‘THE NICIES': NO, NO, NO Islamophobia. Meditation. Staying Positive.

I hope that ‘The Nicies’ will have more episodes to come on the ‘This is Not Reality Show’

 

‘Face-veil’ in Renaissance Rome was considered ‘the mark of a courtesan’

It is funny how different cultural traditions can ascribe different values to equivalent things:  in this case, the face veil.

We have come face-to-niqab (if you will excuse the expression) with the Islamic tradition of the face veil and are familiar with it:  Muhammad imposed ‘the veil’ on his wives but not on his concubines.

Some people think ‘Muhammad’s veil’ was worn on the front of the throat, but did not cover the face. This can be seen in some Pakistani dress traditions.

Others think it was based on the Slavic  headscarf, as he is reported to have first seen this garment on the Christian slave girl gifted to him by the patriarchs of Constantinopole.  He became so enamoured of it, he imposed it on all of his wives.  If you look at the linked illustrations, it is possible to think that the hijab could have evolved from it.  (This is, in my never-humble-opinion, the most likely the root of the Islamic ‘veil’, because there is a direct reference in the Hadith to the ‘Christian slave girl’.  Historically, Slavs were hunted by the Mediterranians , in order to be sold to Arabi harems – that is the origin of the word ‘slave’.)

Yet others suggest that the veil Muhammad imposed on his wives was meant to cover their whole face – the niqab.  Some people trace this to ancient symbols of prostitution – perhaps.

But, in our culture, the connection between women covering their faces with a veil while in public and prostitution exists in less distand history.  One need not go further than Renaissance Rome.

For reasons that are not exactly clear even to myself, I have been reading a biography of Lucrecia Borgia by Sarah Bradford.  (It is, perhaps, the worst-written book I have ever tried to chew my way through.  The author is completely absorbed in the minutiae and unless you are familiar with not just the ‘big picture’, but also the ‘medium picture’, you might find – like I did – that without frequent outside references, it is difficult to follow the significance of all the rigorously supported details she has managed to cram into the book.  It is precisely the rigorous support – extensive quotes from numerous letters – of what she writes which has kept me slogging through it…even though her analysis of the letters themselves and of their implications is often flawed, to say the least.)

One of the things I learned (supported by a quote from a letter written in that period), she indicates (though she does not dwell on the subject) that in Rome during the time of the Borgias, the high-class prostitutes – courtesans – would wear a veil that covered their face while they rode through the streets or were in public areas.  Not being well versed in the history of this period, I have not verified this assertion in  another publication – if anyone can suggest books I should check out for this, I would greatly appreciate their help.

While I would like to find further corroboration, the fact that this was a direct quote from a period letter, along with the fact that this was an extraneous detail which simply got in because it was part of a letter focused on another subject altogether, convinces me that this likely was the custom of the day. (The lette-writer complains how low Rome had sunk, as so many of the women one could see about were courtesans, which one could see from the fact that they covered their faces with a veil…)

Married women and mistresses – as well as umarried women and girls – did not veil their faces in public, as there was no need for ‘discretion’.  The lower class prostitutes also did not have a need for ‘discretion’, though for the opposite reason.  It was only the high-class prostitutes, the courtesans, who would cover their faces when on their way to visit ‘clients’.

So, the wearing of the face-veil was a ‘class’ thing:  it signified a higher class status among prostitutes.

Which is very curious, because in the Islamic tradition, ‘the veil’ also carries a very definite class distinction:  because Muhammad had imposed it on his ‘wives’ – but not on women who were his slaves, whether workers or concubines, women who wore ‘the veil’ were of a higher social status than women who did not.

It is the view of some current Muslims (and Muslimas) that wearing the veil is a symbol of membership in a socially superior class: the woman wearing the veil is demonstrating her class superiority over bear-headed women.  This explains why some of the Muslimas wearing veils seem to be doing it as an ‘in-your-face’ aggressive gesture.  Far from representing morality or religious piety, this particular set of Muslimas is wearing the veil as a symbol of their superiority.

