Not Exactly Rocket Science (I'll have to update my favorites list soon, and this site's going on) reports a study of support for suicide attacks among Palestinians and Jews, and finds that support does not correlate strongly with "religious devotion" per se, but does correlate somewhat with "frequent attendance at religious services." (The author suggests that it is the collective "us against them" mentality, reinforced by communal devotions, rather than the religion itself that contributes the most.)
Some years ago, Robert Pape came out with Dying to Win, arguing that the presence of foreigners on home territory was the stronger motive ("The taproot of suicide terrorism is nationalism, not religion.") I didn't agree after I read chapter 2 of this CTC study, because while most AQIZ members were native Iraqis, most of their suicide bombers appeared to be non-Iraqis motivated by religion. Anyway, here is another piece of the puzzle.
I believe this is some sort of joke.
The Attorney General thinks you all are cowards.
The Russians sent the money. But Gates may up the ante.
Bernie Madoff isn't the only one soaking the greedy.
Everything is bigger in Texas.
The proverbial Swiss bank account may be over.
And the world's your oyster. This is about the best cultural experience I've had here so far - traditional Thai puppetry at the Joe Louis Theatre.
Interesting name - indirectly related to my fellow Alabamian. The man who was responsible for the revival of traditional Thai puppetry was born Sut Sakorn, but he was a sickly child. By ancient Thai custom, you can protect a child from illness and misfortune by having him ceremonially "adopted" by some admired personage - a monk, a friendly spirit, even a Buddha statue (I am indebted to Thai Ways by Denis Segaller - an experienced expat - for the snippets I've learned about traditional Thai culture). The family chose a monk, and the monk renamed the child "Lhiew." When the boy was a teenager in the 1930's, he got the nickname "Joe Louis," and there you have it.
Anyway, the show starts with the National Anthem (as all theatrical performances here do - sometimes they use the Royal Anthem instead), and the performers take a few minutes to ritually thank their teachers - then it begins.
Thai puppetry is gloriously inefficient. The puppeteers are darkly dressed and out there on the stage, manipulating the puppets. There are generally three dancers per puppet (always of the same sex as the character - which in some cases is very helpful to me, in telling the characters apart), and the manipulations follow classical dance moves for expressing emotions. The puppeteers are themselves skilled dancers, and while they use their arms to manipulate the puppet, all three are moving their heads and legs in exactly the same way as the puppet is. There's also a traditional orchestra (most distinctive - a sort of wooden xylophone) and a few singers who sing or chant narrative and dialogue.
The performance isn't 100% traditional - they use modern lighting, dry ice, one moment of projection onto the back screen, and a couple of shadow puppets partway through. And I say they are right - I don't think ancient arts were designed with "purity" in mind, but rather to tell magnificent tales in a compelling way with the tools they had available, and if new tools are available now, why not use them? And magnificent tales they are! The preferred subject is the Ramakien, which is simply a Thai translation of the Ramayana.
(Aside: Indian mythology is to Thailand as Greek mythology was to later Rome, or post-Renaissance Europe - the Ramakien, in particular, is taught to all schoolchildren from an early age, and two versions were composed by kings of the current dynasty, all of whom bear the throne-name "Rama." Thai religion is apparently eclectic; practically everyone is Buddhist, but they see no contradiction in addressing prayers to Hindu gods, friendly spirits - former humans or spirits associated with a specific place - or even national heroes; which answers my earlier question about the shrine to King Naresuan.)
The story we heard was not from the Ramakien, but was the Birth of Ganesha (Ganesha is an elephant-headed god I sometimes see in shrines here - and his head appears on the Thai airborne badge; according to this, they pray to him before jumps; according to an informant of mine, the Thai airborne school is near a mountain sacred to him). And here is the tale as our program summarized it (with comments by me):
Isuan is in deep mourning for the loss of his consort, Satee. He becomes a recluse and an ascetic. The demon, Taraka, sees Isuan incapacitated by grief and wickedly plans to dislodge him as master of the universe. He asks Brahma to make him invincible and, seeing that Isuan has become an ascetic, concedes that the only person who would have the power to kill him would be Isuan’s son. Brahma grants him is wish.I'm not really clear why he would do that, but in the Ramakien, Isuan himself agrees to have the demon king's city repaired, in part to maintain the balance of power between Rama and the demon king, so the higher gods seem to have at least some neutrality.
