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Sunday, December 30, 2007
The Envelope, Please III
The Daily Dish Awards have been announced. There is no Von Hoffmann Award for "stunningly wrong political, social and cultural predictions" this year - Sully must have missed all those columns about the inevitable failure of the Iraq troop surge.
I predict that the multitudinous predictions of recession will merit Von Hoffmann nominations next year.
While Christmas is officially a celebration of the birth of Jesus, for much of the Western world December 25 has come to be a celebration of family and community. No other time of the year is so thoroughly saturated with images pointing to our highest hopes for such relationships - and no other time of the year so effectively highlights the difference between our ideals and the world as it really is. Jesus came to Earth to bridge not only the chasm between humanity and God, but also that rift that separates people from each other. Christmas reminds us that we live in a broken world, and it seeks to encourage us by showing us through religious and even many secular trappings how that brokenness can be fixed.
Voting is still open. There is one that particularly interestes me, which is defined here (emphasis added):
The Yglesias Award is for writers, politicians, columnists or pundits who actually criticize their own side, make enemies among political allies, and generally risk something for the sake of saying what they believe.
The operative word is risk - the statement has to entail political risk. That right there should disqualify Michelle Malkin, nominated for her post titled The warrantless wiretap retreat:
Bush administration = Lucy. Bush administration defenders = Charlie Brown.
(Actually, that remark could apply to Bush's amnesty-for-illegals program.)
If this had been said by an actual member of the Bush administration, then this statement would definitely entail political risk. But Malkin is a pundit, so if any risk is being taken it's among her peers - her fellow conservative pundits. They seem to be pretty divided over the issue, if the Captain's Quarters post on the issue is any indication.
The recipe for Republicans is to stop acting like, well, Republicans--that is, Republicans of recent vintage. In Congress, they've been soft on earmarks, the source of so much corruption. They practically invited Democrats to trump them on ethics and lobbying reform. And they've allowed their obsession with illegal immigrants to get out of hand. This drives away Hispanic voters and leaves the impression that Republicans are small-minded, ungenerous and nasty. The worst offenders are the presidential candidates, who would be wise to tone down their rhetoric on immigration,
Barnes is editor of The Weekly Standard. The conservative media (and conservatives in general) are even more in line with this remark than woth the Malkinator's.
I wouldn't vote for Christian Broadcasting Network journalist David Brody, either - his dissing of people for "demoniz[ing]" Hillary would carry some weight if he'd provided at least one specific example.
Paul Jenkins is one of the stronger contenders - criticizing the Clintons is the Kiss of Death in most of the leftysphere. Matt Taibbi is another - I wonder if he gets many invites to those Upper West Side cocktail parties...
Isn't Huckabee the obvious representative of all the Jamie Lynn Spears' out there? I mean: he's got a following for a reason.
Does anyone get the joke? The only connection I can find is that Huck opposes abortion and Spears is not aborting.
Actually one of the other candidates could capitalize off this. Slogan idea: "If Fred Thompson were Jamie Lynn Spears' father, there wouldn't be a shotgun wedding - his icy glare is deadly enough to scare the father into showing up at the altar."
Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams expresses some skepticism over common perceptions about the Nativity, and for the most part he's right on the money. The Bible doesn't tell us what animals the inn kept at the manger. The idea of snow there is not Biblical, it's the imagination of people who grew up in colder climes. The Bible also says that the Magi and shepherds saw the baby Jesus at different times; the latter arrived at the Nativity (Luke 2:15-16), while the former visited Joseph's house in Bethlehem some time after - Jesus had already been born when they saw Herod (Matt 2:1-2). The Bible also doesn't say how many Magi there were. As there were three gifts, I suspect people tend to subconsciously think that there was one Wise Man per gift.
Williams states that scarcely anything is known of the Magi - but slips up and makes the hasty assumption that they were astrologers. For those of you who broght your Bibles, turn to Matthew Chapter 2, verses 1-9:
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. "In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was.
What is described here is not consultation with an astrological chart. These guys saw a star where there wasn't one before, somehow knew that it was an omen of the birth of the Messiah, traveled to Jerusalem, met with and left Herod, and saw the star again as it physically led them to a specific geographic location. Astronomical objects don't do that last bit - except for meteors when they can be seen falling on specific geographic locations - and neither do horoscopes.
