Thursday, February 28, 2013

National Women's History Month?

An announcement for the National Women's History month arrived in my email today.  First - as a disclaimer - I must confess that I am very much pro-women and find their contributions to society to be worthy of enormous praise.  At the same time, however, I am a bit skeptical of this particular movement.  Is there anything in the government's web site that celebrates the women who are successful as a mother and a wife?   How about someone who as mother and wife stood heroically and performed successfully against all odds?  There are some who do this in passing, but it does not seem to be primary.  Nevertheless, there are a few listed in the web site that I am inclined to admire, like Sally Ride.  But then there are several who just seem to be disgruntled because they are disgruntled.  And there is Hillary with her ambitious ambition.  There are plenty of rabble rousers, which may have been necessary for a time, but is this an ideal that we should perpetually strive for and instill in our daughters?  There are some who want to tear up the entire social fabric and replace it with ... with ... uh ...  oh well, they will think of something eventually.

Then there is one day to celebrate integration of the women into the military.  Checking on the polls, it looks like I am in a small minority among those who think women don't belong in the military in combat roles.  Perhaps this has something to do with the fact that "women and children first" isn't quite the norm anymore.

There is something missing from the National Women's History month.  But perhaps I am the one who is confused.  Regardless, I feel like an alien in my own country.

Saturday, February 23, 2013


American tradition is to slowly accumulate car parts, household tools and stuff, sporting goods and children's toys, along with various other paraphernalia.  This ends up in the garage and/or basement where it slowly disassembles and recombines in something that resembles the primordial soup.  Ideally all this steadily increases until death, at which time there is a large garbage mound that the next owner needs to deal with.

The last few days my wife has been diligently going through things to either donate or throw away all the things that were clogging the garage.  Today I was called in to do my part of the chore, which involves coming across a number of items and exclaiming things like "why did I buy that?" or "do you think he might miss it?", as if my children were going to come back home and search for the item.  It does feel good to have most of this gone now.  It is also good to have a lot more room in the garage.

We stumbled across a cassette tape player while rummaging through things.  This leaves me wondering if there is a good way to move all my our old cassette tapes onto mp3 files. The challenge would be to get the audio output of the player sent directly to the computer.  Maybe we can figure this out together with the kids when they come back.

Monday, February 18, 2013

From the Tennessee Valley. Really.

Regarding the evolutionary decline in human intelligence.

There is an article discussing this here in that was produced by Natural Society.  An excerpt:

"I would wager that if an average citizen from Athens of 1000BC were to appear suddenly among us, he or she would be among the brightest and most intellectually alive ..."

I am a bit skeptical that Athens existed in 1,000 BC, but we will let that pass.  The main thing I would note is that an early citizen of Athens could easily handle the male pronoun being sometimes used with reference to a male, sometimes with an object of a male gender, and sometimes referring to an object of uncertain gender.  Context would allow an easy determination.  Today's academics are no longer capable of this feat, hence the need to use "he or she" all the time.

The article next jumps to "Darwin's theory", apparently oblivious to the fact that Darwin never defined a theory, nor has anyone ever actually used it to solve a problem, nor will you find this mythical theory defined in any textbook.  Of course an Athenian from 300 BC would immediately recognize that what Darwin proposed to be a scientific theory, "It just happens", was actually coined by Epicurus who learned it from Forest Gump.

But let us continue to find out what else is lowering our intelligence:

"The Water Supply, Fluoride is Lowering Your IQ"
"Pesticides are Diminishing Intelligence"
"Process Foods, High Fructose Corn Syrup Making People 'Stupid'"

Horrors!  I consumed all of these this morning!

The comment section provides more samples of intellects in various stages of decline.  At this point in life, I think I will just accept my fate and not worry too much about my rapidly diminishing intellectual powers.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

How long does it take to learn a language?

There is actually a web site to rate the difficulty of learning different languages for "English Speakers".  I am not sure how this changes for those who were raised on Valleyspeak rather than English.

My recent hobby is Hebrew which supposedly requires 1,100 hours of formal study to achieve "general proficiency", whatever that means.  My two semesters of Hebrew provided about 160 hours each of study, which is less than 1/3 of the goal, although I doubt that the US State Department is measuring their training hours with respect to Biblical Hebrew.  Theoretically the 1,100 hours could be achieved by averaging 3 hours a day for a year.  There is a third semester of Hebrew at my seminary that I hope to take in the summer, but this would still leave me less than half way to proficiency, especially given that learning languages is less efficient per hour when it isn't full time.

