Saturday, September 23, 2006

That happy, jolly time of year

It's Ramadan again, that marvelous month when Muslims around the world fast from dawn till dusk, eschew gossip and sarcasm, and refrain from anger and violence.

Well, two out of three ain't bad.

To start the month off, Noam Chomsky and Bin Laden have both been reported dead, by Hugo Chavez and the French, respectively. Let's hope the French have better intelligence than Venezuela. Chomsky is alive and still blowing hard. Chances are he'll soon meet with his admirer in Caracas to demonstrate that he remains among the quick. My old admiration for Chomsky's research and writing has not stood up to a second read-through, but I would never wish the man dead. Bin Laden is another matter. Let's hope he saw his last Ramadan last year.

The month of Ramadan begins when the new moon is visible. Apparently not anticipating that his cult would eventually span the globe from Michigan to Thailand, Mohammed did not see the problem that would arise from this. Since mindless, submissive unity is central to Islamic thinking, the possibility that the Dearborn Muslims might still be eating while Medina Muslims are already fasting is clearly cause for crisis. Mohammed's system also relies on the kind of weather more common in deserts than in places the rest of us chose to live (thank you, Sam Kinison). Muslims in Seattle or Brussels could probably make it through the whole lunar cycle without seeing the moon once. Then there's the fact that in a millennium and a half, Muslims haven't caught on that the lunar cycle makes a shitty basis for a calendar, since without constant correction the "months" will shift in place relative to the solar year. And the solar year is the one we need to think about, since it determines the meteorological seasons.

The smallest common multiple of the lunar cycle and the solar cycle is nineteen years, known as a Metonic cycle. Ancients like the Hebrews who wanted to stick to the lunar cycle solved the "drifting" month problem by adding seven extra months here and there in the nineteen-year cycle. This way, some years have twelve months and some thirteen, but at least you know that your holidays, planting and harvesting times, monsoons, etcetera will fall in roughly the same months each year. These extra months are known as intercalary months. With typical rejection of reason and reality, Mohammed wrote into the Quran a prohibition against intercalary months. I guess his astronomers were too fearful of his sword to point out that this obstinacy would condemn the ummah to an eternity of never knowing exactly what date it is, what date any given day in the past was, or what date a particular day in the future will be. Today there are numerous Islamic calendars since different "scholars" come up with different lengths for the months. Turkey, Indonesia, and a few other Muslim nations have settled on mathematically based lunar calendars, which solves the problem of the lengths of the months but not the problem of months drifting within the solar year. Muslims in America may soon follow suit, but they are encountering resistance from the primitivists who hold so much sway in the cult. These are the same geniuses of "Islamic jurisprudence" who still issue fatwas on the topic of istijmar, the glorious Muslim practice of wiping your ass with a rock, just because that's the way Mohammed did it.

Anyway, happy Ramadan, everyone. (Oops, I forgot. No sarcasm allowed.)


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