It has been a very strange week--couple weeks to be honest. Yesterday was just crazy at work, with everything going wrong at once, and the level of ridiculousness of about 11 on a scale of one to ten. (Spinal Tap flash: "This one goes to eleven!")
To put it another way, we ate the better part of an entire pan of brownies in the afternoon. (Michael was a sweetheart and ran home and fetched them for us.)
Was thinking yesterday (about a lot of stuff) while waiting for my class to start (another subject entirely, perhaps I'll get there later) and of everything that is going on right now, the worst of it, the stuff that is bothering me the most, is stuff that I don't want to actually write down, to place in anything other than the more transient and ethereal form of speech. So instead I just dwell upon it, and let it bother me. Pretty smart choice, 'eh?
Been thinking about different subjects (besides bad things) and the one about which I am most curious right now stems from a lunch conversation several years ago with Andy's parents about the Spanish civil war. What I wonder, is whether the attitudes in the south of Spain, where the massacres of the Catholic clergy took place, resulted from the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion of the Jews and Muslims in 1492 and 1502 respectively. In other words, one would think there would have been a higher percentage of Conversos in the South than in the North, because Muslim conquest had been from the South. Would the Southern clergy have been richer from lands and wealth taken during the inquisition? Would attitudes towards the Catholic clergy have been more negative in those who had been, in many cases, forced into conversion?
These are the things about which I wonder.
Perhaps I need an other hobby.....
It really was a lovely vacation. It was great to spend so much time with Susan, although I wish we could have spent more time with Andy. Even though he wasn't working the entire time, he was not feeling well, so we didn't really get to hang out that much. It seems like things always work out that way--just enough time to catch up on things and never enough time to talk. Nothing really amusing happened while we were there, other than the fact that we missed out on a dinner with Andy and Daniel, because they got lost on the way to the restaurant.
Not much of an amusing anecdote there.
We did have some lovely meals however. The Macaroni Grill was good as always, and I lived the Thai. I had spicy Thai vegetables, and had some of Susan's Paad Thai, which I really liked a lot. Unfortunately Michael didn't want to go back to the Thai place for lunch today. Oh well. Weirdly enough, I ran into a friend from college that I hadn't really seen since I graduated. I knew Ricardo had been in Cincinnati, but I guess I had not expected him to remain there so long. It was quite odd--it didn't seemed as if he had changed a bit, while I am nothing at all like the person I was when in college. It's neither bad nor good, but it was weird.
Been thinking about school and what I want to do. One of the big, ugly, tough decisions. I'd like to study history, but of course there's nothing I can do with a degree like that other than teach, and I still don't think I want to teach. And I still have not discovered a job that will pay me to sit around and read books and learn stuff. So I'm going to learn more about the Master of Public Health program at WVU tomorrow. The more I read the more interesting it sounds, partially because I think I have been fascinated for awhile with epidemics, and of course the anthrax attacks post 11 September just reinforced how vulnerable we are to a biological or chemical attack. Does that sound ridiculous? Perhaps. But there it is anyway.
I am more than ready for my vacation right now. Susan said she bought toilet paper, so everything should be ready! The only plans are to go to Jungle Jim's Market (I need more Ghiradelli's bittersweet chocolate for the brownie recipe I love) and to eat at lots of good restaurants. Tough schedule, 'eh? The sad thing is that The Diner, which I really enjoyed, ended up closing because of the riots last spring, so we won't be able to go there. But Susan said she thinks that the Thai restaurant is still there, and I really enjoyed that, and of course we'll go to Uno's on Friday when we get into town.
It all goes back to that age old question of why do bad things happen to good people, but my addendum to that is why do some people have more bad things happen to them than other people?
I mean, I have bad luck, but at least it's amusing.
Not that I was writing anything really personal in my journal or anything.
Mostly I just like the idea of gathering my thoughts into one place, and expounding on ideas and things that catch my fancy. My virtual friends have been virtually silent since about Christmas, so I'm not arguing about religion or politics or plant growth any more, and I miss it. Of course a journal has none of the give and take of an e-mail conversation, and is certainly not comparable to a real conversation between two humans, but it is a way to clarify thoughts and go on about things on my mind.
