Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Text Messaging is a Scam

I always new there was a reason I hated text messaging. As Wired's Gadget Lab blog points out, text messages cost your cell phone provider absolutely nothing. Zero, zip, nada. They're sent piggy-backed on network administrative traffic that would be sent regardless.
Cost to telco: $0.00. Cost to customers: $0.20. Number of text messages sent per year (worldwide): 2.5 trillion. We'll leave you to do the math.
Is there anyone out there who doesn't hate their cell phone provider?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On Torture

Security guru Bruce Schneier blogs two pieces on the use of torture. Both begin with the same take on the pragmatic argument: the stories of American abuse of detainees at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have been Al-Qaeda in Iraq's most effective recruiting tool. I don't dispute that point, rather the conclusion drawn from it. Here's why: most of what the Muslim world believes about Guantanamo is complete fabrication, and the infamous abuse at Abu Ghraib was a "black swan", perpetrated in the dead of night by a handful of irresponsible lowlifes operating miles outside their job descriptions. Don't get me wrong here: I'm not arguing that there haven't been systematic violation of American principles at both locations. There have been abuses which people ought rightly be upset about, but those aren't the cases that have captured the jihadi imagination — or the U.S. public's, for that matter — and this is the great irony. Abu Ghraib = Lynndie England, and Guantanamo = flushed Korans, even though one was unforeseeable and the other never happened. I'm bringing all of this up to make the point that the number of foreign jihadists flooding to support Al-Qaeda in Iraq has had little to do with any particular torture or abuse of detainees; if Abu Ghraib hadn't happened, they would have made it up, as they have in other cases. So the "pragmatic argument" really doesn't take us anywhere.

Happily, both pieces move to the moral argument, which I find far stronger. And a lot simpler. Whether or not torture is a useful tool in counterterrorism (and the relative safety of such torture-happy places as Egypt attest it can't be wholly discounted) is completely irrelevant. Even if by aschewing torture we're fighting with one hand tied behind our back, it's still the right thing to do. We can still win that fight, and when we have, we will still be America.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Belated Gripe

Heather MacDonald quotes James Wolcott's snide response to Jay Nordlinger's comment on the near-purging of "Merry Christmas" from public life. I'm with Jay (unsurprisingly). It's not about chauvinism, it's just that the "Happy Holidays" school of "inclusiveness" just feels wrong. Because, as he points out, if someone were to wish me a Happy Hanukkhah, Blessed Ramadan, Happy Diwali, or Favorable Solstice, that is precisely what I would feel — included.

As to MacDonald's question about the reaction to widespread use of "Eid Mubarak", since it just means "Happy Holiday" I'd assume they were referring to Christmas. That aside, I seriously doubt whether anyone of such a cultural bent to be automatically suspicious of an Arabic greeting would be likely to recognize it as such.

Strange Days: British Atheist Calls for Evangelization of Africa

British writer and former MP Matthew Parris shares a reluctant conclusion: despite his own atheism, he has become convinced that Africa needs Christianity if it is to have any hope of development:
Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good. [...]

There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: “theirs” and therefore best for “them”; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours. I don't follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. [...]

Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.
I particularly applaud Parris's rejection of the forced equivalence of "traditional" African culture and Western civilization. Since Decolonization, nothing has done more to keep Africa in the dark than the indefensible claim that cultures based on collectivist groupthink, corrosive jealousy, and brutal misogyny are intrinsically valid and deserving not just of respect but of proactive protection and encouragement.

Unintended Consequences

Sophisticated counterfeiting with commercial printing presses and painstakingly hand-etched plates is so 20th-century. Now, American crooks are all about low-margin counterfeiting with inkjet printers or color copiers, making poor copies just barely good enough to hand off at a convenience store or bar. My favorite part of this story is how the government's incredibly expensive anti-counterfeiting measures have enabled amateurs:
Part of the problem, [22-year Secret Service veteran] Green said, is that the government has changed the money so much to foil counterfeiting. With all the new bills out there, citizens and even many police officers don’t know what they’re supposed to look like.
Go figure.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


So imagine you're a mid-level officer in the United States Air Force. Your service is over-funded and over-staffed, and pretty much everyone knows that cuts will be coming down the line, sooner rather than later. Most ominously, your branch is particularly over-staffed by people just like you, and you were just given the job of developing new recruitment strategies in this environment. What do you do?

