Friday, August 11, 2006

Security issues with the new RFID chips in US Passports

Apparently they can be used by terrorists to set off explosions as US citizens walk past...

Surely noone could create such a screw up?

It's Not "The West against the Rest"

I think it is fair to say that there are good reasons for seeing some sort of cultural conflict between The West and Islamdom as being at least one of the roots of current conflicts.

But to phrase this as "West against the Rest" as some right-wing blogs have done is simply wrong.

There is a "Muslim Belt" in the world: it extends from Morocco eastwards through North Africa, Arabia and Anatolia, Iran, the Indian Subcontinent, and on to Indonesia. Although there are pockets of Muslims outside this area, the vast majority are from this region. Within the Muslim Belt there is relatively little violence originating in North Africa outside Egypt, Turkish-speaking regions, or from India or Bangladesh. It is the central region from Egypt to Pakistan that has presented problems, with signs of trouble in Indonesia. The total Muslim population is around 1 billion, that of the most troubled area amounts to about 250 million people - i.e. around 4% of the world's population.

What about the "rest" of the world. Roughly 1 billion people each live in both India and China, and perhaps another quarter billion in other parts of East Asia. They are all busily trying to become part of the science-centered consumerist modern world. (North Korea is the single exception.)

Africa south of the Sahara/Sahel is largely Christian/Native religions. It is coping with the results of massive Western imperialist misrule, and the mistakes of its first and second generation of ruling elites. It is producing no terrorists. Indeed the greatest threat to the West there may be China's increasing economic presence.

Australasia/Oceania presents no problem.

Latin America is currently experiencing a series of democratically-elected left-wing governments opposed to some aspects of liberal economic policies. There is a lot of resentment against the United States in some parts, but, again, no terrorism.

In sum, what we have is a very real problem with an area stretching from Egypt to Pakistan, from Yemen to Chechnya. That is where we need to focus.

Wikipedia and History

This link to an article on Wikipedia and the historical profession is well worth reading. (Thanks to Steve Muhlberger's blog.)

Roy Rosenzweig, Can History be Open Source? Wikipedia and the Future of the Past. [An article originally published in The Journal of American History 93:1 (June, 2006): 117-46.]

Marines in Iraq

One of my former students, who is now a Marine Captain, sent me this link to a video of his platton and their lives in Iraq. Actually it's kind of hot in parts, but gives a view of life in Iraq that I have not seen before.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Feudal Anachronism: Sark

Stuck out in the English Channel, 20 miles off the coast of Normandy and boasting a population of only 600 souls, to its admirers the Isle of Sark represents a redoubt against the modern world.

There is no divorce, cars are banned - the preferred mode of transport is tractor - and even the playing of a radio in a public place is outlawed.

Yet Sark continues to attract wealthy outsiders to its tranquil shores, not just because of this enviably laid-back way of life; there is no income tax and personal property taxes are pegged at paltry levels for the very richest.

The "fief" includes the rugged neighbouring island of Brecqhou, bought by the Barclay brothers, owners of The Telegraph, in 1993 for the sum of £2.33m, where they have erected a fairy-tale castle for the benefit of themselves and family.

Sir David Barclay, who, along with his twin brother, Sir Frederick, argues that behind Sark's bucolic fa├žade resides a political system rotten to the core.

Yesterday in his third "open letter to the Bailiwick of Guernsey" (the legal domain in which the Isle of Sark resides) he took out a full-page advertisement describing the island's ruler, known as the Seigneur, as "the unacceptable face of feudalism".

The Independent, 8/10/2006

Islam and Terror

Islam does not mean terror.

Some of the most sustained areas of general human welfare in history have come under Muslim government. Some of the most sublime art has been created. And some of the greatest literature written.

But, it is equally clear that we have a problem.

The War on Terror is not going to work. A war needs, at the very least, some way of saying that it has been won or lost. As long as we are terrorized, then we have lost.

I have some postulates.

1. You cannot change "hearts and minds" in less than a generation.

2. Equally, after a generation of normality (normalcy to US readers) any conflict can potentially be historicized.

3. We need to create a basis for normal human interchange, even if imperfect, that lasts a generation. There is no quick end. We need to deal with patchwork solutions and inconclusive meetings that stretch on and on until everyone is bored silly.

