This 'n' That

Thursday, April 28, 2005

The New York Times > Sports > Pro Football > Uniform Steroid Rule Is Proposed in House

Last weekend, the San Diego Chargers drafted defensive tackle Luis Castillo in the first round after Castillo admitted testing positive for a banned substance at the league's scouting combine in February.

Dr. Linn Goldberg, a professor of medicine at the Oregon Health & Science University who testified, said that Castillo's being drafted in the first round was not good for the N.F.L.

"This could send a message to other college athletes that you can essentially cheat on the entrance exam to improve your draft position," Goldberg said.

The New York Times > Sports > Pro Football > Uniform Steroid Rule Is Proposed in House

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Guardian Unlimited Books | Review | Friends and lovers

An enticing review of Christopher-Sawyer Laucanno's biography of E.E. Cummings. Dramatic, revealing, and tragic are the three words that come to mind:

"If a great night on the town for Cummings consisted of getting sloshed in one of the dives on Boston's Washington Street, then navigating Scollay Square with its prostitutes, then maybe taking in the raunchy burlesque show at the Old Howard; for Thayer a fabulous evening was to have his chauffeur drive him and select company to the Ritz, to the opera, to a recital at Symphony Hall, or perhaps to give a dress party in his elegant lodgings."

And this is just the beginning...

Guardian Unlimited Books Review Friends and lovers

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Italians May Play Big Role in Picking Pope - EarthLink - International News

"Going into this vote, many experts on the Vatican think Milan Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi is one of five top candidates. Several other Italians, including cardinals from Venice, Genoa, Turin and Florence, have also made the buzz."

Italians May Play Big Role in Picking Pope - EarthLink - International News

The New York Times > AP > International > Milan Papal Candidate Known for Timing

"Throughout his steadily rising church career, Milan Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi has had a knack of being in the right place at the right time.
The outcome of the secret conclave of cardinals to elect the next pope will tell if that pattern still holds for Tettamanzi, the favorite of many of those who think the papacy will return to the Italians after the 26-year tenure of a Polish pope broke their 455-year hold on the papacy."

The New York Times > AP > International > Milan Papal Candidate Known for Timing

Wednesday, April 06, 2005


It all began on a flight from Atlanta to Los Angeles one Friday in early September last year. I'd just flown into Atlanta from Milan, where I had a joyous holiday experience. As I found my way to an aisle seat on the plane, I noticed a man already seated next to the window. At first glance, I took him to be African American. He had a dark complexion, a moustache; he was bald in he front of his small head, and he was about 5'5" tall. I say African American, because he looked very much like an African American drill sergeant I once had in the army. I guessed this man to be in his mid to late forties.

He sat quietly, and appeared to be deeply involved in a book he was reading. Though he did acknowledge me, offering his hand: "How you doin'?" "Fine, thanks," I replied. And then he promptly returned his eyes to his book. The flight was to be a long four hours at 34,000 feet. I settled in my seat, tilted my head back and prepared to sleep all the way into Los Angeles.

The plane had been in the air for less than thirty minutes, when flight attendants began to pass out dinner menus. I was handed just one, which I offered to share with the gentleman next to me after I'd seen what it would cost for pasta with chicken, and then saw how small the portions were as a flight attendant pushed her serving cart past me. The gentleman took a quick glance, and passed the menu back to me. I've forgotten to mention another important quality that I observed about the gentleman, as I took my seat next to him. The unmistakable odor of alcohol. There was no doubt in my mind or nostrils that it came from him. So what. He'd imbibed a couple of drinks at an airport bar before he boarded the plane. Perhaps to calm his nerves. The scent did bother me somewhat, since it was ever so present in the recycled air of the interior of the plane.

I don't recall how or why, but we began to converse. I recollect that it had to do with the dinner menu. I also discovered that he was not African American. His accent was Pakistani. And quite frankly, after I'd heard him speak, I didn't want to talk with him anymore. Shame on me, for I had stereotyped him as a radical Muslim possibly associated with terrorist activities. The recent atrocities visited upon innocent women and children in Russia was still fresh in the news and in my mind. Because of that, mostly, I felt nothing but animosity for him and his religious faith.

As it turned out, my assumptions about his country of origin and religious faith were correct. Because he soon began to speak about the virtues of Islam. I quickly became a circumspect listener, reluctant to discuss or hear about the Islamic faith on an airplane 34,000 feet in the air of all places. I don't think I have to go into detail as to why. But my in flight companion was insistent and continually raised his voice to make his point. "Islam has respect for other faiths, including Jesus Christ..." I asked about the book he'd been reading, an attempt to distract him. It was AN AMERICAN SOLDIER, by Tommy Franks. "Did you know that he was adopted?" "Tommy Franks? No, I didn't know," I responded. He then began to criticize how American Christian parents inform their children of a loved one's passing, such as a grandmother. "Why do they always say, 'Grandmother is in heaven making pies?' "I don't know," I answered. "But I don't think it causes any harm in any way."

"Yes, it is," he insisted. "The children, when they grow up, never stop believing that story." Now the gentleman was being ridiculous, I thought. Not wanting to argue, I chuckled and replied: "I really don't think so. Children are told about Santa Claus, but they don't grow up believing in him." My Pakistani friend stubbornly refused to believe his theory was wrong. And I began to believe that either he was sadly naive or that he was trying to make some point that had yet come to light. So I asked. "What do you tell your children?" He'd already told me that he was married with three children. "I tell them to go do their homework." I truly didn't know what he meant by that answer, nor did I care. All I wanted from him was silence.

