Saturday, December 31, 2005

The pope needs a theologian?

CNS runs a story where they explain precisely why the pope needs a theologian. And it turns out he does a bit more than you'd imagine. He's also, apparently the copy-proofer for speeches and such.

The papal theologian's main task is to vet the many thousands of words prepared by Vatican aides for the pope to speak or publish. He checks for statements of dubious theology and otherwise hazardous phrases that could come back to haunt the pope.

This is also somewhat ...This is also somewhat interesting. See what he has to say on the issue of "saying too much:"

A third concern, he said, is to be careful not to make the pope say too much about some topics.

"By this, I mean that when we have a theological issue that is still open to discussion and study, it's not a good thing that the pope pronounce on it too early. Because when the pope speaks with authority, it means the discussion is closed," he said.

For example, Cardinal Cottier noted that the International Theological Commission met recently to discuss the church's teaching on limbo and babies who die without being baptized. Pope Benedict gave a speech to the commission members, but without addressing the substance of the theological discussion.

The Providence Journal's Year-end Review of Religion

The Providence Journal of Rhode Island has a year-end summing up of the year that was when it comes to religion. The Papacy gets the majority of the initial focus.

Thoughts on Benedict

Monsters and Critics has a year-end retrospective on the year for the Papacy.

And while we're on the Papacy, I saw this story about the Pope's views on the sinless life not being boring. I thought of this, precisely because I pointed out that Benedict's life (like that of John Paul's) stands in stark contrast to the modern view that a sinless life is unattainable. And similarly , the fact that he stresses long-held teachings (like no communion to those who divorced and remarry) is testament to the fact that he believes in following the whole Gospel not just bits and pieces.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Weigel Reflects on Benedict

While the rest of the world's media huffs and puffs about what they think Benedict should do (invariably encompassing trendy lefty topics dear to the heart of the press), George Weigel offers some penetrating insight into the challenges that face the Pontiff.

Pope Invited to Auschwitz

Newspapers are reporting that His Holiness has been invited to see Auschwitz on his trip to Poland in May. As an interesting note, it is Stanislaw Dziwisz, John Paul II's close friend and aide who made the offer.

American Teen Holidays in Iraq

File this under "Shock and Awe," an American teenager, Farris Hassan decided to go to Iraq over the Christmas Holidays to engage in some immersion journalism. It's just so amazing that I have nothing to say, so you'll have to read the article without much more commentary from me.

UPDATE: As I was typing the above, I heard on NPR that he's on his way home (source).

Thursday, December 29, 2005

On Heresies and Schism

NPR's All Things Considered ran a story on the diocese of San Bernadino trying an ex-priest for heresy, and with the stories of St Stanislaus Parish in St Louis had me thinking ...

And it reinforces to me ...And it reinforces to me the fact that the Church is experiencing very troubled times. What the Church needs more than ever is renewal: genuine, authentic renewal of wholehearted following of the Gospel in union with the Holy Father and the Magesterium. I know that's not something people like to hear these days. Much like the so-call "Spirit of Vatican II" the word "renewal" has been co-opted by people who mean for the Church to go in a radically different direction than the one intended for it by God.

But, there is something all of us can do. At the simplest level, we must all pray fervently. All of these crises brought to mind, Fr Groeschel's book The Rosary: Chain of Hope. This book is a must-have tool in the drive to repair the rifts in the Church. Meditate on Fr. Groeschel's words for each Mystery, and make it a fervent part of your daily rosary prayers. This, more than anything else, will bring about genuine renewal of the Church.

Limbo Going Away?

A number of news sources (The Detroit News, the Chicago Tribune, and Science Daily among others) are reporting that the Church is prepared to dump Limbo. File this under non-issue.

Limbo was to the Church what Einstein's Universal Constant was to physics, a way to reconcile an apparent contradiction. But that isn't to say it was a critical doctrine (as Science Daily and the UPI indicate); it was what the present Holy Father said it was back in 1984, an hypothesis. Consider what the Catholic Encylopedia of the early 20th century had to say on the topic (under Limbus Infantum). It outlines the apparent contradiction, and the thinking down the ages.

You'll also note ...You'll also note that unlike the negative caricaturist's brush with which we're so often painted, this was not a harsh or overly negative "doctrine." What is so harsh about "...we ought to believe that these souls enjoy and will eternally enjoy a state of perfect natural happiness ..." Nor is it clear to me that abortion is the impetus for continued reasoning and discussion on the topic. We have been wrestling with this for centuries. What to make of what happens to those who die unregenerate but who have not committed any actual sin is of great import to those at a pastoral level.

I think the final word, if there is a truly final word, will look a lot like this:

1261 As regards children who have died without Baptism, the Church can only entrust them to the mercy of God, as she does in her funeral rites for them. Indeed, the great mercy of God who desires that all men should be saved, and Jesus' tenderness toward children which caused him to say: "Let the children come to me, do not hinder them,"[63] allow us to hope that there is a way of salvation for children who have died without Baptism. All the more urgent is the Church's call not to prevent little children coming to Christ through the gift of holy Baptism.

From the Catechism

EDIT: Change made for accuracy regarding nature of "hypothesis".

UN Comments on Elections as Parties Forge Gov't

NPR's Morning Edition had a report by Jaime Tarabay, regarding the Iraqi political situation. It can be distilled as such.

  • Iraqi political parties, in particular the Shiites and the Kurds, are moving ahead with coalition talks, and

  • The UN weighs in on the elections, saying they were fair and transparent.

