Friday, March 13, 2015

Ella Fitzgerald

ella fitzgerald by mcdowall, black-white, portrait
Isn't she sweet?
A beautiful picture of Ella Fitzgerald by photographer Roddy McDowall (1928-1998).
Via Danielle Lamouri's photos.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A Eulogy for Mr Spock?

spock on  bridge of the enterprise, commanding
What made Star Trek so popular? For the people of my generation, it represented hope for humanity, the ultimate victory of science, logic and reason over mysticism, vampires, werewolves and other ephemera, not to mention the fact that the series with Leonard Nimoy's unforgettable character Mr Spock inspired many to go into sciences and engineering. But the times, they are a-changing. As Leigh Phillips observes:

These debates aside, with the passing of Nimoy, it is worthwhile — as it was at the time of the death of Neil Armstrong two and a half years ago — to take note of the slow and mysterious demise of the Space Age alongside the contemporary turn against rationality, science, and the Enlightenment.

The cover story of this month’s National Geographic speaks to how widespread this anti-modernist phenomenon is, focusing as it does on the growing popular opposition to science in both its right and left varieties, from climate change deniers, creationists, and anti-fluoridation warriors to vaccine refuseniks, alternative-medicine charlatans, and those who oppose all GMO technology in the abstract, rather than just the corporate malfeasance of agribusiness.

crew and guardian
Two episodes of Star Trek deeply affected me. In "The City on the Edge of Forever," I learned that defending or speaking the truth, doing the right thing can not be independent of time, it is a function of it. Naively hoping the right will prevail is too much to ask for (In the episode, Edith Keeler had two alternate timelines: She survives, USA joins WWII too late; Nazis win. She dies; without a peace movement Americans engage Nazis and war is won), as Spock gently reminds his friend and captain.

The second one is "The Paradise Syndrome," where we see Kirk stranded on a planet with amnesia. Again we see Nimoy's character showing us the good human qualities: perseverance, odds-on decision making and prioritizing, as he tackles the problem of asteroid deflection.

As science-fiction fades into fantasy, reason into superstition, a eulogy is indeed in order: Not for Spock, though; but for us all, the humans, unless we once again make peace with reason, embrace logic with an ever critical mind.

Long live and prosper Leonard Nimoy, wherever you are!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Pedals and Saddles

Everyone has her own way of blowing some steam. For me, it is cycling. Whenever I feel the urge, which is pretty often, I jump on my bike.

I made a lot of mistakes in life, too many bad decisions and countless poor choices but moving to Antalya is not one of them. Although Istanbul had its charm, it had become too crowded, way much noisy and outrageously expensive for me; and it was not a bicycle friendly city, not at all.

Below is a selection of pictures from my previous ride:

Giving the bike some rest
Then we go up:

Overlooking Hurma, Konyaaltı
Up up:

Konyaaltı and city center way back
Upper:

Overlooking Antalya Bay
Until we reach the heavenly valley surrounded by mountains enjoying an early spring:

#SabahattinAli
Here, you'll never have to say "shut up legs!"

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Theodicy and Jihad

Ziya Meral tackles tough issues in his latest article The Question of Theodicy and Jihad, which tries to make sense out of Islamic violence and terror. I will reproduce a few of his core paragraphs (call them bullets if you must) here and try to analyze each separately later. Regardless, it is a good read.

When a state fails, when its promise to deliver a fair society does not actualize, and all other offers of a solution remain too feeble, religious networks, imaginations, solidarities, and mobilizations emerge as the most powerful, and often the only alternative, to address the question of theodicy and recreate a moral order.

Although this is not entirely wrong, from where I stand, I see a tendency towards violence, a lack of tolerance for others equally in affluent societies and prospering zones as well. Also, in some cases, the so called failure of the state is closely related to the actions and/or non-actions of the West.

In a context where violence is already present indiscriminately, it is easily seen as a regular and legitimate political option. Deployment of violence becomes a radical attempt to tame, control and re-order a universe that seems to be in decay and evil. Thus, it is not nihilistic as it is often thought, but a Nietzschean attempt to move ‘beyond good and evil’, to establish a new moral order as an answer to the question of theodicy.

Again, I beg to differ, at least partially. Deployment of violence is common in the Muslim world, but I agree that it is seen as an attempt to correct the wrong and the evil. Plus, Meral simply ignores the role of education and indoctrination of children.

An understanding of religious violence deployed by Muslim extremism through the question of theodicy rather than jihad has countless direct implications: from our aid and development programs to long-term counter-terror strategies at home and in theaters of conflict.

Most obviously, this means that we should stop efforts to have other Muslims “condemn violence in the name of Islam” or push for programs that promote theologies that challenge the use of violence. Such programs help to a certain extent, but often lead to a lot of counter-productive pressure on Muslims.

We agree. Creating a platonic Islam that is beautiful and ever good and condemning the problematic one as a fake does not take us anywhere, nor has it created a desired reaction from moderate Muslims (sic) so far.

The main theological challenge that lies before us is not whether or not a Muslim can commit acts of terror, but rather, how can there be theologies of hope and social change that channel deep grievances and deprivations into non-destructive activism. This means that our efforts to offer counter-narratives and break cycles of radicalization should not go through arguments on jihad and violence, but projects and messaging that offers a hopeful reading of the world and how deeply religious believers can work to improve, heal and restore a broken world.

Although this part nails it, in most areas of the world it is simply not possible and I cannot shake the feeling it addresses one problem only: keeping the violence away!

t.b.c.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Satire Does Matter

Lost in the wave of protest and commentary that followed the massacre at Charlie Hebdo is an adequate understanding of the social function of satire says Justin E.H. Smith and reminds us that

Freedom of speech, I have been working toward saying, needs to be defended. But we also need to be careful not to lose the sort of critical sophistication that enables us to appreciate the very different functions of different moods of speech. The satirical mood is not the declarative mood. Mockery of an imam in Charlie Hebdo is not the Islamophobia of the National Front. Vovochka, another stock figure of Soviet jokes, who explains to his teacher when asked why he is hurling spit-wads in class that he is a "class enemy," is not really a class enemy (emphasis mine).

Living in a dominantly Muslim country, I hate to hear people saying murder of people in CH is terrible but... There is no but, there should not be.