Monday, November 30, 2015

ISIS Admits to Being Vicious Beasts!

"Blow Up France!"
Not in my name . . .

MEMRI's Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor for November 21, 2015 informs us that ISIS says it has 'lions' in every European capital:
On November 21, 2015, the media office of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Al-Baraka [Hasaka] province, Syria, released a new video featuring a French-speaking ISIS fighter praising the November 13 attacks in Paris and stating that the "lions of the Caliphate" in all European capitals are awaiting orders to carry out operations.
Those must be some semi-educated beasts - unless that ISIS fellow is lyin' . . .

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Sunday, November 29, 2015

Maybe those brain-growing flatworms could be of value, after all, Mr. Amira . . .

Issam Amira
Isaam Amira Spouting Wisdom
Google Images

In Clip No. 5175Memri reports on words of wisdom spouting from "Palestinian Cleric Issam Amira: The Paris Attacks Were Carried Out by Western Intelligence." Rather than by whom? Than by heroic Islamist jihadis? Yes, of course rather than by them! As he's already said, by Western intelligence, to which, he adds the purpose: "in order to pin the blame on Islam." Why? Because Islam never does anything wrong, so all that violence we're seeing the whole world over stems not from Islam but from the CIA and the like. Amira next offers a model prayer of the sort one has come to expect from a moderate Islamist intent on impressing everyone with his peaceful Islamic views:
Amira prayed to Allah to "deal with America" and with its European and Russian allies and to "kill each and every one of them."
Here follows an excerpt from Amira's sermon:
How disgusting is the media, which filled the world with its arrogance, and with its condemnation of the Paris bombings, even though there is evidence to prove that these bombings - according to the analysis of one politician - were carried out by the intelligence agency of an anti-Islamic Western country, in order to pin the blame on Islam. This scenario was premeditated, in order to label the Islamic world as terrorist.
So as "to pin the blame on Islam"? How so? By carrying out a terrorist act modeled on Islamist terror? So . . . it wasn't Islamist terrorism - it just looked exactly like Islamist terrorism? But it wasn't, because Amira has "evidence to prove" that the culpable agent is Western Intelligence (some politician said so), and he implores Allah to do something about this - nothing out of the ordinary, just a little slaughter:
Oh Allah, who revealed the Quran, who moves the clouds and defeats armies, deal with America and its allies and supporters, from among the Europeans, the Russians, and other heretic infidels. Oh Allah, count them one by one and kill each and every one of them. Do not leave a single one of them alive.
Why does Allah need to do all this counting as he slaughters each and every American, European, Russian, and other heretic ally on earth? Merely to hold all these infidels accountable? Why not be more efficient and just do it all at once. You know, the way Islamist terrorists do. Otherwise, the slaughter will take a long time. Simultaneous slaughter? It should be a no-brainer, Mr. Amira.

But in Amira's case - bring on the flatworms' brains . . .

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Saturday, November 28, 2015

Biologists induce flatworms to grow heads and brains of other species

Center for Regenerative and Developmental Biology
School of Arts and Sciences
Tufts University

Flatworms with Einsteinian brains already applying to Ivy League schools. Regular humans up in arms over flatworms favoritism. Flatworms, quickly realizing their likelihood of failure in fighting back without actual arms, have determined to grow arms of their own. Here's the science behind their decision:
Biologists have succeeded in inducing one species of flatworm to grow heads and brains characteristic of another species of flatworm without altering genomic sequence. The work reveals physiological circuits as a new kind of epigenetics -- information existing outside of genomic sequence -- that determines large-scale anatomy.
See? Told you these worms could grow arms. Okay, I didn't precisely say that, but it ought to be possible if they can grow extra heads and extra brains, so I got close. Anyway, they'll want eyes next - the better to see you with . . .

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Friday, November 27, 2015

Memri on Open Letter of 126 Muslim Scholars to al-Baghdadi of the Islamic State

Memri Logo

In its Inquiry and Analysis Series, Report No. 1205 (November 24, 2015), Memri presents an article by Professor Ella Landau-Tasseron titled "Delegitimizing ISIS On Islamic Grounds: Criticism Of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi By Muslim Scholars." Landau-Tasseron begins with his description of an open letter from 126 Muslim scholars criticizing the Islamic State's leader:
On September 19, 2014, a group of 126 Muslim scholars addressed an open letter to the ruler of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In it they severely criticize ISIS' policies and actions, claiming that they are deviations from Islam, which is a merciful religion. In justifying their position, the critics sometimes cite the same texts used by ISIS, giving their own interpretation. It should be mentioned that the letter did not spark public debate in the Muslim world.

[Landau-Tasseron first] present[s] the points of the clerics' criticism, [then follows] with a short analysis of each point (marked by an asterisk).
Let's cut to the chase and see what these scholars say in point number 13 about compulsion in religion:
13. It is forbidden to coerce anyone to convert to Islam. Many verses in the Koran express toleration of non-Muslims. It is also forbidden to enforce the Shari'a in the public sphere, because, as the Koran says (13:31, 26:4), Allah wants there to be infidels and sinners on earth.
Even I could debunk this one, and I'm no Baghdadi. Let's see what Landau-Tasseron says on the lack of compulsion in Islam:
* Pre-modern Muslim scholars had to determine the attitude of Islamic law towards non-Muslims, given the contradictory Koranic verses such as: "No compulsion is there in religion . . ." (2:256) versus the recurrent injunction to fight non-Muslims "until all religion belongs to Allah" (Koran 2:193, 8:39, 48:16). Pre-modern Muslim scholars considered as abrogated, or otherwise explained away, the tolerance verses; the injunction to wage jihad was considered binding, superseding all the verses expressing tolerance. Differences in detail notwithstanding, the scholars established that some groups must be coerced to convert to Islam or die, such as Arab idolaters, apostates and Manicheans. Others must not be coerced, but they must surrender to the Muslims. The critics in fact refute the pre-modern consensus by reestablishing the validity of the tolerance verses.
So . . . the 126 Muslim scholars ignore abrogation. I will here insert Landau-Tasseron's rejoinder in point number 8 to these scholars' liberal views on Jihad as purely defensive:
* The critics do not take into account all the Koranic verses and reports relevant to the issue of jihad (thus contravening their own advice to al-Baghdadi). In particular, they omit to mention the traditional interpretations of the so-called "sword verses," and many other verses and hadiths, which enjoin the Muslims to fight infidels "in the way of Allah" regardless of the need for defense.
What about Shari'a? Let's see what Landau-Tasseron says:
* Enforcing the Shari'a in the public sphere is by no means an ISIS innovation. In pre-modern Shari'a books it is considered one of the major tasks of the Muslim ruler. Religious police (hisba) in some modern Muslim countries and in ISIS territories continues this tradition.
And these 126 clerics are the innovators - not a positive thing in Islam! I suspect this "open letter" was not so much meant for al-Baghdadi - who has the expertise to easily respond to the critique and demonstrate its inadequacy - as it was meant for the non-Muslims, who generally know little of Islam and thus lack the knowledge to recognize the critique's weakness.