UPDATE: Today (Dec 30) Morning Edition has a story that International Inspectors will come in and look at the vote, which will be seen as a political coup for the Sunnis, since it demonstrates they still wield clout.

Papal Retrospectives

NPR, this morning, had a look back at Benedict's papacy so far. Essentially the argument goes that he's confounding his opponents, because he's playing to both sides. I think it's silly, but it indicates that National Public Broadcasting, in its desire to be "fair" to both sides, sometimes has to contrive some pretty ridiculous conclusions in order to fit that mold.

A better look at the Pontiff can be found at the Beeb.

I think it's also clear that Benedict is confounding people, because he lives the Gospel so completely. Modernity tells us that the Gospel message is an impossible ideal which cannot be attained. But the previous Pontiff and the present both belie that "fact". Benedict invites Hans Küng to dinner, precisely because he loves Herr Küng as a brother. There's no mystery here. Called to be Pope, he is living the way Christ calls for in the Gospels.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Polish government criticised for Iraq troops decision

Poland announces it will keep its troops in Iraq, albeit reduced in number.

Marcinkiewicz announced yesterday that his conservative minority government had asked President Lech Kaczynski to keep Polish troops in Iraq for another year, reversing plans by the previous government to bring them home in January.

However, it's causing ...However, it's causing considerable friction from across the political spectrum.

[F]ormer defence minister, Bronislaw Komorowski of the centre-right Civic Platform, said Poland had fulfilled its obligations in Iraq “110 per cent”.

“I find no justification for our further presence,” he said.


The left-leaning daily newspaper Trybuna said Marcinkiewicz’s Cabinet was “driven by servility toward the USA,” and warned that the decision increases threats to Poland and weakens its position in the European Union.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Politeness II

This post is dedicated to Jeremy.

So, I have had more of an opportunity to think of the notion of politeness. In the event I was following previously, Zhen Tong managed to extricate himself from his predicament.

And it caused me ...

And it caused me to think about what is really at the heart of politeness.

It is all to do with communication. For most of us communication means something to the effect:

  • I say/write/sing something.

  • You reply.

But what politeness reveals is that communication is much deeper and more profound than this. People begin to grasp this when they talk of "body language" the subtle cues we give off that telegraph what we're thinking.

Consider one of the great pitfalls of this medium; you the reader cannot perceive any intonation or subtlety of speech. How do you know, unless context reveals it, that my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek? Anyone who has sent an abundance of emails knows full well there are times when you may have typed something in a spirit of good fun, but it back-fired miserably, because the reader to whom you sent it took it rather literally.

This type of meta-communication enables us to add additional information to what we're trying to convey. Just as the laugh at the end of a snide comment can (sometimes) take the bite off, politeness adds an additional layer of information to ensure that the right, anticipated reaction is achieved.

In this case, Zhen Tong wanted to get into the meeting, save face, win renown for handling a situation, and convince others of his social and diplomatic acumen. He used the right tool, the meta-communication of politeness, to achieve his end, and it worked.

Kerry Packer dies

Kerry Packer dies. Who is Kerry Packer you ask? Aside from being Australia's richest man. He's also the man responsible for limited-overs matches in cricket.

A "Mirror" Bible?

Here's a strange story about a fellow who made a bible that can only be read with the aid of a mirror. It's to be a gift to the Pope.

NPR : Chanukah, or Hanukkah?

I found this story amusing. I hope you do too.

(Here is the song that followed the piece during the broadcast.)

Hain versus the Tories on N Ireland

There's an interesting debate going between Peter Hain, the Northern Ireland Secretary and the Tories over the issue of the "on the runs."

Hain's argument is ...Hain's argument is that the Tories should mimic the stance Labour adopted during the Major years:

"The opposition parties used to support the Government, as we did when we were in opposition and John Major started talking to the IRA," he said.

"We supported him and it was a tough thing to do; people didn't like the fact that we supported the Government when the IRA had only recently being setting off bombs.

"They set off the bomb in Canary Wharf after his Government started negotiating with the IRA, and we still backed the Tories' dialogue with them."

But the Tories are replying that the issue is such that they can and should go against this spirit of bi-partisanship:
The Conservatives continued to operate a bipartisan policy "wherever possible", he added.

"But on this bill we are looking at something that would allow people who have committed barbaric murders, things like the Enniskillen Poppy Day massacre, to go free without serving one day in prison or even appearing themselves in court," Mr Lidington told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"It was not in the original Belfast Agreement, it is opposed not just by Conservatives, but by Liberal Democrats, by both Unionist parties and nationalist parties like the SDLP in Northern Ireland."

Mr Hain was choosing "very weak ground on which to try to pick a major fight", he added.

(Interesting side note, with Cameron's ascension is it just me, or have the Tories become a force again such that the word "bi-partisan" has meaning once again?)

I need to ponder this before I declare on which side I fall ...

Ganguly Misses Game for Home State of Bengal

Indian selectors are seeking an explanation from former captain Saurav Ganguly for not turning out for his home state Bengal in a round of the national championship that began on Sunday.

The chairman of selectors, Kiran More, told Reuters on Monday that Ganguly's failure to heed instructions to play the state's game ahead of the Pakistan tour was worrying the selectors.

The story from Reuters.

Kiran More, chief of selectors, has asked ...

