Saturday, January 29, 2011

Egypt Burning


(Image from SkyNews)

...and possibly the rest of the Middle East as well. No, I don't have any idea what's going to come out of this. I guess it's not a foregone conclusion that Mubarak's going to fall...wait a minute, let me just check Al Jazeera's live blog...Nope, they're still calling for him to step down.

I'm just waiting with my jaw dropped, along with most of the rest of the Western world.

It's really hard to combine hand quilting with a constant compulsion to open my laptop and check the latest news, though.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Coming soon to a courtroom near you?

There's a growing list of people who have been prosecuted in various European countries for speaking negatively about Islam. One whose trial is ongoing is Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff. (Yeah, I know, it's hard to spell. So inconsiderate of those Europeans to have funny-sounding names.)

She was originally charged with "inciting hatred” following a seminar she gave on political Islam which was blatantly misreported by an Austrian journalist who attributed quotes from other people to ESW, and also quoted remarks during the breaks as if they were parts of the seminar.

On January 18 her lawyer insisted on playing the tapes (made without ESW's knowledge or consent) of the seminar. There are four hours of tapes, but Dr. Rami felt that the first forty-five minutes were enough to demonstrate that there was no incitement to hatred; on the contrary, the tone of the seminar was one of sober respect.

The response? The judge decided to add a charge of “denigrating religious symbols of a recognized religious group.”

She is being prosecuted for quoting the Qur'an and Islamic scholars.

Apparently there are Muslims in Europe who believe that their religion can be defamed by quoting its own writings.

Gosh. Isn't that kind of, I don't know, self-defeating? "My religion is so awful that quoting my own sacred writings is defamatory?"

It would be funny if it weren't so dangerous.

If I were to quote Deuteronomy 24:47-48 or Isaiah 65:11-12 (look it up, folks; I'm not going to do all the work here) and say, "See, Christianity also supports the death penalty for apostasy," do you think believing Christians would sue me for quoting the Bible? Or would they rush to point out why I'm mistaken?

European countries have nothing like our First Amendment and over the last ten years, they have been increasingly passing laws forbidding criticism of religion, defining such criticism as "hate speech," etc.

Why am I worried about this?

Western Europe and the USA have been the poster children for democracy and human rights. Now Europe is crumbling from within.

And here? Think about the calls for limiting freedom of speech after the shootings in Tucson. Think about the total lack of support for Molly Ivins from anybody in power. Think about the fact that CAIR - the supposedly "moderate" Council for American-Islamic Relations - regularly tries to intimidate and silence critics of Islam by the threat of lawsuits - a threat that can be very effective if used by a large organization with deep pockets against an individual speaking on his own dime.

Please think about this.

Don't just go waffling on about how "all religions are really the same," and "Islam is a religion of peace." Are there good, kind, peaceful Muslims? Sure there are. Lots of them.

But a basic premise of Islam is that it's not just a religion, but a complete way of life: theology, law and government must all conform.

If there's no separation between church and state, it's not a religion; it's a political movement.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A tisket, a tasket, start another basket



This has not been a good (achoo!) period (sniffle) for getting things done. If this is Austin, it must be cedar fever time. And everything I take for the constant snuffles makes me drowsy and stupid.

The other day it RAINED. Oh joy, I thought. Today I get to breathe and think at the same time! I'll go trim Shrine Composition 2, and make a backing for it, and, and...

Wrong.

It also rained in the sewing room. To add insult to injury, it rained in the corner where I had left SC #2. So the sewing room is kind of unusable, because all the stuff I had to move so as to mop the floor is filling up the room, and there are bolts of cloth propped up to drip-dry, and the quilt top is hanging in the shower. And I sort of don't want to put anything back in the Drip Area until we have had a serious conversation with the roofer.

Never mind. I'm resilient. There were lots of other things to do. I could wind all those skeins I dyed the other day.

As the picture shows, I actually did make some progress with winding skeins into neat little balls and tossing them into a basket. But when I abandoned this less than totally thrilling project for a while, my husband had organized the basket of yarn and two vases into a still life which he was drawing.

A truly resilient person would simply have brought out another basket and continued winding. Or picked up another one of the many UFP's littering the house. Me? I know an omen when I see one. I sat down and read a nice library book.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"This animal is dangerous...

...when attacked, it defends itself." -old story, probably apocryphal, about a zoo sign

I'm trying to stay away from the unseemly sight of the mainstream media slavering and drooling as they target Sarah Palin over the Giffords shooting, but I can't. The sight has a kind of awful fascination, like the really disgusting watch-this-part-with-your-eyes-closed bits in a horror film.

Fortunately, The Anchoress has summed it up so well that I don't have to:

Misreporting Giffords death, unsure of anything about the shooter, mostly disinterested in the stories of heroism that helped to end the gruesome attack, the media lined Palin into their sites and pulled a trigger. They called in all the usual suspects and the narrative rang forth: Sarah Palin–and by extension anyone who agrees with her, supports her, or works in alternative-but-non-liberal-media–was the deliverer of death to America.

