Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Video: laying gold leaf

This 3 minute video shows me laying gold leaf on an amulet I'm making for my granddaughter, Madeleine. The voice-over provides explanations of what I'm doing, as well as some technical details that may be of use to craftspeople who want to learn about the process. The background music is entitled "Midnight in the Greenhouse" and was written and produced by Kevin MacLeod.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

ISIS: Rooted in Islam

ISIS: Rooted in Islam
Why Obama and most liberals fundamentally misunderstand Islam and ISIS

This essay will cover the following points:
1.   Islam and Enlightenment: Inherent Conflict
2.   Islam and the World: Shared Values
3.   A Review of Muslim-Majority nations and their Political-Social Center-points
4.   Selected Infographics

A Brief Introduction

The issue of terrorism and ISIS, a terrorist state, and their relationship to Islam is a fraught subject that walks through the minefields of bigotry and xenophobia on one side, and self-destructive ineptitude and delusion on the other. Anyone who walks this field will step on mines and antagonize people. I write this article to inspire discussion and a fuller understanding of the issues. Therefore, I welcome your amplifications and expansions of my topics and points, and your critiques. However, I am only interested in data-driven analysis. This article attempts to compile verifiable and reliable data. Too many of these discussions, including Obama's speech of 12/6/15, are nothing but fluff, emotion, and sermonizing, urging us to either play-nice with our friends (liberals) or punish those bad guys (conservatives).

This article first outlines three pillars of Islam that are in conflict with the Enlightenment, pillars that both Muslim and non-Muslim sources agree are foundational. Then I look at some shared values that will tend to ameliorate conflict, and which may eventually lead towards greater understanding and respect. Finally, I look at a wide range of Muslim-majority countries to assess the current state of Islamic ideology as reflected in political and social values.

A note on terminology:
First, I use the acronym ISIS, although ISIL is a valid alternative. Second, I talk about Islamist thought, Islamism, and Islamic fascism. They are all the same thing to me. Some may object to my use of "fascism," as this term is generally used to describe non-religious dictatorships and ideologies. However, Islam, unlike other major religious ideologies, is very forthright in integrating the political into the religious sphere. Therefore, I believe "Islamic fascism" can stand as a term that means "repressive, intolerant, fundamentalist Islamic ideologies applied to politics and social organization." I am NOT making the argument that Islamic governments are inherently fascist. Far from it. Islam has many faces, but like any political entity, it can incline to fascism. In this era, that inclination has become common, and therefore, many people, lacking historical perspective, imagine Islamic fascism to be normative.

1. Islam and Enlightenment: Inherent Conflict

When I say "Enlightenment" I am referring to the ideas of democracy, universal equality of individuals, and the endorsement of multi-cultural values without favoritism towards a specific ethnicity. As is only too obvious, these principles are incompletely realized even in the most "enlightened" communities and societies.

The Enlightenment, as it emerged in C18, posed a direct challenge to Christianity, Judaism, and Western monarchies, and led to a long history of violence and vitriol. While the West continues to struggle to implement full and well-functioning versions of enlightenment-inspired governments and social institutions, most regions of Islam are only now, for the first time, facing the confrontation with these principles. As we look across the Islamic world we can see it begin to struggle with the Enlightenment just as Christianity, Judaism, and Western monarchies did over the period 1792-1945.

Consider this excerpt from the Middle East Values Survey of 2013:
In the second half of the twentieth century, a dominant trend among the indigenous intellectual leaders portrayed an image of the West that was militarily aggressive, economically exploitative, and culturally decadent. They forewarned their audience against Western cultural invasion and conspiracies against Muslims. Such perceptions have gained considerable traction in the seven countries [in this study], as 85% of Egyptians, 80% of Iraqis, 64% of Lebanese, 30% of Pakistanis, 83% of Saudis, 54% of Tunisians, and 83% of Turks consider Western cultural invasion to be a very important or important problem. More liberal countries like Lebanon and Tunisia tend to be less concerned with Western culture.

