Tuesday, November 6, 2007

A Peek Under The Hood

If you thought Ann was looking a little heavy lately ... well, it turns out that Ann isn't just eating a lot of pizza. She's pregnant!

The picture above is from our second sonogram session, taken in the 20th week of the pregnancy with junior weighing in at 12oz and enjoying a speedy 140/min heartrate. All fingers and toes (and heart chambers, lobes of the brain, stomachs, and assorted organs) accounted for.

It was a fairly surreal experience, clinically probing through junior's head and torso as he/she wiggled around in a spastic fashion reminiscent of J.D.'s waking thrashing about (and Ann's sleeping flailing). But we were glad to see junior thumb his/her nose in our direction (pictured above) – a gesture we promptly returned.

But while we wait for junior's inevitable eruption into the world (and wait for Ann to figure out how it's going to escape from her uterine prison) enjoy some candid, if sterile and grainy, sonogram images from inside Ann's belly:

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Hell Frozen Over?

Ann has long been notorious for her attitudes toward children and parenting. Indeed, friends and family often joked that if Ann ever had a child of her own – God forbid – that she would probably eat it.

Turns out they were only half right.

We're thrilled to announce that, despite nearly every expectation, Ann is pregnant. She'll deliver on or about March 23, 2008. No one's told her yet how exactly that's going to go down. LOL

The picture above is our first sonogram, taken in the 9th week of the pregnancy with junior measuring almost an inch in length. We've since been back to the doctor to clock junior's 13-week heartbeat at a speedy 160 beats per second. So far, both Ann and the baby are healthy and are proceeding well. Ann's even beginning to show a lil' bit.

We currently have no plans to learn the baby's gender in utero. But we've got two great names already picked out and ready to go. We've even got some nicknames on deck.

We'll be posting updates here at PoorMartin.com as we have them, including sonogram images. Thanks to everyone for being so supportive so far!

Monday, August 6, 2007

Playboy Shuts Out Authors

Somewhere between naked women and ... more naked women, Playboy is suddenly missing something.

I was recently readying a sexually-suggestive short story for submission and, upon a colleague's recommendation, prepared a mailing for Playboy. So it was with some disappointment that I learned that, as of November 2006, Playboy no longer accepts unsolicited manuscripts of any kind, including fiction, nonfiction or poetry.

Many people may find themselves suddenly asking, "Playboy published fiction?" Others yet, "Playboy actually has articles?"

Hugh Hefner once told a reunion of Playmates, "Without you, I'd be the publisher of a literary magazine." It's funny, but it's true. High-quality writing has always been part of the Playboy mix. For more than 50 years the magazine has presented its readers with new writers and modern masters, running the gamut from Woody Allen, Margaret Atwood, Arthur C. Clarke, Roald Dahl, Ian Fleming, Stephen King, Vladimir Nabokov, Chuck Palahniuk, Hunter S. Thompson, to Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

What is more, Playboy has been traditionally regarded as one of the best paying markets for serious contemporary stories, mystery, suspense, humor, science fiction and sports stories. With the highest monthly circulation of any men's interest magazine (est. 3,200,000 in 2006), the magazine also paid unusually large fees for approximately twenty fiction stories a year: $5000 for pieces up to 6,000 words in length – $2000 for short pieces. And almost any form of fiction could slide between the centerfold. The only exception, as their writer's guidelines once stated: "Fairy tales, extremely experimental fiction and out-right pornography all have their place, but it is not in Playboy."

Playboy even reminds readers of its esteemed place on the American literary landscape. A recent issue carried four classic pieces first published in Playboy magazine and penned by writers who are established as notable figures in popular culture:

Fast Times at Ridgemont High, by Cameron Crowe
The Purpose of the Moon, by Tom Robbins
Carny, by Harry Crews
The Dead Astronaut, J.G. Ballard

But the closure of this high-profile fiction outlet to unrepresented and unsolicited authors strikes the aspirant writer as a double whammy. First, it shuts out all but established writers from yet another of the dwindling supply of non-genre magazines that publish creative fiction. Second, it signals the end of Playboy as a career-making publication. At least Playboy's annual college fiction contest appears alive and well.

For my part, I knew Hef's magazine was a long shot. The mere act of applying to such a well-known and, in some circles, infamous publication is exciting. Like Stephen King, I imagine I would have treated my Playboy rejection letter as a trophy.

