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Updated: 04/02/02

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Tuesday, 2 April, 2002

Several years ago, one of my friends was completing her PhD in Philosophy at Temple University. Her doctorate involved the history of Aristotle's mathematical studies, and much of her time was spent translating from the original Greek writings. When I asked her why she was doing that instead of using any of the translations that had already been done, she said that by doing so she would be influenced by the views of the translator, since the decision to use one word versus another can change the meaning of an idea or concept.

Today's NY Times has an article about some recent studies about the origins of the Koran, "offering radically new theories about the text's meaning and the rise of Islam." Scary stuff when this sort of thing can result in death threats and violence.

Christoph Luxenberg, a scholar of ancient Semitic languages in Germany, argues that the Koran has been misread and mistranslated for centuries. His work, based on the earliest copies of the Koran, maintains that parts of Islam's holy book are derived from pre-existing Christian Aramaic texts that were misinterpreted by later Islamic scholars who prepared the editions of the Koran commonly read today.

So, for example, the virgins who are supposedly awaiting good Islamic martyrs as their reward in paradise are in reality "white raisins" of crystal clarity rather than fair maidens.


Can you imagine? All these suicide bombers and hijackers show up in paradise expecting their own personal harems of 72 dark-eyed virgins and are met by The California Raisins!

"What the hell is this!?"
"No, no, Mr. Atta, these are WHITE raisins, see?? Very special - worth being a martyr for!"

No wonder there is such a taboo on interpretation of the Koran. Pretty hard to get these young men psyched up about strapping plastique around their chests so that they can listen to "Heard It Through The Grapevine" for all eternity.

I wasn't the only one who noticed the story yesterday about the French bestseller accusing the US Government of a cover-up in the destruction at the Pentagon on September 11th. Aussie blogger Bruce Hill has this to add after slicing and dicing the conspiracy theory:

"It only bolsters my argument in favour of bombing Paris as the final act in the war against terrorism. If we did, they'd probably surrender. Lord knows they've had enough practice..."

[Heh, heh, heh.]

The blogger world is riled up today over an article by Alex Beam that appeared in The Boston Globe. You can read the article as written, or here, as beautifully skewered by the ever-eloquent Vodkapundit:

Joining in the Alex Beam pile on would be, to coin a word, simples -- so of course I'm all over it. C'mon, kids -- this'll be fun!

Writes Alex:

Aimez-vous blog? Then you must enjoy Andrew Sullivan, the creator of andrewsullivan.com. In real life, Sullivan is a writer for The New Republic and The New York Times Magazine who pens occasionally cogent essays on being gay, British, and/or Catholic, three bases he has well covered. But as a daily ''Web logger,'' Andrew is movie critic, literary tastemaker - he even has a Middle East peace plan!

An opinion-maker who dares opine? To put this in language even a Globe writer can understand -- no freakin' way! Why, next thing you know, George Will will come up with some wacky way to save baseball.

Welcome to Blogistan, the Internet-based journalistic medium where no thought goes unpublished, no long-out-of-print book goes unhawked, and no fellow ''blogger,'' no matter how outre, goes unpraised. In a recent blogophilic outing in Fast Company magazine (old media = bad!), former Globe columnist John Ellis asked, ''Is there anything more tedious than the editorial page of The New York Times?'' Well, yes. How about a frequently updated Web log that randomly posts leader-board rankings from ongoing golf tournaments? That would be John's site, www.johnellis.blogspot.com. ''The golf stuff connects directly with about 35 people,'' Ellis says. ''But those 35 people really are into it.''

The public spirit-minded Beam, however, can't stand that sort of public-spiritedness. It might lead to, um, snide remarks. Or something.

At his site called the Daily Bleat (www.lileks.com), humor writer James Lileks spews forth about his lovely child, the leaking fridge, and late-night television (Rod Serling is ''overrated''), and even began a recent meditation on events in the Mideast with the words ''I don't know what to say today. I really don't.'' My point precisely.

For my five-sevenths of one reader who doesn't read Lileks, he's a writer who buries the lede. Deep. I mean, sometimes that lede is hidden like Hoffa -- except instead of being under some Jersey chemical plant, it's under 500 words of offbeat humor.

