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Daily Archives: November 28, 2008

This is an experiment at this stage

You may recall I dropped one blog when “The Gateway” disappeared after The Great Invasion of September 2008. Now I am toying with this idea:

photoblog

Click on the image. Opens in a new window.

Yes it is a plain and simple photoblog with hardly any text. There are three pics there so far so you can see how it will work. When you go there, the navigation arrow will take you to the previous of the three – one you haven’t seen before. If you click the ARCHIVE tab you will see one of the great attractions of this template.

I would continue photo-essays of one kind or another on Ninglun’s Specials as well, should I decide to keep Neil’s Modest Photo Blog.

What do you think? A worthwhile addition?  Leave a comment, or vote…

It must be the time of year. This present blog came into being around this time last year! Everything here on Floating Life back from November 2007 is imported from other blogs; the original Floating Life on WordPress ran from April 2006 to the end of November 2007, with some retrospective entries in December, many of them now deleted, and an occasional update.

UPDATE

I am adding what I think are the very best photos I have taken so far, one at a time. That features thumbnails of what I have chosen so far.

It’s no longer really an experiment. I think I have decided to keep it, which is at least in line with the two votes at this point. 🙂

Now I’d like you to vote again, but in a different way. Go to that very best photos link and choose the one you like best and open it up by clicking the thumbnail. Leave a comment to tell me it is your choice, and maybe why.

Here you may care to make suggestions of any you have seen among my photos that you think should be included.

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2008 in site news

 

Dark energy, God and humility

I’m afraid that for me theology really is a branch of poetry. When at Christmas we sing “He came down to Earth from Heaven” we know the preposition is objectively meaningless, that the whole expression reflects a long gone cosmology which saw the sky as a vault or “firmament” with God sitting above it. But I can sing it as a human and traditional way of asserting that the indefinable Ground of Being is close to us, in us, sustaining us. That is by no means a scientific proposition, and I have now lost the attention of just about everyone from more literal-minded Christians on the one hand to atheists on the other, who probably wonder why we bother. By “we” I mean those who share in the kind of theology I am alluding to, but which I do not pretend to expertise in. Explore it (and other theologies) on my links page, if you care to, bearing in mind those are just starting points.

A number of things bring all this forward here again. First, Christmas is coming. Second, I happened to catch Australia Talks on Dark Energy – fascinating, and well worth downloading while you can. You have about two weeks.

It’s called dark energy and it makes up about 73 per cent of the universe but the scientific community isn’t really sure what it is: is it matter, is it a vacuum, is it a constant?

The mystery emerged back in 1998, when astronomers discovered that the expansion of the universe was accelerating; according to theories of gravity and general relativity, it should actually be slowing down. So what’s happening? Enter the idea of dark energy. Could it be a previously unknown fifth force and what does its existence mean for ideas about the big bang and, what’s more, the theory of everything? If you’re a science buff, a star gazer or just interested in new ideas, this is your chance to join the discussion with three of our leading astronomers. We’ll look at Einstein’s theories, glance back to the work of Edwin Hubble, and look forward to what the unravelling of the dark energy mystery might mean.

It was revealed that what we can actually detect with our senses of the universe is just part of 4%, in fact 90% of that 4% is invisible…  That we now exist in such a state of uncertainty is, as one of the guests on the program said, humbling.

Theology and religion need to be humbled too, but the stumbling block, I’m afraid, is the outdated – now so far past its use by date as to be toxic, indeed lethal – view that God has actually spoken or written infallible things which we can now read and follow. This particular teaching is unfortunately at the centre of all the Abrahamic religions, though the way it is manifested or understood varies.

I can believe God “speaks” – but I see that as a metaphor at best. I do not believe God has uttered contracts or documents untouched by human hands. Yet in those various scriptures, and not only on those of the Abrahamic faiths, one may be said to hear the spirit of God, just as long before Abraham was even born, if indeed he was an historic personage, my Aboriginal ancestors heard that spirit by other means, long before the putative era of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, which, it is interesting (as John Dominic Crossan does in God & Empire) to note, is very near the time agriculture and settled town life emerged in the Ancient Middle East. At that time, it could be argued, their world was created.