If you are really, really good at what you do, you come up with an incredibly brilliant scheme to drive off actual potential recruits while simultaneously impressing your superiors with your ability to "reach out" to and "connect" with today's youth. The name of that scheme? MAX IMPACT, the Air Force's official nu-metal band. What could be better than a "high-energy band [that] has everything needed to ignite a party and keep the flame burning for hours"? Really, just take a listen.

A buddy and I had a great conversation on this, by the way, which he's posted since it contains "everything I know about soldiers".

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Some People Take Brad Pitt Too Seriously

I mean, I hate people who talk in movies as much as the next guy. But I don't think I'd pull and gun and shoot the guy. Good thing he lived, maybe he'll repent of his movie-interrupting ways. As Shepherd Book says, there's a special circle of Hell reserved for child molesters and people who talk in the theater.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

FAA Approves Commercial Spaceport

The FAA has given final approval to the New Mexico Space Authority to construct Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert. The anchor carrier will be Virgin Galactic's suborbital space-tourism operation, but most of the major aerospace corporations have also been involved with Spaceport America. This is fantastic. Most of this globe was explored not by civil servants and scientists seeking to advance human knowledge, but by grubby, greedy adventurers seeking fame, glory, and filthy filthy lucre. Space will be no different, and it was uncharacteristically forward-thinking of the FAA to realize this and get out of the way.

Happy Dismallest Day of the Year

Ye gods above, I'm tired of hearing people say that it's now "officially" winter, the solstice having passed. Sorry, I know I'm a pedant to get this annoyed at each and every solstice and equinox, but the seasons are not defined astronomically! In fact, they're not officially defined at all, at least, not in the United States. Listen to wise Uncle Cecil of the Straight Dope:
There is a widespread misconception in this country — which extends, I might note, to the makers of most calendars, dictionaries, and encyclopedias — that summer "officially" starts on the day of the summer solstice, June 21 or 22, which is the longest day of the year. Americans also believe (1) that there is some valid scientific reason for doing it that way, and (2) that everybody in the Northern Hemisphere does it that way, and always has. None of these things is true. So far as I have been able to discover, no scientific or governmental body has ever formally declared that summer starts on the solstice.
Hear that, people, Washington has left you to your own devices to decide what season it is on any given day! Madness! Chaos!

Things were much simpler in the mid-20th century, when it was generally accepted that winter comprised December, January, and February; spring March, April, and May; summer June, July, and August, and fall was September, October, and November. It's nice and simple, and lines up pretty well with the weather. As far as I'm concerned, spring starts with the first flowers, summer on the first day I break a sweat (without exerting myself), fall when it smells like fall, and winter with the first snow that sticks. But that's just me. Incidentally, nobody seems to know where the rather strange idea originated that the equinoxes and solstices mark the beginnings of the seasons. It's one of those things that everyone just started telling each other with the assumption that it was backed by some sort of authority, but now it's gotten so ingrained in the American consciousness that I'm surely guaranteed an absolute minimum of four days of frustration per year for the rest of my life. You could argue, I suppose, that I should just lighten up. You clearly don't know me very well.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Very Clever Hoax

So the letter published in the New York Times from the mayor of Paris, criticizing the consideration of Caroline Kennedy for Hilary Clinton's Senate seat, turns out to be a fake. A little schadenfreude toward the NYT notwithstanding, it's a shame, because the hoaxster is on the ball. Caroline Kennedy "deserves" a seat in the Senate precisely as much as I do. It is a disgrace to American democracy that we're even talking about this.

Comforter in Chief

It's been a truism of the last 7 years that President Bush and Vice-President Cheney are cold-hearted warmongers who've sent America's young men and women to die in the desert for their own cynical ends. I've never really bought it, and sure enough it's not true. By all means criticize the decisions the president has made, but don't tell me he doesn't understand the consequences of those decisions. I suspect he understands better than any of us.

