A Map to Think About

Someday I may take up blogging more regularly again, but for now here is an interesting map. Bonus points to whoever can guess why I think it is important in the comments.  It is from a site with lots and lots of awesome maps: The Gulf/2000 Project that I came across looking for the information needed to make (poorly) my own version of this map. But they made it, so I don’t have to.

MidEast_Religion_and_Oil_sm

ISIS and the Caliphate

Warning: a non-expert, speculative discussion follows… although given the given the nature of prognostication, I have as good of a chance predicting the future as anyone.

The current turmoil in the middle-east, essentially a region wide war of different Muslim countries, entities and groups against each other, was, I suspect, inevitable. I think this would have been the case even if America had not invaded Iraq. While discussing that ISIS wants to build a caliphate, no one seems to be interested in the fact that the conquest of richer and weaker and non-Muslim neighbors is how the first caliphate was built. The problem now for ISIS is that if you look at the edges of the Islamic world, all of its neighbors are either dirt poor or much more powerful than an organization like ISIS.

From Wikipedia

There is pretty much nothing to loot in the Congo, and who in their right mind would invade China? Sure Europe is getting weaker and weaker, but it still wouldn’t be very easy to wreak up the place and steal millions of dollars of cash like ISIS just did in Mosul. But there is this convenient catch for barbarians like ISIS. All they need is an ‘apostate’ Muslim (the definition of which is fungible) to attack and they can claim legitimacy to their members. And, behold, there are numerous weak, fractured and unspeakably oil rich areas that ISIS can attack. Places so fractured that the army just leaves when ISIS attacks its second largest city. And conveniently, Iraq is run by ‘apostates’ and can therefore be pillaged. Iraq has oil, which is a tyrant’s dream. Every kingdom and petty tyrant in that region is fabulously wealthy based on a resource that they did not invent how to refine or use, did not mine, and do not have to exert any effort or risk to gain. They have this money because they were ruling their areas at the right moment. Now, ISIS simply wants in on the money and the power.

I will venture to predict events based on how I would write a novel from this point. I think that Europe and the US (though certainly hated and on their hit list) are back-burner hatreds. I suspect very much that ISIS has its eyes on the Saudis. I suspect that what ISIS wants is not really to conquer the Shi’a areas of Iraq, but rather to light the fuse to the Sunni-Shi’a bomb, and taking advantage of the chaos eat up Medina and Mecca. The Saudi’s main source of Islamic clout comes from controlling who gets to go to Mecca on the Hajj, and their main source of international clout is their oil. Without those, no one would care about them. If ISIS really wants a caliphate, they need Mecca. If the Shi’a in Saudi Arabia and the Shia’ in Iraq and Iran help explode the Sunni-Shi’a bomb, the Saudi’s would probably half-fall like Assad, and now Maliki, clinging to power in regions of their territory. They would be fighting Shi’a separatists and ISIS on opposite sides of their country. Now, if and when ISIS takes Mecca and Medina, while controlling some of the oil in Iraq, they will only be short a Caliph and in all other respects they could count as a Caliphate.

If I were an Intelligence official (or even someone who had/wanted the credentials of an expert on the region) I’d be looking out for which person(s) the leaders of ISIS could install as Caliph and control as a puppet. (Perhaps their current leaders (strange that in the news stories there never seems to be a named leader) could choose among themselves, but that would most likely lead to ISIS factions fighting each other.) I think what they need is someone who’s lineage would give them broader Sunni credibility. I havn’t the faintest idea of who that might be, but there must be some candidates out there. Once they have oil money, Mecca and a Caliph: that is when the Western world is in trouble.

There, that’s my fanciful prediction, now back to the salt mines of my dissertation.

The Swansong of SciFi

It has been a very long time since I have posted. I have been ridiculously busy writing my dissertation etc, in preparation of defending in July and graduating in August. Therefore, I will likely not post much in the next few months either. That doesn’t mean that I wont be back when life settles down a bit.