For sometime, as he talked, my friend was careful not to utter the words "Islam", "Muslim", or thank goodness,"Jihad". Although, later he did invoke "Allah". My greatest fear was that he'd be overheard by another passenger or flight attendant who would mistake us both for Muslim fanatics and report us to law enforcement authorities. As a result, he and I would be handcuffed and led off the plane by FBI agents upon our arrival in Los Angeles. A literal nightmare was all I could foresee for myself. I cared less for what could happen to him. In these paranoid times, he was asking for it. Still, the more impassioned he became, the louder he spoke.

I decided to throw him a curve. "I'm a non-believer." Because he couldn't figure out what religious faith I practiced (I purposely would not tell him), he verbally sorted through Buddhism and Hinduism, with no reaction or response from me. I was exhausted. Ten hours in flight from Milan to Atlanta. And now four hours away from Los Angeles. All I wanted to do was close my eyes and rest. But undaunted by what he perceived as my atheism, he ranted on about the benefits of being a devoted Muslim. None of which I remember. Though, I couldn't resist sniffing the air to see if the scent of alcohol still lingered. It did; and I thought I saw him flinch. His voice droned on and on. I heard the sound of it, but I refused to listen. Out of desperation, I finally said: "At the moment, Islam happens to be my least favorite religion. I'm sure you know why."

I was referring to the tragic event that had just occurred in the Russian school house, and he knew it. It made him hesitate. Good, I thought. I'd succeeded in telling him to shut up. "We believe in treating all people according to character, not race, skin color, or religon." I was wrong. But I had insulted him and was glad for it. "One need not have religious faith to do that," I quipped.

A flight attendant approached with a tray of coffee and tea. My flight companion accepted a cup of coffee. Caffeine, I sighed. It was all he needed to energize and keep himself going. Up until then, I'd been hoping the alcohol would take over and bring him down, force him to sleep. If it was at all possible, he became even more fervid. Had I ever read the Koran? No. Those of us who fail to repent past sins shall face a hell full of pain and suffering far beyond what we could ever experience on earth. He said this in response to my comment that heaven and hell exist here on earth. And then there was something from him about the nonexistence of miracles, as written in the Bible. That Jesus Christ ever laid a healing hand on anyone is a total myth. There was man and science, and the application of medical research. What some read in the Bible about so-called medical miracles are actually accounts of medical cures that were a direct result of medical practices and technology available at the time. He was a physician whose specialty was diseases of the brain. I reckoned he brought up his profession to add credence to his debunking of Biblical miracles.

The gentleman told me that he'd lived in Dothan, Alabama for over twenty years. It had not been easy for him or his family. I believed him and empathized with his struggle to assimilate. Nonetheless, it seemed that my flying companion had spent the last couple of decades observing our American way of life, particularly our various faiths and religions. Yet, he had more critique to offer on certain aspects of Buddhism and Hinduism than Christianity. It is likely due to the fact that Pakistan is populated with more people who practice the two religions, in addition to Islam, than Christianity. I thought this, but didn't dare express it aloud for fear of stimulating more of the one way discussion I had already endured for the past three hours. I had become numb with exhaustion and boredom.

He must have sensed he was losing me altogether, because he began to pat me on my arm to add emphasis to whatever he had to say about the virtues of Islam. Time had begun to become my ally. In less than an hour, we would be on the ground at LAX. So I tried to distract him with a brief geography lesson about Los Angeles, as I plotted in my mind how I would escape him once we were off the plane. He didn't care to hear it. He'd just be in the city for the weekend to attend his medical conference. Thereafter, he'd be on his way back to his family in Alabama.

The plane landed, taxied to the terminal and stopped. I unbuckled my seat belt and immediately got involved in the push and shove to leave the plane. I glanced back at him. He was still in his seat. I wished him luck and said goodbye. Somehow, he managed to get in behind me, still babbling away. Once we were in the terminal I walked briskly toward the baggage claim area. He pursued, grabbed me by the hand. "What's your name?" It was the last thing I wanted to tell him. I had avoided giving away my identity during the long flight. And I didn't care to know who he was, either. But he had me in his grip, and I didn't think he'd let go of my hand until I answered him. I did. Reluctantly, as I'm certain he could tell. And then he told me his, which I forgot the second we parted company.

Fortunately for me, he had to remain in the waiting area until the arrival of a friend who was flying in from Texas. I began to feel a bit guilty for looking at him with slight disdain. Suddenly, my contempt for the small, dark man turned to sympathy. It was before he'd said: "I don't normally talk like this. I'm usually very quiet. What happened to me, I don't know." I smiled and nodded. But I understood why he'd acted the way he had. It was his reaction to all that was happening in Iraq, what had just happened in Russia, and other terrorist activity in support of an Islamic Jihad. (Though, I wouldn't discount the possible influence of the alcohol.) He was determined to express his right to exist as a Muslim in an atmosphere of hostility toward his religion and others who practice it. I was just the wrong person at the wrong time, at the wrong place---34,000 feet in the air on an airplane.