Thursday, November 26, 2015

In Praise of Folly!

Counting the trunk?
Google Images

In response to a recent comment of mine over at the Marmot's Hole came this fascinating observation by "roghernissen":
[I a]lways find your comments to be like a lint roller: weird, illuminating, funny and interesting.
That has got to be the most remarkable praise of my writing ever! I replied:
I used to have a paint roller, but I gave it up for Lent.
I hope that comment qualifies as either weird, illuminating, funny or interesting . . .


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Our Future: A Role of the Daesh?


The Moroccan writer Kamel Daoud, columnist for Quotidien d'Oran and author of The Meursault Investigation, has written a column, "Saudi Arabia, an ISIS That Has Made It" (New York Times, November 20, 2015, translated from the French by John Cullen), and Daoud doesn't hold back:
Black Daesh, white Daesh. The former slits throats, kills, stones, cuts off hands, destroys humanity's common heritage and despises archaeology, women and non-Muslims. The latter is better dressed and neater but does the same things. The Islamic State; Saudi Arabia. In its struggle against terrorism, the West wages war on one, but shakes hands with the other. This is a mechanism of denial, and denial has a price: preserving the famous strategic alliance with Saudi Arabia at the risk of forgetting that the kingdom also relies on an alliance with a religious clergy that produces, legitimizes, spreads, preaches and defends Wahhabism, the ultra-puritanical form of Islam that Daesh feeds on.
And what is Wahhabism? Oh, just an Islamist movement that controls the richest oil fields in the world, plus a few other things, hardly worth mentioning:
Wahhabism, a messianic radicalism that arose in the 18th century, hopes to restore a fantasized caliphate centered on a desert, a sacred book, and two holy sites, Mecca and Medina. Born in massacre and blood, it manifests itself in a surreal relationship with women, a prohibition against non-Muslims treading on sacred territory, and ferocious religious laws. That translates into an obsessive hatred of imagery and representation and therefore art, but also of the body, nakedness and freedom. Saudi Arabia is a Daesh that has made it.

The West's denial regarding Saudi Arabia is striking: It salutes the theocracy as its ally but pretends not to notice that it is the world's chief ideological sponsor of Islamist culture. The younger generations of radicals in the so-called Arab world were not born jihadists. They were suckled in the bosom of Fatwa Valley, a kind of Islamist Vatican with a vast industry that produces theologians, religious laws, books, and aggressive editorial policies and media campaigns.
Because of Saudi Arabia's wealth, Islamism has spread throughout the Muslim world, concerning which, Daoud points out:
Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq. But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its religious-industrial complex. Until that point is understood, battles may be won, but the war will be lost. Jihadists will be killed, only to be reborn again in future generations and raised on the same books.
That's why this is going to be a dangerous ideological fight to the finish . . .

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Tuesday, November 24, 2015

"He who sups with the devil . . .

. . . should have a long spoon."

That goes for women, too, as shown in Azadeh Moaveni's report, "ISIS Women and Enforcers in Syria Recount Collaboration, Anguish and Escape" (New York Times, November 21, 2015)
Dua had only been working for two months with the Khansaa Brigade, the all-female morality police of the Islamic State, when her friends were brought to the station to be whipped.

The police had hauled in two women she had known since childhood, a mother and her teenage daughter, both distraught. Their abayas, flowing black robes, had been deemed too form-fitting.

When the mother saw Dua, she rushed over and begged her to intercede. The room felt stuffy as Dua weighed what to do.
Dua told her friends that they were guilty and deserved a lashing, but there were consequences to Dua's decision:
The mother and daughter came to Dua's parents' house afterward, furious with her and venting their anger at the Islamic State.

"They said they hated it and wished it had never come to Raqqa," Dua said. She pleaded with them, explaining that as a young and new member of the Khansaa Brigade, there was nothing she could have done.

But a lifelong friendship, with shared holiday gatherings and birthday parties, was suddenly broken. "After that day, they hated me, too," she said. "They never came to our house again."
And so begins a report on two female insiders' disillusion with the Islamic State . . .


Monday, November 23, 2015

Thought for the Day . . .


I may have previously quoted
these words of wisdom,
but in our time of unoriginality,
it bears repeating,
for as a wise man once said,
"He who quotes others
lacks the ability
to think for himself."


Sunday, November 22, 2015

"We're Calling, We're Calling the Hunter . . ."

