't like, and after she passed puppyhood, she never met a dog that didn't annoy her into a fury. The feeling was mutual. When we took her for neighborhood walks, toy poodles would come racing out of their garages, cross the street and attack her. I told an owner once that its dog ought to pick on someone its own size.

When I took her walking on leash, in those days before head collars, she would pull me up hills by just tugging against her choke collar. The choke collar never really got her attention, no matter how hard I jerked in the way that was instructed back then, because it was cushioned against that thick mat of her fur.

When Kenai was a young dog, we also had a Weimaraner named Coho (a Chinook word for "silver"; she came to us with that name). One day, my husband was out working in the yard, and when he came inside, he found that he had left the television on. The dogs were sitting side by side in front of it, their ears perked, and their heads tilted in curiosity.

That's funny, he thought. They don't usually watch TV. So he watched a little bit to see what the interest was. It was a fishing show, and the topic was fishing for coho salmon in the Kenai River.

When Kenai was young, we owned a half-acre of land in a wooded suburban neighborhood, where we saw opossums, raccoons and once even a bobcat. One spring was a boom year for opossoms, and Kenai killed several over a couple of weeks. It's not a big deal; there are a lot of them, and opossoms are not a native species here. I would find the remains and bury them, and go on about my activities. The problem was that in celebration, or maybe going after somekind of olfactory camouflage, Kenai would frequently roll in possum squat.

One night I came home late from choir practice or something, and Kenai came running up to greet me. I reached down to scratch her neck, and ewww. I was too tired to give her a bath that night, so I left her outside. Five minutes after I went to bed, I heard her in the back yard giving the insistent bark! bark! bark! bark! that was her hunting cry. We were in a wooded suburb, but not so far out in the country that it didn't matter if a dog barked and barked and barked late at night. I rose grumbling and then heard the chainlink fence rattle and a scuffle that told me I was too late to rescue that one.

I dressed hastily and took a flashlight outside with me, aiming to find the dead possum and bury it. I called Kenai and heard a movement. I trained the flashlight on her, and she ran through the yard, spotlighted like a movie star, shaking the possum like a rag toy and calling me with her eyes to come out and play.

And now she lies in the back yard, literally on her last legs, in the same place where she used to lie and smile at the wind ruffling her fur.

Friday, April 23, 2004

Suffering child

There's a lot going on in the world -- stuff I would blog about, stuff I would leave to others, stuff that's important or funny or both -- but when your kid is suffering, it doesn't seem to matter.

If you're praying people, and I believe a lot of you are, please remember Vera, 19, who is going through difficulties, and her family, who share them with her.


Thursday, April 22, 2004

Fitzgerald's film-writing career

Not. A collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald's screenplays goes to the University of South Carolina after being dug out of a file cabinet in Warner Brothers Studios somewhere. (I have an image of the scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones sees where the Lost Ark might be warehoused.)

Apparently, Fitzgerald wasn't much of a screenwriter, since only one of his screenplays made it into production, after much rewriting, but he worked hard at it and produced many drafts and background materials.

A couple of things jumped out at me from this story. First:
"He took screenwriting very seriously," [said Matthew Bruccoli of the University of South Carolina], "and it's heartbreaking to see how much effort he put into it." The new archive reveals, among other things, that Fitzgerald approached every screenplay as if it were a novel and often wrote long back stories for each of the characters before setting down a word of dialogue.

That's what Robert McKee recommends as the general process for screenwriting.

It didn't work out, all the same. "Billy Wilder, Fitzgerald's friend and admirer in his Hollywood days, always thought the notion of turning him into a screenwriter was a little misguided. He once compared Fitzgerald to 'a great sculptor who is hired to do a plumbing job.'"

McKee's categorization that screenplays deal in image; stage plays deal in dialogue; and novels deal in the inner life is probably as good an explanation as any of why Raymond Chandler would be a more successful screenwriter than Fitzgerald and why, for that matter, Henry James's plays never did well either.

The Onion Dome is up

I neglected to mention that The Onion Dome is up.

Our intrepid editor has a story about the, shall we say, dark underside of Pascha. I reported on an Orthodox answer to Left Behind, and Marie told of the triumph over sexism in her parish.

Father Vasiliy gives us the true and correct response to "Christ is Risen," and the comments in the Feedback Blog have some American (and Russian-American) variations.

Saudi cell phones

Saudi blogger Alhamedi tells how important cell phones are in Saudi Arabia.

