Monday, February 27, 2006

If the Mountains Won’t Come to CEP, …

Then CEP must go to the mountains. I went to West Virginia yesterday. I stopped in Beckley Spring and bought a soft pretzel, and then returned to DC by way of Maryland. I was desperate to see the mountains—big rolling hills thick with trees, winding roads, slabs of jutting stone, old farmhouses, animals and few people. I would have preferred to go to Lexington, really, but I don’t drive as fast as I used to, and therefore it wouldn’t have made for a comfortable afternoon excursion. It was clear, sunny and cold, and I was just itching to be outdoors after lunch. I told this to my lunch companions, and a friend from my Bible study volunteered to drive—she wanted to get out of town, too.

If it is possible for a 5’4” 122lb person to feel like a bull in a china shop, I have felt like a crockery-smashing bovine today. Part of this was the presence of May, another graduate student who is tall, thin, blond and unworldly, with the apparent personality of a stalk of celery. And she’s very into pastels. I always manage to say the wrong thing around her, no matter how carefully how carefully I guard my tongue and choose my words. Yesterday, she came in looking as if she had been crying, and I inquired (seriously concerned), if she were OK. Her listless eyes opened wider, and she responded, unequivocally, that she was fine, and, coldly, why I thought otherwise.

“You look a bit flushed.”

Apparently the chilly weather was to blame. But I felt very much as if I had asked someone, “When are you due?” and found out they weren’t expecting. Put the old foot in it up to the kneecap. She regarded me with fishy glances all day today, and kept whispering to other students in the back of the department. I have no idea whether or not I was the topic of conversation, but that and the fact that all the 20 or so people in my BioDefense class were chatting and twittering to each other in confidential tones before class, without any words to me, made me feel almost as lonely and self-conscious as a middleschooler. And then I forgot the difference between chemical weapons and toxins on the midterm. Talk about wanting to head for the hills again….

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Remorseful Ordinary Nazis?

There must be other students of history like me, who on reading about Nazi-era Germany and its transformation into the FRG and GDR under Allied occupation have wondered, "Where did all the Nazis go?" I mean not the big names--the major officials who were tried for war crimes, or who fled to exile, only to be tracked down, one after another, by indefatigable justice-seekers--but the hundreds of thousands of little people whose loyalty and work made the Reich function with deadly precision for twelve years.

The Washington Post Magazine for this week has an interesting secondary feature article [the primary is “Can Anyone Replace Howard Stern? The Junkies, four loudmouths from P.G. County, try to seize the Throne of Raunch”] on a member of the Konzentrationslager Ravensbrueck SS Auxiliary, one of the few people to break silence about her "ordinary Nazi" job in the 60 years since the end of World War II. Almost all who served as lower-level camp employees simply kept silent, disappearing into ordinary lives in postwar German society. They married, achieved middle-class respectability, beloved by children and grandchildren who never suspected their Hitlerian pasts.

The Post article alludes to Harald Welzer’s new book, Perpetrators: How Utterly Ordinary People Became Mass Murderers. This is "one of many recent studies concluding that most of those who participated in the genocide were neither National Socialist zealots nor sociopaths, but average people who slipped, bit by bit, into evil. Virtually all...considered what they were doing normal. It was simply a job—unpleasant, sometimes upsetting, but ultimately necessary and unavoidable. 'Very, very rarely do you have any evidence that any of these people felt they had done anything wrong,' [Welzer] told an audience in Berlin recently."

These are people who, if they did not individually murder even one person, made possible the deliberate extermination of millions. All because daily, moment by moment, they made decisions to overlook injustices, to shrug off moral compromises, to operate as if their individual abilities to resist group pressure were not worth the effort. And yet, once the Nazi system was replaced with other governments, they blended easily into what we accept as ordinary life today.

After the war, Ravensbrueck survivor Corrie Ten Boom, who had been sent to the camp along with her sister Betsie for their work in sheltering Jews in Holland, was traveling around Germany, speaking in churches about her testimony. She wrote in her book The Hiding Place:

It was at a church service in Munich that I saw him, a former S.S. man who had stood guard at the shower room door in the processing center at Ravensbruck. He was the first of our actual jailers that I had seen since that time. And suddenly it was all there--the roomful of mocking men, the heaps of clothing, Betsie's pain-blanched face.