Kiran More, chief of selectors, has asked for an explanation. He's upset with the reason given for missing the match:
More was unhappy with the reason given for Ganguly missing the match. Pranob Roy, Cricket Association of Bengal chairman of selectors, and Sardindu Pal, the CAB secretary, said that they were unable to contact Ganguly. "Pronab did not know where Sourav is. I also spoke to Paras Mhambrey [Bengal coach], but he too was clueless and did not know how to contact Sourav. This is really surprising. There is nothing like match practice and since we have just one tour game in Pakistan, it would have helped Sourav if he had played the match."

But the BCCI will not be asking for an explanation.

Colin Powell Speaks about the Domestic Spying Program

"My own judgment is that it didn't seem to me, anyway, that it would have been that hard to go get the warrants," Mr. Powell said. "And even in the case of an emergency, you go and do it. The law provides for that."

But Mr. Powell added that "for reasons that the president has discussed and the attorney general has spoken to, they chose not to do it that way."

"I see absolutely nothing wrong with the president authorizing these kinds of actions," he said.

Get the whole story. (NB: NYT; may require registration.)

"Lull" Shattered in Iraq

The story from the Torygraph.

At least 16 people have been killed in violence across Iraq, ending a spell of comparative peace which followed the country's parliamentary elections a fortnight ago.

While sad, it's not unexpected. The same thing happened in previous elections. I think analysts will be trying to answer whether or not the contesting of the results and the subsequent Shiite reaction played a role here.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

How the Shiites have reacted

As you know, the Sunnis and secular Shiites have been contesting the results of the election. But one of the tests of whether or not democracy takes hold is how the sides deal with these questions. Well, the Shiites have responded to the contesting of results: Shiites are rejecting calls for new Iraqi ballot, and instead are preparing for coalition talks. Again, I have no idea how this will unfold, but it is clearly a critical series of events if democracy is to take hold.

One of the best gifts ...

I got some very thoughtful gifts, but there was one that amused me to no end ... A set of first-issue British stamps celebrating England's defeat of Australia in the Ashes. Ta much, Mum.

Papal Christmas message.

Pope Benedict XVI has issued a wake-up call to us in his Christmas message; warning us not to get derailed by the message of modernity.

'In the millennium just past, and especially in the last centuries, immense progress was made in the areas of technology and science. Today we can dispose of vast material resources.

'But the men and women in our technological age risk becoming victims of their own intellectual and technical achievements, ending up in spiritual barrenness and emptiness of heart.

'That is why it is so important for us to open our minds and hearts to the Birth of Christ, this event of salvation which can give new hope to the life of each human being,' the pope said.

Additional Source

But he has also asked people to unite against terror. (Another piece on the same angle.)

UPDATE: Text in full.

Oh yeah ...

Something I forgot to mention about the Mass ... We had Fourth Degree Knights of Columbus in full regalia assisting at the Holy Mass. That was a nice touch.

Midnight Mass

As promised, here are my impressions of the Midnight Mass at the Cathedral. The Bish knows how to do it right. Incense, old carols, and an organ. That's nice. And for the most part it was a good Mass.

But I have two little quibbles ...

But I have two little quibbles. First, why do people feel the need to leave the pulpit and walk down to "chit chat" with us? The celebrant -- be he Pope, bishop, or priest -- is not the focus; the Eucharist is. Ok, so the Oprah approach annoys me, and it doubly annoys me when it's a bishop.

But then the Bishop changed the words of humility, at least the bit that the celebrant introduces. I didn't see anything in GIRM to suggest he could, or anything in my Missal. But I also don't have access to all the documents. Still, my impression from reading GIRM is that the words are prescribed and must come from the Gospel. Even if it is somewhere permitted, what's wrong with the words of humility as we have them?

This is the Lamb of God
who takes away the sins of the world.
Happy are those who are called to his supper.

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you,
but only say the word and I shall be healed.

Isn't that lovely on its own? And that's not just something a liturgical committee came up with, the bolded bit (the bit we say as a whole) is the Centurion's words to Christ (see Matthew 8,8).

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Thoughts on the Christmas truce

Today is not just the anniversary of the eve of the day we celebrate Christ's birth, but it also mark the anniversary of a remarkable event during the First World War: Christmas truce.

You can read an extensive account here.

On November 21st, Alfred Anderson, the last known combatant to partake in the Christmas Truce, died.

Goin' to Midnight Mass!

I'm going to the Mass at Midnight at St. Joseph's Cathedral in Manchester. Should be a good time. Carol Service will precede it with the Mass starting at Midnight on the nose. Oddly enough, this'll be the first Midnight Christmas Mass I have been to that starts at Midnight that I have attended in a long time. When I lived in London, Mass got out at half nine so that those who needed to could take the Tube home. That experience was similar to other places. But, now, I can attend a Midnight Mass actually at Midnight.

I'll let you all know how it was.

Report: Symantec anti-virus has bug

The story

This is quite serious, because I see RAR compression about as often as I see ZIP. So, it could potentially be fatal to numerous people, not least of whom are Morrowind Modders (my own peeps).

At the moment, I don't see anything official from Symantec on this. I'll keep checking.

IMF approves historic loan to help Iraq's recovery

Get the Story

This represents an important step forward for Iraq. In order for it to use its natural capital, it needs a cash injection. This will also be seen as a good sign to international investor, whose money is needed to rebuild the economy.

While the US can rebuild schools and the like, it's tremendously difficult to rebuild something as complex as an economy if there is only one participant. But this injection will hopefully bring with it more participants. And as an added bonus, I hope it also further cements Iraqi participation in their own affairs via peaceful means.

