Tuesday, August 31, 2010


Tomorrow, I leave for Cairo, and eventually Syria. As is my tradition, that means I'm up all night tonight packing.

In my defense, I started packing at 9 AM this morning. But between family meals, last-minute shopping trips, and taking a break to watch iCarly with the younger siblings, the day went fast.

My main problem: I have too much stuff.

I'm hoping to get away with taking only one big suitcase, a duffel bag, and a backpack. I know I can. I'm not moving to the Congo; if it turns out I forgot something I can't live without, I can buy it in Cairo or Damascus. But it's not so easy to convince myself of that while I pack. Part of feeling secure or comfortable is having your stuff close-by. When packing for nine months away from home, it's difficult to distinguish between the things I really need, and the things that merely make me comfortable.

It's been a great summer in America. Many of my good friends got married, and I was fortunate enough to be at two of those weddings. I went to Yellowstone National Park with my family. I got a wonderful visit from my old Egypt-roomie Adam. I had a good job, read some really good books. I got to live at home and have some great times with my parents and younger siblings. There are things I didn't get around to - mostly the post-college writing I had planned on doing - but there's no use thinking about that now.

Wheels up at 1:40 PM. Am I ready for this? God only knows.

PS: Even if we're one or two continents apart, I would love to hear from you guys. I'm not on Facebook this year, but please e-mail me or Skype me. You'd make my day.

Go with the Lord.

- Joel

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Since it’s the latest “national controversy”…

...I guess I may as well jump in.

The “Ground Zero Mosque”:

1. Is over two long city blocks from Ground Zero (six normal-sized city blocks),
2. Is farther away from Ground Zero than the New York Dolls Gentleman’s club, and another already-existing mosque,
3. Is not and will not be visible from Ground Zero,
4. Is not a mosque, but a Muslim cultural center containing a mosque, and also a library, a culinary school, a swimming pool, a basketball court, a restaurant, and a performance theater. It is all open to the public,
5. Is headed by a man who the Bush administration sent to the Middle East TWICE to represent American Islam to the Middle East, and who delivered the eulogy at a memorial service for Daniel Pearl, an American-Jewish reporter who was murdered by the Taliban in 2002. In that eulogy, he said, “We are here to assert the Islamic conviction of the moral equivalency of our Abrahamic faiths. If to be a Jew means to say with all one's heart, mind and soul…hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one…If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one...”
6. Is being built on private land, by a private organization, and is thus completely protected from government intervention (which raises the question of why the Republican Party has made it an unofficial centerpiece of their November campaign),
7. Contains a memorial to the victims of 9/11, among whom were many American Muslims.

So why are we still talking about this?

Two final thoughts:

1. Has the Republican Party officially decided that scared white people are the ticket to future election victories?
2. The anti-Mosque Movement is sure giving plenty of ammunition to communist propagandists who talk about the upper classes distracting the masses from the power of capital with fake scandals.

Hat tip: Alvin Shim, Micah Schuurman, Andrew Knapp.

Further reading:
'Ground Zero' Imam: 'I Am a Jew, I Have Always Been One'
Fact-checking the 'Ground Zero mosque' debate
How the "ground zero mosque" fear mongering began
9/11 Memorial Pledged as Part of Mosque Plan

Thursday, August 5, 2010

J.R.R. Tolkien on World War II

The real war [World War II] does not resemble the legendary war [the War of the Ring] in its process or its conclusion. If it had inspired or directed the development of the legend, then certainly the Ring would have been seized and used against Sauron; he would not have been annihilated but enslaved, and Barad-dur would not have been destroyed but occupied. Saruman, failing to get possession of the Ring, would in the confusion and treacheries of time have found in Mordor the missing links in his own researches into Ring-lore, and before long he would have made a Great Ring of his own with which to challenge the self-styled Ruler of Middle-earth. In that conflict both sides would have held hobbits in hatred and contempt: they would not long have survived even as slaves.

- J.R.R. Tolkien, in his Foreword to Lord of the Rings.