This is why I don't see ISIS as a reaction to American policy in Iraq, western economic interests in the Middle East, and/or British and French colonialism. Its roots are much deeper and reflect the massive turmoil generated by Enlightenment principles in conflict with deeply entrenched and calcified medieval Islamic ideologies and models of government based on Islam. While ISIS is also a product of long standing internal Islamic conflicts, dysfunctional economies, and the power vacuums created by the meltdown or dismantling of inveterately dysfunctional governments, these problems simply add complexity to the underlying trajectory that has brought us worldwide terrorism, numerous implementations of Islamic fascism, and ISIS. That underlying trajectory is a product of the clash of Islam with the Enlightenment.

This conflict centers around three anti-Enlightenment pillars in Islam. Those pillars are:
1.   Dar al Islam and Dar al Harb
2.   Jihad
3.   Dhimma

Any understanding of Islam and its trajectories in world politics, including ISIS, requires a careful appraisal of these three pillars. When I say "pillars of Islam" I am referring to concepts that are embraced by the vast majority of religious Muslims in the world today. They are as essential to defining Islam as Messiah and Trinity are to Christianity.

Dar al Islam means "region of peace." Dar al Harb means "region of war." While there can be allegorical and metaphorical interpretations of these terms by liberal and mystical-minded Muslims, in main-stream Islam the terms are understood in a very literal sense. Dar al Islam is the place where Islam predominates. The rest of the world is the Dar al Harb, the region of war, were Islam does not yet predominate. [To verify this for yourself, you might begin at, Dar Al-Islam And Dar Al-Harb: Its Definition and Significance.]

This is classic, medieval supersessionist thinking, identical to Christian supersessionism. It is the belief that Islam is the only true and correct understanding of God, and that Islam will, and must, prevail over all other religions. This view directly conflicts with the Enlightenment ideas of free-choice and religious relativity. [See the infographics at the end of this article, especially the two about tolerance for teaching other religions to children and tolerance for criticizing religious leaders.]

Jihad is probably the only one of the three pillars that is widely known outside of Islam. Like Dar al Islam, it can be interpreted as an allegorical or spiritual striving with self or with evil tendencies, but most Muslims in Muslim-majority countries understand this term literally. [Quoting from Wikipedia's article on Jihad: According to orientalist Bernard Lewis, "the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists", and specialists in the hadith "understood the obligation of jihad in a military sense."[15] Javed Ahmad Ghamidi states that there is consensus among Islamic scholars that the concept of jihad will always include armed struggle against wrong doers.[16]] Jihad is the means whereby Dar al Islam will conquer Dar al Harb. Jihad elevates conflict and war to a holy obligation, to be pursued whenever it is politically and militarily feasible and expedient. It is the basis of Islam's "golden age of expansion" from 630-750 CE. You can see a map of this expansion here: Islam's Expansion.

Jihad is, ironically, the foundational principle of Islamic colonialism. I find it odd and hypocritical to hear and read rants by Muslims against Western colonialism, including Said's Orientalism, when, in reality, Islam has been a colonialist ideology from its origins. The principle of jihad, sadly, is a guarantee that conflict between Islam and the rest of the world will persist into any foreseeable future.

Finally, dhimma is the formal legal implementation of Islamic supersessionism over all non-Muslim peoples in the Dar al Islam. It is, quite literally, Islamic apartheid. While many Muslim scholars try to sugar-coat the dhimma, saying it established "protections" for non-Muslims under Sharia law, we have to ask, why would non-Muslims need to be protected, and from whom? Dhimmis who emerge from dhimmatude have a very different story to tell. From the horror stories of the Yazidis escaping ISIS, to the imprisonment of the founder of Bahai by the Ottomans, to personal and social histories of Jews and Christians who lived in Arab lands [see, for example, Dhimmis and Others: Jews and Christians and the World of Classical Islam, edited by Uri Rubin and David Wasserstein], dhimmatude as seen by its victims, its dhimmis, is oppressive and hateful.

Aspects of the dhimma are integrated into the law in many Muslim countries. They include such laws as: 1. the death penalty for any Muslim who converts, or who espouses atheism, and 2. strict controls, limits, or outright prohibitions on building or repairing churches, synagogues, and other non-Muslim religious buildings. The implementation of the dhimma by ISIS is but a more extreme version of these laws. Indeed, the onerous taxes, beheadings, and massacres by ISIS fit squarely into the long and troubled history of the dhimma in Islam.