Bad Bad Bad: Europe Burning

The smoke seems to have cleared over Greece, after massive anarchist/communist/"anti-fascist"/assorted ne'er-do-well mobs rampaged for nearly two weeks. And now those ever-enigmatic "youths" are at it in Malmo, Sweden. "Youths", of course, being Euro-journo-speak for poorly-integrated, marginalized, and angry Muslim immigrants. Mark Steyn weighs in:
In my "free speech" crusade up in Canada [Steyn is being prosecuted under Canada's "hate speech" laws for his writing highlighting the failure of Muslim immigrants to integrate], I'm frequently lectured by lazy cliche-recyclers that there's no freedom to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre. But in a burning city feel free to shout "Nothing to see here!" for another decade or three.
But just remember, Best Beloved, we're the ones who are hopelessly backward. Europe should be our model. Europe is "progressive"; Europe is the future. Everything would be better if only we would be more like Europe. Well, folks, Europe is burning. Wake up.

Fickle Customers

The excellent milblogger S4 at War brings up an interesting point with regard to the economic consequences of the planned withdrawal of US forces from Iraq. Many areas of Iraq resemble a tourist economy, with heavy reliance on rich, spendthrift foreigners. Unlike (most) tourist economies, Iraq is facing the likely abrupt disappearance of her "tourists". The transition's going to be tough all around.

Strange Days: "Diversity" Madness

From First Things:
So, less than a month after the election of the first African-American president of the United States, less than a month after over 70 percent of African Americans support Proposition 8... a high ranking black woman at an American university gets fired by a white guy because she doesn’t think that gay rights is morally or legally equivalent to the long struggle of black Americans for civil rights.
Strange days, indeed.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Memes? We don't need no stinkin' memes!

Fun times.

1. Started your own blog
2. Slept under the stars
3. Played in a band (Several, even. Up to and including the German Band).
4. Visited Hawaii
5. Watched a meteor shower
6. Given more than you can afford to charity
7. Been to Disneyland
8. Climbed a mountain (I guess that depends on the definition of "mountain").
9. Held a praying mantis
10. Sang a solo
11. Bungee jumped
12. Visited Paris (No, but I've been to Perris, CA)
13. Watched a lightning storm at sea
14. Taught yourself an art from scratch
15. Adopted a child
16. Had food poisoning
17. Walked to the top of the Statue of Liberty
18. Grown your own vegetables
19. Seen the Mona Lisa in France
20. Slept on an overnight train (best way to travel, hands-down).
21. Had a pillow fight
22. Hitch hiked
23. Taken a sick day when you’re not ill
24. Built a snow fort
25. Held a lamb
26. Gone skinny dipping
27. Run a Marathon
28. Ridden in a gondola in Venice
29. Seen a total eclipse (just lunar)
30. Watched a sunrise or sunset (pretty much every day. And usually have the pleasure of being at work for both.)
31. Hit a home run
32. Been on a cruise
33. Seen Niagara Falls in person
34. Visited the birthplace of your ancestors
35. Seen an Amish community
36. Taught yourself a new language (well, mostly pretty old ones, actually)
37. Had enough money to be truly satisfied (it takes less than some people think)
38. Seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa in person
39. Gone rock climbing
40. Seen Michelangelo’s David
41. Sung karaoke
42. Seen Old Faithful geyser erupt
43. Bought a stranger a meal at a restaurant
44. Visited Africa
45. Walked on a beach by moonlight
46. Been transported in an ambulance
47. Had your portrait painted
48. Gone deep sea fishing
49. Seen the Sistine Chapel in person
50. Been to the top of the Eiffel Tower in Paris
51. Gone scuba diving or snorkeling
52. Kissed in the rain
53. Played in the mud
54. Gone to a drive-in theater
55. Been in a movie
56. Visited the Great Wall of China
57. Started a business
58. Taken a martial arts class
59. Visited Russia
60. Served at a soup kitchen
61. Sold Girl Scout Cookies
62. Gone whale watching
63. Got flowers for no reason
64. Donated blood, platelets or plasma
65. Gone sky diving (if you count airborne jumps, but I'd still like to go civilian skydiving sometime)
66. Visited a Nazi Concentration Camp
67. Bounced a check
68. Flown in a helicopter
69. Saved a favorite childhood toy
70. Visited the Lincoln Memorial
71. Eaten Caviar
72. Pieced a quilt
73. Stood in Times Square
74. Toured the Everglades
75. Been fired from a job
76. Seen the Changing of the Guards in London
77. Broken a bone
78. Been on a speeding motorcycle
79. Seen the Grand Canyon in person
80. Published a book
81. Visited the Vatican
82. Bought a brand new car
83. Walked in Jerusalem
84. Had your picture in the newspaper
85. Read the entire Bible
86. Visited the White House
87. Killed and prepared an animal for eating
88. Had chickenpox
89. Saved someone’s life (No way to know in my job. I like to think my work makes people safer, so, maybe?)
90. Sat on a jury
91. Met someone famous
92. Joined a book club
93. Lost a loved one
94. Had a baby
95. Seen the Alamo in person (it's really small)
96. Swam in the Great Salt Lake
97. Been involved in a law suit
98. Owned a cell phone
99. Been stung by a bee
100. Read an entire book in one day (hahhhaha... sigh)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

