Lovely church in So. Africa

UK firm steyn studio has completed the design of a chapel in south africa’s western cape province. set within a vineyard, the building’s sculptural form mirrors the outline of the surrounding mountain ranges, while simultaneously referencing the region’s distinctive cape dutch architecture. noticeably designed without a traditional spire, the roof canopy has been constructed from a slim, concrete cast shell.

all images courtesy of steyn studio



designed by south african-born coetzee steyn of steyn studio, the undulating roof of ‘bosjes chapel’ rises and falls dramatically. expanses of glazing, formed where each wave of the canopy rises to a peak, are adjoined by symbolic crosses. elevated on a plinth, the crisp white form is bordered by a reflective pond positioned to emphasize its apparent weightlessness. the building is also flanked by a lush vineyard and pomegranate orchard.

the building’s sculptural form mirrors the outline of the surrounding mountain ranges



internally, a large, open assembly space has been formed within a simple rectangular plan. the whitewashed ceiling casts an array of shadows throughout the day, while polished terazzo floors help reflect light. a neutral material palette not only allows parishioners to focus on prayer, but also enables the framed views of the surrounding landscape to take prominence.

set within a vineyard,  the chapel is noticeably designed without a traditional spire



in order to maintain the purity of the scheme’s structural form, the architects chose to hide elements of the building’s functional program discretely within the plinth, or even inside the outer corners of the adjacent garden. designed to be a welcoming and inviting structure, the chapel extends outwards into the valley, embracing its natural setting.

expanses of glazing are adjoined by symbolic crosses

a large, open assembly space has been formed within a simple rectangular plan

the whitewashed ceiling casts an array of shadows throughout the day

polished terazzo floors help reflect light

a neutral material palette enables the views of the surrounding landscape to take prominence

See the rest here.

Lou Alcindor…Muslim apologist Karem Jabbar

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Two Books About Muslim Identity


    By Omar Saif Ghobash
    244 pp. Picador. $22.
    A Journey From Religion to Reason
    By Ali A. Rizvi
    247 pp. St. Martin’s Press. $26.99.

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson’s friend Senator Richard Henry Lee expressed both of their opinions when he asserted in Congress, referring to Muslims and Hindus, that “true freedom embraces the Mahometan and the Gentoo as well as the Christian religion.” In 1777, the Muslim kingdom of Morocco became the first country in the world to formally accept the United States as a sovereign nation.

In 1786, when the United States needed protection from North African pirates who were stealing ships and enslaving crews, it signed the Treaty of Tripoli, which stated that “the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquillity of Musselmen.” In 1785, George Washington declared that he would welcome Muslim workers at Mount Vernon. In 1786, Jefferson triumphed in his Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia, by persuading the Legislature to overwhelmingly reject attempts to include Jesus Christ as the religious authority in the bill. Jefferson later declared that this was one of his three greatest accomplishments.

Clearly, some of our founding fathers were very comfortable extending religious freedom to include Islam. They should have been. Islam didn’t just show up in America one day like an excited tourist. America imported it when we brought slaves over from Africa, an estimated 20 percent of whom were Muslim. This is not to suggest our colonial founders urged Islam’s spread. No one who follows a particular religion wants the competition to flourish. (this goes 2 ways Kareem.)

Tolerance is not the same as encouragement. Still, there was an inclusive spirit afoot in this bold, young country that would, in principle, make a Muslim feel safe and welcomed. It’s safe to say America’s relationship with Islam has been headed downhill ever since.

Two new books about being Muslim in today’s volatile world — Omar Saif Ghobash’s “Letters to a Young Muslim” and Ali A. Rizvi’s “The Atheist Muslim: A Journey From Religion to Reason” — may help us return to those glory days when Americans weren’t so frightened and could see the world as more than just Us Versus Them. It’s an especially important task since our recent presidential election has justifiably left Muslim Americans feeling nervous, not just for their religious freedom, but for their physical safety. Hate speech and hate crimes against Muslim Americans have increased sharply. In early December, over 300 prominent Muslim American leaders sent an open letter to President-elect Trump asking him to reject some of his picks to join his administration because they have “a well-documented history of outright bigotry directed at Muslims or advocating that Muslims should not have the same rights as their fellow Americans.”

