November 30, 2004

4 Qutb note

I don't think any film could have done the novel justice, but there was one scene in The Name of the Rose that was more effective, I think, than the pages in the book. Brother William, the intellectually adventurous Franciscan, informally debates the venerable (and terribly orthodox) Jorge of Borges, the blind librarian, over the question of whether Christ ever laughed, and, by extension, whether it is sinful for men to laugh. (The Bible is silent on whether Christ laughed; this spawned a rigorous debate that Umberto Eco drew on in his novel.) The scene is effective, I think, because we are confronted with an absurdity of the past that is argued with conviction and, although we side with Brother William, we cannot help noticing that he eventually chooses not to press his points -- no matter what the merits of his arguments, Jorge, appealing to authority, will have the last word.

I mention all this by way of introduction to Sayyid Qutb's work, The Islamic Concept and its Characteristics, which appears to be out of print. I have read the book, and I will start blogging my impressions, chapter by chapter, starting next week, and following along at irregular intervals. But for now, I thought I'd share a bit of Qutb, from his Introduction, in which he explains how the Ummah, as it were, lost its way:

The early days of struggle for the propagation of the Faith and of jihad had given way to a period of ease and comfort. At the same time, certain political occurrences, harking back to the disputes between 'Ali and Muawiyah, had raised various thorny philosophical and religious issues and caused the contending parties to support their position by rational argument. People residing in the Islamic territories studied Greek philosophy and involved themselves in the theological issues that had plagued Christianity earlier, and which were now accessible to Muslims through translations into the Arabic language. Such involvement in metaphysical speculation, which no doubt gave intellectual pleasure to those who engaged in it during the Abbasid period and likewise in Andalusia, introduced deviations and foreign elements into the original Islamic concept, which had come to originally resuce mankind from such deviations and speculations. This all-encompassing concept was revealed to restore mankind to the dynamic and practical Islamic belief system that directs all human energies toward building and construction, sublimity and purity, and living and sharing, while protecting this human energy and intellectual power from being dissipated through meaningless pursuits in the wilderness of philosophical speculation.

Yes, yes, don't laugh, Brother William, because we are on earth not to laugh but to weep over our sins, and don't think, Ibn Rushd, because we are on earth solely to memorize and recite the Qur'an.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:54 PM | Comments (1)

Antwerp noir

North Sea Diaries has an update on the investigation into the murder of Moshe Yitzhak Na'eh. The story does seem odd Na'eh apparently had debts, family members allegedly have been threatened by the creditors -- and no one will tell police who these creditors are. Follow the link to the story.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:07 PM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2004



The lovely lady is Zita Johann, who starred opposite Boris Karloff in the classic 1932 film The Mummy (classic, that is, for those of us who have a fondness for early horror movies). The linked DVD set (which contains all of the regrettable sequels that starred Lon Chaney Jr.) also features a brief documentary called "Mummy Dearest," which spends more time on Johann, a Hungarian born Broadway actress (she was a big star when a nobody named Clark Gable played opposite her in a 1928 play) than on the incomparable Karloff, or director Karl Freund (who worked with F.W. Murnau and Fritz Lang, and was the cinematographer of Dracula). It's easy to understand why. Johann thought Hollywood films were for the most part rubbish and wasn't afraid to say so, had a host of odd spiritual notions and occult inclinations, and retired to a rambling, vaguely haunted house somewhere in upstate New York. The tales about her are by far the most engaging part of the documentary.

In The Mummy, Johann plays a dual role, the princess Anckesen-Amon and her 20th doppelganger, Helen Grosvenor. The film hints at metempsychosis as an explanation, and apparently the idea fit nicely with Johann's own eclectic beliefs. In any case, her character/s is/are the woman for whom the undead Imhotep pines over millennia; the picture above can probably explain why better than I can.

This site, maintained by a relation of Johann's, has some lovely photos of her, including the one above and the one below, which shows the actress with Karloff, of whom she was apparently very fond and about whom, she said, there was an air of ineffable sadness...


Posted by Ideofact at 10:08 PM | Comments (1)

Cover blown?

This is an odd claim:

But conservative Christians have loudly denounced Alexander as "pro-gay" propaganda from Tinseltown, insisting that Alexander was a firmly hetero hero. To add to the film's problems, the public has stayed away from what was to be the big movie of the Thanksgiving weekend.

I don't ordinarily follow entertainment news all that closely, but I have found it amusing to read and hear what have been almost universally bad reviews for the film in the Washington Post, on Slate, and elsewhere. I had no idea so many movie critics were conservative Christians...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:51 AM | Comments (3)

November 26, 2004



I'm hardly a bellweather (Hollywood has little to worry about) but...

Wonderful day which began with a 7 a.m. trip to Target. I've never been an early morning shopper, or even a black Friday shopper, and frankly, I don't think anyone's missing all that much. I got the conventional toys on the six year old's list; my main problem is that his unconventional wishes include oddities like a life-size Egyptian sarcophagus (preferably containing one mummy; its ability to come back to life is optional...). Now that I've accounted for a good portion of his gifts (the rest I'm ordering over the Internet, and no, this is not among them), I can drag him around with me for the duration of the holiday shopping spree (a good deal of which I'm actually accomplishing as I type this -- for which he'll no doubt be grateful).

I took the boy to the National Museum of Natural History, which is always one of his favorites -- dinosaurs, skeletons, giant squid (two of them!), a couple of sarcophagi, and so on. While wandering through the exhibit on ancient seas, I noticed the trilobites. When I was a kid, I had a plaster cast of a trilobite -- it's still in my old room in the ancestral home. The six year old seemed intrigued when I mentioned it to him; for my part, I was reminded of a book I'd seen a while back but hadn't bought.

After lunch, the rest of the day was mine. I mentioned to my wife yet another bit of Alexandrivel, in this case a bit from a review I heard on the radio: Angelina Jolie appears, when visited by the adult Alexander, no different than she does when Alexander is a child. My wife suggested that since I seemed to be so fascinated with how terrible it was, I shouldn't deprive myself of the displeasure of seeing it myself. Barring that, perhaps I should go see some movie I actually want to see.

Instead, I ended up in Borders, where I found a copy of Trilobite: Eyewitness to Evolution by Richard Fortey. Then I wandered over to a Starbucks, found a table in the corner, and read.