The Pope: Uniter, Not Divider

"[The Pope] acknowledged that various Church factions were divided over the correct interpretation of Council documents, but said all sides should be able to find common ground in the "spirit" of the Council's reforms."

That's from the article I earlier linked to.

It struck me when a friend pointed it out to me: Bennie is a Uniter not a Divider!

Friday, December 23, 2005

Dylan Thomas Reads A Child's Christmas in Wales

A Child's Christmas in Wales read by Dylan Thomas himself. Have a listen and read along.

I love that Welsh running of words together; it reminds me so much of Gerard Manley Hopkins' running rhythmn.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Fashion Celebrity Pope Speaks of Fright at Election

The Holy Father, it turns out, is not just Christ's Vicar, he's also a fashion celebrity. He sported the fur-rimmed caumaro and mozzetta on his way to give an address the cardinals and curia where he said that his election to the papacy had filled him with "fright."

For those who think the Pope a little vain, in sporting the cap and cape, and have heard the rumours he is wearing Prada and Gucci? Ponder this:

"He wouldn't know Gucci from Smoochi," said Marjorie Weeke, a former official at the Vatican's Social Communications office. She recalled Ratzinger's daily walk across St. Peter's Square from his home just outside the Vatican walls to his office, wearing a black beret, black overcoat and carrying a worn leather briefcase. "He probably donned the cape because it was in the papal closet and would keep him warm on a winter evening," she said of the "mozzetta."

Catholic Position on Evolution

Since it's topical I'll give you a link to the Catholic position on Adam, Eve, and Evolution. The guys at Catholic Answers can talk about it much more eruditely than I.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


I play on a sim based on the ancient Chinese novel and modern games of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. And my friend posted what has to be one of the politest implied threats during the course of role play. This got me thinking about politeness as a facet of language, in general ...

Click for more.

We know that some cultures are known for politeness. The Japanese have such a reputation. As do Englishmen in Romance novels, Southern Gentlemen and so on.

But why be polite? Let me give an example.

One day I was serving at a Sunday Mass. We were preparing before Mass, and I noticed the chalice was not ready. But the sacristy was packed with the lector, members of the St Anne's Altar Society and so on. So, I gently asked Father if we would be using his own chalice for this Mass. He remarked that it was a very polite way of telling him to get a move on. But he said it with a smile.
Politeness is a kind of manner of preventing offence as a default. Consider. If you know someone is sensitive about his weight, you wouldn't make fat jokes if you wished to respect his sensitivity. But you can't know everyone the world over. So we have developed the concept of politeness to save us from embarrassing ourselves, causing gaffes, etc.

But that's not the only cause. Surely, in cultures where face and honour are important, or where one can be judged on one's use of language, politeness can help us navigate the "game."

Finally, artful politeness is an indicator of a well-oiled mind. And we delight in a clever turn of phrase. This is particularly true in the case of my friend's implied threat. The darkest, most violent concept was couched in the nicest of terms. If his opponent takes the "out" he is offered, the politeness will have achieved its best possible result.

We shall see if that happens ...

Thoughts on Poetry

The other day, I heard an interesting piece on poetry.

And this got me thinking about poetry in general. Specifically, I asked the question, "to what extent does the way we read poetry aloud affect how it is understood?"

Click for more.

This has always been a question with which I am concerned. During my University days I was having a particularly grouchy day. The professor called upon me to read a light and fluffy poem about honeysuckle aloud. I decided to read it in a very morbid, gothic tone of voice. I'll just say it provoked quite a spirited discussion.

This musing centers on the notion that poetry is profoundly oral. And in general, I agree with that statement. Although I also hold that not all poetry is meant to be read aloud, or that some of the poem's power comes from its being seen on the page.

In any case, how would we appreciate a piece of Emily Dickinson if it were read in a mocking tone? Or Poe's Raven if it were read in a cheery voice? What about Gerard Manly Hopkins in a caustic tone?

I posit that the poem is fundamentally changed when we differ how it is read aloud.


Rudolph in Latin

A choir sings Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer in Latin.

Commentary from NPR on ID

The second commentary is perhaps the most interesting, in that Joe Laconte, the commentator, points out that "The Big Bang" was widely rejected by Scientists, because it smacked of the Genesis story. He has a tremendous line at the end of his commentary, which I paraphrase as "the History of Science shows that dogma can be as deeply held by the scientist as the priest." (I call it the best, because -- let's face it -- that's effective use of English. Then again, that's par for the course on NPR.)

Thoughts on the Iraqi Election

Some parties in Iraq are suggesting irregularities in the Iraqi election. Now, the real test here will be not so much whether or not there were irregularities, but how the Iraqis handle the investigation. Additionally, do the parties trust the results of the investigation? If the answer is "yes" to both questions, then we're seeing Democracy take hold. It's essentially that all disputes be resolved in the political forums, not at gunpoint (or bombpoint, I suppose).

The article has a ray of significant hope, the Sunnis and Shia are uniting to contest the results, or at least talking about uniting. That's a significantly good sign in the right direction.

Rafsanjani Comments on Iranian Nuclear Ambitions

The story.

“We are completely serious, resolute, and determined to reap the benefits of our legal rights to make peaceful use of nuclear energy and achieve the fuel nuclear cycle”, Rafsanjani, who chairs the State Expediency Council, told the Dutch ambassador to Tehran, Hein de Vries, the state-run news agency ISNA reported.

The senior cleric said that pressure on Tehran by the European Union would simply make it more difficult to negotiate a diplomatic solution to end the deadlock.