A Few Sources:

'The Dhimma's Return', by Mark Durie (excerpted from his book, The Third Choice):'s_Return/,
Bat Ye'or's The Dhimmi, V.S. Naipaul's Among the Believers, or search the internet on such terms as "dhimma" or "Islam and Copts/Yazidis/Bahai/Jews/Hindus/etc"

2. Islam and the World: Shared Values

While there is substantial reason to be pessimistic, Islam shares many core values with all the other major world religions and cultures. Muslim holy texts, beginning with the Koran, provide many and consistent endorsements for the Biblical Prophets, for Kings David and Solomon, for Jesus, and for many Jewish and Christian holy texts. Further, the ethical foundations of Islam are virtually identical with every other world religion. The primacy of compassion, hospitality, generosity, and peace provide a viable counter-weight to jihad and dhimma.

Just as Judaism and Christianity struggled with, and are still developing a common ground with Enlightenment principles [indeed, just today, 12/10/2015 a Vatican commission issued a new document declaring that Catholics should not try to convert Jews] , so we can expect, over the course of the coming 100-200 years, that Islam will find solid common ground with Enlightenment principles, and thus develop compatibility with multi-cultural values. But this will be a slow and non-linear process, just as it has been in the West.

3. A Review of Muslim-Majority nations and their Political-Social Center-points

The following terse comments are based on research using the following sources.
World Values Survey
Religion, Society, and Politics in the Middle East, by Robert Lee and Lihi Ben Shitrit
Middle Eastern Values Study: A Comparative Assessment of Egyptian, Iraqi, Lebanese, Pakistani, Saudi, Tunisian, and Turkish Publics
Pew Research Center: The World's Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society
Pew Research Center: Chapter 1 (of above study): Beliefs About Sharia

A monarchy. Among the most moderate countries on this list, but that belies the general tenor of society. The ruling party of the country, the PJD is a moderate Islamist party, and the prime minister is an Islamist. In other words, the general population is deeply conservative.

Wracked by a civil war through the 1990's between Islamists and a military dictatorship, a war that cost 150,000 lives, recent years have seen much less violence, but Islamism is still strong in this very conservative nation.

Considered the most moderate Middle Eastern Islamic country, it started the "Arab Spring" and remains the only democratic survivor of that movement that was about as successful as the French Revolution. Even still, as of March, 2015, according to Hassan Mneimneh of the Middle East Institute: From Yemen to Syria, Afghanistan to Tunisia, the Islamist civil war is global. Three main protagonists are engaged in it in Tunisia, with distinctly different approaches on method and increasingly divergent views on the end goal.

Shattered by an Arab Spring turned self-destructive, the country is a hotbed of Islamism and fundamentalist thinking.

The Sisi coup overthrew an elected government overwhelmingly represented by the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, if you don't remember, is the father of modern Islamism and its many incarnations. ISIS and its like are now very active in the Sinai, and regularly orchestrate terrorist outbursts around this very conservative country. The Copts, an ancient Christian sect, are constantly under dhimmatude pressures.

Boko Haram, an ISIS affiliate, has waged war in Northern Nigeria for 10 years. 17,000 dead and 2 million homeless, as this group attempts to subjugate non-Muslim Nigeria, while ruthlessly controlling the Muslim "region of peace".

54% Muslim (half Sunni, half Shia) and 40% Christian, this country is divided along many fault lines, all active. The government has been usurped by Hezbollah, an extremist puppet of Iran, which runs its own government and army within the country. As the BBC reports (Five missing Czechs found in Lebanon, 2/1/2016), “Some areas of the Bekaa Valley, east of the capital Beirut, are notorious for lawlessness and drug trafficking.” Lebanon is also a Palestinian hotbed, where hundreds of thousands of Palestinians are confined to squalid, lawless refugee camps and denied citizenship. Don't look for moderation here any time soon.

Like Morocco, moderate on the surface, but with a seething fundamentalist undercurrent that probably represents 50% of the population. The Palestinian majority is disenfranchised by the Hashemite monarchy.

Multiple ethnicities and Muslim sects had been ruthlessly ruled by a small Alewite minority for decades. That control continues to crumble after 5 years of civil war, now driven by a host of competing Islamist militias. Perhaps exhaustion, but not moderation will follow in the wake of this disastrous conflict in which hundreds of thousands have died.