He came up to me as the church was emptying, beaming and bowing. "How grateful I am for your message, Fraulein." He said. "To think that, as you say, He has washed my sins away!" His hand was thrust out to shake mine. And I, who had preached so often to the people in Bloemendaal the need to forgive, kept my hand at my side.

Even as the angry, vengeful thoughts boiled through me, I saw the sin of them. Jesus Christ had died for this man; was I going to ask for more? Lord Jesus, I prayed, forgive me and help me to forgive him. I tried to smile, I struggled to raise my hand. I could not. I felt nothing, not the slightest spark of warmth or charity. And so again I breathed a silent prayer. Jesus, I prayed, I cannot forgive him. Give me Your forgiveness.

As I took his hand the most incredible thing happened. From my shoulder along my arm and through my hand a current seemed to pass from me to him, while into my heart sprang a love for this stranger that almost overwhelmed me. And so I discovered that it is not on our forgiveness any more than on our goodness that the world's healing hinges, but on His. When He tells us to love our enemies, He gives, along with the command, the love itself.

This man had realized the great evil he had done as a guard, had repented, and accepted Jesus as his righteousness before God. Elsewhere in her writing, in an expanded description of this difficult meeting, ten Boom reported that the ex-guard acknowledged to her his former role in persecution and explicitly asked for her forgiveness.

As John Newton, the former-slave-trader-turned-preacher said in his hymn "Amazing Grace": "Twas Grace that taught my heart to fear/ And Grace my fears relieved." It is only by God’s grace that we truly recognize how despicable our ordinary lives are--we don’t have to be living in a fascist society to indulge in conventional and increasing evil--and it is only by God’s grace that we can be redeemed from the depth of this banal depravity. And it is likewise only through mutual recognition of this grace that former enemies, victims and perpetrators, can be truly reconciled.

Friday, February 24, 2006

A Nice Little Meme from Paxifist

List 5 Little Things That Bring You Satisfaction or Pleasure.

1. Receiving a phone call from a friend or family member.
2. Getting reader comments on my blog.
3. Creating a beautiful piece of jewelry.
4. Writing well.
5. Having a cat jump onto my lap, settle down comfortably and start purring loudly.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

No Gnus

Still haven't found out how I did on the Radiological Safety exam. Hopefully I didn't fry myself and a lot of innocent bystanders in the hypothetical radioactive materials scenario.

Radiologicalness being over with, today was our first class on Biological Safety. Introduction/overview of the subject. Point of interest: not only are tularemia, smallpox, Marburg, Ebola and other nasty things of that nature absolutely to be avoided by humans, there are a whole host of agricultural diseases that can really louse up a country's food supply. We tend to think of bioterrorism as directly anti-human, but things like "corn smut" (a serious fungal disease of grain that's really hard to irradicate, can get into the soil--rendering it uncultivatible--for which there is no known chemical control) could do a number on farm crops and have ugly longterm repercussions. Saddam Hussein's people weaponized corn smut.

It's hard to write a song about corn smut, which people did back in the day about another agricultural plague, the boll weevil. Incidentally, Southerners are very good at public relations for insects. Witness South Carolinians: "Why, no ma'am! That isn't a three-inch long flying roach in your bedroom--that's a palmetto bug!" There's a dessert place in my hometown in GA called the Boll Weevil. But you just can't cutesify some bacteria called "corn smut." It sounds like some sort of hick pornography mag: "Sally June Treebottom was the November 1986 centerfold for Corn Smut."

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A "Little Something"

Should anyone out there with vast amounts of superfluous cash be wondering what to give me as a token of esteem, I found this on eBay this evening. Whaddaya think? Is it me?

I Am SERIOUSLY Considering

Eating my last piece of cheesecake. It's 5:25AM, for crying out loud, and I have just woken up thirsty. Water helped, but a nice glass of milk would be perfect. And why have a frothy stein of cowjuice without something nice to nibble on, too? I can hear the cheesecake calling plaintively to me from the freezer: "I'm sweet and creeeeamy. Yummmmmy." And after all, fat grams should have half-lives, just like radioactive elements do, so there's probably many fewer of them now than when I put the slice in the freezer...

Speaking of half-lives, I think I did OK on the radiological safety test. Mind you, thinking one has done well and actually having done well are often two different things. But I did study for hours and hours this past long weekend, went through all my notes, muttering acronyms to myself like cabalistic incantations, so I felt fairly confident after the fact. Thank you, thank you to everyone who prayed!