It's a very interesting take from the former President, who lost to Ahmedinejad. I remember reading news reports he was put on the State Expediency Council to act as a counter-weight to Ahmedinejad. But it seems this issue of nuclear capability is one of such nationalist pride that it transcends even political considerations.

On Intelligent Design

The story.

I have a particularly simple take on this: ID is not Science. In order to be Science, it has to be verifiable, subject to testing etc. Its adherents must publish in peer-reviewed journals. When those conditions are met, it will be a Science. Until then it is simply Argument by Design.

Now, I believe that ...

Now, I believe that the Universe exists because God Wills it. But I am also wary of anthropomorphising the Sublime by saying he had to do X and Y in very mechanical terms. The Universe exists, operating under and because of the rules in place for it, and that is fine.

I also believe that someday we will be able to test for that. We lack, I believe, the tools to test, measure etc the existence of God. But if God does (and I believe he does) exist, then it is only a matter of time before we obtain the tools to verify or falsify his existence (and both possibilities must be open to us, sayeth the Philosophy of Science). I predict that when we do carry out those experiments we'll be very surprised indeed.

In the meantime, ID is not close to being what its proponents want it to be. Argument by Design is a flawed argument. Consider David Attenborough's point about it:

My response is that when Creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, [a worm] that's going to make him blind. And [I ask them], 'Are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child's eyeball? Because that doesn't seem to me to coincide with a God who's full of mercy'


That's not to say I don't have a response to Sir David, but in the context of evaluating Argument by Design on its own terms, he's spot on.

More on the Philosophy of it all later.

But now onto the decision itself. I believe it to be the right one, on the simple grounds that we do not have a Science yet. It's perfectly acceptable to talk about the holes in any Scientific concept, even Darwinian Gradualism. But when Scientists talk about holes, they proposes and test alternate hypotheses, like Punctuated Equilibrium, for example. Until ID does that, it is just philosophy, and therefore belongs in such a class.

There's one other thing I want to talk about. Science uses terminology that may be sowing the seeds of confusion. When Scientists talk about Theory, they don't mean it's an vaguely held, almost untenable position that simply exists for debating purposes. Instead, it is a framework, as Wikpedia explains:
In various sciences, a theory is a logically self-consistent model or framework for describing the behavior of a certain natural or social phenomenon, thus either originating from or supported by experimental evidence (see scientific method). In this sense, a theory is a systematic and formalized expression of all previous observations made that is predictive, logical, testable, and has never been falsified.

I think this misunderstanding of terminology partly explains why laymen believe theories have "holes." It also has to do with something we were likely taught in school: science is composed of hypotheses, theories and laws. So, if you have laws which are solid and settled, then theories must be less so. But law are going the way of the Dodo, it seems to me. Due in part to their very nature, as settled "fact" they are no longer subject to questioning. Think of it this way, we have "Cell Theory" and "Atomic Theory." I doubt anyone seriously holds "Cell Theory" is full of holes; we can see cells any time we like under the microscope. Similarly, with "Atomic Theory;" how would we have Nuclear Weapons or Nuclear Power without it?

Now that you're done reading this, see Asher's blog for a similar view.

Sharon Released, Asked to Go on Diet

The Main Story: Sharon Released and Passed Fit by Doctors. See also this.

Shortly afterbeing released, he gets a call from President Bush. And Sharon calls President Katsav.

But the big story seems to be Sharon's diet: Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4.

So, why am I following Sharon's story? Simple, I believe he is turning out to be a Nixonian figure. In the same way that "only Nixon could go to China," so too am I beginning to believe that only Sharon can make lasting peace with the Palestinians.

Monday, December 19, 2005

NPR Covers Wire-Tapping Debate

All Things Considered began today with three pieces on the story that the President authorised warrantless domestic spying.

Click for my take on the issue.
As I see it there is a conflict between two competing, and it seems, mutually exclusive concerns.

  1. How does one respond quickly and efficiently to act of terrorism before they can kill thousands>

  2. And
  3. How does one protect our sacred civil liberties and rights?

One can imagine that the Government does believe it has a need to know quickly what those threats are before they occur. Since it can take two days before the special court to obtain a warrant, if the Government had reason to believe they did not have those two days, what then? Well, we'd probably have another 9-11 Commission who would argue something needed to be done, but that wouldn't happen until people died.

On the other hand, the reporter's question in the first piece is quite important. Lord Acton's fear is very real. And in the past the both pernicious and benevolent rulers alike used the argument that these "emergency" powers are in your best interests, simple people.

So, there needs to be a balance, obviously. But how? I don't know that at the time I type this I have that answer.

In any case, I think much of this will turn on whether the President's assertion that this is spying on intercepted foreign communication (either before it enters the United State or after it leaves it) is true. If it is true, then I suspect the legal; advice he was given is actually sound, even if it causes him no end to embarrassment in the near term.

NPR Plays Host to Iraq Analysis

Steve Weaver, an Aid Worker who spoke to NPR, gave one of the most interesting analyses of the war. He really zeros in on the problem of black and white strategies. Have a listen.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

My friend the lawyer

Feast your eyes on this. My friend Chuck is a lawyer in good standing down in Georgia. I'm super proud of him.

See some pictures of his swearing in here.

Israel's Sharon suffers minor stroke

"There was no need for invasive procedures," and Sharon was expected to be discharged from hospital "shortly," the doctor told reporters.