Saudi Arabia:
Ruled by the Saudi family which follows an extremist version of Islam, Wahhabism, there may be dreams of moderation here, but the prevailing ideology is not very different from ISIS.

Once the paragon of a Muslim secular nation, the country took a sharp right turn in 2002, electing the AKP, an Islamist party that has slowly implemented a deeply conservative, anti-Western agenda. Traveling through Anatolia in 1977 I was stunned by the degree of conservatism that prevailed outside of the 3 main cities. I recorded those thoughts in a short story, 'A Pilgrimmage (sic) to Mecca', which I renamed 'A Pilgrimmage to Jerusalem' so as not to offend Muslim sensibilities. That conservatism has only expanded its hold since them. The country has harshly suppressed a Kurdish separatist movement and insurgency, at the cost of over 40,000 deaths, 4000 destroyed villages, and a half a million to a million Kurds forcibly evacuated. Outside of Istanbul and Ankara, don't look for moderation here.

I don't need to tell you about this disaster and the extremism that prevails through innumerable religious, ethnic, and social fault lines. Genocide and ethnic cleansing leave a deeply scarred society.

Self-proclaimed leader of the rise of fundamentalist Islam since the revolution in 1977, this country has promoted anti-Western, anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist hatred and violence as a core organizing principle of its ideology. A secular, democratic undercurrent has been harshly suppressed, but Western optimists continue to hope for a successful counter-revolution. I share that hope without optimism.

Extremist to the bone. Period. And it has been like that for hundreds of years.

Quickly rejecting a secular path after its establishment in 1947, Pakistan has progressively implemented the dhimma. Christians and other minority faiths and sects live in danger, having suffered numerous pogroms and suicide bombings. Blasphemy laws are commonly used to oppress the Christian minority along with liberal Muslims. Now, like Afghanistan, large tracts of this country are outside any central rule, and are governed by local Islamist warlords.

Aspires towards moderation.

The most populous Muslim country in the world, it is a working, pluralist democracy. "Most Indonesian Muslims are probably conservative in their beliefs and practices, but don't think they need to vote for a Muslim party or politician to live in the society they prefer," said R William Liddle, a political science professor at Ohio State University, who studies Indonesia. (Al Jazeera, 12 May, 2014)

A Few More Sources:

World Almanac of Islamism:
Institute for Social Policy and Understanding: The Moroccan Path to Islamism, Middle East Institute:
MEMRI, The Middle East Media Research Institute:
Al Monitor, the pulse of the Middle East

4. Selected Infographics:

Estimates of Islamist activity:

Wife Must Obey Husband - Percentage that Disagree

Preferences for Women's Dress:

Don't Teach Children Other Religions:

Don't Criticize Religious Leaders:

Don't Allow Criticism of Islam:

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Poe's Raven Revisited

Here's an excerpt from the Atternen Juez Talen (The Eternal Jew's Tale).
In the current scene our hero has recently parted from a modern (that is, modern in the 12th century) Aesop, or as he is known in the tale, Eethope. Actually, Eethope just disappeared (which is the topic of the first stanza.) Now a raven appears at the Eternal Jew's window and he wonders if its an incarnation of Eethope.
Then I have a little fun with Eddie Poe...
You will note, the stevetok, MetaEnglish version is interleaved with a translation done into Old English (which you call standard English). The Old English version is, naturally, much easier to read, but it is stripped of its higher dimensionality.

From The Atternen Juez Talen

An then he iz gon. Slunk awway
Or stokt awway, or flu or hopt.

      And then he was gone. Slunk away
      Or stalked away, or flew or hopped.

Maken up for lossee tiemz
My werkenz late on a Torrah skroel.
A kwik kut tu sharpen my reed;
A dippen the eenk an a littel flik
Tu shake of ennee exses eenks;
An chanten the line in a faverd trope;
An repeet the werden nex tu rite.

      Makin’ up for lost time
      I  worked late on a Torah scroll.
      A quick cut to sharpen my reed;
      I dip in the ink and a little flick
      To shake off any excess ink;
      And chant the line in a favored trope;
      And repeat each word before I write.