And as to answers to prayer and needs for such...this last evening I got an email from a VA firm I'd sent my resume to a while back! They hire government contractors, and apparently are considering me for an analyst position. I have two weeks to send in a pile of paperwork, which they then (most likely) will take forever to go through, and then, (if I make that next cut), they will contact me for an interview. Then, there's another year of background checks for the necessary security clearance. None of this may pan out, of course, but it was a great encouragement to know that my job prospects are not completely dim, thanks to the BTAEID program (the contact I used for the resume-submission was a speaker to the Biodefense class).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I hear the cheesecake calling!

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Light-Hearted Tag

From Hill of Beans:

1) Grab the book nearest to you, turn to page 18, and find line 4.
"Russian dominance resulted also from the absence of any meaningful opportunities..." From "Russia and the Baltic and Eurasian Republics: Building New Political Orders" in Milton F. Goldman's Russia, the Eurasian Republics, and Central/Eastern Europe (10th ed).

2) Stretch your left arm out as far as you can and see what you touch.
A bag of 2mm gold-filled beads.

3) What is the last thing you watched on TV?
15 seconds of a basketball all-star game (my roommate had the downstairs' set on)

4) Without looking, guess what time it is.
10:15 pm

5) Now look at the clock. What is the actual time?
10:15 pm (oooh--freaky!)

6) With the exception of the computer, what can you hear?
Blissfully, nothing! Even my evil roommate has piped down at this hour.

7) When did you last step outside?
2 pm--getting a bill from the mailbox after belatedly realizing it was a federal holiday and the mail wasn't coming.

8) Before you started this survey, what did you look at?
Most of my blogroll.

9) What are you wearing?
My W&L ring (I almost never take it off), my linen chemise (which is getting bled on because I cut my leg shaving in the shower) and a damp towel on my head.

10) Did you dream last night?
I think so--all I recall was that it was not satisfying.

11) When did you last laugh?
It may have been yesterday, when my sister was describing my adorable niece's antics--I'm pretty stressed this weekend, and today I've been feeling lonely and unhappy.

12) What is on the walls of the room you are in?
Lots and lots of newspaper clippings (cartoons and book reviews), pictures of family and friends, business cards/crumpled bits of paper with names and addresses on them, two "pocket" racks (one plastic, one cloth) stuffed with shoes, and a mirror.

13) Seen anything weird lately?
Well, I did look kind of odd this morning...

14) What do you think of this quiz?
It has highs and lows.

15) What is the last movie you saw?
The Matrix. I love good action movies.

16) If you became a multi-millionaire overnight, what would you buy?
A brick in-city house with a little garden and an enormous library for myself, an old-fashioned one-storey for Paxifist, one with a turret for Leah, a palacial estate for my sister...

17) Tell me something about you that I don't know.
I am extremely nervous about my radiological safety test tomorrow.

18) If you could change one thing about the world, regardless of guilt or politics, what would you do?
Um, get rid of evil in myself and others?

19) Do you like to dance?
Yes! Though I'm not very good.

20) George Bush?
Which one?

21) Imagine your first child is a girl, what do you call her?
It would depend on the little creature's last name.

22) Imagine your first child is a boy, what do you call him?
Ditto. I mean, "It would depend on the little blighter's last name."

23) Would you ever consider living abroad?
I have and I would. Though I would like to have my "home base" stateside.

24) What do you want God to say to you when you reach the pearly gates?
"Well done, good and faithful servant..."

I tag the first three people to comment!

Sunday, February 19, 2006

For Once, I Wish I Had HUGE Blog-Traffic!

To be honest, it's not the first time I wish that I had huge numbers of disparate readers, but it is probably the first time I've wanted the visitors for a completely unselfish reason! If I did have these throngs, I would set up a Paypal button on behalf of my colleague Alyosha, who is (with his mother and sister) in the following desperate straits, as a result of almost-fatal injuries sustained when he was attacked by a gang in Georgetown last September:

1) Financial: The family is over $30,000 in debt for his hospital care, and his sister is paying about $120 per night for a person to sit with him, to provide him with basic toilet assistance as needed (because he is unable to walk, and the local rehabilitation hospital is no longer caring for him). They need $$ to offset bills, and volunteers to help with keeping him company, at least several nights a week.

