Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year 2008

After a number of attempts...

Katie wishes you all a happy new year.

Reprising her role from last year, Maggie the Beagle joins in the well-wishing.

(Molly the Beagle would join in the fun, but there aren't enough treats in the world to get her to wear those glasses long enough for a photograph to be taken.)

Update (12/31):
A photograph of the elusive Molly the New Year's Beagle has been obtained.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Nur noch wir können uns retten. (t)

Hearing the sad news of Benazir Bhutto's assassination in Pakistan earlier today, I looked back at my reaction to the London bombings of July 7, 2005.

It isn't yet clear who is directly responsible for today's slaughter, but initial indications are that those behind today's attack are of the sort who share goals in common with the London bombers and with other bombers whose actions have scarred the world during the past decade.

Reading my London bombing post 903 days after I wrote it, it's clear that at the time I greatly underestimated the potential for intra-Iraqi and jihadist violence during the intervening 2 ½ years. Looking back, I realize that my intuition that the violence would quickly flame-out stood in contrast to the basic thesis of the post, that – in the long run – it's all but impossible for groups of people to force a De-Enlightenment upon the world, even if the short run shows little progress toward reducing global ignorance and provincialism. 2 ½ years later, on a dark day when apparent extremism wounded the hope of a country, I still feel that the horse is out of the barn for extremist views, though extremism and responding to extremism might be the most dominant geopolitical forces during my lifetime.

Despite my opinion that the extremist's struggle is ultimately for naught, events like today still depress me greatly. Somehow, the depression of today reminds me of the dark words Martin Heidegger said in his famous interview with Der Spiegel in 1966 (published posthumously in 1976), titled "Nur noch ein Gott kann uns retten" or "Only a God can still save us":

HEIDEGGER: Those questions bring us back to the beginning of our conversation. If I may answer quickly and perhaps somewhat vehemently, but from long reflection: Philosophy will not be able to bring about a direct change of the present state of the world. This is true not only of philosophy but of all merely human meditations and endeavors. Only a god can still save us. I think the only possibility of salvation left to us is to prepare readiness, through thinking and poetry, for the appearance of the god or for the absence of the god during the decline; so that we do not, simply put, die meaningless deaths, but that when we decline, we decline in the face of the absent god.
I agree with Heidegger in the view that there's no one philosophy, mode of being, or way of life that will unite humanity under a single banner, smoothing out the cultural differences. Yet – and I haven't studied enough Heidegger to know if he'd disagree with me on this point – it's precisely this diversity and intellectual disunion that promises to save us.

The global proliferation of pluralistic cultures, whether through the gradual introduction of democratic institutions or through the rapid technological baptism of individual citizens into a connected world, forces an increasing percentage of world citizens to an important daily realization. The realization is as follows: There are other ways of coping with the world that differ from mine.

Certainly, most greet this realization with fear, and some greet this realization with violence.

Yet, from this first exposure, can there be anything but eventual tolerance?

From that eventual tolerance, can there be anything but eventual intolerance for the ancient intolerance?

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Let's Teach Them the Strangest Songs First

It will come as no surprise to those of you who know me that I've heard and sang more nursery rhymes in the past 10 months of dadhood than in the previous 25 years of non-dadhood. Living with a toddler means singing songs that are so ancient in your memory that they practically come out with cobwebs.

Now, I knew that one nursery rhyme – Ring Around the Rosie – had an alleged connection to the Great Plague of London, and that another nursery rhyme – Pop Goes the Weasel – was a drinking song in Cockney rhyming slang, but I'd never really paid much attention to the marvel that is I've Been Working on the Railroad.

Railroad is a musical oddity. It has a verse (I've been working on the railroad...), a chorus (Dynah won't you blow...), and a bridge section that is repeated (Someone's in the kitchen with Dynah... & Singing fee-fi-fiddily-i-oh...). In short, there's a lot going on.

The origin of this nursery room musical hodge-podge? Yep, you guessed it — it's two racially-charged folk songs smashed together.

Popular culture, your strangeness never fails to impress and confuse.