My Answer: Don't Go Down There

I have a great deal of respect for the exceedingly skilled tradesmen who work in some of the world's most dangerous locales in order to supply us with the fuels that keep our civilization running. Granted, they're not doing it out of altruism, but they deserve every dollar they get and then some. Particularly when they work in the home of horrors like this:

Man, cephalopods are just creepy.

Monday, December 15, 2008


In general, I'm really looking forward to the day I get to move back home to the upper Midwest. Not so much tonight:

Brrrrr. Keep warm, folks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bad Bad Bad: Iranian Base at the Gate of Tears

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak claims that "Iran wants to devour the Arab world". I wouldn't likely be quite so dramatic myself, but the Persians have historically considered themselves the rightful hegemon of the greater Middle East. The Egyptians for their part have considered themselves a sort of "first among equals" of the Arab nations, at least since the time of Nasser, so it doesn't seem out of place for Mubarak to be especially sensitive to Iranian moves on his turf. Then the Iranians go and establish a garrison at the region's second-most strategic naval chokepoint (of course, they already have full control of the most strategic of all). I'm not sure Iran wants to devour the Arab world, but she's sure positioning herself to strangle it.

Now There's a Thought

I don't know if it's a comment on the state of our world when satire is only just barely beyond the credible. Then again, the real world these days is nearly satire-proof.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Not the Bush You Know

Jay Nordlinger has published fairly raw notes of his recent interview with President Bush. This isn't the Bush you know. Even for those of us who stubbornly hold that it's a bit early to start writing the history of this presidency, and have defended him even though he seems little interested in defending himself, it's a shock to see so much unedited extemporanizng. I should say, the shock is in realizing how very little we've actually heard from him these last eight years. It's a shame. Here's just a taste, which goes to show how little concern this man has ever had for his own reputation:
You can get short-term popularity in the Middle East if you want, by blaming all problems on Israel. That’ll make you popular. You can be popular in certain salons of Europe if you say, ‘Okay, we’ll join the International Criminal Court.’ I could have been popular if I’d said, ‘Oh, Kyoto is the way to deal with the environmental problem.’ That would have made me liked. It would have made me wrong, however. And, ultimately, you earn people’s respect by articulating a set of principles and standing by them. You know, popularity comes and goes. It just does. It comes and goes for an individual or a nation. But principles are enduring.
Well put, Mr. President.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Blagojevich Warms My Heart

Kathryn Lopez remarks on the Blagojevich story,
Finally, a political scandal you can talk to your children about. No room at the Mayflower. No myspace page. No Gay-American announcement. Just good and evil and money and power corrupting.
Welcome to the Third World, America.