2) Legal: After Alyosha's school-associated health insurance ran out, Medicare did eventually accept him as a patient. However, they have since deemed him ineligible for physical rehabilitation, although (despite several brain infections) he has sustained little or no mental damage and would probably recover completely physically if given the proper treatment. This is a serious legal matter, and I do not believe (despite the case manager's pessimism) that Medicare has had the last word. A good lawyer is needed, plus the important connections for which Washington, DC, is so well-known. My pastor gave me the name of a lawyer "who knows people" this morning after Sunday School, so I do hope this will work.

3) Physical: See above--Alyosha needs intense physical therapy with the goal of complete recovery.

4) Intellectual: Alyosha is a graduate student, bilingual (at least!) in English and Russian. He needs mental stimulation, visitors to read to him in either Russian or English, or just keep him apprised of the goings-on in the larger world. It would be a particular benefit to him to be able to resume his graduate studies (I think he's probably passed his comprehensive exams, and may well be working on his dissertation--he needs help keeping this dream alive, moving towards this important intellectual goal). This will be a source of hope and encouragement, as well as long-term practicality.

5/6/7) Social/Spiritual/Psychological: His (Russian Orthodox) priest has come to visit him regularly, as have a few professors from the history and Russian language departments (a Russian professor, who is an Orthodox Christian, has been particularly faithful). This is a tremendous help, but Alyosha needs to know that he has not been forgotten by the community at large--by his fellow church-members, his colleagues at Georgetown, and others, and that we are all earnestly hoping/expecting that he is going to recover. He's been inside, in a hospital bed, since last September! I've spent 2 weeks in the hospital before, and it was just emotionally draining. Just the light deprivation alone will send many people into misery. Hope and laughter, as thousands have said before, are the best medicines...

I think it is ridiculous for Alyosha to be "written off" by a faceless bureaucracy, to be forgotten by people with whom he regularly interacted. We Christians have a particular ministry in this matter--to simply keep pushing his case and standing by with encouragement until he is back on his feet. Oh, how I wish I could get this message out to people who could help!!!

Friday, February 17, 2006

Precipitation AGAIN??!!

Just checked the weather, and they say it's going to snow-flurry tomorrow, plus be below freezing all day. And the weather was so pretty today, although so windy the Potomac was whitecapping upstream. I really need a good day at the market--what with missing the last two Saturdays due to rain, then snow, and having made just five bucks (!) the Saturday before that, I am feeling mighty poor. I've got bills to pay, and Alissa now owes me $100 in unreimbursed utilities. Grrr. I need a hug!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Don't Leave Preparation to the Birds

“Little twittering disease beakers,” I thought, watching a songbird flutter up to join its mate on a sunlit tree branch. That’s the problem with zoonoses like avian influenza—they make you want to avoid perfectly innocent animals on the off-chance they may be carriers of some dread disease. I may never look a fruit bats with fondness again.

Thanks to one of my BTAEID program professors, who’s a big wheel at NIAID/NIH (that’s the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, for those unfamiliar with the acronyms), some of my classmates and I have been able to attend, gratis, the 2006 American Society for Microbiology’s Biodefense Research Meeting, which is going on downtown, a few blocks from the Capitol. I went to the opening session last night, where the keynote address was given by Dr. Anthony Fauci (also of NIAID/NIH) on the subject of “Biodefense and Pandemic Influenza: The Research and the Public Health Interface,” followed by a panel discussion on “Response to Biodisasters.” The whole evening was fascinating, and reassuring--not necessarily from a clinical perspective (Americans are woefully lax about getting ordinary flu shots, so heaven help us in a serious bioevent), but because I knew the basics of all of the things they were talking about! What a great affirmation that this MS program is worthwhile.