So where to go next?  I can't take off from work for a full time program, nor can I find a local tutor.  The Pimsleur recordings have been helpful, but 90 30-minute lessons works out to 45 hours of listening that expands to about 150 or so with review, but still leaves me far short of the goal.  A web site I just stumbled across is from the University of Texas which has a variety of additional learning materials for modern Hebrew.

There is the question of why bother doing this.  The little I know has been quite helpful on understanding why there are different English readings of the old testament.  Still, what I know isn't nearly enough, yet I did well in my classes.  Most pastors don't bother to study Hebrew.  Then there is a note in my Hebrew Bible's preface which gives a statistic that only 20% of pastors who studied Hebrew retained it.  The end result is that pastors who can really dig through the old testament in the original language are quite rare.  So the overall goal is to achieve a level of proficiency that will permit me to engage regularly with Hebrew, whether on the web or reading my Hebrew Bible.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

Haji Browne and the origin of Pan-Islamism

Having finished this work, I was surprised to learn that he claims himself to be the originator of the Pan-Islamic concept which he presented in an article in India most likely in the late 19th century.  He provides little biographical information, so we deduce what we can from the book.

Browne uses many Biblical images, so it is safe to assume that he had a Christian schooling but converted to Islam.  I generally view westerners who do such as being rather confused about Christianity, not really making the conversion to Islam, and probably having embraced a lot of confused modernist gibberish before making the switch.  At the end of the work, this is finally evident in its full glory:

"As Spencer has shown, the social and political history of mankind is the history of an evolution. Whether created in the image of God, or slowly developed from some primitive amorphous atom, so far as we can trace our origin, man has been moving, on the whole steadily, though with many[380] halts and set-backs, towards perfection. As yet our civilisation—the highest point yet reached—is but a miserable makeshift for that we should aim at. Let us hope that when the present agitation shall have died out Englishmen and Egyptians will find it possible to join hands in an effort for the mutual attainment of something better." - Bonaparte in Egypt and the Egyptians of Today, by Haji Browne (1907).

It is this atheist intellectualoid drivel that is likely his true upbringing.

The narrative regarding Napoleon highlights a decree that is made early on regarding the French rule:  That the French came in the name of the Turks, that they are favorable to Islam, that Islam is to be respected, and that the goal of the French is to provide liberty, equality and brotherhood to the people of Egypt.  Or else.  They then proceeded to destroy the Turkish government, to systematically desecrate the sacred and instituted a modern monster state of rules that were more burdensome than the Turks.  Eventually the English defeat the French, but Browne tries to spin this into some heroic effort of the Egyptians.

A theme that Browne shares in common with myself is the wondering of how modern technological conveniences can be compatible with religion.  Like the easy availability of internet porn.  It is the vices that the West distributes in the East that are most disturbing.

For those interested in Pan-Islam, here is most of what he says:

"The yearly increasing facility of travelling in the East and the growth of the Arabic and Indian Mahomedan Press, have naturally tended to help forward the efforts of the more enlightened Moslems in various lands who were first stirred to movement by the discussion in the European Press, and to-day wherever Islam exists there is a Pan-Islamic party, generally small, but always having as its leaders the most enlightened and most advanced men. Under the guidance of these men Pan-Islamism is essentially a defensive and not an aggressive movement—one for the elevation of the people, and therefore an intellectual and peace-promoting and not a military or war-provoking one. That a few of the most ignorant of the people should attach some hazy idea of Moslem conquest to their conception of Pan-Islamism is but natural, but[326] to assume that because their vague, ill-formed, and wholly undigested thoughts now and then find expression in the columns of irresponsible journals, run for the most part by men of no position, education, or influence, these are to be taken as the true exponents of Moslem thought is absurd. Instead of being a danger to Europe or civilisation Pan-Islamism is a movement that should have the support of every lover of peace and civilisation, and the fact that it is making progress in Egypt is but a proof that the Egyptians have awakened to a sense of the only way in which the best and truest interests of their country and their religion can be served. If the world at large is ever to see that higher and truer civilisation of which it is capable, the Powers must abandon that lust of conquest that is but a drag on all true progress, they must cease to look upon the interest of each as a claim to which the interests of all others must yield, and combine to seek the benefit of all. The more nearly that ideal is reached the more important will it be that Islam should be prepared to take its fitting place in the grand scheme of regeneration. That it should do so it must follow now and for ever the ideas that are the mainspring of Pan-Islamism."

With this high-minded introduction, we still have the enlightened westerners who believe this to be the case.  Those of us who are unenlightened and cynical view it as just as disingenuous as Napoleon's decree.  Al Qaeda has a certain claim to the label of Pan-Islamism also.