Meantime, contemplate with me on the death of Science Fiction. SciFi  is fundamentally humanist. It is the glorification of human achievement and technology – it is a monument to the human spirit. But it is (almost always) without God… and therefore SciFi is dead (or at least mostly – dead). It died upon the birth of post-modernism. Recently I re-watched the scene that I think cut the heart out of SciFi, and I thought I’d share it.  The pointlessness of human innovation, summed up in the Replicants, and yet the only character with a poet’s soul is a replicant. Yes, its Blade Runner. Dark and nihilistic Blade Runner. Here, watch the scene and try to tell me how anyone in and of the world could write quality SciFi afterwords.

It is the most abandoned parts of Ecclesiastics, taken for life’s governing philosophy. Meaningless and chasing after the wind in SciFi speak is ‘lost in time, like tears, in rain.’

Well, if you haven’t read my short story where I try to have SciFi be something meaningful again, do give it a try: The Final Crate

Hawthorne the Sage

Originally posted on Aquila et Infans:

I recently picked up my collected works of Nathanial Hawthorn, only to be reminded of how brilliant he was, and how sad it is that top ten lists can only have ten items on them. In particular, I was reading ‘The Celestial Railroad’ which is available from Gutenberg Press.

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The story was written in 1843 (according to the date on the website for the story… I didn’t look it up anywhere J ). It is almost shocking how all of the roots of postmodern life are on full display in this story. I would say that the real humanistic modernism was already plunging headlong off the cliff, they just hadn’t hit the pavement yet (that would the World Wars in this brief but hopefully apt analogy.

Anyway, I will copy a few passages here so that you know what I was talking about.

The dreamer sets out in…

View original 698 more words

Books for Non-Readers (and a small rant)

Go look at this list and before you go I’ll give you my opinion: this list is mostly BS. It always strikes me as strange how it seems always to be women giving advice on ‘reading-reluctant boys’ or ‘how to be a gentleman’ I sometimes wonder if this isn’t because men don’t care; but rather because a lot of women are nosey-parkers who don’t feel right unless they are giving advice to males… Whew! that wasn’t very nice of me, was it…

Let me continue complaining for a bit: ‘reading reluctant boys’ is actually fairly offensive. To make up a euphemism for someone who doesn’t like to read, and then talk about it only for boys is, well, forgetting that girls don’t read anything either. (…and thrill-loving girls, says the sub-title.) It is also a bit dumb to imply that boys need anything other than a well written, interesting story which is the exact same thing that a girl who doesn’t read needs. How about instead: books for children who haven’t learned to like reading? Or, books for anyone who doesn’t like to read but might want to give it a whirl… I guarantee that a large number of adults don’t read either.

As for books recommended for those who don’t like to read, The Woman in White is NOT one of them. The Woman in White made me almost want to give up reading as a pastime it was so boring and irritating. Also, the Horatio Hornblower books are formulaic and badly written. The only winner in the bunch is Dracula by Bram Stoker, and perhaps A Princess of Mars, which was entertaining, though perhaps neither are what I would recommend for someone who doesn’t really like reading yet.

So I will make two lists, one more tailored to young-ish audiences and one for adults who say ‘Oh, I don’t read…’ The criteria are very simple. In fact they are so simple that I have the same criteria for both lists.

1: Interesting 2: Well-written 3: Worth the time

That’s it.

Young-ish

#5 Farmer Giles of Ham

Dragons, common folk doing uncommon things… an intelligent horse… and a dog that talks vernacular (while the people talk Latin… :) )

#4 Sure, let’s leave Dracula on the list

The original bloodsucker. Who 1) tolerates sunlight just fine and 2) is indisputably evil. None of the anti-hero BS.

#3 Ender’s Game

The movie misses the book entirely in pacing. I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but the movie should have been less accurate to the book. The pacing and the moving around works for the book, but the movie is mostly a jumble.

#2 Nightmare City

Perhaps one of the best YA fiction. I read it without knowing for sure that is what it was intended for.

#1 A Journey to the Center of the Earth (Or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea)

Jules Verne is the best. After this one, and 20,00 Leagues Under the Sea, you should definitely pick up The Mysterious Island

‘Oh, I don’t read-ers’
Well, maybe sometime, when you wonder what do do with a tad bit of leisure, pick up one of these and try reading again: not for school, not because someone told you to read it, but because it will actually be fun. and worth the time. (As opposed to TV which may be fun, and is almost never worth the time.)

#5 Hey let’s put Dracula here too!

Yay! Dracula.