He tells a classic story:
2. A Saudi was giving a presentation at my place of employment. Screen, PC projector, Powerpoint, the whole thing. Then his phone rang. He didn't switch it off, he answered it. Just as well, it was his Mother! We sat listening for 5 minutes while he explained why he'd not been to see her for two days. I have to say, some of his excuses were ingenious, I'll use them myself sometime. Finally he resumed his presentation, without an apology.

He adds:
So that's an idea of the priority that we attach to our phones. And when the day dawns that all phones are camera phones, and the Muttawa try to confiscate them, tha'll be the day that the revolution starts. You heard it on this blog first.

Check out The Religious Policeman for a humorous and insightful view of Saudi culture.

Source: Roger L. Simon

Silmarillion in 1,000 words

I've confessed recently to a short attention span. It was longer, once upon a time, and I'm glad I took the opportunity when I had it to read the Silmarillion. If my attention span ever gets longer again, I might read it again.

In the meantime, J. the Honourary Canadian gives us the Silmarillion in 1,000 words. Here's the opening:
AINUR: Wow! Existence!
ILUVATAR: *blows pitch pipe* LA!
AINUR: Um. . . la?
MELKOR: Boop bop-a-doo-bop!
ILUVATAR: LA, dammit.
MELKOR: Bwam bardle ningle boom.
AINUR: . . .
ILUVATAR: Right, you're out of the band.
MELKOR: Fine, I was leaving anyway.
AINUR: . . .
ILUVATAR: What are you waiting for?
AINUR: Oh. Right. Newly created world. Sorry. Great jam session, big guy!

It's all there, right to the very end:
RING: *melts*
GONDORIANS: *change calendar*
GANDALF: Hi Cirdan! Still got your ring!
CIRDAN: Cool. Let's go to Valinor!

Source: Boing Boing

April Fools Day

(I know it's way past April Fools, but at least you know I'm not joking.)

This guy says Muslims take April Fool's Day way too seriously:
The things that happen on April Fools' Day are many. Some people have been told that their child or spouse or someone who is dear to them has died, and unable to bear this shock, they have died. Some have been told that they are being laid off, or that there has been a fire or an accident in which their familyhas been killed, so they suffer paralysis or heart attacks, or similar afflictions. 

Some people have been told about their wives, that they have been seen with other men, and this has led them to kill or divorce their wives.

I guess if a culture plays this kind of pranks for April Fools, instead of producing documentaries on the Swiss spaghetti harvest, it might be a good idea for someone to say, "We don't do April Fools well. Let's not celebrate it."

But no. The reason Muhammad Al-Munajjid says not to celebrate it is because April Fools Day doesn't fit any of the three acceptable reasons for lying: 1) to please one's wife; 2) war; 3) to reconcile between people.

Besides, as no one else in the world seems to know, April Fools Day celebrates the conquest of Andalusia from the Muslims in 1492. "Fools" because over the years preceding the conquest, foreigners made fools of the Muslim army by sending in wine and cigars to Spain for free. Grenada, the last stronghold, of the Muslims fell on April 1, 1492. (Since Christopher Columbus, who left Europe in 1492, was the first to bring back tobacco seeds from the New World, we have to wonder whether something else in those cigars or if this is more fun with history.)

But wait. If the stronghold fell on April 1, the free wine and cigars must have been coming in for years, right? So what's the point of celebrating for one day a tactic of years? Never mind. There's more.
From that year until the present, they celebrate this day and consider the Muslims to be fools. They do not regard only the army at Granada to be fools who are easily deceived; rather they apply that to the entire Muslim Ummah.

Funny. I don't think the makers of Swiss spaghetti farm documentary gave any thought to Grenada, Andalusia or the Muslim Ummah. Now suddenly when kids send a newcomer out snipe hunting, they're commemorating a battle they never heard of and could hardly care less about.

Although Snopes recognizes that "how the custom of pranking on April 1 came about remains shrouded in mystery," it gives a number of possibilities, none of which has anything to do with the conquest of Grenada.

To be fair, Annie's Exceedingly Smiley April Fool's Day Page also starts with a couple of screens of everything the Bible says about "fools." (The Bible also doesn't say anything about Swiss spaghetti farmers.) Annie does offer some positive suggestions, including the slightly sneaky secret pal trick, and she omits the loopy history.

I became interested in this topic because of a Google search that brought someone to this page by accident. The more I looked at it, the curiouser it became, until it's well past midnight as I'm finishing up this post. So maybe the joke's on me.