It is a big issue, this one of sacred scriptures. Even moderate Muslims, for example, are locked in the main into such a belief: “It is a tenet of the Islamic faith that the Qur’an is considered to be the literal, authentic, and unadulterated word of God. It is a tenet of the Islamic faith that the Qur’an is completely authentic; it has not been redacted, altered, revised or corrupted in any way.” – Khaled Abou El Fadl, The Great Threat: Wrestling Islam from the Extremists (Harper San Francisco 2005). That book does go on to say that there are other traditions as well within Islam that need to be considered, and that the way in which the Qur’an’s teaching has been understood or mediated has been rich and various, and this is true. He also sets out to show that there is no necessary contradiction between adhering to Muslim belief, including the tenet under discussion at the moment, and living in a pluralistic or democratic society such as his own USA. Needless to say he does not accept the arguments of the terrorists.

Nonetheless, there is a problem, isn’t there, even if it is not necessarily a problem of being able to get on with one another whatever our beliefs. All that takes, naive as it seems, is the will on both sides to do so. However, see also What Is the Koran? from The Atlantic Monthly January 1999 for, I think, a fair assessment of what the shape of the problem might be.

In mainstream Christianity and in Judaism there are a range of views about their Scriptures, but the recognition they are human documents, albeit “inspired” in some way however that may be defined, has been gaining ground for the last 200 years. Some see this as a degeneration, of course. Unfortunately, the Jewish and Christian scriptures just are fallible human documents, and to pretend otherwise is (I believe) both pointless and dishonest. Also once they are seen for what they are and seen increasingly in their real contexts, the more interesting and relevant they often become. Or so I find.

And yes, there are big issues here about just who Jesus in fact was/is, and what he is for us today. Not to mention that we no longer believe that either Jerusalem, Rome, or the Mediterranean is the centre of the world, but rather that God’s “speech” has been rather more scattered and diverse than we suspected. But that’s enough theology for now.

My point of course is that theology is a very uncertain art, and should be seen by all to be such, whatever the religious tradition it inhabits. (And no, in case you are wondering, Popes are not infallible; even Popes only claim that some of the time, but I don’t believe it is so at all… That is not to say that they are never worth listening to.)

Back to the Science.

I was struck by the fact that the scientific view of the universe has made such a leap since just 1998! It is hard on us oldies, eh!  Now take something as muddled and unscientific as education. Theory there, some would say, oscillates rather than progresses! I know my 1998 essay on literacy is as up to date now as it was then, especially with some web links to places where other more recent discussions might be found.

Ah me, I am a back number, you know. Let’s face it… 😉

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2008 in Bible, challenge, Christianity, faith, faith and philosophy, fundamentalism and extremism, inspiration, interfaith, Islam, pluralism, Pomo, religion

 

Some thoughts on Mumbai

Of course I condemn the attacks, as I condemn all political violence whoever is doing it – whether “them” or “us”. There is no such thing as a Good Bomb. So I welcome this from 3 Quarks Daily:

It is difficult to express the horror that one feels at the ongoing events in Mumbai (which I just found out about, not having looked at the news since yesterday). Here at 3QD, I am sure that I can speak for all of us when I say that our stunned thoughts are constantly with the victims, hostages, and their families. We fervently hope that no more innocent lives are lost and that the hostages are quickly rescued. The enormity of this crime is mind-boggling and one hopes the perpetrators of this disgusting outrage are swiftly identified and brought to justice.

Today, we are all Indians, and all of us, especially those of us from Pakistan, stand in resolute solidarity with our brothers and sisters across the border.

Posted by Abbas Raza at 09:25 AM

But before we react, there are many considerations. Here are just three.

1. The New Untouchables from The Washington Post one year ago.

…The frustrated effort to build a women’s mosque exposes the Achilles’ heel of India’s highly touted secular democracy: the abysmal socioeconomic status of Muslims.

