Why I Will Be Boycotting NFL Football

This photo says it all.  NQR.  I’d rather watch WWF than NFL right now, until they get back the real referees.

The Green Bay Packers robbed of a victory. Incontrovertible proof that the final play was an interception.

By the way, here is a link to participate in an organized boycott of the NFL by angry Packer’s fans like me.


Beautiful Grammar(?) — Sura Ya-Sin 36:37

Two words that should probably never go together:  beautiful and grammar.

However, one of my courses this semester, called “The Language of the Quran,” aims at just that very thing, connecting the two.  And today, at least in some small measure, it succeeded to awe, if not (quite yet) to make the music of the particular grammatical point ring in my mind.  The Quran is known to be an evocative text, imbued with a magic in its tone and a particular depth of meaning that leads men to devote their lives to its study.  Some small glimpse into the mechanisms behind that power is all I ask of this course, or of myself, with what Arabic I possess.  To capture some idea, in English, of one example from among many covered already in two days of class, will be something of a challenge, but hopefully worthwhile, removing the taint of NQR from this link between beauty and grammar.

Today we were looking into metaphor, the various types of it.  As we disected the following example, posted on the blackboard by Professor Hisham Mahmoud, the complexity and multivalent functioning of the metaphorical devices suddenly sprang into stark relief.  I will outline them.

First, the verse itself:

Tranliterated into something vaguely pronouncable in English, this script may be rendered:

Waayatun lahumu allaylu naslakhuminhu alnnahara fa-itha hum muthlimoona

This may be translated, in its words but not in the depth of its meaning, as:  “A sign for them is the Night.  We skin from it the day and, behold, they are darkened.”

On the first functional level the type of metaphor exemplied by this Sura is one in which an unstated object receives a comparison.  Here the unstated object is an animal’s body from which God peels back, or flays, the skin.  This action is related back to the Night and the Day as a sign of the power of God.  In itself, the metaphor presents a powerful, primordial image, the idea of Day being peeled back from the heavens (each and every day) so that Night shines through, showing man a substance more base and more fundamental than the veiling brightness of the sun, an image that evokes, for me, a particular gloaming beauty when the raw heavens transcend or reveal themselves lucidly through what, at first, seemed substantial (the sky) but suddenly and magically dissolved into insubstantiality.

This works, this image.  It grabs me by the guts, just as if I am the one being flayed or as if I am sitting on a hill in childhood idyll watching the sunset, a Shel Silverstein moment.  But the use of metaphor doesn’t stop at this single comparison.  As the class looked at this example, we realized a second level of metaphor fills the verse, a very intentional deepening.  Both the terms Day and Night are, themselves, metaphorical, a different type of metaphor, or an allusion, a type called kinaya in Arabic. Here, Day refers to the believing man’s understanding or grace or God’s mercy and compassion therein, His plan and His foreknowledge to bring man toward enlightenment.  The Night represents the reverse, or the fundamental state of ignorance in which man begins and to which he returns if he should not accept the guidance of day, if he should not accept the revelation of his base substance via the hand at work, which is, in the Quran’s parlance, the Word of God.

Dismissing, not even yet thinking about the elements of poetry in the sound of the Arabic words themselves, assonance, consonance and the like, the allusion and the mutliplicity of metaphor here, in this one single example from among many, should convey some of the power (and some of the difficulty) inherent in reading and comprehending the Quran.  To hear it chanted, or spoken, recited by an expert, the mind attuned to such sounds can slip away, letting the metaphor operate subliminally and the words flow.

Beauty + grammar = a deep operation on the psyche and the Id, a powerful insight into one among many ways in which the Quran serves as a self-sufficient example, or sign, of its own holiness.


Chocolate Paradise with Animatronic Cows

Ahhh, lovely chocolate themepark place, how I adore thee.

Visiting a theme park, any theme park, something is bound to go wrong.  Too much humanity crowds into too small a space, adrenaline levels rise, people eat bad food, glucose levels spike, trends in wearing identical matched clothing magnify bodily imperfections to frightening levels (whether Youth Group Smiley-Face t-shirts or double velour sequened sweatsuits).

Yet the trip my family took to Hershey Park was almost perfect.  We tasted chocolate, dark, darker, milk, spiced = yum.  We bought chocolate.  We sipped hot coco.  We made our own candy bars.  Double yum.

Candy being specially made-to-order for us at the ‘Make a Bar’ attraction.

Chocolate actually flows through this pipe: I need one of these!

And then we took the little indoor tramcar ride through what we thought would be the machine-shop workings of the ‘real’ Hershey’s plant.  We wanted to see the Kit-Kats and other delicacies in their moment of nugaty, carmely, chocolatey birth.

Wrong.

Cow butts. Weird.

What we got instead were singing animatronic cows, sometimes (oddly enough) with their swishing, dusty butts turned toward us, all amid a flashing frenzy of lights, a Willy-Wonka-Meets-Ann-of-Green-Gables abomination from which all of us (but especially my stout and very nearly manly sons) fled as quick as the seatbelts and lapbars unclicked at the end of the ride.

