January 2006


Today is the first day of the term at my university. My first class this morning offered the newness of a beginning relationship with twenty students and their first glimpse of an unknown (but dangerous) quantity, their professor. This is the first term in awhile that I am not in some way teaching about Islam or the Middle East (I intelligently designed a brief respite with a seminar on the influence of Charles Darwin). But picking up the New York Times this morning I realized that events in the Middle East are not about to take any time off. The picture top and center shows a well-dressed Saddam, right hand raised in defiance and left hand cradling a Quran. To the left the first news column is all about the Bush administration’s misreading of Palestinian support for Hamas, adjacent to an article by Michael Slackman on President Ahmadinejad of Iran. Skipping over the national news item of Alito’s confirmation process, the final column on the right details the severe injuries to ABC News Anchor Bob Woodruff and his cameraman in Iraq. Readers that go all the way down the page will find tidbits on Enron, Delay’s successor, Oprah Winfrey, Alan Greenspan, Hugo Chavez and Cindy Sheehan and the blockbuster trade of Mike Piazza from the Mets to the Padres. (more…)

Osama Bin Laden as an arch-villain seems to have become so unimportant that even imposters are not sending tapes with his voice to al-Jazeera anymore. It has been over a year since his last tape was posted. His number-two, al-Zawahari, makes the news more often. But some of his extended family members have picked up the slack. Imagine a novel in which Osama has a sexy niece who is trying to make it into the hip-pop culture scene and, better yet, that she poses in seductive poses for a men’s magazine like GQ? Sound too far fetched? Well it happened this month. (more…)


Leonhard Euler, 1707-1783

In a recent commentary for the New Statesman (December, 12, 2005) on the explosive popularity of the puzzle game Sudoku (Japanese for “solitary number”), there is a bit of irony that a writer with the last name of “West” insists that “We’re all orientalists now.” This craze in Britain began with popularization of the puzzle in both the Times and Daily Mail. “Everyone seeems to agree that it has been Japan’s most successful export since Mitsubishi motors, Sony televisions or Ninetendo Game Boy,” notes Patrick West, who then insists, “The problem is that Sudoku is not a Japanese game.”

The origins of Sudoku are said to derive from a Swiss mathematician named Leonhard Euler, who came up with his 81-space square in 1783. (more…)

In the coming weeks it appears that several members of congress are in danger of losing their political scalps as the influence peddling and money laundering empire of Jack Abramoff comes to a head. According to a UPI story in today’s news, the Coushatta Tribe, which operates a casino in Lousiana, is pleased that the Abramoff who took some 32 million dollars to lobby against opening of a rival casino has been indicted. The article continues.

Tribal leaders’ testimony about their sizeable payments helped attract prosecutorial attention to Abramoff’s lobbying on behalf of Indian tribes. A Senate investigation brought to light e-mails in which Abramoff called some of his Indian clients “troglodytes,” “monkeys” and morons. (more…)

The White House has just announced that Pat Robertson’s 700 Clubbing of ailing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon yesterday is “wholly inappropriate and offensive.” According to an article by Daniela Deane, posted at 2:54 pm on the Washington Post website, “White House press spokesman Trent Duffy made the comment to reporters traveling on Air Force One with President Bush this morning. He added that Robertson’s comments ‘don’t have a place in this or any other debate.’” The White House, even with an evangelical sitting in the oval office, is not willing to whitewash the latest off-the-cuff remarks of Mr. CBN. (more…)

People die everyday. It is hard to imagine a greater “life and death” issue than death, not only on the one who dies but for those who mourn. Today’s news, so new it did not make today’s edition of the New York Times, is full of death. The front page of the New York Times titles a headline “12 Miners Are Found Alive, Family Members Say,” but the hazard of deadlines prevented the newer news this morning that in fact 12 were found dead and only one found barely alive. On today’s Al-Jazeera it is announced that the ruler of Dubai died. On NPR this morning there was a report of a suicide bomber blowing himself up during an outdoor funeral in Muqdadiya, north of Baghdad, taking more than 30 mourners with him. And imagine all those people, thousands to be sure, who died in the last 24 hours but did not make the news.

The deaths in Dubai and Muqdadiya, Iraq could hardly be different to those left alive to think about them. (more…)

The following news item just came across the wires from Arab News, an English language daily based in Saudi Arabia. Think of your gut reaction as you read…

SANAA, 3 January 2006 — Tribesmen holding five Italian tourists hostage in northeastern Yemen yesterday threatened to kill them if troops encircling the area move to rescue them, a local official said.

The five Italians, three women and two men, were snatched from Marib, some 195 km northeast of the capital Sanaa on Sunday and taken to the Serwah district, about 30 km away. (more…)

In The Guardian yesterday reporter Conal Urquhart wrote about “Plans for Holy Land theme park on Galilee shore where Jesus fed the 5,000.” Several evangelical Christian groups under the spirited guidance of Rev. Pat Robertson are negotiating with the government of Israel for land to build a 50 ha (125 acre) theme park tentatively called the “Galilee World Heritage Park.” If this seems like a joke, I note that “Sea of Galilee & its Ancient Sites” is listed on the online wish list of world heritage sites. It is no joke to righteously motivated investors trying to raise 60 million dollars. Nor to Syria, which disputes the take-over of its territory along the Sea of Galilee in the 1967 war. Nor is it likely just a joke to Jews, who Pat Robertson and his followers think are about to suffer the worst persecution ever as soon as a soon-to-be Rapture transports all Bible Believers to meet their Lord in the air. But I can’t help but wonder, in this biblically based theme park what would Jesus ride? (more…)