UPDATE: Islam: The Modern Religion calls the idea a hoax and says this about it:
So regarding the email claiming that April Fools Day is a celebration of the take over of Muslim Spain, it is clear the whole thing is a made up lie. This is totally unacceptable and should be brought to the attention of the one who sent you this lie in the first place. A good Muslim would never accept to repeat lies and fabrications especially in presenting facts about the history of Islam.

If you have received such a letter it is your duty in front of Allah to write back to those who also received it and ask them to contact all of those on their lists and email the truth about this issue. And we should all fear a Day when we will stand in front of Allah and be asked about these matters.

If we don't do something about correcting the education of our beloved brothers and sisters in Islam, then everyday on the internet is MUSLIM FOOLS DAY.

By the way, there's another another humdinger of a hoax listed there, but since the point of the site is to debunk it and not to promote it, I won't tell what it is.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

You've got to see this

It's a Stalin vs. Hitler comic. The drawings are truly creepy, and the story will send shivers up your spine.

Helpfully translated and annoted in English.

Source: memepool

A hopeful sign

Razi Azmi, writing in the Daily Times of Pakistan, shows why I still have hope that Islam can live at peace with its neighbors in religion.
No, the negative image of Muslims is not the result of malicious Western propaganda against Islam. On the country, all the documentaries concerning Islam and Muslim lands shown on the mainstream western television channels -- and there have been many in the last two years -- present a very sympathetic picture of Islam as a religion and of Muslims as people. The image Muslims find unflattering reflects the larger reality of the Muslim world, steeped in dictatorship, corruption, ignorance and illiteracy, and characterised by the repression of women, honour killings, child abuse, sectarian and religious violence, persecution of minorities and a general and pervasive denial of basic freedoms and human rights.

I have hope, not because the Islamic world is in the muddle he describes, but because if Muslims face the muddle, they can find their way out of it. As long as Muslims continue in denial, shifting the blame and wailing about discrimination when people simply point out photos Muslim themselves have shot, there will be no motion toward peace.

The whole piece is worth reading.

Source: Dhimmi Watch

Newspaper columnist suppressed in Corvallis

I'm not holding my breath for the ACLU to fight the case of David Williams, columnist at the Daily Barometer at Oregon State University.

Williams's column is daringly titled "A message from a white male to the African American community." In it, he points out that some black celebrities held up as role models for the community aren't good ones. He says, "One would think that with the strong presence of talented blacks in government, sports and entertainment, this minority base would have a slew of noble and moral leaders."

OK, I don't see any white sheets yet.
Singer Robert Kelly stands accused of child pr0nography [my deliberate misspelling] by Chicago authorities. The primary evidence in the case is a videotape that allegedly shows him having sex with an underage girl.

While Kelly rightfully has the presumption of innocence, I don't think he is the type of person that deserves praise.

During the recent Soul Train Music Awards, Kelly received trophies and applause. While being in serious trouble for a sick crime, his music continues to earn him millions of dollars in sales. In fact, in January he was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.

In my eyes, that's the equivalent of nominating Bob Dole to host the Oscars -- it just wouldn't make much sense.

Here's the racism. Williams dares to criticize the NAACP. And he even suggests that promoting these morally challenged celebrities is harmful to the black community:
Sure, Kelly, Simpson and Iverson are just mere instances of misbehavior in the grand scheme of things. Their misconduct is not what necessarily hurts minorities; it's the acceptance and lack of accountability African American leaders have chosen to embrace these figures with.

If this is what constitutes racism in the 21st century, maybe it's time for the NAACP to disband and put its dues and fund-raising into AIDS research or something. Or at least explain why an accused pr0n producer is a role model to be preferred over all the black business people, authors, journalists, performers, athletes, religious leaders and so forth who don't have an accusation of murder, pr0nography, or other corruption pending against them. It's the NAACP that breeds racism, because people who don't know any better come to think that the Robert Kellys are the best the black community has to offer.

By the way, I've made a copy of the piece in case the Barometer takes it down. If you can't find it at the link, e-mail me.

Source: Tongue Tied - Free Speech - Oregon Style

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

A virtual gathering of the female Orthobloggers

Karl expresses happiness that so many Othodox women are joining the blogosphere. He helpfully lists a few of them (us).