Go there.  They’ve built it.  See it for yourselves.  And certainly build a candy bar of your own choosing.  But beware the cows.

Scary Dancing Cows . . . not sure if this shows up as a movie, but try to click on it. Animatronics just BOTHER me.


You’ve Got to Be Kidding Me!

Why, why, why on earth do KIDS need a Pottery Barn?

Not only is the concept just wacky (what do they care about 100-thread count Egyptian cotton bedsheets?) but I actually witnessed, just after taking this photo, a five year-old boy emerge with his mother, sobbing, begging — begging! — to be allowed to stay and play.  This does not bode well for the future masculinity of our American society.  And, with all the starving KIDS in the world, I just wish that some of these parents looked beyong their own noses to do something, anything, better with their dollars.

Gag me with a spoon (or some overpriced but teensy-weensy furniture).


Offspring of Lightning and Pure Darkness

So, my ten year old son asked me to take him to the local library last week to get some ‘how to draw’ books.  He chose five:

“Wildlife Sketching”
“Drawing Life in Motion”
“How to Improve at Drawing”
“Drawing Birds,”

. . . and, with a little nudge from me, “Michaelangelo and His Drawings.”
(The proud parent never knows when his well-timed hint might cause latent genius to flower.)

We returned with books in hand and my boy immediately locked himself in his room for the better part of a day, working away feverishly, burning through several pencils, scattering eraser dust and crumpled printer paper all around him like some sort of gigantic nest.

The product of all this work?  A couple of nice sketches of robins, a rabbit or two in motion, a deer, a bit of birch forest, an attempt at a hand (with no noticeable Sistine influence) and, in true NQR fashion, this lovely gem . . .

Do ten year-old artists go through a ‘black’ period?

The brushstrokes are nice, though I’m not sure whether the pronounced black splotches under Night Fury‘s wings(?) are some sort of black webbing or armpit hair.


An Incongruous Vehicle

Moments of Not Quite Right can be found anywhere.  Even here, in the parking lot of Trader Joe’s outside Princeton, New Jersey.  Admittedly, this situation is more Jersey (or Jooysie) than Princetonian, since the Boro of Princeton is usually a world unto itself, seemingly unrelated to the state where it has been nestled.

A Very Incongruous Vehicle

Four main points of NQR-ness here:

First, notice that this a HUMVEE, with entry several feet above the ground either driver-side or passenger-side.  Certainly use of this vehicle must be ostentatiously more difficult than average for anyone with the sort of unforunate handicap that might make walking from a parking lot into a store difficult.  Yet the vehicle has a handicapped tag hanging from the rearview mirror (barely visible in the photo) AND is using that advantage to park in the spot nearest to Trader Joe’s main door.

Second, the personalized license plate says “POLKA 1.”  While this might not be out-of-place in my native Wisconsin, the combination of Jersey, Humvee, handicapped, and Polka makes me not only wonder at the strange confluence of forces at work in the personality of the driver, but also brings into question, once again, the nature of the handicap.  Is it a walking handicap?  If so, why the Humvee?  Why the proclaimed preference for polka?

Third, all of this is located at Trader Joe’s, an amorphously upscale, trendy, organic, granola-crunchy supermarket chain.  Something’s got to give in my mental picture of the owner of this vehicle:  tie-died shirt hobbling along with a tennis-ball clad walker, iPhones blaring Roll-Out-The-Barrel while browsing through a muscle-car magazine?

Fourth, and maybe worst of all given the Sandusky affair, the final piece of information conveyed by the vehicle is its support of the Nittany Lions.  What weirdness has brought a fan or alum from Happy Valley this far across the eastern seaboard in his banana-yellow buggy, polkaing, parking in handicap spots, struggling to remount this oversized gas-guzzling giant of a vehicle at every turn?

It’s just odd.  Inexplicably odd.  But it should serve as notice that we Americans have more than our fair share of NQR.


Soft Drink Wars

Just a quick NQR chime-in on the soft drink debate that’s currently raging in New York City (see article on the recent hearing where Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal to limit soda sizes to 16oz in the city is debated).

Personally we’ve taken to ordering kids’ meals when we’re traveling and don’t otherwise have our normal range of options for healthy eating (or at least obtaining healthy portion sizes).  The fries in a kids’ meal are the same size now days as LARGE fries when we were kids.  The burgers are portion-sized, rather than 1000+ calorie behemoths.  And the sodas are in the 8 – 12oz range.  This says alot about America, and American gluttony, that the cheapest and most available sources of food are too large, too sugary, and too fat.  Unlike much of the rest of the world, where the poorer classes are subjected to starvation-level poverty, in America food is an almost unavoidable excess unless you’re rich enough (ala Angelina Jolie) to hire a private cook and nutritionist.

Here’s proof (from what has been, over time, one of our more favored and frequented fast food joints) on the explosion in size of soft drinks.  A REGULAR soda (regular!) came across the counter to me barely large enough to fit in my hand.  The fine print in the lower right corner of the cup reveals its size:  30oz.  It’s stupid big.  And it lends credence to what doctors are saying about these soft drinks, that they’re addictive.  How else can anyone explain drinking, in one sitting, an amount of soda that is equal to half the normal intake of water someone needs during a day?

