Sunday, February 26, 2006

Something Churchill saw coming

"This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read."

Winston Churchill

(anticipating, perhaps, this blog)

Saturday, February 25, 2006

S. Africa faces lengthy crippling electricity shortages

South Africa, like most of North America, depends on a mixture of electricity sources and is at the mercy of the transmission grid if local power plants experience problems and power has to be moved any distance from back-up sources. And like most of North America, neither generating capacity nor the grid has been keeping up with growing demand.

According to the Sunday Times, Unit 1 of the Koeberg nuclear plant has been shut down since Christmas day, when a loose bolt damaged a 200 ton rotor in the unit’s generator. It may not be repaired until June. Unit 2 crashed last Saturday and was off line for five days.

Although Unit 2 has been brought back on line, it will run out of its uranium fuel at the end of April and must shut down for 30 to 60 days for refuelling and maintenance before then. The power authorities warned earlier this week that consumers should brace themselves for the shutdown from March 9.

Adding to the equipment woes are the following:
  • Four of Koeberg’s most experienced executives, including its power station manager, plant manager and safety director, have left to take jobs overseas since 2003
  • The entire batch of uranium fuel rods for Koeberg’s sole functioning nuclear reactor was found to be faulty, and recalled to France, in the past three months
Imagine a country prone to violence heading into winter without reliable electricity.

Gosh, look at the time

JAPAN is considering withdrawing its non-combat ground troops, who receive protection from an Australian contingent, from Iraq in two phases between April and June, and may announce the plan next month, according to the Australian.

Consistent with Japan's pacifist constitution, the troops are strictly limited to activities such as medical training and building reconstruction.

One last Malaysia-related post: Mahathir weighs in

(Bernama) -- Former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad said Thursday that the editor of the New Straits Times should be suspended for "two to three months" for publishing twice a comic strip linked to the controversy over the Prophet Muhammad caricatures.

"Although the newspaper is not suspended, the editor should be suspended. Because one can see that when he prints it, he doesn't understand the feelings of the Muslims," he told reporters.
Read the rest by scrolling down in Malaysia Today.

Malaysian government stalking cartoon sites

From Malaysia Today

(Bernama) -- Action will be taken under the Multimedia and Communications Act against anyone found to have posted or distributed the offensive cartoons of Prophet Muhammad, Deputy Minister of Energy, Water and Communications Datuk Shaziman Abu Mansor warned Friday.
The penalties against anyone found to have posted or distributed materials containing pornographic elements, or humiliating, degrading or damaging the reputation of any party, include hefty fines and/or jail time of not less than a year. The ministry is "monitoring the matter" and has encouraged the public to report offending sites.


What is Radio Television Malaysia (RTM)?

Adapted from Malaysia Today

The information ministry excels in passing the buck. It was set up to impart official information speedily so the people would not be swayed by rumours and false news, and its principal channel is Radio Television Malaysia RTM).

RTM has as its goal of being first on the scene and first on the screen. This would take time. The news room is not used to breaking news when it happens. Foreign news agency reports on coups and earthquakes the world over are fair game, but if it reports on Malaysia, it must await political confirmation before the story can be broadcast. Which is why in May 2005 it took RTM two hours to broadcast anything about earthquake tremors which damaged buildings in Malaysia.

Even official information from the right government department, in that instance the Meterological Services Department (MSD), is verboten until corroborated by a higher political authority. Deputy Information Minister Dato' Zainuddin, a former editor, and formerly respected, is in charge of RTM but is obviously not such an authority. "I informed them after midnight, but they could only get confirmation from the MSD at 2.01am" he was quoted as saying, referring to permission to cover the earthquake.

I find something in this to be offensive

This Non-Sequitur cartoon was published by the Malaysian paper New Straits Times. Outrage among certain parties including government-run Radio Television Malaysia (RTM) prompted this apology from the paper.
We apologize. Unreservedly
When the caricature controversy began, our editors and section heads were instructed not to even think about reproducing any of the caricatures.

In the case of the Wiley Miller comic strip, the sub-editor in charge let through the cartoon because it bore no caricature nor words offensive to Islam.

Unfortunately, one blog and some media, including RTM, highlighted the cartoon and came to the verdict that the NST had mocked the Prophet and Islam. From there, the issue took a life of its own.

The NSTP on Tuesday lodged a police report against the blog for inciting religious hatred against the NSTP.

But on our own part, as we said in our editorial on Tuesday, the NSTP and its editors must be held accountable if they are deemed to have crossed the boundaries which make this multiracial and multi-religious country of ours a peaceful haven.

We cannot afford to have any media inciting racial and religious hatred, especially an institution like the New Straits Times Press.


The 160-year old newspaper, one of the region's oldest, on Wednesday received a show-cause letter from the Internal Security Ministry over a syndicated Non Sequitur cartoon by Wiley Miller. It shows a street artist sitting on a chair next to a sign reading: "Caricatures of Muhammad While You Wait".

It was given three days to give reasons in writing why action should not be taken against it for publishing the cartoon in its Life & Times section on Monday.

Bons mots du jour

Uhh, sure, Mr. President.

"Things are more like they are today than they have ever been before."

Dwight D. Eisenhower

Health tourism grows in UK

The UK already offers parallel private and public medical options. But citizens unwilling to pay the going rate for local private operators are looking offshore, according to this story from the Independent.

Some excerpts:

David Mills, the owner of Mills & Mills, says: "The main driver for people travelling abroad for healthcare is cost - private medical care is much more affordable in many parts of the world than in Britain."