Now stoke the fiyer an blakflame leeps
Frum the bed a koelz, blienden hot...
Iem tokken heer in a mettaffor.
Pen, the fiyer; eenk, the flame;
Parchmen, the wite hot bed a koel.
      Speren tu the flesh iz flesh tu the spere.

      Now stoke the fire and black flame leaps
      From the bed of coals, blinding hot...
      I’m talkin’ here in a metaphor.
      Pen, the fire; ink, the flame;
      Parchment, the white hot bed of coal.
           Spirit to the flesh is flesh to the spirit.

Az I eenk the parchmen in saekred werdz:
      *‘Rebbellen not. Neether tranzgres,
      ‘For yur sin kannot be born in him.
      ‘‘My Name iz a hole aspiyerren him....’*
           *-* Shmote/Exxaddus 23:21

      As I ink the parchment with the sacred words:
           *‘Rebel not. Neither transgress,
           ‘For your sin cannot be borne by him.
           ‘My Name is the whole aspiration of him....’*
                *-* Shmot/Exodus 23:21

Hark! A rappen; ho, a tappen.
Wisper hisper, yippen yappen.
A kors I krakken ope the shutter
Ware with mennee a flitten flutter
Thaer hops in a hagger raven.
He perchen on a busted basen,
A basen that I wuns addord,
An sez, “Iem sent heer by the Lor.”

      Hark! A rapping; ho, a tapping.
      Whisper, hisper, yip and yapping.
      Of course I crack open the shutter
      Where with many a flit and flutter
      There hops in a haggard raven.
      He perches on a busted basin,
      A basin that I once adored,
      And says, “I’m sent here by the Lor.”

Am I a dreemee? Am I disterb?
This berd, iz he tokken? A tokken berd...
      “Eethope, zat yu?” I desper implor.
The berd in sitz say nuthen mor.

      Am I dreeming? Am I disturbed?
      This bird, is he talking? A talking bird...
           “Eethope, is that you?” I desperate implore.
      The bird just sits and says nothing more.

Aenkshes an raenkeld, I lay down my reed,
Kork the eenk, kuvver the sheet
A Torrahz. Its flamen a fade intu gloom
In the dul liten this erthee room.

      Anxious and rankled, I lay down my reed,
      Cork the ink, cover the sheet
      Of Torah. Its flaming fades into gloom
      In the dull light of this earthly room.

Am I insane or delluded or shamd,
My sitz, estraenjen a straenjer lan.
The berd ruffelz with a siklee kroek
An now insted uv a raven, I note
A raven-size man; a littel Eethope.
An beforz I am seez iffen him fer shor,
Its jes a raven an nuthen mor....

      Am I insane or deluded or shammed.
      I sit, estranged in a strange land.
      The bird ruffles with a sickly croak
      And now instead of a raven, I note
      A raven-sized man; a little Eethope.
      And before I can see if it’s him for sure,
      Its just a raven and nothing more....

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Photo Technical Studies

Here is a collection of cellphone photos and some technical transformations of them, trying to enhance their inherent mood. The photos were taken on Captiva and Sanibel Islands.
Your comments are always welcome and valued.

Boat and clouds 1

Boat and clouds 2


Sunset, palms

Friday, November 06, 2015

The Eternal Jew hears a performance of Hollow Men

The Eternal Jew hears a noise one morning. At first he thinks its thunder; then an earthquake. Then he realizes, an army attacking...

And behind the forward shock of noise
The walls of dust that choke your breath
And cloak your face in a deathly mask
So dragoon and drayman, commando and corpse
All look like statues in a Roman tomb.

And this the song them dragoons sung:

We are the hollow men born for war.
We are the arrogant caked in hate.
We are the sons of pagan gods.
And we are the fruit of polluted clods.

March on, march on, man of dust.
Do what you will; do what you must.

Look on us, your conquerors,
Sharp our tongue and sharp our darts.
Look at us, above all law.
Bloody hands and bloodless hearts.

March on march on, hollow men.
Your road is long; who knows its end?

We are the wallowers, slogging in scorn.
We wallow in impotence, loving a sword.
We hide our envy in a bigot’s abuse,
And express ourselves best with a mob and a noose.

