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Saving Civilization from Al-Qaeda (and the Weather)

Saving Civilization from Al-Qaeda (and the Weather)

You may have read the article in the New Republic last month about how 300,000 ancient books and manuscripts in the libraries of Timbuktu were evacuated in secret to protect them from Ansar Dine, an Al Qaeda cell. The manuscripts not only survived the burning of the Timbuktu library, but were smuggled in footlockers all the way to Bamako, the capital of Mali, where they are currently being hidden away by volunteers until they can be returned.

The problem is, Bamako is in the south and the climate is much wetter and thus more destructive to the manuscripts. As I write this, thousands of unique, priceless artifacts chronicling history, philosophy, science, literature, law and religion from the peak of medieval Islamic and North African civilization are slowly being eaten away by mildew.

I have teamed up with T160K, Timbuktu Libraries in Exile, to help drive attention and funding toward the preservation of these manuscripts, and by proxy, the preservation of civilization itself. There is nothing more offensive than religious zealots imposing their backwards ideologies on free thinking people. At T160K, we seek to keep these manuscripts safe from the elements while they wait out the Islamist threat in Mali.

300,000 unique books and manuscripts have been there 800 years. They should be around 800 years from now.

There are several things you can do to help, but right now we need to fund the Indiegogo campaign.

Fund the Indiegogo CampaignFind Out More

May 21, 2013Comments are DisabledRead More
A Few Words About Pussy Riot

A Few Words About Pussy Riot

I’ve never heard their music.  It doesn’t matter.

There is nothing more odious, nothing creepier, nothing more outrageous than the jailing of people whose only crime were in thought, writing and expression.  It is the cornerstone of a free society–which Russia is clearly not–that all people have the right to express their views, and that right, contrary to some so-called anti-“hate speech” activists, is exactly the right to express an unpopular view.  As Rosa Luxemburg once said, “Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently.”

This was a trial that took place as live streaming was barred from the courtroom and the defendants faced a 1% chance of acquittal against a transparently political charge of “hooliganism” against the regime.  Putin’s Russia is not unlike the Russia of his KGB youth when he could bully opposition into submission with threats of violence and imprisonment.  It is clear to anyone paying attention that Putin is a thug, a criminal, a fascist, a liar, and a thief.  The mere fact that he continues to strangle Russia with his barbaric klepto-theocracy is a testament to the failure of the world to end such shenanigans once and for all, and of freedom to assert itself in the face of tyranny.

What’s even more outrageous about the harsh sentence of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred” is the pretext for their condemnation, the so-called hatred of that entrenched, easily offended and all too powerful Russian Orthodox Church.  Clearly the “blasphemy” of Pussy Riot is the true crime here, and why not?  History has shown us that any time a church has any power in society it uses its power to imprison the conscience of others, with “blasphemy” the catch-all crime that rolls political and religious opposition into one offense.  How scary for the Russians that their leadership is under the so-called moral authority of a fascist dictatorship that uses its monopoly on the truth to bully free thinking opponents?

And how outrageous that 20 years after the fall of communism, the same creeping statism continues to infect and destroy individual liberty in Russia, to the point where not a peep of support for Pussy Riot has been heard from their fellow musicians whose own survival depends on keeping quiet and complacent.  Well, they just lost their rights today, too.

Amnesty International considers Pussy Riot prisoners of conscience, and they are correct.  It doesn’t matter what sort of “hatred” they preach (even if it is a justified hatred against a corrupt theocracy)…if a band is being put in jail because of what they sing about, the world has suffered a devastating blow to freedom.

August 17, 2012Comments are DisabledRead More
Michael Jackson in Budapest

Michael Jackson in Budapest

I recently met up with an old friend in Budapest and as we were walking near the city center, he asked me, quite randomly, “have you seen the Michael Jackson shrine?”  I was intrigued, and it just so happened that it was less than a block away, so we went there, and sure enough, we found a Michael Jackson shrine.  In Budapest.  See, it’s right there on the right.

Now, first I have to describe this shrine, because it’s no ordinary shrine.  It’s at the corner of a delightful little tér across the street from what I later find out is a hotel.  And of course, this is not a shrine at all, it’s a tree, an ordinary tree about a hug’s wide, with an assortment of Michael Jackson’s pictures, tributes, handwritten notes and poetry affixed to the trunk, and candles and flowers placed by the base.

Of course, when one finds a Michael Jackson shrine in Budapest, it’s hard not to ask some fairly basic questions.  What’s up with Michael Jackson in Hungary?  Why is there a shrine to him.  Why is there a shrine to him here?  And why is the shrine to him seemingly spontaneous, and off of pretty much every single map and not found in any book.  In fact, it took me quite a bit of hunting in Google to find out what the deal is here.

You see, the building I later found out was a hotel is the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus, which has an interesting tidbit about this tree on their Facebook page.

Hundreds of celebrities stayed at the Kempinski Hotel Corvinus Budapest in the past 19 years.

Among them the late Michael Jackson. The hotel hosted the king of pop three times, in the same presidential suite each time. In 1994, on his first visit, he was shooting a short feature on Heroes’ Square. In 1996, he visited twice: after a brief stay to examine the premises of his upcoming concert here, he gave a spectacular performance in the People’s Stadium on September 11. That was the second stop of his History World Tour, in Budapest.

Mr. Jackson appreciated being loved. He would often stand by his window, looking out, waiving at and sending messages to his fans. They camped outside the Kempinski Corvinus day and night, chanting his name.

Following his death, his fans named the tree, where they spent so much time trying to catch a glimpse of their idol, Michael Jackson Memorial Tree.

Ah!  So there we have it.  A sweet story about this little shrine.  Apparently Michael Jackson is huge in Hungary, with a yearly flash mob dedicated just to him.

But in the 3 hours between discovering the tree and looking up more about it, I was very intrigued about the possibilities here.  I imagined perhaps, in the 80’s when Jackson was getting huge, that his music and stage presence and celebrity were well known in Hungary, still under oppression behind the Iron Curtain.  I imagined that people must have listened and watched Michael Jackson in secret, blown away by his artistry and command of dance, watching the crowds cheering him on in distant lands with technologies and civilization that people in Hungary must have found a wonder to behold.  I imagined that Michael Jackson, someone who expressed freedom and happiness in his music, resonated deeply in the Hungarian spirit, in the spirit of a people who themselves tried to throw off the shackles of communism in 1956 only to have their rebellion ruthlessly crushed.  I imagined that in the 90’s, when people were free, and Michael Jackson came to Hungary for the first time, people waited on line for days to get a chance to see a glimpse of their idol.  People idled for hours outside his hotel waiting for him to come out.  People paid money they didn’t have to go to his concerts.  And of course, I imagined how sad the people of Budapest were for their idol when he died, and how someone maybe saw a tree in his favorite park and put his Michael Jackson portrait there as a tribute.  And more and more people joined in, expressing their love for this legend who made them dream of freedom in darker days.

It was a nice thought…and the truth was less cathartic.  But I think maybe even a little of what I thought might have been true, and that gave me hope.

June 9, 2012Comments are DisabledRead More