I wonder to what extent this will play in the upcoming election, or will Sharon reconsider his future after this? I guess it all depends on how (medically) serious it ends up being ...

Taking Issue with "The God Who Wasn't There"

Through looking at another website, I stumbled upon this shocker, which purports to do the following.

Bowling for Columbine did it to the gun culture.

Super Size Me did it to fast food.

Now The God Who Wasn't There does it to religion.

But this clip suffers from a fundamental logical flaw.
The clip tantalises us ...
The clip tantalises us with the notion that if Jesus was such a remarkable person why did no contemporary write about him. It's all part of what the website says is:
Dazzling motion graphics and a sweeping soundtrack propel this uncompromising and taboo-shattering documentary that Newsweek says "irreverently lays out the case that Jesus Christ never existed."

So what is the argument? There is a gap of roughly 40 years, and this is troubling, because if Yeshua bin Yosef really did all these marvellous things surely people closer to the time (and Jesus himself presumably) would have done the First Century equivalent of "Blogged About it."

In today's day and age that seems pretty reasonable. The problem is, Jesus didn't live in today's day and age.

Let's consider some other historical figures:

  • Socrates

  • Confucius

  • The Buddha

  • Lao-Tzu

  • Sun-Tzu

Socrates left no writings of his own. We only know of him from Plato, Aristotle, Aristophanes and Xenophon. (Hmmm, four guys like Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, hmm? Ok, a stretch, I know.)

Most of what we know of Kǒng Fūzǐ (Confucius) is legendary. And just as biblical scholars have questioned the authorship of the Gospels, so too are there questions as to whether Kǒng Fūzǐ actually wrote any of the teachings attributed to him, e.g. The Analects.

The Buddha's life is considered by scholars to be completely legendary, and none of the sects can agree on what he actually taught.

Little is known for sure about the life of Lǎo Zi (Lao Tzu) according to Wikipedia, and his Authorship of the Tao Te Ching is contested.

The same is true of Sūn Zǐ, but substitute the sūn zĭ bīng fǎ for the Tao Te Ching.

But what does that prove? Nothing. The descendants of Kǒng Fūzǐ were honoured with titles. No one seriously doubts the existence of Socrates or the Buddha. The discovery of Sin Bin's bīng fǎ lends credibility to the existence of Sūn Zǐ, since Sun Bin was a descendent of Sūn Zǐ.

In fact, when you consider that histories of individuals were often written much later than life, the Gospels don't seem that bad. It took 400 years before anyone wrote a biography of Sūn Zǐ, and he was (and is) widely regarded as one of the greatest minds on the subject of warfare.

By contrast the Gospels were, as the clip asserts, written perhaps 40 years later? And even I dispute that. Let me digress to explicate the problem, since it was handed off rather flippantly in the clip. There is a view that since Mark and Luke have Jesus predicting the fall of the Temple, it must have been written after the fall of the Temple (otherwise how would the author have known about it?) There is a significant problem here too. It is possible even for mere mortals to make predications, and I don't mean the supernatural, crystal-ball type. Consider these cartoons directly after World War I:

And there is even one more damning, but I am unable to find it. It shows a baby peaking in on the Versailles Treaty. He's wearing a sash that reads "World War II".

All of these cartoons show that someone does not need to be supernatural to predict the future. One only needs to be able to analyse contemporary events from which future events can be extrapolated. Luke in particular gives us a glimpse that his Gospel and the Acts couldn't have been written any later than 62 CE. Why? That's when Paul was martyred. But at the end of Acts, Luke has only just left him before his first trial in Rome. If it was written after the 70s, when Luke and others surely knew of the death of Paul, why is it absent from the Acts?

In any case, that digression plays into the rest of my analysis. Since I digressed, let me recap.

My issues with the clip:

  1. Other historical figures were also not written about by their contemporaries, and some not until many centuries later.

  2. The Gap may not even be as wide as the clip portrays, since it is based on an assertion, that is by no means undebatable.

I wish to return to Luke for another point. The website has this to say:
Given these facts, Jesus would have been one of the most remarkable figures in Palestine. Yet not one historian of the time thought that this man was important enough to note, even in passing.
(And by implication none of the Gospel writer either.)

But that brings me back to an earlier point. The Ancient World didn't necessarily have the burning desire to blog about people the instant they came on the collective radar. Luke's own introduction to his Gospel seems to indicate that he researched the life and teachings of Christ with a view to publishing a paper (so to speak) after he was prompted to do so by Theophilus:
1 Since many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the events that have been fulfilled among us,

2 just as those who were eyewitnesses from the beginning and ministers of the word have handed them down to us,

3 I too have decided, after investigating everything accurately anew, to write it down in an orderly sequence for you, most excellent Theophilus,

4 so that you may realize the certainty of the teachings you have received.

(NAB Luke 1:1-4)

Notice that Luke seems to view there being other writers who preceded him. And there were even secular writers, like Josephus, who mentions Jesus and always appends the name "the one called Christ" or "the one commonly called Christ," indicating that Christ was very well known, enough that people differentiated him from other people named Yeshua.

Now what this all means is simple. Much like the other films cited on the website, this clip (and by extrapolation the rest of the film, although I'll blog more about it after I see it) makes use of very faulty argumentation. If you wish to oppose Christianity or knock holes in it, that's fine. But if you employ bad logic, bad references, and whiz-bang graphics, expect people to pipe up to point our the holes.

An Australian Take on the Narnia Film

This is an interesting article about a) C.S. Lewis and the use of Christian Allegory, and b) how that is being negatively received throughout the world.