Commander McBragg
Google Images

This time, rather than Uncle Cran's Farm Report, we've got a firsthand tale on deer hunting from Uncle Cran, Hunter of the Ozarks:
I tried to attach a photo [of the deer], but it didn't work.
I see. Or rather, I don't. Sorry, Cran, but you have no evidence that the following story ever really occurred:
Anyway, yesterday morning I took my 243 rifle (sic) and went deer hunting.
Two-hundred and forty-three rifles! Did you declare war against the deer?
I got into the condo deer stand at 5:30 am. Just before daylight I heard a deer giving a warning back in the woods . . .
Eh? Okay, what'd the deer back there in the woods say in warning - "There's a lunatic with 243 rifles in the condo"?
. . . but it didn't come out into the open and don't know what it was.
The deer doesn't know it's a deer?
About 6:00 a lone deer came out into the open. A few minutes later three more came out. It was still so dark I couldn't tell if they were bucks or does, but was pretty sure they were all does.
Were they also "pretty sure" of their identity? Or do we have an entire herd of psychotic critters that think they might all be Napoleon? Good thing you have 243 guns!
They wandered off into the woods and I thought that if I waited, a buck would be coming along and I could get him. Sure enough, in about 15 minutes another deer came along. I couldn't see if it had antlers but I decided to get it anyway.
More identity confusion, I gather.
I can get either a buck or doe (two of each before the season ends).
I can't fault you on that. It's buck or doe. There ain't no other choice.
I could see the body through my scope, so I put the cross hairs on its shoulder and pulled the trigger. He ran off into the woods. I waited 15 minutes until I could see enough to look for him. I looked around but couldn't find him, so I walked down a trail quite a ways in case he jumped up. I was thinking how could I have missed. I walked back through the woods back to the stand and found him only about 50 yards from the stand. He had not gone the way I thought he did.
You're pretty sure it's a buck, I see.
However he didn't have either horns or male parts.
Strange buck! I reckon there is a third choice, after all.
So I brought my doe to the house . . . 
Doe! How'd you figure that out?
. . . and Gay and I spent the morning cleaning and processing my catch.
Sounds like a lot of work for Gay. I'm assuming you retired in triumph to your man-cave and reflected on your victory:
But the season goes until December 5, so maybe I can get a buck next time. You can get a deer 30 minutes before sunrise, so I got it legally just at that point.
Yeah, I suppose you do need to state that legal issue pretty clearly, just in case the Law happens to read this blog entry.

Regardless, the war on deer must - and shall - go on!


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Bernie Sanders on Defeating ISIS

Bernie Sanders

Since Senator Bernie Sanders is still in the running to become the Democratic nominee for president, I took a look at his views on the Islamic State and found quite a bit in his 'socialism' speech, "Democratic Socialism in the United States" (November 19, 2015), which I found on the Sanders website:
[T]he United States must pursue policies to destroy the brutal and barbaric ISIS regime, and to create conditions that prevent fanatical extremist ideologies from flourishing . . . . We must create an organization like NATO to confront the security threats of the 21st century – an organization that emphasizes cooperation and collaboration to defeat the rise of violent extremism and importantly to address the root causes underlying these brutal acts. We must work with our NATO partners, and expand our coalition to include Russia and members of the Arab League . . . . [T]he fight against ISIS is a struggle for the soul of Islam, and countering violent extremism and destroying ISIS must be done primarily by Muslim nations – with the strong support of their global partners . . . . A new and strong coalition of Western powers, Muslim nations, and countries like Russia must come together in a strongly coordinated way to combat ISIS, to seal the borders that fighters are currently flowing across, to share counter-terrorism intelligence, to turn off the spigot of terrorist financing, and to end support for exporting radical ideologies . . . . Wealthy and powerful Muslim nations in the region can no longer sit on the sidelines and expect the United States to do their work for them. As we develop a strongly coordinated effort, we need a commitment from these countries that the fight against ISIS takes precedence over the religious and ideological differences that hamper the kind of cooperation that we desperately need . . . . [O]ur priority must be to defeat ISIS. Nations all over the world . . . must make the destruction of ISIS the highest priority. Nations in the region must commit – that instead of turning a blind eye — they will commit their resources to preventing the free flow of terrorist finances and fighters to Syria and Iraq. We need a commitment that they will counter the violent rhetoric that fuels terrorism – rhetoric that often occurs within their very borders . . . . While individual nations indeed have historic[al] disputes – the U.S. and Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia – the time is now to put aside those differences to work towards a common purpose of destroying ISIS . . . [W]e must work with our partners in Europe, the Gulf states, Africa, and Southeast Asia – all along the way asking the hard questions whether their actions are serving our unified purpose . . . . ISIS must be destroyed . . . . A new and effective coalition must be formed with the Muslim nations leading the effort on the ground, while the United States and other major forces provide the support they need.
Like everyone, Sanders wants to "address the root causes underlying these brutal acts" committed by ISIS, and he seems to understand that these causes are ideological, not economic, for he says that Muslim nations must help to "counter the violent rhetoric that fuels terrorism – rhetoric that often occurs within their very borders." He has no chance of winning the nomination, let alone becoming president, but if he's indicative of which way the Left is turning - toward more responsible views on Islamism - then we may be making some progress in this fight.

But what would Sanders do if Muslim nations don't cooperate because our "Islamism" sounds too much like their "Islam"?