In class yesterday afternoon, Dr. Jeff Elting from the DC Hospital Association, a matinee-idol handsome graduate of West Point whose suit was impeccable, but whose shoes should have been court-martialed, showed us the 1966 British movie The War Game. Made initially for the BBC, a channel which then refused to air it due to its graphic detail, The War Game is one of the most non-cheesy nuclear holocaust films I’ve seen. Dr. Elting paused the tape every few minutes to point out how in many ways the scenario dramatized (by non-actors--the director simply used people off the street, which earned him a documentary-making prize) was applicable to a manmade or naturally-occurring bioevent, and in what ways the British of the 1960s had a better grasp on response than Americans of the 2000s. The boilerplate response, he said, to questions about whether we are prepared for a pandemic, is, “We’re better off than we were 4 years ago.” But, he pointed out, in many ways we are worse off than we were 40 years ago: we don’t have the institutional memory of wartime quarantines and ration-booklets, of air-raid drills and Civil Defense, nor the idea that an attack could happen at any moment. To a certain extent, such intellectual and practical organization--from the grassroots up--is necessary for effectively stemming a major infectious disease.

Walking the path between paranoia and preparedness is a must for the public. One of the panel speakers last night, a lady from Iowa Public Health, noted that many people are recreationally indulging in disease-hysteria, much like they go to scary movies for the thrill it gives them--they are deliberately freaking themselves out by regularly consuming the relentless media coverage of the bird flu. But, on the other hand, as Dr. Elting said, most people are not doing the rudimentary things that are recommended to get ready for any major emergency situation: assembling basic supplies, such as flashlights, batteries, a small radio, water, bandages, a list of contact information, important medical data and so forth. To quote a (very bad) country song, what we need is “A little less talk and a lot more action.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Fulfillment vs. Tenure

Jim, one of the head maintenance guys on campus, just strolled in, his heavy gloves in one hand, his cyborg-like cellphone headset in his ear, and asked me, smiling, “Ya workin’?”

“Yes,” I said, then stopped. “I’m writing about how people should work with their hands.”

Ironic, I thought, as I tapped away at my computer keyboard on the following think-piece.

Monday, a comic strip jogged my memory of a statement on the wall of the jewelry store where I used to be a saleslady: “He who works with his hands is a laborer. He who works with his hands and his head is a craftsman. He who works with his head and his hands and his heart is an artist.” The comic only mentioned the first two sentences of this saying; then the little boy, watching his grandfather singe himself while trying to install electric wiring, concludes, “Grampa is not a craftsman.”

The strip wasn’t particularly amusing or memorable, but events this morning have made me wonder—not for the first time—whether it is moral, or right, to work only with one’s brain, without employing one’s hands? Or, to be more specific, to have thinking as one’s sole profession, without any deliberate, regular use of that thought for the betterment of others’ daily lives? (And no, excreting piles of impenetrable academic theses doesn’t count as proper use of thought!)

This morning, as I sat at the History Department front desk, fielding phone calls for which I had no answers and queries from professors I could not satisfy, a fiftyish faculty member strode in, spouting bad Cheney jokes. They weren’t gross, they just weren’t funny, and where his delivery ought to have been light, it was condescending. I told him a good one-liner in response, which he enjoyed so much he later repeated it to two more people. Right now, he is sitting in his office, the door open, loudly pontificating to an undergraduate about the hypocritical nature of the Republican Party. Annoying, but not unusual.

I believe there is a deep need for history study, for people to be introduced to the background of cultures that make up our colorful world. People need to be told what has been found, what has been lost, and how their forebears erred and overcame. There is sufficient information out there on these subjects to fill many lifetimes’ of reading and study. But, nonetheless, need this be a historian’s only job, particularly if he or she hasn’t the ability to make the story interesting for its own sake?

My worst job interview ever was out at the University of Kansas, in Lawrence, four or five years ago. I was trying for a position as an interdepartmental coordinator (working for a Russian specialist and some other people--I can’t remember the exact details), and inadvertently got into an argument with one member of the panel in the very last session of the two-day ordeal (everything had gone swimmingly up to that point). She was a bitter, sixtyish woman with acid in her hair and in her soul. Her final remark was “I’ll have you know I can go out and get a job anytime I want!” To which, I thought (holding my tongue with difficulty), “I’d really like to see you try, you old biddy!”

But good things came of that interview. Most directly: I didn’t get a low-paying job in that treeless freezebox known as Lawrence, KS. And also I determined that I henceforth would learn to do something practical, something non-academic--that I would call the bluff, so to speak, of that harpy of a professor: I would in fact have a “real world” alternative to university life.