So while Playboy closes its doors, aspiring writers will have to point their literary searches elsewhere. And, one can imagine, they may swell the publishing reputation of some other men's magazine which, 20 or 30 years from now, will proudly publish collections of its own famous authors alongside Playboy's elite volumes.

Look out Esquire.

Friday, August 3, 2007


This past Sunday, Ann and I were lucky enough to catch Travis at the Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta. The Scottish quartet is touring in support of their new album, The Boy With No Name.

Ann and I reckoned that it had been six years since we'd seen Travis in concert (back in 2001, we were luck enough to see them twice in as many days, once as the opening act for Dido at Lakewood Amphitheater, once at a 99x LiveX performance for about a hundred people). But despite the passage of time, Ann made it readily apparent that her crush on Fran Healy is as healthy as ever. In fact, it was only tempered by her sudden interested in bassist Dougie Payne.

It was a fantastic show – a fact which we regularly communicated by text and picture message to our fellow Travis fan Will who, by a curse of timing and geography, was stuck in Virginia working. The show opened strong, with the band running in through the crowd while the Rocky theme thundered through the Tabernacle. Ann and I were close to the stage, in the sweaty press of people who both got to high-five the bad as they entered and then turn around and enjoy the show from a scant 10 feet away.

The show made me realize that Travis really needs a live album. Andy Dunlop's raging guitar is rarely heard on the band's polished studio albums. One has to turn to a Travis DVD to really get a good idea of how energetic the band is in person.

The show's highlights were easily their surprise covers of "Hit Me Baby One More Time" and "Back In Black." Fran Healy really channeled AC/DC raspy vocals on the latter. We were a little disappointed that "Blue Flashing Light" didn't make it into the encore, but the such is a monir criticism of an otherwise great performance.

The Sunday, July 29 show at the Tabernacle in Atlanta featured the following setlist:
Selfish Jean
Eyes Wide Open
Writing To Reach You
Love Will Come Through
As You Are
My Eyes
Pipe Dreams
Big Chair
Good Feeling
All I Want To Do Is Rock

Baby One More Time (acoustic Britney Spear's Cover)
Flowers In The Window (acoustic)
The Humpty Dumpty Love Song
Why Does It Always Rain On Me?
Back In Black (AC/DC Cover)

More pictures from the show can be found at TravisOnline.com.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Dubai, Up and Coming

This past weekend, a supertall skyscraper, years away from completion, became the world’s tallest freestanding structure. That alone would have captured my attention – I’ve long been a fan of tall and supertall buildings. But this new tower – which, once finished, will rise almost a kilometer skyward – also happens to stand on the edge of the Persian Gulf, a region that uniquely piques my imagination.

The Burj Dubai (برج دبي “Dubai Tower”) is rising over the emirate’s “New Downtown.” And the tower’s impressive stature is already apparent. At 1,680-foot (512 meters), the incomplete tower has already surpassed Taiwan’s Taipei 101 which has dominated the global skyline at 1,667 feet (508 meters) since 2004. And while the Burj Dubai’s final height has been kept secret, the state-owned development company, Emaar Properties, said only that the tower would cap out well above 2,651 feet (808 meters) with the Burj’s spire visible 60 miles away. At that height, the Burj Dubai will not only be the world’s tallest free-standing structure, it will be the tallest land-based structure to ever built.

Scheduled for occupancy in 2009, the $1 billion skyscraper is part of a 500-acre, $20 billion development located at the “First Interchange” along the city’s iconic Sheikh Zayed Road. The tower will feature more than 160 floors, 56 elevators, luxury apartments, boutiques, swimming pools, spas, exclusive corporate suites, Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani’s first hotel, and a 124th floor observation platform.

I can’t help but be reminded of New York or Chicago in the 1920s and 1930s, when those American metropolises erupted skyward with such a multitude of skyscrapers that they’ve only recently been surpassed in height, and have yet to be surpassed in the number of tall buildings. Indeed, following the American model of 20th century prosperity and skyward development, many Gulf states are eager to show off their success with ever taller buildings. As such, Dubai’s supertall skyscrapers reflects the city’s rapid economic growth and hunger for global prestige.

The Burj Dubai will also let the Middle East reclaim the world’s tallest structure. Egypt’s 481 feet (147 meters) Great Pyramid of Giza, built around 2500 B.C.E., held the title for over 4,000 years until the Lincoln Cathedral was built in 1311.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the Burj's American architects and engineers, report that the Burj Dubai will fulfill the Chicago-based Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’s four criteria for the tallest building: the height of the structural top, the highest occupied floor, the roof’s top, and the spire’s tip, pinnacle, antenna, mast or flag pole.