This became quickly clear to me when I went to Mumbai late last year on a reporting fellowship from the South Asian Journalists Association to chronicle the "progressive jihad," or struggle for progress by Muslims in India. The week I landed, the Indian government released the so-called Sachar Committee report, a 404-page document that revealed it all: Muslims are disenfranchised, poor, jobless and uneducated. Their conditions are worse than those of the dalit, the caste commonly called "untouchables." To me, the sad truth was evident: Muslims are India’s new untouchables.

Consider these figures: Fifty-two percent of Muslim men are unemployed, compared with 47 percent of dalit men. Unemployment among Muslim women is 91 percent, compared with 77 percent among dalit women. Forty-eight percent of Muslims older than 46 can’t read or write. Though they make up 11 percent of the population, Muslims account for 40 percent of the prison population. They hold only 4.9 percent of government jobs and only 3.2 percent of the jobs in the country’s security agencies.

You wouldn’t know any of this from the news about India that appears in the Western media. Here, it’s "Incredible India," as a global ad campaign by the Indian government proclaims. Or it’s "India Inc.," the headline on a Time magazine cover story. In an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal this year, former defense secretary William Cohen, whose Cohen Group consults frequently on the country, said that the United States and India are "perfect partners" because of their "multiethnic and secular democracies."

But if we don’t pay attention, that could all change. Unless something is done to improve the socioeconomic condition of Muslims in India, it may be only a matter of time before extremist Islamic ideology takes root…

2.  Martha Nussbaum: The President-Elect and India3 Quarks Daily 17 November 2008.

…Third, and most disturbing, the letter commiserates with Singh for the Delhi bomb blasts, but makes no mention of Gujarat or Orissa. Obama offers Singh:

"my condolences on the painful losses your citizens have suffered in the recent string of terrorist assaults. As I have said publicly, I deplore and condemn the vicious attacks perpetrated in New Delhi earlier this month, and on the Indian embassy in Kabul on July 7. The death and destruction is reprehensible, and you and your nation have my deepest sympathy. These cowardly acts of mass murder are a stark reminder that India suffers from the scourge of terrorism on a scale few other nations can imagine."

Obama’s use of the word "terrorism" to describe acts thought to be perpetrated by Muslims, while not using that same word for acts perpetrated by Hindus, is ominous. Muslims suffer greatly in India, as elsewhere, from the stereotype of the violent Muslim, and both justice and truth demand that we all do what we can to undermine these stereotypes, bringing the guilty of all religions to justice, and protecting the innocent. (The recent refusals of local bar associations in India to defend Muslims accused of complicity in terrorism, under threat of violence, shows that the rule of law itself hangs in the balance.) Particularly odd is Obama’s omission of events in Orissa, which were and are ongoing. His phrase "the scourge of terrorism" is virtually Bushian in its suggestion that terrorism is a single thing (presumably Muslim) and that many nations suffer from that single thing. (Note that it is not even true that most world terrorism is caused by Muslims. Our University of Chicago colleague Robert Pape’s careful quantitative study of terrorism worldwide concludes that the Tamil Tigers, a secular political organization, are the bloodiest in the world. Moreover, Pape argues convincingly that even when religion is used as a screen for terror, the real motives are most often political, having to do with local conflicts.)

Obama’s letter was written during a campaign. Perhaps it reflects awareness of the priorities of NRI’s who were working hard in that campaign. At this point, however, he can start with a clean slate and decide how to order his priorities regarding India. Let us hope that, like Bill Clinton, he will give the center of his attention to issues of human development (poverty, gender equality, education, health), and that, when discussing the issue of religious violence, he will study carefully the violence in Gujarat and Orissa, learn all he can about the organizations of the Sangh Parivar, and adopt a policy that denounces religious violence in all its forms. To mention one immediate issue, it would be a disaster for global justice if Obama, as President, were to heed the demands of the diaspora community to grant Narendra Modi a visa — especially since the Tehelka expose has made so clear the cooperation of the government of the state of Gujarat in those horrendous acts of violence.