I know that we women are taking a little longer to warm up to the blog forum than the guys. I think it's a technology thing. Heaven knows, if you give us a platform, we'll talk. One think I noticed though is how all our blogs fit together into a perfect conversation. Let's see, after a night of Sacred Insomnia, we meet The Alto Section and take A Catechumen's Walk to Laura's Front Porch, where under The Blue Canopy we have Morning Coffee while Lola Knits and Spins and Havdala tends her Doves and Pomegranates, and we are all So Joyful watching The Light Fraction and talking of Lamb Thoughts and A World of Speculation.

It reminds me of our parish's women's retreat at Cannon Beach coming up later this month.

Monday, April 19, 2004

It's Christian bells vs. Muslim prayer calls

Michael, of Divine Salamis asks in response to Muslim worship in the Cordoba cathedral: "So, is this the re-reconquest of Andalusia we're seeing?"

Obviously, Spain/Andalusia has its own path, and whether it's in the direction of reconquest will be obvious only in hindsight. But in light of the "original conquerors" of North America, even a simple noise ordinance story makes me nervous.

It seems that the Muslims in the Detroit area want a noise variance so that they can amplify their five-times-a-day call to prayer from the mosques in the city. That's five times a day, seven days a week, 365/6 days per year. The reason they offer: it's only fair; we have to listen to church bells, sometimes as early as 6 a.m.

It seems like just a local zoning thing, but Muslims have issues with bells. This windy Muslim apologist acknowledges that at the time of the Islamic conquest of Jerusalem, "by . . . edict [Christians'] church bells were taken from them because their din annoyed the Muslims."

Ronald Hilton at Stanford University, writing about Globalization: Music, says:
The ban on church bells is ancient and not unique to Spain. I don't have sources at hand to check and cite, but Christians were very early on in the history of Islam prevented from using bells and forced instead to use wooden clappers. The Muslim call to prayer, vocal rather than instrumental, was to have primacy.

Here's another Islam-promotion site, Saudi Aramco World:
There were, to be sure, ground rules which non-Muslims were expected to follow: no church towers, as the mosques had to be the tallest religious buildings in town; no church bells, as they might distract from the muezzin; no mixed congregations.

If that seems to be ancient history, consider this:
UN forbids use of church bells in Kosovo (because they irritate the muslims)

Priest Velimir Stojanovic, who lives with his family in the churchyard of the Serbian Orthodox Church of St. Sava in the southern part of Kosovska Mitrovica, told Tanjug that the Greek soldiers protecting this shrine have forbidden the use of the church bells.

"Representatives of KFOR introduced this ban with the explanation that Orthodox church bells irritate the Albanians," says Father Velimir. "The last time the bells were heard was on Easter Sunday, April 15 of this year," he explained, adding that so far he has not publicized this ban because he thought it was temporary. "The church bells did not ring on Ascension Day (Spasovdan, May 25) and I think that this is not good for either the church or the people," said Father Velimir.

Every day, five times a day, the song of the muezzins from the minarets of three mosques in the southern, Albanian part of the town can be heard. A fourth mosque is open and undisturbed in the village of Zabari, near Kosovska Mitrovica.

I don't like paranoia, and I accept on faith that the majority of the world's Muslims are willing to live in peace and harmony with their neighbors, but I make the uncomfortable observation that accommodation goes only one direction, and it seems to be irreversible. Is the Detroit noise case just something for neighbors to work out or a skirmish in a long battle?

Cathedral may be site of Muslim worship

Spanish Muslims are asking the Vatican to allow them to hold worship services in the cathedral at Cordoba. The cathedral apparently was built on the site of an ancient mosque.

The Guardian clarifies:
The Muslim community is going out of its way to portray the proposals as a union, and not a clash of faiths. "In no way is this request about reclaiming our rights--far less any kind of reconquest," Isabel Romero, a member of the Islamic Council of Spain, told a local newspaper.

"Instead, we want to give our support to the universal character of this building."

The response is unclear. In one place in the story, the Islamic Council says the proposal was very well received in the Vatican. In another place the director of a mosque in nearby Grenada says that the church council doesn't seem very cooperative. Both could be true, of course, and either could be a misunderstanding, but it seems that any Catholic assent to the "universal character of the building" would be an abdication of the "cathedral" character of the building.

The folks at Dhimmi Watch ask when Christians will be able to worship in Hagia Sophia Cathedral in Constantinople. It's a valid question.

UPDATE: Dhimmi Watch points out that the ancient mosque was built on the site of an earlier church.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

The Fool

I've posted a short story titled "The Fool" at The Fellowship of St. Caedmon. I'd be interested in feedback, whether in the comments over there or here.
"It's a sensitive case," Mark Radcliffe said.