I am continously fascinated by how, at different times and in different cultures, the same items symbolized different things.  In one time and place, the face veil represents a higher social status woman.  In another, it denotes a higher social status prostitute.

‘Intelligence’ and ‘Multiculturalism’

What is intelligence?

This may not be the most pressing political question on everyone’s mind, but, if you would please indulge me, I hope to make a case for why it, perhaps, ought to be at least a consideration.

Why?

Because it is part of our human nature that we consider ‘intelligent things’ – or, ‘things that posses intelligence’, or at least, ‘things that appear as though they possess intelligence’ – with much greater respect than those ‘things’ that do not.

This is true from simple organisms to individual human beings to whole cultures.

Perhaps we have not been accustomed to thinking of it in these terms, but, if you take a moment to reflect, I suspect you will agree that. in general, ‘humans’ treat things that appear to ‘behave with intelligence’ with greater respect than those which do not.

This post is not meant to tackle the philosophical roots thereof, nor the merits of this:  rather, I would like to assert that for better or worse, this is the case – and then examine the implications of these assertions.

In order to do this, we need to try to define what ‘intelligence’ actually is.

This is not easy.

‘Intelligence’ is one of those elusive qualities:  everybody knows what it is, but it is difficult to put that ‘knowledge’ into objective, quantifiable terms against which it could be measured.

Oh, sure, there are IQ tests, ‘emotional intelligence’ tests and all that – but these are very narrow and necessarily flawed models which focus on only very narrow aspects of what we generally regard as ‘intelligence’.

So, we need to ask ourselves:

WHAT IS INTELLIGENCE?

Many of our best thinkers have devoted much of their time and work to trying to define it (and, perhaps, reproduce it artificially), but it is not an easy task.

Perhaps it would be easier to approach the problem from a diametrically opposite direction:  perhaps we should draw the circle around what ‘appears’ to be intelligence.  Anything outside this circle can safely be considered to behave ‘without intelligence’ while all the things inside the circle would either ‘be’ intelligent or ‘appear to be’ intelligent (whether they actually are or not).  Because, after all, in our limited human perceptions, ‘appearance of’ something is often treated as equivalent to ‘being’ something….

The beauty (or, intelligence) is in the eye (perception) of the beholder!

So, what are the ‘minimum requirements’ of an entity for us to regard it as ‘behaving with intelligence’?

Perhaps we could start with these:  an intelligent entity ‘behaving with intelligence’ will

  • recognize a problem when it encounters one (whether or not it has incountered this, or similar, problem before)
  • break the problem down into sub-sections or individual tasks which are within its means to ‘tackle’ (solve)
  • examine its memory for any potential ways to solve each ‘bit’ which it may have previously learned
  • if it has not learned any potential solutions, it must be able to improvize or develop new ways of solving the problem
  • accurately evaluate if/when the problem was successfully solved

Sure, this is not an exhaustive list, but it is a workable ‘minimum requirement’ for an entity to be considered to ‘behave with intelligence’.

In other words, we do not know if an entity that can do this IS intelligent, but we can conclude that an entity that cannot do this ‘does not behave with intelligence’.  It may not be a true and accurate marker of what IS intelligent, but it does identify and separate out entities which definitely ARE NOT intelligent as they do not posses these qualities/behave in this manner.

I hope that thus far, I have not said anything controversial – that I have merely been re-stating in specific terms something that is part of the definition of the term ‘intelligence’/’behaving with intelligence’.

And I have previously made the general observation that we, humans, tend to have higher respect for entities that ‘behave with intelligence’ than for those that do not.  Again, I hope that this is not a controversial assertion and that you are with me – so far.

Now, please, apply the ‘test’ (as presented in point form above) to the behaviour of various political/social/cultural entities/institutions.

From Muslim Brotherhood, to the EDL.

From ‘universal health care’ to ‘independent scientific research’.

To anything else you’d like to evaluate.