His clinic specialises in cosmetic surgery - he quotes £4,750 for a facelift, for example, compared with £7,000 in Britain - but health tourists travel for a wide range of medical procedures. They include orthopaedic work such as knee and hip replacements, dentistry, laser eye treatment, and even more serious operations such as heart surgery.

Keith Pollard, who runs the Treatment Abroad website, which carries contact details for hundreds of health-tourism operators, says that business is booming. "We launched our site six months ago and initially received around 300 inquiries a month," he says. "Now, we're up to 1,000."

Pollard says that Britons eager to jump NHS waiting lists are often unable to afford private healthcare in this country. "Many people also say that the main reason they want to go abroad is that they're worried about the risk of infection in UK hospitals," he adds.

Other destinations mentioned in the story were Turkey for dental work and India for joint replacement.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Nigerian death toll now 80

LAGOS - At least 80 people, mainly Muslims, have been killed by Christian mobs in two days of religious violence in the south-eastern Nigerian city of Onitsha, a leading rights group said.

"We counted 60 bodies on Tuesday and 20 on Wednesday and there could be more," said Emeka Umeh, head of the local chapter of the Lagos-based Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO), adding "most of the victims are Muslims."

"It was a great massacre that should be condemned by any right-thinking person. Human bodies littered the streets in Onitsha," he said.

"Even now, bodies can still be found on Upper Iweka road," in the city, which is home to the predominantly Christian Igbo people, he said.

He said the victims had been slaughtered "with machetes, knives, metal objects, clubs and in some instance, even guns."

Full story here.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Graffiti Bon Mot du Jour

God is dead. -Nietzsche

Nietzsche is dead. -God

The Tombs Restaurant. Washington, D.C. (http://funehumor.com)

Nigerian Christians killing Muslims

ONITSHA - Bodies were burning on piles of tyres in the southern Nigerian city of Onitsha as relative calm returned after two days of rioting in which Christians slaughtered dozens of Muslims.

On the Upper Iweka Road in downtown Onitsha, a reporter saw at least five bodies roasting in a bonfire of car tyres and waste wood. Onlookers said nine people had been killed on the streets.

Although there was a heavy military presence in the streets, traffic was moving freely and shops and businesses reopened. "The situation is calm now, the roads are open," an army lieutenant said, declining to give his name.

A mortuary attendant at Onitsha General Hospital said that 11 bodies were in the morgue. However, a reporter had on Wednesday seen 19 bodies lining the streets leading to the city. The true extent of the toll is meanwhile far from clear.

The Onitsha riots were revenge attacks in response to an earlier massacre of Christians in the Muslim-dominated north of the country after protests over cartoons of Prophet Mohammed which first appeared in a Danish newspaper.

Nigeria's 130-million-strong population is divided roughly equally between Muslims and Christians of a variety of sects and denominations. While northern Nigeria is overwhelmingly Muslim and the south largely Christian, there are large minority populations in both regions and sectarian rioting is relatively common and extremely bloody.

Japan could cut UN Peacekeeping funds

It's not just Americans who think there's something funny going on at the UN.

The Japan Times reports that Japan could cut its financial support for U.N. peacekeeping operations (PKO) if the world body does not fix its financial shortcomings, particularly in light of a recent report alleging that between $ 265 million and $ 298 million was misused over six years, Ambassador Kenzo Oshima warned Wednesday.

"I feel compelled to say that unless immediate and convincing measures are taken to redress this problem, my government, which currently contributes about 20 percent of the PKO budget, will find it very difficult to maintain domestic support for underwriting peacekeeping operations, both ongoing and new operations, including one possibly in Darfur," Oshima said.

Full story here.

Climate change: bad science, bad policy

My climatology professors of the early 1970's lectured us on the certainty that our 30 year global cooling trend was going to plunge us into another ice age. The culprit? Industrial emissions, of course.

The debate over what to do about global warming draws together science, politics, economics, and ideologies in an unprecedented mix. Let's follow the chain of assumptions that the Kyoto protocol hangs from: if the earth's atmosphere is warming and if the warming is unusual and if the main cause of that unusual warming is industrial CO2 emissions, and if nothing is going to happen that would offset this warming and if a warmer atmosphere is bad for the planet, then we should try to do the things that are prescribed in the Kyoto protocol.

Would that help? Even the proponents of the Kyoto protocol admit that its full implementation would make no noticeable difference to global temperatures over the balance of this century. Kyoto won't work, by the admission of its own authors.

Each of the links in the chain of assumptions that I have listed above has been thoughtfully challenged in the peer-reviewed scientific literature. Astute policy makers will recognize that they are being asked to commit real resources to a possible problem, with no promise of any real benefit. And complying with the Kyoto Accord could actually degrade the global environment if industrial production shifts to exempt countries like China.

I work for a company that might well benefit from legislation forcing a reduction in CO2 emissions. Nevertheless, I would prefer that our resources as a society be directed towards real environmental and health problems, not to expensive symbolic gestures. For example, problems with unhealthy drinking water are killing people by the thousands in developing countries, while I have yet to read of a single death caused by CO2-driven climate change. But which one gets the headlines and the bulk of the research funding?

Let a few scientists debate and study for as long as it takes to prove the truth about global warming, while the rest should turn to more pressing issues. Kyoto is a token response to a comparatively low-priority threat. It deserves no more than token resources and attention.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Here is a profession for the times

But I fear that there may not be any openings left for Preconceptual Scientists
at this late date.

Bon Mot du Jour

When I turned two I was really anxious, because I'd doubled my age in a year. I thought, if this keeps up, by the time I'm six I'll be ninety.
(Steve Wright)

Nigeria sets curfew after clashes

According to the Sunday Times of South Africa, violence between Muslims and Christians is taking a toll in Nigeria.

