Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ralph Waldo Emerson

In 1837, Emerson wrote this poem, entitled "Concord Hymn", for a ceremony dedicating a monument at the site of the battle.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April's breeze unfurled;
Here once the embattled farmers stood;
And fired the shot heard round the world.

The foe long since in silence slept;
Alike the conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream that seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We place with joy a votive stone,
That memory may their deeds redeem,
When, like our sires, our sons are gone.

O Thou who made those heroes dare
To die, and leave their children free, -
Bid Time and Nature gently spare
The shaft we raised to them and Thee.

Emerson's work is often considered to be an example of Romanticism, but this is debatable, to the extent that one must clearly define what, and does not, constitute Romanticist art. Emerson did share, with Richard Wagner and some other extreme European Romanticists, a belief in vegetarianism. In any case, Emerson was a strong advocate for the abolition of slavery in America. Emerson was very religious, but held some unusual views of religious activity: "Books are for the scholar's idle times. When he can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men's transcripts of their readings." Religion is usually construed to center around the scientific investigation of sacred texts: religion is essentially reading. But for Emerson, reading was an auxiliary activity for the scholar: direct experience of God was possible, desirable, and preferable. It is this type of thought which has earned the label "transcendental" for Emerson. Emerson's exact religious views are difficult to categorize: Christianity and Unitarianism are usually considered opposites, and he seems to be neither. But his passionate belief in God motivated his abolitionist views: "The broad ethics of Jesus were quickly narrowed to village theologies, which preach an election or favoritism." Emerson sees himself as adhering to the real ethics of Jesus, not what he takes to be a commonly-accepted but distorted version of those ethics

Monday, March 24, 2008

I Hate You, You Hate Me, We're a Happy Family ...

No, it's not the Barney show. But it was broadcast around the world on satellite TV. The May 7, 2002, episode of the "Muslim Woman" show, filmed in studios located in Saudi Arabia, featured an example of what the program's producers considered to be good parenting. A three-year-old girl was interviewed by the program's hostess, to demonstrate her mother's good teaching.

In response to questions, the girl said that "Jews are apes and pigs, because it says so in the Koran."

This same show was part of a larger fund-raising telethon which gathered $109 million, money donated to support the families of suicide bombers. One of the telethon's hosts declared, " I am against America forever. My hatred of America is great."

One might be tempted to think that these kinds of statements are examples of the post 9/11 atmosphere in the Middle East. But long before the attacks of September 11, 2001, this kind of propaganda was being generated.

In 1979, Iran's Shah, who had favored an open and free society, was overthrown by the Islamic leader Ayatollah Khomeini, who promptly shut down the universities (where discussion and debate could take place), and returned women to a confined existence in which they must wear veils and are denied education. Khomeini began a propaganda campaign against Jews and Americans, stirring up hate. But he did more than talk. His army captured sixty-three American civilians and held them hostage for over a year.

On November 20 of the same year, in Mecca, in the Great Mosque which is a very important shrine in the Islamic faith, a group of two thousand radicals held thousands of pilgrims hostage. After two weeks of fighting, the Saudi government, aided by the French intelligence agency, and armed with blueprints of the complex of buildings surrounding the Great Mosque, finally rescued the hostages. Who provided the blueprints? An engineering company operated by Osama bin Laden.

The attack in the Great Mosque emphasized an internal tension in Saudi government and society: the moderate royal family against the radical Wahhabi Muslim leaders. These two groups had worked together, despite differences, as long as the royal family could convince Wahhabi leaders that it would support their political and social views. In 1973, the Saudi royal family funded the "World Assembly of Muslim Youth" which proclaimed that "Jews are the source of all conflicts of the world." The groups further fueled the view that the Shiite Muslims are inferior to the Sunni Muslims, and that "Muslims, Christians, and Christians cannot live together." Although the Saudi royal family found these views personally distasteful, they funded them in order to maintain political coalition which supported their rule. It was this coalition which threatened to fracture after the gunfight at the Great Mosque.

The coalition was saved by the fact that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 26, 1979. The royal family and the Wahhabi temporarily put aside their disagreements, so that they could work together to keep Afghanistan in the hands of the Muslim leaders. Nothing unites people like a common enemy!

As part of a larger strategy to keep Afghanistan in Islamic hands, the coalition also funded radical Muslim organizations in Pakistan, because it neighbors Afghanistan.

From these efforts, a series of training camps would arise in Afghanistan and Pakistan. From these camps would come the organization which would eventually kill over three thousand civilians on September 11, 2001.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Recipe for Success in Life

Many people function on a daily basis - whether they consciously express it to themselves or not - on the following principle: "figure out what you want, and figure out how to get it." This may seem like common sense; it may seem like the logical way to approach life. However, it will ultimately lead to a sense of meaninglessness and depression.

A more effective way to view one's existence is to ask: "what do other people want or need, and how can I help them get it?" This is a much more satisfying way to live.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

The World Economy 2008: Factoids

Sun Microsystems, one of the world's leading computer research and development firms, was founded by Andreas von Bechtolsheim, who went on to provide the capital for the launching of Google. Bechtolsheim was born in Germany and studied at the University of Munich.

The global creativity index was created to measure how well different nations create new technology and business opportunities. The current leaders are Finland, Sweden, the USA, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, and Germany.

Airbus is now the world's leading manufacturer of aircraft, and Hamburg, Germany, is now the leading aircraft-production city in the world.