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Friday, November 20, 2015

'Adnan Hussein: "We . . . Arabs and Muslims . . . cannot shake off our responsibility for . . . terror"

'Adnan Hussein

In Memri's Special Dispatch 6221 (November 16, 2015) appears a "harsh article" by 'Adnan Hussein, editor of Iraqi daily Al-Mada, titled, "This Is Our Terror, We Are Responsible," and he argues on the need for Arabs and Muslims to recognize the truth:
We cannot shake off our responsibility for the new and terrible terror attack that recently struck Paris, the French capital. We, the Arabs and Muslims, cannot renounce our direct role and our close connection to the terror attacks that have been flooding all the countries of the world, including our own countries, for two decades or more. [We cannot do so because:] . . . In religion and history classes in elementary school, junior high, high school and later [even] in the university, they insisted on teaching us that we are the chosen [people], the best and most glorious of nations, that our religion is the true religion and that we are the right group that will be saved [from hell], whereas others are people of falsehood, infidels who belong in hell and are doomed to hellfire, whose killing is permissible and whose property and wives are ours for the taking. In these classes they presented us with examples, such as Koranic verses and Prophetic hadiths . . . taken out of their historical context, so that we got the impression that the ruling was absolute and must be applied in every place and every time until the Day of Judgement . . . . [And at] the mosque or the husseiniyya [Shi'ite congregation hall and place of worship], they would sharpen our sectarian inclinations by inciting against the members of other religions and even of other [Muslim] sects, [calling them] Khawarij [Islam's first religious opposition group], rawafid [a Sunni derogatory term for Shi'ites], nawasib [a Shi'ite derogatory term for Sunnis], deviants and apostates . . . . [O]ur children and grandchildren receive in their schools, universities, mosques and husseiniyyas very large and strong doses of [that] sectarian religious [drug] that is spiritually and mentally deadly, while the sectarian religious television and radio stations, which broadcast around the clock and receive funds at the expense of schools and hospitals, strengthen its [effect even further]. Our children and grandchildren are engaged in a holy world war against all others, no matter what their religion, sect or nationality. This environment gave rise to the extremist Islamic groups, which were fertilized by poverty, unemployment, marginalization, the usurpation of human rights and individual and collective freedoms, and the violation of honor, which were sometimes carried out in the name of pan-Arabism and sometimes in the name of religion or sect . . . . [Therefore, we] cannot escape our responsibility for terror, and no excuses will avail us. First we must recognize [our responsibility], and apologize . . . and correct our ways from now on. We cannot do this without thoroughly rethinking our curricula and changing them from the root, from elementary school to university [level]. There will be no forgiveness unless we change the way religion is presented in the curricula, in universities, in mosques and in husseiniyyas, and on the radio and television stations. For the religion [as presented there] is not a religion of tolerance, peace, harmony, mutual responsibility and compassion. The religion [presented] in our curricula, universities, mosques and husseiniyyas, and on the radio and television stations, is a barbaric religion characterized by beheadings and bloodshed and which incites to steal, usurp, enslave and rape. The other, [compassionate,] religion, which some . . . claim is the true religion, has no presence in our lives. At best, its voice is feeble and heard almost by nobody, especially among the oppressed new generation that is marginalized and whose humanity is being compromised by poverty, rejection and injustice, and by the crazy curricula and fatwas.
There's a quantum of solace to hearing some words of responsibility by Muslims themselves for these terrorist times that we live within . . . and die within.

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Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Qwerty" - A Homophobic Keyboard?

"Qwerty" Spells Homophobia
Google Images

I was locked in writers' block and staring at my keyboard the other day, when I suddenly noticed the Qwerty keys. Naturally, I'd noticed them before, but this time the 'queerness' of Qwerty JUMPED OUT AT ME: QWERTY!

Just like that. I immediately realized this was blogworthy information.

Qwerty typewriters first surfaced in the 19th century, and the official (hence false) reason given for this fake word "Qwerty" was that the entire set of keys were arranged to make typing difficult, slow even, because professional typists typed too fast on easier keyboards, causing mechanical problems. Or so say some. But do we believe this anecdotal theory? No. We do not.

Rather, the origin of this word "Qwerty" lies in the expression "Queer Tea," short for "He's a queer one, not my cup of tea." Obviously homophobic.

But there is - ironically - some truthiness in the "Official Reason," for Qwerty did make typing more difficult, and the subliminal effect was that of establishing a link between the difficulty of typing and the homophobic word "Qwerty."

The intention was to turn everyone learning to type on a Qwerty machine into a homophobe!

How has this vast and dastardly plan been hidden in plain sight until I saw into it?


Except, of course, that I'm a genius.

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Wednesday, November 18, 2015

George Packer on "the suburbs of Paris [as] incubators of terrorism"?

George Packer

My friend Sperwer sent me a very long but interesting article by the American journalist, novelist, and playwright George Packer in the New Yorker, "The Other France: Are the suburbs of Paris incubators of terrorism?" (August 31, 2015). I offer a conversation between a moderate Muslim and a non-Muslim - Ben Ahmed and Valerie Tabet, respectively - over Islam as a factor in the creation of jihadists:
One evening, Ben Ahmed prepared dinner at the house of his next-door neighbor, Valérie Tabet, a widowed piano teacher whose daughter attends the same school as Ben Ahmed's kids. The two families are close. Tabet, who has pale skin and short, dark-blond hair, told me that it’s no longer safe for young children to be out alone on the streets of the 93, and Ben Ahmed has become a kind of father figure to her daughter. While Ben Ahmed poured crêpe batter onto a griddle in the Tabets’ dining room, he and Valérie discussed how someone becomes a terrorist.

Ben Ahmed said, "I have the impression in fact that it's rather simple, how these people can flip from one day to the next."

"It isn't from one day to the next," Tabet said.

"For me, it's a question of people who either are psychologically ill, maybe a little crazy," Ben Ahmed said. "These people are very fragile, and at a given moment they're recruited by people—"

"There's too many jihadis for me to agree with you," Tabet interrupted. "The Kouachi brothers were fragile in their makeup - a lack of bearings, a lack of education, a lack of a vision of life, and later that leads to violence - but I don't agree that they were nuts."

Ben Ahmed said that this wasn't what he meant. In addition to the psychiatric cases, there were the psychologically weak, like the Kouachis: "These people would have got in a fight on the street for nothing, for a parking place." He added, "Coulibaly, he scares me a bit, because his family life was more normal." Somehow, Coulibaly was indoctrinated, and then he found it all too easy to find weapons.

