Thursday, December 31, 2009

Gaza "Freedom" Marchers and Alice Walker

More on the Freedom Marchers themselves (clever title, that - reminding us of the people who went to the southern U.S. to work for equal rights for African Americans - which did not, of course, entail working with terrorist groups!), from the Egyptian authorities, who seem to regard them as a major nuisance.
The Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, expressed frustration at the activists who came to Cairo despite the warning that the border was closed. “Those who tried to conspire against us, and they are more than a thousand, we will leave them in the street,” he said.
One of the Code Pinkers, Alice Walker, seems to have a very peculiar idea of how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict began. She writes in her blog [URL updated 4/26/11], in an article called "Overcoming Speechlessness":
And so I have been, once again, struggling to speak about an atrocity: This time in Gaza, this time against the Palestinian people. Like most people on the planet I have been aware of the Palestinian–Israeli conflict almost my whole life. I was four years old in 1948 when, after being subjected to unspeakable cruelty by the Germans, after a “holocaust” so many future disasters would resemble, thousands of European Jews were resettled in Palestine. They settled in a land that belonged to people already living there, which did not seem to bother the British who, as in India, had occupied Palestine and then, on leaving it, helped put in place a partitioning of the land they thought would work fine for the people, strangers, Palestinians and European Jews, now forced to live together.
Why does she put the word Holocaust in quotes? Wasn't it one? And is the only important thing about the Holocaust that it led to Holocaust survivors settling in Palestine? Like many other anti-Israel activists, she has the mistaken notion that the Jews who went to Palestine were only from Europe. What of the hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab and Muslim who emigrated to Israel? Her statement about the role of the British is also entirely incorrect. The British were not in favor of the UN partition plan - they abstained during the vote on November 29, 1947. They did nothing to implement it once the UN approved it.

She also seems to consider Israel unredeemable, despite all of her talk about reconciliation:
There are differing opinions about this, of course, but my belief is that when a country primarily instills fear in the minds and hearts of the people of the world, it is no longer useful in joining the dialogue we need for saving the planet.
She also thinks that the people of Gaza have been subjected to genocide:
This is a chilling use of power, supported by the United States of America, no small foe, if one stands up to it. No wonder that most people prefer to look the other way during this genocide, hoping their disagreement with Israeli policies will not be noted.
She argues for a one-state solution without any concern at all for the lives of Israeli Jews:
What is to be done? Our revered Tolstoy asked this question, speaking also of War and Peace. I believe there must be a one state solution. Palestinians and Jews, who have lived together in peace in the past, must work together to make this a reality once again. This land (so soaked in Jewish and Palestinian blood, and with America’s taxpayer dollars wasted on violence the majority of us would never, if we knew, support) must become, like South Africa, the secure and peaceful home of everyone who lives there. This will require that Palestinians, like Jews, have the right of return to their homes and their lands. Which will mean what Israelis most fear: Jews will be outnumbered and, instead of a Jewish state, there will be a Jewish, Muslim, Christian country, which is how Palestine functioned before the Europeans arrived. What is so awful about that?
Does she know anything about Ottoman rule of Palestine? It was rule by a Muslim empire which favored Muslims over Christians or Jews. In saying this I'm not arguing that it was an evil empire - but that its rulers had their own interests and beliefs, among them that Islam was superior to other religions and that the "peoples of the book" should be tolerated but treated as second-class citizens. The Ottoman Empire began to treat its religious minorities better throughout the 19th century, with the reform movement known as the Tanzimat, but it certainly was not a model of religious equality. And this is even without considering the Armenian Genocide, which was wrought by the Ottoman government in its dying days during WWI. Walker's idea of Palestine before British rule seems to be governed by a gauzy nostalgia for an imagined past. Perhaps she should consult a variety of histories of Palestine, not simply those written by Ali Abunimah and others who argue for the one-state solution.

It also seems that she is taking a kind of unholy glee in the thought that Jews will once again be a minority in Palestine, as if this is really the correct state of affairs. Jews should know their place, which is not to be able to wield power by controlling their own independent state.

And to think I once admired Alice Walker!

