Friday, February 10, 2006

But Then You'll Never Know the Wonders I've Seen . . .

Didn't even have to cheat.

You scored as Moya (Farscape). You are surrounded by muppets. But that's OK, because they are your friends and have shown many times that they can be trusted. Now if only you could stop being bothered about wormholes.

Moya (Farscape)


Deep Space Nine (Star Trek)


Serenity (Firefly)


Babylon 5 (Babylon 5)


FBI's X-Files Division (The X-Files)


Millennium Falcon (Star Wars)


Nebuchadnezzar (The Matrix)


Galactica (Battlestar: Galactica)


SG-1 (Stargate)


Bebop (Cowboy Bebop)


Andromeda Ascendant (Andromeda)


Enterprise D (Star Trek)


Your Ultimate Sci-Fi Profile II: which sci-fi crew would you best fit in? (pics)
created with

Via Scott

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Look At That Green, Out Through the Screen After a Quick Rain Came

I have the new Sarah Harmer and you don't. (Unless you do. But if you don't, you should buy it.)

I also have tickets to see her at Schubas on March 29th.

Envy me.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Ranting. Sorry.

So a few weeks back I mentioned that this cartoon thing was getting a little heated. And now, of course, it's much worse. There are, I suppose, reasons enough to burn embassies. I'm not going to claim that this is one of them. But it seems to me that many of the casual commentators on the uproar are being rather dismissive, and quite missing the point. The thing to understand is that Islam as a religion does not allow the use of religious images at all. It's not just the fact that Mohammed is shown with a bomb for a turban. It's the fact that someone had the audacity to create a depiction of Mohammed, period. From Wikipedia:

No Muslim visual images or depictions of God exist because such artistic depictions may lead to idolatry and are thus disdained. A similar position in Christian theology is termed iconoclasm. Moreover, most Muslims believe that God is incorporeal, making any two- or three- dimensional depictions impossible. Instead, Muslims describe God by the many divine attributes mentioned in the Qur'an. All but one Sura (chapter) of the Qur'an begins with the phrase "In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful." These are regarded as the most important divine attributes, at least in the sense that Muslims repeat them most frequently during their prayers (salat) and throughout their daily lives.

Yeah, that's right; Muslims aren't alone in this belief. Some Protestant sects feel the same. Look at the text of the second amendment: "You shall have no other gods besides Me . . . Do not make a sculpted image or any likeness of what is in the heavens above . . ." Idolatry is a major reason the Catholics are so hated. But, you may point out, the Protestants don't burn crucifixes and smash pietas. True, but at least they believe in the same god as the Catholics. In the final analysis, God and Allah are the same being as well, but most believers on both sides don't care to acknowledge that.

Now, Mohammed was not always considered a deity, and you can find images of him in Islamic art (a quick Google search shows some from as recently as the 16th Century). But he's taken on a different character over time, more than a prophet, not quite a deity. To depict him as a man is seen by many Muslims, if not most, as sacrilege. Wikipedia again:

Islam forbids idolatry and polytheism. Most sects of Islam forbid any artistic depictions of human figures, even those of Muhammad, this being shirk, which originally means "partnership": the sin of associating some other being with the one God, Allah. This is considered akin to idolatry, if not idolatry outright. Furthermore, images of God are even banned outright in most sects of Islam, reinforcing absolute monotheism in Islam and attempting to eliminate any and all forms of idolatry.

Instead of depictions of Allah, Islamic religious art usually consists of elaborations upon his name or upon words from the Qu'ran which are used to describe his virtues. Some of them are magnificent. One could argue that the prohibition on human figures explains why the decorations in mosques are often so elaborate and intricate. Of course, this ingrained disdain for iconography has at times led to acts of vandalism against the icons of other religions. Wikipedia again:

Because of the prohibition against figural decoration in mosques--not, as is often said, a total ban on the use of images--some Muslim groups have on occasion committed acts of iconoclasm against the devotional images of other religions. A recent example of this is the 2001 destruction of frescoes and the monumental statues of the Buddha at Bamiyan by a radical sect and nationalist group, the Taliban.

Historically, despite a religious prohibition on destroying or converting houses of worship, conquering Muslim armies would on occasion use local temples or houses of worship as mosques. An example is the Hagia Sophia, Church of the Holy Wisdom, in Istanbul, formerly Constantinople which was converted into a mosque in 1453, when its mosaics were covered with plaster instead of being destroyed. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is said to have been built on top of the remains of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Some radical Jewish messianic groups believe that only by similarly demolishing the Dome of the Rock and rebuilding the Jewish Temple, can the messiah come to earth.

Similar acts of iconoclasm occurred in parts of north Africa.

Now I'm not saying there's an excuse for that sort of vandalism, and I'm not trying to excuse religious fanaticism. Some of you will know that to my mind, religion in general is just another way we put barriers up between ourselves and others. Nevertheless, I make an effort to understand and respect people's beliefs. It seems to me that the defacing of another religion's icons comes as a result of misunderstanding--perhaps willfully--that other religions have different value systems which are as valid as one's own.