"It's very easy to get them," Tabet agreed. "But there's a lot of people who are made fragile by society, because there's not enough work for everyone, because of social problems and all that. But what I see is that there's a point in common among those people - they're Muslims." She added quickly, "And it's not to point a finger, because I mean the potential terrorists. But the problem for me is what they hear in the mosques, in small groups." She spoke of radical imams preaching hate.

Ben Ahmed said that Tabet was simply repeating what she'd heard in the media.

"But someone indoctrinates them."

"The people who do that are in a network, but not in a network you would call Muslim," Ben Ahmed said. "Not in the mosque." He searched for the name of Coulibaly's recruiter in jail. "Djamel Beghal. He isn't an imam."

"You can't say that there aren't people who use religion to attract these youths."

"You say 'people,' sure, but you also said 'imams.' I'm not saying they don't exist, but you're generalizing from the exception."

"I'm saying there are many reasons, and the point in common is these are young Muslims. And that means something - it means that they're using religion."

Ben Ahmed seemed to be afraid that if he accepted Tabet's view he would end up vindicating the Islamophobes. He couldn't cross that line. The two friends were on the verge of an argument that might inflict lasting hurts.

"Your opinion is interesting," Ben Ahmed said. "The thing is, I’m convinced that this doesn't really happen in the mosques. It's in prison."

"Yes, that's certain," Tabet said.

"And there are people who come to the mosques to talk with some of them and succeed in capturing them, on the side."


They had found just enough common ground to move on.
An interesting, if unsatisfying conversation. Tabet raised a good point. What the terrorists have in common is 'Islam.' Surely that must mean something. But the common ground shared by Ahmed and Tabet is riven with cracks, and we never quite entirely find out if the suburbs of Paris are "incubators of terrorism."

I'm thus still stuck with the narrow distinction between Islamism and Islam . . .

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Tuesday, November 17, 2015

"Maestro, Marguerite, morphine: The last years in the life of Mikhail Bulgakov"

Thanks to Kevin Kim, the great Big Hominid himself, I've received an abstract I can safely say I'd never have come across on my own:
"Maestro, Marguerite, morphine: The last years in the life of Mikhail Bulgakov"
The study was undertaken by G. Zilberstein, U. Maor, E. Baskin, and P. G. Righetti. Here's their "Abstract":
The manuscript pages of the final draft of Master i Margarita, the masterpiece by Mikhail Bulgakov, written in the last four years of his life (1936-1940), have been treated with a mixture of chromatographic beads, namely a strong cation exchanger and a C8 resin. Potential substances captured by the beads, after harvesting them, were eluted with a mixture of isopropyl alcohol, dichloromethane and ammonium hydroxide and the eluate subjected to GC-MS analysis in order to detect the presence, if any, of drugs, due to the fact that the writer suffered intense pains caused by an inherited nephrotic syndrome. Indeed all the pages under investigation (a total of ten, taken at random among 127 foils) contained traces of morphine, from as little as 5 up to 100ng/cm2. In addition to the intact drug, we could detect one of its metabolites, namely 6-O-acetyl morphine. The significance of these findings in terms of a possible improvement of the novel and in terms of drug use (or abuse) in the modern world is discussed and evaluated.
In other words, here are the drugs he took, he took them for pain associated with kidney problems, and the drugs' painkilling properties may have enabled his final four-year work on improving the manuscript. There's also the biological significance:
The extraction of metabolites/proteins from the surface of the original manuscript pages of Bulgakov masterpiece Master i Margarita has permitted to monitor his health state and intake of medicaments over the last four years of his life. We have ascertained that: (1) he was assuming large doses of morphine as pain killers; (2) he was affected by a nephrotic syndrome, since we could identify three proteins known as biomarkers of this pathology. The double extraction procedure here reported could open up a novel field of investigation of (relatively) ancient manuscripts for metabolome/proteome analysis on the health status of the writer/artist.
And here are the key words:
6-O-acetyl morphine; Bulgakov manuscript; Chromatographic resins; Gas chromatography/mass spectrometry; Master i Margarita; Morphine
How interesting this "novel field of investigation"! How clever the novel pun!

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Monday, November 16, 2015

The Late John Robert Gallagher: "Why the War in Kurdistan Matters"

John Robert Gallagher in Kurdistan
Photo from Michael J. Totten's Blog

In Michael J. Totten's Dispatches for World Affairs (November 9, 2015) appears posthumously a long article written prior to May 6 by John Robert Gallagher, "Why the War in Kurdistan Matters," from which I excerpt three crucial paragraphs:
For decades now, we have been at war. This war has been unacknowledged by our leaders, but enthusiastically proclaimed by our enemies. This war has produced casualties on every continent, in nearly every nation on earth. It has had periods of intense fighting, followed by long stretches of rearming and regrouping, but it has never ended. It is not even close to being won. Someday historians will look back and marvel at how much effort we put into deceiving ourselves about the nature of this conflict, and wonder how we convinced ourselves that it was not even taking place. This war may have started in 1979, or earlier; 2001 increased the intensity of the conflict; the withdrawal from Iraq kicked off the latest phase. Like the American Civil War, World War II, and the Cold War, this war is about ideas as much as it is about armies. Slavery, fascism, and communism were all bad ideas which required costly sacrifice before they were finally destroyed. In our time, we have a new bad idea: Theocracy.

We live in a society that's grown around a very basic philosophical principle: That the world around us can be understood using our senses and our minds. From this simple insight comes the moral revelation that all human beings are equal in this capacity, and therefore equal in dignity. This radical idea was the turning point in human history, before which all civilizations had been dominated by the idea that class hierarchies and racism were perfectly justified according to the revealed wisdom of ancient texts, and sanctified by holy men with a special relationship to some 'divine' power. We began to see justice as something which could be measured by its effects on living people, not as superstition.