Opposing the blockade of Gaza

As my small but loyal band of readers probably knows, two international groups have converged on Gaza to protest the "Israeli siege" of Gaza and to remember the Gaza War of a year ago. One is led by George Galloway - the "Viva Palestina" crew - and the other is called the Gaza Freedom March (which is apparently a coalition of several groups). Today there was a gathering on the Israeli side of the Gaza border, attended by all of Israeli's Arab MPs and community leaders, about 1000 people in all. On the Gaza side of the border, about 100 international activists (from Code Pink, permitted by the Egyptians to enter Gaza yesterday) gathered with about 500 Palestinians.

Ismail Haniyeh, the head of Hamas in Gaza, spoke to the crowd via the mobile phone of one of the Arab MPs, Taleb A-Sana.

So what did Haniyeh say to the assembled crowds?
"Because of international solidarity and your support, we have become stronger," Haniyeh declared. "The Palestinian nation will never give up its national aspirations or its right to Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine and the Islamic people."
Ynet had a more extensive report on Haniyeh's words:
Haniyeh said in the phone call, which was sounded on a loudspeaker system, "We are proud of the Palestinian citizens of the 1948 territories who have come to identify with us. We send a greeting to all the members of parliament, to Sheikh Raed Salah and to all the people who have come to expresses their support for us."

According to the Hamas prime minister, the Arab citizens' presence within the Green Line strengthens the Strip's residents.

"We have managed to overcome the occupation plans and we will surely meet at the al-Aqsa Mosque and in Jerusalem, which will remain Arab and Islamic," Haniyeh said.

(Photo of Israeli Arab leaders)
He sent his greetings to the Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which organized the march towards the Erez crossing. "The Strip misses you very much, and God willing, we will meet soon in Jerusalem."
Haaretz reported about the international protesters' activities in Gaza:
The 86 international activists began touring the Gaza Strip on Thursday, in an expression of solidarity with Palestinians living there under the Israeli blockade. They were also scheduled to tour areas hit in the Israeli bombardments, visit Gaza's Shifa hospital, and meet with community leaders, said Hamdi Shaath, the head of the pro-Hamas Committee to Defeat the Blockade.
According to the Ma'an Palestinian news agency, the international activists were from Code Pink, and they brought medical supplies with them. (They had entered Gaza twice before this).

It seems obvious that the international groups trying to get into Gaza have to be working with the Hamas government - how else could they be permitted in from the Palestinian side? Last year, when George Galloway led an earlier Viva Palestina group in, he gave contributions directly to Haniyeh. I think that Hamas' and Haniyeh's intentions are made clear by his statements this morning that "we will surely meet at the Al-Aqsa Mosque and in Jerusalem, which will remain Arab and Islamic." No talk of the medical aid brought by the Code Pink delegation, or of the suffering of the people of Gaza, which Hamas exploits mercilessly in pursuit of its ultimate goal of an Islamic Palestine. If Hamas actually worked for the sake of the people of Gaza, they would quickly conclude the negotiations for the prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit and would enter into good-faith talks with Israel for the terms for lifting the Israeli blockade of their side of the border.

And if the Code Pink and other international activists really cared for the people of Gaza, instead of seizing any opportunity to bash Israel, they would be just as vigorously protesting the Egyptian closure of the Gaza border from their side, and the iron wall (literally) that Egypt is now sinking at that border to stop the tunnels between Gaza and Egypt. But no, it's all Israel's fault, as we know.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Terrorist's contacts in London

The New York Times has a good article (for tomorrow's newspaper) about the terrorist's possible contacts during his time at University College London.
Their best guess — one shared by investigators — is that the road to radicalization ran less through Yemen, where he studied Arabic as a teenager and apparently later prepared for a suicide mission, than through the Islamic hothouse of London.

“It’s pointless trying to pin the blame for this on those in far-off lands,” a Muslim from California who studied Arabic in Yemen with Mr. Abdulmutallab said in a telephone interview in which he insisted on anonymity because he did not want to draw attention to his family, which migrated from Pakistan to Orange County when he was a boy. “What we have to do is to try and understand what is going on in our own backyards,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves why a young man like Umar Farouk would do this, what the factors were in London that drove him to violence.”