But this tower may not hold the title “tallest structure” for long. Only a few kilometers away from the Burj Dubai site, the Al Burj (“The Tower”) is being developed. Al Burj’s final height is being held tightly under wraps, but recent reports indicated that this tower’s projected height may rise to 1,200 m (3,937 ft) with at least 200 floors. Al Burj would be over three times the height (to the top inhabited floor) of the iconic Empire State Building, and four times the height (without the antenna) of the Eiffel Tower. But although ground leveling and land reclamation has begun on the Dubai Waterfront, construction of the tower itself has not yet started so the project’s eventual destiny remains in question.

A comparison of Al Burj and Burj Dubais projected heights in comparison to several notable tall buildings, including the Freedom Tower, the Sears Tower, the late World Trade Center, the Taipei 101, the Empire State Building, Dubais iconic Burj al-Arab, and Atlantas Bank of America Tower. Artwork from SkyscraperPage.

The region is not without tall buildings, to be sure. Saudi Arabia’s Kingdom Centre, which rises almost alone from Rihyad’s low skyline, is a distinct and striking tower nearly 1,000 feet tall. Other proposed supertall skyscrapers include the Murjan Tower in Manama, Bahrain, planned to be 1,022 m (3,353 ft) tall with 200 floors, and the 1,001 m (3,284 ft) Mubarak al-Kabir Tower to be erected in Kuwait as part of a massive development project called Madinat al-Hareer (“City of Silk”).

Nor is the Burj Dubai’s impressive scale and ambition isolated in the rapidly growing emirate (evidence of the city’s rapid growth can be readily seen in NASA photography of the region taken between 1973 and 2006, at right). The decision to build Burj Dubai and other skyscrapers is reportedly based on the same motive to diversify from a trade-based economy to one that is service- and tourism-oriented. Dubai is aiming to boost the numbers of tourists visiting the country from the current 4.5 million per year to twice that number in just five years’ time. These tourists are primarily looking for accommodation close to the water, but the problem is that Dubai’s coastline is only about 18 miles long. Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai has therefore developed an ambitious plan to create four offshore islands, shaped to generate the greatest possible length of shoreline. The first and smallest was completed in 2004 and is shaped like a palm tree. Another phase under construction will comprise 264 smaller islands forming a vast map of the world. Rumors suggest that English rocker Rod Stewart has already purchased the island standing in for Great Britain.

While the media focused on Burj Dubai’s progress toward unprecedented height, critics point out the plight of the 4,000 Indian, Pakastani, Chinese, and other foreign laborers who toil around the clock in Dubai's sizzling summer with no set minimum wage. Most of the workers have their passports taken up by their employers and are not allowed to return under any circumstances until their contracts expire. Press reports indicate that skilled carpenters at the site earn $7.60 a day, and laborers earn $4.00. Human rights groups regularly protest against labor abuse in Dubai, but local media rarely report such complaints.

Regardless of achievement or criticism, the Burj Dubai reflects the rapid growth of the United Arab Emirates – Dubai in particular. With more tall and supertall project under development and construction in Dubai than any other city on Earth (most of which tower above or match in height the world’s established clutch of tallest buildings) and with large American and European companies pouring into the city, the tiny Emirate may be poised on the brink of global commercial eminence. We'll be keeping our eyes on it.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Let There Be Southern Rawk

Ann and I recently returned to Athens for the city’s annual music festival, Athfest. And despite arriving in town to find our apartment flooded and most of our friends either out of town or getting married, we lucked into a series of great shows.

We tried to prepare ourselves for the festival by reading Flagpole and listening to the annual Athfest CD, a compilation of Athens bands most of whom, purportedly, would be playing over the weekend. Unfortunately, Flagpole music critics have terrible taste in music and only a minority of groups on the double CD were performing over the festival weekend. But some of our top choices were there and, with some serendipity, we found a number of excellent bands.

We started our weekend with a hearty dose of Part Bear, an Athenian rock/classic rock trio with a hyper-energetic lead guitarist who seemed to channel the hybrid spirit of Stevie Ray Vaughn and George Thorogood. The set served a medley of guitar-driven, fast paced songs that kept smiles on our faces despite the rancid bite of an unexpectedly bad Sweetwater Blue.