What on my mind right now is politics. Not really much of a surprise for anyone who knows me, but it's what is on my mind. I am reading a book on Turkey right now, Crescent and Star: Turkey Between Two Worlds by Stephen Kinzer, and I just finished (last week) Persian Mirrors: The Elusive Face of Iran by Elaine Sciolino. I really liked Persian Mirrors. She described the country as if she really knew it, and also as if she really loved it. She was unapologetic about the human rights abuses that have occurred there, but also described quite clearly the advances that are being made. The Iranian people have voted, for the past several years, for reformist Parliament members, and have elected a reformist President, Khatami, twice, and it seems as if the US is squandering this golden opportunity to deal with moderates who are open to reopening ties with the US government.
Following 11 September Iran was the only middle eastern country where the people held vigils for those killed in the terrorist attacks. Yet five months later President Bush refers to Iran as part of an "Axis of Evil". Besides his inane "Crusade" comment immediately following 11 September, I can not imagine a better attempting to destroy the desire for a reopening of political channels that has developed in the Iranian people in recent years. It is fantastic that Bush could be so blind to what is occurring in the Middle East among average citizens right now.
Yet this should not be surprising somehow. He has had to be forced to involve the US in peace negotiations in Israel/Palestine. Thousands of people have died in this most recent Infitada, but Bush stands aside and aloft as if such matters were unimportant, trivial. And that doesn't even begin to touch the surface of the blind support America has for Israel. It is almost as if the American government believes that the scenes in the papers and on TV are a reflection of what is occurring in these countries. That a handful or militants screaming death to American represent the entire population of a country, which is ridiculous, since these people don't represent the average citizen any more than Farrakahn and Fallwell and Robertson represent the average American.
It just makes me mad.
I was mostly reflecting upon the changes I've noticed The new chain link fence around the water treatment plan where there was never a fence before; the new extra high chain link fence with barbed wire that replaced the cow-pasture fence around the back half of the airport--I mean, the old fence was to keep deer off the runway, so this is a major change. Still lots of flags and patriotic symbols, though fewer than five months ago, and there are still plenty of people who don't know how to properly care for flags. Was riding the PRT back from class the other day and saw a number of raggedy looking flags. But at least these flags are lit at night.
I don't comprehend the people with the in-your-face patriotism who don't even understand the basic rules of flag care, which brings me to the people who are adamantly opposed to flag burning--how are we to disposed of damaged flags if not to burn them then? And why is burning a flag MORE offensive than an American flag bikini or thong or other article of clothing? And how does one dispose of an article of clothing with a flag upon it? Does the article of clothing need to be burned with it is worn?
It makes me somewhat depressed, the changes that I've seen, even around here, in response to 11 September. It seems terribly sad that the airport and the water treatment plant now require big tall fences to keep people out; I mean, I comprehend that it would be horrible if someone dumped chemicals or a biological agent into our water, but it seems the greater tragedy that we are now even less trusting of those around us. I still don't lock my car when I go out to my parents house, but I do lock it in my own driveway. And two weeks ago someone side-swiped the front of my car at night when it was sitting in our driveway. It wasn't severely damaged or anything, just an ugly scrape along the front of the bumper, which of course for my car is just added character, but it's still depressing that someone hit my car and then just drove off without even a note of apology. So I'm parking the car farther back at night now, so they'll hit the walls along the side of the driveway before they hit my car, but still...
Have we become less trusting, more amoral? I don't know. The Muslim women in the Women's studies classes I'm taking say that yes, Americans are being exposed to more images of Islamic women--of people from other cultures--but those images tend to be so negative Oppressed women in Afghanistan wearing the burqua because they are afraid to remove it, even under the new government, women in Saudi Arabia forced to wear the abaya and forbidden to drive... Where are the positive images? The images of the day to day life of these women, these people? The smiling teenagers, the mothers with happy babies? Even amidst tragedy there can still be beauty. It would be nice to get a break from destruction and grief and horror and see that beauty still survives, even in these areas.
But perhaps it's not all bad--that those who are open minded are more willing to reach out to those who are obviously different--to American Muslim women who choose to wear hijab, to the students who are quite obviously from their accents Middle eastern. Is this enough? Can we do more? Should we do more? I don't know. I guess we do need that watch we saw at the mall today--a modern take on the Magic 8-Ball. Press a button and it gives you an answer to your question For Sure, No way, Maybe.... Too bad it was an atrocious shade of green.... Of course we are still stuck with the fact that our culture is in decline--I saw macaroni and cheese on a stick last month at the grocery store. I find it hard to imagine anything more symbolic of what is wrong with the modern world than that.
I guess what I really want to know, is why can't I find someone to give me the Answer. The Answer to Life. The Universe. And Everything.
But anyway, it was an enjoyable class, and everyone seemed to have a nice time, and the guy (one of three males in the class) from Saudi Arabia spoke up and gave us lots more detail about the hajj, which I, at least, appreciated. In case you were curious, the Kab'ba is about three stories high, and is covered with a black cloth, sewn with gold Qur'anic verses, and the cloth is replaced every year. The hajj, which changes from season to season because the Islamic calendar is lunar and not solar, is pretty fascinating. All men are required to wear two seamless cloths, that they wrap around themselves. The reason a seamless cloth is used, is to be an equalizer. So that you have no clue as to a man's status or wealth when he is on the hajj. Women wear simply some form of modest dress. They circle the Kab'ba seven times, and then make a journey to Mount Arat (sp?) and back (several days) and then they and circle the Kab'ba seven more times.
In class they emphasized that they pray *towards* the Kab'ba, not *to* the Kab'ba; that it is a symbol of unity and not idol worship (don't forget that the original direction of quiba, or prayer, was towards Jerusalem) The women said it was amazing to be in a sea of people, and have no clue as to their status or wealth--that you could be beside a king or a beggar, and you couldn't tell, that all are equal during the hajj. They also mentioned that Muslims are buried not in a casket, but are simply wrapped in two seamless cloths, again to emphasize that in death also, all men are equal.
The Saudi Arabian gentleman told is that in recent years the Saudi government has had to restrict the hajj--one person for every 1000 in a country can go each year (so a country with 1.7 million people can send 170,000 pilgrims) and Saudi citizens are restricted to performing the hajj every five years, because there were simply too many people.
Non-Muslims are forbidden to enter Mecca, Islam's most sacred site, and the custodian of the hajj is the king of Saudi Arabia (also perhaps other high government officials?). It is his job to clean the Kab'ba, and also that the King of Saudi Arabia does not hold the key to the Kab'ba. One family has held the key to the Kab'ba since the time of Mohammad, and anyone who wants to enter, even the King, but make arrangements with that family, because when Mohammad re-entered Mecca, he asked for the key to enter the Kab'ba and promised the family who held the key that they and their descendants would always be the caretakers of the key.
Regarding the Kab'ba, I have heard two different beliefs. One is that Abraham and Ishmael built the Kab'ba as a monument to El/Allah; the other is that the Kab'ba predated Abraham and Ishmael, and that they dedicated to the Kab'ba to Allah/El. The inside is about the size of a large living room (I did not get to ask if the inside was more than one story) and very few people are allowed inside (primarily, if I understood, just the king once a year before the hajj, to clean and mop the inside. (And it is the king who does the mopping and cleaning from what the gentleman said).
The women in the class are quite adamant that Islam, in it's proper form, is not a misogynistic religion, and emphasize that it actually gave women rights that were unlike any rights women had anywhere, up until 20th century Europe, and the laws should be taken in that context--when the Qur'an specifies the rules for how a man can beat his life, this was, at the time, an incredible restriction upon how men could behave, as were laws regarding polygamy. Since we've only been discussing Islam in an historical context, I have not gotten as much about modern, but although there are three women who wear the hijab (head scarf) there are several more women who are Islamic who do not choose to wear traditional dress, and they seem to see that as no problem (at least as far as I can tell, especially since they all sit as a group and chat together.) So there so seem to be many Muslims who believe that Islam can be modernized the same was Christianity was (in *most* cases anyway--especially in the 20th century, where it went from requiring women to have their heads covered, to being okay to wear jeans or shorts to church).