It's not that I don't like movies, per se, or don't like seeing them by myself (When I worked at night in my younger days I used to love spending afternoons by myself in a movie house) but I've noticed of late that when I do spend money on films, it's either to rent or even buy things I either should have seen years ago but missed, or to see things I saw years ago and for whatever reason want to see again. There are a few movies I wouldn't mind seeing -- the Grudge comes to mind (though I'd rather see it with my wife -- we both enjoy horror films), but so much of Hollywood's output seems to me to be ... well, how does one put this? -- not quite in synch with the zeitgiest. It would be as if General Motors or Ford or Chrysler decided, at the moment that high gas prices and fuel efficient Japanese imports conspired to drive down their market share in the 1970s, chose to concentrate on bigger, less efficient gas guzzlers in response. I am not so much speaking of Hollywood's utter lack of curiosity regarding September 11 or the War on Terror -- I don't see movies to get caught up on current events. Rather, I think, it's the emphasis Hollywood continues to place, after all these years, on self-actualization (as the psychobabblers would put it). There's a wonderful episode of the Simpsons, in which Homer has been so conditioned by Hollywood movies like Animal House to regard college deans as repressive tyrants that when he encounters one who, it turns out, is kind and fair and cool, Homer is incapable of abandoning the stereotype. So too Hollywood, which began to lose me, I think, around the time of the English Patient. In that film, there's a scene in which the man having an affair with another man's wife desperately needs a jeep or some other kind of conveyance. Because World War Two has just broken out, the British soldiers are reluctant to give him one. It's an effective scene -- I distinctly recall someone hissing in the theater when the Brits turn down the lover, and I have to admit that were it not for a silly insistence I have on trying to see things from someone else's point of view (that of soldier who soon enough will be the only ones fighting Hitler seeing a foreigner demanding one of their jeeps), I too might have hissed. As it is, I couldn't help concluding tha tthe message of the film was that in this crazy love triangle, the problems of the world don't mean a hill of beans.

As a child I loved Peter Pan -- or at least the Disnified version of it, which, after all, had Pirates and Indians and a maneating crocodile and all sorts of interesting things going on. But while never having to grow up can be an appealing fantasy for children, it's not exactly the best prescription for adults to follow. So why should I shell out money to see a film that appears to argue the opposite?

Perhaps I'm wrong -- perhaps there are dozens of hard-nosed Sam Spades in the films I'm missing, refusing to play the sap for anyone. But I suspect there aren't, and, given a choice between a few hours in a darkened room with overloud speakers and a few hours in a bright cafe with trilobites, I'll choose the latter...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:40 PM | Comments (0)

Casaubon, call your office

The more I read of this story, about a new effort to find the Holy Grail, the more difficult it was to take it seriously:

For 250 years the code, found on the Shepherds' Monument at Shugborough Hall, has mystified visitors, including Charles Darwin.

The monument includes a marble relief of Nicholas Poussin's 17th century painting Les Bergers d'Arcadie II, though the image is reversed. In the picture a woman is pointing at the inscription "Et in Arcadia Ego!"

Beneath it on the monument, commissioned by a member of the Anson family in the mid 18th century, are the letters: "O.U.O.S.V.A.V.V" flanked on one side by a D and on the other an M.

Where does the Holy Grail fit in? For a start, the Anson family reputedly had connections with the Prieure de Sion, a secret society which had its origins in the Knights Templar, the legendary keepers of the grail.

The choice of the Poussin picture could also be significant - he was said to be a member of the Prieure de Sion - while the fact that the image was reversed may also be important because members of the society were keen on inventing codes which involved mirror writing.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:58 AM | Comments (1)

November 25, 2004

If a Great could do it...


While it seems more and more likely that the sole redeeming value of Oliver Stone's Alexander will be unintended ones, either comic relief or silent nostalgia (even worse, Slate reviewer David Edelstein says the film makes him pity Stone), perhaps it's worth recalling a movie now nearly 30 years old, The Man Who Would Be King, which, though only peripherally about Alexander, provoked (in me at least) more of a sense of wonder about the Macedonian than anything I've encountered before or since (even more than Plutarch's Life). Yes, there's crackpottery in the film -- the bit about the Masonic symbol is pure poppycock -- but the film is primarily a fiction, with no pretense to any kind of historical reality -- a ripping good yarn that through its sham history touches on a truth or two in its 120 odd minutes.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:50 PM | Comments (2)


From William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation 1620-1647:

I may not here omit how, notwithstand all their great pains and industry, and the great hopes of a large crop, the Lord seemed to blast, and take away the same, and to threaten further and more sore famine unto them. By a great drought which continued from the third week in May, till about the middle of July, without any rain and with great heat for the most part, insomuch as the corn began to wither away though it was set with fish, the moisture whereof helped it much. Yet at length it began to languish sore, and some of the drier grounds were parched like withered hay, part whereof never recovered. Upon which they set apart a solemn day of humiliation, to seek the Lord by humble and fervent prayer, in this great distress. And He was pleased to give them a gracious and speedy answer, both to their own and the Indians' admiration that lived amongst them. For all the morning, and greatest part of the day, it was clear weather and very hot, and not a cloud or any sign of rain to be seen; yet toward evening it began to overcast, and shortly after to rain with such sweet and gentle showers as gave them cause of rejoicing and blessing God. It came without either wind or thunder or any violence, and by degrees in that abundance as that the earth was thoroughly wet and soaked and therewith. Which did so apparently revive and quicken the decayed corn and other fruits, as was wonderful to see, and made the Indians astonished to behold. And afterwards the Lord sent them such seasonable showers, with interchange of fair warm weather as, through His blessing, caused a fruitful and liberal harvest, to their no small comfort and rejoicing. For which mercy, in time convenient, they also set apart a day of thanksgiving.

The passage is footnoted, with the editor suggesting that this particular day of thanksgiving may have been in July (Bradford doesn't say when the convenient time was for setting apart a day).

Incidentally, today's Washington Post had a story about what some call the first Thanksgiving -- little wonder we don't memorialize it the way we do the Pilgrims.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:40 PM | Comments (0)

November 24, 2004

But it's a school night!

Let's see...last Sunday night I made dinner for the family (nothing fancy, just some pasta), then did homework with the six year old (homework seems to require parental involvement now, which is odd -- there are some things he can do himself, but some of the instructions are literally directed to the parents) while my wife did the dishes. She gave the boy his bath, then subjected herself to one of those mysterious things in the shower that involves several oddly named potions in pastel colored tubes and bottles. The boy and I, meanwhile, watched a DVD my father got him for his birthday, Nefertiti Resurrected; he's not really able to follow it all, but I'm always surprised at how much he does pick up from these things -- every once in a while he'll ask me in the car something like, "So why do you need to ask the Egyptian government before you can explore tombs?"

When he started to get bored with the DVD, I suggested we check out the Web site for his favorite cartoon of late, Tutenstein. We played the Make your own Mummy game, and he got all but one of the questions right without any help from me.

He played with blocks for a while, my wife came down and put him to bed, while I indulged myself in Simpsons and Arrested Development. I talked to my Mom and Dad on the phone; my wife read her book and I watched a bit of a football game, decided against drinking a beer or having a cigar; went to bed around 11 p.m.