Many of us who are not emphatic fans of Sarah Palin–and even some who vociferously dislike her–have watched the press with jaws-ever-dropping.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand–who released a brief, appropriate statement of prayerful support for the victims, and said nothing more–was excoriated in a manner so out-of-control, so wild-eyed and over-the-top that it was reminiscent of the press in the aftermath of her 2008 speech at the Republican Convention, where they had resembled nothing so much as fulminating beasts of rage, unable to hold back their frustrated howls.

Yesterday, they were complaining that she was “hiding” from the media, who insisted on making her part of a story to which she had no connection.

And so, today, Sarah Palin–probably aware that she was damned if she did, and damned if she didn’t–made a statement. It was actually a very good, if a trifle long, statement. Immediately upon her delivering it, the media, like jackals went on the attack. ABC news, in a breathtaking example of cognitive dissonance, wrote: “Sarah Palin, once again, has found a way (!) to become part of the story. ”

The (!) is mine. The press hauls this woman into the story, makes her a focal point of it, and then asserts that she has inserted herself into it. Staggering.


I've tried to excerpt the main points, but you really should read the whole thing.

What I find most discouraging about this whole thing is that the possibility of reasonable, fact-based discussion between people with different points of view seems to have receded until it's vanishingly small. It's absolutely true that there's a group of people whose minds are closed to "facts and reason and science," but they're not the usual suspects.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Leafing It All Behind



The other day I took a snapshot of this wonderful hole-y leaf. Since then we've had several chilly, damp, dreary days during which my communings with nature have been limited to walks around the block. Brisk walks.

In between brisk little walks and sessions at the sewing machine with Shrine Composition 2 (otherwise known as The Big Purple Thing That I Have to Stitch Together So I Can Put Something Else on the Design Board), I've been playing with this image in Photoshop.

Since the leaf is virtually monochromatic, it was easy to select just the leaf and work on that as a separate layer. First I played with Photoshop's Layer Style options. Using Drop Shadow gave a bit more crispness and definition to the image.



Adding Bevel gives the leaf a little more definition but makes it unpleasantly (to my mind) smooth...



...so I applied a texturizing filter - Craquelure - over that.



Then, going back to the original image, I played with the Atmospherizer filter from Harry's Filters via The Plugin Site to get some decidedly un-natural colors:



then made it a little brighter by duplicating the atmospherized layer and blending it with the previous layer using the "Hue" blending style.



Back to the original again, I used Cybia's Edgeworks plug-in with the "Bright" option to get this:

Once again, I intensified it by blending two copies of the leaf layer, this time using Linear Burn:

A different Edgeworks option - Shine - produced this from the original:

and I blended this layer with a copy of the atmospherized leaf, using Multiply, to jazz it up a little:

Finally, for a definitely science-fictional effect, I used Redfield's Jama 3D to get this image:


All the third-party plugins I've mentioned are freeware and should be downloadable from the links in the post. I haven't tried them with Photoshop Elements but I think they'd probably work with that program too.

Now I'm ready to print some of these on cotton and organza and play with them on the design board - only two loooong seams to do on Shrine Composition 2 first.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Are you serious?

I was going to post some pictures of an interesting leaf after various Photoshop manipulations... Maybe tomorrow. The tragedy in Arizona has soaked up all my energy for today.

I just read a report that the shooter was trying to reload when a woman grabbed his arm. Which makes me think...I'm glad he didn't get to load a second magazine and continue the carnage...and wouldn't it have been a good thing if he'd been unable to buy 33-round magazines in the first place? Those used to be illegal.

George Packer has a post in the New Yorker in which he seems to be arguing that "it doesn't matter why he did it" but it's still the fault of "right-wing hostile rhetoric."

Hmm. I don't recall the left as coming up short on hostile rhetoric while Bush was president; I even engaged in some myself.

But where Packer really strains the bounds of reason is in this assertion:

Even the reading of the Constitution on the first day of the 112th Congress was conceived as an assault on the legitimacy of the Democratic Administration and Congress.


The Constitution is right-wing hostile rhetoric?

As was famously said in another context:

"Are you serious? Are you serious?

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Score one for the good guys

As the Washington Post reports:

THE COPTIC Christian Christmas passed peacefully in Egypt on Thursday night and Friday, thanks in part to the efforts of the country's moderate Muslims. Thousands turned out to help protect churches following the horrific New Year's Day suicide bombing at a Mass in Alexandria that killed at least 23 people. Prominent Muslims, including President Hosni Mubarak's son, Gamal, attended Christmas Eve services; the country's most senior Muslim leader, Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa, has led the way in condemning the attack and calling for tolerance.


True, as the rest of the article goes on to point out, the Egyptian government's record for religious tolerance on the whole is sorry and getting worse. This is the same regime that declared Nasr Abu Zayd an apostate and effectively ran him out of the country for daring to study the Koran as a historical text rather than as the unchanging, perfect, revealed word of God. It's the same regime that enforces religious laws that discriminate against non-Muslims in innumerable ways.