Investigators are now, in fact, turning a sharper and retrospective eye to the passage in Mr. Abdulmutallab’s life that began immediately after his summer in Sana, Yemen, in 2005, when he enrolled as a $25,000-a-year student at University College London. In recent days, officials in Washington and London have said they are focusing on the possibility that his London years, including his possible contacts with radical Muslim groups then, were decisive in turning him toward Islamic extremism.

That view, if confirmed, would offer a stark reaffirmation that Britain, the United States’ closest ally, poses a major threat to American security. Critics say the British security forces have failed to adequately monitor and restrain the Islamic militancy that thrives in the vast network of mosques that serve the nation’s 1.5 million Muslims, and on university campuses across the country where nearly 100,000 of the 500,000 students are Muslims, including many, like Mr. Abdulmutallab, from overseas.

Like the experiences of many of the 19 hijackers on Sept. 11, 2001, and the four suicide bombers who struck in the July 7, 2005, attacks on the London transit system, as well as Islamic militants involved in other terrorist plots in the past two decades, Mr. Abdulmutallab’s life in the British capital exposed him to contradictory influences that might have hastened his radicalization.

But one focus for investigators has been his activities in University College London’s Islamic Society, which he joined soon after enrolling at the university, perhaps partly as a refuge from the persistent loneliness he described in teenage postings on Islamic Web sites before he arrived in Britain.

Within a year London, he was reveling in his role as the society’s president, sending an e-mail message to his Californian friend in August 2006 recounting what a “nice time” he was having and how “time has flown by” since he enrolled at University College and joined the society.

Left unsaid was the fact that Mr. Abdulmutallab had arrived in Britain at a time of unparalleled intellectual and religious fervor in Britain’s Muslim community in the wake of the July 7 attacks, which killed 56 people, including the four suicide bombers.

The bombers were British-born Muslims with no history of fundamentalist violence, who were indoctrinated in mosques in Britain and on visits to Pakistan and who had recorded “martyrdom videos” attributing their actions to Britain’s role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Abdulmutallab’s personal abstinence and insistence on praying five times a day had earned him the nickname Alfa, a term for Muslim clerics, when he was a teenage student at an elite British boarding school in the West African state of Togo. Judging from the Islamic Society’s Web site and from videos of its gatherings posted on YouTube, the society has served in recent years as a forum for agitated debate about the “oppression” of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims by the United States and other Western countries.

The society’s guest speakers have included radical imams, former Guantánamo Bay prisoners and a cast of mostly left-wing, anti-American British politicians and human rights advocates. In January 2007, with Mr. Abdulmutallab as president, the society sponsored a “War on Terror Week” that was harshly critical of American conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Similar gatherings were being held on campuses in many parts of the world, including the United States, and the records of the one at University College offer no evidence by themselves that Mr. Abdulmutallab or his associates in the Islamic Society were promoting anything other than peaceful protest. That, in any case, is the account given by his successor as the society president, Mr. Rafiq.

“There were no signs of anything extreme at all when I met him,” Mr. Rafiq said. “He never mentioned anything like that. If I could go back in time and speak to him, ask him, I would. There was nothing to suggest that was in him when I knew him.”

As for off-campus activities, Mr. Rafiq said he liked to meet Mr. Abdulmutallab for Friday evening prayers at the Islamic Society’s campus prayer room, then walk to a nearby chicken-and-chips shop where they would eat and talk about their common enthusiasm for the Arsenal soccer club as well as Islamic Society business.

The profile offered by Mr. Rafiq fit with the descriptions from others who knew Mr. Abdulmutallab before he arrived in London. John McGuinness, 59, who was deputy head teacher at the Lomé school in Togo when Mr. Abdulmutallab graduated in 2005, described him as an impeccable student.

“He was very slim, and he had an angelic face, always smiling,” he said. “He was incredibly polite and very hard-working. He didn’t even talk in class.”

Along with this, Mr. McGuinness said, there was his unvarying devotion to Islam. “He would put references to Allah in the work he was doing,” he said. “ ‘God is great’ would be at the end of everything he wrote,” but Mr. McGuinness said this did not strike him as done out of any extremism.