My point (I'm beginning to forget that I had one) is that if you want to figure out how to move beyond whining about the results of the last election, find a better way to spend a Sunday night than having hundreds of meetings across the country to talk about how to stop whining about the election.

(Link via Tim Blair.)

Posted by Ideofact at 09:21 PM | Comments (0)

Alexander degraded

Speaking of film reviews, The Washington Post had what can only be described as a delicious dissing of Oliver Stone's Alexander:

If you played a word-association game with "Alexander the Great," you'd probably come up with "conqueror," "king," "warrior," "legend," "despot," "wastrel" or "killer." Unfortunately, Oliver Stone has chosen to build his epic of the Macedonian military genius around a word highly unlikely to make the list: "crybaby."

In Stone's view, this is a highly neurotic young man whose emotions, far from being repressed or disciplined as one would expect of a great soldier of the 4th century B.C., are worn on his sleeve, except, of course, that he doesn't have sleeves, the shirt still being two millennia down the road. So he wears them on his wrist -- and it's a limp one.

The faux controversy (which seems to me to be more of a marketing ploy than anything else) over Stone's treatment of Alexander's bisexuality might be more of an issue than I originally thought. I don't know, maybe it's just me, but I've always found it odd that Stone wasn't criticized more for alleging in JFK that a cabal of flamboyant homosexuals killed Kennedy at the behest of the military industrial complex. Well, that's neither here nor there; I suppose I don't care much for Oliver Stone's films because his technique is to have one theme, then to beat the audience with it over the head until they're senseless. "Do you get it yet?" "How about now?" "How about now?" .

Stephen Hunter's review is a joy to read. I concluded that the film might be worth seeing as comedy.

Then there's Angelina Jolie as Mom. Really, words fail me here. But let's try: Give this young woman the hands-down award for best impression of Bela Lugosi while hampered by a 38-inch bust line. Though everyone else in the picture speaks in some variation of a British accent, poor Jolie has been given the Transylvanian throat-sucker's throaty, sibilant vowels, as well as a wardrobe of snakes. She represents the spirit of kitsch that fills the movie, and with all her crazed posturing and slinking, it's more of a silent movie performance than one from the sound era. Theda Bara, call your agent.

That might be worth the price of admission alone!

Posted by Ideofact at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

Submission reviewed

Maryam of A Dervish's Du'a' offers a very thoughtful review of Theo van Gogh's film Submission:

For me, this film is quite powerful. The young girl is petitioning the silent god of a false religion. The religion of a misogynistic, patriarchal, androcentric Islam. And that could be quite threatening to those who have a vested interest in keeping this false religion alive. The woman is an archetype as she interweves her degraded existence with verses from the Qur'an used to religiously justify the oppression she experiences. She has a romantic love interest, she is gossipped about, she is forced into an arranged marriage to an abusive and repulsive husband. She cloisters herself while dreaming of liberty. She is raped and abused by her paternal uncle and then rebuked for insulting the honor of her family. At each step, the Qur'an is invoked to justify each experience. And that is what happens to some Muslim women. The victims of female genital cutting, of forced marriages, of honor killings - it is all justified through religion.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:07 AM | Comments (2)

November 23, 2004

Culinary cures

So wait. Does this mean that if you soak this in chocolate sauce, it's a health food?

Meanwhile, I've gotten an alarming number of visitors searching for the terms "whiskey turkey recipe." FYI: this is most likely not (well, let's not be too hasty) what you are looking for:

12. Turkey with Whiskey Sauce: This recipe is for a party of four. Obtain a gallon of whiskey, and allow it to age for several hours. Then serve, allowing one quart for each guest. The next day the turkey should be added, little by little, constantly stirring and basting.

From F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:12 PM | Comments (0)

Girls on film

A portion (I think) of Theo van Gogh's film Submission can be viewed online here. Oddly enough, the narration is in English. And don't be put off by the Looney Tunes ad at the beginning.

I watched it; while I can understand why some of the imagery would be offensive to Muslims, it doesn't strike me as being red-flag-waved-in-front-of-a-bull offensive. Then again, I'm not a Muslim, but I can say that it's nothing worth killing someone over. For what it's worth, I wonder if it's not so much the content of the film as an attempt to silence Theo van Gogh's collaborator, Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The note the killer left behind, after all, was addressed to her, and I suspect a flesh and blood woman who's thrown off the veil and thinks for herself and holds political power is a lot more threatening to the Islamists than a short film. (Added later: Think about it -- it's impossible to charge her with either xenophobia or Islamaphobia; Ayaan Hirsi Ali has a far freer hand to defend the Dutch tradition of religious tolerance and intellectual freedom than her Dutch colleagues.)

The link to the film, by the way, comes via Buff and Blue, who suggests that some of the imagery makes Islam seem more appealing than Presbyterianism. Well, if one's going to set the bar so low...

Posted by Ideofact at 10:52 PM | Comments (0)

Useless advice...

...clip and save. My favorite is number two:

A hooker who sees a police car and whispers, "Cheese it, the fuzz!" likely hails from deep space.

Posted by Ideofact at 01:44 PM | Comments (0)

Useful perspective

Useful perspective from Gregg Easterbrooks Tuesday Morning Quarterback column:

TMQ suggests this menu for your own personal Throwback Thanksgiving:

Wild turkey, shot with a musket and hand-plucked.

Dried maize; no corn-on-the-cob.

Ample, overflowing servings of lobster. (The Pilgrims considered lobster tasteless and complained in their diaries of having to eat it so often.)

Seal meat.

Hard apple cider. (Till the early 1800s or so, hard cider was in rural North America considered the only totally safe beverage, because the alcohol killed waterborne pathogens; children often drank diluted hard cider and went through the day slightly tipsy.)

For desert: plums, grapes and stewed pumpkin. (There is no chance the Pilgrims ate pie at the first Thanksgiving, because they had no refined sugar. Until the 1800s, most Americans rarely tasted anything containing refined sugar.)

As you dig into your turkey, stuffing and pecan pie, washed down with a $10 bottle of wine superior in quality to any wine available to the 17th-century kings of France, remember how hard your ancestors worked, and how they sacrificed, in the dream that someday their descendants would be warm, well-fed and secure against nature. Considering that your forebears just a century ago had an average lifespan of 46 years and often shivered during winters while eating mostly salt-preserved food, try to get through turkey day without complaining about anything, okay?