When we refuse to understand the root of Muslim anger at these cartoons, we're doing the same thing.

It's not a simple matter of "they made a mean picture of Mohammed." To fundamentalist Muslims it's far more serious than that. Something perhaps on the order of magnitude of the Al-Ahram Weekly printing a cartoon of Jesus having sex with the Virgin Mary. Do you think the wackos over here wouldn't burn some mosques if that happened? Think again. They would. And no one's invading them, keeping them in poverty, taking away their land and their livelihood and their self-respect. So, hey. Maybe it's not just a matter of "those crazy Muslims" after all.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Betcha Can't Get Four

Blame Zakbar for this one:

I made a quiz to torture entertain you all.

Hip and Well Read

I have finished War and Peace. WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD!!! Hee hee.

Well, I finished 1400 pages of it. The last 44 pages or so--the second part of the epilogue--proved to be an authorial rant on the historians of Tolstoy's day (they give Napoleon too much credit, in fact they give leaders in general too much credit, and don't take into account the unpredictable moods of the people), free will, and various other things which I kind of didn't get because I lost interest and skimmed to the end. All the dying and the marrying was done, and that's the important stuff.

It's really an impressive book. (Not the same thing as good, which I think it is, but by today's standards it has its problems.) Long, yes, but then that shouldn't be a deterrent to anyone who's read a couple of doorstop fantasy series. The war stuff is, in general, less interesting than the peace, in part because of Tolstoy's distaste for all things military. Initially, during the war of 1805, he manages to set much of this aside in order to capture the excitement and pride of his young protagonists, but by the time of Napoleon's invasion he does not bother to shield his contempt. It's not just the wastefulness and stupidity of death that he despises, but the jostling and pageantry of the generals more interested in winning personal glory and making one another look incompetent than in saving lives. What credit he feels it necessary to give, he gives to Kutuzov, defending the field marshal's reputation against the historians of the day.

While Tolstoy doesn't hesitate to wield his wit at the expense of historians and military men, he's at his funniest when he focuses on life at home. I don't mean to imply that this book is a comedy, but there are moments of wry comic gold. Some of it, I'm sure, is unintentional, as when the casual philanderer Pierre Bezukhov (so casual, in fact, that it is scarcely worth a mention) becomes depressed over his wife's unfaithfulness. But there are plenty of subtle and not-so-subtle digs at the hypocrisy of the nobility, particularly with respect to money and marriage--Pierre, for instance, goes from disagreeable to desirable within the space of his illegitimate father's death and bequest.

It's fair to say that Tolstoy's women come off as childish, impractical, and flighty (Natasha, in particular, begins to grate on the nerves). But this is no less true of his men; only the roles differ, not their approach to them. They are all self-centered, subject to flattery, short-sighted, and impulsive. Pierre, whom I found the most appealing character, is generally pretty fuzzy-headed and thoughtless. At one point, unhappy in his marriage--see above--he becomes a dedicated Freemason, and Tolstoy details the ritual and Pierre's feeling that he is become privy to certain secrets of the universe. But the society turns out to be largely a social club, and his interest begins to wane after he realizes that he's basically subsidizing his chapter with his fortune. The only difference between him and Natasha, really, is that he's got money of his own, and she never will; everyone finds them both equally charming in spite of (indeed, because of) their complete impracticality, and so it's not much of a surprise when they marry in the end. (After, of course, everyone who would stand in the way of their match has died.)

After a while I realized that War and Peace is, in some ways, a good model for the novel of successions I'm planning to write at some point. So the serendipitous approach to conquering my reading stack wins again. I don't plan, however, to take quite the same approach as Tolstoy did. For one thing, I probably won't write the novel in Russian. I'd have to learn it first, and it turns out they use a whole different alphabet. Then there'd be the translations, and I'm sure that when I saw the English version I'd be furious and rant about how that wasn't what I wrote at all, all the nuance is gone, what kind of a barbarian invented this "English" anyway--but I digress.

So, it goes on the shelf with the books for the succession novel. (Um, so far this list consists of Fraser's Mary, Queen of Scots. If you know of a good book on wars of succession, speak up.)

Am now reading King of the World by David Remnick, a bio of Muhammad Ali. Although so far he's only talked about Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston. Also, am reading Bear's Jenny books, which I won in the Strange Horizons donations drawing. W00T! They are autographed and everything, to Snurri and David and some guy named Friedrich whom I've never met. (OK, I'm lying about the Friedrich thing. I've met himi.) I'm liking them. I want a prosthetic hand, but without the burning. Also, a prosthetic forehead, but everybody wants prosthetic foreheads on their real heads.

In other book news, I received my copy of Douglas Lain's collection Last Week's Apocalypse the other day. It's a lovely lovely book (Doug himself is handsome, but no competition for his book), and a major collection. Doug's stories, if you haven't read them, are funny and frightening and political and personal. Buy the book, folks.