Eugene Peters watched the senior deputy district attorney get up from his long mahogany desk and go to the window.

"We don't want anyone saying Multnomah County doesn't care if an occasional church burns down." He gazed thoughtfully over the park below, as if looking down from Mount Olympus at the curious activities of the mortals.

It was a habit that annoyed the hell out of Eugene, and the fact that it annoyed him so badly annoyed him even more. Who cared, after all, if Mark had the best view in the building, if he used it to punctuate his conversations, if he opened the vertical blinds just enough that supplicants in his office got barely a glimpse of pearl-gray sky?

Read more

Saturday, April 17, 2004

UN shootout in Kosovo

A Jordanian UN police officer fires on other UN police officers in one of the hotspots in Kosovo, and wounded 10 Americans and one Australian and killed two Americans.

Concurrently, a Bosnian Muslim has surrendered to Spanish authorities for questioning in regard to the March 11 bombing of the commuter train. He says he just happened to share an apartment with one of the bombers. His father said he went to Spain as a student in 1993 but didn't know what the boy was studying.
Most of Bosnia's Muslims are secular and practice a moderate Islam, although extremist Islamic fighters--many from Arab countries--fought on the Muslim side in the country's 1992-95 war, which killed an estimated 260,000 people.

Now comes a well-meaning Amarillo, Texas, columnist in a 10-gallon hat making the same mistake that fellow-Texan Pres. George W. Bush made at his press conference last week--dropping Kosovo into a list of U.S. success stories. Buckaroo Baxter Black says this:
We are not the bad guys. Our record is a proud one. Remember that fact every time you hear of citizens protesting in Kosovo, Kabul, Krakow, Sarajevo, the Philippines, the Netherlands, in England, East Berlin, Baghdad and every other place on earth where we have won.

There aren't any citizens protesting in Kosovo. There are armed thugs and cowering minorities protected by UN police who shoot each other and NATO troops armed with rubber bullets and tear gas.

Bush didn't put us there, but I wish he'd move that expedition over to the "minus" column.

Friday, April 16, 2004

A Monty Python history text

The Canadian Algonquin Nation Secretariat (peace be upon them!) has blown the whistle on a textbook so atrociously wrong that it's funny.

The Arab World Studies Notebook says that Muslim explorers began arriving in the New World in 889, that they married into the Algonquin tribe and that 17th-century Algonquin chiefs were named Abdul-Rahim and Abdallah Ibn Malik.

The book is distributed by the Middle East Policy Council, which promotes its curriculum in 155 U.S. cities to poor, benighted history teachers who don't know how to teach complicated topics.

"How could we expect [teachers] to handle complicated and emotionally charged subjects like the Holocaust and figure out what lessons to learn about it? To escort youngsters safely through the thicket of political correctness and ethnic politics that now surrounds such benign holidays as Columbus Day and Thanksgiving?" asks Chester Finn Jr., president of the Fordham Foundation, in the foundation's scathing report on the text.

It seems to me that if they don't know how to teach Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, they would do well to learn about the holidays someplace other than the Middle East Policy Council, since that body is apparently weak, at best, on North American history.

The guide's author and editor, Audrey Shabbas, says that the two-page chapter titled "Early Muslim Exploration Worldwide: Evidence of Muslims in the New World Before Columbus" will be removed from future editions of the book. She says she's "giving careful and thoughtful attention" to notifying the 1,200 teachers who have received copies of the book over the past five years.

No word yet on whether she'll fact-check the rest of the book.

In the meantime, Sandra Stotsky, former senior associate commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Education, writing in the Fordham Foundation report, calls the book "propaganda" (yes, really) and says, "The idea that English explorers met native Indian chiefs with Muslim names in the middle of the Northeast woodlands sounds almost like something a Hollywood film writer dreamed up for a spoof." (Note to self: Here's an education official who can actually write a clear and interesting sentence. Another stereotype undermined.)

The book is quite a bargain, marked down $15 from its $50 list price. Not bad for a 540-page work of hardback fiction. Maybe Borders will carry it under Humor.

UPDATE: More about the book that raises revisionist history (historical revisionism? revisional historicism? ah, historical fiction) to a new level.

(Source: Dhimmi Watch by way of Allah)

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Chinese ice festival

Take a quick trip to Harbin, China, where R Todd King has taken some splendid photos of ice sculptures in this formerly Russian city in China.