Bonaparte in Egypt, by Haji Browne

As long as I am in the middle east with my reading, I should probably tarry a while and read some related works.  This one I had thought would be the story of a soldier traveling with Napoleon on his adventure to Egypt in 1798.  I was completely mistaken, as it seems to be the work of an academic writing more than a century afterwards.  (The book was written in 1907.)  My disappointment has been mitigated by the realization that the author is trying to describe and analyze the first attempt of a western secular power to subjugate a Muslim nation, which is certainly a timely subject.

A key part of this work is a purported effort to characterize and contrast eastern and western thought processes.  I would like to know more about Haji Browne while considering this, however, I have failed to turn up any information on him on the internet.  The narrative of Napoleon is thus intertwined with paragraphs of psycho-pontificating of this sort regarding the Egyptians:

"For they have always been incapable of taking a broad or general view of any subject. No matter how many-sided a question may be, they, as a rule, can see but one aspect of it at a time. They look, in fact, at all things through a mental telescope that, bringing one narrow and limited aspect of a subject into bold and clear relief, shuts from their vision all that surrounds it. Hence when, as they can and sometimes do, they change their point of view, the change is commonly as abrupt as it is thorough, and those who see only the surface tax them with fickleness. Of late years there have been signs that, at all events, the educated[40] classes are learning to reason on surer and safer grounds; but if the reader would understand their story, he must ever bear in mind the narrow basis of their judgments and, therefore, of their actions."

It seems that his overall theme is that Western civilization is on the one hand drastically different from that of Egypt, yet on the other he will not accept any notion of superiority, since he quite readily brings up all the crimes of the Europeans ranging from the bloodiness of the French revolution to the treatment of the Irish and Jews.  Time to get back on my camel and see where this book is heading ...

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Finishing up the Hajj.

It has been an exhausting journey, but well worth it.  Now I am listening to someone read the appendices of Richard Burton's account of visiting Mecca and Medina.  There are a few tidbits in here that I thought worth highlighting:

Regarding the end of slavery in Islam, Burton includes some notes regarding British policy in the mid-19th century.

"About a year since writing the above a firman was issued by the Porte suppressing the traffic from Central Africa. Hitherto we have respected slavery in the Red Sea, because the Turk thence drew his supplies; we are now destitute of an excuse. A single steamer would destroy the trade, and if we delay to take active measures, the people of England, who have spent millions in keeping up a West African squadron, will not hold us guiltless of negligence.

NOTE TO SECOND EDITION.—The slave trade has, since these remarks were penned, been suppressed with a high hand; the Arabs of Al-Hijaz resented the measure by disowning the supremacy of the Porte, but they were soon reduced to submission."

This certainly was not included in our school texts.  There is a general rule that no government is entirely good or entirely bad, thus the same government that suppressed the African slave trade started the Opium wars in China.

Another point is that Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Hagar and Adam all seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time in Meccah.  I was surprised to learn that the entire Hajj pilgrimage was dedicated to the commemoration of the Islamic belief that Abraham was called to sacrifice Ishmael rather than Isaac ... and that this was done at Meccah.

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Following the Haj ... and the sacredness of The Land.

My cold lingers, so I will continue listening to the recording of Richard Burton's story of the Haj.  It has been an exhausting journey as the various groups join together for a boat ride and then for security on the way to al Madina, but they come from different nations, people groups and Islamic sects for which the mutual hatred combined with the need to take offense at the slightest perceived insult must be taken into account.  Then we have the fact that everyone is armed.  It is a wonder that anyone survived the Haj

Perhaps I should step back a bit and note that Burton is a teller of stories and not just an observer and chronicler.  In the few days that he is actually in Arabia, there are a few chances to purchase milk, water or a sheep from the local Bedouin, and some additional quality time being shot at from the hills as the Bedouin attempted to get some free camel meat and goodies.  This expands into a long written discourse from which the Librivox readers produce nearly two hours of recorded material for this one section of Burton's narrative.  Needless to say, the bulk of the material is not the result of first hand observations, although in some cases he has given some reference to his sources.

The importance of land is something that I may not have sufficiently appreciated. A story I am fond of from my childhood is that of Daniel Boone who doggedly defended his little patch of Kentucky from the Indians.  After defeating the Indians, however, he was in turn defeated by ravenous lawyers and driven to resettle in Missouri.  Expropriating land followed by packing up and moving are just parts of American life.

