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Fickle fate


According to next week’s New Yorker cover (by Maira Kalman and Rick Meyerowitz), the place where I rode my bike today is Central Parkistan. It’s south of Notsobad, northwest of Kvetchnya, west of al-Zheimers, and north of Mooshuhadeen. The cover is called “New Yorkistan”

As I was coasting the Great Hill, I passed three young women jogging down and three young men jogging up towards them. We were all in tee-shirts and shorts. Ah, spring!

Okay, so it’s December 4. It was sunny, with a temperature in the mid-60s here. On some parts of the planet, such as Chile, it’s GENUINELY late spring.

When we flew to Santiago a few years ago, as U.S. citizens we had to pay an extra fee to enter the country. We were told it was a reciprocal action.

The U.S. was involved in some unsavory action in Chile, especially a kidnapping intended to destabilize the Allende government. The Pinochet regime followed.

Something like kidnapping was common under Pinochet. People were arrested and never heard from again.

Here in the United States, many hundreds of people have been “detained” since September 11. Most of their names have not been released.

Ali and Muhammad are common names in Muslim countries. Today, in Atlanta, Muhammad Ali, a beloved American, started the Olympic torch on its journey to Salt Lake City.

After Yasir Arafat, perhaps the Palestinian name most recognizable to Americans is that of Hanan Ashrawi. She’s a Christian.

The John Walker in today’s news is an American. He was raised a Catholic but was captured as one of the Taliban soldiers in the tunnels of the fortress prison in Mazar-i-Sharif in Afghanistan. He calls himself Abdoul Hamid.

Then there’s Hadidjatou Karamoko Traore, a New Yorker and a Muslim. She lost her husband, Abdoul Karim Traore, in the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center. He worked at the Windows on the World restaurant.

For several days, the toll of dead and missing at the World Trade Center has stood at 3300. But that’s just a number. Numbers didn’t die in the attack. People did. Traore was one of them.

He moved to New York in 1993 after his food shop in the Ivory Coast failed. The Times called him an illegal immigrant. So was my father.

Traore’s boss, Michael Lomonaco, the executive chef at Windows on the World, said, “He was a fine, upstanding, affable, very intelligent guy. He was one of my best banquet cooks. I thought highly of him as a cook and as a man.” He was also a union member.

In 1997, he asked his wife to come join him. She was given a three-month tourist visa on condition that she leave her young daughter as assurance that she would return home to the Ivory Coast.

She overstayed her visa and moved in with her husband, giving birth to two more children. She now has a one-year-old and a three-year-old in New York and an eight-year-old in Africa living with her in-laws.

The State Department will not grant a visa for her daughter to visit her. Not surprisingly, they think the daughter would overstay her visa, too. But they DID grant visas to three children of another illegal immigrant killed in the World Trade Center. He and his wife were from Ecuador. They were probably not Muslim.

Ghiyath al-Din Abu’l-Fath Umar ibn Ibrahim Al-Nisaburi al-Khayyami was a Muslim. He died today.

That is, he died on this date exactly 870 years ago. We know with precision how long it’s been in part because he calculated the exact length of a year. The first nine significant digits of his calculation are still used today, and beyond those the duration has been changing.

As he was born in what is now Iran and worked in what is now Uzbekistan, it’s very likely he passed through what is now Afghanistan. He wore a turban.

He was a mathematician and an astronomer, among other things. He was a calendar reformer, he discovered a geometrical method of solving cubic equations by intersecting a parabola with a circle, and he wrote books, scientific and otherwise.

It’s for one of the last that he’s best known here — by a shortened form of his name, Omar Khayyam (Omar the tentmaker). The book was famous enough to inspire six episodes of “The Adventures of Bullwinkle and Rocky,” some of which take place in Lower North Pakistan and involve a trial of non-citizens.

The six cartoon episodes are known as the “Ruby Yacht” story. Omar Khayyam’s well-known book of poetry is called the “Rubaiyat.”

Here is perhaps the best known of his quatrains, as translated by Edward Fitzgerald in 1859:

“The Moving Finger writes, and, having writ, Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line, Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

TTFN, Mark