Monday, February 27, 2006


This is one of those things that you just really want to comment on but can't think of the appropriate place to start.

Update: OK, I do know where to start. First what kind of woman gets involved with someone who thinks along these lines? Second, how has he gotten to the point where someone actually married him? I am close to this guy's age, and I have discovered that women tend to get turned off when you start with the crazy talk. So what gives? What kind of magic does this guy have that he can get some woman who puts up with this kind of thinking despite the fact that he is facing child pornography charges? Where can I find women this desperate?

Let's hope our assumption was correct

If there is one attitude that needs change in Islamic counties it is that of responsibility. Someone must teach Muslims that they are responsible for their own actions. There is a gut instinct in the leader of every Arab/Muslim country to blame someone else for every problem in their world. There is also a strong cultural trait that makes all the subjects of this leader believe it. This is so ingrained that they tend to believe this now without leaders.

If I got this straight, some Sunnis attacked an important Shiite Mosque. Shiites retaliated against Sunni targets, but made sure nevertheless to blame the US and Israel.

It might be good to blame abstract targets so as to to shift the focus of your rage to something you are not going to get in to a war with. It has also always been a good tool if you are a leader of one of these countries to shift the blame so that your country doesn't get in to a war with you. But this is a stretch, isn't it. Are these people so used to blaming the US and Israel for everything that there is no real hope for reconsiliation?

If one supported the invasion of Iraq, it was under the assumption that Iraqis are capable of one day governing themselves, along with the attending notion of self-responsibility. Let's hope they were right.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

February events

February has so far been a very busy month. I have been trying to juggle my 6 classes, write my dissertation, my 2 reviews, and conference paper, &c. I have also been trying to get some culture at the same time. I was at the New York Philharmonic and heard Lorin Maazel conduct Mozart's 39th, 40th and 41st symponhies. I was at a philosophy conference where Alvin Goldman spoke exceptionally well. I also attended a Nets game with a bunch of people. It was all a lot of fun. Now I must prepare for tomorrow.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Review of Maalouf's The Rock of Tanios

Amin Maalouf's The Rock of Tanios is the story of a boy from the past in the Catholic mountains of Lebanon. This is a place of myth, superstition, tribalism, feudalism, and loyalty, and ritual. Tanois, born under dubious circumstances, to an obsequious father and a beautiful mother, fights successfully for his education, and unsuccessfully for his true love. A betrayal forces him to flee from their small village of Kfaryabda to Cyprus with his father. When it is safe to return he does, but things are worse.

The story is extremely well written, and extremely Lebanese. I enjoyed it immensely. It is often about romance, often about something a bit deeper, like the search for identity, and struggle for sense.

The undertone of the story is however sadly cliche'd. You have a feudal society because tradition demands you have one. Though it is shitty, people love it because they see that the alternative is colonialism. Bad colonialists. Too bad he had to ruin such a good plot with such an annoying political message. That is of course not to say colonialism was good, it was one of the worst things that ever happened to humanity - that Europe decided it needed colonies. But, to show the evils of colonialism by romanticising what colonialism replaced is nieve.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

World Court

I used to be opposed to the US (or Israel) joining the International World Court. After watching this "trial" it should be obvius to all that they would have to be crazy to do it. This is pretty much what a world court case would look like, if the US submitted to it's authority.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Crazy religious guy in my class

So here's one for the books:

So I am teaching this course that involves religion, so I spend one class giving my one-hour condensed history of Western religion. I have given this talk to this class many many times before. I generally speak really fast and take a bunch of questions. I am fairly glib about the whole thing, and try not to take the subject too seriously. The class is philosophical, so I really do not want to spend more time than is absolutely necessary discussing the historical background. It is not all that relevant, but it does help a bit to orient the students, so that the Immigrant Hindu students are not totally lost with all this Old Testament/New Testament talk, or that the Christian students realize that for most of the world, Jesus is just another dead Jewish guy, or that my Jewish students realize that the Bible has origins that are are more complicated than they expected.

I try to cover the history of the Western religions from the early Israelites wandering the desert worshipping Ba'al, through the birth of Christianity, the genesis of Islam, the Sunni-Shi'i split, the Protestant Catholic split, the Reform conservative splits, the canonization of Jewish and Christian scripture, the writing of the Koran, the documentary hypothesis, and whatever else comes to mind that seems relevant at the time. I emphasize some of the key similarities between the three religions, as well as their main differences. I think I fairly disrespect all three religions just enough to keep people laughing, but not enough to offend anyone greatly.

This was until this semester. Apparently someone called my Chair to complain about my class. So I was getting all nervous. I hoped I hadn't offended anyone. Worse - I hoped I hadn't offended someone from one of those violent branches of some religion, and now I would have to wear a flak jacket to class. (My PhD advisor did that for a while.)

So I wait till my boss gets to meet with the offended student, so I can hear what the outcome is. I really couldn't think of anything I did that would have offended anyone badly enough to complain.

Before my last class my boss comes to me and tells me how lucky I was that the student dropped my class. Apparently this was an older then average student with a yarlmuka - a large black one. Somehow, and this I am getting second hand from my boss, I was not sufficiently sensitive to the Holocaust, or the Americans in Iraq or Afghanistan because I am one of those liberal college professors like all the others. (I honestly cannot recall anything I said about Iraq or Afghanistan, unless perhaps it was so totally in passing.) My boss tried to tell him that I had spent 20 years in Yeshiva and was from Brooklyn, like him, but apparently he was not all that interested. He was offended and could not really get past that. Apparently my sympathy for the American position in Iraq or Afghanistan did not come across. Apparently my liberalism was more than he ever saw in college in New York, and apparently he was unhappy learning about the history of his and other religions. And apparently, the fact that my grandmother spent WWII as a guest of Auschwitz did not come across either. I did not describe the plight of the Jews under the Christians, Moslems, or Nazis in sufficiently harsh terms.

My boss was pretty convinced that this was a person who is really not qualified to be in a philosophy class, though I suspect he feels bad for the next professor who draws this student.

(Mind you, this story is very funny is you know me. If not, I might sound like an insensitive jerk.)

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Thanks for the Baloons

I've been so busy lately, I have no time for anything.

I did just want to take a minute to thank whoever sent me the baloons. I have no idea who sent them, but I hope I know you well enough so that you are reading this. Thanks. It was a nice surprise when I got home today.