A cousin of Mr. Abdulmutallab in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, also said there was no sign of Islamic radicalism when he was growing up. “He was a normal kid,” said the cousin, who asked that his name not be used because he did not want to anger Mr. Abdulmutallab’s family. “It was clear from his late teenage years that he was actually quite devoted to his faith. He never missed his prayers. We understand that he met some people who influenced him when he was in London.”

Investigators in London are likely to cast their net beyond the university campus, and one focus seems likely to be the London Muslim Center, in the capital’s heavily Muslim, mostly underclass district of Whitechapel. An article Tuesday in The Independent, a major London daily newspaper, said, without citing any sources, that Mr. Abdulmutallab had visited the Whitechapel center at least three times while he was a university student.

If they confirm a link between Mr. Abdulmutallab and the center, investigators most likely will focus on the center’s history of involvement with Muslim fundamentalists.

A particular interest will be its contacts with the American-born, Yemen-based preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, an extremist cleric with links to Al Qaeda who investigators have named as having exchanged e-mail with Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, an American Army psychiatrist charged with killing 13 people in a shooting rampage at the Fort Hood, Tex., military base in November. Earlier this year, Mr. Awlaki, who was banned from entering Britain, made a speech to worshipers at the Whitechapel center by video link from Yemen.

The decade in photos

The Boston Globe has published a set of 50 photos of the last decade, including some beautiful ones from space.

This is called the Hubble Ultra Deep Field. Starting in late 2003, astronomers pointed Hubble at a tiny, relatively empty part of our sky (only a few stars from the Milky Way visible), and created an exposure nearly 12 days long over a four-month period. The result is this amazing image, looking back through time at thousands of galaxies that range from 1 to 13 billion light-years away from Earth. Some 10,000 galaxies were observed in this tiny patch of sky (a tenth the size of the full moon) - each galaxy a home to billions of stars. (NASA/ESA/S. Beckwith - STScI, and The HUDF Team) #

On May 19th, 2005, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Spirit captured this stunning view as the Sun sank below the rim of Gusev crater on Mars. This Panoramic Camera mosaic was taken around 6:07 in the evening of the rover's 489th martian day, or sol. Spirit was commanded to stay awake briefly after sending that sol's data to the Mars Odyssey orbiter just before sunset. The image is a false color composite, showing the sky similar to what a human would see, but with the colors slightly exaggerated. (NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell) #

This September 10, 2008 NASA handout image received on September 12, 2008 shows a picture of Hurricane Ike downlinked by the crew of the International Space Station, flying 220 statute miles above Earth. The center of the hurricane was near 23.8 degrees north latitude and 85.3 degrees west longitude, moving 300 degrees at 7 nautical miles per hour. The sustained winds were 80 nautical miles per hour with gusts to 100 nautical miles per hour and forecast to intensify. (AFP/Getty Images) #

And finally, a non-space photo - the famous "fist bump" between Barack and Michelle Obama. U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama bumps fists with his wife Michelle before his speech at his South Dakota and Montana presidential primary election night rally in St. Paul, Minnesota, June 3, 2008. (REUTERS/Eric Miller) #

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Radicalized in London?

It turns out that the terrorist, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who attacked the Delta airliner on Christmas Day, was the president of the Islamic Society at University College London when he was there, according to this New York Times article: Quesions Arise on Why Terror Suspect Was Not Stopped.

There's a suggestion that he became radicalized in London:
A cousin of Mr. Abdulmutallab, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he did not want to offend the family, said in an interview on Sunday that there was no sign of radicalism in Mr. Abdulmutallab while he was growing up in Nigeria, though he was devout.
“We understand that he met some people who influenced him while in London,” where Mr. Abdulmutallab studied engineering, the cousin said. “He left London and went to Yemen where, we suspect, he mixed up with the people that put him up to this whole business.”
He added: “I think his father is embarrassed by the whole thing, because that was not the way he brought the boy up. All of us are shocked by it.”