But perhaps the most humorous encounter of the weekend was our subsequent, and initially failed, attempt to see Venice Is Sinking at Little Kings. The previous act’s draw had overwhelmed the bar and its patio to the point that a backup of people blocked the door and a thickening press of people crowded the fence separating sidewalk from stage. As the police moved in, threatening to break up the crowd and shut down the club, we were told to disperse. Not to be defeated, Ann and I walked around back to where, not-so-secreted in the alley behind the bar, we found a six-foot wide hole in the bar’s patio fence guarded only by a few drunk bar patrons playing with bean bags. We looked at it for while, unsure it it was real or some beer-fueled delusion – why would so many people be crowding around the fence and windows on the other side of the bar if there was a huge opening in the side of the patio right there off the street. But when no bouncers or trip wires revealed themselves, we slipped in (rather, we indiscreetly sauntered in). We were rewarded by a run-in with some old History department colleagues and a great, intimate performance by Venice Is Sinking, an indie-rock / alternative group that blends male and female vocals, electric and classical string instruments. I was most impressed by the bassist’s impromptu rap, entertaining the crowd during a soundboard troubleshoot, and the keyboardist’s knack of playing the keys with one hand while fingering a trumpet with the other.

Our enthusiasm was tempered by Saturday’s oppressive heat and humidity. Why Southerners plan their festivals in June instead of May continues to amaze me. If it weren’t for the shaded, beer-cooled presence of the stage-front beer garden we would never have made it to the night’s headline performance by the Whigs. But the surprise of the night was Birds & Wire’s intimate show at Farm 255. Ann, Lesley-Anne, and I squeezed in along the side of the stage, along the edge of a roach-infested retaining wall overlooking Caledonia’s gloomy courtyard down the hill. Between feverish glances at the bug wall, though, we soaked in Birds & Wire’s jazz-altcountry-rock mix. I suppose it can’t hurt to point out that the band’s lead guitarists and vocalist, Lera Lynn, was a delight to both the ears and the eyes. I think Ann smacked me once or twice during the show for that observation.

But, by far, the best of the weekend was Sunday’s headline performance by Drive-By Truckers. After another hot, sticky day at the open stage – where groups like Passafire and Kimberly Morgan & The Everlovin’ Band outperformed our expectations – we finally got to see Athens's most recent iconic band.

We’d tried to see the Truckers months before when they had rolled through Athens on an acoustic tour. We were first exposed to the band through several enthusiastic UGA history department colleagues (including one of our most respected professors) and last year’s Athfest CD. But what we’d heard was enticing. I’d come to love their melancholy but defiant “The Living Bubba,” a song the Truckers wrote about a man with AIDS only a week before his death (a revelation that made all the more poignant the song’s lyrics, “I’m here to stay (at least another week or two) / I can’t die now cuz I got another show to do.”

The show rocked. It was loud, powerful, energetic, and the audience was wild. Ann and I appeared to be the only ones there who weren’t prepared to sing along to the “Let There Be Rock” and who were surprised by the band’s raucous encore performance of the Jim Carroll Band’s “People Who Died.” I’ve had trouble describing the band to others since the show. Guitarist and vocalist Patterson Hood’s lyrics remind me of Johnny Cash while his thick Alabama accent and raspy vocals harken back to Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brother’s Band (a connection reinforced, for good or for ill, by Drive-By Trucker’s Skynyrd-themed concept album, Southern Rock Opera and their trio of lead guitarists). I now understand what all the fuss about the Truckers is about – it was one of the most energetic shows we’ve seen in ages. Suddenly that guy wearing the “Hood, Cooley ’08” tee doesn’t seem quite so eccentric.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Can a Good Muslim be a Good American? (A Rebuttal)

I want to take a second and respond to a recent mass-email that came across the Net my way – an email that purports to answer the question “Can a Good Muslim be a Good American?”

As a concerned American, I found it very offensive. As a student of Middle-Eastern and Islamic history, I found it factually incorrect at nearly every level. Thus, I felt it was my duty to correct the inaccuracies propagated in the email. I am not a Muslim. Nor am I un-American. But if we are to have a healthy dialogue in this country about the relationship between the West and the East, and, most importantly, our secular system and Christian tradition's relationship with the many flavors of Islam, then I think that the dialogue needs to be based on facts.

Before I get into the email, though, I want to make a brief point – a call to action, of you will. The following email is only one example of a genre of uninformed mass communications that litter the e-space. Often they are naïve and innocent enough: chain letters or noble remembrances of our patriotic dead. But this email is an example of a more peculiar breed of uninformed mass communication – a kind that harms. Often offended readers simply delete such emails. But I would ask anyone who receives such an email – regardless of your political leaning – to henceforth step up and respond to it. Let the senders know what they’re distributing. Let them know the fallacy of it. We must make it our mission to inject the national debate on any contentious issue with fact, not fear.