Happy 400th Birthday, John Milton!

and thus ADAM last reply'd.
How soon hath thy prediction, Seer blest,
Measur'd this transient World, the Race of time,
Till time stand fixt: beyond is all abyss,
Eternitie, whose end no eye can reach.
Greatly instructed I shall hence depart,
Greatly in peace of thought, and have my fill
Of knowledge, what this vessel can containe;
Beyond which was my folly to aspire.
Henceforth I learne, that to obey is best,
And love with feare the onely God, to walk
As in his presence, ever to observe
His providence, and on him sole depend,
Merciful over all his works, with good
Still overcoming evil, and by small
Accomplishing great things, by things deemd weak
Subverting worldly strong, and worldly wise
By simply meek; that suffering for Truths sake
Is fortitude to highest victorie,
And to the faithful Death the Gate of Life;
Taught this by his example whom I now
Acknowledge my Redeemer ever blest.

To whom thus also th' Angel last repli'd:
This having learnt, thou hast attaind the summe
Of wisdom; hope no higher, though all the Starrs
Thou knewst by name, and all th' ethereal Powers,
All secrets of the deep, all Natures works,
Or works of God in Heav'n, Air, Earth, or Sea,
And all the riches of this World enjoydst,
And all the rule, one Empire; onely add
Deeds to thy knowledge answerable, add Faith,
Add Vertue, Patience, Temperance, add Love,
By name to come call'd Charitie, the soul
Of all the rest: then wilt thou not be loath
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A Paradise within thee, happier farr.

--John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667.

Monday, December 8, 2008

On Mass Transit

Ridership numbers for mass transit are up. That's not exactly surprising, after the summer's mad gas prices, and now an economic crisis to make people thrifty. It'll be interesting to see if the effect sticks or if transit ends up another victim of financial woes; Matthew Yglesias rightly points out that the downturn will reduce local and state tax revenues, which will have politicians looking to tighten belts. I also happen to think he's right that dropping some federal cash on mass transit — since everyone's looking to drop it somewhere — would certainly not be the worst place for it to go. Transportation connects more potential workers to more potential jobs, increasing employment, so keeping services running and fares low could be a boon to those looking for work.

I know that individual mass transit projects are often boondoggles. It's ridiculously expensive to build and never pays for itself. On the other hand, how often do roads pay for themselves, even with your fancy-schmancy open-road tolling? That's right, never. We're just so accustomed to lavishing absolutely ridiculous amounts of money on one sort of mass transportation infrastructure that we don't even think of it in the same category as others. And all that money goes to a transportation infrastructure that you only get to use if you choose (or can afford) to own a car. Now, I also know what an economic engine America's roads and highways are, and I know what a country without them looks like: I've visited India and subsaharan Africa. So I'm a big fan of roads. I guess I'm just sayin', give the trains a little love, too.

Shinseki and the Beret

Apparently this Shinseki character's a stand-up guy. I really don't know much about him. But if he is in fact the man responsible for my headgear, I do have to hold a bit of a grudge. A military correspondent writes to James Fallows:
In my year-and-a-half since putting on ACUs I've heard only bad things said about him by the rank and file, and that's for something unrelated to Iraq: Shinseki is apparently the genius who decided that we should all wear the beret (which is useless as it provides no shade or or rain or wind protection, and particularly nasty because it takes two hands to put on right, and weighs a ton when wet) as part of our regular uniform in garrison. For that, well, I resent the dude a little as do I think most soldiers.
Oh, and it's a multi-day process to shave (yes shave, or it'll look like you skinned a Muppet), shape, and fit a beret so it looks "just right". But it's the two-hand thing that's the worst. I used to be in a class including mixed students from all four services. Some classes were held in a building adjacent to our schoolhouse, so we'd all head over there a few times a day. Every time, the sailors, airmen, and marines would happily file out, jauntily flipping their caps onto their heads as they casually sauntered out the door past the gaggle of soldiers awkwardly pausing in the doorway, clamping our books under our elbows as we stretched and smoothed our berets onto our heads.

Eat Less Meat

It's one of the simplest things you can do to improve your health, reduce your grocery bill, and save the planet. And it's the environmentalists' third rail. As I'm sure most of my readers could extrapolate from my views on other issues, I'm pretty dubious that we need to abandon economic progress for the sake of preventing global warming climate change. On the other hand, there are a lot of things we could be doing for their own sakes that will incidentally help us hedge our bets against global catastrophe. Eating less meat is one of them. Particularly, eating less grain-fed industrially-produced beef and pork. Grass-fed animals are healthier and presumably happier (call me a hippy if you must -- it does count for something), and they just taste better, but you pay for the premium. The thing is, though, you're paying the actual cost of the meat, without the benefit of the discount industrial meat enjoys in the form of subsidized corn, which you are paying for with your taxes.