Now, please, apply it to Multiculturalism….

Take your time:  consider it from both ends of the spectrum.

Presume that ‘Multiculturalism”s actual problems/goals are congruent with its stated problems/goals:  is ‘multiculturalism’ (or, rather, the societal forces applying it) ‘behaving with intelligence’?

Is it therefore behaving in a way that ought to earn the respect of humans?

Now presume that ‘Multiculturalism’ (again, the government/societal forces applying it) IS ‘behaving intelligently':  for the conditions above to be satisfied, what does the ‘problem’ which ‘Multiculturalism’ is trying to ‘solve’ BE – and what is considered to be the desired outcome (solution to the problem)?

Are THOSE the goals what we, as a society, want?

What do YOU conclude?

I have concluded that ‘Multiculturalism’ is either not ‘behaving intelligently’ and does not deserve our respect, or, if it IS ‘behaving intelligently’, it is an evil doctorine which we must fight every step of the way!!!

Now, please, ask yourself:   is it any wonder that people from other cultures have concluded that the ‘Multicultural West’ is not worthy of respect?

Aspeis need to know what their assignment actually is

Lately, I have neglected posting on the topic of Aspergers.  Still, judging by the relative traffic among my posts, there is a need for more information there:  both Aspies and educators are still looking for help.

Last December, I received the following comment:

I have an Aspie student, and when asked to produce 2 sentences about a topic in class, will just sit and think the entire period producing nothing… (I do believe that he is thinking about the topic). The topic has been given to student prior to class. Is this an unreasonable task? This is an 7th grade gifted autistic student.

I understand the perfectionism issue and that they may be unsure that it is good enough to put on paper, but in an educational setting I would like some suggestions to assist the regular Language Arts teacher. This is a graded assignment to be done in class.

Thanks in advance for any ideas you may have.

Deb Herr
Special Education Teacher

While I gave a quick reply at that time, this is a very important point which deserves a lot of attention.  So, I had attempted to write up a proper response.

It wasn’t right – so I edited t.

Then I fixed it up some.

Then t needed shortening down a bit.  So, I cut a bunch of stuff out.

Too much of the key ‘stuff’ was gone.  I started a re-write.  From scratch…

…and so on, and so on.

It is now October.  I have still not published the post – it is not ‘right’ yet!!!!

NO, I am NOT joking!

So, now, I will publish the draft I have, without re-reading it, with all the flaws, errors, sentence fragments and all – or I will NEVER publish this…

Here it goes:

Both my sons are in the gifted program.  One has gone through grade 7 several years ago, one is going to get there in not too distant a future – so, I am familiar with the level of development of a gifted Aspie of that age group.

Just to be sure, I asked my older son if he remembered being in that situation himself.  He did…and was in perfect agreement with me as to what thought-processes this student would be going through: trying to figure out what the assignment means!

Being in the gifted program means the student is smart.  By the time they get to grade 7, smart Aspies understand perfectly well that when a teacher asks for ‘any two sentences on a topic’, the absolutely last thing this means is any two sentences on a topic’!

Experience would have taught them that…by now.  And not in a nice way.

But, it would not have taught them what it is that the teacher/assignment does mean – or how to guess it….

So, I think it most likely that the student spent the time trying to figure out what the assignment actually was!  And, with so little information provided to the student, I really don’t see how anyone could figure it out!

Therefore, my answer is that yes, it is unreasonable an Aspie or an Autie gifted student, in grade 7, to complete an assignment of ‘writing 2 sentences on a given topic‘.

Reasons:

  • The assignment is non-specific.
  • The parameters are not defined.
  • The goals of the assignment are not known.
  • The expectations are unclear (or, in this case, clearly misrepresented).

BUT!!!

There IS a solution!

Aspies – and high-functioning Auties – are very good at meeting very specific goals.  I know that teachers are not used to approaching teaching this way, but, they would get WAY better results from this class of students if they were absolutely clear with them what the point of the assignment is, what the goal is, and what the evaluation criteria will be.