This idea has been under threat ever since its inception, because it's the most powerful force for human emancipation that has ever been, and so it is a deadly threat to the privileged. It is also a threat to those who fear a world where human beings must be the judges of our own actions. Some prefer to subordinate their own morality to a doctrine they know they can never fully understand; this is more agreeable than facing the thought that we are alone in this world. This terror at our own freedom, and hatred for the mind that makes its realization inescapable, has given birth to movements that promise to give us back our comforting delusions. Communism and fascism were both answers to the problem of human freedom. These ideas were defeated. But always in the background the germ of these ideas was aggressively breeding. Theocracy isn't just as dangerous as fascism; it's the model of fascism, and all totalitarianisms. Communism said 'instead of god, the Party.' Fascism said, 'instead of god, the Nation!' Theocracy simply says 'God.'
We have lost an insightful man in Mr. Gallagher. I do not agree with every point he makes in his lengthy essay, but he is correct in his main point, the danger of theocracy, especially for the fact that one must, in the currently 'popular' brand of theocracy, submit one's reasoning powers, one's very rationality, to the Islamist limits of ignorant, biased, prejudiced men who would not hesitate to chop off a limb or a head in the service of an irrational, arbitrary deity constrained only by an unconstrained will.

We call this "theocracy," but it's more accurately called "theonomy," for no god rules directly, but only through the hands of power-corrupted men.

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Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Great Bob Dylan: "Not Dark Yet"

Bob Dylan
Google Images

It ain't dark yet, and here's Bob Dylan to remind us of what "yet" means:
"Not Dark Yet" by Bob Dylan

Shadows are falling and I've been here all day
It's too hot to sleep, time is running away
Feel like my soul has turned into steel
I've still got the scars that the sun didn’t heal
There's not even room enough to be anywhere
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there

Well, my sense of humanity has gone down the drain
Behind every beautiful thing there's been some kind of pain
She wrote me a letter and she wrote it so kind
She put down in writing what was in her mind
I just don't see why I should even care
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there

Well, I've been to London and I've been to gay Paree
I've followed the river and I got to the sea
I've been down on the bottom of a world full of lies
I ain't looking for nothing in anyone's eyes
Sometimes my burden seems more than I can bear
It's not dark yet, but it's getting there

I was born here and I'll die here against my will
I know it looks like I'm moving, but I'm standing still
Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb
I can't even remember what it was I came here to get away from
Don't even hear a murmur of a prayer
It’s not dark yet, but it's getting there

Copyright © 1997 by Special Rider Music
These are just Dylan's lyrics, so click the link for the music.

It's not dark yet, but think of "gay Paree."


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Nicholas Kristof: Pro Free Speech, Even at Mizzou

Nicholas Kristof

Nicholas Kristof, in "Mizzou, Yale and Free Speech" (NYT, November 11, 2015), notes that "moral voices can also become sanctimonious bullies," and he shows some on the Left not only being against racism but also being against the First Amendment even though they depend on it for their protests:
"Go, go, go," some Mizzou protesters yelled as they jostled a student photographer, Tim Tai, who was trying to document the protests unfolding in a public space. And Melissa Click, an assistant professor who joined the protests, is heard on a video calling for "muscle" to oust another student journalist (she later apologized).

Tai represented the other noble force in these upheavals - free expression. He tried to make the point, telling the crowd: "The First Amendment protects your right to be here - and mine."
Do watch the video. It's illuminating. As for Ms.Click, I believe she was sincere - when she called for "muscle." But not when she apologized. She was sorry, of course - sorry she got caught on camera.

If you watch the video, keep an eye on the very photogenic girls in the front line who don't look entirely convinced of their role.


Friday, November 13, 2015

Aye, that's the rub . . .

Kim Ji-hyun, writing for the Korea Herald, notes that the "Korean church in Japan [is] ripe with strife" (November 11, 2015), and she identifies a possible problem with one previous leader:
He was eventually ousted for charges of sexual harassment . . . . Perhaps he rubbed the elders the wrong way.
Never let anyone say this blog avoids sensitive issues . . .


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Thinking Exponentially Outside the Box

Robert Cheek
Korea Herald

Writing for The Korea Herald (November 10, 2015), Robert Cheek calls for "Thinking outside the box" about "AI bots and robotic IoT" - whatever those are - and he borrows a chessboard to give an example:
In the book "Race Against the Machine"” by MIT professors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, a chessboard is used as an example to describe the evolution of technology, specifically robotics and AI, an idea which they borrowed from Ray Kurzweil. In the story, the inventor of chess shows his new game to his emperor. The emperor is so impressed by the game that he grants the inventor the right to select his own reward. The inventor asks for a quantity of rice to be calculated as follows: One grain of rice is put on the first square of the board, two on the second, four on the third, and so on, with each square doubling the number of grains as the previous. The emperor agrees, thinking the reward too small. Much to his chagrin, he later sees that the doubling results in incredibly large numbers. The inventor ends up with 18 quintillion grains of rice, an amount which makes Mount Everest look like a molehill. The point of the story is that in an age of exponential technological growth, things only get really interesting in the second half of the chessboard. We are now on the second half of the board. And things are getting very interesting, indeed.
How interesting? Read on about how we'll all be 'impacted':
Businesses of all types have been impacted by the moves already taken on the first half of the chessboard during the IT revolution that started in the 1980s. One example is what happened to photography with the advent of digital photography, which brought about the demise of some companies and emergence of others. This scenario is now happening in AI and robotics. Intelligent, easy-to-use machines dedicated to the service of humans are being developed and are becoming accessible to the majority of consumers in terms of cost. These robot systems will spell the end of many jobs and businesses, but create new jobs and businesses for those positioned for the change. For employment, however, the net result will be negative, and mass unemployment will become an issue with which governments must contend.

The key difference between the intelligence revolution and the information revolution, however, is the rise of cyberphysical systems. The technology now improves itself and learns from mistakes. The digital genie is now out of the cyber bottle, whether as a classical humanoid robot, an autonomous car, a nanobot implant or a robotic chef system.