Had Beam bothered to actually read the column he was "researching," he would have discovered that Lileks, as always, knew exactly what to say that day. And being Old Media, Beam didn't provide you with a link so you could check for yourself. I did. Twice.

Bestirred by my uncharitable inquiry, Lileks demonstrates that he does have something to say. ''Oh, no. You're not going to write one of those clueless old-media `blogging phenomenon' stories, are you? My Bleats are just end-of-the-day remarks. That's all. Granted, I'm not writing about deathless issues such as the movie rights for the story of a Providence mayor'' - ouch! - ''but now and then a few notes on the war just slip in for the few dozen readers interested in the subject.'' Lileks also writes for the soon-to-be-extinct newspaper medium and signs off on his message with this comradely quote from Elvis Costello: ''I wish you luck with a capital F.'' Double ouch!

Like even the most primitive flatworm, Beam can experience pain. Useful info, that.

Andrew Sullivan piles on: ''I know how threatening this new media is to old newspapers. I don't blame you for wanting to swat us down. But we're definitely appealing to a new audience, providing something fresh. ''

It's about 1pm Eastern, the day after Beam talked to Andrew. I doubt Beam has seen much other than asses and elbows all day today -- now that's blogosphere pile-on.

The Web loggers' main shortcoming is their compunction to ''say'' something several times a day, consequences be damned. This is roughly equivalent to writing a daily newspaper column, which no one has done here since the late novelist George V. Higgins. It's hard: At a lunch graced with an unending series of kirs at Locke-Ober long ago, Higgins likened the daily writing grind to marriage with an 800-pound gorilla. His precise words were a bit salty for the newspaper, but perhaps you see the point.

An Old Media columnist's main shortcoming is to say nothing new at all. Not once. Not ever. Yawn.

Another cloying attribute of bloggers is their intense admiration for other bloggers. Many of their Web sites link to one another's, which serves to build collective audience. But clicking beyond the above-mentioned writers, or the likes of Virginia Postrel and Mickey Kaus (both too smart to write every day), lands you in the remote wilds of Lower Blogovia very quickly. Over the weekend, for instance, Postrel posted a link to Norwegian revolutionary (!) Bjorn Staerk 's bizarre recommitment to left-wing raving: ''This new blog is dedicated to the coming revolution, and the age of peace and equality it heralds.'' (More Staerk: ''Noam Chomsky is a brave man, and how he escapes imprisonment in that horrible police state he lives in is beyond me.'') It goes without saying that Staerk includes a link to Postrel's site, www.dynamist.com, in blogland's infinite echo chamber of self-regard.

[Kay here - I should point out that the "Norwegian revolutionary", Bjorn Staerk, created the now famous "People's Blog" especially for APRIL FOOL'S DAY! Beam didn't bother to figure that out, so the joke is REALLY on him now.]

Glenn already took care of this one, but that shouldn't stop me. Links make blogs. That's how we find what's new, hip, fun, cool, brutal, stupid, readable, whatever. I'm sure if Beam were covering an election, he'd be shocked, shocked to find little booths with curtains.

If you've read this far, you may have enough time on your hands to become a blogger yourself. It's not very expensive - check out www.blogger.com - and then you can become one of the select 500,000 commentators, like the bilingual Chaotica (''Men are like a fine wine. They all start out like grapes, and it's a woman's job to stomp on them and keep them in the dark until they mature into something you'd like to have dinner with'') or Rachael Carothers, who launched her Daily Cassandra site on March 3 with the fateful words ''I gave into my weakness and started a blog.''

As a writer, Beam has the enviable ability to make me feel eight years old again. "Are we there yet?"

Maybe you will even be mocked in a medium that people actually read.

Yes, we're there. I just wish I could say it was worth the trip.

OK, my work here is done. Time to try to get home, which may be difficult given all of the bloody pro-Palestinian demonstrators yelling and picketing in front of our office. Why? Because The Prez is coming to Philly for a dinner at The Four Seasons Hotel . . . which is right next door to my office. Makes me feel really warm and fuzzy, ya know?

[Laptop, check. Umbrella, check. Kevlar jacket, check.]

~ ~ ~

Quote du jour:

"The original is unfaithful to the translation."

Jorge Luis Borges (1899 - 1986)
Argentine poet, short-story writer

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