KANO - Nigeria has imposed a curfew and tightened security in two northern cities after violence between Muslims and Christians claimed at least 34 lives.

A spokesman for the government of the state of Bauchi, where 10 people were killed on Monday after the supposed "desecration" of the Koran by a school teacher, said a dawn-to-dusk curfew had been imposed to pre-empt further clashes.

Kickbacks to Saddam no secret at Aussie Wheat Board

Well this story in the Australian might get legs in Canada eventually, given that our Wheat Board was selling to the same regime at the same time...

February 22, 2006
AWB's illegal payment of kickbacks to Iraq was no secret among the wheat exporter's staff, an inquiry has been told.

Phil Hughes, a former marketing officer on AWB's Middle East desk, is the third whistleblower to give evidence to the Cole inquiry probing AWB's $300 million in illicit payments to dictator Saddam Hussein's regime under the UN oil-for-food program.

He now works for Victorian grain trader Brooks Grain and is the president of the Grain Exporters Association – a group which is pushing for AWB's wheat export monopoly to be dismantled.

In a written statement to the Cole Commission, Mr Hughes said he knew by the end of 1999 that AWB was paying "trucking fees" demanded by Iraq's state-owned Grain Board, fees that were in violation of UN economic sanctions in force since the 1991 Gulf War.

He said the fees were paid to Iraq via a third party, Jordanian transport firm Alia, "to avoid AWB being seen to make the payments directly and hence in contravention of the sanctions".

"This matter was not a secret among desk staff," Mr Hughes said.

The kickbacks in the form of the trucking fees began at $US12 a tonne in 1999 and eventually rose 400 per cent to more than $US50 a tonne before the oil-for-food program ended with the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the inquiry has been told.

British party to campaign using Danish cartoon.

The Independent reports that the British National Party, which hopes to field 1,000 candidates in England, will include in its campaign material one of the cartoons which sparked outrage among Muslims across the world, showing the Prophet Mohamed with a bomb in his turban.

One leaflet asks voters: "Are you concerned about the growth of Islam in Britain? Make Thursday 4 May Referendum Day." It adds: "We owe it to our children to defend our Christian culture."


Full story here.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Japanese terrorist competent to stand trial

Condemned Aum Shinrikyo founder Shoko Asahara is mentally competent to stand trial in his appeal, according to an expert's report submitted Monday to the Tokyo High Court, contradicting his lawyers' claim that the incoherent guru's mental state is abnormal.

News photo
Shoko Asahara

Although developing prison-related "reactions," the 50-year-old Asahara "does not suffer mental problems and he is able to communicate," the report by a court-appointed psychiatrist concludes. "He has not lost his capacity to speak."

Attorneys for Asahara, whose real name is Chizuo Matsumoto, have demanded the court suspend court proceedings, saying he is mentally incompetent. The high court is expected to reach a decision on Asahara's competency soon.

He was sentenced to death at the Tokyo District Court for his role in 13 criminal cases, including the 1995 sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system. The attack killed 12 people, sent thousands to the hospital and paralyzed the center of the city.

Other cases include a 1994 gas attack in Matsumoto, Nagano Prefecture, that killed seven people, the murder of an anticult lawyer and his family, and other slayings.



http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/nn20060221a1.html

Liberty

"We in the West should distribute copies of Milton's 'Areopagitica,' and explain why the best reply to a bad idea is a better idea, not mindless violence. We should declare freedom, if it is to have any meaning, is freedom for the thought one hates, and that a crime is still a crime even and especially if committed in the name of the holy. Freedom will always be a kind of island in the world, expanding or shrinking depending on whether those who say they believe in it are willing to defend it. What, defend the most basic of our values in clear, unambiguous words and deeds? Unthinkable. We must be, uh, nuanced lest we offend the forces of violence and oppression around the world. And so the West declines." —Paul Greenberg

Patriot Post

Respond from strength

I've read comment after comment by westerners lately about how Islamist Fundamentalists must be nuts. How else to explain the outrage, the violence, the fury in the streets, ostensibly in response to some bad cartoons?

Hey, maybe some individuals are nuts - statistically it's a sure thing, and the odds are about the same on both sides. But so what? The important thing to remember is that most rioters are perfectly sane. Enraged? Yes, mortally. But not nuts. And remembering that is the key to the western response to Islamist Fundamentalists. Our response has to make sense, first and foremost, to the society in which it is rooted. It must be based on and reflect the principles of our culture and our practices, principles which include freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association. Australia's John Howard is leading by example.

After it makes sense to our own society, our response must be strong enough to give strength to the Muslims who are caught in the middle of their own religious and societal turmoil. They must see that we respect their religion without negating our own beliefs. They must also be able to see where the boundary is, the limit that WE stand for.

I fear that in this age where tolerance is a higher virtue than critical thinking and sharp debate, we have lost all hope of identifying our own boundaries. We can not say what we stand for, because many in our society stand for nothing more than 'please play nice'. Granting someone his way when we are strong enough to demand our own way is an act of grace. Granting someone his way when we are too weak or confused to resist is nothing more than an admission of defeat. In the culture war between radical Islam and the west, we are headed for second place. We won't like it.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Bon Mot du Jour

They say the cost of living is high, but don't you think it's worth it?

Well the UN could help, couldn't they? No?

When will our more vocal brothers and sisters on the left realize that Islamists want them dead for the very things that they hold most dear? And if they do come to this realization, what will they do about it? Rely on the UN for protection?