Posted by Ideofact at 01:11 PM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2004

X Marx the Cross

The always thought provoking (perhaps even saintly) John Cassian recalls a verbal tic that I seemed to encounter nearly every one of my undergraduate days and beyond until those peasants inexplicably voted on the basis of their stomachs rather than the fashions of college campuses:

During the 1980s part of the left-liberal intelligentsia in Britain (and elsewhere) wanted to show its support for the Sandinistas in Central America. Amongst such circles it was considered vitally important to pronounce Nicaragua as the natives did, i.e. something like "Nee-ka-ra-wah".

Ah, yes, the memories flow back to the quaint joys of the mid-1980s: the Rock against Reagan concerts (I believe their chief purpose was to raise revolutionary zeal to do away with the capitalist masses by making a profit from the sale of clever buttons with slogans like "USA out of North America"); any political discussion that got uncomfortable for your interlocutor being trumped by the phrase, "Salvadoran death squad" (Communists, of course, never killed anyone). I remember an argument I foolishly got into with someone in which I quoted an estimate I'd read somewhere (I've long since forgotten where) that in the entire 19th Century, the Czars' police executed somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 political prisoners; assuming the worst, and doubling, trebling, multiplying Czarist crimes tenfold, and you have at worst a government that over a century was a mere fraction as bloody as some months were under Lenin and Stalin.

At the apex of all this, of course, is dear old Karl Marx, about whom I've been thinking off and on. I highly recommend, to those who haven't read it, Frank Manuel's work, A Requiem for Karl Marx, which hints that sometimes, ideologues get the followers they deserve.

And now that I'm onto Marx, I might as well mention something I came across while reading Norman Cohn's book, Europe's Inner Demons. During the period of the Roman persecution of Christians in the second century CE, it was commonplace to accuse Christians of using the blood and flesh of their own infants in their rituals, of taking part in the most vile orgies, of worshipping the genitalia of the congregation's priest, and so on. The accusations died out in the second century, except for one "curious revival," as Cohn puts it:

In 1847 Marx read and was impressed by the newly published work of Georg Friedrich Daumer, Die Geheimnisse des christlichen Altertums (The Secrets of Christian Antiquity).

Cohn notes that Marx delivered a speech on the subject:

We know that the supreme thing in Christianity is human sacrifice. Daumer now proves in a recently published work that Christians really slaughtered men and at the Holy Supper ate human flesh and drank human blood. He finds here the explanation why the Romans, who tolerated all religious sects, persecuted the Christians, and why the Christians later destroyed the entire pagan literature directed against Christianity. Paul himself zealously argued against the admission to the Holy Supper of people who were not completely initiated into the mysteries. It is then also easy to explain where, for example, the relics of the 11,000 virgins came from; there is a document dating from the Middle Ages in which the nuns of a French convent made a contract with the Abbess to the effect that without the consent of all no further relics must be found. The occasion for this was given by a monk who was constantly travelling from Cologne to Paris and back and every time left relics behind. Everything that happened in this respect has been regarded as a fraud of the priests, but that would be to attribute to them a skill and cleverness far beyond the time in which they lived. Human sacrifice was sacred and has really existed. Protestantism merely transferred it to the spiritual man and mitigated the thing a little. Hence there are more madmen among Protestants than in any other sect. This story, as presented in Daumerís work, deals Christianity the last blow; the question now is, what significance this has for us. It gives us the certainty that the old society is coming to an end and that the edifice of fraud and prejudice is collapsing.

Cohn notes that Marx eventually had second thoughts about Daumer, who in 1858 "formally renounced" his own work and joined the Catholic Church.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:39 PM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2004


North Sea Diaries notes a threat that may relate to the killing of Moshe Yitzhak Na'eh in Antwerp. Interesting (and while it seems entirely reasonable to suspect anti-semitism as a motive, we should recall that as yet there have been no suspects identified)...

Via Winds of Change via Zacht Ei comes this this translation of the murder note in the Theo Van Gogh killing. It makes for chilling reading. Addressed to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Sudanese-born member of parliament who has been critical of Islamists (and is herself a lapsed Muslim), the letter warns:

Death, Miss Hirshi Ali, is the common theme of all that exists. You, me and the rest of creation can not disconnect from this truth.

There shall be a Day where one soul can not help another soul. A Day with terrible tortures and torments. a Day where the injust shall force from their longues horrible screams. Screams, Miss Hirshi Ali, that will cause shivers to roll down one's spine; that will make hairs stand up from heads. People will be seen drunk with fear while they are not drunk. FEAR shall fill the atmosphere on that Great Day...

Charming fellow. Meanwhile, this piece asks whether it was wise to publish the letter. My sense is that yes, of course it was. Withholding information from the public is never wise in my view -- we're not children, and neither are the people of Holland. They have an interest in knowing what lay behind this crime.

Posted by Ideofact at 04:02 PM | Comments (0)

Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Can a person who's been dead for 23 centuries sue for defamation?

ATHENS (Reuters) - A group of Greek lawyers are threatening to sue Warner Bros. film studios and Oliver Stone, director of the widely anticipated film "Alexander," for suggesting Alexander the Great was bisexual.

The lawyers have already sent an extrajudicial note to the studio and director demanding they include a reference in the title credits saying his movie is a fictional tale and not based on official documents of the life of the Macedonian ruler.

"We are not saying that we are against gays but we are saying that the production company should make it clear to the audience that this film is pure fiction and not a true depiction of the life of Alexander," Yannis Varnakos, who spearheads the campaign by 25 lawyers, told Reuters on Friday.

In a related development, the same lawyers filed suit against publishers Penguin, Oxford, Princeton University Press, and others because their translations suggest homosexual inclinations among Socrates' colleagues at the Symposium.

Posted by Ideofact at 01:32 PM | Comments (9)

Ballots beat bullets

I think the Washington Post buried the lede in its latest assessment of the Taliban's potency:

It is also unclear why the Taliban did not attempt any large-scale election day attacks. In the days leading up to the vote, there were scattered attacks on voter registration sites and workers, but the election was largely peaceful, which surprised Afghan security officials.

One theory is that Taliban attack plans were thwarted by the heavy presence of Afghan troops, American soldiers and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, which sent in reinforcement troops. Also, Pakistan, reportedly under diplomatic pressure to guarantee a peaceful election, launched a new offensive against Taliban forces in the border areas.

Another theory is that the Taliban recognized that ordinary Afghans wanted to vote, and that the high election-day turnout dissuaded its forces from further alienating the populace by attacking polling places.

"Eight million people all objected to the Taliban," said Abdullah Abdullah, the Afghan foreign minister. "With one voice, people have rejected Taliban, extremism, terrorism." The Taliban, he added, "should feel a bigger defeat than the military defeat."