In the Cyberphysical Era we will see AI and robotics (AI-enhanced robots, or AI bots) permeate the physical world. The AI bots in the RIoT system will be components of a "hive mind," and use onboard processors as well as the cloud to learn from each other, not unlike a real-time Wikipedia for AI bots, thus magnifying their efficiency and growing its knowledge base. This year, IBM and Softbank gave birth to the first generation of AI bots by fusing Watson AI and Pepper, the service robot. While at the University of Cambridge, scientists have created a "mother robot" that builds smaller robots, and selects the fittest for survival, and rearranges the rest.
Now, let's see, the benefits are that "scientists have created a 'mother robot' that builds smaller robots," and "technology now improves itself and learns from mistakes," and "mass unemployment will become an issue." Yes, this is "getting very interesting, indeed." Are we sure we want all these 'benefits'? Was the Unabomber right about technology?

Ask yourself: "What would Jesus do?"

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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Kirstallnacht Commemoration: Jews not Invited?

Tova Dvorin reports on a "Scandal: Jews not invited to Swedish Kristallnacht commemoration" (Arutz Sheva 9, Israel National News, November 11, 2015):
[O]rganizers of an anti-Nazi event in Sweden face controversy . . . after declining to invite the Jewish community . . . . "Umeå against Nazism" will run in the city of Umeå, . . . . commemorating Kirstallnacht, or the "Night of Broken Glass," the massive 1938 pogrom against Austrian and German Jews . . . seen as marking the start of the holocaust . . . . Jews will not be invited . . . . [because] inviting the Jewish community presents a security risk, . . . citing anti-Semitic and anti-Israel protests present at past events . . . . "[We've] had a lot of Palestinian flags at these rallies, and even one banner where the Israeli flag was equated with a swastika," organizer and local Workers' Party member Jan Hägglund told locals. "The Jewish community wasn't invited because . . . they might be uncomfortable around that sort of thing" . . . . Hägglund's omission must be due to the crowd he invited to the event, implying that it could only be far-left or anti-Israel - thus creating . . . the "security risk."
Workers' Party? Oh. I see. Well what can one expect of such an old left. It's dying ideologically and is being proactive by inviting only its undertakers . . .


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Is Freedom on the Wrong Side of History?

Macer Gifford (Pseudonym)

The provocative journalist Brendan O'Neill, writing for The Spectator, asks "Why are student-union officials censoring criticism of Islamic State?" (Novemmber 6, 2015), and he focuses on Macer Gifford (a pseudonym), who was invited by the Kurdish Society to speak at University College London on his experience fighting against Islamic State:
Macer Gifford, a former student at University College London (UCL), was due to give a talk at UCL this week on his experiences with the YPG, the fighting units of Syrian Kurdistan who have valiantly stymied the spread of Isis. But the Kurdish Society who invited him was told by Asad Khan, the activities and events officers of UCL's students' union, that the talk couldn't go ahead, because 'in every conflict there are two sides, and at UCLU [University College London Union] we want to avoid taking sides in conflicts'.

It's true there are two sides in the YPG v Isis conflict. One side has both men and women fighting hard to protect their homeland and people from falling to brutal Islamist rule; the other pushes gay people off buildings, stones adulterers, sets fire to its prisoners of war, and mows down anyone who stands in the way of the growth of its creepy Caliphate. If you can't 'take sides' in a conflict like that, then your moral compass is in serious need of repair.
Asad Khan to the contrary, allowing Macer Gifford to speak is not the same as promoting his views. University students these days seem to conflate the two - free speech and promoting views - so they protest against speakers whose views are 'controversial' and they apply pressure to have the speakers 'dis-invited.'

As I asked several posts ago, doesn't anyone believe in free speech anymore? Are those of us who do still believe in free speech on the wrong side of history?


Monday, November 09, 2015

Mephisto . . .

The novelist Rachel Kushner speaks of "Jonathan Franzen's Crackling Genius" in the New York Times Magazine (October 12, 2015), but also of Mephistopheles:
[A]s I drank coffee and ate toast in Jon and Kathy's kitchen, we discussed Faust and Mephisto, who connect to [Jon's novel] "Purity" by way of its epigraph. Jon had said, the night before, when I asked him why Mephisto wants Faust's soul, "Because that is his nature."
This means that Mephisto's motive is simple, irreducible to more basic components. Here's the epigraph, borrowed from Goethe's Faust, spoken by a part of that power (ein Teil von jener Kraft):
. . . die stets das Böse will und stets das Gute schafft.
This is Mephistopheles introducing himself to Faust, stating that he is a part of that power "that eternally wills evil and eternally creates good," a somewhat ambiguous introduction.

Read Faust and discover if he speaks the truth . . .

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Sunday, November 08, 2015

Snow White?

Lips Red as Blood?
Illustration by Franz Jüttner

Once upon a time - when tigers smoked, as Koreans insist in their fairy tales - I read the following lines:
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful little girl whose hair was dark as night, whose skin was white as snow, and whose lips were red as blood. They called her . . . "Bloody Lips!"
Okay, actually, they called her "Snow White," but they might have called her "Dark Hair" or even "Bloody Lips," if they'd acknowledged one or the other of the remaining two possibilities.

Suppose they'd called her one of the other two names. "Dark Hair," for instance. Such darkness could have led to a religious reading of the text.

But the "Bloody Lips"? That would be a vampire reading hidden in the wings, just waiting to pounce . . .


Saturday, November 07, 2015

A Quote for Our Times . . .

Roger Scruton

Occasioned by Russell Kirk's book America's British Culture, Roger Scruton writes:
[The multiculturalists' program] derives less from the love of other cultures, than from the rejection of their own.
For more, see "The Plague of Multiculturalism" (The Imaginative Conservative, October 25. 2015; republished from The Intercollegiate Review, Fall 1994).