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Fanaticism as a survival strategy

February 11, 2006
Survival Strategy: Middle Eastern Islam, Darwin, & Terrorism

By Ralph Peters


As the Christmas holiday approached, it was time to talk about terrorism. I spent part of a December afternoon in a sterile conference room symbolic of strategic thought in Washington (“Avoid the virus of originality!”). Following a discussion of Middle Eastern Islam’s power to generate suicide bombers, a miffed senior official challenged the notion that religion had anything whatsoever to do with the phenomenon.

As sincere as he was wrong, his view of the world was typical of our intelligence and policy communities. The official insisted that faith wasn’t really a motivating factor because his agency’s compilation of data on suicide bombers revealed that most had either personal grievances — perhaps a relative killed, abused or imprisoned — or simply a sense of humiliation. Mistaking the trigger for the entire gun, he clung to the last century’s rationalist view of the world. The official just could not make the leap of faith required to accept religion as a strategic factor.

He was standing in a downpour, insisting it wasn’t the rain that was making him wet. Suicide bombers had worldly grievances, and that was that. The promise of paradise made no difference. It was typical mirror-imaging, all about the usual-suspect factors dear to the academic world and Washington think tanks. The official refused to reflect on the obvious: A wide variety of populations around the world have grievances, from Chinese peasants to the minority population of New Orleans, from indigenous populations in Latin America to the Africans tormented by Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe. Yet, neither the Irish Republican Army nor Sudan’s Christian tribes, not Falun Gong nor Corsican separatists produced suicide bombers. While the world beyond the Muslim heartlands has generated terrorists aplenty, the phenomenon of suicide bombing remains overwhelmingly Islamic and Middle Eastern.

Religion isn’t only a matter of personal faith, but of social and psychological context as well. While we struggle to deny it, the religious environment of today’s Middle East is acutely conducive to violent self-sacrifice, to willing death in violent jihad. Tumbling backward from its bitter confrontation with the modern world, Middle Eastern Islam’s culture makes paradise a given for the believer who sacrifices his life in the struggle against the infidel, the Crusader, the Jew or the apostate. (On the other hand, Western atheist suicide bombers are in notably short supply.) The suicide bomber need not even appear to have been especially religious as remembered by his acquaintances: The Middle Eastern Muslim’s belief in paradise after death is as casual and pervasive as was the medieval European’s faith in the existence of a hell with horned devils. The reward of paradise is assumed.

Suicide bomber X or Y certainly may feel that his people have been shamed or that his sister has been embarrassed, and that he must respond violently to the antagonist in question. Yet, while plenty of other cultures generate hyperviolent behavior under stress, none but Middle Eastern Islam has given rise to the cult of the suicide bomber. The promise of paradise, with its literal treats, is undeniably a crucial determinant, whether at the subconscious or conscious level. The culture of contemporary Middle Eastern Islam makes death an appealing option.

Still, after the Koran and the hadiths have been studied and analyzed, after allowances have been made for the mesmerizing personas of terrorist chieftains and all the practical catalysts for action have been calculated, the question remains: Why has the cult of the suicide bomber developed so swiftly today, and why is it rooted in the Middle East and not elsewhere (from Indonesia to Kosovo, Muslims behave violently but not suicidally)?

The answer is timely, given the current fuss about intelligent design versus the theory of evolution in our own country: Suppose that Darwin was right conceptually, but failed to grasp that religion is a highly evolved survival strategy for human collectives?

FAITH AS A STRATEGIC FACTOR

Once a human collective expands beyond the family, clan and tribe, decisive unity demands a higher organizing principle sufficiently powerful to entice the individual to sacrifice himself for the common good of a group whose identity is no longer defined by blood ties. A man or woman will die for the child of his or her flesh, but how can the broader collective inspire one stranger to volunteer his life to guarantee the survival of a stranger whose only tie is one of abstract identity?

No organizing principle, not even nationalism (a secular, debased religion), has proven so reliable and galvanizing as religious faith. Religion not only unites, it unites exclusively. Throughout history, religious wars have proved the cruelest in their execution and the most difficult to end satisfactorily (toss in racial differences and you have a formula for permanent struggle). The paradox is that, in pursuit of a “more godly” way of life, human beings have justified the slaughter of millions of other human beings down the centuries.

Even in adversity or miserable defeat, religious identity has allowed human collectives to survive when linear analysis would foretell their inevitable disintegration. Without their powerful monotheism and the conviction that they are chosen by their god, would any Jews survive today as practitioners of their faith? Even in the Diaspora and in the course of two millennia of pogroms that culminated in a massive, organized genocide, Jews withstood the worst that humankind could direct at them. Their survival and ultimate triumph cannot be explained by the safe, academic (and politically correct) factors beloved of our analysts. Faith provided the unity — even in geographical separation and during immense suffering — to preserve the genetic collective.

Could anything but a powerful new faith have united the backward tribes of Arabia into the conquering armies that exploded out of the desert 13 centuries ago to conquer so much of the world in Allah’s name? From the beginning of the 16th century into the early 20th, European conquerors justified themselves — not always cynically — in terms of the apostolic spread of their redemptive faith. Religious fervor fueled phenomenal courage not only among missionaries, but among the Victorian era’s “martyr officers,” from Gordon in Khartoum to Conolly in Bukhara. In Rome’s centuries of decline, her legions were held together more by the cult of Mithras (and their own self-interest) than by allegiance to any caesar.