The article estimates that the Taliban have between 2,000 and 10,000 fighters. Millions of Afghans went to the polls. Do the math.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:25 AM | Comments (0)


You know, maybe the Wall Street Journal should get someone who's actually seen an episode or two of SpongeBob all the way through to write the paper's ode to the cartoon:

He roots for SpongeBob and his fat friend, Patrick (a starfish), and despises Mr. Krabs, SpongeBob's draconian, tightwad employer, whose sole aim (in the execution of which he has the complicity of his glum manager, Squidward) is to fire SpongeBob from his job as Krabby-Patty flipper. In all fairness to Mr. Krabs, SpongeBob--though a cheap hire--isn't exactly an asset in the kitchen.

SpongeBob is the ultra-competent fry cook, Squidward wears the "I really wish I weren't here right now" button when Mr. Krabs is making the corporate training video for the Krusty Krab...well, at least it's not like anyone actually reads the Journal for its insight into cartoons...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:36 AM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2004

Shown, not shown

Athena of Terrorism Unveiled, who's on a Middle Eastern sojourn, offers a fascinating look at how the local media is treating the shooting of a wounded Iraqi feigning death in a mosque. She writes,

I flip past the Usher's latest music video on "Melody Arabiya" and Britney Spears on "Mazzika" and get to al-Jazeera, the thorn in the side of American image in the Middle East, and indeed the biggest propaganda machine I've ever seen.

On al-Jazeera, it's quite a few minutes of clips of our military shooting at buildings, shooting through doors before they open them, throwing grenades and running for cover, riding tanks through the streets, and buildings exploding...and giving each other high fives.† Now, all this is certainly going on, but how they choose to air the clips is quite deceiving.

Read the whole thing, and remember something else that al-Jazeera has chosen not to show. According to, the network refuses to air a video which shows Islamofascists killing Margaret Hassan, the CARE worker (there appears to be some doubt as to whether the woman being slain is Hassan, but one would think that al-Jazeera would be eager to show the big brave Islamofascists shooting women in the head regardless of their identity). notes:

The case for the militants in Iraq is one of the familiar stories that Arab fascists try to hide - the agenda is to prevent democracy, individual liberty, religious tolerance, and peace from gaining a foothold in the Middle East. The killing of Margaret Hasan makes the militantsí agenda much clearer and now, Al-Jazeera is doing damage control by keeping a sort of silence on this matter. Less publicity on her death will ensure continued support and sympathy to the various terrorists groups operating in Iraq. Al-Jazeera does not want people to start having doubts about the aims of these terrorists groups.

The author of the KurdishMedia piece points to this essay which is also worth reading.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:53 PM | Comments (4)


More proof, as if any were needed, that one lifetime is hardly enough to exhaust one's curiosity. After reading the story of the Afghan museum, and the preservation of the treasures of Kushan kings and Bactrian craftsmen, I googled around a bit, and found this essay:

Bactrian, the ancient language of Bactria in northern Afghanistan, is unique among the Iranian languages in being written by means of the Greek alphabet --- a legacy of the conquest of Bactria by Alexander the Great in the 4th cent. B.C. From this period onwards the Greek language, written in the Greek script, was for a long time the exclusive language of culture and administration in Bactria. When Bactria was overrun by nomadic peoples from the north, its new rulers, the Kushans, at first continued the use of the Greek language for administrative purposes, but soon they came to use the Greek script to write the local language, Bactrian. A crucial moment in the history of this language was the decision of the Kushan ruler Kanishka to adopt Bactrian as the language of his coinage. After the first issues of Kanishka, Greek disappears from the coinage once and for all, to be replaced by Bactrian.

During the first centuries of the Christian era, Bactrian could legitimately have been ranked amongst the world's most important languages. As the language of the Kushan kings, Bactrian must have been widely known throughout a great empire, in Afghanistan, Northern India and part of Central Asia. Even after the collapse of the Kushan empire, Bactrian continued in use for at least six centuries, as is shown by the ninth-century inscriptions from the Tochi valley in Pakistan and the remnants of Buddhist and Manichean manuscripts found as far away as the Turfan oasis in western China. The career of Bactrian as a language of culture thus lasted for close to a thousand years.

Buddhists, Manicheans, and later Zoroastrians make an appearance.

Posted by Ideofact at 09:04 PM | Comments (0)

Islamism & sex

A lot of people seem to be linking to this Theodore Dalrymple commentary on the reasons behind the murder of Theo Van Gogh (I first saw it on LGF). I generally find Dalrymple's work interesting, although he writes in a manner that seems easy to discount -- one could conclude that he's extrapolating from one or two personal experiences overly broad generalizations:

The abuse of women has often, if not always, appealed to men, because it gives them a sense of power, however humiliated they may feel in other spheres of their life. And the oppression of women by Muslim men in Western Europe gives those men at the same time a sexual partner, a domestic servant, and a gratifying sense of power, while allowing them also to live an otherwise westernized life. For the men, it is convenient; interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, almost the only openly hostile expressions toward Islam from British-born Muslims that I hear come from young women, some of whom loathe it passionately because they blame it for their servitude.

Religious sanction for the oppression of women (whether theologically justified or not) is hence the main attraction of Islam to young men in an increasingly secular world. This explains why a divide often opens between brothers and sisters in the same European Muslim family; the sisters want liberty, but the brothers enforce the old rules. They have to, or the whole gratifying system breaks down.

I am reminded, though, that in describing the milieu in which modern Islamism steeped and stewed and festered before its full blown birth, Nazih Ayubi -- author of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Arab World, written in a style not so easy to dismiss -- considered the threat posed by shifting relations between the sexes as one of the fundamental props of Islamism's appeal. I wrote about all that a bit in an entry on Sayyid Qutb. Ayubi, it bears repeating, wasn't writing about Muslims in Europe, but rather about Muslims in the Arab world.

Posted by Ideofact at 01:02 PM | Comments (2)


This morning, The Washington Post had a story that suggests, to me at least, another sign of progress in Afghanistan:

They were priceless artifacts, and the Kabul Museum curators wrapped them carefully, some of them in pink toilet paper, others in newspaper, and put them in metal boxes. Then government people, eight to 10 of them, signed pieces of paper that were glued to the locks. No box would be opened unless all the signers were there.

That was a quarter-century ago, during the Soviet occupation. But the pact held through the warlordism of the late 1980s and 1990s, through the xenophobic rule of the Taliban and the American invasion.

Many feared the treasures were lost forever, but yesterday archaeologist Fredrik T. Hiebert announced that a just-completed inventory showed that all but a handful had been recovered from hidden caches in Kabul's presidential palace complex and other "safe places."

The printed Post has some photos of some of the artifacts, and they're indeed impressive: coins, a brooch that, as the caption suggests, shows Greek, Bactrian and Indian influence, a very Roman looking relief...