March on march on, man of chalk.
Your road is short; no time for talk.

Look on us who scorn the just. 
Past? We’ll have no piece of that.
Look on us, who mock your trust.
Future? We’ll have no peace in that.

March on, march on, hollow men.
March on, to find your punishment.

Is this the song I heard them sing?
Well, not exactly. I’m interpretin’ 
With the lens of time to focus it
And a lens of Torah for judgin’ it.
What they really sung is more like this:

We are good so we walk with God.
And God is good so He walks with us.
And what’s the proof that we are good
And therefore God will walk with us?
That we are strong in conquering;
That cities will fall and kings will flee.
And if we stumble, if we fall,
And if our enemies slaughter us?
Still God is with us and we are good
For our foes have called on demon gods
And God will curse them in time to come.
For us, who are good, God is our cause
And all that we do conforms to His laws.

And I’ve heared it like this in every land.

Here’s the original metaEnglish version, with its more overtly vibrating language:

We arren hawlo menz bornen wor.
We ar the araggenz kaekt in haets.
We ar the sunz uv pagen godz.
An we ar the frute a poluten klodz.

March on march on, man a dus.
Du wut yu wil; du wut yu mus.

Louk on us, yur konkerren.
Sharp ar tung an sharp ar darts.
Louk at us, abbuv awl  law.
Bludded hanz a bludles harts.

March on march on, hawlo menz.
Yur roed iz long; hu knoez it enz?

We ar the wawlowerz, sloggen a skorn.
We wawlo in impotens, luvven a sord.
We hiden ar enveez in a biggets abyuse,
An espres ar selz bes with a mobben a noos.

March on march on, man uv chok.
Yur roed iz short; no tiem fer tok.

Louk on us hu skorn the jus. 
Past? Weel hav no pees a that.
Louk on us, hu mok  yur trus.
Fewcher? We hav no pees a that.

March on, march on, hawlo men.
March on, an fien yur punnishen.

Friday, October 16, 2015

brickwork to a new world

Welllll, the brickwork maybe only goes to a new(ish) back yard.
Here's some pix of some of the fun parts...

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Atternen Ju and the First Crusade

This brief scene in The Atternen Juez Talen (The Eternal Jew’s Tale) takes place in the Jewish year of 4856, 1096 CE. The poetry has been rewritten into prose, and the meta-English has been translated back to that archaic version of English commonly spoken in the world.

Godfrey of Bouillon is rounding up troops and money to lead an army on Crusade. He comes to Troyes, home of the famous vintner rabbi, Shlomo Yitzchaki, more commonly known as Rashi. There, the Eternal Jew is teaching at Rashi’s academy.

Hearing the pope’s call for Crusade, the Jewish community becomes worried...

Shlomo’s fears soon grow roots. Godfrey Bouillon, that aspirin’ prince, come visitin’ his vassal Jew, our Reb. Some say he’s a decent and tolerant man. I come to know him better than that. He was surrounded by jackals; some looked like men, and a few soldiers who claimed to be knights.
“We are off to liberate our land,”
says he,
“And re-assert the true faith. Once Jerusalem is ours again, mayhaps there will be a place for you.”

Like a cheap bobble he holds this out, hopin’ to buy the reb’s support. He wants his money or some reckless men.
“The law forbids us to carry arms, as is your will. And gold is scarce. How might I serve your dangerous quest? Perhaps your carts are not so full that space may be made for some tuns of wine. And our grapes are not the sweetest, as you yourself say, but they pack right well into raisin cakes.”
That seemed to sate Bouillon’s thirst, which we had fears might know no quenching. But then as he turns to go, over his shoulder, smilin’ a growl,
“Oh yes, there’s one more thing I need. That Jew of yours, I want him too. I need his tongues and his travel eyes. No doubt, his service you can spare.”
And then he turns, my heart in hand.

Question, argue, beg as we might, he hears it not. Pointin’ his finger, some snarling jackals bumble inside, grab my arm, my cloak, my beard, me kickin’ and shoutin’ as they stumble back out. And there’s Bouillon all stink and sweat. With a crooked finger he spears down at me,
“You run from me, and that vintner Jew -- my serfs will throw him into a vat along with them girls and that wife of his, and they’ll tromp ‘em down with his sour grapes and turn their blood into satan’s wine. Hear me, you talkin’ viper Jew?”