We can all eat less meat (well, I guess vegetarians can't eat any less), or choose less resource-intensive meats like chicken or fish (though the issues of ocean fisheries would cover a few blog posts in their own right; there are a lot of words you could apply to mankind's current treatment of the oceans, "stewardship" is most certainly not one of them). The piece linked above also doesn't mention one major carbon-neutral source of cheap meat for some families: hunting, which has been in slow decline nationwide for decades. Livestock reared at home would be in nearly the same category, so all the happy hunters and homesteaders are already doing more than their part, even if they don't drive Priuses. Clearly, there's a lot individual people can do, though the ones doing it are likely doing it for themselves rather than to save the planet. Government's hands aren't clean here, though. It's a great example of the stubbornness of American tastes that years and years worth of harping about the dangers of red meat haven't slowed our appetite for the stuff one bit, so I'm certainly not going to advocate yet another nannying public awareness campaign. It's not necessary, anyway. If the government would just stop actively supporting the mass consumption of unhealthy, low-quality industrial meats (and refined flours, and white sugar, and high-fructose corn syrup) through its distortionary agricultural subsidies, that'd be a big step forward for American health, and encourage a far more defensible use of our nation's resources, both fiscal and natural. But I'm not holding my breath.

Goodbye Bramble

This story's been all over the Interwebs this morning, and rightly so. Oxford University Press has recently released their newest edition of the Junior Dictionary, with many words relating to Christianity and British history scrubbed out and replaced by such linguistic gems as voicemail, biodegradable, and compulsory. (Then again, that last word will probably be increasingly relevant with every passing year). This is a travesty, of course, but sadly unsurprising. What does surprise and deeply sadden me are the number of words for animals, birds and flowers that OUP has decreed irrelevant to today's youth. I'm with Ross Douthat that this is "just as disquieting as the disappearance of words like minister, monastery, monk, and nun." They've traded in duchess, starling, bramble, marzipan, porridge, nunnery, rhubarb, and liquorice (haphazardly choosing some charming words) for celebrity, vandalism, cut and paste, endangered, block graph, and bungee jumping. And I know they'd just lecture me how the language is evolving and one mustn't be hidebound, but if this is a sign of the future of English, it's an ugly future indeed.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

I See No Downside

There are something like 5 million feral hogs running rampant in the United States. They are a nuisance and an environmental threat. All I'm getting out of that is that nobody will defend their precious animal rights when we process them into 50,000 tons of sweet delicious bacon (figuring an average of 20 lbs per farm-raised pig, which is probably conservative when applied to wild hogs). So am I right or am I right?

All I Want For Holiday

The slogan "Keep Christ in Christmas" has been around for a while, but at this point we've got to get more fundamental; keeping Christ in Christmas is all well and good, but we've won the battle and lost the war if we're piously celebrating the birth of Christ behind closed doors while the world celebrates the Twelve Days of Holiday (HT First Things). Then again, it might well be better for Christmas (and Christianity) if it's distinct from Holiday.

Dalrymple on Bombay

Theodore Dalrymple reflects on the Bombay massacre and his own experiences in that most memorable of cities. Here he explains his love for India, a love that I share, but could never hope to express as well as he does (a common hazard in reading Dalrymple) :
It had been a strange morning, to say the least, of the kind that could happen only in India. I have loved the country ever since I first went there as a student aged 19, and think I would be perfectly happy to live there, though I recognise that what attracts me about it repels others. For me, it is the most profoundly human place on earth, the glory and desolation of human existence being constantly before one there in a way that is matched nowhere else.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

... And I'm Back!

Internet troubles this week, thus the brief hiatus. And a considerable amount of Internet-withdrawal ennui (which would be rather less apparent to you, dear reader). Anywho, I'm back, so life is good. Well, better, anyway.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Istanbul Was Constantinople...