The Bible doesn't say how the Magi recognized the meaning of the omen. But astrology is an unlikely candidate, as it was an extension of polytheism - the planets were believed to be gods, in case their names don't give it away - which anyone devoted to the Messiah would regard as false religion. Astrology has never been used to predict specific unique events, anyway.
Blogging the Qur'an: Sura 9, “Repentance,” Verse 29 (Part Two), Verses 30-49
Oops, I let last week's installment slip - it's easy to forget about the Koran during Christimas season. Time for a little catch-up.
Robert Spencer's second article on verse 29 focuses on the Pact of Umar, "an agreement made, according to Islamic tradition, between the caliph Umar, who ruled the Muslims from 634 [two years after Mohammed's death - AKH] to 644, and a Christian community." The pact outlines how Umar chose to inplement the "state of subjection" (Shakir translation) called for in Sura 9:29 - what the conquered Christians must and must not do.
Why should we care about what some caliph wrote over 13 centuries ago? Because that document influences Muslims today (emphasis added).
The influential twentieth century jihadist theorist Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966) emphasizes that these rules should be revived, for "these verses are given as a general statement, and the order to fight the people of the earlier revelations until they pay the submission tax with a willing hand and are subdued is also of general import" (In the Shade of the Qur'an, Vol. VIII, p. 126).
Likewise the Pakistani jihadist writer and activist Syed Abul A'la Maududi (1903-1979) states that "the simple fact is that according to Islam, non-Muslims have been granted the freedom to stay outside the Islamic fold and to cling to their false, man-made, ways if they so wish." That heads off any potential contradiction between his understanding of v. 29 and 2:256, "There is no compulsion in religion." Maududi continues by declaring that the unbelievers "have, however, absolutely no right to seize the reins of power in any part of God's earth nor to direct the collective affairs of human beings according to their own misconceived doctrines. For if they are given such an opportunity, corruption and mischief will ensue. In such a situation the believers would be under an obligation to do their utmost to dislodge them from political power and to make them live in subservience to the Islamic way of life" (Towards Understanding the Qur'an, vol. III, p. 202).
Qutb's In the Shade of the Qur'an has a large following among Muslims. Maududi is the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami political party in Pakistan. It is part of the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal political coalition; MMA holds 21 of the 100 Senate seats, and 63 of the 342 National Assembly seats.
This week's verses bash Jews and Christians, going as far as to accuse the Jews of claiming Ezra to be the Son of God. Does the International Criminal Court handle libel cases?
Click the "Koran" label to see all my posts on this series.
Aren't there amusement park rides scarier than waterboarding?
I know that rollercoasters are pretty terrifying, especially when they make those high-speed sharp turns and give you the sensation that you're being thrown to your death. Which is why I stay off those things.
Rush Limbaugh waxes eloquently about the role of oil in the world's ecology and in human civilization. This was sparked by a caller's objection to his use of the word "crop" to describe oil. Rush addresses that language in these segments of the monologue:
You got poison ivy out there. There's all kinds of poisonous snakes. Yes, God put some things on the planet that are very dangerous, but they serve their role in their own ecosystems, and many of these things exist to protect life from being slaughtered by predators. So we deal with it, we learn about it, and we learn to respect it. The left, the militant environmentalist wacko community in this country has succeeded in portraying oil as in and of itself a pollutant, a filthy, dirty, rotten scourge that must not be mined or brought up to the surface, must not be drilled for and must not be used. It's a fossil fuel. I can show you research from scientists in the field of petroleum who think that the Earth is still manufacturing it. It is a crop no different than any other crop that must be harvested in order to sell it...When I say look at it as a crop, I simply mean, don't buy into the notion that it is poison, that it is something that needs to be unused.
His point is that radical environmentalists view oil as something apart from the ecosystem; thus they do not treat it as they would any other product of nature. But it's not just oil - these sorts view humanity in the same way, that the ivy and the hallucinogenic toads are a part of nature but we aren't. Other lifeforms' impact on nature is natural, but ours is some sort of blasphemy.
For those puzzled by the title of this post, the Pleistocene was the last of the geologic epochs that predated the advent of humans.