Art has been my great love for almost as long as I can remember. Drawing, painting, and more recently, interest in tile and jewelry-making has rounded out my repertoire. I’m good at these things, which in turn has led to thoughts of “maybe I could do this for a living.” Many people with similar talents have dreamed the same dream. But, as a 2004 article in the Washington Post pointed out, most artists--even those who are most well-known--don’t make a living as artists; they DO have the much-derided “day job” which helps pay the bills and finance their artistic endeavors.

Hence, my personal choice to combine the academic, secretarial and artistic vocations over the last few years--working with my hands, head and heart has kept me balanced financially and psychologically. Now, I am in training for practical brainwork: the MS in Biohazardous Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Diseases. Protecting people from major deadly disease outbreaks is certainly worthwhile to ordinary life.

I have not entirely given up on the history degree. It may be that professorhood still lies somewhere in my future. But, tempting as tenure is, I wonder if it doesn’t solidify most academics’ essential laborer mentality [albeit they are working with their brains and not their hands (witness that many don’t even know how to load paper in the photocopy machine)]. Why shouldn’t professors be doing something in practice as well as in theory? If I should ever be teaching at a distinguished university, I hope that I will also be using ordinary skills on a regular basis outside academia. “Or walk with kings/Nor lose the common touch.” Now, Kipling knew his stuff!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Learning to Listen

I had a rough night last night--bad dreams, woke up at 4 AM exhausted and nervous, my mind racing. Thankfully, right next to my bed was a copy of The Revolutionary Communicator: Seven Principles Jesus Lived To Impact, Connect And Lead by Erik Lokkesmoe and Jedd Medefind, a book I'd been given by the authors at an Intervarsity dessert last year. After taking my medicine, I lay in bed and read the first chapter, Attentiveness.

As a blogger, and generally chatty person, I am constantly trying to express myself better. What I need to learn is how to listen better. Not passive listening, zoning out at the standard responses to prefunctory questions, but active listening, asking individuals real questions and actually absorbing the unrehearsed responses. Cherishing other's self-expression, and keeping my own words to a minimum.

It was a good chapter. I went to sleep soon thereafter, feeling much calmed.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

CAT User's Manual

Before installing a CAT, one should be properly informed of its capabilties, compatibilities and limitations. Hence the online user's manual.

Friday, February 10, 2006


True to my word, I've been checking out my former blogroll entries that were de-accessioned due to low activity...and Ann Louise (the author of The Vulnerable Church) has not only begun writing regularly, she's composed several posts that are directly relevant to my own experience and I think to that of at least a few of my readers.

Recently, she's commented on severe physical sickness within the church, and the fears of single women, two topics that have been a lot on my mind of late. Just before Christmas, a dear friend's stepfather was told he has advanced cancer, as was a friend of one of my fellow Bible Study ladies. Another lady in my church is undergoing treatment for a brain tumor, and still another is being tested for a similar malady. A middle-aged couple in my Sunday school class lost their eldest son to brain cancer last Thanksgiving Day. Clearly, cancer is affecting many within my little social sphere.

With regards to the social lives of single women, Ann Louise rightly remarks that many are afraid to be who they are, anxious over possible active rejection [as opposed to just being ignored, which invisibility many feel in these weeks between Christmas and National Singles Awareness Day (as SoloFeminity has dubbed February 14)]. We need encouragement, even after Valentine's Day has come and gone, and the leftover candy tempts us from the "on sale" aisle at the corner store.

My Pandemic Preparedness Article

My article on the challenge of determining the advent of the next pandemic, and of identifying newly emerging diseases, has been posted on the website. It's neat to be identified as a Georgetown University School of Medicine student in an official forum! Who wudda thunk?

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Back, Pop and Cackle

It aches to breathe. I feel like a heavy 10-inch bolt has been inserted into my chest through my sternum, with a washer and hex-nut screwed on, badly, at my spine, just where my shoulder blades meet at the bottom. In short, I hurt. I don’t know if this discomfort is something related to my fall at the Metro about ten days ago, or is merely an expression of fatigue and the dread of the approaching hearts ‘n’ flowers holiday.

In other news, I have zits.

But my life is not all pain and acne—the weather’s been lovely the last several days, and I have gotten more walking in than usual. This evening Leah fed me a wonderful meal of pasta, meatloaf and spinach (yum!) and I got to hang out with her apple-cheeked offspring, who was all smiles and tossed bunnies (he’d apparently never seen Night of the Lepus…or maybe he had!). And this afternoon I encountered people I knew every 100 feet or so as I walked across campus to class, so was kept busy nodding and greeting folks by name—felt unnaturally social and absurdly smiley afterwards. It was fun!