What was also interesting was discussing about prayer, and the five daily prayers. The prayer schedule is solar, and prayer is not at a specific time, but should occur during a designated window of opportunity that seems, for the most part, to be about five hours long. The first prayer of the day is the most important, because, as they said, that is the prayer where they are alone, it is solely between them and god. They also said that although they are supposed to pray five times a day, if they a busy, that can be compressed into three times; that you can combine your 2nd and 3rd prayers together, and you can combine your 4th and 5th prayers together. The gentleman also seemed to say that if you were unable to pray for some reason, this was not a sin, it was only if you were, say, sitting around the house doing nothing (or in any other way had time time, or were able to make the time) and didn't bother to pray that it would be a sin (but I wasn't quite 100% clear on this). One woman brought in her prayer rug, and they said the point of the prayer rug was cleanliness, that if you were somewhere clean, you didn't have to use a rug, but that because you are required to clean yourself before prayer, you used a rug if you were somewhere it was not clean. (like walking the streets of Cairo for example). Oh, they also emphasized different types of prayer. The five daily ritual prayers require purity and dress (I asked, you can't pray the first prayer of the day naked, and men can't pray in shorts (or short-shorts?)) as a sign of respect to God, but if you just want to say a short prayer of your own to God, you can do this at any time. It is only the ritual prayers that require the special cleanliness and dress.
We finished up early Christianity on Monday, and move to Islam today, and I learned some interesting things. For instance, there is a verse in Isaiah that is frequently cited as a foretelling of the coming of Jesus Christ, where it says "and he shall be born of a virgin" which seems to be the justification for Matthew's birth narrative, but the *interesting* thing is that in ancient Hebrew, there *was* no term "virgin" and that the correct translation of that passage should be "young woman". There is also the fact that Mark, the earliest gospel, doesn't even mention the birth story, nor, if I remember correctly, does Paul, the earliest writer. So it's possible that the birth story was folklore that was added to the later gospels to strengthen their claim.
We also discussed the divinity of Jesus, and that Paul, (again, the earliest write) seems to link Jesus' divinity to the resurrection, not to birth, as Matthew's gospel does, or to eternity, as does John "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (Jesus was frequently referred to as "The Word") so if the earliest Christian writer did not seem to see Jesus as eternally divine, but instead seemed to be working from a Jewish Messianic idea (remember that the Messiah was not going to be God, but was going to be a human (possibly a king) who was going to liberate Israel and bring about an era of peace.) which leads one to wonder about the later developments of the trinity.
It's all very interesting, and I find myself becoming more and more skeptical of Christianity as a religion, although more in an agnostic vein than in an atheist vein, if that makes any sense. Karen Armstrong describes herself as a monotheist, and I think that is a pretty good description of how I feel at this point. I see most of the Torah/Old Testament as analogy, and do think that Jesus was probably a divinely inspired teacher, but I'm not sure I believe that means he was divine himself, if that makes any sense. I think that religion should serve as a moral compass, but that frequently it is perverted by those with an agenda, and this is a very bad thing.
I've been thinking a good deal about Lent, and the sacrifices we are supposed to make for Lent, (much like the Muslim sacrifices of Ramadan in some sense) and I think that this concept to has become perverted in recent years; the focus has switched from emulating the sacrifices of Jesus, and understanding the misery of the poor, to focusing upon the person who fast and their suffering, almost a "look at me and look what I am doing" which seems contrary to what Jesus specifically taught:
Matt 6:16-18 "Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance for they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret and thy Father, which seethe in secret, shall reward thee openly."
I mean, where is the line drawn? Perhaps if you mention that you are fasting then you will remind other to be more pious (and I use this in the actual, and not hypocritical definition of the word) but again, are you not really just making yourself look holy when you discuss it--aren't you missing the point? It seems as if there are two extremes here--those make public their fasting and piety, and those who suffer *everything* in silence, or see that suffering is a good thing when in fact it could be relieved. Which of course leads of directly to those who refuse medical treatment; are they not falling victim to the opposite train of thought? If Christ suffered on the cross then should I not bear this appendicitis stoically? Of course I firmly believe that such belief is contrary to the teachings of the Torah and the New Testament, but what can you do? What interests me, is that fact that such beliefs seem to be thoroughly modern, a reaction to modern medicine and modernity in general; what on earth causes the human mind to work in such a manner?!