Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Still Crazy After All These Years

My mother has a passive-aggressive relationship with me. She resents me for the present situation she's in: old, sickly, bitter, stuck in an old people's home, etc. but at the same time, she loves me (I think) and needs me, so she cannot really afford to attack me overtly.

For the past few weeks, every time I visit her with her favourite grandson, The B-Boy, she has taken to criticize me for being fat with gratuitous put-downs and potshots. Previously, the recurrent theme of her insults was that I was a loser because I owe a lot of money. Now, I'm fat.

Five weeks ago: My son was telling her about our vacation in Calgary, Alberta, where we did a lot of hiking, walking and mountain climbing. My mother shook her head and said: «It must have been terrible for your poor mother, being so fat and all.» B-Boy: «No, she had no problem, we all went together» Grandma:«No, it's not true, I bet she couldn't keep up.»

Three weeks ago: My son was telling her about the breakdancing courses that he and his girlfriend K8 were giving, adding: «My mom is also taking breakdancing classes from K8». Grandma: «Your mother?! That's not possible, she's too fat!» B-Boy: «No, it's true, she's been breaking for a while now» Grandma: «Noooo! I don't believe you! She's too fat!»

Last week: My son was complaining about having a cold. My mother, who's been waiting impatiently for a chance to mention how fat I am, pounced on the opportunity: «Well, you're too skinny. And speaking of skinny, I'm worried about your mother, 'cause she's obese.»

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Sunday Double Features - Lewis Black Special


Speaking of Vietnam Airlines, KCA at http://00844.blogspot.com/ has some nice pictures of Hanoi Airport Noi Bai.

And speaking of terraces, Vietnamese God http://vietnamesegod.blogspot.com/
has some nice pictures of Hanoi's sidewalk small businesses.

And me? I have these nice pictures of pets being abused for Halloween:

Friday, October 27, 2006

A Vietnamese Guantanamo

The infamous "Hanoi Hilton" prison

In today’s edition, the Washington Post raises alarm over the arrest of a 58 year old Vietnamese-American woman during her visit to Vietnam [http://tinyurl.com/yl4kg2]

The victim, Thong Nguyen "Cuc" Foshee, has a history of participating in protests and other activities against the present Vietnamese government and has been associated with the «Government of Free Vietnam», a virulently anti-government group that maintains a military base on the Vietnamese-Cambodian border. She has been held in prison for more than a year on terrorism suspicion.

Not knowing enough about the case, I will abstain from commenting, although it has always been a great mystery to me as to why on earth do some people insist on entering a Communist country where they are well-known as participants in hostile activities against the government, then complain when they get arrested? (News to the terminally naive/stupid: the Vietnamese embassies go to all demonstrations against their country to take pictures of the participants. So do the security services of the country where the demonstrations take place, like Canada or the USA).

The Vietnamese Government already does not give a very high priority to their citizens’ rights, being more concerned with protecting their own power. So why would anyone think that they would tolerate that a citizen who has left the country with their former enemy, the United States, can now return to plot their downfall and seize power from them?

The reason why I mention this case is because of the unintentional comical effect of the American government reaction (emphasis added): «Frederick Jones, spokesman for Bush's National Security Council, said the White House is aware of Foshee's detention and Martinez's action. "We have urged the government of Vietnam to abide by international legal standards and not to hold her indefinitely without due process," Jones said.»

Hello!!!? McFly!? Does the name Guantánamo ring a bell?

I'm an old coot

When you have worked as long as I have as a conference interpreter, you end up meeting the most varied fauna thanks to the randomness of remote contracting.

There's your veteran, the one that knows and kisses every one in the booths and knows every good bars and/or restaurants in every city. There's the crazy one, who specializes in the most obscure fields, like «stamp collecting among albino left-handed bishops from Madagascar». There's the loner who leaves the booth as soon as his half-hour is over and won't come back until 1 minute before his turn. There's the freeloader who always finds a way to forget her notes at home and has to borrow the results of your terminology research; most likely she will also somehow manage to schedule the sessions in such a way that she ends up leaving early, while you have to do an extra fifteen minutes all by yourself after the last half hour, because the conference participants had too many questions for the panel. Me? I'm the souvenir maniac. During my free half-hour, I like to tour the exhibition kiosks and pick up free souvenirs like T-shirts, baseball caps, pens, badges, etc.. After my last conference, I went home with a frisbee, two monitor screenwipers and a business card holder. I have an extended collection of conference bags, the type that messengers like to carry.

The one thing that all interpreters seem to have in common nowadays are laptops. The best conferences are the ones in hotels that provide wi-fi because then the interpreters can access their lexicon on line. At my last conference, I was paired with a very young colleague who carried a laptop but apparently nothing else, because she had to borrow everything from me: papers, pens, kleenexes, etc.. even the conference programme and agenda. I repeatedly urged her to go get her own copy of the programme, but she kept saying: «I have it, it's on my laptop», but for some reason, we end up sharing my copy.

Personally, I like to read my documents on paper. I find it faster to find the ones I need when they're printed, and I have trouble reading anything on any screen smaller than 21", but apparently I'm the only one. All the other interpreters carry laptops which they claim are useful to find the right vocabulary during a session. I have never witnessed any instance where a translation was found on the spot thanks to a laptop, but the legend endures and laptops are now THE obligatory accessory to carry if you want to look like a serious interpreter. IMHO however, if you want to sound like a serious interpreter, the best way is to research your terminology ahead and come to work prepared. But then again, I'm old school.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Witness to history

On June 11, 1963, Thich Quang Duc, a Buddhist monk from the Linh-Mu Pagoda in Hue, Vietnam, burned himself to death at a busy intersection in downtown Saigon, Vietnam. Eye witness accounts state that Thich Quang Duc and at least two fellow monks arrived at the intersection by car, Thich Quang Duc got out of the car, assumed the traditional lotus position and the accompanying monks helped him pour gasoline over himself. He ignited the gasoline by lighting a match and burned to death in a matter of minutes. http://www.geocities.com/tcartz/sacrifice.htm

In a couple of weeks will be the anniversary of the beginning of the end for the ex-South Vietnamese regime, with the coup that ended in President Diem's assassination. To relive that part of history, I would like to direct you to a November 5, 2003 post of John Prados, tittled JFK and the Diem Coup [http://www.gwu.edu/%7Ensarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB101/index.htm]:
«...[O]n May 8 [1963], ... South Vietnamese security forces acting under the orders of one of Ngo Dinh Diem's brothers, fired into a crowd of Buddhist religious marchers celebrating the Buddha's 2,527th birthday.