Get my full take here.

Here are a few quotes from the piece that caught my eye.

Clearly, nobody involved in the film was especially concerned with C.S. Lewis' allusion to the central story of Christianity. And why should they be? Isn't it a good story - one of the greatest, most primal of stories, in fact, along with the Greco-Roman and Norse myths on which Lewis also drew? Of course, it is true that Lewis did see the books as preparatory texts in Christian spirituality, easing the way for the juvenile reader's encounter with the real thing in later years.

I'm not saying I deny that statement, but I think a quote from Lewis might elucidate what the writer is thinking here ...

All Lewis is suggesting is a spirited romp with centaurs, beavers and a rather unpredictable lion: make of it what you will. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is hardly likely to deprave and corrupt nature's young atheists; most children don't even get the metaphor and, if they do, it is probably because the God-botherers already have them in iron thrall.

Mind you, I saw it right away, but as I'll write in a bit, I probably got it wrong. When I was about 12 or 13 I reread the whole Narnia collection. I remember discussing it with Fr. McElroy, the priest who brought me into Catholicism. He had an interesting nugget that I discounted at the time; Narnia is not a Christian allegory. For someone as orthodox as Fr. McElroy, the idea seemed pretty strange to me at the time ...

Now that Lewis has been signed into service by the American evangelists, however, all this is cast in the light of that disquietingly foreign religion, with its cheesy excess of good cheer, glib materialism and suspect political connections.

Any "Christian subtext" thus becomes "dodgy", as Zoe Williams has noted. The implication of that "dodgy", she wrote, is that Christianity is "inherently unsound, as if it had, without our noticing, ascended to the ranks of anachronistic wrong-headedness, like Nazism or hissing at single mothers".

Sadly true. More on this below.

It seems unfair to everyone, including - but perhaps not especially - C.S. Lewis himself. Forget those awful evangelists for a moment. Really, there is no good reason why a fantasy story should not be based on Christian narratives and iconography. Our entire culture, after all - most notably the laws of the land - derives from a Judeo-Christian understanding of the world. There is no good reason why he should not recount the Resurrection, albeit using furry animals instead of humans as dramatis personae.

Good point. And it is probably forgotten that Tolkien used many of the same images but with more subtlety. Remember that Gandalf gave his life that his friends might live, and his reward for the deed, was to be brought back alive. And so on ...

So bring on the lion, bring on the minotaurs, bring on the dancing horses. Apart from anything else, the pious don certainly knew how to spin a yarn.

In any case, I found the article interesting, particularly the line about Christianity having become as much of a pariah as Nazism thanks to the actions of others. I think if it is true, those who mixed politics and religion in this country are largely to blame. And yet their insistence on it is understandable. Note that understanding a stance doesn't mean condoning it. But for years now many Christian sects have felt under siege, sometimes legitimately viewed as such and other times not. In any case, they certainly felt that as the world changed around them, they -- the bulk of the nation, seemingly -- were being left behind. Moreover, just sitting in big, cavernous buildings imploring the Supreme Being to assist didn't seem to do very much. "God helps those who help themselves" goes the line. And so they decided to take charge, take command. They embarked upon a political agenda, principally to defeat those who would make abortions flow as freely as Bacchanalian wine. Sadly, this has largely lead to a backlash that is as damaging to the cause as the involvement in politics is/was helpful.

In any case, let's turn to the notion of allegory. Are the Narnia stories, and Wardrobe in particular Christian allegories? When I was younger I certainly saw it. As the article points out, we're talking about a lion who willingly gives up his life to redeem a sinner (Edmund). If it is allegorical, it can hardly be surprising. Lewis' main focus of study when he and Tolkien met was Spenser, The Faerie Queene specifically. It has been argued by many (though not by all; cf Dr. Weiner's view, or at least the view he was advocating when I matriculated (What a lovely pompous word, mmm?) at Wisconsin) that the FQ is an allegory. Let's assume Lewis bought into that idea ... What of it? Well, it's possible it informed his writing of Narnia? Made it into an allegory as well? The only problem with this, is that Lewis denied Narnia was allegory and his own writings on FQ suggest a complicated view of that work, too.

I have come to the view late in life that Narnia is not an allegory, and Wardrobe most particularly not so. I think that much like the parallel with Gandalf, Lewis was trying to suggest a theme that ought, in his view, to run more often throughout literature. Perhaps, based on the fact he had no children of his own, it is understandably heavy-handed. Tolkien complained that when adults write for children, they often talk down to children as if they're pets or aliens, as opposed to remembering they're simply younger humans. After Lewis married and had children to take care of, his writing for children changes. Lewis didn't have the same gift that Tolkien did, that is, having children to whom one could read as the story develops ... at least not for Wardrobe, but his unsubtle approach shouldn't be misconstrued as allegory, in my opinion.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Blair saves EU, loses $

A little background first. Back in the 1980s, Britain was paying a disproportionate amount into the EEC. So Maggie went to the Europeans and famously said, "We want our money back." And that return of the money became known as the UK's rebate.

Tony was under pressure during the last round of talks to give up the rebate, but he wasn't prepared to do so until France and other countries made concessions on farming subsidies. But the talks on the budget failed, and this during Tony's Presidency of the EU.

Well, it seems that Blair has gotten a compromise.

Read my thoughts on the subject.

