- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 20, 2002

Must be the bishops
"When the Taliban caught Haji Shirullah, a Kabul businessman, playing chess in his office with his brother, they burnt the chessboard and the pieces. 'They put us in jail for two days,' he recalled with a rueful smile. 'The Taliban believed chess was a form of gambling and distracted people from saying their prayers.'
"Mr. Shirullah, a middle-aged man in a white skullcap, was waiting impatiently to start playing in the first chess tournament held in Kabul since the Taliban captured the city in 1996. Some 138 players had turned up far more than expected so some were using the floor because there were not enough tables and chairs.
"For five years, Afghanistan has been the only place in the world where playing chess, always popular in the country, has been illegal …
"Dr. Qadratullah Andar … said: 'At first we tried to play secretly, but my friends were arrested by [the Taliban religious police]. Some of them were well-known doctors who were arrested when playing in a hospital, so I thought it better not to play at all.'"
Patrick Cockburn, writing on "The Taliban's War on Chess," Feb. 7 in Counterpunch at www.counterpunch.org

Nietzschean idea
"Nietzsche's assault on the familiar is more radical even than Descartes's skepticism. Descartes believed that by doubting everything that he had learned in the ordinary way, he would find within himself an unassailable form of thought that would allow him to reconstruct his knowledge on a secure foundation, so that he would no longer be just the accidental product of a contingent culture.
"But Nietzsche found no such thing in himself. He was as suspicious of reason and the concepts of the understanding as other philosophers had been of the senses. The operations of the mind, he believed, are not necessarily what they seem.
"This does not mean that greater self-knowledge is impossible; indeed, plunging beneath your own inner surface through both psychological and historical investigation is essential.
"But knowledge is not the main point. The point is to achieve a different kind of existence: to live one's life in the full complexity of what one is, which is something much darker, more contradictory, more of a maelstrom of impulses and passions, of cruelty, ecstasy, and madness, than is apparent to the civilized being who glides on the surface and fits smoothly into the world."
Thomas Nagel, writing on "Becoming Zarathustra," in the Jan. 14 issue of the New Republic

'Load of hokum'
"It's easy to trash Britney Spears. … What's harder is coming to grips with the reality that no matter what you think of her as a musical performer or as an actress, she has more than a spark of genuine likability.
"In 'Crossroads,' her first film star vehicle, she's already beginning to coast on bad habits, like winking and twinkling adorably and manipulating her preternaturally glossy mouth into a jailbaitish pout. At moments, though, she shows traces of the devilish naughtiness that makes Heather Locklear a gifted and largely overlooked comic actress so much fun to watch.
"Spears doesn't have Locklear's zonked-out braininess or her stopwatch timing, and she most likely never will. But her performance in 'Crossroads' suggests that there's something going on behind those schoolgirl-vixen eyes something that she actually has to shut off every time she gets up to sing.
"You see that switch going off twice in 'Crossroads,' as Spears launches into the picture's two big musical numbers, and that alone is a fascinating sight to behold. The movie is a lumbering load of hokum, but … it's at least watchable."
Stephanie Zacharek, writing on "Crossroads," in Salon at www.salon.com

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