I say to Mayor Bloomberg:  “Good work.”  If someone has a problem with a 16oz size soda, let them purchase two (or four, if they want the equivalent of a modern ‘large’).

Giant cup of sugar (or worse: corn syrup!)

 


Sleep Fishing

This image qualifies as the opposite of “Not Quite Right.”  It’s 100% right, what life should be like everyday.

Taken in the Boundary Waters, a canoe-only wilderness on the border of Minnesota and Canada.  My 12-year old had paddled 13 miles and then fished, almost non-stop, for the rest of the day.  Late afternoon, beautifully calm skies and waters, the fishing ‘action’ had drifted off and so, too, had he.  He’s completely asleep in this photo, though he’s holding his fishing pole cupped in both hands and though the bobber drifts on the mirror-flat surface of the lake.  A fish even bit at one point, pulling and jiggling the bobber beneath the surface.  He continued to sleep and then, at last, after about 20 minutes, startled awake, completely unaware of where he was!  How strange it must have been for him to wake from a dream into the very place of his dreams.

My 12-year old, in paradise.


Have Faith in Your Delivery Man

Just in case you have a very special package to deliver . . . does a sender get to choose between delivery via the Old Testment smiter of a God or the New Testament lamb?

A good name . . . perhaps a little presumptuous?


Thesis Tableaux, Part 1 – Gathering the Materials

As I sit, here at my kitchen table in a very suburban and bourgeois locale somewhere near Princeton, a masochistic satisfaction has taken hold of me, surrounded by the paraphernalia of my upcoming enslavement to a single, unified, and laborious paper-writing process:  the thesis.  Maybe as a means to preserve this beginning moment for myself, so that I might look back fondly upon it in future years, or perhaps to share the mound of work, at least metaphorically, with those of you enjoying a voyeuristic pleasure in my pain, I will document here what I perceive to be the major milestones of the process.

. . . like the setting of a B-grade horror film . . .

The subject of the thesis will be a monograph of the life of one of the Prophet Muhammad’s more scurrilous Companions, al-Mughirah ibn Shu’bah, who was a very early convert to Islam but was also involved in one of its more spectacular and formative legal/moral cases.  More to follow, in future installments of this thesis-production narrative, on al-Mughirah and his doings.  Now, onward to the writing process itself, onward to the first of the milestones I plan to document.

What more necessary milestone can there be than a beginning?  And how better to capture it than with a photograph, a tableaux of the materials, most of them visible, that I have heaped around me to spur me toward beginning this paper’s production?

Here I list the visible and invisible elements of this project, in order of importance:

1.  Computer.  Modern man cannot write, let alone research, without said device.  My choice:  a slightly feminine but perfectly serviceable white MacBook.  Unseen on the computer are perhaps 30+ files and scans from various encyclopedias that will contribute to the project, along with an entire searchable Arabic-language database of scholarly works that I will (at some time in the nebulous future) exhaust of all references to my subject.

2.  Coffee.  ‘Nuf said.  Cup courtesy Anthropologie, though meant to match a small collection of blue-glazed crockery purchased in Morocco and Oman.

3.  Books:  Most of this is background reading, rather than primary sources.  The primary sources will be in Arabic and I will access them online, for the most part, verifying them in volumes kept at Princeton’s library.  A preliminary search tells me that al-Mughirah is mentioned directly, in various hadith traditions, about a dozen times.  These secondary sources, along with primary-sources exegesis from later (but still rather Medieval) Islamic theologians and historians, supplement the direct mentions of al-Mughirah only partially.  The rest of his life I plan to reconstruct via hypotheses I derive from what various factions or various armies were doing during the blank spaces in his life.  Today my goal is to put all of these secondary sources into a bibliography and, maybe also, to comb through indices and mark/excerpt the direct mentions of al-Mughirah that each book contains.

4.  Stick-’em notes.  An archaic tool, but necessary.  When I have indexed a direct mention of al-Mughirah, I don’t want to have to go through the process of looking it up again.  I will therefore both a). copy the specific mention into a word document arranged by subject or time-period and b). affix a stick-’em note to the original page so that I can find the quote quickly in its larger context if necessary at a later time.

5.  Example theses.  My advisor provided two example theses from recent MA candidates.  I’m going to double check the formatting of their bibliographies prior to creating my own.  In the end, hopefully minus coffee stains, my thesis will look as fat and happy (and professional) as these two do.

6.  Chair, table, and especially cushion on chair.  The writer requires a certain degree of comfort.  But not TOO MUCH comfort.  The cushion eases the pain of a flat wooden surface squashing buttocks.  The table and chair will keep the writer more alert than, say, the couch or the nice big leather arm chair just purchased for more leisurely reading.  Chair/table/placemats/seat cushions courtesy IKEA.

7.  Woven baskets on wall.  No direct correlation with the thesis, other than ambiance in an otherwise milquetoast white pre-fab house.  Baskets from Nizwa, or perhaps from Morocco.  I forget.

8.  Voo-doo doll.  (Parti-colored feathers visible between largest stack of books and copies of previous theses).  Just in case.