The rationale for the breakup of this march was no more serious than that the Buddhists had ignored a government edict against flying flags other than the South Vietnamese state flag. Another of Diem's brothers, the Roman Catholic archbishop for this same area of South Vietnam had flown [catholic] flags with impunity just weeks before when celebrating his own promotion within the Church; the Buddhists may have been encouraged by that act to think their own actions would be permitted as well.

Suppression of this Buddhist march in the ancient Vietnamese imperial capital of Hue led to a political crisis, the "Buddhist crisis," that ignited Saigon throughout the summer and fall of 1963.

The two brothers of Diem implicated in the Hue suppression were not even the Saigon leader's main problem. Diem's brother Ngo Dinh Nhu sat in the presidential palace as private counselor, manipulator, emissary, and puppetmaster of the Saigon government. Even more than Diem himself Nhu [and his Lady Macbeth, the infamous Madame Nhu] was regarded widely in South Vietnam as a menace, directing Diem's political party, some of his intelligence services, and Special Forces created under one of the American-sponsored aid programs. Nhu took a very negative view of the Buddhist troubles. President Diem's response to the Buddhist crisis, once he passed beyond denying that anything was happening, was to promise political and religious reforms, and negotiations for a modus vivendi with the Buddhists were carried out in Saigon. Nhu, however, encouraged the South Vietnamese leader to renege on the agreement and, once again, Diem failed to enact any of the political concessions that had been agreed.

Buddhist religious demonstrations came to Saigon in late May and soon became almost daily events. On June 11 the protests attained a new level of intensity after a bonze publicly immolated himself at a busy Saigon street intersection as the climax of a demonstration. Photographs of the scene startled the world, and made the Buddhist troubles a political issue in the United States for President Kennedy, who faced a tough problem in continuing economic and military aid to a government so clearly violating the human rights of its people. The CIA put out an addendum to its previous national intelligence estimate revising its assessment of Diem's political prospects, and State Department intelligence circulated a report predicting major trouble in Saigon.

President Diem's worsening situation led him to declare martial law in August 1963, and on August 21 Ngo Dinh Nhu used the martial law authority to carry out major raids on the largest pagodas of the Buddhist group behind the protests. Nhu conducted the raids in such a way as to suggest that South Vietnamese military commanders were behind them, and used troops funded by the United States through the CIA to carry out the raids. Within days of the raids, South Vietnamese military officers were approaching Americans to inquire as to what the U.S. response might be to a military coup in Saigon.

This situation forms the background to the selection of documents included in this briefing book. The documents frame those meetings and major instructions in which President Kennedy was directly involved in considerations of a coup in Saigon. There were two main periods during which these deliberations took place, August and October 1963. The first sequence followed quickly on the pagoda raids, the second occurred once the South Vietnamese generals initiated a new round of coup preparations. The documents here consist primarily of records of meetings or key cabled instructions or reports pertinent to the coup, which would eventually take place on November 1, 1963.»
I remember the day when Thich Quang Duc immolated himself. He did it at a market place near our home. The smell of burned flesh was everywhere. Alerted by the screams and the roar of the crowd, I ran out with other members of my household, following the horrible smell. When I arrived at the scene, they have already smothered the flames and removed the monk's body. «Công an» agents (undercover security goons) were trying to push people away. The crowd around me was in turmoil, women were screaming and sobbing wildly. I could see the place of the sacrifice still smoking, with people prosternating and crying in front of the empty blackened spot. The next day, the newspapers would print on the front page the cruel comments of Madame Nhu: «So, a monk has barbecued himself. Big deal!»

Explanation of Thich Quang Duc's gesture by Thich Nhat Hanh: http://www.buddhistinformation.com/self_immolation.htm

With his self-immolation, the monk's body was completely consumed, leaving only his heart among the ashes. Even after a later cremation, the heart remained intact and is now revered as «xa loi» (holy relic). See http://www.quangduc.com/BoTatQuangDuc/25photo.html

Veiled Threat

Muslim women immigrants in Western countries face multiple challenges daily. Not only do they have to adapt to a new social and cultural environment, they have to do it with the added handicap of their own lowly status in their own culture. Now you can argue all you want about how Islam is actually freeing women instead of forcing on them harsher rules than on men, but the unversally admitted belief is that Islam (and for that matter, all Judeo-Christian religions) is a religion that favours men over women, and since religion is the de facto law in Islamic cultures, Muslim women have very few enforced rights.

That's why I understand why so many Muslim women cling to the veil they are wearing, even in Western societies, as a protection and a right. They consider their veil as a mark of modesty as prescribed by their faith and a shield against male brutality and/or unwanted attention. To allow them to wear the veil when they are at home or in their community, then to ask them to remove it when they step outside of those environments is as absurd, in their eyes, as asking a turtle to remove its shell during its waking hours, for example. Once they are unveiled, there is no point in going back to being veiled again. How can we ask them to give up the one symbol of their power, albeit a very meager power in a culture where they have to yield even to a child, if he is male?

I also understand the exasperation and the impatience of Western countries (and for that matter, all non-Islamic countries) when faced with absurd situations where Muslim women demand to be able to keep their niqab and burqa when having their picture taken for official ID documents, when driving, when teaching to non-Muslim students, etc. in other words when they demand that their confort and preferences take precedence over a laic society's security, safety, peace and order.

In a perfect world, rationality and logic would guide our behaviour in society, as much as tolerance and understanding. In this world, can we at least settle for common sense?

More reading: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_veil_controversy_in_France
and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Veil

Monday, October 23, 2006

Paris Syndrome - Lost in Translation v. 45

2005© Liudmila Kondakova and Chalk & Vermilion Fine Arts

PARIS (Reuters) - Around a dozen Japanese tourists a year need psychological treatment after visiting Paris as the reality of unfriendly locals and scruffy streets clashes with their expectations, a newspaper reported on Sunday.

"A third of patients get better immediately, a third suffer relapses and the rest have psychoses," Yousef Mahmoudia, a psychologist at the Hotel-Dieu hospital, next to Notre Dame cathedral, told the newspaper Journal du Dimanche.

Already this year, Japan's embassy in Paris has had to repatriate at least four visitors -- including two women who believed their hotel room was being bugged and there was a plot against them.

Bernard Delage of Jeunes Japon, an association that helps Japanese families settle in France, said: "In Japanese shops, the customer is king, whereas here assistants hardly look at them ... People using public transport all look stern, and handbag snatchers increase the ill feeling."

A Japanese woman, Aimi, told the paper: "For us, Paris is a dream city. All the French are beautiful and elegant ... And then, when they arrive, the Japanese find the French character is the complete opposite of their own."

In other words, as they say in French, «N'importe quoi*».

*Translation: «Whaat evar»

How to break a boy's heart

Women! So cruel so young!!


Update 25/10/06 - Apparently, some people could not view the video. Since it's also on YouTube, I am reproducing it here, for your viewing pleasure:

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Deux blagues en vietnamien

Piquées chez: + 84 (Khong) 4: Hanoi Blog Booth (Vietnam) [http://00844.blogspot.com/]

"Nghèo thì đi xe ôm, uống bia hơi ; còn giàu thì đi xe hơi, uống bia ôm".
"Anh bộ đội Củ Chi chỉ cu hỏi củ chỉ?"

It's Mine, All Mine, Muahaha!

My Precious

Associated Press - October 19, 2006

President Bush has signed an order asserting the United States' right to deny adversaries access to space for hostile purposes. Mr. Bush also said the United States would oppose the development of treaties or other measures that seek to prohibit or limit U.S. access to or use of space.

Mr. Bush's order, signed more than a month ago, was not publicly announced, although unclassified details of his decision were posted on the Web site of the Office of Science and Technology Policy [http://www.ostp.gov/html/US%20National%20Space%20Policy.pdf]

"Consistent with this policy, the United States will: preserve its rights, capabilities, and freedom of action in space; dissuade or deter others from either impeding those rights or developing capabilities intended to do so; take those actions necessary to protect its space capabilities; respond to interference; and deny, if necessary, adversaries the use of space capabilities hostile to U.S. national interests."


Dans un document signé du président Bush, rendu public mercredi 18 octobre, l'administration affirme que les Etats-Unis entendent "préserver tous leurs droits, leurs moyens et leur liberté d'action dans l'espace". Au besoin, "ils empêcheront leurs adversaires d'user de leurs capacités d'armement hostiles aux intérêts nationaux américains".

Il en va, pour George Bush, de la sécurité des Etats-Unis qui "dépend, de manière critique, de tous les engins qui circulent dans l'espace". Une dépendance qui va "croître", selon lui. En 2001, un rapport du Pentagone soulignait déjà la menace que des "ennemis potentiels" faisaient peser, grâce aux progrès technologiques, sur la liberté de circulation des satellites et autres engins spatiaux, militaires et civils des Etats-Unis.

Le document de l'administration Bush reprend ces arguments et conclut que "la liberté d'action dans l'espace est aussi importante pour les Etats-Unis que sa puissance aérienne et sa puissance maritime".

Le message est clair. L'administration américaine entend être totalement libre dans sa politique d'accès à l'espace. Elle s'opposera à toute sorte de traité ou de législation internationale, interdisant ou limitant les moyens de défense (satellites-espions, etc) ou d'expansion commerciale (satellites de télécommunications) utilisant l'espace.

Selon des experts militaires, ce document marque un durcissement de la politique de défense américaine. Selon eux, en refusant d'entrer dans d'éventuelles négociations sur la militarisation de l'espace, les Américains vont alimenter les soupçons sur leurs propres intentions de renforcer leurs programmes d'équipements spatiaux.

Les porte-parole de la Maison Blanche démentent. Pour eux, cette politique n'est pas "un prélude à la mise en orbite de nouvelles armes spatiales". Pour Tony Snow, l'un d'entre eux, la politique qui consiste à vouloir défendre l'accès de l'espace n'a rien à voir avec une politique de militarisation de l'espace.

Friday, October 20, 2006

We Have The Leaders We Deserve

Bush: "I looked the man in the eye. I was able to get a sense of his soul.
We share a lot of values..."

President Putin to Israeli Prime Minister:
"Say hello to your president. He really surprised us. We did not know he could deal with 10 women. He raped 10 women. I never expected it from him. He surprised all of us. We all envy him..."- Moscow - October 15, 2006

President Bush visiting wounded veterans at the Amputee Care Center of Brooke Army Medical Center:
"As you can possibly see, I have an injury myself—not here at the hospital, but in combat with a cedar. I eventually won. The cedar gave me a little scratch." - San Antonio, Texas - Jan. 1, 2006

Une autre raison du déclin du français

Beauté féroce

Complainte amoureuse

Oui, dès l'instant que je vous vis,
Beauté féroce, vous me plûtes.
De l'amour, qu'en vos yeux je pris,
Sur-le-champ vous vous aperçûtes.
Ah ! Fallait-il que vous me plussiez,
Qu'ingénument je vous le dise,
Qu'avec orgueil vous vous tussiez,
Fallait-il que je vous aimasse,
Que vous me désespérassiez,
Et qu'enfin je m'opiniâtrasse,
Et que je vous idolâtrasse,
Pour que vous m'assassinassiez ?

A. Allais

Poème cité par un commentateur du forum «Langue sauce piquante» dans l'édition du 20 octobre 2006 du Monde.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

La nostalgie n'est plus ce qu'elle était

Dalida la Grande

Sylvie Vartan (1964) – J’avais 16 ans et comme toutes les autres filles de mon âge, je voulais lui ressembler.

Le 22 mai 2004, pour les 80 ans de Charles Aznavour, Nolwenn Leroy & Stomy Bugsy massacrent son œuvre "La plus belle pour aller danser" en direct sur TF1. Comme quoi, un bienfait est toujours puni.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

A Quick And Easy Test

The Rude Pundit (http://rudepundit.blogspot.com/) wrote a beautiful post today, so I thought I'll just reproduce it here for you to enjoy.

A Quick and Easy Test to Determine Where You Stand on the Iraq War:

Let's say we line up, oh, hell, a couple hundred thousand American soldiers, fine men and women in combat uniform, officers, non-coms, grunts, and we put them on TV. Then George W. Bush walks in with a loaded glock. Now let's say that the President puts the gun to the temple of the first soldier and says, "If I shoot this Army private dead, there's a chance America will be victorious and democracy will bring peace to Iraq. Do you want me to do it?" There's no guarantees, though - just the chance. What would you say?

For the sake of argument here, let's say that you answer, "Yes, it's worth a soldier for the chance for peace in Iraq." So George W. Bush shoots the soldier in the temple and turns to his advisors, who check reports and, no, still no peace.

Then the President says, "If I cut off one limb or the genitals of the next ten soldiers, there's a chance America will be victorious and democracy will bring peace to Iraq. Do you want me to do it?" What would you say?

For the sake of argument here, let's say that you answer, "Yes, it's worth ten wounded soldiers for the chance at peace in Iraq." So George W. Bush cuts off arms, legs, testicles, and turns to his advisors, who check reports and, no, still no peace.

Then the President says, "If I beat the next ten soldiers in the head with a hammer so that their brains are damaged, there's a chance America will be victorious and democracy will bring peace to Iraq. Do you want me to do it?" What would you say?

For the sake of argument here, let's say that you answer, "Yes, it's worth ten brain-damaged soldiers for the chance at peace in Iraq." So George W. Bush uses a hammer to crack the skulls of the next ten soldiers and turns to his advisors, who check reports and, no, still no peace.

Then the President starts the cycle all over again. He places the gun to the temple of the next soldier.

How many soldiers would let George W. Bush shoot dead? One? 3000? More? How many would you let him injure? 10? 20,000? More?

If you think the test is biased, unfair, and overly emotional, then you haven't been paying attention. For, really, and come on, is the current U.S. policy in Iraq any more wishful than a lottery of death and mutilation.

Feel free to play with friends. For big fun, substitute Iraqis and multiply by a couple hundred.

Pour les fanas de Pham Quynh Anh

Un ami m'a signalé ces deux vidéo clips, présentant deux versions de la chanson «J'espère» interprétée par Pham Quynh Anh et Marc Lavoine. Merci Fongue!


Mes fidèles lecteurs (oui, vous trois!) se souviendront sans doute du diaporama créé par Visualgui [http://www.visualgui.com/] sur la musique de «Bonjour Vietnam» de Marc Lavoine, interprétée par Pham Quynh Anh. Le diaporama a également été affiché sur YouTube, mais la beauté des photos n'a malheureusement pas survécu à l'encodage. Pour avoir une vraie idée du chef d'oeuvre de Visualgui, cliquez plutôt sur ce lien: http://www.visualgui.com/motion/BonjourVietnam.html

Après ça, ne venez pas me dire que je ne vous gâte pas ....

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Safer Now

Huê Citadel

Time Magazine Quote of The Day - Friday, Oct. 13, 2006

It's a lot safer than it was when he didn't go the first time.

Ben Barnes, the former Texas lieutenant governor, when asked if he had any advice for President Bush as he prepares for his first-ever trip to Vietnam next month

Friday, October 13, 2006

Interview with Richard Dawkins

Thor, God of Thunder: "Don't believe in me, will ya?"

In today's Salon [http://www.salon.com/books/int/2006/10/13/dawkins/ - Subscription or Site Pass required], Steve Paulson interviews «the world's most famous atheist», British scientist and Oxford University Professor Richard Dawkins. Here are some extracts.

«Why do you call yourself an atheist? Why not an agnostic?

Well, technically, you cannot be any more than an agnostic. But I am as agnostic about God as I am about fairies and the Flying Spaghetti Monster. You cannot actually disprove the existence of God. Therefore, to be a positive atheist is not technically possible. But you can be as atheist about God as you can be atheist about Thor or Apollo. Everybody nowadays is an atheist about Thor and Apollo. Some of us just go one god further.

...It's interesting that you link those two words -- intelligent and atheistic. Are you saying the more intelligent you are, the more likely you are to be an atheist?

There's a fair bit of evidence in favor of that equation, yes.

That sounds like an elitist argument. Do you want to cite that evidence?

It's certainly elitist. What's wrong with being elitist, if you are trying to encourage people to join the elite rather than being exclusive? I'm very, very keen that people should raise their game rather than the other way around. As for citing the evidence, a number of studies have been done. The one meta-analysis of this that I know of was published in Mensa Magazine. It looked at 43 studies on the relationship between educational level or IQ and religion. And in 39 out of 43 -- that's all but four -- there is a correlation between IQ/education and atheism. The more educated you are, the more likely you are to be an atheist. Or the more intelligent you are, the more likely you are to be an atheist.

... My sense is that you don't just think religion is dishonest. There's something evil about it as well.

Well, yes. I think there's something very evil about faith, where faith means believing in something in the absence of evidence, and actually taking pride in believing in something in the absence of evidence. And the reason that's dangerous is that it justifies essentially anything. If you're taught in your holy book or by your priest that blasphemers should die or apostates should die -- anybody who once believed in the religion and no longer does needs to be killed -- that clearly is evil. And people don't have to justify it because it's their faith. They don't have to say, "Well, here's a very good reason for this." All they need to say is, "That's what my faith says." And we're all expected to back off and respect that. Whether or not we're actually faithful ourselves, we've been brought up to respect faith and to regard it as something that should not be challenged. And that can have extremely evil consequences. The consequences it's had historically -- the Crusades, the Inquisition, right up to the present time where you have suicide bombers and people flying planes into skyscrapers in New York -- all in the name of faith.

... And yet most moderate religious people are appalled by the apocalyptic thinking of religious extremists.

Of course they're appalled. They're very decent, nice people. But they have no right to be appalled because, in a sense, they brought it on the world by teaching people, especially children, the virtues of unquestioned faith.

Are you saying if parents belong to a particular church, they should not teach their children about that religion?

I would say that parents should teach their children anything that's known to be factually true -- like "that's a bluebird" or "that's a bald eagle." Or they could teach children that there are such things as religious beliefs. But to teach children that it is a fact that there is one god or that God created the world in six days, that is child abuse.

... I think it's child abuse not to let the child have the free choice of knowing there are other people who believe something quite different and the child could make its own choice.

... it seems to me the big "why" questions are, why are we here? And what is our purpose in life?

It's not a question that deserves an answer.*

... Well, I think most people would say those questions are central to the way we think about our lives. Those are the big existential questions, but they are also questions that go beyond science.

If you mean, what is the purpose of the existence of the universe, then I'm saying that is quite simply begging the question. If you happen to be religious, you think that's a meaningful question. But the mere fact that you can phrase it as an English sentence doesn't mean it deserves an answer. Those of us who don't believe in a god will say that is as illegitimate as the question, why are unicorns hollow? It just shouldn't be put. It's not a proper question to put. It doesn't deserve an answer.

I don't understand that. Doesn't every person wonder about that? Isn't that a core question, what are we doing in this world? Doesn't everyone struggle with that?

There are core questions like, how did the universe begin? Where do the laws of physics come from? Where does life come from? Why, after billions of years, did life originate on this planet and then start evolving? Those are all perfectly legitimate questions to which science can give answers, if not now, then we hope in the future. There may be some very, very deep questions, perhaps even where do the laws of physics come from, that science will never answer. That is perfectly possible. I am hopeful, along with some physicists, that science will one day answer that question. But even if it doesn't -- even if there are some supremely deep questions to which science can never answer -- what on earth makes you think that religion can answer those questions?»

* Compare this to Budhism:[Wikipedia]

During his lifetime, Buddha specifically refused to answer certain questions known as avyakrata ("unexplained"). These are: 1) Whether the world is eternal or not; 2) Whether the world is infinite or not; 3) Whether the body and the self are one and the same or not; 4) Whether the tathagata (epithet of the Buddha that he employed primarily when referring to himself; also means the essential buddha nature found in everyone) exists after death, or not, or both does and does not, or neither does nor does not. In the Culla-Māluṅkyovāda-sutta, the Buddha, using an analogy of being shot by a poisoned arrow and asking about its origin and construction, indicated to Māluṅkyāputta that such speculative questions are ultimately unprofitable.

Sighting of the Flying Spaghetti Monster

Thursday, October 12, 2006




IT'S BACK!!!!!!!!



How Did The U.S. Get To Be A World Leader ? v.2.0

Venus de Milo

FRISCO, Texas [ http://www.nbc10.com/education/9936513/detail.html ] -- An award-winning Texas art teacher was reprimanded and lost her job after one of her fifth-grade students saw a nude sculpture during a trip to a museum .

The school board in Frisco has voted not to renew Sydney McGee's contract after 28 years. The Fisher Elementary School art teacher came under fire last April when she took 89 fifth-graders on a field trip to the Dallas Museum of Art. Parents raised concerns over the field trip after their children reported seeing a nude sculpture at the art museum.

That'll learn ya!

From today's New York Times: [http://tinyurl.com/y7fdm6]

«The United Nations Security Council today took up a softened American proposal for sanctions over North Korea’s reported nuclear test, but its prospects were clouded when China appeared to pull back from its earlier support for tough measures.


The new American resolution, to be formally introduced this morning, would declare North Korea’s actions to be a threat to international peace and stability and would require countries to freeze assets related to Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs and ban the sale or transfer of materials that could be used in them. It would also ban travel by people involved in the programs and bar the sale of the luxury goods used to reward the regime’s elite, diplomats said late Wednesday.»

I'm sure that pretty soon, Dear Leader will be on his knees, begging for mercy... As soon as his stash of caviar, champagne and Cuban cigars runs out ... Any day now... We just have to be firm.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Two Eternal Bosoms of Hot Love*

Harper's Magazine has just republished the list of titles and honorifics allegedly used by “prominent leaders from 160 nations across the world” to refer to Kim Jong-il, as announced last winter by North Korean state television. The titles were translated from the Korean by Lee Jong-Heon. Originally from Harper's Magazine, February 2005.

  • Supreme Commander at the Forefront of the Struggle Against Imperialism and the United States
  • Greatest Saint Who Rules with Extensive Magnanimity
  • Lode Star of the Twenty-First Century
  • Best Leader Who Realized Human Wisdom
  • Leader with Extraordinary Personality
  • Perfect Picture of Wisdom and Boldness
  • Eternal Bosom of Hot Love
  • Master of Literature, Arts, and Architecture
  • World’s Best Ideal Leader with Versatile Talents
  • Humankind’s Greatest Musical Genius
  • Master of the Computer Who Surprised the World
  • Man with Encyclopedic Knowledge
  • Guardian Deity of the Planet
  • Heaven-Sent Hero
  • Power Incarnate with Endless Creativity
  • Greatest Man Who Ever Lived
  • Present-day God
  • World’s Greatest Writer
Which reminds me: I am one of the millions of Dear Leader's fans after reading his journal, called the Kim Jong Il (the illmatic)'s Journal. He is indeed the World's Greatest Writer!! [http://users.livejournal.com/kim_jong_il__/].

It also reminds me of Supreme Master Ching Hai, whose organization published hilariously flattering comments allegedly made by famous people like the Pope, the Dalai Lama, and various Hollywood movie stars, all of whom raved about her beauty, her intelligence and even her smart dresses, which she supposedly designed herself, being the same kind of versatile genius as Kim Jong-il. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suma_Ching_Hai].

Here's an example of the world's recognition of Supreme Master's Glory on Earth and in Heaven: "After the performances by the disciples, the Supreme Master Ching Hai could not refuse the warm and earnest request of the applause of all the guests, and She went on the stage to sing one of Her own compositions, "The Ocean of Love". This extraordinary spiritual leader displayed Her multi-faceted talents. Her songs are not only beautiful, but also profound in their meanings, and touch people's very souls. Her voice is so clear and perfect that it has the quality of a professional singer. Lovingly encouraged by the guests, the Supreme Master Ching Hai continued to sing several of Her compositions, which were rich in spiritual taste, and in rock and roll rhythm." [http://www.godsdirectcontact.org/chinghaiday/b2-1.htm]

* Translation = Two Boobs

Friday, October 06, 2006

Friday Night Double Features

First, I give you: Chiru, the Indian Michael Jackson

Next, a breakdancing demonstration by the stars of "Breakin'" in Israel in 1984

"Let Freedom Reign" - George W. Bush

By Charlie Brennan, Rocky Mountain News
October 3, 2006

A Denver-area man filed a lawsuit today against a member of the Secret Service for causing him to be arrested after he approached Vice President Dick Cheney in Beaver Creek this summer and criticized him for his policies concerning Iraq.

Attorney David Lane said that on June 16, Steve Howards was walking his 7-year-old son to a piano practice, when he saw Cheney surrounded by a group of people in an outdoor mall area, shaking hands and posing for pictures with several people.

According to the lawsuit filed at U.S. District Court in Denver, Howards and his son walked to about two-to-three feet from where Cheney was standing, and said to the vice president, "I think your policies in Iraq are reprehensible," or words to that effect, then walked on.

Ten minutes later, according to Howards' lawsuit, he and his son were walking back through the same area, when they were approached by Secret Service agent Virgil D. "Gus" Reichle Jr., who asked Howards if he had "assaulted" the vice president. Howards denied doing so, but was nonetheless placed in handcuffs and taken to the Eagle County Jail.

The lawsuit states that the Secret Service agent instructed that Howards should be issued a summons for harassment, but that on July 6 the Eagle County District Attorney's Office dismissed all charges against Howards.

The lawsuit filed today alleges that Howards was arrested in retaliation for having exercised his First Amendment right of free speech, and that his arrest violated his Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful seizure.

Darth Cheney

In the US, you get arrested for criticizing Vice-President Cheney. In Communist Tatooine, the Dark Lord of the Sith will chop off your head!!! LOL!!11!!!

Don't shoot the interpreter

From : http://mediamatters.org/altercation/
Editors' Note of the Week, from The New York Times:

An article on Sept. 21 about criticism of President Bush at the United Nations by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran reported that Mr. Chavez praised a book by Noam Chomsky, the linguist and social critic. It reported that later, at a news conference, Mr. Chavez said that he regretted not having met Mr. Chomsky before he died. The article noted that in fact, Mr. Chomsky is alive. The assertion that Mr. Chavez had made this misstatement was repeated in a Times interview with Mr. Chomsky the next day.

In fact, what Mr. Chavez said was, "I am an avid reader of Noam Chomsky, as I am of an American professor who died some time ago." Two sentences later Mr. Chavez named John Kenneth Galbraith, the Harvard economist who died last April, calling both him and Mr. Chomsky great intellectual figures.

Mr. Chavez was speaking in Spanish at the news conference, but the simultaneous English translation by the United Nations left out the reference to Mr. Galbraith and made it sound as if the man who died was Mr. Chomsky.

Readers pointed out the error in e-mails to The Times soon after the first article was published. Reporters reviewed the recordings of the news conference in English and Spanish, but not carefully enough to detect the discrepancy, until after the Venezuelan government complained publicly on Wednesday.

Editors and reporters should have been more thorough earlier in checking the accuracy of the simultaneous translation.

I [Dr. Eric Alterman], too, offer my apologies to Mr. Chavez, and my readers for, once again, relying on the accuracy of The New York Times.

President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela at the UN General Assembly

Thursday, October 05, 2006

O.K., One Last Posting

While the boss is not around, here's my take on the Foleygate scandal.


No more posting for a while...

Farewell, My Computer

Photo from: Farewell, my concubine

For the past few days, my computer has been making strange whirring noises. Then last night, it took one last gasp and died in my arms.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

You think?

A Vietnamese documentary film, Cha, con va nguoi linh (The father, the son and the soldier), won the award for best film at the 10th International Film Festival in Pyongyang, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The film tells the story of a war veteran’s family in northern province Thai Binh, with three generations suffering from Agent Orange. The film director, Minh Chuyen, said that the film impressed judges at the festival as well as local audiences. Many people were in tears while watching it.

Anyway, Noodlepie [http://noodlepie.typepad.com/blog/], where I got this story from, mentioned «that the VietnamNet website helpfully adds the following caption to the photo above, "Director Minh Chuyen (second from the left) at the festival." Not sure I would have spotted him without that». Teh Funny....

In a Universe Far Far Away

Halloween's almost here and you have to start looking for costumes for your pets.

French maid/poodle? Yawnn... Been there, Done That.

But wait! Check out these great Star Wars costumes at : http://www.buycostumes.com/category.aspx?pcatid=petcostumes
Thank you Cynical C-Blog! [http://www.cynical-c.com/]


Princess Leia

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The True Nature of Happiness

Photo from http://buddhism.kalachakranet.org/sangha_monks_nuns.html

Lack of understanding of the true nature of happiness, it seems to me, is the principal reason why people inflict sufferings on others. They think either that the other's pain may somehow be a cause of happiness for themselves or that their own happiness is more important, regardless of what pain it may cause. But this is shortsighted: no one truly benefits from causing harm to another sentient being. Whatever immediate advantage is gained at the expense of someone else is shortlived. In the long run, causing others misery and infringing their rights to peace and happiness result in anxiety, fear, and suspicion within oneself. Such feelings undermine the peace of mind and contentment which are the marks of happiness. True happiness comes not from a limited concern for one's own well-being, or that of those one feels close to, but from developing love and compassion for all sentient beings. Here, love means wishing that all sentient beings should find happiness, and compassion means wishing that they should all be free of suffering. The development of this attitude gives rise to a sense of openness and trust that provides the basis for peace.

--The Dalai Lama, from The Dalai Lama: A Policy of Kindness

Monday, October 02, 2006

Somebody stole my peanuts!

Peanuts? What peanuts? We know nofin' about it...

The Lily Pad Doctrine

Picture from: www.vanhulstart.com

John Cole [http://tinyurl.com/kyab5 ] explains why the Bush Administration is so keen on legalizing torture.

Why is the Bush administration so attached to torturing people that it would pressure a supine Congress into raping the US constitution by explicitly permitting some torture techniques and abolishing habeas corpus for certain categories of prisoners?

(See David Corn's "This is What Waterboarding looks like.".)

Boys and girls, it is because torture is what provides evidence for large important networks of terrorists where there aren't really any, or aren't very many, or aren't enough to justify 800 military bases and a $500 billion military budget.

I was at the conference of the Central Eurasian Studies Society the last couple of days. Saturday evening, former UK ambassador to Uzbekistan Craig Murray addressed us. He served in Tashkent 2002 through 2004. Murray was providing copies of his new book, "Murder in Samarkand," which unfortunately is not yet available in the United States.

Murray raised the curtain on the Bush-Blair "War on Terror." He does not deny that there are small groups of persons intent on harming the West. But he does not think that most of what the Bush administration has done in Central Asia is about that threat.

He explained what is really behind the new "lily pad" doctrine of US bases, whereby the US is seeking to encompass the "Greater Middle East" with small bases, each with 1,000 to 3,000 personnel. In emergencies, these bases could quickly swell to 40,000. Like a lily pad, they can "open up" and accommodate a landing frog. Murray said that the US documents are quite open as to why they are seeking the network of lily pad bases around the Middle East. It is because that is where the oil and gas are. If you include the Caspian region, Tengiz, and the gas reserves in Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan along with what is in the Persian Gulf, the vast majority of proven oil and gas reserves are in this circle of crisis.

With the economic rise of China and India, such that both giants (over a billion in population each) are now using more and more gas and oil, there is going to be increasing pressure on fuel supplies and prices in the next decades. Europe also lacks much energy of its own and is a major importer. The US fields are rapidly declining. Washington wants access to that fuel, and wants to be able to protect its access militarily.

In essence, I understand Murray to argue that the Bush administration hyped the al-Qaeda threat in order to have a pretext for the lily pad strategy of oil security. Murray did not say so, but this strategy would then logically underlie the conquest and military occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well.

Murray's exhibit number 1 is Uzbekistan, which has major gas reserves. The US sought and received basing rights there after September 11. The US supported the government of Islam Karimov, the old Soviet apparatchik who turned himself into a post-Soviet dictator. The US and the UK maintained in their official documents that Uzbekistan was making progress toward democracy. They praised Uzbek elections as a sign of such progress, even though Karimov did not allow the opposition to run in the elections.

Murray began receiving photographs and other evidence from victims' families that the Uzbek government was engaging in brutal torture techniques as part of its interrogation of dissidents. One corpse had been beaten around the neck and jaw, and boiled alive. There was a line across his chest, under which it was scalded. Boiled like a lobster.

Yet the UK and the US were giving large amounts of foreign aid to Uzbekistan and winking at the political repression and torture. (Murray may not have known at that time that the US had a detention facility at its Karshi-Khanabad airbase in Uzbekistan, at which it was also torturing suspects.) The US was hoping that its corporations would be given contracts for the development and export of Uzbekistan natural gas. (In late 2004, the Uzbeks made their contract with the Russian Gazprom firm instead, and almost immediately Karimov began planning to ask the US to leave the base.)

Murray as UK ambassador began seeing CIA reports naming known al-Qaeda operatives who were prominent in Uzbekistan. But these turned out to be just run of the mill Uzbek politicians who were on the outs with Karimov. Where did the CIA get this information about high-level terrorists in Uzbekistan? From Karimov's secret police. And where did they get their phony "intelligence"? From torturing dissidents and making them admit to being al-Qaeda and implicating others as al-Qaeda. From torture. From the twilight of conciousness before the boiling killed them. From lobsters.

Now I have to back up and tell you about Uzbekistan. Uzbeks have a Muslim heritage. They have Muslim names. But Uzbekistan is a country full of atheists and secularists. It is more secular than France. Everyone drinks vodka like fish. Almost no one could actually tell you how to pray the five daily prayers. There are a few. They are considered odd by the other Uzbeks. I know a sociologist brought up in the Soviet Union who has studied its "Muslims," who were deracinated over 60 years, and he said, "What you have to understand is that they were normal Soviet citizens." He is right.

The government of Islam Karimov, which is basically corrupt dusted-off apparatchiks from the old Soviet system, is aware that the West is afraid of Islam. And as people brought up Communist, they don't like it either. So they scare the Americans and Europeans with tall tales about an Islamist menace in Uzbekistan, which attract support to the Uzbek government and also cause the Westerners to make excuses for a degree of political repression that approaches that characteristic of Saddam Hussein in the old days.

There is an academic industry in the United States, by the way, of alleging radical Muslim fundamentalism is a big problem in Uzbekistan. It is bunkum. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, which was tied to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, had between 150 and 1,000 members at its height, and that was about it for Islamism in Uzbekistan.

In a poll done in 2002 by Pew, 91 percent of Uzbeks agreed with Bush's War on Terror and the way it was being waged! You couldn't have found those numbers anyplace else in the world, maybe even in the US!

Murray pointed out that if you had a referendum in Uzbekistan on whether Islamic canon law should be the law of the land, and explained that it would result in a ban on vodka, less that 1 percent of the population would vote for it. That is certainly true.

So there isn't, frankly, any al-Qaeda to speak of in Uzbekistan. But Karimov used torture and false allegations to manufacture an al-Qaeda, and Murray thought that the Bush administration and elements in the CIA were swallowing it hook, line and sinker.

I came away from this consummate insider's presentation with a sinking feeling that Uzbekistan is the tip of the iceberg. I kept thinking about the thousands of Iraqis that the US military rounded up and imprisoned for months without charge. Some proportion of them were tortured. And then the US military in Iraq and the Bush administration in Washington kept coming out and saying that the guerrilla war there from 2003 forward was being fought by al-Qaeda in Iraq.

That clearly was not true for the most part. The US military recently killed Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of "al-Qaeda" in Iraq, but that has made no difference to the war. But why did they think it was true? Were they just lying? Or was that what their torture victims were telling them because it was what they thought they wanted to hear? Was the torture at Abu Ghraib about "finding" an "al-Qaeda" at the center of the Iraqi insurgency, when there was actually no such thing?

Likewise, do we know that the resistance to foreign troops in southern Afghanistan is being led by "Taliban" because torture at Bagram elicits this identification? What if it is just local Pushtun good old boys who don't like foreigners and wouldn't know Deobandi theology from a pomegranate?

Remember the charges Cheney and Rice made that Saddam was training al-Qaeda operatives in use of chemical weapons? Never happened. Where did the "intelligence" come from? They tortured an al-Qaeda captive named Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, who told them that lie. The lie was denied by more senior al-Qaeda figures such as Khalid Shaikh Muhammad. But Cheney and Rice chose to depend on the false intelligence generated by torture. Because that falsehood was useful to getting up the war they wanted in Iraq, and to securing the oil contracts and the military bases they wanted in Iraq.

The Bush administration needs the Terror/al-Qaeda bogeyman to justify the military occupation of strategic countries that have or are near to major oil and gas reserves. It needs al-Qaeda to justify the lily pad bases in Kyrgyzstan etc.

But the problem is that we now know that serious al-Qaeda is probably only a few hundred men now, and at most a few thousand. Look at who exactly did the London subway bombing. A few guys in a gym in Leeds. That magnitude of threat just would not keep a "War on Terror" in business. The embassy bombings, the Cole, and September 11 itself were done by tiny poorly funded cells that functioned as terror boutiques to accomplish a specific spectacular operation. They don't prove a worldwide, large organization. They prove tiny effective cells. Most of what the Pentagon does and can do is irrelevant to that kind of threat. You'd be better off with some good FBI agents.

So how do you prove to yourself and others a big terror threat that requires a National Security State and turn toward a praetorian society? You torture people into alleging it.

Global terrorism is being exaggerated and hyped by torture just as the witchcraft scare in Puritan American manufactured witches. It is even to the point where 5 African-American and Haitian Christian cultists in Miami can be identified by the FBI as an "al-Qaeda threat" interested in "jihad" after an FBI informant offered to hook them up with al-Qaeda.

Bush needs torture for the same reason as Karimov does. He needs to generate false information that exaggerates the threat to his regime, so as to justify repression. He needs the ritual of confession and naming others, to have it down on paper so he can show it to Congress behind closed doors. But Bush/Cheney's ambitions are global, not just internal.

Murray made too many noises about human rights in Uzbekistan for the comfort of Blair's Foreign Office. He believes that UK ambassador in Washington David Manning got pressure from the Cheney Administration to shut Murray down. The Foreign Office tried to bribe him with an offer to be ambassador in Copenhagen. He declined the bribe, insisting on staying in Tashkent, where he believed he was doing important and effective work. Then the Foreign Office trumped up some false charges against him, which were dismissed. (I believe that these two tactics are widely used in both the UK and US government, and that most people fold in the face of them.) The Blair government ultimately just had to fire Murray.

I was honored to meet this courageous and clear-sighted man. I hope his "Death in Samarkand" will wake some congressmen and senators up, and will provoke some sharp questioning and rethinking about the "War on Terror." If this "War on Terror" leads to our praising Karimov for having elections in which the opposition cannot run, or to our swallowing false "intelligence" about vodka-swilling dissident Uzbek politicians being "terrorists" and "al-Qaeda", then it is leading to the Death of our Republic.