Hat Tip to Malcolm Pollack . . .

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Friday, November 06, 2015

Lionel Jensen on China's Sticky One-Child Policy

Lionel Jensen
Notre Dame

An old UC Berkeley friend of mine got quoted in a recent Letter from China column by Didi Kirsten Tatlow, "'One Child' Culture is Entrenched in China" (New York Times, November 4, 2015):
"China has succeeded in creating a single-child culture," said Lionel Jensen, a professor of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Notre Dame[, explaining that s]ince the mid-1980s and then again more emphatically after 1992, the highest organs of government," as well as the late leader Deng Xiaoping, "have urged the population to seek merit for self and nation in making money . . . . 'To get rich is glorious,' and 'Jump into the Sea of Commerce,' such slogans have convinced many individuals and families that making money is a key sign of success and a means of self-preservation and enrichment" . . . . Having one child "is patriotic, definitively Chinese, and economically rational" . . . . As a result, [only a small] . . . number of people . . . applied to have a second child once it was permitted in 2013 to couples where one partner was a single child . . . . "The very understanding of the family has changed," said Mr. Jensen, adding that economics were likely to be a powerful factor in decision-making for a while to come.
In other words, kids are expensive, and China's one-child policy accustomed people to having just one, so Chinese couples generally decide to have only one anyway despite the change in policy. That, by the way, is a pattern emerging throughout the world.

Though I can just hear Lionel's distinctive voice in these quoted words above, I've not actually heard from him for several years.

As Mattie Ross said, time just gets away from us . . .


Thursday, November 05, 2015

The Furcula Conundrum

Furcula of a Chicken

Everyone knows that a wish made by either of two individuals prior to the interaction of these two in pulling on opposite ends of a chicken's wishbone will be fulfilled for the individual with a lucky break, namely, the one who breaks off the longer portion of bone.

This is obviously magical thinking.

Therefore, I always wish to lose.

If the purported magic were real, my wish would surely result in some dire consequence from the magic being set at odds with itself, but since absolutely nothing happens, I conclude that the purported magic is merely purported, not real.

Just stating the obvious, but that's sometimes all I can do . . .


Wednesday, November 04, 2015

A Tongue Fit To Betide the Times

Lucy of the Lounge, Photo of Richard Perry's Photo for the NYT

Gene Simmons proves he can play not only music but also baseball by stealing home on a sacrifice single, much to the catcher's disgust as he retches his guts out while Simmons ramps up the antics for fanatics, breaking into song and dance and prancing away from the plate with the apparent intention of blowing the raving crowd a totally wild French kiss!

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Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Academia Rejects Diversity?

Arthur C. Brooks

Academia? Reject diversity? Surely not! Let's look:
[N]ew research . . . shows that academia has itself stopped short in both the understanding and practice of true diversity - the diversity of ideas - and that the problem is taking a toll on the quality and accuracy of scholarly work. This year, a team of scholars from six universities studying ideological diversity in the behavioral sciences published a paper in the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences that details a shocking level of political groupthink in academia. The authors show that for every politically conservative social psychologist in academia there are about 14 liberal social psychologists.

Why the imbalance? The researchers found evidence of discrimination and hostility within academia toward conservative researchers and their viewpoints. In one survey cited, 82 percent of social psychologists admitted they would be less likely to support hiring a conservative colleague than a liberal scholar with equivalent qualifications.

This has consequences well beyond fairness. It damages accuracy and quality. As the authors write, "Increased political diversity would improve social psychological science by reducing the impact of bias mechanisms such as confirmation bias, and by empowering dissenting minorities to improve the quality of the majority's thinking."
Who's telling us this? Arthur C. Brooks? The opinionated columnist who works for the American Enterprise Institute? Ah, a conservative. He's obviously biased, so ignore what he says, even if he is publishing this article, "Academia's Rejection of Diversity," in the New York Times (November 2, 2015).

Remember: Diversity in all but ideas! (Because ideas are dangerous.)

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Monday, November 02, 2015

David Mitchell in Slade House, Sowing a bit of Confusion . . .

In David Mitchell's recent novel, Slade House, which may pun on 'slayed' because Mitchell loves a pun, we find yet another pun, albeit only a visual one, dependent on knowing that Sal - who is being rescued by Todd from 'soul carnivores' - was formerly wearing a pig mask:
"Remember: vow of silence, eyes down, don't let go of my hand. I'll cloak us as best I can. Put that mask back on, too. It may sow a little extra confusion."
There's the pun, but only an optical one, and it might not work since the sounds are different, but here I am going on record just in case there's a reward for being the first to catch it . . .


Sunday, November 01, 2015

Ed Park's Very Personal Days . . .

I finished Ed Park's first novel, Personal Days: A Novel - to be precise, a very funny (laugh-out-loud-on-the-subway type of funny) novel of workplace relations in a failing corporation - and I give it a 4.99 out of 5 simply because nothing's perfect, in this case, a period missing in the last section, "Revert to Saved"

I never did locate that missing period (unless this is it: "."), but if Jonah was three days in the belly of the whale, that's a period long enough for me!

And there really is a "Jonah," Park's Jonah, who's trapped between floors in the building's innards on an elevator stuck in its shaft (some reviewers might pun that Jonah got the shaft, but I shall not sink to that level), and he's typing a long literary missive in the dark to fellow-worker Pru, who perhaps never receives it since it's returned by a mailer demon as "could not be delivered."

This second Jonah's entrapment begins on a Friday and conceivably lasts three nights before Monday morning arrives, when he can emerge from his tome like a modern-day Jonah.

I'll stop here, on page 242, since the story does, as well (in its Kindle version), but I'll add that the tale is not only very funny, but also somewhat sad.

Unless the tale is actually a comedy, as the fact that it's published and even has readers may imply . . .