There’s Reb Shlomo a-gaze at me, sorrowful eyes and suddenly old. So I temper my voice  and replies to Bouillon,
“Now hear me, honorable prince. This gang of serfs, your army here, what do they know of battle and gore? I seen Muslim armies too. You’re pickin’ a fight with no good end. I doubt you’ll ever return to Troyes. but if you do, you’ll return alone, you and a few of your horses is all. The rest of these, their blood will cry from soil and stone, wherever it spills, accusin’ you when your soul is judged.”

Now Shlomo rushes to Bouillon, a-mount, and grabs his boot.
“Have mercy, sire.”
Bouillon kicks him and lopes away as they tie a noose around my neck, and drag me along like a dancin’ bear.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Innonna, divine mother, divine whore

I am closing in on completing another image for my ebook edition of the poem The Song ov Elmallahz Kumming, Bouk 3. This image shows Innonna (Inanna/Ishtar), modified from the carved relief from Sumeria, now in the British Museum, and known as The Queen of the Night.

The image accompanies the following lines in my poem:

We loukt up tu Innonna,
     We hu wer lost,
     Hu wer livving in a waest,
Tu her hu iz Wilfull
     Az the liyon
     Az the ass;
Huze miend pennatraets
     Like the wind
     Like the flud;
We saw how unlike she wuz tu us
And koud not take owr eyz frum her boddee.

We saw how unlike she wuz tu us
And we ternd owr harts tu konker.

Here are 5 versions of the image. Do you prefer one above the others? Your general or critical feedback on the images is welcome and desired.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Atternen Ju at a death and a birth

In my ongoing translation of the narrative poem, The Atternen Juez Talen, I just completed these two scenes. They take place in the Franko-Germanic region of Metz in the year 1039 CE. Our hero has brought letters from the kingdom of Granada to be delivered to the greatest sage of the era, Rabbenu Gershom, the "light of the exile." Thus...

A month of roadin’ and changin’ names and here I am in the verdant vales of Metz, preparin’ to meet the Rav, Rabbenu Gershom, the light of galut*.
                        * Hebrew: exile

A little aside.
How long it’s been since my thoughts turned to Aden. How far the road to Jerusalem. How far our Lor, the ways in You. Once I thought I could walk the way. Then I hoped I could find the way. Now I wonders if there is a way. How far, our Lor? The eye can’t see.

Yet, this is the Palace our Lor created, this world and its talkin’ spirits, us. If we say it is fallen, we are to blame, and we are the architects to renew the Ark....

So I finds my way to the street of Jews, but every alley and lane is blocked with crowds of people shovin’ and wild with wailin’ and screamin’ and beatin’ of breasts.

Into a passage lined with stalls sellin’ belts and shoes and leather goods, I push my way just to free myself from the crush. A man signals to me and rushes up a stair to a balcony. And there down below a street of wails, shoulder to shoulder, such a cry rises up. No king never got such an outburst of tears.

Then the dirgin’ women mad-stagger along, mixin’ their lamentations into the crowd. The din of it all shakes the walls, but just for a moment, it sounded to me like two lutes playin’, melodies entwined, translatin’ the spirit as it leaves this world, its tales of woe and longin’ for joy. Many’s the women leadin’ the mourning. And here comes the coffin, hoisted on high, on the shoulders of the six that are bearin’ the box, it draped in fabric, billowin’, black.

Somehow the crowd folds itself back and the coffin passes thru. And there he lies, an ancient, white bearded sage of a man, wearin’ his kittel* and a saintly smile. Tiny he is, like a withered bouquet.
                        * death gown; shroud

“And who can that be?” I murmur to myself, and the man beside me, looks aghast, and sneers at me,
“Are you a worm? What hole do you live in? You even a Jew?”
“A wanderin’ worm, I suppose,”  says I. “I just arrived from Muslim Spain with important letters for the Light of the Galut.”
“Well, there’s the Light; a flame gone out, and all the worlds are dimmer now. Your travels are wasted. You can go back home.”