And faiths are never more ferocious than when they’re cornered. The responses of the human collective to an external threat can be delayed by various practical factors, from physical weakness to internecine struggles, but when the empire of faith strikes back, it does so ruthlessly. The crusades were, indeed, barbaric acts of aggression, rampaging from the Iberian Peninsula to the banks of the Jordan (and the conquest of the New World may be viewed as the last and grandest Christian crusade). But the crusades did not occur in a strategic vacuum: They were Europe’s response to the Islamic jihad that had taken Muslim warriors to the Marne and dispossessed Christianity of all of its birthright cities — not only Jerusalem, but Alexandria, the cradle of Christian thought and doctrine, Antioch, Damascus, Philadelphia, Ephesus and so on.

It’s often been noted that the First crusade achieved an astonishing military upset by not only reaching the Holy Land but conquering Jerusalem (where the crusaders indulged in a stunning massacre not only of Muslims and Jews, but of eastern-rite Christians, too). The issue raised less frequently is: How were the fragmented European powers — deadly rivals — able to unite long enough to conquer so many of the wealthiest cities of the then-dominant Islamic world? Could any factor other than faith have excited and sustained such unity? Greed might have been satisfied closer to home. Even beyond the historian’s observation that the pope sought to exploit crusading ventures as a means to staunch the endemic bloodletting in Europe itself or Marxist arguments about surplus population, and allowing that there was plenty of disunity and calculation among the crusaders and their various backers during their two centuries in the Levant, the phenomenon of the crusades cannot be explained without the fuel of faith.

However false they judge the tenets of religion to be, even nonbelievers recognize the power of faith to shape (or misshape) individual lives. Cynics may snort at the notion of harp-wielding, nightgowned angels with feathered wings, declaring religion nothing but a con to keep the workers and peasants in line, but they cannot deny the psychological comfort provided by the promise — true or false — of a better life beyond the mortal flesh. Religious conviction is a mighty force in the life of a man or woman of faith, and no scientist would argue against the empirical data to that point. Why is it, then, that we are so anxious to avoid recognizing the far greater impact of religious beliefs shared by an embattled human collective?

Threatened faiths lash out. They have done so from 1st-century Palestine through the Albigensian crusades, from Stalinist purges (Marxism was the degenerate religion of Europe’s 20th-century intellectuals) through intercommunal bloodlettings in post-independence Africa and on to the vicious backlash from defeated Islam today.

Even religious wars within faiths reek of biological survival strategies. The oppressive dominance of Latinate Christianity summoned the north-European Reformation as a response (along with no end of massacres over the contents of the Communion cup). The inextinguishable rivalry between Shi’a Islam, with its Persian heart, and the Sunni schools of the Arabs is also about group competition for survival and alpha status. While overarching faiths compete strategically, subordinate branches of any religion function as local survival strategies for their adherents. Despite all the aberrations that can be cited, the development and tenacity of organized religion is evolution at its purest and fiercest.

Beyond blood, nothing binds human beings together more powerfully than a shared religious creed. No heart is mightier or crueler than the one beating in the breast of the holy warrior. And no other factor provides so rich an excuse for mass murder as stern faith.

THE ANALYTICAL MISMATCH

The executive who argued that faith wasn’t a consequential factor in the making of suicide bombers was an archetype: the well-educated Westerner who, even if he or she engages in perfunctory attendance at church or temple, has been thoroughly secularized in matters of education, intellect and the parameters of permissible thought. Secular, analytical thought in the West today is every bit as close-minded as the worldview of the inquisitors who forced Galileo to recant. Its true believers have simply exchanged one set of rigid doctrines for another.

Without the personal experience of transformative faith, it’s nearly impossible for analysts to comprehend the power of religious belief as a decisive motivating factor. One of the most dangerous asymmetries we face is the mismatch between our just-the-facts-ma’am analysts and the visionary ferocity of our enemies.

Merely recognizing the problem isn’t enough. Overwhelmingly, analysts active in the intelligence community or in Washington think tanks (to say nothing of those bizarre mental prisons, university campuses) face a terrible challenge in adjusting to the intellectual demands posed by Islamist terrorism. Approaching the problem with a maximum of integrity would mean discarding virtually every theory they have been taught. Understanding the rhapsodic violence of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi or even the seductive rhetoric of Osama bin Laden requires us to jettison the crippling heritage of the Enlightenment and much of the rationalist tradition.

Whenever I brief that we are at war with devils, heads nod dully, passing off the terminology as aimed at a theatrical effect. But it isn’t. The devils are real. The Western intellect simply cannot bear to see them.

WHAT WILL IT TAKE?

Religion is, to say the least, a volatile topic. Even those national leaders willing to come to grips with the need for a tough response to Islamist terror take great pains to assure the world that ours is not a religious war and that the Muslim faith is as peaceful as a newborn sheep in a meadow full of wildflowers. Islam is, of course, an umbrella faith, covering forward-looking movements as well as reactionary, violence-prone sects. But we nonetheless must come to grips with the extent to which Middle Eastern Islam itself has become the problem — not only the cause of structural failure, but an impetus for confessional violence (defensive violence, in the Darwinian context, since it seeks to preserve the threatened community — although it’s savagely aggressive from our perspective).

We shy away from a fundamental question of our time: What if Islam is the problem?

Some months ago, an Army general made headlines through his politically incorrect remarks about Islam and Christianity. A devout religious believer, he spoke in a church, in uniform. My personal response to the media’s self-righteous, self-important horror was twofold: Yeah, the guy displayed poor judgment by letting loose at a religious event with his fruit salad on his chest. But I also recognized that, as a believer himself, that general was vastly better equipped to grasp the nature of our enemies than our legions of think-tank experts and timid analysts. Put bluntly, it takes one to know one.