This email represents the first time I have so responded. I can thank Ann for setting a good example and I hope my words now ring as true as hers have before.

The text appears to have originated with a August 1, 2006 article at the Conservative Voice.

Can a Good Muslim be a Good American?
(my response is indicated in italics)

Interesting questions for the Muslim Community to discuss & for research on our part also.

Can a good Muslim be a good American? I forwarded that question to a friend who worked in Saudi Arabia for 20 years. The following is his forwarded reply:
It is worth-wild to note that Saudi Islam neither represents mainstream Sunni or Shia belief. Sunni Wahhabism (the faith of the Saudi monarchs and Osama bin Laden) is a radical interpretation of Islam and one not held by the vast majority of Muslims. So the experience of an American in the Kingdom does not reflect well the religious attitudes of the other billion Muslims in the world. Nor should the attitudes of any one Muslim, or of any one Muslim state, be taken to reflect the worldwide whole any more than a radical Christian’s attitude accurately reflects the whole of Christendom.

Theologically - no. Because his allegiance is to Allah, the moon God of Arabia. Religiously - no. Because no other religion is accepted by his Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256)
Two points here. First, Allah is not a moon god. The moon symbol associated with Islam is actually the old symbol of Constantinople, the seat of Ottoman power. During Ottoman dominion over the Muslim world, state sponsored mosques bore the crescent to represent the authority of Constantinople. After the fall of the empire, the symbol remained as a traditional emblem in many, though not all, quarters. Second, the Quran explicitly acknowledges the righteousness of all Jews and Christians, assuring them both of their place in the Muslim world and in Heaven. Jesus, after all, is the "most beloved" of God, the result of a virgin birth, second only to Mohammed as a prophet, and the judge who will measure the living and the dead on the Last Day. We are all (Jews, Christians, and Muslims) the People of the Book – the children of Abraham who follow God's sacred path. And while several Islamist regimes (notably the radical regimes of the Saudis and the Iranians) have been hostile to Christians and Jews within their countries, these are typically political, not religious, progroms. Muslim-Jewish hostility is, of course, a whole other issue. But the author's decision to quote Sura 2, verse 256 is an interesting one. That particular verse does not condemn other faiths. In fact, it is the most frequently quoted verse by Muslims of the West who interpret its statement, "There is no compulsion in religion" to imply religious freedom and tolerance.

Scripturally - no. Because his allegiance is to the five pillars of Islam and the Quran (Koran). Geographically - no. Because his allegiance is to Mecca, to which he turns in prayer five times a day.
Neither of these points make sense. The five pillars (profession of faith, ritual prayer, alms tax, fasting during Ramadan, and pilgrimage to Mecca) are in no way diametrically opposed to democracy, secularism, or Christianity. In fact, these are many of the same fundamental tenets of Catholicism (though the details of prayer are, of course, different). And the "allegiance" to Mecca is a non-issue in the "loyalty" context. Catholics have more loyalty to Rome that Muslims do to Mecca (Mecca doesn't have a governing or authoritative body that renders decisions on behalf of the Muslim followers, either) and Jews pray every Passover to see the “next year in Jerusalem.” If we’re going to criticize Muslims for praying toward Mecca than we should look with suspicion on church builders who aim their cross-shaped narthexes squarely at Jerusalem.

Socially - no. Because his allegiance to Islam forbids him to make friends with Christians or Jews. Politically - no. Because he must submit to the mullah (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and Destruction of America, the great Satan.
Again, the Quran accepts Christians and Jews as fellow devotes of Allah (the same God we worship) and encourages friendship with any just and righteous people, regardless of faith. Political submission to the Mullahs is a phenomenon really only seen in Iran (it is, after all a Persian term) where Mullahs make up the government and the ruling elite. The question of popular loyalty to these Mullahs is presently in question. As to the rest of the Muslim World, individuals owe no more loyalty to their "Mullahs" (usually, the leader of a large mosque) than we do to our priests and ministers. It is a communal, not political, relationship. It is true, though, that some madrassas (usually, but not exclusively, mosque-affilliated schools) teach anti-Israeli and anti-Western messages. This appears to be true of many Wahhabi schools, Iranian Shia schools, and those of the Palestinians and Lebanese actively engaged warfare with the Israelis. All of these propaganda programs, however veiled, are politically motivated, however.