Time flies when you're blogging - had to start getting ready for work before I had a chance to complete yesterday's post.
The two funniest moments were film references - Sylar telekinesing the spinach can, in a sly nod to Popeye, and the imprisoned Bennett bouncing the ball in his cell in homage to Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Adam's ironic fate of eternal imprisonment in a coffin was one of those "whoa" moments.
There's always a door opened to bring Niki back. If nobody ever finds even a trace of her incinerated remains, Hiro or Peter could rescue her without changing history.
If Bennett still wants to undermine The Company, he should seek Elle as an ally. He's already seen signs of her disillusionment. Best way to push her in the right direction is to help her regain her childhood memories of serving as a Company guinea pig, via a dose of Claire's blood. Stealing from Company stockpiles would tip them off, so he should somehow smuggle some in.
He doesn't trust Mohinder, so Elle is the only one who can get it for him. She'll do it because she wants those memories. She'd need some secret shared by Bennett and Claire to serve as a sort of password to let Claire know that she's working with Bennett and can be trusted. Of course, Elle might come up with the idea of seeking a vial of Claire's blood on her own without any prodding from Bennett.
The God Complex is a theme in this series, and it isn't the same in everyone who manifests it. I have come up with these categories, with examples from Heroes and (in italics) other sources. One may exhibit more than one of these complexes.
God of Final Judgment. Subscribes to a specific utopian vision, and regards nonconformity with it as a crime against humanity that must be punished. Adam Monroe, Mr. Linderman, Magneto, Communists, Nazis.
God of Power. Seeks infinite power for its own sake. Sylar, Voldemort.
Bullying God. Super powers + anger management issues. Habitually uses powers as a means of emotional venting. Niki (as Jessica), Greco-Roman mythos, Anthony Fremont.
Toying God. A variety of Bullying God who views humanity as a toy to play with. Elle, Trelane
Micromanaging God. A self-appointed dictator over specific human affairs. Uses powers (often clandestinely) for enforcement. Organians, Q Continuum
Micromanaging God, Super-Power Affairs I. A variant whose self-assumed jurisdiction concerns superpowered humans. Decides what relationship (if any) they should have with normal humans, intensely regulates the use of super powers. Bob, Ministry of Magic, Greek gods (excluding Prometheus, who stole fire from Olympus to benefit humanity, much to the gods' chagrin)
Time Lord. Unique to those with access to time travel, a temptation to arbitrate past events in the world. Hiro (on occasion), Marty McFly (in the first film)
Harry Potter fans take note: the Ministry's initials spell MOM. Ah, the paternalistic state...
Update: Actually, McFly isn't an example of the God Complex. His changes to history were unintentional, the ironic result of trying to fix history. Star Trek has done time travel to death, and in a few cases characters have tried to play God with the past; the Borg Queen in the film and Kathryn Janeway (who was actually successful at it) in the Voyager series finale are two notable examples.
Elle survives, despite my prediction last week. Instead of doing a repeat of Candice - introducing a thoroughly unlikeable egomaniacal brat and killing her off to put her out of the audience's misery - Kring has decided to actually develop this character, and to allow her to start growing up. She's got serious daddy issues, dealing with both daddy-rejection issues and daddy-using-me-as-a-guinea-pig-and-erasing-my-memory issues.
(At first I thought it odd that Claire's blood wasn't used as a quickie cure for Elle's gunshot wound. But it makes sense on two counts: the limited supply, and the fact that regenerative power can heal the damage done to her brain by the Haitian, thus restoring her childhood memories.)
It shouldn't be surprised that the two heroes to fall were the ones who had been shoved to the back burner this episode. Niki's death will spur Monica's entry into a crimefighting career, with Micah probably destined to serve as a combination of both Alfred and Robin to her Batman. Her St. Joan persona as predicted in 9th Wonders! is an obvious reference to Joan of Arc; ironically, the maid of Orleans is famous for not escaping flames.
Angela Petrelli couldn't be more right about Nathan's assassination (which visually brings back memories of the shooting ofd Bobby Kennedy) opening a Pandora's box. The Company has preserved its secrecy, at the start of starting a full-blown war. Peter and Claire have the greatest emotional interest, being Nathan's closest blood relatives, outside of his quisling mother. Parkman was there at the shooting, so he is highly motivated to seek revenge. Hiro has a firm sense of justice, so he won't miss out. He will probably have to serve as the cool head to keep the Claire-Peter-Matt triumvirate from going off and doing rash things. If they're smart, the first thing they do is get organized, with Peter whiffing around the world to round up the likely allies.
Which won't include Mohinder Suresh or Noah Bennett. It's unsure how the final episodes shaped Mohinder's view toward his employer, but he's not a yes-man, and he is aware of some of its dubious past. Bennett is no friend at all, but will cooperate with The Company for the sake of protecting his family. Time will tell how the war will change his plans. Then again, Bennett may already have plans to undermine The Company...
I know she's just a kid, but how could Elle have been that clumsy, letting Sylar get away that easily? He's taken the serum intended for Niki, and his telekinetic demonstration on an empty can of spinach (nice Popeye reference) shows that it's working. But keep this in mind: the serum has never been tested. We don't know how reliable this cure will be, or if it will pose any ill side effects.
Adam's motives come out in the open, and instead of pulling some weird plot twist they are exactly what the hints suggest: that Adam seeks to inflict "divine" vengeance on a wicked world. The God Complex is a recurring theme on this show, and it comes in forms other than this. Hiro wrestled with his desire to control the timeline to his selfish desires. Elle, before she started wising up, acted mucl like those Greco-Roman deities who nonchalantly zapped anyone who got in their way. There was a bit of that in Candice and Maury, too. Perhaps The Comany parallels the gods of Olympus, stingy with its secret of fire and keeping any prospective Prometheus from letting the masses make use of that power.
Update: Scroll to next post up for more bloggage on Heroes.
An entire column on just one verse? What's so special about that verse?
YUSUFALI: Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.
PICKTHAL: Fight against such of those who have been given the Scripture as believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, and forbid not that which Allah hath forbidden by His messenger, and follow not the Religion of Truth, until they pay the tribute readily, being brought low.
SHAKIR: Fight those who do not believe in Allah, nor in the latter day, nor do they prohibit what Allah and His Messenger have prohibited, nor follow the religion of truth, out of those who have been given the Book, until they pay the tax in acknowledgment of superiority and they are in a state of subjection.
Interesting that the Pickthal translation skips over the reference to the "People of the Book" - meaning Christians and Jews. Without this qualifier, a skeptic might question whether the scope of this command were limited to the enemy fought in the Battle of Badr, the backdrop of Suras 8 and 9 (see this article for historic context).
But the reference to Jews and Christians, who played no role in the battle, reveals that this is a universal command, that Muslims must kill or subjugate all non-Muslims. Leading Islamic scholars agree, as quoted in Spencer's column.
Click the "Koran" label to see all my posts on this series.
Musing over the Sudanese teddy bear blasphemy case, on a recent airing of The View Barbara Walters wonders if a similar outcry would have erupted if in the United States a teacher had named a teddy bear "Jesus" Hot Air has the video here.
The chief failure is that these women don't realize that the bear was named after a boy named Mohammed, not after the Islamic prophet. Thus an apples-to-apples comparison is never established. Christians understand that the Mohammed bear was named in an act of affection, and woudl view a Jesus bear parallel in a similar light.
The Viewmistresses did mention that there are Latino boys named Jesus (pronounced "hay-ZOOS"), and they seem to understand is a common Latino name, and that Anglos aren't demanding that people be executed for it. We've got no room to complain, anyway; our "Joshua" comes closer than Jee-zus or Hay-zoos to the original Hebrew name (Yeshua). Naming boys Emmanuel or Immanuel, a symbolic name given explicitly to Jesus, doesn't draw any public ire, either - especially not from Kantians :-)
They also fail to note that not even intentional anti-Christian sacrilege does not draw the sort of literal bloodthirstiness that perceived anti-Islamic activity draws.
If anything, the ACLU would have been breathing fire on the teacher for violating "separation of church and state" for naming a bear after Jesus. Joy Behar may have alluded to this when she stated that "there are other groups in public schools who may object to the fact that you're giving preferential treatment to the teddy bear." Has speaking the name of the ACLU become politically incorrent, along the lines of the taboo on Lord Voldemort's name?