More interesting than the individual objects, more heartening to me, I think, is what their emergence means. After the Soviet invasion, after the years of civil war and anarchy followed by the despotism of the Taliban, Afghans have regained a measure of stability, a measure of normalcy, which allows them to open boxes filled with the treasures of their past and admire them and display them proudly to the world with the expectation that their treasures will be safe from crooks and looters or the heinous Taliban who proved themselves to be the worst sort of destroyers of culture. I liked this bit, about the unnamed defenders of culture, to whom we should all be grateful:

"Twenty-five years ago, there was a museum director and a minister of culture" who "realized that the museum was imperiled," Hiebert said. "They're long gone -- disappeared or passed away." When the boxes were recovered, "nobody knew exactly what was in them."

Or where they had been for two decades, or when they had arrived at their final storage places, sometimes after enduring abuses that Hiebert could only guess at.

"Every time an object came out [of a box] there was a stab of fear, followed by a leap of joy," Hiebert said in a telephone news conference to announce the discoveries. "It was amazing these artifacts were in such stable condition. The boxes were dented . . . and there was evidence that animals had nested on them."

A near run thing, no doubt, and (in my view) not nearly as important as girls returning to schools or women voting in elections, but a grand thing still, and yet another victory for the Afghan people--and for all of us.

Update: The National Geographic has pictures, and its own story as well.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:32 AM | Comments (3)

November 17, 2004

More Yezidis

For those interested in Yezidis, recently ran this report on Yezidis in the Caucasus, and a three part series (here, here and here. It's easy to be skeptical of a statement like this one (in the first part of the series):

It is well known that Yezidism, or Zoroastrianism, being one of the oldest religions of the Middle East, has greatly influenced the history of mankind.

First, I suppose, because some scholars regard Yezidis as being primarily Islamic heretics or syncretists combining Muslim, Christian and some Zoroastrian elements rather than Zorastrians proper (I wrote quoted one author making that argument here, although note well the comments, most of which take issue with the essay quoted.) A second reason for skepticism, of course, is that it's hard to credit Zoroastrianism with much of an influence on the history of mankind, especially if one compares it to Judaism, Christianity or Islam. Yet Zoroastrian influence may well explain some aspects of our Judeo-Christian religious heritage, including the evolution of Satan from an aspect of God to his antagonist (this view, of course, is much debated).

Posted by Ideofact at 09:38 PM | Comments (3)

November 15, 2004


A blood libel involving the sacrifice of an infant and the consumption of his blood was levelled, not against Jews, but rather, Christians. The high priest of the Temple wore bells to alert the Jewish deity to the approach of worshippers, so that He can hide his donkey head from mortals. The first person to be tried formally for the ritual practice of magic was a Pope (in 1310); as the accused was deceased, he chose not to testify in his own defense. Societies of witches never were, and intellectuals justified the bloodthirstiness of their predecessors by falsely attributing the intellectual passion for burning witches to commoners, who by and large would have preferred to throw intellectuals on the pyre rather than their wives and sisters and midwives and neighbors. (An aside: I recall reading about a fantastic method arrived at by the finest flower of 19th century Russian revolutionaries for persuading the typical Russian peasant of throwing off his chains. Read him Hegel. In the original, incomprehensible German. On his day off. Having gotten wind of this odd method of fueling revolutionarly fervor, the Czar's police offered that same peasant a keg of vodka in exchange for the Hegel reciter. It was quite a lucrative trade...)

The aside I can't back up, unless I can dig out the notes from a long ago lecture I attended on Dostoevsky (even if it's not true, it's too good to check) but the rest of it comes from Norman Cohn's Europe's Inner Demons: The Demonization of Christians in Medieval Christendom, which is a much more serious book than my flip little summary suggests.

For more serious mysteries to ponder, I suggest this.

Perfunctory: a. superficial; hasty; done indifferently

Yes, yes, but the key thing is...done. (Didn't Green Gartside sing something along the lines of a thing worth doing is worth doing badly?)

Posted by Ideofact at 11:55 PM | Comments (1)

November 13, 2004

Merit bad

I don't recall the line exactly, but at some point in Amadeus, Mozart is told that it's not wise to interpret the emperor's intention. At issue is a scene in Mozart's opera The Marriage of Figaro -- a scene with a dance. Because the emporer has forbidden ballet in his opera, the dancers can only dance without music -- and thus neither ballet or opera. Entirely ahistorical, no doubt, but a neat little scene nonetheless, and one I thought of when I learned today that 66 stations refused to air the film Saving Private Ryan because they feared getting fined under the same rules that led to CBS and its affiliates being fined for a few seconds of nudity in the Superbowl.

One can well hear the emperor stride in, notice the blank screens of the affiliates just as he noted the silent dance at Mozart's rehearsal, and whisper to the FCC censors, "Is this modern?" before declaring it nonsense. In the absence of that, of course, it's dangerous (actually, merely expensive) to interepret the emporer's intentions... (And yes, of course, I'm well aware that there were no blank screens, just as I'm fairly certain Mozart would have cut the silent dance rather than rehearse it that way...)

The other day I was flipping through The MIT Dictionary of Modern Economics, fourth edition, edited by David W. Pearce, and came across the following entry:

merit bad. A commodity, the consumption of which it is argued should be discouraged or prevented even though individuals choose to consume it. In such cases it is claimed that through ignorance or inability, the individual is not the best judge of his or her welfare. Examples of commodities which have been treated as merit bads include alcohol and drugs and a long list of works of literature. It is not clear who, if anyone, should determine which commodities are merit bads or on what principles. (See MERIT GOOD)

Nothing like an economics dictionary to put things into perspective (although a part of me can't help feeling, whenever I encounter anything economic, a real feeling that we are in fact dealing with the dismal science, and that there are, after all, only so many notes that the human ear can hear during the course of an evening...).

I've never seen Saving Private Ryan, and for that matter, I didn't see the infamous Superbowl half time show (nor would I have particularly cared to do so), but I'm not persuaded that either class of arbiters of merit bad (the FCC, the silly protesting ABC affiliate heads) are the sorts of people I'd want deciding whether, say, the works of a D.H. Lawrence (Ugh! bad salesmanship, I know), James Joyce (well, somewhat better), Ian Fleming (that's the ticket), or a particularly fine cigar is something with which I should spend an evening. Then again, it is TV, only TV and the same time ON TV!!!!!, which seems somehow to warp all dynamics (news, entertainment, art...) Comprehensive and moderne as my MIT Dictionary of Modern Economics may be, it lacks a definition for merit television, or TV, or TeeVee...

Posted by Ideofact at 10:41 PM | Comments (2)

November 12, 2004

Speaking of...