Don't miss the nighttime photos, of ice palaces ablaze with lights.

ONE MORE THING: Notice the three-bar crosses on the "Thai Ice Palace." (Open the image in a new window for a larger view.)

Kosovo news via Berkshire, UK

The lead says, "The most wanted man in Kosovo was behind bars this week following a dramatic security operation involving Berkshire soldiers."

Naturally, I was curious. Who is the most wanted man in Kosovo? NATO troops were chasing down Karadzic in Bosnia earlier this month. But I don't know yet whether the KFOR troops and the UNMIK bureaucrats have decided whether the Serbs or the Albanians are the aggressors in Kosovo. The current thinking seems to be that neither side is worth dying for. But it takes time for an army to change sides in a conflict it never should have entered in the first place.

It turns out that the most wanted man in Kosovo was involved in the assassination of a United Nations policeman--"and other criminal activities." I wonder what those are--Drug running? Money laundering? Armed robbery?--or maybe murder, rape, kidnaping, ethnic cleansing, destruction of historical and religious properties? The article doesn't say.

At least the Royal Gloucestershire Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment captured three suspects after a high-speed car chase.

In a classic case of "It was a warm and sunny day when the Apaches rode into town . . ." with the last paragraph delivering the news that everybody in the town was killed, the article ends with this tidbit:
But there was little time for celebration.

At 4 a.m., the next day Major Griffin and his company of soldiers were back in action, carrying out a series of swoops on houses and flats in Pristina.

By breakfast time rocket launchers and guns had been seized by the soldiers.

Is anybody following the trail of rocket launchers in Kosovo? These are not just enraged citizens blowing off steam; these are ununiformed warriers armed for battle.

I'm a middle-aged woman with an expired passport sitting in front of my computer reading news from small towns in the UK, and I don't have confidence that the people who are responsible for where our soldiers go, what they do, and what happens to them have as much interest in what's happening in Kosovo as I do. Frankly, it's as scary as it is frustrating.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

About that Sindarin Paschal greeting

If you've checked out the Onion Dome this week, you've seen the Elvish Paschal greeting: "Si Cuielen na i hiro o coi!" and the response "Ele, Si Cuielan!"

My friend Barbara researched it for me, and her background information didn't fit the Onion Dome piece, but it's much too good to waste.

She used Ruth S. Noel's Languages of Tolkien's Middle Earth. Here is the greeting and two alternate responses with the literal meaning.

Si Cuielen na i hiro o coi! (Now living again is the Lord of life)
Ele, Si Cuielan na i hiro coi! (Behold, Now living . . . .)


Si Cuielen na i hiro o coi!
Ele, Si Cuielan!

FYI: The words are Sindarin Dialect, Sindarin Syntax

i hiro = The Lord
o coi = of life
na = is
cui- = to live
iel = forms the participle
en- = again

Ele = Behold (This is significant because it is the first spoken word of the Elves)

So the translation would be "The Lord of Life is now living again"
"Behold, Now living again!"

Fr. Dimitry Klepinin

Last month, I mentioned Mother Maria Skobtsova. Today I ran across a biography of Father Dimitry Klepinin, who helped her in her ministry in Paris.

Here's an excerpt from the story:
A German officer named Hoffman had collected a large amount of evidence on how Jews had been helped by Mother Maria and Fr. Dimitry. He was prepared to question the priest for a long time, and was astonished when Fr. Dimitry told him frankly about everything he had done.

Hoffman said curtly, "And if we release you, will you promise never again to aid Jews?"

Dimitry answered, "I can say no such thing. I am a Christian, and must act as I must."

Hoffman stared at him in disbelief for a moment, and then struck Dimitry across his face. "Jew lover!" he screamed. "How dare you talk of those pigs as being a Christian duty!"

The frail Dimitry recovered his balance. Staying calm, he raised the Cross from his cassock and faced Hoffman with it.

"Do you know this Jew?" he said quietly.

The blow he received knocked him to the floor.

Thanks to Havdala for her link to the description of Pascha in Paris in 1942.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Short story accepted

My short story, "Call Your Mother," has been accepted for the Mother's Day edition of the online mag Literary Mama.

Literary Mama is a good publication, close to the bone, not the sunshine-and-daisies motherhood that disappeared 50 years ago if it ever existed.

