Sizing Up Consciousness by Its Bits

Carl Zimmer in The New York Times:

Brain Our neurons are basically fancy photodiodes, producing electric bursts in response to incoming signals. But the conscious experiences they produce contain far more information than in a single diode. In other words, they reduce much more uncertainty. While a photodiode can be in one of two states, our brains can be in one of trillions of states. Not only can we tell the difference between a Chaplin movie and a potato chip, but our brains can go into a different state from one frame of the movie to the next.

More here.

Varna to Varna

Our own Morgan Meis in The Smart Set:

47547_439750384424_51319942 My friend lives in Brixen (Bressanone in Italian), one of the major cities of the Südtirol, though it contains only 21,000 people. The city of Vahrn (the Italians call it Varna) is, today, essentially the northern suburb of Brixen. I travel up here every so often to chart the progress of my friend, to bring him word from the civilization the rest of us inhabit beneath the sky. A Pakistani by birth, and a New Yorker for many years by choice, my friend has become Südtirolian in his heart. He has absorbed, without exactly trying, the specific passions and distractions of these parts. The mountains simply claimed him, I suppose.

One thing that bothers him is that Brixen (Bressanone), Varhn (Varna), and the other cities of this region always bear two names. It gnaws at him, this Alpine schizophrenia. The Südtirol, formerly a part of Austria, was given to Italy as a reward for joining the winning side after World War I. Various attempts to make the area more “Italian” ensued. But the wheels of Italianization really began to move once the Fascists took power in Italy in the late 1920s. In 1939, Mussolini decided it was time to take the final step. Hitler, for his own Hitlerian reasons, had never cast his otherwise covetous eye on the Südtirol. He was happy to let the Italians have it, thinking that the Germans in the Südtirol should come back down to the German heartland where they could hear him better. So, Hitler and Mussolini cooked up a scheme whereby the German-speaking citizens of the area would be encouraged to move away, into Greater Germany. At that time, Greater Germany included much of the northern and western coast of the Black Sea. The plan, then, was to move the people of the Südtirol from Varna to Varna, more or less. From the Alpine mountains to the coast of the Black Sea.

Thus, the troubled dreams of my Pakistani/American/Südtirolian friend, strange things he hears from inside the mountains. He is having nightmares of relocation. People in the Südtirol don’t talk about these things very much anymore. Why should they? But the old fears can still trickle back after the midnight hour, in the dark mountain nights when a clump of Alpine rock can take any form the imagination will give it. A sensitive man, if he listens hard enough on a moonless night, he can almost hear the waves of the Black Sea lapping up against the rocks of the Dolomites.

More here.

Yes, Mr. Kristof, This Is America

Garrett Baer responds to Nicholas D. Kristof's NYT article “Is This America?” in Killing the Buddha:

Oldesttoyoungest Unfortunately, contemporary Islamophobia is not a stain against the otherwise spotless canvas of American history. If anything, that canvas is filthy and should be acknowledged as such. This, Mr. Kristof, is America: land of the screed, home of the enraged.

Rather than viewing the “shameful interning of Japanese-Americans during World War II, or the disgraceful refusal to accept Jewish refugees from Nazi Europe” as rare, exceptional tests in American history, we need to view those events as constitutive elements of the American experience. Was America not American prior to the abolishing of slavery? Was America not American prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, during the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, the Zoot Suit Riots, or the pursuit of Manifest Destiny? Anti-miscegenation laws were belatedly toppled in the ’60s, but today 37% of Americans would not approve of a family member marrying outside of his or her race. Are those people not American?

Although responses from Christian organizations have been overwhelmingly against Pastor Terry Jones’ proposal to burn Qur’ans—the World Evangelical Alliance, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Vatican, the Church of Jesus of Latter Day Saints, etc., etc.—the characterization of Jones as a fringe extremist reflecting little upon the values of America as a whole is highly questionable.

Consider a recent survey of American Protestant pastors, ministers, and priests. When asked to identify with either George Bush’s statement that “the Muslim faith is based upon peace and love and compassion” or Franklin Graham’s controversial 2001 remark that Islam is “a very evil and a very wicked religion,” 47% of the respondents were on the side of Graham, 12% agreed with both, and only 24% agreed with Bush.