Astute readers in the last few days may have noted my pedantic insistence on Bombay over the seemingly preferred "Mumbai". Aside from a simply stodgy contrarian's dislike of changing names of things, I'm not exactly a big fan of the politics behind "Mumbai". See, this change isn't just a de-colonialization like "Kolkata" for Calcutta or "Bengalooru" for Bangalore (which, while I find unnecessary and somewhat silly, I don't really take any particular issue with). Bombay was created by Europeans. It was at best a handful of fishing villages when the Portuguese mapped it with the note "good harbor", later Anglicized to Bombay, under which name it became a major colonial trading port. The attempt by Hindu nationalist politicians to enforce the use of "Mumbai" just doesn't sit right with me, or with most of her citizens who blithely still call the city "Bombay" when speaking English.

Who Will Claim Them?

While the Mumbai attacks were still undergoing, many in the Western media were all too happy to play along with the terrorists' nearly laughable claim to be a "home-grown" Indian group. In the aftermath some subtle links to Pakistan have become evident (such as the terrorists arriving on a boat from Pakistan, making calls to Pakistan during the assault, and, you know, being Pakistanis). Not to say that there aren't serious issues among India's various Muslim populations, and dangerous tensions with the Hindu majority that have long and frequently come to violence, but for some reason the supposition that Indians were responsible for this attack just didn't feel right. Sure enough, the trust that governs the most prestigious of Bombay's Muslim graveyards has refused to bury the bodies of the terrorists:
The men are not true followers of the Islamic faith, according to the influential Muslim Jama Masjid Trust, which runs the 7.5-acre Badakabrastan graveyard in downtown Mumbai. "People who committed this heinous crime cannot be called Muslim," said Hanif Nalkhande, a trustee. "Islam does not permit this sort of barbaric crime."
Sadly, I'm afraid the history of Muhammad's terror war against rival tribes of Arabia doesn't exactly support Ustadh Hanif's sentiment, but it's appreciated all the same.

McWeeney to the Rescue

The executive vice president and chief operating officer of a company that specializes in negotiating with kidnappers and hijackers — and which is looking into the newly-lucrative pirate-negotiation market — is named McWeeney. You can't make this stuff up.

Reporting or Abetting Terror?

The Australian Courier Mail reports on the extensive use of technology by the Mumbai terror squads:
Amid the arsenal of military hardware, it was the use of humble mobile phones and internet technology that proved a key weapon – one which caught the anti-terrorist forces by surprise. The use of BlackBerrys by the terrorists to monitor international reaction to the atrocities, and to check on the police response via the internet, provided further evidence of the highly organised and sophisticated nature of the attacks. The gunmen were able to trawl the internet for information after cable television feeds to the two luxury hotels and office block were cut by the authorities. The men looked beyond the instant updates of the Indian media to find worldwide reaction to the events in Mumbai, and to keep abreast of the movements of the soldiers sent to stop them.
This makes you stop and ask, Who precisely is served when Western reporters give minute by minute accounts of the locations, strength, and armaments of the counter-terrorist response:
Date: Fri, 28 Nov 2008 04:56:03
After 15 minutes of silence, five commandos in black with heavy-duty body armor have approached the building. Four are carrying assault rifles, and the fifth, possibly their officer, has a radio in his right hand.
Seriously, this is practically a SALUTE report. I guess anyone planning this sort of attack in the future will know that they don't have to bother posting scouts; the media will take care of that for them. How much shorter would the Mumbai siege have been if the terrorists hadn't had intel support from the media? How many lives were ended to support the people's "right to know"? Lets hope municipal authorities take note and immediately bring down the cell networks the next time this sort of attack is attempted.

English is Beautiful

On my long, slow drive back to post from Thanksgiving weekend with family, I happened across a striking pair of voices on NPR: a woman from the west of Scotland was interviewing a folk singer from Appalachian Kentucky (hopefully they will update with a podcast, I'd love to listen to the whole thing). I was struck by the contrasts between the two women's dialects, but I couldn't tell you which I'd like to listen to more. English is a beautiful language, and don't let anyone convince you otherwise.