Ghobash’s “Letters to a Young Muslim” follows the literary tradition of a family elder passing down insights to a younger generation, specifically in this case, his two teenage sons, as well as other young Muslim women and men. Ta-Nehisi Coates used the same approach in his magnificent 2015 book “Between the World and Me,” which explores the multifaceted experience of being black in America. Coates’s work in turn took inspiration from “My Dungeon Shook: Letter to My Nephew on the One Hundredth Anniversary of Emancipation,” an essay by James Baldwin in his “The Fire Next Time.” A child who grows up a member of a disparaged group, one despised with fierce intensity, will eventually ask, “Why do they hate us so?” The literary device of answering that question directly both adds a dimension of heartfelt sincerity to the writing and shames those who have caused the question to be asked in the first place.

Ghobash is especially qualified to take on this task. Educated at Oxford University and the University of London, he is the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Russia. He also has a passion for the cultural power of literature, as demonstrated by his involvement with several literary awards, including the prestigious Man Booker Prize. That intelligence and focus illuminate his words. The compassion and humility his faith gives him is an inspiration to readers whether they are young followers of Islam looking for answers or curious non-Muslim readers looking to better understand the religion.

Ghobash is not an apologist for Islam because there is no need. He argues that reason and religion can coexist because we are meant to use our intelligence to reject manipulative and myopic interpretations of the scriptures. In essence, he is suggesting a compromise between blind faith and nibbling on the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. There are certain heavenly ordained teachings, but followers must be ever-vigilant that these not be perverted by people with personal or political ambitions. He writes: “I want my sons’ generation of Muslims to realize that they have the right to think and decide what is right and what is wrong, what is Islamic and what is peripheral to the faith. It is their burden to bear whatever decision they make.”

The most difficult subject for non-Muslims to understand is how peaceful Muslims can exist simultaneously with Muslim terrorists. This is the same problem Catholics, Protestants and Jews have had to grapple with throughout the centuries as adherents of each of those religions used violence to further some aim. Ghobash explains the differences among Muslims by describing Islam as a pyramid: “The fundamentalist, reductive, ‘authentic’ Muslims are at the top with the loudest voices and the clearest plan. So how is this going to affect you? Well, you need to begin thinking about how people use power in general and what they are using it for. It may seem a little early to have to think about these things, but there is a lot of power and influence at stake. And power tempts.” He warns the reader not to underestimate the influence of the small minority of extremists on the 70 percent of Muslims who are illiterate and the 100 million Arabs between the ages of 15 and 29, 28 percent of whom are unemployed.

In the end, Ghobash encourages the reader to accept a modern, enlightened path that embraces diversity, not just within Islam but among all religions: “If you begin to accept the individual diversity of your fellow Muslims, you are likely to do the same for those of other faiths as well.” It is this sort of wisdom that creates hope for the world in which people are smart enough to work together toward a common good rather than claw at one another while slowly sinking in quicksand.

The oncologic pathologist Ali A. Rizvi is in the unenviable position of being in the two religious groups that are, according to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, ranked lowest by Americans: atheists and Muslims. His book, “The Atheist Muslim: A Journey From Religion to Reason,” is just what the title promises: a close look at Rizvi’s journey from his Muslim upbringing to his rejection of Islam as well as all religion. The arguments presented are thoughtful, articulate, well-documented, logical and made accessible by many personal anecdotes and pop culture references.

The American minister and author Norman Vincent Peale allegedly said, “The trouble with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism.” This is especially true when someone is audacious enough to criticize religion. Rizvi clearly wants to save the world from the ravages of irrational thinking that excuse all sorts of violence and destruction. He approaches his subject with the kind of scientist’s rationality that ushered in the Age of Reason, yet he does so also with a passion for humanity that is inspiring. Most of Rizvi’s general arguments against religion are familiar, from Bertrand Russell’s famous essay “Why I Am Not a Christian” to the popular books by the contemporary atheists Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. However, his open personality and earnestness make this book so compelling that Rizvi may well become the Dawkins or Hitchens for the millennial generation.