Maybe we need to redefine the fringe?

More here.

liberace is dead


The year is 1979. Stage lighting shouts disco Xs across the stage, and everything is in soft focus. He’s really got us now….but then — hold on, isn’t that…? Yes, it is. Twenty-three seconds into the Chopin, Liberace has switched into a flowery version of “My Funny Valentine.” His fingers flutter across the keys—who knew this song had so many notes? We are back into Chopin again — “Nocturne in E flat, Op. 9,” but it doesn’t matter that we don’t know the name; we’ve all swooned to this melody before. The camera now wears a big pink filter in the shape of a heart with Liberace playing at the center. He’s moving at top speed, slipping from one Chopin melody to another, all the while filling the cracks with Funny Valentine. It’s impossible to follow, and it’s not worth trying. You just have to allow yourself to be swept away. With a flourish (always), Liberace finishes the medley. He turns to the audience and bows. He rises from the bench, stands before us, bows again, then once more, raising his arms, smiling his gentle smile. This is not just romance I’m giving you, the smile says. This is love. I love you.

more from Stefany Anne Golberg at The Smart Set here.

hating canada


Robertson Davies — a man with a considerable talent for creative insult — reserved one of his best for the writer, painter, and critic Wyndham Lewis. In a dismissal so sublime as to test the limits of intelligibility, he said that Self Condemned, Lewis’s recently reissued novel about Canada, read “as though it had been written in lemon juice, with a rusty nail, on a piece of tin.” If his point was that Lewis was bitter, the evidence is certainly on his side. Hester Harding, the heroine of Self Condemned, is probably the only character in literature to kill herself out of sheer hatred for Canada. In the suicide note she leaves her husband, a disillusioned English historian, she says, “I loathe this country so much, where I can see you burying yourself. I cannot leave you physically — go away from you back to England. I can only go out of the world.” She is not alone in finding life in Canada loathsome. Professor Harding calls it “an outlandish culture-less world” — a “tenth-rate alternative to what had been his backgrounds.” The novel focuses its vitriol on Momaco, Lewis’s code name for World War II Toronto. “Momaco was so ugly, and so devoid of all character as of any trace of charm,” he writes, “that it was disagreeable to walk about in. It was as if the elegance and charm of Montreal had been attributed to the seductions of the Fiend by the puritan founders of Momaco.”

more from Adam Hammond at Walrus here.

unpacking their library


What Markson’s fans had stumbled on was the strange and disorienting world of authors’ personal libraries. Most people might imagine that authors’ libraries matter–that scholars and readers should care what books authors read, what they thought about them, what they scribbled in the margins. But far more libraries get dispersed than saved. In fact, David Markson can now take his place in a long and distinguished line of writers whose personal libraries were quickly, casually broken down. Herman Melville’s books? One bookstore bought an assortment for $120, then scrapped the theological titles for paper. Stephen Crane’s? His widow died a brothel madam, and her estate (and his books) were auctioned off on the steps of a Florida courthouse. Ernest Hemingway’s? To this day, all 9,000 titles remain trapped in his Cuban villa. The issues at stake when libraries vanish are bigger than any one author and his books. An author’s library offers unique access to a mind at work, and their treatment provides a look at what exactly the literary world decides to value in an author’s life. John Wronoski, a longtime book dealer in Cambridge, has seen the libraries of many prestigious authors pass through his store without securing a permanent home. ”Most readers would see these names and think, ’My god, shouldn’t they be in a library?’” Wronoski says. ”But most readers have no idea how this system works.”

more from Craig Fehrman at the Boston Globe here.

Midwest Peace

Justin E. H. Smith

IMG_0654 I am writing from a motel room somewhere in Indiana. The obese teenage girl who checked me in asked me where I stand in respect of today’s competition between the ‘Bears’ and the ‘Colts’, which, as I know without ever having sought to know, are two nearby cities’ football teams. When I gave her a Canadian postal code in lieu of a zip, she quickly apologized, red in the face, for her attempt at familiar chatter. Damn it, I thought, there I go othering myself again.