....Casablanca, I saw it tonight (one of the local public television stations showed it -- on our Inside-the-Beltway cable system, we seem to have something like 11 different PBS affiliates). First, of course, there's the fairly obvious observation: What a great film. Still, of Bogart movies, The Maltese Falcon will always seem the best, the most quientessentially American, with Bogart's dispassionate Sam Spade as the epitome of existential cool. Maybe it's the better literary material (the film reads just like the novel -- I think all John Huston left out was Spade searching Brigid O'Shaughnessy's apartment, Spade delivering his existential parable, and Spade strip searching Brigid to find out what happened to the missing $1,000 bill that was to pay for the Falcon...).

Two things mar Casablanca for me. The first is fairly obvious: Sam is treated as Rick's inferior; there's no indication that Rick, Ilsa, or even freedom fighter Victor Lazlo regard him as being anything other than an inferior, "the boy with the piano."


Okay, so maybe Sam wasn't a fighter (although he seemed to have some kind of history with Rick), but even if he didn't go off with Rick and Louie at the end of the film, he at least could have been the one who ended up running the cafe...

The other thing that bugs me -- by the time we get to the scene with Ingrid Bergman visiting Rick at night the second time, when she threatens to shoot him for the letters of transit -- by that time, it seems, Rick has already gone over to the idealist side. He's allowed the Marseilles to be played, which results in his business being shut down; he's interceded on behalf of the Bulgarian couple, potentially alienating the cynical and corrupt Captain Renault ... for him to suddenly go back to saying, "I'm not fighting for anything anymore, except myself," seems to strike a false note, and the bit with the gun -- "Shoot me. You'd be doing both of us a favor" seems a little melodramatic for a man who meets a payroll. Yes, he has no intention of actually being shot, but if he's playing the whole scene just to get Paris back, as it were, it's an awfully cruel way to go about it, and an awfully high price to exact...


Posted by Ideofact at 12:39 AM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2004




Yeah boss?

Sam, if it's December 1941 in Casablanca, what time is it in New York?

Uh, my watch stopped.

I bet they're asleep in New York. I bet they're asleep all over America.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:05 PM | Comments (3)

Over there


I rather liked this account of Armistice Day, which we now celebrate as Veterans Day (and thanks to all the Veterans, as well as our current soldiers, for their courage and dedication):

Many soldiers believed the Armistice only a temporary measure and that the war would soon go on. As night came, the quietness, unearthly in its penetration, began to eat into their souls. The men sat around log fires, the first they had ever had at the front. They were trying to reassure themselves that there were no enemy batteries spying on them from the next hill and no German bombing planes approaching to blast them out of existence. They talked in low tones. They were nervous.

After the long months of intense strain, of keying themselves up to the daily mortal danger, of thinking always in terms of war and the enemy, the abrupt release from it all was physical and psychological agony. Some suffered a total nervous collapse. Some, of a steadier temperament, began to hope they would someday return to home and the embrace of loved ones. Some could think only of the crude little crosses that marked the graves of their comrades. Some fell into an exhausted sleep. All were bewildered by the sudden meaninglessness of their existence as soldiers - and through their teeming memories paraded that swiftly moving cavalcade of Cantigny, Soissons, St. Mihiel, the Meuse-Argonne and Sedan.

What was to come next? They did not know - and hardly cared. Their minds were numbed by the shock of peace. The past consumed their whole consciousness. The present did not exist-and the future was inconceivable.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:38 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2004

Iranian interlude

I don't think I'll blog it in its entirety, but it's a fascinating collection: Islam and Revolution I: Writings and Declarations of Imam Khomeini (1941 to 1980). Here he is in the very first year, his first political tract, a "Warning to the Nation," writing about Iranian society:

Notice first the deplorable state of the court, and then consider the various ministries, examining one by one the officials who are content to sit behind their desks in utter idleness. Then proceed to inspect the army, and see what mentality motivates the troops and their commanders. Descending the scale, take a look at the civil and military administration in all the provinces. Finally, step over to the Consultative Assembly and watch the legislature at work! Wherever you go and whomever you encounter, from the streetsweeper to the highest official, you will see nothing but disordered thoughts, confused ideas, contradictory opinions, self-interest, lechery, immodesty, criminality, treachery, and thousands of associated vices. Then you will understand how our country's income is obtained, and on what it is spent.

In a similar vein, in the same essay, Khomeini attacks what to him is a particularly troubling reform undertaken by the Pahlavi government:

Of course, they regard the civilization and advancement of the country as dependent upon women's going naked in the streets, or to quote their own idiotic words, turning half the population into workers by unveiling them (we know only too well what kind of work is involved here).

Have I ever mentioned what filthy minds these politico-religious scholars always seem to have? It's not enough to argue that unveiling is a mistake, or that it is a decision that should be left to individuals and imams rather than the state, but Khomeini prefers to imagine that every woman in Iran is a whore, swooning in the grip of their naked sin.

Elsewhere in the "Warning to the Nation," we find this justification for theocracy:

The only government that reason accepts as legitimate and welcomes freely and happily is the government of God, Whose every act is just and Whose right it is to rule over the whole world and all the particles of existence. Whatever He makes use of is His own property, and whatever He takes, from whomever He takes, is again His own property. No men can deny this except the mentally disturbed.

Here your humble narrator coughs and raises his hand, ever so meekly, to point out that while government by God might be something of an improvement, He's not exactly doing a whole lot to actively campaign for the job, let alone fulfill it. Khomeini suggests that, as a substitute, the legislature could enact laws that are "a kind of commentary on the divine law," but that begs the question of who the commentator is (and here we hear Khomeini coughing and raising his hand...).

And all that in one essay written in 1941. There's much else worthy of comment -- in 1964, Khomeini went ballistic when Iran signed on to the Vienna Convention, which among other things provided diplomatic immunity to, well, to diplomats and their staffs. For Khomeini this was too much, and later he suggests that the primary cause of his banishment was his opposition to the Vienna Convention (it may well have been -- I'll have to look it up and see). Of course, that's precisely the international treaty and international norm that was broken when Khomeini's thugs raided the U.S. embassy. Reading his Nov. 12, 1979, address to the Papal envoy sent to interceded on behalf of the hostages is surreal, or would be were it not indicative of all that would follow -- the establishment of a terror state bent on acquiring nuclear weapons.

...And yes, I'm back.

Posted by Ideofact at 10:24 PM | Comments (6)

November 04, 2004

Ends & odds

Sorry, sorry -- more of the usual crap tomorrow. I'm not sure why, but I'm exhausted. Well, I guess I do have an inkling as to why -- the last two days I've been consoling friends depressed over the election results (for the record, I'm not), and today even went so far as to order several adult beverages during lunch (something I'm not accustomed to doing).

I'm also reading Tyndale's translation of Romans, part of his excellent New Testament translation. Biblical exegesis isn't my strong suit, so I won't say much, although I will say this: religious language, even for a sanguinely secularist doubter like me, has a power quite unlike, say, political rhetoric (which can also be quite moving). I'm not prepared to say more, but it is something I've been thinking about.