Get the story

The European Union summit ended in the early hours of Saturday morning with a compromise deal on its $1,034 billion budget that left every European leader claiming to have won, even if the British tabloid press savage Tony Blair for giving away $12 billions.
I have bolded that bit, because I can only imagine how he's getting it ... As a matter of fact, let's have a look at the papers. This is just a quick sampling ...

The Sun calls him a loser.
But The Mirror, always a Labour bastion remarks on Tony's courage, and that it may boost his ambitions.
Going back to the other side of the spectrum, the Mail says that Tony is attacked for his stance on the rebate.
The Guardian says the Prime Minister is criticised for giving up the £7 million.
The Telegraph, unsurprisingly, says Blair is attacked over his poor deal for Britain.

So, with the exception of the Mirror, and granted this was just a quick look, it's what I would expect. Britons of all different stripes have been justifiably proud of being able to stand up to Brussels on something, at least. And this will widely be seen, I predict, as a cave in. Now, to be fair, back in June Blair did say that he would be prepared to negotiate the rebate only if farm subsidies and the like were also renegotiated. So, in actuality, Blair got what he wanted. But after being accused in the summer of maintaining "Thatcher's tone" on the rebate, and given his strong assurances to the Commons, it will still be widely perceived as giving in to Europe.

The Sunnis after the vote

Chicago Tribune's take on the Sunnis after the vote.

It was too soon to tell how many Sunnis will sit in Iraq's new parliament, Sheik Ahmad Taha said in his sermon. But he prayed that the minority sect's belated entry into electoral politics will, with the help of God, bring an end to bloodshed and "free our land from American occupation."

Expressed in different words, that aim is shared by the Bush administration and leaders across Iraq's sectarian and ethnic divides ...

Read more
I think that it is a hopeful sign that the Sunnis are more and more coming to agree with the Administration (although I'd bet the bank they neither know it or would believe it if they did).

More importantly, perhaps it will validate the view that if the Sunnis become more invested in the process, support for an Iraqi insurgency (differentiated from "foreign fighters" who have different aims and goals) will wane considerably.

Certainly the Shiites see it that way:
In Shiite mosques Friday, religious leaders declared the election a success, saying it had undermined the insurgency.

To what extent will that prove to be true?
But few expect the insurgents to hold fire for long, even as Sunnis elected to the new council press what amounts to a loosely defined insurgent agenda.

Only time will tell, and I certainly wish Iraq every success in the meantime.

More on the Ahmedinejad Holocaust Denial

Iran News - Top Iranian cleric defends Holocaust remarks

"After World War II the Jews and Zionists spread a false rumour that Hitler, Austria and Germany had burned more than six mln Jews in the furnaces," said Meshkini, who heads the body that selects and supervises Iran's supreme leader.

So, my question is ... how exactly do we stop such unbelievable misinfornation?

Then again, when the Protocols are so popular in Iran, is it surprising? Link to Wikipedia article

Friday, December 16, 2005

A touching commentary

Since I was blogging about an NPR interview, I thought I should share this. So, have a listen to the commentary of a soldier newly returned from Iraq.

This moved me deeply, and it's quite an interesting choice of topic for NPR to cover.

An interview with Rumsfeld

The interview on NPR's All Things Considered

I was quite intrigued by the exchange between Melissa Block and the Secretary of Defence.

At a critical point, he becomes animated. He points out that all of Melissa's questions have been somewhat pessimistic in tone. Listen yourself, and you'll see he was doing the audio version of a "close reading."

But it also seems that his growing animation prompted her to get more aggressive with her questions.

It was a fascinating exchange.

Sick 'joke'

US News Article |

I have to admit to finding any humour in jokes like this. I can remember growing up in London, this was something drilled into us - do not joke about having a bomb or wanting to blow something up.

And of course the authorities have to take it seriously; the consequences for not doing so would be catestrophic.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

'Historic' Iraq election praised

'Historic' Iraq election praised

I'm glad to see this happening. My hope for the Iraqi people is that they have many decades and centuries of safe, positive elections for the people of Iraq. I also hope that Mahmood, the man I met over there, was able to vote. I hope his whole clan voted.

I pray this is the first step to a brave new tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Guide to the Shadow Cabinet

No lover of British politics should be without Auntie's guides to the front benches. In this case, it's the Tory front bench.

Nice to see William Hague making a comeback.

BBC NEWS | Politics | Kennedy told to improve or resign

BBC NEWS | Politics | Kennedy told to improve or resign

(I'm making this post to make sure I can use the "blog this" part of a firefox extension.)

This is rather large news for Kennedy. Mind you, I miss Paddy Pantsdown ...

Anyway, some things that struck me ...

Mr Kennedy was confronted at a meeting of the Lib Dem "shadow cabinet" by critics who believe the party is drifting and he must get a grip.

BBC political editor Nick Robinson said Mr Kennedy countered by telling them that he intended to stay on and if they were not happy they should resign.

Allies and critics agreed Mr Kennedy was now "on probation".?

The idea that Kennedy is on probation strikes me as interesting. On its own it means little, but ...

The Times newspaper says criticisms of Mr Kennedy have prompted Lib Dem chief whip Andrew Stunnell to take soundings among the frontbenchers on whether he retains their confidence and how the tensions can be resolved.

And that, I think is big. Maggie knew she was in trouble when the soundings didn't go her way ... Could the same happen to the Lib Dem leader? Remains to be seen.

(Anyway, just a ramble to test the feature.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

What this will be

This will eventually be my blog for sharing my thoughts on those issues important to me, and those things vary widely.