Now I’m in my room, there is a corn field out the window, and Every Which Way But Loose is on the TV. Clyde the orangutan just gave a biker gang the finger. Clint Eastwood, as I know in advance, is about to nail Sondra Locke. I hope you’ll excuse me if I get distracted and the narrative flow tapers off.

I am in the American Midwest for a little over a week. Officially, my purpose here is the usual one that takes me wherever I go: academic conferences. Behind this, however, there is a more personal reason: I wanted to return to the place I lived for two and a half years at the very beginning of the present century, and to see if I could make some sense out of it. There is another region of the world –the American West– that will always form the deepest stratum of my psychogeographical sense. Yet the Midwest, too, managed to leave a thin but hard crust over some of the other layers, one that doesn't get in the way of deeper digging, necessarily, but still requires its own equipment and instruments of analysis.

My last trip through Indiana, in early Summer, 2003, was capped off by an ugly traffic accident on the Interstate, as I was travelling south-southeast from Chicago to Cincinnati. The police report is something I occasionally pull out and study when I want, for some perverse reason, to relive the trauma of it. I even brought it with me for my most recent Indiana road trip. One of the witnesses, Tricia Yoder, reports the event as follows: “I seen the black car [mine] driving in the left lane and the blue car [Travis Butler’s] driving in the right lane. The blue car tried to make a suden turn in front of the black car in order to turn around on the hi-way divider to go back the other direction, even thouh the sign said ‘no’ u-turn. The black car did’nt have time to stop and ran into the drivers side of the blue car. I seen it from behind the black car.”

I hit Travis Butler, in other words, who, as I would later learn, was born in 1954 and was a resident of Pulaski County. As I inferred at the time –having, in the millisecond before impact, thoroughly studied and committed to memory the POW-MIA sticker in the rear window on the driver's side– Mr. Butler was a veteran of a certain bitter war. I hit the vet, and he got issued a moving violation on his way to the hospital. It still doesn't seem right. He was, I feel like saying, the legal cause of the collision, but I was the metaphysical cause. Like the ancient archer discussed by Bernard Williams in Shame and Necessity, it does not matter that he could not have known that a runner would be passing in the distance at the moment he let go the arrow. You can't hit someone who passes in front of you without shaking up the cosmos a bit. Our Christian, free-will-based legal system makes a distinction that our not yet fully de-Hellenized, fatalistic subconsciences can't quite accept. You can’t hit a guy without being tainted. You definitely can’t hit a Vietnam vet.

After the cars had come to their resting places on the grassy center divider, I slithered out, stunned, and walked like a zombie over to his car. Are you alright? I asked. ‘Yeah’, he said. Good, I said. I was sincerely relieved for a moment. Then I saw blood streaming from the crown of his head and dripping down, in big, fast drops, behind his left ear. He was not alright.

(Clint has just barged into the YWCA where Sondra is staying. The appearance of a man has put the young women, with their nightgowns and curlers and face creams, into a frenzy.)

The collision solved at least one problem for me: I had been looking for a way to free myself of my 1991 Acura Integra, for which I did not want to have to pay the exorbitant fee required to bring it with me on my impending move to Canada. I was in fact, at that very moment, in connection with the move, hauling nearly my entire library in the trunk, back seat, front seat, front passenger floor, glove compartment, and dashboard of my Acura. I have recently related how some of my most intense interaction with my books occur when I, on frequent occasions, have been obliged to lug them from one domicile to another, but never have my books had quite such an impact as they did that day, when, having rapidly decelerated upon hitting the Vietnam vet's car, my precious copy of volume III of Adam and Tannery's edition of the Oeuvres complètes of René Descartes, which had been resting atop of the pile on the backseat behind my head, quickly accelerated, by some law of mechanical physics that the great French philosopher himself probably discovered, and struck me in the back of the skull.