North Sea Diaries sums up the Buttiglione affair -- and no, I'd never heard of it either, although I found it fascinating. (It would have been more interesting if it somehow involved alchemy, a stolen necklace, Jacques Chirac's mistress, the Paris catacombs and the Rosicrucians, but no such luck.) If misunderstandings caused by mistranslating words or mistaken gestures can develop into scandals, or be so misrepresented (not that I agree with Buttiglione, but hey, consider the source) in Europe, well, what does that say? But then there are some unfortunate souls I've talked to who think America is two irreconcilable countries -- it's best to gently remind them of what that really looks like (Cold Harbor, Gettysburg...)

Demosophia reminds us of an important anniversary, which serves also to remind me that I'd meant to blog Hamid Algar's book Roots of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Algar -- who's lived in the U.S. for years now, has taught, traveled, written books, and so on -- delivered four lectures in which he enthusiastically endorses not the overthrow of the Shah, but the rise to power of the theocrats. On a few occasions, his listeners ask questions, noting that the new regime has set about slaughtering its enemies. Algar's response is that the Shah killed far more. Well, that may or may not be the case, but of course it's missing the point -- murder as a routine means of domestic politics is not something any intellectual should dismiss so blithely.

And I still have to get around to the new Qutb work, which I haven't finished reading yet -- maybe by the middle of next week.

Posted by Ideofact at 11:59 PM | Comments (0)

November 02, 2004


LYNN B. OF IN CONTEXT points out that Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan, President of the United Arab Emirates, has died. He was one of the key players (link opens PDF) in the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (or Bank of Crooks and Criminals International) and its illegal acquisition of First American Bancshares, a D.C. area bank:

The thrust of Count I is that defendants H.H. Sheikh Zayed Bin
Sultan Al-Nahyan, H.H. Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, and the Abu Dhabi
Investment Authority acquired First American through a pattern of racketeering activity.

BCCI looted $10 billion from lower and middle class Muslims around the world, allegedly funded the Pakistani nuclear program, was the banker to Abu Nidal, and corrupted everything it touched. (Admittedly, much of what it touched was more than willing to be corrupted...)


Call out Gouranga be happy!!!
Gouranga Gouranga Gouranga ....
That which brings the highest happiness!!

Lest you wonder what it means, the answer can be found here. Substitute Glennfiddich in Number 10, and I might start calling out Gouranga...

TERRIBLY SAD, AND AN important reminder of, 1), who we are (yes, we may fling rhetorical daggers and shots at one another, but that kind doesn't kill) and 2) what we're defending -- the ability to analyze, to compare, to criticize, to think and to speak. By the way, North Sea Diaries is a wonderful blog, well worth reading daily.

"WE'RE TERRIBLY SORRY THAT the war you started to plunge the entire world into barbarous nihilism and genocide forced us to bomb the crap out of your sorry asses, Fritz." Which reminds me of this excellent post on Nazi guilt, German innocence, from Regions of Mind...

Posted by Ideofact at 11:36 PM | Comments (1)

Grace under pressure

I don't suppose anyone would associate those words with Gerald R. Ford, but I've always been amazed by this tale about the 38th President one November night in 1976. Here it is in Ford's own words:

By two-forty the election had come down to four states. Four million residents of Ohio had gone to the polls and I had a lead of 2,000 votes. In Hawaii, the situation was reversed. I was trailing by 4,000 votes. Mississippi was a possibility. And then there was Wisconsin. Although the networks had given the state to Carter, Bob Teeter insisted that the late returns could put me over the top. But no one could say when -- or if -- that would happen. I was bushed. It was three-twenty in the morning and there wasn't a darn thing I could do, so I went to bed.

He went to bed. I've heard a version of the story in which Ford says "I think I won" before going to bed.

Ford's going to bed seems to me to be so at odds with the all-consuming nature of politics... A tremendously human gesture. In his shoes, how many of us could have done the same?

Posted by Ideofact at 09:04 PM | Comments (3)

Placing Poe


Oh well, okay -- this is not the thing I was thinking of immediately below, but one of the things that I find so interesting about Poe is a tendency, I think, to overlook his achievements as a writer. Perhaps it's because we all read him in high school, perhaps it's because stories like the Tell-Tale Heart are so accesssible, that we regard them as somehow being inevitable, and perhaps not as impressive as the works to which we're exposed as freshmen in college. At least, that was my experience to some extent -- perhaps I shouldn't generalize (although I do recall some of my classmates regarding Baudelaire's enthusiasm for him as being Poe's main justification).

Poe's contemporaries were similarly baffled by him -- some transcendentalists argued, for example, that Poe's tales lacked moral content. Poe responded with a tale called "Never Bet the Devil Your Head: A Tale with a Moral," that wickedly satirizes the Transcendentalists; beyond that, as Dawn B. Sova succinctly reminds us in the surprisingly engaging Edgar Allan Poe A to Z,

Poe rejected the idealism of the movement which, rather than turn to scientific measurement and inquiry to make sense of the world, believed that pure reason in the absence of external evidence would elicit an immediate perception of truth. Unlike the transcendentalists, most of the narrators and characters in Poe's stories and poems cannot trust that their senses are eliciting truths or correctly representing their situations, nor can we as readers. Further, in his preoccupation with scientific advances, Poe appeared to have rejected the idealism that pervaded the thinking of the Transcendentalists.

Perhaps we tend to forget that Poe wasn't as mad as his characters, that he understood perfectly well the intellectual movements of his time, and by and large rejected them, and for very good reasons.

Posted by Ideofact at 12:20 AM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2004


I can't believe it. Another weekend, another ailment -- this time a nasty head cold. The soon-to-be-six-year-old brought it home from that petri dish/public school he attends; the teacher assigns the illnesses, and even sends home a note to make sure my wife and I are involved in his schooling: "Please indicate which parent caught the virus, initial and return."

(Just kidding about that last part; we think very highly of his teacher.)

Camassia wrote the other day about the efforts of some in the Episcopal Church USA to come up with a women's eucharist; it's interesting on several levels, but I especially enjoyed this bit:

But, as Olsen says, it's more alarming that the liturgy itself came from an Episcopal rector who's apparently leading a double life as a Wiccan priestess of some sort under the name of Glispa.

Granted, it's a scandal of sorts, but hardly unique; among those that might have indeed been witches at Salem was one George Burroughs, a minister. Most of the more interesting heretics were at the least trained by the orthodox, and in many cases (think Luther) served the orthodox in some capacity.

More tomorrow, assuming that this week's assigned illness isn't bubonic plague...

Posted by Ideofact at 12:06 AM | Comments (2)