Monday, July 25, 2005

Portrait of a Lady

This is my dog Izzy. Born in Austria (hence the hat), my wife and I adopted her as a puppy and eventually brought her back to the states when we left Europe. She's a Groenendahl - a common breed in Europe - and she has more personality than most people I know. Smart, obedient, affectionate, and great around others, including children and other pets. Even cats - she loves cats.

In Germany I never got to know many of my neighbors, mostly because the community was so cloistered and our ability to speak German was always very rudimentary, but once we brought Izzy home suddenly everyone wanted to get to know us. The neighborhood kids would actually knock on our door just to ask if Izzy could come out and play. They taught her to respond to commands in German. Although it's been years, on a whim I recently decided to give her commands in German (no hand signals) and I was amazed to discover she still remembers them - at least the few I can still remember myself.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Commemorating the Moon Landings

We first reached the moon on today's date: July 20th, 1969. A date we should all know by heart, but unfortunately many of us take it for granted. In rememberance, Google is honoring today with a nifty little application that lets us all learn (a bit) about and explore the moon for ourselves. Just click on the moon.

And be sure to check out some of the other wonderous free-ware offered by Google - such as this freaky cool interactive map of a planet called Earth.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Ugly Truth

I thought this animation by Cybermoon Studios was too funny to not share.

You're missing something good!
If you're reading this message, you either need to download the free Flash player, or you're reading this blog via an RSS feed and need to go here. Or maybe both.

Although we were all geeks when we were younger, my friends and I never really played D&D much. Mostly because when we did - it was exactly like this. I remember spending a lot of time making characters and then never getting past the first few mintues of actual play because of some argument over the rules or someone's 'role-playing style.' As a matter of fact, whenever I watch this parody I can't help but assign people I know to each caricature. I'll never tell which one is me.

Some of the credits at the end have links to different contributors but since they go by so quickly I've added the primary points here:
Props to 8-Bit Theatre - a web-based comic that uses old game sprites as characters, and served as inspiration for the animation's theme.
The Dead Alewives - a Wisconsin based comedy troupe whose recorded skit this animation was based on. Unfortunately this now seems to be a dead link, but I'm vainly hoping it'll come back someday.
And most of all Cybermoon Studios - the anime and icon collectors who are responsible for putting this animation together.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

No Excuses

In the aftermath of the London bombings, one thing that deeply disturbed me – aside from the obvious, was a sentence in Qual3ah’s oxymoronic ‘claim of responsibility’:
"We continue to warn the governments of Denmark and Italy and all the crusader governments that they will be punished in the same way if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. He who warns is excused."
If you warn an entire nation’s population that you intended to indiscriminately murder innocent people, that somehow justifies it? How is it that anyone could ever think that’d make sense?

And although it seems authentic, I don’t particularly care if the author of this claim happens to be connected to the actual bombings or not. It’s not like knowing these are two unrelated groups of psychos would make us feel any better.

When thinking about terrorist groups such as Al’Qaeda, it’s interesting to note how their motives are always intrinsically political rather than religious. This is plainly obvious in the aims cited above – withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. The religious mumbo-jumbo in the rest of the claim is only the backdrop for the main message; if you’ll excuse the metaphor – a vehicle used to an end. It could be easily argued (and frequently is) that these terrorist leaders are hijacking Islam to their own political aims, just like they hijack everything else. But still I felt it was important to attempt to understand the message in its original, or at least intended, context.

Simply put, this wasn’t the kind of thing I could let go of - I had to understand where it was coming from. I’ve spent the weekend reading through the Koran in an effort to discover some sort of cultural context, regardless of how distorted it has become. In searching through the Koran and eventually even the Bible (for comparisons), I can’t say I’ve gained any serious theological ground, but I’ve learned a bit just the same.

Want to know which passage in the Koran implies that a warning absolves culpability? There isn’t one. But strangely enough I was able to find quite a few – as long as I wasn’t looking too closely.

There are plenty of passages of that refer to the followers of Muhammad having a responsibility to ‘warn’ nonbelievers that failure to acknowledge the one true God will displease Him, and in the end-times result in His wrath. But let’s face it, that whole diatribe rings familiar with the entire Judeo/Christian ethic as well. The vast majority of the Koran is specifically clear that it will be Allah Himself – not his followers – that will judge man.

But as is so often the case, the vast majority hardly makes up for the small minority. Although much of the Koran’s passages have relatively forthright messages, it’s not surprising that parts of it are more obscure. The Koran’s 54th book, Al-Qamar, contains the sort of passages I’m convinced the psychotic assholes of Al’Queda are abusing to their own ends:
So taste My chastisement and My warning. And certainly We have made the Quran easy for remembrance, but is there anyone who will mind? And certainly the warning came to Firon's people. They rejected all Our communications, so We overtook them after the manner of a Mighty, Powerful One. [54.39-42]
The entire book reads much like this, repetitions on a theme. While I’m not a theologian or a historian, and I fully acknowledge I lack the expertise to fully evaluate a text so complex as the Koran, I’ll go ahead and continue to submit my meager analysis nonetheless.

My first reaction to reading this passage was one of disgust. It seems the standard sort of ethnic elitism: 'If you don’t follow the Koran, then Allah wants us to sack your cities.' And I imagine that’s exactly the sort of spin the fundamentalists like to put on it, but that’d be taking it out of context.

Unfortunately, it’s extraordinarily easy to take these sorts of passages out of context. The entire book of Al-Qamar is laced with subtle references to other parts of the Koran, and until I’d researched enough to understand them (a little), I was left guessing as to what most of it meant. As ugly as it sounds, the passage above is referring to the warnings Moses gave to the Egyptians prior to the biblical plagues. It’s confusing because it exists completely apart from the actual accounts of Moses, and sandwiched between bunches of doomsday warnings. And the wording is such that it sounds (1) as if it refers solely to the followers of Islam – not all the children of Abraham, and (2) as if the followers of Islam – not God alone – had an active hand in the fate that befell the Pharaoh’s people.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

My Life's Haiku

a pointless poem
adhereing only to form
no rhyme or reason