This worked for me – and my sons, as well as a few other kids I worked with:

First, we establish that in order to produce marks, teachers have to produce metrics:  marks which measure the student’s skill-set development in several areas.  This may seem like a game, but, because teachers have to work within such a large system, metrics were required.  And, these metrics are used to evaluate the student.

To an Aspie/Autie student, this can be an important revelation.  It is not an intuitive leap, to conclude this, because we usually believe what we are told – and from the earliest age, we are told that the point of school is to learn.  But, of course, it isn’t!  The point of school is to PROVE what we have learned… There is no place in school for ‘learning’ without proving (through earning marks) that/what one has learned.

Explaining that the point of doing assignments is to ‘earn points/marks’ can be liberating for an Aspie student.  After all, ‘getting on the high-score board’ is possible, even if one has not yet ‘defeated the boss’!

Once this groundwork has been laid, it is important to explain both the teacher’s goals for this assignment (what the teacher will be measuring for the needed metrics) and the student’s goals (what bits of what will earn points/marks).   This bit can be hard on teachers, because they have to explain both the explicit goals and the implied ones – most teachers do not go through this step explicitly themselves.

Yes – most assignments at the grade 7 level come with a ‘marking rubric’.  At least, in my area they do.  But these are so filled with vague notions and ‘weasel-words’ that they are worse than useless!  “The student demonstrated some understanding…. The student demonstrated good understanding…”  What the hell does THAT mean?

What is the difference between ‘little’ and ‘some’ and ‘good’ and ‘excellent’ in this context – and HOW is it measured?

Obviously, I can tell that ‘excellent’ will get a higher grade than ‘poor’ – but how do I know what demonstrates ‘excellent’ and what demonstrates ‘poor’ – or any of the other non-specific terms used – in this particular instance, to the satisfaction of this particular teacher?

If the teacher cannot stand there and provide a specific, accurate answer on how the grading will be done – how can the student be expected to guess what expectations to perform to?

This is so much easier for maths and sciences.  When a teacher assigns a problem, the student knows not just WHAT ‘the right answer is’ – she/he knows what form the answer is to take.

This is woefully not true of ‘soft’ subjects.  Not only do different teachers consider completely different ‘things’ to be ‘the right’ answer (try writing up interpretation of renaissance poetry for a ‘born-again’ teacher), the format itself is undefined….  Yet you are judged how your performance measures up to something the teacher cannot quantitatively define:  expectations!

It seems criminal that ‘educators’ are blind to this…

Israel, ‘Gaza flotilla’ and a few questions about the reporting….

Around midnight of May 31st, 2010, there was an ‘unpleasant’ confrontation between a ‘flotilla of boats’, sailing under the Turkish flag, and the Israeli military.  By now, most of us have been inundated with ‘information’ about what had happened, so I’ll delve right into what is bothering me.

This information comes from ‘respectable news sources’ – and, most people accept the words as true.  However, I like doing (both solving and creating) logic puzzles – you know, of the type of the famous ‘Einstein Puzzle‘: if I see two guys, Bob and Rob, and if Bob is wearing a blue shirt, and the two are wearing shirts of the same colour, what colour shirt is Rob wearing?

That type of a puzzle….

So, I could not help notice that some of the things constantly repeated over and over and over within the ‘news stories’ contained internal contradictions.  Not just inconsistencies, but downright contradictions!

Sort of like if they were reporting on the above (simplified) puzzle, and kept saying ‘Rob, the one wearing a red shirt, is taller than Bob…’

How am I supposed to figure out which bits are the facts of what happened and which bits are wrong – when the reporting has such glaring internal inconsistencies?!?!?

That does not, in any way-shape-or-form even get close to considering or commenting on the ‘correctness’ – or, demonstrable ‘incorrectness’, as in ‘contradictions to international laws’ – within the statements and claims in the articles.  There are bits in the reports which directly contradict other bits asserted in the same reports!