Rizvi’s specific criticisms of the Muslim orthodoxy as stated in the Quran are surgically accurate. He cites various passages that are either contradictory or seemingly absurd in the modern world. But this is not a moving target. For centuries we have known that the holy books of most religions have the same weaknesses. The older they are, the more they are the product of their specific time and fraught with the misinformation of that era. Rizvi’s descriptions of historical sects of Islam and their conflicts with one another are especially illuminating. He concludes that a current disagreement “would never be an issue if its consequences weren’t so deadly. In effect, it is similar to two groups fighting about whether the green or the blue unicorn is the right one.”

How would a person of faith, like Ghobash, respond? Faith is the belief in something for which there is no conclusive evidence. To demand concrete proof of God’s existence contradicts the very notion of faith, which requires a person to examine their interior world rather than anything on the outside. But faith does not preclude logic. Choosing to demonstrate faith in humanity’s ultimate goodness, despite all the evidence to the contrary, allows us to embrace certain religious teachings. But it does not relieve us of the responsibility of choosing which teachings express that faith and dismissing those that do not. Both authors would agree to that. And that should give us all hope.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the N.B.A.’s all-time leading scorer. His book “Coach Wooden and Me” will be published in May.

Boston State

I went last weekend, after umpteen years, to Boston.  It was not the real purpose of the trip, but a side visit, to my cousins condo.  Ophelia has lived there for several years, I think it’s about 6 now but I could be wrong.  She moved there when she, a rather ironic sidenote, got evicted from her apartment in Charlestown, in the Italian North section of the town, near the Navy Yard.  I was there, just once.

Kendall Square, Cambridge Massachusetts, at night.


I mentioned Ophelia a long time ago on this blog, even I do not know know exactly when, but I doubt it was favourable even then.  She is at best a difficult lady.  At worst she’s a total narcissist.

I did not realize, and no one mentioned this, that Springfield Mass, my real destination for this trip, is 90 miles away from Boston.  I had thought about 50 and so was willing to make the journey.  Once I heard 90 I was rather peeved as that was almost halfway back home, but I was committed to the trip so I went.

I got committed because Ophelia was supposed to just meet me in Springfield and bugged off suggesting, very nonchalanatly, to come and visit.  She put it so innocously that I figured it was a short hop.  She didn’t mention time or distance, so I thought it made sense.  So instead of Ophelia meeting me in Springfield, she got out of that, and I already driving 4 hours was now going another 1.5.  Of course the logic sounds dicey, but if no one tells you, how would you know?  Everything was so trivialized that objections sounded outrageous and I found that they just wouldn’t come out.

So I drove to Boston.

It seemed like an easy drive, straight across Massachusetts, on the Pike.  No problems right?  Well TomTom started giving me troubles halfway there, blinking in and out, but I ignored it as I figured I knew the Pike and by the time I got actually to Beantown, it would be recharged.  I was thinking that the cold got to it.  Another bad idea.  By the time I got to Boston and paid the omnipresent EasyPass Tolls, TomTom was no longer recalcitrant, it was dead.  Black as night, with the charger staying “Green” I was stunned.  I noticed that my phone was also dead, so I unplugged the TT and put in the SamSung and looked for signs saying Brookline.  Zip.  I was not sure if that meant I was so farawy that it was not yet pertinent or that I was there.  With no GPS, no 4G and just a tunnel in front of me, I couldn’t tell, so I took it.

The tunnel is great.  3 lanes and brightly lit.  NYC should have something like this but some Nixon appointed fool from Upstate felt that the darter fish would be threatened and we did not get it.  I guess Boston does not have a darter and so instead they have the Williams tunnel.  I do not know who Williams is.  They never told me that either.

Out of the tunnel and into dark Boston and really no signs and really no exits either and with the final blow to my independence, I was running low on gas.  No filling stations either.  I must have passed the Boston Conservatory 3 times never seeing Fenway next door (she claimed she lived near that), because it was dark and unlit.  I drove up and down always stopping at the tunnel and making another round while my phone charged.  With no traffic on a Saturday night a trip up and down that highway can go pretty quickly, which was another thing that got me — all these brand new roads and no traffic.  NYC has antiqudated roads and lots of traffic; Boston has the good life with I think one-tenth the population and no darter fish to boot.