If we are serious about understanding our present — and future — enemies, we will have to rid ourselves of both the plague of political correctness (a bipartisan disease so insidious its victims may not recognize the infection debilitating them) and the failed cult of rationalism as the only permissible analytical tool for understanding human affairs. We will need to shift our focus from the individual to the collective and ask forbidden questions, from inquiring about the deeper nature of humankind (which appears to have little to do with our obsession with the individual) to the biological purpose of religion.

The latter issue demands that we set aside our personal beliefs — a very tall order — and attempt to grasp three things: why human beings appear to be hard-wired for faith; the circumstances under which faiths inevitably turn violent; and the functions of religion in a Darwinian system of human ecology.

The answers we are likely to get will satisfy neither secular commissars nor their religious counterparts, neither scientists schooled to the last century’s reductionist thinking nor those who insist on teaching our children that the bogeyman made the dinosaurs. We are at the dawn of a new and deadly age in which entire civilizations are threatened by the dominance of others. They are going to default to collective survival strategies that will transform their individual members into nonautonomous parts of a whole. We are going to find that, after all, we may not be masters of our individual wills, that far greater forces are at work than those the modern age insisted determined the contours of our lives. Those greater forces may be god or biology — or a combination of the two — but they are going to have a strategic impact that dwarfs the rational factors on which our faltering thinking still relies.

Applied to human affairs, rationalist thought too easily becomes just another superstition. Even the unbelievers among us are engaged in religious war.

Ralph Peters is a retired Army intelligence officer and the author of 20 books, including the recent “New Glory: Expanding America’s Global Supremacy.

Bons Mots (1)

Now that food has replaced sex in my life, I can't even get into my own pants.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Shouldn't there be some kind of consistency?

I like irony as a source of humour and insight into the human condition.

But shouldn't anyone with a strongly-held belief act consistently in situations that parallel that strongly held belief? After all, principles are principles.

Examples: If they were acting on principle...
  • Animal rights activists should all be strongly anti-abortion.
  • Gay rights activists should be vocally anti-Muslim.
  • Supporters of private abortion clinics should be equally in favor of other private medical facilities.
  • People who think it's fine to publish old pictures of Abu-Ghraib shouldn't object to publishing cartoons that might enrage militants and terrorists.
  • Politicians who object to sitting MPs leaving for other parties should also object to sitting MPs joining their parties
  • People who object to politicians switching parties should be equally upset with them leaving their party to sit as independents
  • Politicians who pass laws making company directors accountable for not misleading the public ought to be subject to the same consequences if they themselves are found to have misled the public.
  • People who want Christ kept in Christmas shouldn't go crazy with the materialistic gift-giving thing
  • People who preach tolerance shouldn't be trying to limit the free speech of intolerant people

A poem worth spending time with

A Tree Telling of Orpheus Denise Levertov 1968

White dawn. Stillness. When the rippling began
I took it for sea-wind, coming to our valley with rumors
of salt, of treeless horizons. But the white fog
didn't stir; the leaves of my brothers remained outstretched,
unmoving.
Yet the rippling drew nearer – and then
my own outermost branches began to tingle, almost as if
fire had been lit below them, too close, and their twig-tips
were drying and curling.
Yet I was not afraid, only
deeply alert.
I was the first to see him, for I grew
out on the pasture slope, beyond the forest.
He was a man, it seemed: the two
moving stems, the short trunk, the two
arm-branches, flexible, each with five leafless
twigs at their ends,
and the head that's crowned by brown or golden grass,
bearing a face not like the beaked face of a bird,
more like a flower's.
He carried a burden made of
some cut branch bent while it was green,
strands of a vine tight-stretched across it. From this,
when he touched it, and from his voice
which unlike the wind's voice had no need of our
leaves and branches to complete its sound,
came the ripple.
But it was now no longer a ripple (he had come near and
stopped in my first shadow) it was a wave that bathed me
as if rain
rose from below and around me
instead of falling.


And what I felt was no longer a dry tingling:
I seemed to be singing as he sang, I seemed to know
what the lark knows; all my sap
was mounting towards the sun that by now
had risen, the mist was rising, the grass
was drying, yet my roots felt music moisten them
deep under earth.

He came still closer, leaned on my trunk:
the bark thrilled like a leaf still-folded.
Music! There was no twig of me not
trembling with joy and fear.

Then as he sang
it was no longer sounds only that made the music:
he spoke, and as no tree listens I listened, and language
came into my roots
out of the earth,
into my bark
out of the air,
into the pores of my greenest shoots
gently as dew
and there was no word he sang but I knew its meaning.
He told me of journeys,
of where sun and moon go while we stand in dark,
of an earth-journey he dreamed he would take some day
deeper than roots ...

He told of the dreams of man, wars, passions, griefs,
and I, a tree, understood words – ah, it seemed
my thick bark would split like a sapling's that
grew too fast in the spring
when a late frost wounds it.

Fire he sang,
that trees fear, and I, a tree, rejoiced in its flames.
New buds broke forth from me though it was full summer.
As though his lyre (now I knew its name)
were both frost and fire, its chords flamed
up to the crown of me.
I was seed again.
I was fern in the swamp.
I was coal.

And at the heart of my wood
(so close I was to becoming man or god)
there was a kind of silence, a kind of sickness,
something akin to what men call boredom,
something
(the poem descended a scale, a stream over stones)
that gives to a candle a coldness
in the midst of its burning, he said.

It was then,
when in the blaze of his power that
reached me and changed me
I thought I should fall my length,
that the singer began
to leave me. Slowly
moved from my noon shadow
to open light,
words leaping and dancing over his shoulders
back to me
rivery sweep of lyre-tones becoming
slowly again
ripple.