This shot is shown by a film projection behind the stage, a striking contrast to the rest of the show; the subsequent love scene is by shadow puppets.
Upon obtaining his powers, he invades heaven with an army of demons. Taraka takes on Indra, but the gods are unsuccessful in their defence of heaven. Indra flees the battle and goes to Brahma to tell him what has happened. Brahma commands Karmasut, the god of love, to shoot his arrow at Isuan to make him fall in love with Uma, his late consort’s reincarnation, so that he will have a child with her who will kill Taraka.
The scene changes. Isuan, who has denied himself the pleasures of this world, is seated on a rock. Uma approaches and offers him a garland. Karmasut, the god of love, fires his arrow (in fact, flowers). Isuan and Uma's eyes meet and they instantly fall in love.
For this part, the lights go dim, and the five-headed spear flies across the stage and severs Kumarn's head - I believe one of the three dancers simply carries it across at a run.
The scene changes. Isuan has gone on a retreat. Uma is fast asleep. Seated next to her is Vichaya, her lady-in-waiting. Loud noises are heard. Uma awakes and asks Vichaya what is the cause of the noises. Vichaya says the noises are caused by the invasion of heaven by demons led by Taraka. She advises Uma to have her door guarded. Uma withdraws into her boudoir and, from the perspiration of her body, she creates a child whilst being blessed with water from Kongka, the goddess of the waters. The resulting child – a large child – is Kumarn. Uma then tells Kumarn to guard the palace door.
The scene changes. Isuan, returning from his retreat, arrives at the palace door with Visukam. They are prevented from entering the palace by Kumarn. Isuan is angry. He orders Visukam to kill Kumarn. However, Visukam is defeated so Isuan throws his trident at Kumarn and severs his head.
At that moment, Uma arrives and is horrified. She weeps abjectly. When Isuan asks, she tells him that the person whose head he has just severed is their son. Isuan is now horrified, too. He orders Visukam to go in a westerly direction to find the boy’s head. Visukam leaves.According to Segaller, West and the setting sun are traditionally associated with death (he reports a similar version of the legend, in which the head must be taken from the first animal found asleep with its head facing west).
During the fight, the demon transforms - the puppet is replaced by a live, human-sized dancer, in the appropriate mask, so the puppet has to fight it out with the larger opponent.
The scene changes. Visukam hands Isuan the severed head of an elephant, the only head he was able to find. By magic, Isuan moves the head and connects it with Kumarn’s body. Kumarn comes back to life. Isuan names him Ganesha. Indra tells Isuan to send Ganesha to destroy the demons who are invading heaven. Indra and Ganesha leave.
The scene changes. Battle between the gods and the demons. First Indra then Ganesha arrive and join the fight. When the demons are vanquished, the senior demon Taraka appears. Taraka and Ganesha engage in a war of words during which Taraka tries to find out who Ganesha is. When Ganesha tells him he is the son of Isuan and Uma, he does not believe him: after all, Isuan had become an ascetic and would therefore not have a child! Taraka and Ganesha fight.
If you're ever in Bangkok and you love such tales, as I do, I highly recommend an evening at this theater.
Ganesha orders Buangbat – a giant serpent – to coil itself around Taraka and beats him to death with his club.
The final scene is of Ganesha seated on the great serpent and all gather around him to pay homage. Ganesha is venerated as the god of success and the patron of learning.
All right, you've read the Phaedo - Socrates was halfway to Buddhism on his deathbed (philosophy as a means of "getting off the earth" - ghosts were perhaps men who were too attached to this existence) - so you've been wondering, why didn't the Buddhists take Greece by storm?
A few weeks ago, one of my relatives accidentally offended a customer. She showed she understood his order by flashing the "OK" sign. Only this customer was just off the boat from Greece, and in his native country, that sign means "You are an a*****e." The symbolism is straightforwardly geometrical, as befits the people of Euclid.
Well, when Mrs. W. and I visited the ancient Thai capital at Ayutthaya, we found a museum with many Buddha images, displaying the various appropriate mudras, including the one for "preaching." And, well, you've guessed already: