Nov 22nd, 2006 by ravi
Kremlin Minutes at Spiegel

Spiegel Online has a series of Kremlin Minutes posted on their web site, such as this one: The Kremlin Minutes: “We Should Demolish the Wall Ourselves”.

Visit Spiegel Online for more. I am sure we won’t see much of this in US press since as Spiegel points out (last sentence):

In the fall of 1990, as Germany celebrated reunification, an enormous tragedy was taking shape in Moscow. The historical turning point can be reconstructed from previously undisclosed minutes of Politburo meetings published in Russia this month. And Mikhail Gorbachev may finally get the historical recognition he deserves.

We wouldn’t want to give up on the myth that a B-grade actor who couldn’t differentiate between his movie roles and reality was rather The Great Communicator who single-handedly brought the “cold war” to an end.

[ Link ]

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Nov 22nd, 2006 by ravi
Reflections on India Shining

I have whined elsewhere extensively about the whole India Shining thing, primarily motivated by my own personal education, through my father, of the Indian freedom struggle and the values it drew on and hoped to build the new nation upon. The New York Times today has an excellent op-ed piece by Pankaj Mishra which voices my fears in an elegant way:

Gaining Power, Losing Values – New York Times

[…]

Upholding business interests above all in its foreign policy, as in its domestic policy, China at least appears to be internally consistent. The gap between image and reality is greater in the case of India, which claims to be the world’s largest democracy, with an educated middle class and a free news media.

And yet fundamental rights to clean water, food and work remain empty abstractions to hundreds of millions of Indians, whose plight rarely impinges on the news media’s obsession with celebrity and consumption. The country’s culture of greed partly explains why a woman is killed by her husband or in-laws every 77 minutes for failing to bring sufficient dowry.

Pundits in India deplore, often gleefully, American excesses in Guantánamo Bay and Abu Ghraib, and the inadequacies of the American news media in the run-up to the war in Iraq. But the Indian news media has yet to carry a single detailed report on the torture and extrajudicial killing of hundreds of civilians in Kashmir over the last decade.

Chinese nationalism is a tamed beast, occasionally unleashed by the Communist leadership to stir up mass protests against Japan and America. But in India, religious nationalists have run wild in the last 10 years, conducting nuclear tests, menacing minorities and threatening Pakistan with all-out war. In 2002, members of a Hindu nationalist government in the state of Gujarat, in western India, instigated and often organized the killing of as many as 1,600 Muslims.

Free markets and regular elections alone do not make a civil society. There remains the task of creating and strengthening institutions — universities, news media, human rights groups — that can focus public attention on the fate of the powerless and oppressed and spread ideas of human dignity, compassion and generosity.

[…]

For Western nations to criticize Chinese investments in Africa or Indian overtures to Myanmar may seem hypocritical in light of the West’s history of ruthlessly exploiting Africa while appeasing its brutal dictators. But, as La Rochefoucauld pointed out, hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue.

However tainted in practice, the idea of virtue cannot be discarded in policymaking. By treating it with contempt, the ruling elites of India and China may soon make the world nostalgic for the days when America claimed, deeply hypocritically, its moral leadership.

[ Link ]

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Nov 21st, 2006 by ravi
A den of vipers

New York Times reports on a scientific forum at the Salk Institute titled “Beyond Belief: Science, Religion, Reason and Survival”, consisting of the usual suspects such as Weinberg and Dawkins repeating their angry young scientist polemics, described aptly by one of the conference speakers:

A Free-for-All on Science and Religion – New York Times

[…]

By the third day, the arguments had become so heated that Dr. Konner was reminded of “a den of vipers.”

“With a few notable exceptions,” he said, “the viewpoints have run the gamut from A to B. Should we bash religion with a crowbar or only with a baseball bat?”

His response to Mr. Harris and Dr. Dawkins was scathing. “I think that you and Richard are remarkably apt mirror images of the extremists on the other side,” he said, “and that you generate more fear and hatred of science.”

[…]

I wonder how it is that we (assuming there are at least a few non-scientistic atheists other than me) permit someone like Dawkins to presume to speak for us or the general position of atheism. Perhaps it is a good thing that a majority (if true) of scientists want to now make this an all out war (I assume they are now comfortable enough in their self-sufficiency to take this step). It may be a good thing since it forces the general population to have to choose some position and path, not necessarily religion or scientism.

[ Link ]

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Nov 21st, 2006 by ravi
Preying suspicion

BBC NEWS | Americas | Six imams ejected from US flight

The six men were taken off the US Airways flight, bound to Phoenix from Minneapolis, after a passenger reported “suspicious activity” to cabin crew.

The men were told to disembark shortly after saying evening prayers. Three of the six had stood as they prayed.

The scholars, who were returning from a conference, allege they were handcuffed and “humiliated” during the ordeal.