Domestically - no. Because he is instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34).
Two points. First, the Quran does allow for as many as four wives on the strict condition that the husband be able to provide for all of them equally and that he love them all equally. In practice, very very few Muslim men have more than one wife. Many Muslim countries forbid polygamy. Second, in regard to beating and scourging his wife, the Quran's instructions for the use of domestic violence are pretty much the same as exist in the Torah and the Bible (except the Quran has arguably better treatment for slaves than the other two). The Quran also enumerates many more rights for women than the Torah and the Bible. And, as before, the author’s choice of verse is questionable. Indeed, Sura 4, verse 34 does authorize men to punish their wives, but only after saying “Men are (meant to be righteous and kind) guardians of women.” Physical punishment for disloyal wives is only authorized after admonition and separation have failed to restore domestic order. At the last, husbands are instructed, “if they obey you, then seek nothing against them.” This is a premodern chauvinistic system – as are those of Moses, Aaron, and Jesus in retrospect – but it does not prescribe abuse.

Intellectually - no. Because he cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt.
The Constitution, while written by Christians and American Deists, technically makes no mention of Jesus or any particular Christian sect. In many corners of the Muslim world, and despite our nation's growing antagonism to the Middle East, the U.S. Constitution and our system of religious freedoms are seen as the greatest protection for Muslims of every creed (especially compared to their treatment at the hands of European governments and conflicting Islamic sects in the Muslim world).

Philosophically - no. Because Islam, Muhammad, and the Quran do not allow freedom of religion and expression. Democracy and Islam cannot co-exist. Every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic.
Yes and No. The Quran does not advocate religious freedom for any groups other than Jews, Christians, and Muslims with the Islamic faith obviously taking precedent. Polytheists and “unbelievers” in particular are condemned. The democracy issue is a thorny one. The ancient Arab tribes operated on a semi-democratic system (like the ancient German tribes) but for the majority of the history of the Muslim world democracy has been nonexistent and empire the rule. Of course, the same can be said of the West (a hundred years ago, there were only two solidly democratic nations in the West!). But currently there are two genuinely democratic "countries" in the Middle East (Turkey and Palestine – Turkey even has a secular government) with several other countries that have pseudo-democratic governments that often fare better than some Eastern European "democracies." (Putin, I'm looking in your direction … but please don’t kill me.)

[Update (Oct 2010): Expanding on the issue of Muslim democracies, there are, in fact, more than two. As of 2009, U.S.-based organization, Freedom House, considers Indonesia and Mali as the only Muslim-majority countries that are fully-fledged free electoral democracies. But there are several other Muslim states that are either democratic states which recognize Islam as the state religion (eg. Malaysia, Pakistan, Algeria) or are democratic states which endeavor to institute Sharia—the so called as Islamist democracy (Which Iran is in theory, but not practice). Additionally, the Economist recently identified some Muslim states, notably Palestine, as flawed democracies (Israel was also in this category) and others (Iraq, Lebanon and Turkey) as hybrid regimes with authoritarian elements. And there are even two Western-imposed democracies, Iraq and Afghanistan, to further complicate this answer).]

Spiritually - no. Because when we declare "one nation under God," the Christians God is loving and kind, while Allah is NEVER referred to as heavenly father, nor is he ever called love in The Quran’s 99 excellent names.
The most common reference to Allah in the Quran is as "most gracious, most merciful" – every single sura has it. And, technically, Allah is the same God to which we direct our prayers (Allah is merely Arabic for “the God”). The gods of Jesus and Mohammed have far more in common than either of them do with the god of Abraham (as described in their holy texts). He is, in Quranic scripture, the lord of heaven, the lord of all the living and the dead and of all things on Earth. He is an active, loving participant in the lives of his followers. He is virtually indistinguishable from God the Father of Christianity. And as to the 99 names of God in Islam? Here’s a serving of the most loving terms Muslims have for their divine benefactor (see if any of them ring familiar): the Most Merciful, the Peace and Blessing, the Almighty, the Creator, the Utterly Just, the Subtly Kind, the All Forgiving, the Grateful, the Nourisher, the Majestic, the Responsive, the Truth, the Protecting Friend, the Giver of Life, the Self Subsisting Sustainer of All, the Most Kind and Righteous, The Pardoner and Effacer of Sins, the Compassionate, the Light, the Patient…
…and, of course, the Loving and the Kind (Al-Wadood)

Therefore after much study and deliberation.... Perhaps we should be very suspicious of ALL MUSLIMS in this country. They obviously cannot be both "good" Muslims and good Americans.
The same could be said, based on the author’s logic, of any devout person of any faith.