President Obama has repeatedly shown a deeply felt commitment to the eradication of a politics based upon hate. Can we have confidence that he will carry that commitment into his relationship with India, even when the demands of powerful leaders of the NRI community make that difficult? I certainly hope so.

3. The old ghosts of India show their faces again by Robin Jeffrey in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

What happened in Mumbai will not shake India to its foundations. India is tough and has weathered bigger storms. But the highly symbolic attacks dramatise a much wider set of struggles: the product of growing wealth for some and a revolution in communications.

The spectre haunting the nation is the old ghost in new clothes – class conflict, propelled by the same communications revolution that enables it to launch moon probes and claim recognition as a global power. In the new media age, awareness of injustice and disparity is growing among the poor, along with a sense that "we’re not going to take this any more."

It will be some time before anyone knows for sure who was responsible for yesterday’s calculated lunacy. But we can be almost sure among them will be young men left out of the prosperity a growing minority of Indians have experienced. Religion sometimes propels violence, but deprivation and injustice are felt around the country. Last month 12 police were killed by suspected Naxalites in Bijapur, eastern India. It was the latest encounter between police and Naxalites or Maoists, who are leading a resistance by tribal people and landless labourers in a belt snaking from Nepal down the highlands of eastern India. Near Kolkata, the attempt by Tata, a giant conglomerate, to build a factory for the new cheap mini-car the Nano was chased away by landholders mobilised against inadequate compensation for their land. Tata announced earlier this month it would build the factory elsewhere.

Scholars, policy-makers and politicians debate whether disaffection among India’s 140 million Muslims results from poverty and disadvantage rather than religious alienation. A poll by Outlook magazine showed close to 80 per cent thought economic divisions were responsible for religious conflict.

In the most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, a Dalit (former Untouchable) woman, Mayawati, led her party to an election victory last year, becoming Chief Minister for the fourth time; that would have been unthinkable three generations ago. A government report last year estimated that more than 75 per cent of Indians spent less than 20 rupees (62 cents) a day to live. But Mukesh Ambani, one of the world’s richest men, is completing a new $1.5 billion house in Mumbai. Until the current generation, two things mitigated India’s disparities of wealth: the ideology of caste and the isolation imposed by poor communications. You accepted the role of the caste into which you were born and believed that your next life would be better; you aspired eventually to escape the cycle of rebirth.

…Mayawati’s capture of legislative power suggests the capacity in a democracy, however flawed, for outsiders to become insiders; ultimately, that changes the system itself. At the other end of the spectrum of possibilities are gun battles in remote forests between marginalised zealots and the Indian state.

India is in the midst of six state elections with results to be announced on December 8. National elections are due in the first half of next year. Nationally, the ruling coalition of the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, and the Congress party president, Sonia Gandhi, will face a formidable challenge from a rival alignment centred on the Bharatiya Janata Party, which stresses Hindu identity to paper over class divisions. Events in Mumbai will almost certainly turn the national poll into a tough-on-terrorism election, which will favour the BJP.

India’s communications revolution, which the perpetrators of yesterday’s carnage are exploiting, will continue to propel its rulers to interact with the world and seek recognition as a great power. The same process will drive the poor to compare their lives with those of the rich and powerful. In the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks the challenge for the Indian state has not changed: it must find ways to dull the jagged edges of class disparity.

I thought it unfortunate that last night The 7.30 Report trotted out Rohan Gunaratna as the “terrorism expert”. He is that, but not an uncontroversial one.

Unfortunately Mumbai won’t be the last such occasion, and you don’t have to postulate some kind of organisation that blends James Bond movies with reality to see why. It is sad but true that no matter what battles we may win in what used to be called “the war on terror”, the war itself is set to go on for a very long time. Hearts and minds, as the cliche goes, are what will matter in the end, and much soul searching on ALL sides. In Gaza for starters would be useful…

 
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Posted by on November 28, 2008 in current affairs, humanity, Islam, Israel, South Asian, terrorism, USA

 

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