Tag Archives: Conspiracy

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.


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!)


Utter Academic Infamy

Over the last few week’s one of my courses has introduced me to a man known as Ibn Tabrazadh who was born about a thousand years ago in Baghdad.  He was a scholar of hadith and a fairly widely circulating scholar at that, with many later thinkers and jurists quoting from him or being ‘downstream’ from him in the flow of the semi-oral traditions and teachings that surround many of the hadith works and commentaries.

But, for one reason or another, Ibn Tabrazadh’s primary bibliographic entry in Dhahabi’s compendium absolutely vilifies him.  I provide, here, a few of the choice quotes (translations my own) of how lovingly Ibn Tabrazadh has been remembered.  May these be lessons to us all, that no matter the scope of our work, the appreciation (or lack thereof) for our earthly endeavors is certainly up-for-grabs, the product of the whims and morals of those who follow us.  It also should be a lesson to not-piss-off-your-fellow-academics-or-writers as they wield the pens (or iPads) upon which legacies rise or fall.

Whether Ibn Tabrazadh deserves this degree of infamy, I truly don’t know.  Only these few words from Dhahabi remain to enlighten us.  The quotations make me laugh rather than feel any strong moral revulsion.  But I do feel a nagging sort of NQR-ness about amusing myself at the expense of this man, even across such a chasm of time and culture.

1.  Called المؤدب or ‘litterateur’ which, I feel, was likely a first glancing salvo launched from within the strict canons of academia.

2.  Called ضعيف or ‘weak’ in his trustworthiness as a narrator of hadith (this is the overall measure applied to his reliability after consideration of all the information in this biography — not a real shocking conclusion, if you read on).

3.  Called خليعا and ماجنا and كاغد all of which are new words for me but mean, roughly, ‘depraved’ and ‘shameless’ and ‘scoundrel’

(it gets worse)

4.  Called يؤدب الصبيان or, roughly, a ‘tutor of boys,’ which is a double-edged insult, both elucidating the fact that he used his hadith knowledge to earn money and, also, hinting that he was only good enough to instruct youngsters.  Certainly not an anachronistic reference to Penn State.

5.  More bluntly, one commentator in his biography says, لم يكن يفهم شيئا من العلم which means “he didn’t know a damn thing about knowledge.”

6.  He was called ‘negligent in religion’ (I think this is the true source of the invective) . . . متهاونا بأمور الدين

7.  One person remembers that he ‘saw him more than once urinate while standing . . . and then sit without cleaning himself either with water or stones’ (an offense probably akin to peeing-on-the-toilet-seat-and-not-wiping-it-up nowadays).  In arabic, very seriously toned, راينه غير مرة يبول من قيام . . . وقعد من غير استنجاء بماء ولا حجر (Note that Dhahabi himself ventures a guess, by way of apology for this egregious defamation, that perhaps Ibn Tabrazadh had a fatwa excusing him from cleansing himself.)

8.  (Again, to the heart of the matter) . . . cited for not undertaking prayers.  لا يقوم لصلاة

9.  And, more explicitly than before, he is accused of كان يطلب الأجر على رواية الحديث ‘being in the habit of requesting payment before reciting hadith.’

10.  Lastly, reminiscent of Dante, a later scholar says that he dreams of a dead Ibn Tabrazadh ‘wearing a blue robe . . . in a House of Fire inside a House of Fire.’  رايت عمر بن طبرزذ في النوم بعد موته وعليه ثوب أزرق . . . في بيت من نار داخل بيت من نار

Dude.  Not the kind of stuff I want written on my headstone!

Sycamores in the Land of Milk and Honey

The view from the parking lot of Nimrod Fortress in Israel’s Golan Heights, halfway up the jutting flank of Mount Hermon, reveals a number of things:  justification for the Jordan River Valley’s title as the ‘Land of Milk and Honey,’ the dip between mountain ranges through which the ancient road from Damascus to the Mediterranean ports of Acre and Sidon now no longer runs, the demarcation between Israel (flushed green with irrigation) and Lebanon (largely desolate).

Groves of sycamores on the near slope mark the location of old Syrian barracks. (Click to enlarge photo)

What also appears in the view from this particular precipice, but which would go unnoticed by most visitors, are a few small groves of sycamore trees on the nearer slope (just beneath the rock retaining wall and nearer than the roofs of the Jewish kibbutz community at the intersection of the slope and the valley floor.

I would have paid these sycamore groves no heed if I hadn’t struck up a conversation with a pair of elderly Israelis, a husband and wife who parked their car to tour the ruins of Nimrod at the same time as I did.  They brought the sycamores to my attention and explained the hidden significance.