This as much as the accident itself was a cause of my utter stupefaction, so that when I forced the door open and slithered out to go check on Travis, in my state of curiously heightened alertness I was able to examine the covers of all the great works of philosophy that were spilling out onto the grassy division. There went Jan-Baptista van Helmont's De Ortu medicinae! And there's the single-volume edition of Spinoza's collected works! Why, he barely wrote anything! Any scholar who works on Spinoza should be required to memorize him by heart, I thought. And there's Shame and Necessity! What a book! What a hammer of a book!

Within a few moments the Indiana state troopers would arrive, and I recall them scratching their heads and laughing as they went around picking up the far-flung works of philosophy. I recall seeing one of them holding Hegel’s Phänomenologie des Geistes. “Do you understand this?,” he asked me. No, I said. Not really.

Read more »

Love for the Meaning of Form

by Aditya Dev Sood

It was sunny but cool as we drove into Budapest, and I had that kind of new city buzz that you can only get from having been in transit all night. We cut across one of the many bridges over the Danube that interconnect the Buda and Pest sides of the city, and at a traffic light something caught my eye. It was a sign for a taxi bank, bright yellow, vertical like a post and uncannily designed so as to be legible from almost all sides. There’s something about that sign, I said to Nita, that captures a lot about this culture. Later on, as we walked about the city I took multiple photographs of the thing.

3qd_hungarian taxi sign

In its formal inventiveness it vaguely reminded me of Bauhaus signage, of El Lessitsky’s posters and perhaps Russian constructivist and Czech avant-garde designs from the early part of the last century. But in its sculptural, volumetric, 3D-ness, there was something very particular about it. The design made the most of this set of letters, which are all bilaterally symmetrical, and therefore capable of being rendered vertically. I also saw the sign as an attempt at rendering the text legible from all directions, in a way that flat signage can never be, and it was interesting that this need or desire is intimately linked to the very idea of the sign for a taxi bank. What made this possible was the rendering the forms of the letters as cylinders, cones and discs with suitable cut-outs. The letters now seemed abstracted, as if they represented fundamental mathematical operations, or else belonged in a Chinese puzzle or a game of some kind. The configuration of the arbitrary forms of the letters of the Latin script into this elegant and meaningful three-dimensional sign haunted me as we walked around the city, and I kept looking for clues as to where and how this kind of thinking had come into being.

On the way home from dinner and we came upon a giant jagged apparition at some distance, which we wondered at, in that half-light, on the diagonal. It was really hard to tell if that was a giant ball or some kind of urban sculpture or what. It was only when we came closer, and were standing right across the building that it became clear that this was an intentional play of color and form, an invitation to indulge one’s pleasure in the visual experience of geometry. I came back later and took the photograph below.

Hungarian facade

As I learned later, this is a piece of trompe d’oeil inspired by the Hungarian modernist painter Viktor Vasarely, who had so fully captured the zeitgeist by about 1973, that you would know his work by his influence on everything from poster design to album art, even if you never knew him by name.

Vasarely was associated with many of the modernists, and part of his career was spent in Paris, yet Cubism and its aftermath does not fully explain his peculiar preoccupation with the illusionistic creation of three-dimensional optical effects using color upon simple compositions of cubes. He makes paintings that are carefully crafted grids that deform at critical junctures to break into the third dimension, or Escheresque, dissolve into unresolvable contradictions. He seems haunted by riddles of dimensionality, by the folding contradiction of the three dimensions and the pull of gravity. He makes, for instance, a composition of folding chess pieces, now straight, now flat, now folding into a cube-like chess board, whose uncertain post-Euclidean space captures the observer’s mind with force, eliciting complex emotions and wonder.

3qd_hungarian_victor vasarely

Rubiks_cube-731722 copy Budapest is also, of course, the home of Ernő Rubik, the father of the Rubik’s Cube and sundry similar three-dimensional puzzles. Quiet and retiring, Rubik has worked as an architect, designer, and teacher of descriptive geometry in a long and singular career loudly punctuated by his sudden global fame thanks to his Cube. He is now staging a major retrospective exhibition on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of his famous Cube, which is traveling around the world. Rubik’s original Cube itself has become such a ubiquitous token among children, geeks and gamers around the world, that it is hard, after all these years, to bring it back into focus: What faculties of mind and imagination does it actually represent?