Saturday, December 26, 2009

An ordinary hero

Yesterday's attempted terrorist attack on a plane about to land in Detroit was again foiled by an ordinary person who jumped on the terrorist:
There were popping sounds, smoke and a commotion as passengers cried out in alarm and tried to see what was happening. One woman shouted, “What are you doing?” and another called out, “Fire!”
And then history repeated itself. Just as occurred before Christmas in 2001, when Richard C. Reid tried to ignite plastic explosives hidden in his shoe on a trans-Atlantic flight, fellow passengers jumped on Mr. Abdulmutallab, restraining the 23-year-old Nigerian. Jasper Schuringa, a Dutch film director seated in the same row as Mr. Abdulmutallab but on the other side of the aircraft, saw what looked like an object on fire in the suspect’s lap and “freaked,” he told CNN.
“Without any hesitation, I just jumped over all the seats,” Mr. Schuringa said, in an account that other passengers confirmed. “I was thinking, Oh, he’s trying to blow up the plane. I was trying to search his body for any explosive. I took some kind of object that was already melting and smoking, and I tried to put out the fire and when I did that I was also restraining the suspect.”
Mr. Schuringa said he had burned his hands slightly as he grappled with Mr. Abdulmutallab, aided by other passengers, and began to shout for water. “But then the fire was getting worse, so I grabbed the suspect out of the seat,” Mr. Schuringa said. Flight attendants ran up with fire extinguishers, doused the flames and helped Mr. Schuringa walk Mr. Abdulmutallab to first class, where he was stripped, searched and locked in handcuffs.
“The whole plane was screaming — but the suspect, he didn’t say a word,” Mr. Schuringa said. He shrugged off praise for his swift action, which he said was reflexive. “When you hear a pop on the plane, you’re awake, trust me,” he said. “I just jumped. I didn’t think. I went over there and tried to save the plane.”
The accused terrorist did not act because he was from a deprived family. On the contrary, he is from an elite family in Nigeria.
Mr. Abdulmutallab grew up in a rarefied slice of Nigeria, the son of an affluent banker. He attended one of West Africa’s best schools, the British School of Lomé in Togo. After high school, he went to Britain and enrolled at the University College London to study engineering.

University College London, in a statement, said that a student named Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab had enrolled in mechanical engineering courses between September 2005 and June 2008. But it cautioned that it could not confirm that this was the same individual apprehended in Detroit. In London, Scotland Yard was conducting searches of apartments around the college.

His father, Alhaji Umaru Mutallab, until recently had served as chairman of the First Bank of Nigeria, and his mother’s family is originally from Yemen, according to news accounts in Nigerian newspapers. Investigators are now examining how Mr. Abdulmutallab, at age 23, apparently rebelled against this privileged upbringing to pursue an extremist goal. It was while still in high school that Mr. Abdulmutallab began preaching to fellow students about Islam, according to a report in ThisDay, a Nigerian newspaper.

ThisDay reported that more recently, Mr. Abdulmutallab had moved to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates and told his family that he no longer wanted to associate with them.
One wonders who his contacts were at University College. As Harry's Place has often reported, a number of extremist Islamist organizations are active on British university campuses. Perhaps his radicalization began in Nigeria, but it may very well have continued during his schooling in London as well.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Joe Lieberman, Health Care Reform killer

According to Kevin Drum, in The Death of the Public Option, it seems that Joe Lieberman is succeeding in killing off both the public option and the Medicare buy-in (which I was actually more excited about, since it seemed to me like a closer step to single-payer). I'm just waiting to give money to whoever springs up to run against Lieberman next year. Why doesn't the man just become a Republican and stop lying to all of us.

Update: is now running a fundraising campaign to raise money to defeat Lieberman in the next election. I just contributed. Anyone who wishes to do the same can go to Moveon and contribute:

For more information:
First, Joe Lieberman helped President Bush invade Iraq, and the Democrats in Washington forgave him. Then, he endorsed John McCain, and they forgave him again. Then, he personally attacked Barack Obama at the Republican National Convention, and still the Democrats forgave him.
Now, Joe Lieberman is single-handedly gutting health care reform. The time for forgiveness is over. It's time to hold Senator Lieberman accountable.

First, we're going to launch a huge ad campaign to make sure every last Connecticut voter knows that Senator Lieberman is blocking strong reforms. Then, we'll push Senate leaders to strip him of his chairmanship and seniority. Finally, we'll work to defeat him in his next election.