Well, most of the times – in the ‘mainstream media’ – so you have to go to the blogosphere to learn the facts….

Let me give you one example.

From Wikipedia, this is a diagram of how ‘territorial waters’, ‘international waters’ and so on are defined under ‘international law’ (I put ‘international law’ in quotes because that itself is also a nebulous matter, to say the least…plus neither Turkey, nor Israel are idiotic enough to have signed UN’s L.O.S.T. – but it is the convention):

File:Zonmar-en.svg

This seems relatively clear:  ‘international waters’ begin 200 miles (or more) from the shore.  That is rather unequivocal!

Right?

(If there are multiple countries whose claim ‘overlap’ inside this 200 mile limit, the ‘jurisdictional border’ is negotiated – usually giving each side half the amount of the overlap, leaving no ‘international waters’ between them.  This, for example, is the case between Canada and those 2 tiny little French islands…  Other countries may have ‘right of passage’ through these waters – but not unregulated!)

Next step:

The ‘news reports’ all seem to agree that the ‘incident’ happened 70 miles off-shore.  As in, well within the regulated ‘economic zone’, within which all ships may cross, but are obligated to submit to inspections by the ‘enforcing country’, which has the right to regulate these waters.

But, these same reports claim that the incident took place in ‘international waters’!

And – that because the ‘incident’ occurred in ‘international waters’, Israel had no right to board the vessels….and so is, in effect, guilty of piracy!

Apply logic here….

Which is it?  Did it happen in ‘international waters’ or did it happen 70 miles off-shore?

It cannot possibly be both!

Ah – the trouble one runs into when applying logic to ‘news reports from reputable sources’!

Are the Taliban ‘freedom fighters’?

Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘freedom fighter:

If ‘freedom fighter’ means ‘fighter FOR freedoms’ or ‘fighter OF freedoms’…

If the ‘freedom fighter’ is fighting so that everyone may exercise their unalienable rights equally, or fighting so that a select/elite group would be free to do impose their views on the everyone else…

You ‘get the picture’!

As for the Taliban: in which sense are they ‘freedom fighters’?

They forbid freedom of religion.

They throw acid in the faces of girls if they are not ‘subservient enough’ or want to learn to read and write.

They kill women for the crime of holding a job – or even leaving the house without male supervision.

They kill people for the sole purpose of robbing them.

Sounds to me like the Taliban are ‘fighters OF freedoms’!

Yet, for some reasons which are not quite clear – perhaps mis-applied attempt at objectivity, perhaps an expression of guild and self-loathing for having been born into one of the best, ‘safest’ human societies ever – keep suggesting that the Taliban are, in some sense, ‘freedom fighters’.

These people claim that just because the Taliban fight in a ‘different way’ than we would expect ‘proper armies’  to fight does not mean that they ought not be regarded on equal footing with our soldiers….

Aside from the offensiveness of this statement which reduces our soldiers to the level of terrorists and murderous thugs, there is an objective way to demonstrate that the ‘difference in fighting style’ is not just some ‘cultural thing’….  Because it is not!

This type of fighting – using small units which are indistinguishable from the population, then ‘malting into the crowd’ – has occurred in the past in just about every human society, in every continent, in every culture.

This is the easiest method of using the civilian population as ‘human shields’, because the other side (whether army – during war, or police forces if there is no war officialy declared) cannot defend itself without harming its own civilians into peril.  That is why this type or ‘fighting’ is universally reviled and opposed.

We don’t have to look further back than WWII:  consider the differences between the ‘partisans’ who fought against the Nazi’s in the different parts of the occupied lands.  In most Slavic countries, the partisans may have been secretly supplied by the civilian population, but they did not live among them.  To ‘join the partisans’, one had to leave the village and find the caves or temporary camps they set up in forests, away from populated areas.

Of course, they had spies and allies among the civilians, but the ‘active soldiers’ typically avoided the civilian areas so as not to endanger innocent people when the Nazis would come hunting them.  This was a conscious decision they made – at least, so I have been told by several veterans who were indeed partisans in WWII in ‘the East’.