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America’s “Natural Aristocracy” and the Triumph of Elite Reason

by Michael Blim

Founding-fathers Think back to your first class in American history. It could have been in high school or in college. The opening line was probably the same: “Half of American history occurred before the Revolution. If you want to understand American history, you need to understand the colonial period.” Or words to that effect.

I recall sitting in a big, darkened auditorium, a spiral notebook and pen in one hand, and a cigarette in the other. The class was big, perhaps as many as four hundred, but the room seated perhaps twice that many, so that there was enough room to light up, smoke, flick the ash, and crush out the butt without lighting up a fellow student. Such were the necessities of undergraduate life, once upon a time.

I can still remember my dismay at the prospect of an entire semester devoted to America before the Civil War. Images of witch-burnings, buckshot, buckskins, Hawkeye and Chingachgook competed with thoughts of powdered wigs, knee britches, the Adams family and the pockmarked, wooden-toothed father of our country for my all too limited attention span. I was never too impressed with our nation’s founders, having discovered pretty early on that many of them had countenanced Indian killing and slaveholding, and that the great document they forged counted a slave as three-fifths of a person.

In fact, I did not consider during those late days of the sixties the Constitution to be such a great document at all. The Warren Court was finally fixing its inequities, and despite Justice Black’s quaint habit of carrying around a copy of the Constitution in his pocket like a legal baby-blanket, was actually making new law so sorely missing from the old. I wasn’t so keen on the constitutional set-up of government either, as Cold War presidents had become unaccountable emperors, and the two-house Congress had all but put the legislature in the hands of Southern reactionaries. Lyndon Johnson was showing how broken American government had become by subjecting the Congress for good at home and the populace for bad with war abroad. Even if you thought America’s rulers were well intentioned, Richard Hofstadter, the premier American historian in those days, was awfully persuasive in describing the national political tradition as one of cynical opportunism.

Forty years have passed since I was told to pay attention to early American history, and I finally understand why, petticoats and Pilgrims aside, it was such good advice. For it was their great concern about who should rule America that should now become ours.

Who should rule America, the revolutionary and Constitution-writing generations of American leaders asked? Should it be an aristocratic elite bred to rule by the best families of the land? Or should it be direct representatives of the people whose knowledge of statecraft might be slight but who were reflective of the popular will?

Though America’s revolutionary leaders and the constitution-writing generation comprised a highly self-conscious and well-born elite, and as Anglophile as it might have been, the fight against imperial privilege and rule has soured them on replacing a remote absolutism with one homegrown. The spurts of raw democratic radicalism inspired by the revolution motivated this elite to write what Gordon Wood in Creation of the American Republic (1969: 513) has called “an intrinsically aristocratic document.” Republican rather than democratic with state power divided among agencies to prevent direct popular rule, the elite strived in as much as possible to reserve government for itself.

But this same elite, its roots in immigration and hardscrabble made all the more obvious after the properly English-related well-born had fled the colonies with British defeat, feared the creation of a new “England” in their midst even as they attributed their own social mobility to the fact that society’s best, like cream, always rose to the top. America needed an aristocracy, they reasoned, but let it be a natural one drawn from the ranks of people like them, those whom in their conceit they decided were the best and the brightest.

And so the concept of a “natural aristocracy” was born.

Read more »

What was malt liquor?

Andrew Rosenblum in Accidental Blogger:

ScreenHunter_05 Sep. 19 21.04 Malt liquor producers also noticed that African-Americans bought malt liquor in disproportionate numbers – although the marketers did not understand why. Even so, the majority of malt liquor drinkers were white, as was true even during malt liquor’s 1990’s peak. And so brewers were happy to market to members of either racial group. As you can see from these early Champale ads, the companies marketed the drink to black consumers pretty similarly as it did to whites, with images of well-dressed, happy models buying an expensive champagne substitute.

Though targeted more intensively to blacks as the 70s wore on, malt liquor continued to be directed at whites too, through spokespeople ranging from a then-unknown Ted Danson to Robin Hood. When Budweiser made an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to launch a malt liquor in 1971, white college students and young African-Americans were the target audience, as you can see from this priceless 1973 film created for Budweiser salesmen. For anyone with a love of kitsch and retro styles, hipster or not, the film borders on the sublime – with moments like the earnest nod the African-American actress gives to the host as her boyfriend explains that “’bad’ means ‘good,’” and the unintentional laugh line “Anything with the Budweiser name on it has got to be good.” The film's equal opportunity message is that Bud malt liquor is what you drink “when you really want to get down to it” and get wasted at a party, whether you're white or black.

More here.

The Calculus Diaries

Sean Carroll in Cosmic Variance:

Calc-diaries No more will innocent citizens cower in fear at the thought of derivatives and integrals, or flash back in horror to the days of terror and confusion in high-school math class. Because now there is a cure for these maladies — The Calculus Diaries: How Math Can Help You Lose Weight, Win in Vegas, and Survive a Zombie Apocalypse.

Yes, you read that subtitle correctly. Let’s be clear: this book is probably not for you. That’s because you, I have no doubt, already love calculus. You carry a table of integrals in your back pocket, and you practice substituting variables to while away the time in the DMV. This isn’t the book for people who already appreciate the austere beauty of a differential equation, or even for people who want to study up for their AP exam.

No, this is the book for people who hate math. It’s for people who look at you funny and turn away at parties when you mention that you enjoy science. It’s for your older relatives who think you’re crazy for appreciating all that technical stuff, or your nieces and nephews who haven’t yet been captivated by the beauty of mathematics. The Calculus Diaries is the book for people who need to be convinced that math isn’t an intimidating chore — that it can be fun.

More here. [I read the book from cover to cover in two sittings.]

Meet The Man Who Sneaked Into Auschwitz

From NPR:

Pilecki_custom This weekend marks the 70th anniversary of a World War II milestone few people have heard before. It's the story of a Polish army captain named Witold Pilecki.

In September 1940, Pilecki didn't know exactly what was going on in Auschwitz, but he knew someone had to find out. He would spend two and a half years in the prison camp, smuggling out word of the methods of execution and interrogation. He would eventually escape and author the first intelligence report on the camp.

In the early years of the war, little was known about the area near the town Germans called Auschwitz.

Poland was in a state of chaos. It was divided in half — Nazi Germany claiming one side, Soviet Russia on the other. The Polish resistance had gone underground.

Pilecki wanted to infiltrate the Auschwitz camp, but he had difficulty getting commanders to sign off on the mission. At the time, it was thought of as POW camp.

“They didn't realize the information from inside the camp was that vital,” says Ryszard Bugajski, a Polish filmmaker who directed the 2006 film The Death of Captain Pilecki.

Pilecki was eventually cleared to insert himself into a street round-up of Poles in Warsaw on Sept. 19, 1940. Upon arrival, he learned Auschwitz was far from anything the Resistance had imagined.

More here.

Sunday Poem

Poor Patriarch
The rooster pushes his head

high among the hens, trying to be
what he feels he must be, here
in the confines of domesticity.
Before the tall legs of my presence,
he bristles and shakes his ruby comb.
Little man, I want to say
the hens know who they are.
I want to ease his mistaken burden,
want him to crow with the plain
ecstasy of morning light as it
finds its winter way above the woods.
Poor outnumbered fellow,
how did he come to believe
that on his plumed shoulders
lay the safety of an entire flock?
I run my hand down the rippled
brindle of his back, urge him to relax,
drink in the female pleasures
that surround him, of egg laying,
of settling warm-breasted in the nest
of this brief and feathered time.
by Susie Patlove
from Quickening; Slate Roof Press, 2007


Lawrence Wright in The New Yorker:

Park Last year, when plans were announced for Cordoba House, an Islamic community center to be built two blocks north of Ground Zero, few opposed them. The project was designed to promote moderate Islam and provide a bridge to other faiths. Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Sufi cleric leading the effort, told the Times, in December, “We want to push back against the extremists.” In August, the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously against granting historic protection to the building at 45-47 Park Place, thereby clearing the way for the construction of Park51, as the center is now known. A month later, it is the focus of a bitter quarrel about the place of Islam in our society.

The lessons of the Danish cartoon controversy serve as an ominous template for the current debate. One reason for the initial lack of reaction to the cartoons was that they were, essentially, innocuous. There is a prohibition on depictions of the Prophet in Islam, but that taboo has ebbed and flowed over time, and only two of the twelve published cartoons could really be construed as offensive in themselves: one portrayed the Prophet as a barbarian with a drawn sword, which played into a racial stereotype; the other showed him wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb. Newspapers in several Muslim countries published the cartoons to demonstrate that they were tasteless, rather than vicious. The cartoons, in other words, did not cause the trouble. So what happened? A group of radical imams in Denmark, led by Ahmed Abu Laban, an associate of Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian terrorist organization, decided to use the cartoons to inflate their own importance. They showed the cartoons to various Muslim leaders in other countries, and included three illustrations that had not appeared in the Danish papers. One was a photograph of a man supposedly wearing a prayer cap and a pig mask, and imitating the Prophet. (He turned out to be a contestant in a French hog-calling competition). Another depicted a dog mounting a Muslim in prayer. The third was a drawing of the Prophet as a maddened pedophile gripping helpless children like dolls in either hand. The imams later claimed that these illustrations had been e-mailed to them as threats—although they never produced any proof that they hadn’t made the drawings themselves—and so were fair representations of European anti-Muslim sentiment. The leaders saw them and were inflamed. The Sunni scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi demanded a Day of Rage. So far, we have had five years of rage.

More here.

Muslim Grrrls

Rafia Zakaria in Guernica:

Grannan_151_300 I grew up in the eighties in a Pakistan that had just escaped the shackles of military rule. My own dawning political awareness came at the euphoric time when Pakistan was about to elect its first female prime minister. It had been a grisly decade, one in which Pakistan’s own militarized version of Sharia law had played a defining role. In the late-seventies, in an effort to legitimize his dictatorship, General Muhammad Zia ul-Haque, who had grabbed power in a military coup, initiated an “Islamization” program. With the goal of producing a pure society by criminalizing all temptation, Islamization produced laws whose draconian and misogynistic character was conveniently packaged in Islamic-sounding terms and references. In real life, this meant that men and women could be asked to produce their marriage documents by any police officer. Women on television covered their hair and were never shown having any physical contact with men, leaving children like me to digest British sitcoms so censored that they often lasted only ten minutes.

It is not that preoccupations with Islamic law took up much of my attention in those early years of my life, or that I worried about the fact that legally I counted as only half a witness while my twin brother, with whom I competed and fought daily, counted as a whole. Yet these precepts, because of their existence and their ubiquity, were an invisible yet determinative theme in my life. They dictated, for example, the manner in which our home was arranged, such that an entering unrelated male could be led directly to a reception room in the front of the house, never encountering any women. In later years, it would decide who I was allowed to visit and when, which schools I would be sent to, and myriad other details of my own life and the lives of the women in our family.

More here.

j-e-t-s, jets, jets, jets……


Sometimes I see Rex Ryan as a medieval man. I see the Assisi in him. That’s because of the exuberance. He runs around the sidelines like a foul-mouthed saint, praising the game and all who play it. Grant me, he cries into his headset between plays, that I might not so much seek to be loved as to love. His team will always be the best team possible. His players will always be the greatest talents of all time. He believes, truly believes. Then he goes home and late at night, I am sure, the bottom drops out. He stares out the window into the darkness and knows that everything is desolation, that every play is a hopeless stab in the dark, that everything can always go wrong. He gets down on his knees and cries out a forsaken lament. He strikes his own corpulent flesh with his hands and grinds sand into his palms. He grovels on the floor and weeps. Then he calls a press conference the next morning. We will go to the Super Bowl, he proclaims. The Jets are the team to beat.

more from me at The Owls here.