Sunday, February 05, 2006

The Link to Those Cartoons

A few of them are actually quite funny! (Especially the "Stop, stop, we have run out of virgins!" one!) Some are critical, but a surprising number are cordial, and even laudatory.

Allah Akbar. Jihadists FUBAR

The Jordanian newspaper editor who republished three of the score of cartoons which depicted Mohammed in an unflattering light has been arrested by his government, having "abused" the right of freedom of speech by printing the offending material next to an editorial asking, "What brings more prejudice against Islam, these caricatures or pictures of a hostage-taker slashing the throat of his victim in front of the cameras or a suicide bomber who blows himself up during a wedding ceremony in Amman?"

Apparently it is much easier for the average hothead on the streets of the Middle East to respond to the speck in the eye of the West than it is to the sequoia in the eye of the Muslim world.

There are Muslims who are aghast at this ever-growing insanity, the torching of the Danish embassies in several countries, the steps taken by Arabian Peninsula governments to severe formal diplomatic ties with Denmark. Sandmonkey is one who has unilaterally ridiculed the general lack of logic inherent in the situation, and he lists others. But, by and large, these Middle Eastern bloggers are pretty thoroughly "western" themselves, and thus the exception to the societies in which they live.

Many other outside commentators (read, for example: Christopher Hitchens) are agnostics, and are of the opinion that this destructive fundamentalist furor simply shows religion for what they believe it is: a potentially explosive morass of superstition and ritual that sends ignorant believers off into paroxysms of fear and hatred the minute certain tenets of their faith are insulted. These intellect-worshiping observers are willing to tar all other religions and sincere adherents with this same "mean and small-minded" brush, an opportunistic conclusion seemly validated by the behavior of mobs of black-shrouded Holocaust deniers and teeth-gnashing Q'ran wavers now crowding the streets and squares of major metropolitan areas from London to Damascus.

Religion has been used to justify all sorts of moral outrages over the millennia, from human sacrifice to pogroms, from inquisitorial excesses to military crusades. We humans love nothing more than believing that God is on our side, that we are somehow winning his favor through our superior actions. This is the great Lie--that our superior merit, our efforts to crush dissent, somehow impress God. The secular corollary of this lie is that our superior intellect, our efforts at holistic openmindedness, somehow confer upon us a cosmic virtue which places us at the top of the evolutionary chain.

God is not impressed by our zeal, our legalistic sincerity, or our self-congratulatory intellectual egalitarianism. He is impressed by our expression of absolute need for him, our acknowledgement that our best efforts have been disastrous to ourselves and to others. We must join HIS side, take his direction, even if it means obeying his orders to do such unfashionable and uninflammatory things as caring for widows and orphans.

This is not to say that Christians shouldn't make an effort to ask for respect for their faith from those around them. They should, for example, write polite but firm letters to the producers and broadcasters of an upcoming NBC show, in which Britney Spears, of all people, plays a fundamentalist Christian with a cooking show called "Cruci-fixin's" (my, how clever!), asking them not to air this example of deliberate insult on Maundy Thursday. But, ultimately, this sitcom episode is merely a moment of irritation, an emblem of popular disregard for personal faith. To echo the sentiments of the Jordanian newspaper editor, what is more important? Than a non-believer casts insults at a religion, or that a person who claims to know God violates that the fundamentals of that relationship on a regular and visible basis?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The 600 Rode Off Into The Sunset

The Light Brigade, with its six hundred uniformed cavaliers, was slaughtered at Balaclava. The Crimea has always been a rough place, more suitable for vacationing than campaigning. I would like to take my honeymoon there, but the unlikelihood of that particular excursion was clear to me this morning when my six hundredth match on eHarmony closed communication. In sixteen months of subscribing, I've been matched with over six hundred people, and interaction with all but twenty of those has since been cut off--either by me or by the guys themselves. I don't know whether to take this number as a sign of my general compatability or of my extreme pickiness; probably it is both, and true of my matches, too. "Easy to get along with but hard to please," maybe?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Boycott the Boycott

If I knew anything that was actually made in Denmark, I would go out and buy it. But as it is, I'll just show solidarity with Sandmonkey.