But I think the Washington Post was wrong when they snarkily reported this story under the headline "Egypt's Show of Tolerance." Never mind government policies: thousands of individual human beings voluntarily turned out to put their bodies between worshippers of a different faith and suicide bombers. That's brave and decent and good. I don't know if I'd have the courage to do that. Can't we honor these individuals without condoning the government they're stuck with?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

No, it's NOT a "lunatic fringe"

As everybody in the known universe is aware by now, yesterday saw the murder of Salman Taseer, governor of Punjab province in Pakistan. Taseer was assassinated for suggesting that it might just possibly be a good idea to amend the mandatory death sentence for insulting Islam - a suggestion that engendered massive riots and a nationwide protest strike a couple of days ago.

Bear in mind that "insulting Islam" can include anything from a scholar's observation that there are Aramaic words in the Koran to, well, a cartoon.

In a brilliant example of doublethink, the Guardian described this as "a killing that exposed a deep-rooted vein of extremism" just sentences before saying this about Pakistani scholars' reaction (bolding mine):

A prominent group of Islamic scholars said that the funeral prayers should not be offered and warned that anyone who expressed grief for Taseer could suffer the same fate.

The Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat Pakistan group represents scholars from the mainstream Barelvi sect of Sunni Muslims. Although considered moderate, they have led protests in favour of the blasphemy law.

"More than 500 scholars of the Jamaat-e-Ahl-e-Sunnat have advised Muslims not to offer the funeral prayers of Governor Punjab Salman Taseer, nor try to lead the prayers," the group said.

"Also, there should be no expression of grief or sympathy on the death of the governor, as those who support blasphemy of the prophet are themselves indulging in blasphemy."


Now, a quick quiz for those who may or may not have been paying attention.

Moderate. Mainstream. Extremist.

Which of these words does not belong with the other two?

Now just in case anybody actually reads this post and wants to go jumping on me for being anti-Muslim, I am not saying all Muslims are evil murdering bastards who assassinate anybody who disagrees with them. Salman Taheer obviously wasn't. I lived in a Muslim neighborhood in Africa for two years and my neighbors never expressed an Islamic duty to kill me; they were real nice people. They did keep wishing out loud that I would convert to Islam so they could fix me up with a nice Muslim boy, but what the heck; my grandmother said essentially the same thing, if you substitute "Methodism, Methodist" for "Islam, Muslim."

I just want to point out that the Evil Murdering Bastards party is not a small fringe of extremists who misunderstand the Koran; it's a large group of mainstream Muslims who understand the Koran perfectly well. Take Sura 5:33, for example:

The punishment of those who wage war against God and His Apostle, and strive with might and main for mischief through the land is: execution, or crucifixion, or the cutting off of hands and feet from opposite sides, or exile from the land: that is their disgrace in this world, and a heavy punishment is theirs in the Hereafter.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

X-Rated Punctuation Rant

Hysterically funny, if you're the sort of person who really cares about apostrophes (I do) and isn't offended by four-letter words (I spent ten years in the computer business. Once you've enjoyed a heated difference of opinion with a programmer from CalTech, your ears get sort of numbed to the profanity.)

With those caveats in mind, read on here. Preferably not while drinking coffee.

206 Bones, with a Side of Coconut Milk

It's a dull, drizzly afternoon and I've been vegging out with a good suspense novel - Kathy Reichs' 206 Bones. And admiring her heroine, who starts the book tied up, entombed, cold, and hungry. I don't think it spoils the plot to reveal that she saws through her bonds, kicks out the (cemented shut) door and escapes through a sewer in time to save both her life and her professional reputation; after the 11 previous novels, one wouldn't expect anything less from Temperance Brennan.

But what really impressed me is what Temperance fantasizes about when she first recognizes her situation: Seared ahi tuna. Thai soup with lemongrass and coconut milk. Mussels in wine sauce.

Even when (metaphorically) tied to the railroad tracks, the lady remains a gourmet.

In her situation, I'm pretty sure I would have been focusing on:

(1) the high probability of imminent death
(2) a place to pee
(3) a cheeseburger
and (4) the extremely high probability of imminent death.

In that order.

Given Brennan's indomitability, I guess the least I can do - now that I've finished the book - is to go and have a serious discussion with my sewing machine, which started spitting out disgusting birds' nests of entangled thread yesterday.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Clouds and stones and trees


Judging by the news reports, Central Texas must be the only part of the Northern Hemisphere that isn't freezing. Even Atlanta got 10 inches of global warming the other day. Atlanta. Here we had two bright, crisp, perfect days over the weekend - then today, when I had a chance to get out on a hiking trail, the sky was clouded over. The creek was dry, so I experienced the walk as going through a narrow band of brown trees and gray stones, framed at the bottom by the round white rocks of the creek and at the top by pearlescent clouds. Even so, I found some interesting things to photograph, like this humongous juniper tree trunk with multiple knotholes. It would make a great starting point for embroidery... or maybe for dyeing, with the knotholes marked off by round gathers held by rubber bands and the whole cloth tightly pleated.

Now to figure out how I'd hold the pleats in place...What I envision is a long plastic box that's only 2-4" wide. Sadly, nothing we buy happens to come in a box of those dimensions, so this will have to go on the back burner. It's getting pretty crowded back there, too.