4. Future technology cannot be predicted, but the future effects of current technology can. Our "Western" technology (cellphones, computers, the Internet, GPS, Television) has an inherent tendency to individuate persons and break ties of clan, religion, and family in favor of desires for self-realization. The more it is diffused, the more "individual" people will become. This has many bad effects, but it has a major benefit in undermining totalitarian systems.

5. When you destroy all the leaders of an organization, the second and third generation successors are less able than the originators.

So what do we do? We let Israel destroy HAMAS and Hezbollah. We weaken by all means possible the leadership in Iran. We search out all active Al-Qaeda cells.

But then we try to create a generation of boring meetings, while letting technological civilization propagate. Israel must stop treating Arabs like garbage. India must allow a majority vote in Kashmir. Somalia must be prevented from becoming an Islamic state. That's a start.

In other words, what is needed is a radical policy of prevarication (or at least procrastination) in order that the population-base of the Islamofascists is corrupted by material desire and individuation.

In countries where you have a social group of teenagers and not radicalized youths, terrorism will not prosper.

At least some things seem to turn out all right

I just got back from my two-month CAT Scan for the lymphoma scare I had in June. Thank God, there is no problem. My spleen is a bit enlarged, and I should stop drinking (although I am having a glass with a slice of pizza right now) but there is no lymphadenopathy (I think that is how they spell it).

Boy, was I glad - they see you on the chemo floor and it's not a happy place. The less fortunate people will be in my prayers tonight. Your's too, please.

The Crisis in the Air

You can watch British TV Live at BBC News 24


I am "english eclectic" here, and I do not usually comment on US politics in any detail.

But Joe Lieberman running as an independent, after losing in the Democratic primary in Connecticut, is just Not Cricket. In other words, the guy has succeeded in being both a schlemiel and a putz.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Mel and Stuff

I am in no way defending Mel Gibson for his anti-Semitic harangue of a police officer. Mel has detested me and my kind (fags) both verbally and on screen for some good time.

However, I must deny "in vino veritas." I know Freud is not scientific, but as my old friend Fr. Aidan Nichols once remarked, he taught some poetic truths.

As I can attest, when you are drunk, you do an say things that come from the worst part of the Id; they are not who you are, or who you aspire to be.

It used to be easier to be a....

...Satirist. It's damn tough to do satire these days:
WASHINGTON, DC—In a decisive 1–0 decision Monday, President Bush voted to grant the president the constitutional power to grant himself additional powers.

"As president, I strongly believe that my first duty as president is to support and serve the president," Bush said during a televised address from the East Room of the White House shortly after signing his executive order. "I promise the American people that I will not abuse this new power, unless it becomes necessary to grant myself the power to do so at a later time."

The Onion 8/1/2006

Milk - The NPR Story now sells food. NPR today reported on Amazon reviewers deciding to deal with Milk. With 499 reviews up as I write this, the reviews are dadaist. There is also a story in the New York Times 8/9/2003.

Update: (as of 5:40pm EDT): Now it's 547 posts. Perhaps it's just me, but they are a helluva lot funnier than Last Comic Standing.

Update 2: There is now a Tuscan Whole Milk website

This is now viral: Amazon watch out for other food products.

A Judge with a Bad Driving Record

His Honour Brian Galpin
His Honour Brian Galpin, who has died aged 85, was an erudite and eccentric pillar of the Western Circuit.

Tall and imposing, with an unruly shock of hair and bushy eyebrows, he was a sharp lawyer who conformed to the popular image of a judge. In reality he was broad-minded and humane, a firm opponent of capital punishment. In private he was amiable and unassuming, often whimsical and surprisingly unconventional.

Galpin would brook no interruption to the smooth running of his court. Drivers who trespassed on his parking space outside could expect to be hauled before him for a reprimand. After one such incident, while he was sitting at Newport, an outraged correspondent to the Isle of Wight County Press suggested that to stamp one's foot and turn blue with rage when mildly inconvenienced - a ludicrous caricature of the unflappable judge - would normally be regarded as contemptible, unless, apparently, one was "Judge Brian Galpin, whose medieval-style working clothes seem to match his feudal way of life".

When Galpin came unstuck, it was usually to do with motor cars. He was gifted in many fields, but not as a driver. On his way to court at Bodmin, he crashed his Jaguar Mark 10 on a narrow bend, earning a six-month disqualification from the local magistrates for careless driving, with a further six months under the totting-up regulations.

