"Let nothing human be alien to me"- Terence

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

A few things

Sorry for the light blogging lately- I've been a little busy on a few other things, but will be able to ramp us up back to the glacial schedule we've all enjoyed before.

First off, I want to say how much I look forward to Wednesdays, when the Times gives us two of its best commentators.  No, not Mo Dowd and Thomas Friedman.   Regular readers know my thoughts on Friedman, and I think anyone who enjoys this blog probably has similar feelings toward Dowd, she of the vamped-up conventional wisdom. (Do I find myself attracted to her?  Yes.  Am I proud of that?  No.)  The pleasure comes from their Opinionator section, which is so incredibly superior to their regular stable of writers that it is embarrassing for everyone.  Anything that includes regular pieces by Dick Cavett is clearly going to be aces in my book.

But today we have the always-compelling Bob Wright talking about Christian missionaries and how their proselytizing techniques inflame tensions between Christian and Muslim communities.  Now, this could easily come across as knee-jerk relativism: yes, Muslims get really angry and burn things all the time, but did you know Christians are bad too?  But Wright spares us that, and looks at how the "camel nose under the tent" technique of using the Koran to prove Jesus' supremacy can do nothing but make things worse.   Obviously there are crazy people on both sides, and there is a strong tendency in Islam to take slight provocations (such as cartoons half a world away) and use it as an excuse to blow shit up.   I certainly would never say "but the Christians brought that on themselves!"   But there is something to be said about the relationship between discretion and valor, and, more importantly, minding your own damn business and tending only to your own soul. 

Blessedly far away from the tribulations of the pious, we have the delightful Olivia Judson talking about evolution on islands.  In and of itself, this is a fascinating topic, but Judson takes it is several unexpected directions.  She first lyrically expands the definition of an island: "Although “island” tends to conjure images of small bodies of land surrounded by water, such as Bermuda, or the Falkland Islands, this is not the only kind of island out there. Lakes are islands of water surrounded by land. Caves are islands of darkness surrounded by light. Oases are islands of fertility surrounded by sand. In short, an island is any self-contained patch of habitat within some larger sea."

This is not just dreamy prose.  All of these islands are important to evolution, as their ecological isolation leads the process down strange and unexpected paths.  Judson goes on to issue a warning about how our stewardship of the environment- building roads, clear-cutting forests, etc- is creating many more tiny islands, and how it is messing up the ecosystem.  I can't do it justice, but please read it.  She is an excellent writer, and makes complicated topic understandable and beautiful. 

We'll have some Yemen stuff soon, I promise. 


  1. Tending to one's own soul and only one's own soul is anathema to evangelical Christianity.


  2. Plus, Olivia Judson is hot too, and you don't have to feel guilty about thinking so.

  3. Damn right, anon. I would have said so and gone in detail about my crush on her, but I didn't want to seem too lecherous.