And I
in terror
but not in doubt of
what I must do
in anguish, in haste,
wrenched from the earth root after root,
the soil heaving and cracking, the moss tearing asunder --
and behind me the others: my brothers
forgotten since dawn. In the forest
they too had heard,
and were pulling their roots in pain
out of a thousand year's layers of dead leaves,
rolling the rocks away,
breaking themselves
out of
their depths.

You would have thought we would lose the sound of the lyre,
of the singing
so dreadful the storm-sounds were, where there was no storm,
no wind but the rush of our
branches moving, our trunks breasting the air.
But the music!
The music reached us.
Clumsily,
stumbling over our own roots,
rustling our leaves
in answer,
we moved, we followed.

All day we followed, up hill and down.
We learned to dance,
for he would stop, where the ground was flat,
and words he said
taught us to leap and to wind in and out
around one another in figures the lyre's measure designed.

The singer
laughed till he wept to see us, he was so glad.
At sunset
we came to this place I stand in, this knoll
with its ancient grove that was bare grass then.
In the last light of that day his song became
farewell.

He stilled our longing.
He sang our sun-dried roots back into earth,
watered them: all-night rain of music so quiet
we could almost
not hear it in the
moonless dark.

By dawn he was gone.
We have stood here since,
in our new life.
We have waited.
He does not return.
It is said he made his earth-journey, and lost
what he sought.
It is said they felled him
and cut up his limbs for firewood.
And it is said
his head still sang and was swept out to sea singing.
Perhaps he will not return.
But what we have lived
comes back to us.
We see more.
We feel, as our rings increase,
something that lifts our branches, that stretches our furthest
leaf-tips
further.
The wind, the birds,
do not sound poorer but clearer,
recalling our agony, and the way we danced.
The music!

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Pocket Taser

ONLY A GUY WOULD DO THIS.

Pocket Taser Stun Gun, a great gift for the wife. This was submitted by a guy who purchased his lovely wife a "pocket Taser" for their anniversary.

Last weekend I saw something at Larry's Pistol & Pawn Shop that sparked my interest. The occasion was our 22nd anniversary and I was looking for a little something extra for my wife Toni. What I came across was a 100,000-volt, pocket/purse-sized taser. The effects of the taser were suppose to be short lived, with no long-term adverse affect on your assailant, allowing her adequate time to retreat to safety.... WAY TOO COOL!

Long story short, I bought the device and brought it home. I loaded two triple-A batteries in the darn thing and pushed the button. Nothing! I was disappointed. I learned, however, that if I pushed the button AND pressed it against a metal surface at the same time; I'd get the blue arc of electricity darting back and forth between the prongs. Awesome!!!

Unfortunately, I have yet to explain to Toni what that burn spot is on the face of her microwave.

Okay, so I was home alone with this new toy, thinking to myself that it couldn't be all that bad with only two triple-a batteries,... right?

There I sat in my recliner, my cat Gracie looking on intently (trusting little soul) while I was reading the directions and thinking that I really needed to try this thing out on a flesh & blood moving target. I must admit I thought about zapping Gracie (for a fraction of a second) and thought better of it. She is such a sweet cat. But, if I was going to give this thing to my wife to protect herself against a mugger, I did want some assurance that it would work as advertised. Am I wrong?

So, there I sat in a pair of shorts and a tank top with my reading glasses perched delicately on the bridge of my nose, directions in one hand, taser in another. The directions said that a one-second burst would shock and disorient your assailant; a two-second burst was supposed to cause muscle spasms and a major loss of bodily control; a three-second burst would purportedly make your assailant flop on the ground like a fish out of water. Any burst longer than three seconds would be wasting the batteries.

All the while I'm looking at this little device measuring about 5" long, less than 3/4 inch in circumference; pretty cute really and loaded with two itsy, bitsy triple-a batteries) thinking to myself, "no possible way!"

What happened next is almost beyond description, but I'll do my best.....
I'm sitting there alone, Gracie looking on with her head cocked to one side as to say, "don't do it master," reasoning that a one-second burst from such a tiny little ole thing couldn't hurt all that bad.... I decided to give myself a one-second burst just for the heck of it. I touched the prongs to my naked thigh, pushed the button, and HOLY MOTHER, WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION@!@$$!%!@*!!!

I'm pretty sure Jessie Ventura ran in through the side door, picked me up in the recliner, then body slammed us both on the carpet, over and over and over again. I vaguely recall waking up on my side in the fetal position, with tears in my eyes, body soaking wet, both nipples on fire, testicles nowhere to be found, with my left arm tucked under my body in the oddest position, and tingling in my legs. The cat was standing over me making meowing sounds I had never heard before, licking my face, undoubtedly thinking to herself, "do it again, do it again!"

Note: If you ever feel compelled to "mug" yourself with a taser, one note of caution: there is no such thing as a one-second burst when you zap yourself. You will not let go of that thing until it is dislodged from your hand by a violent thrashing about on the floor. A three second burst would be considered conservative.

SON-OF-A-.... that hurt like hell!!!

A minute or so later (I can't be sure, as time was a relative thing at that point), collected my wits (what little I had left), sat up and surveyed the landscape. My bent reading glasses were on the mantel of the fireplace. How did they up get there??? My triceps, right thigh and both nipples were still twitching. My face felt like it had been shot up with Novocain, and my bottom lip weighed 88 lbs. I'm still looking for my testicles? I'm offering a significant reward for their safe return.

Still in shock,
Tommy

Global Warming and the Kyoto Inquisition

The issue of global warming may well be analogous to the debate between Galileo and the Inquisition, as some claim, but I’m not so sure which side of the debate represents the Inquisition in the analogy. It seems to me that all sides are capable of suppressing or ignoring the facts.