Call it what you wish..its still the truth. You had better believe it! If you find yourself intellectually in agreement with the above statements, perhaps you will share this with your friends. The more who understand this, the better it will be for our country and our future. Pass it on Fellow Americans. The religious war is bigger than we know or understand.

And, added by another author:

And Barack Hussein Obama, a Muslim, wants to be our president!!!
I’m probably not going to vote for the guy...but I should point out that he's not a Muslim. He's a member of the United Church of Christ. His dad was a Kenyan atheist raised in a Muslim community.

If you agree that the original August 1, 2006 article at the Conservative Voice is a condemnable piece of "journalism" please head over and leave a note or two (or ten) on their boards. I mean, seriously...."moon god"?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Destination Graduation!

This past Saturday I got to strap on the tassel and emory board one more time (this time, with a hood!) and graduate from the University of Georgia with a Master of Arts in History. My focus was on US-Middle Eastern history since 1945 with a special emphasis on the Carter-era Iran hostage crisis and the media.

I've been splitting my time between Athens and Atlanta (and the Deptartment of History and the late Cloudjammer Studio) for two years. And while I wouldn't trade it for the world, I'm glad to have feet firmly planted at home in Roswell with a wife who'll have to get used to having me around again. For the dog's part? I think he could care less.

The graudation was Saturday afternoon at Stegman Collisium. And in what some (Ed) have dubbed a prophetic act, when we emerged from Collisium there was a disastrous thunderstorm going on. So while the undergrads were earlier in the day blessed with good weather for their photoshoots under the arches, my family and I were reduced to cowering under the feeble shelter of Wisdom, Justice, and Moderation from the afternoon rain.

I'll miss LeConte Hall, and my windowless office (room 118, if anyone want's to make a pilgrimage), the motley assortment of graduate students I've worked with, and even some of the undergrads I've taught. Hopefully I leave UGA a little wiser (certainly, a little grayer).

Thus endeth my sabbatical from adulthood. Back to the workforce with me! Now if only I can find a non military application for my design/history/arabic skillset...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

"Shooting the Ayatollah" Passes!

This afternoon I successfully passed my Masters in History thesis defense. And I was worried....

Drs. William Stueck (my academic adviser) and John Morrow of the University of Georgia History Department and Alan Godlas, professor of Islamic Studies in the UGA Department of Religion gave me a good run for my money, critiquing the full text of Shooting the Ayatollah: Photojournalism, the Press, the Foreign Policy Public, and the Iran Hostage Crisis. The defense went very well, with none of the abuse or argument that other grad students had led to expect. Guess that means my committee liked it.

This thesis quantifies the volume, type, and tone of images used by the mass-market newsweeklies – Newsweek, Time, and U.S.News and World Report – to depict Iran and the Iran hostage crisis in an attempt to characterize related media coverage. In four chapters, this study’s quantitative approach describes the entire lifecycle of hostage crisis media – from its creation in Tehran and Washington by news service reporters and Iranian photojournalists, its communication on the pages of the American news magazines, a statistical examination of news media consumption by various strata of American society, and a comparison of the American press and its Arab analogue. This thesis also tests a number of core assumptions about hostage crisis media coverage that dominated the contemporary press and continue to linger in the current historiography, providing a new, more accurate image of the crisis’s cultural impact.

I had to invent a fairly complicated means of content analysis that could both quantify broadcast television coverage of the hostages crisis (CBS, shown here) as well as comparably handle printed coverage with it's variance between text, imagery, and cover news features. I was also fortunate that the vast majority of the US media's photography was credited. And while I can't know who the particular AP or UPI photographers were, I can measure the contract and staff photographers. Thus I was able to find that the most prolific photographers were, in fact, Iranian. Take that, Edward Said.