Galpin, by then an aspiring judge, strove for a low-key appeal, hoping that his poor driving record would go unnoticed by both press and Lord Chancellor. However, he was skilfully represented by a colleague who emphasised the poor signage at the scene. This indicated that the road ahead was narrow and twisted, but not that it bent alarmingly at a right angle, suddenly narrowing by a full six feet. The judge agreed that "Road ahead becomes diabolical" would be a more appropriate warning, a phrase eagerly seized upon by the local press. Despite his vindication, Galpin's hopes for minimal publicity were thwarted, the story being treated to a centre-page spread in the Daily Express.

From The Daily Telegraph obituary. More at 8/9/2006

Being Catholic

There is a discussion going on at Andrew Sullivan's Daily Dish blog about whether one can be a merely "cultural" Catholic, or whether belief in certain propositions is necessary. Andrew argues that anyone who can honestly say the Nicene Creed is Catholic enough for him.

There is a problem with this though. All Orthodox and the vast majority of Protestants can also say the Nicene Creed without reservations. That alone does not make one a Catholic.

I agree that an adult Catholic should be able to agree to the propositions in the Creed, but there are problems with this approach to Catholicism.

First, it is probable that the theological meaning of many of the propositions remains obscure to most people. For example, the phrase about God's creation of all things "seen and unseen" refers not to matter and energy, but to his creation of this world and the world of angels. Such underlying meanings are present in almost every phrase. Many people "agree" with the Creed without understanding it.

Second, the idea that "faith" means "agreement to propositions" is primarily an aspect of Calvinist theology. This approach derives from the Reformation analysis that "Credo/I believe" is primarily a matter of intellectual activity. But the Greek word used in the Creed's original form is "pisteo" and means both assent to and trust in. In one way the Creed could be translated as "I trust in One God, the Father Almighty...."

Orthodoxy and Catholicism have always held that faith is as much a matter of trusting in God than asserting propositions - that's why children, catechumens (who did not know the details), and the mentally deficient have always been held to be capable of faith and indeed sainthood.

I would argue that someone who has problems with certain propositions of faith, but whose heart reaches out in poetry and art to trust in God, can be counted as faithful.

Personally I always liked John Betjeman's summary of Christian faith - trusting that
God was man in Palestine
And lives today in bread and wine.

The Last Tudor Claimant to the British Throne

King Anthony, a former Shropshire police inspector who insisted he had a better claim to the throne than King George V, provoked panic at the palace when two doctors refused to silence him by quietly certifying him insane.

Details have emerged from the National Archive of the royal family's anxiety at the way Anthony Hall, who was said to be tall and always impeccably dressed, drew crowds of up to 800 people to hear his claims of direct lineage from Henry VIII. Across the West Midlands, he used his 1931 campaign meetings to denounce King George, the Queen's grandfather, as a "pure blooded German" with no right to rule Britain.

The Guardian 8/9/2006

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

The Joys of Yiddish

I know I have been posting slowly lately....but this cheered me up.

[See Leo] Rosten's classic riddle — "What's green, hangs on a wall and whistles?" The original version appears in The Joys of Yiddish, where the answer is "A Herring" (as you can paint it green, nail it to the wall and the whistling part is added just to make the riddle hard).

Wikipedia, The Joys of Yiddish

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Gays flee Iraq as Shia death squads find a new target

Evidence shows increase in number of executions as homosexuals plead for asylum in Britain

Hardline Islamic insurgent groups in Iraq are targeting a new type of victim with the full protection of Iraqi law, The Observer can reveal. The country is seeing a sudden escalation of brutal attacks on what are being called the 'immorals' - homosexual men and children as young as 11 who have been forced into same-sex prostitution.

Jennifer Copestake, The Observer 8/6/2006

A couple of points here.

1. Who are the customers? Answer: the large number of men who have homosexual sex before they can get married. It is common throughout the Muslim world.

2. The attacks by religious societal controllers is focused on those who cannot do anything about the situation. Surely noone can morally blame those who are forced into prostitution? The problem for Christians in arguing this is that St. Paul's condemnation of male and female prostitutes in his time focused on a similar group of forced sex-workers. What's good for St. Paul seems good for the Mullahs.