[ Link ]

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Nov 20th, 2006 by ravi
Chomsky on Bill Maher

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Nov 17th, 2006 by ravi
UCLA: Jerk offers caution on knee-jerkism

The UCLA police, perhaps in an attempt to match their real world police counterparts at the LAPD, went freaky on an Iranian-American student, using a taser on him multiple times for his refusal to stand up even as they are tasering him. The incident started with the student allegedly showing some reluctance to leave when challenged for an ID. Those present report that he was on his way out when the police arrived. The college newspaper, The Daily Bruin, offers this today from a kid named David Lazar:

Beware of easy knee-jerk reactions

Police are here for our safety, so resist the urge to pass judgment until you know all the facts.

Hmm, the usual bit about let’s hold off on all opinions until we have enough time to direct your attention elsewhere. So, what is the first line of young Lazar’s Daily Bruin article:

In my opinion, he was asking for it.

Ah yes, no knee-jerk reaction or passing of judgement here!

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Nov 16th, 2006 by ravi
The King’s new sycophants

Read the whole thing:

ZNet | Will the real Dr. King please stand up?

There was no shortage of opportunists present as they broke ground the other day for the $100 million Martin Luther King memorial in Washington, DC.

Charlatans from Oprah to Hilfiger lined up in the hope a little of Dr.

King’s integrity might rub off on them. But the most out of place speaker was, of course, President George W. Bush, who told the crowd, “our journey to justice is not complete. There are still people in our society who hurt, neighborhoods that are too poor … there’s still prejudice that holds citizens back.” That whirring noise heard in the background…well, you know the rest.

As Dubya spoke about “the promise of America,” I had to wonder what he’d think of the Dr. King who said: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom … Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” Surely, today’s America would have an orange jumpsuit all ready for the MLK that believed, “The question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be” and “When you are right, you cannot be too radical.”

[…]

[ Link ]

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Nov 16th, 2006 by ravi
Obfuscations and Explanations

[via BoingBoing]

The Dead Sea Scrolls it seems contain specifications for construction of latrines:

The Seattle Times: Nation & World: Toilet evidence links Dead Sea Scrolls to sect

[…]

The Essenes are one of the few ancient groups whose toiletry practices were documented. The first century Jewish historian Josephus noted that members of the group normally went outside the city and dug a hole, where they buried their waste.

Two of the Dead Sea Scrolls note that the latrines should be situated northwest of the settlement, at a distance of 1,000 to 3,000 cubits — about 450 to 1,350 yards — and out of sight of the settlement.

Tabor and Joe Zias of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, an expert on ancient latrines, went to the site and took samples.

Zias sent samples to anthropologist Stephanie Harter-Lailheugue of the CNRS Laboratory for Anthropology in Marseilles, France, who found preserved eggs and other remnants of roundworms, tapeworms and pinworms, all human intestinal parasites.

Samples from the surrounding areas contained no parasites. Had the waste been dumped on the surface, as is the practice of Bedouins in the area, the parasites quickly would have been killed by sunlight. Buried, they could persist for a year or longer, infecting anyone who walked through the soil.

The situation was made worse by the Essenes having to pass through an immersion cistern, or Miqvot, before returning to the settlement. The water would have served as a major breeding ground for the parasites.

“The graveyard at Qumran is the unhealthiest group I have ever studied in over 30 years,” Zias said. Fewer than 6 percent of the men buried there survived to age 40, he said. In contrast, cemeteries from the same period excavated at Jericho show that half the males lived beyond age 40.

What impressed me about this bit of news was that the Bedouins will probably have a hard time explaining the reasons behind their practices, but even back at the relevant time, the Essenes probably had elaborate and sophisticated explanations for the superiority of their system as compared to the illiterate practices of the nomads.

My point? There are parallels to this sort of thing in the patronising dismissal of “primitivism” by the scientistic, but often, the lack of an explanation no more disqualifies a practice than the presence of an elaborate, detailed and systematic explanation (in itself) underwrites another.

[ Link ]

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Nov 14th, 2006 by ravi
Old and bloated!

Slashdot has a post today on the Web turning 16, which links to W3C’s history of the web page. Back in 1994 or 1995, shortly after my site was listed in a top 100 list (I think PC Computing Magazine?) some guy contacted me with a bit of interesting info: according to his records, my CERN HTTPD server was among the first 250 sites (I forget how he calculated that — perhaps based on the old Yahoo index?). Reading through the W3C history page I see:

1993

January: Around 50 known HTTP servers.
October: Over 200 known HTTP servers.

I started up my server in early February 1993 and shortly after sent information about it to the WWW mailing lists of the time. Depending on what is meant by “known” above, It seems quite possible that the guy was right about my making the first 250… maybe…

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Nov 13th, 2006 by ravi
Penal offence

Monsters & Critics reports this:

Giant penis sculpture stirs up controversy at Taipei airport

[…]

The one-metre-long sculpture in the Number 2 Terminal is part of an exhibition of artifacts of the Thou tribe, one of Taiwan’s ten tribes. But some foreign visitors and crew find it offensive and have demanded its removal, according to the Liberty Times.

Some foreign crew members and flight attendants refer to the sculpture as ‘The Thing’ and have posted the photo of it on their websites, saying it is an offence to female visitors and flight attendants.

[…]

I have a question: why would a penis be offensive to females?

[ Link ]

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