The next step is to work this overlong (161 pages) thesis into an overlong academic article. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

J.D. Presents at Brown University

Earlier today I had the opportunity to present my paper, “A Historiographic Analysis of Visual Texts: Reviewing Information Graphic Methodologies as a Means of Historical Argument” at the Annual Meeting of the American Association for History and Computing at Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

The associated paper, of the same name, was recently published in the International Journal of the Book. This article examines the use of visual texts as a medium for historical argument, emphasizing methods for interpretation and an analysis of successful visualization methods. This essay focuses on two classic visualizations – those of William Playfair and Charles Minard – as benchmarks for the comparison of several modern historical visual texts – including works by Richard Bulliet, Élisabeth Carpentier, Jonathan Riley-Smith, and the National Geographic. The full text of the article can be purchased online for less that $US4.17

My presentation, which I also gave at the 4th International Conference on the Book at Emerson College, Boston, on October 21, 2006, covers much of the material in the paper. But the presentation covers material not included in the paper and vis-versa. Because the presentation includes material analyzed since the article's publication, I wanted to include some that material here.

In the text, I expound upon the information design techniques used by the National Geographic (NG) in their coverage of the Civil War. Since that early analysis, NG has once again produced a marvelous example of argumentative information design. With "Century of Death" (January 2006) NG presents a clear and concise picture of genocidal activity in the 2oth century. In the classroom, I often have trouble impressing the magnitude of the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin's purges, or Mao's Great Leap Forward. But here, in simple black and red, the chronological order, duration, and scale of the last century's genocides are laid bare and easy to weight relative to one-another. And rather than diminishing the cost of the more recent Rwandan or Kosovar genocides, the result is a continuity of death. What is more, the multivariate visual text provides the samples quantities, making the diagram explicitly quantifiable as well as relatively so.

One piece that escaped the presentation, however, was my discussion of Jonathan Riley-Smith's maps of the First Crusade. In my presentation I focus on examples of good visual texts. But Riley-Smith’s map, “Recruitment for the First Crusade, 1095-1103,” (in The First Crusader, 1195-1131) a visualization of copious quantification of 791 certain, probable, and possible crusaders, nonetheless fails to communicate a sophisticated visual argument. But Riley-Smith fails to ask many of the related questions about why these people went on crusade. This is surprising because his other works have addressed these issues.

For instance, in The Atlas of the Crusades, edited by Riley-Smith, multiple recruiting centers and the recruitment campaign for the First Crusade are graphically depicted across a map of medieval France. And while this map also falls short of becoming a rich thematic map, a simple combination of this information with the demographic scholarship depicted “Recruitment for the First Crusade, 1095-1103” would help build a more sophisticated argument for the impact of crusader recruiting.

The conference in Providence went well. My work was well received and I was glad to see others working on related issues of historical visualization. I was also glad for my first post-thesis vacation (as part of my introduction, it was mentioned that I defend my thesis on Wednesday ... the collective gasp filled me confidence ... no, what's the opposite of confidence? Less fear). I sat on the green at Brown among the worst frizbee throwers I've ever seen and read my first fiction book in about two years, careful to cover the spine so that none of the Ivy-leaguers would laugh at the menacingly large lettering, "Conan."

I should also point out that, in my wanderings around Providence, I was delighted to discover the Rhode Island School of Design just down the hill from Brown. I had considered applying to RISD as an undergrad (before I decided against a career in the arts...oh...) and found it's artistic halls a pleasant respite from the hemp-smoke shrouding Brown atop the college hill.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

J.D. and Fleming Promote Hampden-Sydney

This spring, Hampden-Sydney College launched a recruitment mailing campaign that included J.D. Jordan and Fleming Patterson. The campaign focused on successful HSC graduates and the emphasized that you can do anything with a HSC degree.

The card, one a series, reads on the front:
When J.D. Jordan and Fleming Patterson opened their own graphic design firm, they had their sights set on more that just business.

with the caption:
J.D. Jordan '99 and Fleming Patterson '00 (in receding order), principals in the web-design and marketing firm Cloudjammer Studio, credit Hampden-Sydney with equipping them to take advantage of remarkable opportunities for professional and personal growth.

and on the inside, reads:
J.D. Jordan ’99 and R. Fleming Patterson ’00
Entrepreneurs, Creative Specialists, Educators, and Scholars
“Owning our own firm has allowed us to expand our horizons—horizons Hampden-Sydney first opened up,” J.D. Jordan says. “Our Hampden-Sydney education gave us the confidence to strike out on our own. With the critical thinking and communication skills we learned on the Hill, Fleming and I have gone back to school for higher degrees, broken into new fields, published articles in national magazines, and taught college courses—all while running our own fun and creative business.”
You can do anything with a degree from Hampden Sydney College

We're extremely excited to be promoting the Hill (especially since my recent graduate work has left me ill equipped to heap money upon the Alumni Fund). Visit HSC's website for more info.