Bit as I were by his snippy talk, the shock of his words corked up my mouth. And then like a hand  grabbin’ my wrist, the great man’s spirit sweeps over me, and quickly drags me back down the stairs and into the crowd, that’s heavin’ and contortin’, like behemoth himself is grippin’ us all and slowly trudgin’ behind the corpse.

We comes to a river and an old stone bridge, then follows the stream on the other side. Tiresome long to the burial place, yet a ten minute walk any other day.

Outside the graveyard they set the box down and drag it by rope the last thirty steps, as if to scrape with an adze or a file the last traces of this earth from his soul. Or maybe the gratin’ and grind and bump is to warn his spirit of the darkness ahead.

“Four steps and chant our woe. Four steps at the end of the road. Four steps; our life so brief. Four steps; death a release. Four steps, and the grass is fade. Four steps; the Lor is breathe. Four steps; the earth reseeds.*”
                        Others say ‘recedes’

No doubt Isaiah and King David said it better, but that’s my translation of the death-wailin’ march.

Now the hespeds,* the heapin’ of praises, usually enough to fill the whole grave, but in this case we’re talkin’ the Light of Galut. Except maybe Moshe** and some prophets and kings, who stands taller than the rabbi of Metz?
                        * Hebrew for ‘eulogy’
                        ** Hebrew for ‘Moses’

Then ropemen heft the coffin once more, walk it over Gehenna’s* door, and ease it into its worm hole. Then each man heaves a shovelful of dirt to fill the yawning jaws of the grave. And like the Reed Sea that split in two, two lines form in the mournin’ crowd, and between walks the family, touchin’ hands amidst murmurs like “May God comfort you among the mourners of Zion’...
                        * an after-death place related to ‘purgatory’

Well, I still got these letters for someone to read. If it won’t be Gershom, then the one in his stead. I have a pretty good clue who it will be from the crew that gave the eulogies and the way the pack postured and growled and who was bitin’ and who was yippin’.

At the end of the shiva* I make appeals to Ya’akov ben Yakar but his door is closed to mourn his rav for thirty days. But then he eagerly calls on me to deliver my epistles and be on my way. Problem is: I don’t see myself just bein’ a delivery boy. Spite of my stumbles and crude appearance, I’m like to parley with the bitin’ dogs and not them as yip or skulk or drool.
                        * seven days of mourning

And so I bargains,
“It’s a long and windy road, and dangers there be and letters get lost or are easily confiscated or robbed. You need to confide your tikkun* with me, in case I survives but the letters don’t.”
                        * Hebrew: interpretations and conflict resolutions

And then I adds, just to nail it tight,
“Espania and all of Afrik awaits the definin’ word from the din* of Metz.** Even Sura and Pumbedit let their standards blow in your wind.”
                        * Hebrew: judge, judgement;
                        ** others say: ‘din emet’, Hebrew: judge of truth

His face don’t let his thoughts escape but I can see he’s readin’ me, and plenty of flatter has been dished to him. What I don’t know is, how worldly wise he be of the thievin’ officials and desperate poor and connivin’ traders and murderous crows, the flood and fire and storm and plague that walk and stalk and snake the road.

“I must study the words your prince has written and prepare responses to all of his questions. Once I know its critical mass I can then determine the force of it, and whether your eyes can bear to see. But in the mean, to ease our wait, a nephew has been born to a notable, a student of Gershom’s, Shimon of Mainz. In three days is his brit milah.* Why not come and celebrate?”
                        *Hebrew: covenant of circumcision

Well, I always goes to a brit milah. Eliezer’s verses* declare the feast will save from Gehenna.** Seein’ this world, I got no taste for anything worse. Or to flip it over, the taste of the feast is rarely better than at a brit.
                        * Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, chapt. 29
                        ** see note on Gehenna above

That particular brit hardly stood out from the hundreds I’ve witnessed. The scrawny lad was held by his sandak*, that same Rabbi Shimon. The infant hardly squawked at all, then heartily sucked the wine-soaked bib. I remembers this brit for only one thing, as the first of many a meeting I had with Shlomo Yitzchaki, Rashi the Sage. We didn’t discuss much Torah that day. Of course, he was only eight days old.
                        * godfather who holds the baby during the ceremony