Our goal is to raise $400,000 in the next 24 hours, to send a deafeningly loud message that we've had enough of Joe Lieberman. That'll take at least 16 donations from Ithaca—can you chip in $40?

Sen. Lieberman has been one of the biggest obstacles to real health care reform with a public option all year. But over the past two weeks, he's taken it to a dangerous new level.

First, he demanded that the public option be removed from the bill. Then, last night, he killed an expansion of Medicare—an idea that he himself championed just three months ago and that was added to the bill specifically to satisfy him.
He's shown that he can't be reasoned with. Most of all, Joe Lieberman can't be allowed to stay in the U.S. Senate.

We can do this. Connecticut is a solidly blue state, going 60% for Obama in 2008. Polls in Connecticut show he's in trouble. Thirty percent of Lieberman voters in 2006 said they would not vote for him again, and, in another poll, he trailed one possible Democratic opponent by a whopping 44 points.
We've had enough of Joe Lieberman. Please help raise $400,000 in the next 24 hours to send him home for good. To get there, we'll need 16 people in Ithaca to help out. Can you contribute $40 right away?

Thanks for all you do.

–Nita, Carrie, Wes, Steven, and the rest of the team


1. "Thompson, Lieberman attack Obama in red-meat speeches," McClatchy Newspapers, September 2, 2008

2. "Lieberman Rules Out Voting for Health Bill," The New York Times, December 13, 2009.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock on Google Earth

I just discovered another cool feature of Google Earth - the placement of 3D models of various buildings on sites such as Jerusalem. I've found several of the Dome of the Rock, one of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, of the Western Wall (Kotel), and of David's Citadel. I've been spending a lot of time this semester looking at various maps of Jerusalem, since I'm teaching a course on the city (actually, this is exam week, so the class is now over).

The images below are of the interior and exterior of the Dome of the Rock, the exterior of Al-Aqsa, and both buildings placed on the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif.

Hanukkah - who is the "Red One" of Maoz Tzur?

On a happier note than the previous post, it is the fourth night of Hanukkah. I'm facing my menorah with its four lit candles (plus shamash) and thinking about the words to Maoz Tzur, the Hanukkah hymns. According to the Birnbaum siddur, it was composed in the 13th century (Philip Birnbaum, Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem [New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1969] 777). (The article in Wikipedia makes the same statement, based on Zunz).

The article on Maoz Tzur in refers to an article by Ismar Schorsch, the former chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary, published in the journal Judaism in the fall of 1988, entitled "A Meditation on Maoz Zur." Schorsch's family escaped from Germany on the first day of Hanukkah of 1938, after his father had been freed (he had been arrested on Kristallnacht). He writes that his family always sang the first five stanzas of Maoz Tzur with great fervor during their Hanukkah celebration (p. 459): "The poem's theme of redemption seemed to offer a poignant comment on our family's experience." They omitted the sixth stanza, however.

He records the history of the poem as follows (p. 460): "In its present form, Maoz Zur consists of six stanzas. Since the days of Leopold Zunz, the first five have been ascribed to an unknown German poet named Mordecai, who lived sometime before the middle of the thirteenth century and whose name survives as an acrostic formed by the first letter of each stanza." Schorsch writes that the poem is written as if shortly after the Maccabees had retaken the Temple from the Syrian Greeks. "The rescue from 'Greek' tyranny triggers a recollection of earlier cases when God's intervention redirects the course of Jewish history." These are in Egypt, Babylonia, and Persia. The fifth stanza describes the "redemption at the time of the Hasmoneans."

The sixth stanza was composed later than the first five, and it is (p. 461) "an unabashed messianic plea for divine retribution upon Israel's Christian oppressors." He comments that it is often left untranslated in modern prayerbooks (like the Birnbaum siddur, which translates only the first five stanzas). The fifth stanza adds the final subjugator of the Jewish people - Edom (which in rabbinic interpretation is equated first with pagan and then with Christian Rome, thus becoming the code name for Christianity as a whole).