I was wondering about motherly perfection during Holy Week. Motherhood is hard, because youth is dangerous, and there are so many opportunities for the kids to destroy themselves, and they get so tired of all our warnings and the benefit of our experience. I wouldn't trade my daughters for anything, but motherhood can be tooth-rattlingly painful, and the moments of guilt and fear can rise up and overwhelm the longer times of warmth and cooperation.

And so I was envying the apparently easy relationships I saw around me--wise parents, cooperative kids--but it was Holy Friday, and we were singing, "Do not lament me, Mother," and I realized that even if the kid is perfect and the mother is the best human being who ever lived, the relationship is still painful--maybe more so, because there's an anguish that lies at the heart of love, that tests it, proves it, refines it.

But I was talking about Literary Mama and "Call Your Mother." I'll post the link when it appears.

Monday, April 12, 2004


Holy Week was wonderful, as always--a pageant of backstory, flashback and foreshadowing, building tension, great poetry, strong and frequently conflicted characters, the Hero's Journey.

An Orthodox Jew came to the Holy Saturday Vigil Liturgy, because a mutual friend of ours was being chrismated into the Orthodox (Christian) Church. That's a good liturgy for a Jew to attend, because it pays homage to our Jewish roots. The 15 Old Testament readings address again and again the themes of life, death, resuscitation, resurrection, the Passover and the prophecies of the suffering and triumphant Messiah.

After the Liturgy, B. and I sat down to a glass of wine and raw fruit and vegies--where the Passover and the Holy Saturday fasts converged--and talked about all sorts of things. I was interested to learn that B. liked to attend an Oriental Orthodox church in our town. The members there are mostly Syrian and Lebanese, and he said he enjoys the Aramaic. He said his visits there worried his sister: what would the people say when they found out he was Jewish? (I wondered myself if they were nice to him.) He told her that they all know he's Jewish, and they're perfectly hospitable. Well, his sister asked, what if the priest found out? The priest knows, he said. "They're Christians, and this is America, for God's sake," he kept saying.

It was surprising--not to say gratifying--to hear someone express that sort of positive impression of Christians, and it was only the second time in my experience. The first was in an elementary school classroom. The mother of one of my daughter's classmates was from India. I don't know how the conversation came up, but I mentioned church or something, and she said, "I like Christians."

It was so odd I almost laughed, not at her and not at all derisively, but simply at the oddness of it. The oddness is not a matter of persecution--just the opposite. People in the United States generally talk about Christians the way they talk about their own family, with alternating affection and outrage. And even those who have turned away from the faith look back at us in anger and disappointment, because they feel offended and betrayed. Not to take issue with whether the feelings are justified or not, only to point out that it's still a critique from within.

It's always so complicated--hostility and loyalty, the earnest arguments about the direction we should be going, the hopes for what we're trying to do and the fears about where we're going wrong. And then you meet someone who can stand outside the maelstrom and say simply, "I like Christians," or who can trust people who might elsewhere be an enemy because they're Christians and because it's America, for God's sake. It's an inestimable gift, and I'm grateful to both.

The photo above is of St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Portland, Oregon, before the beginning of the Holy Saturday Liturgy. The icons you see, from the apse to the iconostasis to the Resurrection in the center of the church to the corpus on the table, were all done by Heather MacKean.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

I wasn't going to post until Pascha, but . . .

I owe you this one.

I saw The Passion this evening and give it a 2 (out of 4). I liked the languages and the costumes. I like the fact that someone in Hollywood has produced a religiously serious movie. I like the fact that it has engendered so many discussions.

But . . .

It was so over the top in the violence and gore that it undermined its own impact. I don't believe anyone could have survived that level of torture and blood loss, and the unbelief took me totally out of the story. The cruelty of the Romans was like pasteboard statues. Melodrama is unmotivated emotion, and a lot of The Passion dipped into melodrama, and the melodrama sometimes teetered on the edge of funny.

I never felt I was watching The Passion of the Christ; it was always Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ.

The good news is that I've got no images of the Passion to overcome during Holy Week.

If anyone wants to say I told you so, the comments are open.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

Holy Week Hiatus

I won't be blogging this week as we finish our journey to Pascha.
Brethren, let us love the Bridegroom and prepare our lamps with care, shining with the virtues and right faith; that, like the wise virgins of the Lord, we may be ready to enter with Him into the wedding feast. For God the Bridegroom grants to all the crown incorruptible.

Mattins of Holy Tuesday

Friday, April 02, 2004

Bomb found on Spanish rail line

OK, I have to ask. What else do the Spanish need to do to placate the terrorists?