Life is good in Boston except for one thing, I noticed, of course as always comparing it to NYC, there are no filling stations, and no houses. Zip.  There are high rises but further in land, along that highway there is nothing but bit commercial enterprises one after another.  No stores either that I could see.  Signs to hospitals, to universities, most of which I did not recognize, and most of them all new, but where did the people live?  It was not until I got off the highway and took some road going to the Charles River that I saw horrific apartment complexes, tall mega skyhouses, row upon row, with shorter and smaller hotels near by, that I realized that this was the Liberal Dream that we all live in these megapolis buildings, cities unto themselves, in 1000 square foot rooms and I remember the distinct feeling of panic.  This was not the Boston I had known and to be honest, this was not a Boston I would like to know.  It felt too claustrophobic and too controlled and far too new clean and neat.  There were no vagrants, no litter and nothing nothing old except for squat buildings on the other side of the Charles.

I should have left right then and there, but I didn’t.  Instead it was 5:30, I was tired and feeling very lost and dropped into the DoubleTree Hotel at Cambridge…another mistake but minor in the scheme of things, in retrospect what I should have done was gone in and gotten wifi so I could have some sense of my location, but I didn’t and stayed in the back parking lot and waited in the dark.

Pictures of  the hotel , are here thanks to TripAdvisor.  Alas there is no parking.




The sickle sword of Assyrian king Adad-nirari I.

The sickle sword of Assyrian king Adad-nirari I.

Dates to ca. 1307–1275 B.C., northern Mesopotamia, 54.3 cm long, and made of bronze.

This curved sword bears the cuneiform inscription “Palace of Adad-nirari, king of the universe, son of Arik-den-ili, king of Assyria, son of Enlil-nirari, king of Assyria,” indicating that it was the property of the Middle Assyrian king Adad-nirari I (r. 1307–1275 B.C.).


The inscription appears in three places on the sword: on both sides of the blade and along its (noncutting) edge. Also on both sides of the blade is an engraving of an antelope reclining on some sort of platform.

Courtesy of & currently located at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, via their online collections.

Aginares Me Koukia, from Saveur

Aginares Me Koukia, from Saveur


6 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
8 medium artichokes (or 10 canned or frozen artichoke hearts, drained and thawed)
½ cup olive oil
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 medium yellow onion, roughly chopped
1 scallion, roughly chopped
1½ lbs. fresh or frozen shelled fava beans
1 tsp. flour
3 tbsp. minced fresh dill


  1.  Put 4 tbsp. lemon juice and 6 cups water into a large bowl.
  2. Working with one artichoke at a time, place an artichoke on its side.
  3. Using a serrated knife, cut the leaves crosswise about 1½” from the top to where the leaves meet the base; discard the leaves.
  4. Cut away the tougher, dark green leaves until you reach the inner yellow leaves.
  5. Using a peeler, remove the green outer layer of the stem and base.
  6. Cut off the bottom ½” of the stem and trim away any remaining green parts from the underside of the base.
  7. Scoop out fuzzy choke at the center of the artichoke.
  8. Quarter the artichoke and transfer it to the bowl of lemon water so it does not brown.
  9. Repeat.

2. Drain artichokes.

Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat; add garlic, onions, and scallions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 minutes. Add artichokes and 2 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring occasionally, until artichokes are tender, about 25 minutes. Add fava beans and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. In a small bowl, stir together remaining lemon juice, flour, and 1 tbsp. cooking liquid; add mixture to skillet and cook until liquid is slightly thickened, about 3 minutes. Stir in half the dill; transfer to a serving bowl. Serve hot or at room temperature, garnished with the remaining dill.

Solitary Confinement on the way out

Solitary Confinement on the way out

New York State has agreed to sweeping changes that will curtail the widespread use of solitary confinement to punish prison infractions, according to court papers filed on Wednesday. Under the agreement, New York becomes the largest prison system in the United States to bar the use of solitary confinement for disciplining prisoners under 18, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union, which represented the three prisoners whose lawsuit led to the agreement.

The agreement says that 16- and 17-year-old prisoners who are subjected to even the most restrictive form of disciplinary confinement must be given at least five hours a day of outdoor exercise and programming outside of their cells.

The agreement also imposes “sentencing guidelines,” specifying the length of punishment allowed for different infractions and, for the first time in all cases, a maximum length that such sentences may run, the N.Y.C.L.U. said

I personally this is wrong all the way round…it will definitely make prisons more dangerous for the wardens and the prisoners.