#4 The Scarlet Letter

I included this one because so many people think they know the story. So many people think its about sin and unjust societal retribution. In fact, it is about forgiveness and the human condition. And it is well written, and it is interesting… and obviously worth the time :) This is, in fact, the first book I ever sacrificed sleep to read. I read the entire book starting just before bedtime, and (not wanting to sleep) I read it after bedtime until around 2 am to finish it. I think I was 12(ish).

#3 Just after sunset

A collection of short stories/ novellas that are fast paced, interesting. I especially recommend ‘N’.

#2 A Killer in the Wind

This book is also a fast paced thriller (duh, read the title) but it is also perceptive and philosophically deep without ever losing the thriller pacing. quite an accomplishment.

#1 Out of the Silent Planet

C.S. Lewis has to make every list at some point… (perhaps we can leave him off the ‘brilliant physicist list… :) ) Read this one, then read Perelandra, then you will be ready for That Hideous Strength.

UN vs. Catholic Church

Here is a very brief list in response to this Drudge headline:

UN tells Catholic church to change teachings on abortion...

  • Roman Empire
  • Byzantine Empire
  • The Caliphate
  • The Ottoman Empire
  • The First, Second, and Third Reichs
  • The Mongolian Empire
  • The Holy Roman Empire
  • The Tang Dynasty
  • The Ming Dynasty
  • The Qing Dynasty
  • The British Empire
  • The Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258)
  • The Sharif of Mecca (967-1925)
  • The U.S.S.R

Et cetera….

What is that a list of? Five minutes of double checking dates of empires of institutions that the Catholic Church has outlived…. Rome is sort of cheating since it pre-dates the Pope, but still…

Anyway, I don’t think anyone (I suspect this includes the current Pope) believes that the Catholic Church doesn’t need cleaning up; however, the hubris of the UN is almost hilarious.

A Brief Thought on Prayer

I was skimming around and came across an article about prayer and sports.  While the main purpose of the article to point out that it is acceptable to pray actually for the victory of one team or the other, this passage really upset me.

Sometimes we merely fill out a requisition form and call it a prayer. That is, we tell God in a clear sentence what we want and then go back to work, trusting that he gets it and appreciates that he and we are all too busy to stand on ceremony. That’s a kind of prayer but sketchy, a pale version of the full-dress form that entails hours of high-octane concentration, which is God’s way of letting us participate in his constant engagement with and intervention in human affairs.

Passing snide remarks against people who pray short prayers is upsetting, and initially the reason I found it upsetting was not clear to me. To restate the highlighted lines without the snark, and from a different perspective: ‘Sometimes we ask briefly for what distresses us most, and then return to the work of our vocation, trusting God to care for our need and to answer our cry for help.’ Then the author proceeds to call this a sketchy and pale of a form of prayer, the real version of which requires hours of concentration.

Now what bothered me most became clear during church yesterday. Being a liturgical Lutheran, orthodox teaching comes from all parts of the service.  In this case it came when the Pastor finished the special prayers and said (and I abbreviate because I am miles away from my hymnal) ‘And we join in that prayer You taught us to pray:’ after which we prayed the Lord’s prayer.

The Lord’s prayer, if you will permit me to summarize is:

  • One phrase identifying who we are praying to
  • Four phrases of praise to finish out the sentence (in English at least)
  • One short sentence asking for God’s care of our bodily needs
  • One sentence asking for forgiveness of our sins
  • And one sentence pleading for deliverance from temptation and evil

In all, I suspect it takes less than two minute to pray, even at the snail’s pace we pray out loud together in church. And it looks an awful lot like the aforementioned ‘requisition form’.

It seems to me that the author of this piece on prayer has made a grave mistake, he has snarked (though surely unintentionally) at the prayer that God Himself taught us to pray. And while I would never claim that hours of prayer are wrong, it is vital to remember the whole instruction. Here from Matthew chapter 6 (From NIV, from Bible Gateway)

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

“This, then, is how you should pray:

“‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

So, the model prayer taught to us by God Incarnate is a short prayer, briefly pleading from God the needs of both the body and the soul.  To say that such prayers are pale and less worthy is at the very least a travesty of pompous misunderstanding.

For more: see the Lords Prayer section of the Small Catechism