“Syrians,” said the man.  “They liked to have shade on their barracks.  It’s all that’s left of the places now but those groves are where the Syrian army had set up camp, where they raided down into the valley.  This was why we needed to take the Golan in ’67.”

The man pointed out several of the groves to me.  I was struck by their proximity to the fertile lowlands of the Jordan Valley.  I was struck by how magnificently the cliff from Nimrod and the hills beneath it controlled, in a truly strategic and choking sense, all the terrain around it.  Those Syrian positions offered a definite advantage to whomever possessed them.

Before the conversation drew to a close though, the man’s wife made the most striking comment.  It has stuck with me exactly because, coming from a nice, gray-haired grandmotherly sort of woman, it bared the true grit and determination of the present-day Israeli mentality.  This woman stepped closer to me and said, shaking her finger, “You better believe the Syrians plan to come back here some day.”

Then she turned, her husband in tow, and began to walk into the fortress.

No goodbye.  No sweet pinch of the cheek from this old lady.  She was all business, thoroughly chilling and — juxtaposed against the beautiful vista, the gorgeous day, the ruins, and the tourist leisure of my time on that mountain — her warning resonated for me as a moment of definite Not Quite Right.

National Geographic

It doesn’t seem that National Geographic would be a likely candidate for a Not Quite Right moment, though the more closely a person looks at another culture the more that even the most familiar things turn out to be slightly twisted.

This twist, in particular, demonstrates a little something about the power of language and the power of having power itself, providing a good example of the old adage about the ‘winner gets to write history.’  And the winner, at least right now in the Arabian Gulf region, is Abu Dhabi, one of the seven Emirates in the UAE and the place where the new, Arabic-language version of National Geographic Magazine started being published last October.

The 'tampered' title, which reads "The Trucial Emirati Coast"

First, let me say that I love National Geographic.  My family dreads the moment it arrives in my mailbox.  I hide away with it for hours, more hours than normal now that the magazine is available in Arabic.  It gives me a chance to learn vocabulary I’ll probably never encounter elsewhere, stuff like:  super-nova, Inca lip-piercing, Mormon tabernacle, plate tectonics, Gorilla repopulation studies.  It is wide-ranging reading, good for the brain.

But it seems that Abu Dhabi couldn’t resist a little historical rewrite.  One of my Omani friends pointed out that the December 2010 cover story is a reprint of a 1956 National Geographic article on the UAE.  However, the UAE hadn’t even formed yet.  It was still known as the Trucial States (due to a century-old treaty with Great Britain that was aimed at controlling piracy in the Gulf).  Or, even more pointedly, as the “Trucial States of Oman.”

In fact, the full title of that 1956 article was, in the typically verbose style of those days:

Desert Sheikdoms of Arabia’s Pirate Coast: In Trucial Oman’s Principalities, Cradled by Seas of Sand and Salt, Camels, Dates, and Pearls Support a Fiercely Independent People

Abu Dhabi seems not to have liked publishing a magazine cover that hinted at its one-time fealty to the Sultanate of Oman.  So they took some liberties and changed the title.

The arabic of the cover story now procliams ساحل الإمارات المتصالح:  The Trucial Emirati Coast.  The editors in Abu Dhabi went with “Emirati” even though the name “Emirates” didn’t have any association with their chunk of the earth until 1971, a decade and a half after the article appeared.

Slightly political, yes, but mostly just Not Quite Right.

Strange Pyramids

One of the pyramids at Merowe, northern Sudan.

Who can think of the Middle East without forming a mental image of pyramids?

Despite ideas of golden sarcophaguses and huge temples, it is important to note that not all pyramids are created equal.  My visit to Sudan included a stop at the Kushite (25th Dynasty) site of Merowe, near the 6th Cataract of the River Nile.  Here the pyramids are much, much less massive than the more famous Giza pyramids outside Cairo.  And they’re thinner, pointier, different.  Not quite right.

But, these pyramids are famous in their own right . . . they’re featured on the back of the US $1 bill with the all-seeing eye floating above!


A lot of speculation exists, conspiracy theories that label George Washington and the other founding fathers of the United States as having planned world domination and planted secret guiding symbols in plain sight.

Seeing the pyramids at Merowe, drifted over in red sand, crumbling, covered with graffiti, it is hard to imagine that any particular intent, any forethought, went into the choice of an obscure, skinny tomb for the Great Seal of the United States.  Yet I wonder, what artist decided on this particular type of pyramid for the dollar bill?  How did he know its dimensions, its form and tilt?  Did he visit Merowe?  And, why, why are all these little pyramids decapitated, flattened at the top . . . just as if the eye was meant to float there?

It’s a mystery that will probably never be answered, a little piece of not quite right that I’ve carried around in my wallet, never wondering, for far too long.