Consider the following:
The northern hemisphere is warming, and has been doing so since the “Little Ice Age” of the 1600s. We are still below the average for the past 3000 years, however, and far below the temperatures reached in the Medieval Climate Optimum of the 1100s, when Greenland was indeed green. Evidence for this has been derived from sea bed core samples of plant life whose growth reflects ocean surface temperature and correlates well with contemporary accounts.

The role of man-made CO2 in this long term warming trend is totally insignificant. Scientific consensus is lacking, but it appears that varying levels of solar activity are the prime driver of ocean surface temperatures of the past three millennia.

Among greenhouse gases, CO2 contributes less than 5% to the greenhouse effect. In turn, man-made CO2 accounts for less than 5% of the total CO2 in the atmosphere. Canada’s contribution to global man-made CO2 accounts for less than 5% of that small total. In the context of the Kyoto agreement, Canada is contributing about a 100th of one percent to global warming. This amount can hardly be considered significant, nor should the removal of a third of our little contribution be expected to make the slightest difference to the global climate.

Water vapor is the main contributor to the atmospheric greenhouse effect. Given our recent dry conditions, in Western Canada we should be hoping for more water vapor in the atmosphere, not less. The reality is there is probably nothing we can do that will make any difference to atmospheric water vapor levels, but a Grade 9 science student would know that a warmer atmosphere can hold more water.

80% of the temperature increase in the 20th century occurred before 1945. Atmospheric CO2 levels did not begin to rise significantly until after 1945. As levels did rise, temperatures actually started to fall. When I studied climatology in university in the early 1970s, temperatures had been falling for 30 years and the experts of the day were predicting another Little Ice Age. Some scientists blamed industrial activity for the cooling. Some of those same scientists who dismissed CO2 as insignificant in the 1970s, when it conflicted with their warnings about global cooling, now blame CO2 for global warming.

Much of today’s debate around global warming is driven by the predictions produced by mathematical models of the atmosphere. Temperatures in the troposphere have actually been declining over the past two decades. This decline is confirmed by 20 years of independent measurements taken by satellite and by radiosonde balloon. To my knowledge, no global model has even come close to approximating the actual behavior of the atmosphere over the past 50 years. If the models are proven not to work with real data, why do we believe them?

I raise these examples in order to demonstrate that the evidence is far from clear about what is happening to temperatures. What may be causing temperatures to change (either up or down) is also the subject of active debate, and the causes are far from conclusive. The IPCC is only one voice of many, much like the Inquisition, and the summaries of the IPCC’s conclusions have been reported with far more certainty than even the IPCC’s detailed writings would support.

Some believe that the debate is about putting the “short term interests of a few corporations ahead of scientific knowledge and the future of our planet.” In my travels around the world, it appears to me that developed, industrialized countries that generate wealth and employment have the cleanest cities, the healthiest populations and highest regard for the essentials of life. It is these societies who have the will and the means to clean up the excesses of industrial development.

If we shut down steel mills to comply with Kyoto, steel production will relocate to countries which are not signatories. These countries may already be worse polluters than Canada and have no incentive to clean up. Meanwhile we will have lost jobs and opportunities to develop technology to produce even cleaner steel. While the Kyoto true believers may dismiss this loss as “the short term interests of a few corporations” the reality is that the loss would affect the long term interests of all Canadians. To put it bluntly, we depend on our industry for our health care, social programs and overall well-being.

Should we be concerned about air quality? Absolutely. Start with sulphur dioxide, oxides of nitrogen, heavy metals, and other particulates. Kyoto does nothing for these known pollutants. If companies are forced to spend money capturing CO2 because of Kyoto, they will have less to spend on controls for the real pollutants.

We should apply our resources and energy to the task of developing and applying technology to burn coal more cleanly, so that power plants can produce more megawatts per tonne of coal. We should be pouring money into oil sands research to find ways to exploit the world’s greatest reserves without wasting precious water or natural gas. We should be supporting pure and applied research in government, industry and universities that will produce jobs and knowledge that will benefit the world.

Kyoto encourages little of this. Instead, Kyoto asks us to spend our money on CO2 credits from countries whose dirty industries collapsed in the early 1990s, or who converted from coal to nuclear power just in time to get credit for CO2 reduction. It is an economic sham based on questionable science and a cynically manipulative publicity program. We owe it to the world, and our families, to do better.

Climate change skeptic

If global warming is causing Edmonton's mild winter, what explains the record cold temperatures in Europe?

9/11 A Pre-Emptive Strike against Cartoonists?

Was 9/11 actually just a pre-emptive strike against cartoonists? Would someone please explain the exact level of incremental offense caused by these cartoons, over our current level of offensiveness to Middle East Muslims arising from, say, our gay-marriage Sex in the City Rap Video 24 hour Porn Channel society? Those who see the cartoons as intrinsically significant provocations have lost the thread. Were it not the cartoons, it would have been something else.

Personally I am against anything that shows disrespect to another man's religion. Our own media have much to answer for in their hypocrisy in the cartoon issue, because they have relentlessly attacked MY religion without caring about offending anyone. Of course, I don't burn things down, and some Muslims do, so the consequences of offending me are lower. Now THAT's acting on principle...

But one of the reasons we want to project what remains of our military power overseas is to protect that which our society has agreed is acceptable. The imams and their willingly obedient rioters should not be given the right to dictate to Canadian society.

Here's a suggestion for our beloved media: please spend the effort that you have devoted to distorting conservative attitudes towards immigration and gay rights, to publicising the truth about Muslim teachings about women and gay rights. Then the public can decide whose values they would prefer to have forced upon them.