It was a little different in France.  Yes, the French Resistance units were also supposed to stay away from the towns and villages.  But, the French resistance fighters were much more ready to hide among the civilians than the Eastern partisans.  This is why, I was told, partisans object to the term ‘partisan’ being extended to the French Resistance fighters…..

By hiding among the civilians to the degree they did, the French Resistance fighters were ‘not worthy’ of the term ‘partisan’.  So I have been told – by those who lived it and were very passionate on this subject.

This bitterness towards those who would fight in this reckless manner, who place their own safety above the safety of the civilians by using them as human shields (whether it was focused on the French Resistance or not) was quite palpable following WWII.  That is quite clear from reading the Geneva Convention!

In order to prevent, or, at least, minimize, this form of warfare, the drafters of the Geneva Convention  included very real measures.

It is precisely to ‘discourage’ this ‘Taliban-style’ form of warfare that was the goal of the Geneva Convention!

They specifically protect people who are not taking part in the hostilities (civilians, health workers and aid workers) and those who are no longer participating in the hostilities, such as wounded, sick and shipwrecked soldiers and prisoners of war.

To this end, if an active fighter is found to be hiding among the civilians (even his/her own family), under the original terms of the Geneva Conventions, such a person was specifically excluded from any protections under the convention!

In other words, the drafters of the Geneva Convention thought this behaviour to be such a high crime against humanity that they specifically excluded those who practice Taliban-style warfare from any and all protection!  In no uncertain terms, their message was that for people like that, no punishment is strong enough, no treatment is harsh enough.

Since then, there have been amendments to the Geneva Convention that extend humane treatment to  everyone – makes good sense, too – including all prisoners and detainees (even the Taliban-type fighters).

Just keep in mind:  there is a provision in the Geneva Convention that permits any member of a legitimate military, in uniform or wearing appropriate identification as such, who identifies an active combatant hiding among the civilian population to decide whether to detain the combatant – or whether to summarily execute him/her!  Right there, right then – the legitimate soldier has the right to execute a combatant hiding among the civilians.

Quite a power to give even the lowest-ranking soldier!

But, in the eyes of the people who wrote the Geneva Convention, it is just and proper:  not just as a punishment for this vile crime, but also as a deterrent.

After all – the aim of the convention clearly states that the prime purpose of it is to protect the civilians first.  And, it considers those who use civilians as human shields and endanger them by hiding among them to be the vilest, most despicable criminals who ought to be summarily executed.

Still think the Taliban can be labeled as ‘freedom fighters’?

What ‘Earth Day’ is about

April 22, 2010 is the 40th anniversary of the Earth Day!

And, while I think that just about everyone who lives on Earth would like it to be a nice, happy, comfortable little planet – have you paused to think what Earth Day is really about?

Oh, sure – we are being told that it is a reminder ‘not to pollute’ and ‘to be good to the Earth’ and not to forget ‘Mother Earth’….

But, things  have a way of being more than they seem.

No – this is not ‘yet another conspiracy theory’ – mostly because I think that even though conspiracies are ‘fun’, most people are simply not disciplined enough to carry them out….

What I mean is that every message has its ‘obvious’ meaning – the one we perceive easily.  In addition, it also has a deeper message:  sometimes intentional, at other times it is just ‘stuff’ that ‘piggie-backs’ on that message…the transmisssion of ideas the originators of the message ‘took for granted’ and which ‘snuck in’ without them (and/or their audience) even being aware of it.  Once these subtle and sub-conscious bits are part of the message, any message, they necessarily affect the subconscious attitudes of the people who hear and accept the message’s ‘obvious’ meaning.

And, in my never-humble-opinion, the deep, subconscious message behind Earth Day is this:

Anthropocentrism and theocentrism are mutually exclusive...

‘Anthropocentrism’ and ‘theocentrism’ are mutually exclusive…

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