My rough translation (helped by Schorsch's discussion on p. 462):
Reveal your holy arm (cf. Isaiah 52:10) and bring near the day of salvation.
Avenge your servants against the evil kingdom.
The time has lengthened, and there is no end to the evil days.
Destroy the red one (Admon=Christianity) in the shadow of the cross,
and send forth the seven shepherds [Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Aaron, Joseph, and David]
This stanza is a more urgent request for divine salvation - rather than remembering the past salvation from danger and oppression at the hands of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians, and Greeks, it directly calls God to save his people from the Christians. Schorsch believes that this stanza was also written by an Ashkenazic Jew (p. 463), "stirred by the tremors and aftershocks of the Reformation," who believed that the Christian kingdom could only be overcome by direct divine intervention.

With this understanding of the meaning of the text, it's clear why Philip Birnbaum did not care to translate the stanza into English. Although he does not mention it in his entertaining introduction (full of jabs at earlier translations and editions of the prayerbook), he refrains from translating quite a number of potentially troublesome passages, particularly mystical ones, and in this case, one that could be viewed as an open attack upon Christianity, something that he presumably thought would be unwise even in the United States.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Sarah Palin and Barney Frank at the Gridiron Club

Last night was the annual winter dinner for the Gridiron Club in Washington, and Sarah Palin and Barney Frank were the featured Republican and Democratic speakers. The New York times Caucus blog reported on The Comedy Duo of Palin and Frank. Apparently the evening was open to the news media - the Gridiron Club usually requires that the dinners be off the record.

This made me think again of the fact that my grandfather, Richard Lawson Wilson, was very involved with the Gridiron Club, which only admitted women as members in 1975. See this highly entertaining account of how women were finally admitted thanks to the feminist movement:
....the women in Washington turned their sights on another institution, the Gridiron Club, once described by Harrison Salisbury of The New York Times as “an assembly of troglodytes.” Nonetheless, it held a dinner each year, then as now, spoofing national leaders and attended by many of those leaders. But women were shut out. After several years of picketing, the women decided to hold a Counter-Gridiron Party. In 1974, they rented the gym at nearby Mount Vernon College and got big-name people like former Attorney General Elliott Richardson to participate. The highlight was Martha Mitchell, wife of Attorney General John Mitchell and notorious for her late night phone calls. For $5 and the cost of the phone call at the Counter Gridiron event, Mitchell would make one of her calls to whomever you asked. Most recipients didn’t believe it was really Mitchell calling. In 1975 the Gridiron Club voted to admit women. Fran [Frances Lewine] and UPI’s Helen Thomas were first female members.
My grandfather loved the Gridiron Club (and that other bastion of Washington establishment journalism, the Washington Press Club, which only admitted women in 1971), and it's hard to imagine how his conservative and proper psyche would have reacted to a double bill of Sarah Palin and Barney Frank. Politically, he was a Republican, but certainly not from the populist, ignoramus wing of the party, so he probably wouldn't have approved of Palin appearing as the Republican representative. I doubt he could even have imagined an out gay man as a Congressional Representative, much less a major speaker at the Gridiron Club.

Sometimes the frustrations of the present day blind us to the changes that have been made in a fairly short time, historically speaking.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

The Ubiquity of Exaptation

Over the early fall I read Stephen Jay Gould's book, Hen's Teeth and Horse's Toes, which I found fascinating. One of the most interesting concepts he introduced was of exaptation. P.Z. Myers, at Pharyngula (The Ubiquity of Exaptation), has just written a very lucid explanation of how this concept can be used to explain the evolution of the nervous system from very simple cells. Gould's quick definition of the term (p. 171) is - "those useful structures that arose for other reasons or for no conventional reason at all, and were then fortuitously available for other usages, we call exaptations." A structure that evolved to suit one purpose then taking on another purpose is an exaptation.

I learned a lot from reading Gould's book, enough that I started reading another anthology of his articles, put together after his death, The Richness of Life: The Essential Stephen Jay Gould. I haven't finished it yet, because the semester intruded on my time to read, but I hope to get back to it soon.

I never took a college biology course, but when I read these books, and articles on science blogs, it makes me think that I would really enjoy doing so - perhaps one summer when I'm not feeling like doing much of my own research....