Things going wrong in Kosovo? Let's punish Serbia

The United States has decided to cut off aid to Serbia, because U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell says he "cannot certify" that Serbia and Montenegro is cooperating with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

In the meantime, a sidelight comparison in this story reveals that "aid to Kosovo averaged $814 per inhabitant and East Timor received $256 per person. But to date, the contribution to Afghanistan from the international community has averaged $67 per person."

The U.S. is blinking mad that the Serbs won't turn over former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic or wartime Bosnian Serb political leader Radovan Karadzic to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

Oddly enough, at the beginning of the recent ethnic cleansing against Serbs in Kosovo, a Serb policeman was jailed in Serbia for war crimes. (When you read this story, don't forget the principle of atrocity inflation.)

A priest and his son, both supporters of Karadzic, the news reports say, are in the hospital with possibly fatal head wounds from a raid on a house where Karadzic was thought to be staying.

I don't know if Mladic or Karadzic are war criminals. If they are, I have no sympathy for them. But given the level of lying venom spewed at everything Serbian for the past couple of decades, and given the inanity and corruption of the United Nations, I don't think I would trust the Hague to give Mother Teresa a fair trial. So, what to make of all this?

A Serbian government press release is more optimistic about this process than I am inclined to be:
The Serbian government believes that a decision by the United States to temporarily suspend aid to Serbia-Montenegro will not endanger the relations between the two countries, according to a statement following a session today.

I am glad that Pres. Clinton got this Balkan beast tamed, so that it doesn't come back to bite us during the war on terror.

I'm also alternately sorry and glad that Gen. Wesley Clark is out of the presidential race, because I am sorely tempted to have a wax doll made of him and stick pins into it.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

The eternal life of dogs

Bioethicist and Orthodox priest Father John Breck talks about having to put a beloved dog to sleep.

After Father Breck and his wife rescued and lived with Poker for several years, the dog developed kidney failure with no real chance for improvement. They made the difficult decision to have the dog put down, and then as Father Breck cradled the dog's head in his arms, one of the vets looked at the dog and said, "He's gone."

I've had a similar experience with a dog-friend, although I was fortunate not to have to give Strider the long last ride to the vet. But one second he was there, and the next he was gone. It's the only word that fits. Gone.

Father Breck relates a conversation with Father Lev Gillet, who has authored many books on theology and the spiritual life under the pseudonym A Monk of the Eastern Church. Father Gillet expressed "the firm conviction that animals--particularly domestic animals who have lived with and been loved by people--experience some form of afterlife," Father Breck writes. "His words were not pious wishful thinking; they emerged from a life of thoughtful reflection and prayer."

Father Breck continues:
If, like Father Lev, we can answer that question in the affirmative, it can only be by adjusting altogether our way of looking at God and His creation. He is the Creator and Lord of all, and in some special way, of every living thing. The mystic perceives heaven in a blade of grass, the petal of a flower, or a child's uplifted face. Heaven is not "out there." It's all around us, enveloping everything and everyone in light and beauty that once in a great while we can perceive as a gift of sheer grace. And perceiving it, we enter into it, even in the midst of our daily routine, despite our distractions, despite our sin.

Father Breck goes on to acknowledge that the idea is a speculation and maybe a vain hope. If so, I share it. Anyone who has looked at the love, devotion, playfulness, hope and loyalty in the eyes of a dog (that is, one who has not had those traits trained out by an evil human being) knows a little more about how human beings should relate to God.

St. Paul told the Romans that all of creation waits in hope to share in the redemption of humanity, and we see glimpses of that in the relationship of the great saints to the wild beasts that befriended them in the wilderness. I also see a glimpse of it in the eyes of my 85-pound Labrador retriever climbing into my lap, demanding to play, as I sit at the computer.

Tell me a story

A new site is offering recordings of copyright-free classics for under a dollar. Call it iTunes for lovers of the spoken word.

Telltale Weekly has "A Dog's Tale" by Mark Twain, "Give me Liberty or Give Me Death" by Patrick Henry, "The Magic Shop" by H.G. Wells, "A Modest Proposal" by Jonathan Swift, and "Leaves of Grass Book I: Inscriptions" by Walt Whitman. Which to listen to first? Too hard to decide.

Organizers aim to put up a few every week, read by experienced, paid actors (recorded-book-lovers know the importance of a professional reader), in MP3 and ogg (whatever that is) formats. In the long run, they want to create a library of free downloads.

I picked this up from bookninja.