But the Bedouin see things a bit differently:

"Akhawat, or “brotherhood,” denotes the tie between the stranger and the Badawi, who asserts an immemorial and inalienable right to the soil upon which his forefathers fed their flocks. Trespass by a neighbour instantly causes war. Territorial increase is rarely attempted, for if of a whole clan but a single boy escape he will one day assert his claim to the land, and be assisted by all the Ashab, or allies of the slain." - A Personal Narrative of a Pilgrimage to Al-Madinah & Meccah, by Sir Richard Francis Burton

Evidently a few American lawyers are need to teach them civility.  This had me pondering the intractability of the Israel - Palestinian conflict.  After the various conflicts of the 20th century, great waves of millions migrated from one place to another due to the conflicts.   The Israel- Palestinian one only has presented a massive insoluble problem. As the Islamic world sees it, this land was once occupied, hence, the only acceptable solution is to re-occupy it.  Zionism likewise has its entire identity in The Land, that is, in a land that the Jews can call their own.  Thus, one of their premier newspapers is called Haaretz, "The Land".  There is no solution to this.

Friday, February 01, 2013

Richard Burton goes to Alexandria

Most people of my generation think that Richard Burton went to Alexandria disguised as a Roman consul to meet up with Liz Taylor who was disguised as an Egyptian queen.  The best part was hearing Burton speaking Latin while Liz answered in Greek with the occasional outburst in Coptic towards her slaves.  As we are all confused, half of Americans think Alexandria is a movie set in California while the other half think it is a suburb of Washington, D.C.

I now stand corrected having learned that Sir Richard Burton was a translator of the famous The Book of A Thousand Nights and a Night stories into English and traveled in 1853 to Alexandria, which is actually a town at the end of the Nile River in Egypt.  Rather than some aristocratic disguise, however, he chose that of a wandering Muslim Dervish practicing Islamic medicine.  Apparently his hair and complexion were of a sort that could hide his upper crust English upbringing.  He even got himself circumcised to make sure that he would not be mistaken as a European Christian.  His purpose in all this was to immerse himself into the Hajj, the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, being treated as much like a native born Muslim as possible so that he could perform his anthropological and geographical research where no white European was permitted to go ... and without his research specimens having any accurate suspicions.  Perfecting this disguise took some time, however, since it meant being proficient in the squat position while performing various functions, as well as knowing proper ways to eat, to drink, to smoke, to live in the most rustic conditions, and to grovel before those of superior rank.  Managing a slave Arab style was also an art form that wasn't mastered over night.  His proudest achievement was being treated rudely by the officialdom of Egypt as they would any other native rather than being given the due respect required of a Westerner.

The result is a snooty English account of Arab culture from the inside.  It is a bit more pompous than T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) but perhaps even more entertaining.  I suppose Lawrence may have been trying to emulate Burton.

In case anyone has a notion of using Burton's account to teach young-uns about the Middle East, beware:  Burton's account would cause modern educators to go into a hashish-like frenzy, followed by flaying and lynching of the culprit who dared to utter such impieties against the orthodoxy of cultural tolerance.

It is from Burton's Arabian Nights that modern textbooks derive the teaching that Islamic medicine all derived from Galen.  Burton's long winded description of his phony medical practice is undoubtedly the correct picture, as he prescribes one useless medicine after another, but by making the treatment sufficiently rude the victims become convinced that it is effective and willingly part with their money.  He then finds himself with too many clients, and he must turn many people down so that his mission isn't diverted.  Lest we consider him unscrupulous in taking their money, we should note that his attempts to cure people for free aroused a great deal of suspicion, so it proved quite necessary to extort a fee for the services, whether he wanted to or not.

From this lowly viewpoint he has a few grievances with his Father Land.  The most important is that he is able to purchase a legitimate English passport under a phony Arab name for just a few shillings from the British Consulate.  How dare the English sell one of their most precious commodities for so cheap!  An Arab scoundrel does the same and uses his new status to rob his fellow businessmen and abuse them further in the courts.  Burton would certainly have trouble with our modern era where we are willing to spend $250,000 to bribe an indigent foreigner to move to the US, while what can be done with modern lawyers is little improvement.

For a time he attaches himself to an Arab trader of black African slaves in order to learn the business, thinking this knowledge might prove of some future use.  I am just starting this book, and this book is only one of many he wrote, not all of which were published, so I am not in any position to say how this worked out.  One of the great puzzles in my mind, however, is that the trade of black Africans in the Arab countries went on for centuries, but I haven't seen much evidence of black communities in the Arab world.  What happened to all of them?