Monday, March 2, 2015

La Grande Bouffe (mise â jour)

Certain censorious eyebrows have frowned at the self-celebrating birthday feast on which Zimbabwean President-for-Life Robert Mugabe is chowing down.   Featured on the menu:  expensive elephants.  One recalls the predilection of his fellow African dictator, Bokassa, for another exotic delicacy, long pig.
Both men are still widely revered in Africa, though scarcely outside it.

To those who objected to the high cost of the festivities, saying that it might better have been spent on Zimbabwe’s orphans, the President-for-Life gave an answer recalling that of Our Lord in similar circumstances, though turned upside-down, indicating in effect:

Orphans are but the mayflies of a day;
Me you have with you forever.

[Update 2 March 2015]  Oh -- turns out it’s baby elephant.  So-o-o succulent.

Gnam gnam -- Le plat du jour

Headline in this morning’s New York Times.

Zimbabwe's Mugabe served baby elephant at lavish birthday bash
Mugabe, over a feast of varied exotic animals, took the pulpit to excoriate safaris.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Updates to Essays

* A lot of people found the Dakota Johnson ISIS skit on SNL  almost unmouthably offensive.  It's actually pretty bland.
Indeed, to the extent that the sketch is deft, this relies precisely on its decision to remain low-key, about a subject inherently inflammatory, the reality being too over-the-top for satirical exaggeration.

[2 March 2015 -- UPDATE to the update]
It turns out that, indeed, the skit’s concetto of a father’s consenting to his daughter’s joining the Islamic State, is beggared by the indescribable reality.  From this morning’s headlines:

There are indicators that young women and children are being coerced into carrying out suicide attacks, either by their families or by Boko Haram captors. Female bombers are often escorted to the sites of their attacks by men, and in December, a 13-year-old told reporters that her father tried to force her to bomb a market in the northeastern city of Kano.

* The ISIL flag functions internationally rather  like MacDonald’s Golden Arches -- an instantly recognizable visual brand.

* [Appendix]  Weiteres zur Elefanten-Mechanik:

It is well known that slowly-moving things obey classical mechanics.
-- Robert Lindsay & Henry Margenau, Foundations of Physics (1936), p. 269

Elephants obey classical mechanics.

* “The question of the objective existence of the objects of mathematics … is an exact replica of the question of the objective existence of the outer world.”-- Kurt Gödel

* Another faddish forerunner of all this:
En attendant de s’attaquer à l’homme, [il] prétendait simplement réduire en “tropismes”  toute l’activité des animaux qu’il observait.
Tropismes !  Le mot nétait pas lus tôt inventé  que déjà l’on ne comprenait plus rien d’autre;  toute une catégorie de psychologues ne consentit plus qu’aux tropismes.
-- André Gide

* Es verging dann drei Wochen, ohne dass sie zu mir im Labor käme;  ich meinte, sie hatte mich wahrscheinlich vergessen.  Sie aber vergass ich gar nicht.
Dann plötzlich, einen Sonntagmorgen sogar, da ich ganz allein im Labor mich bei meinen Versuchen beschäftigte, trat sie ein, diesmal ohne mal anzuklopfen.

*  “The units of social life are far less clearly defined than those of language … Linguists are fortunate in possessing a domain whose units are at least relatively self-defining and isolable.”

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Lenten reflections

For some reason, I cannot offer these directly yet.
But you might check out the reflections of the penitent private detective:

Phrase of the Day: “known wolves”

Almost every major terrorist attack on Western soil in the past fifteen years  has been committed by people who were already known to law enforcement.
-- The New Yorker, 27 Jan 2015

The expression lone wolf attacks has burst its way into the English vocabulary of late.    This followed a major media push by al-Qaeda a few years back:  stymied in their 9/11-style coordinated attacks (thanks to our watchful eyes in the sky), they launched a series of random, infra-theological, to-whom-it-may-concern appeals to Westerners to simply go out and slaughter people.   A few heeded the call.  Subsequently, ISIL began pushing the same thing -- though, crucially, only as a distant second-best to emigrating from the Dâr al-Kuffâr and making a new life in the Caliphate.  (In some ways, ISIL is more principled than is AQ.)

In French, the equivalent phrase is loup solitaire. (German, less zoomorphically: Einzeltäter.)  Fair enough;  but it is often used by the socioalo appeasers in a disinformational, self-protective way, implying that
(a)  Don’t blame us for not preventing this;  no-one could have foreseen it; the guy just came out of nowhere.
(b)  His attack was a purely individual act of madness, with no further motivations or connections, certainly not to [name of named confessional persuasion redacted]!   Ne faites surtout pas l’amalgame !

I did it ... *my* way

The New York Times this morning has a useful corrective to all that:

Brooklyn Arrests Highlight Challenges in Fighting of ISIS and ‘Known Wolves’

In Canada and Australia, young men inspired by the bloody, apocalyptic vision of the Islamic State were thwarted in their efforts to join the battle in Syria, so they took up arms in their homelands, staging small attacks that drew widespread attention.

In London, Mohammed Emwazi was known for years to be sympathetic to the message of Islamic extremists, and by 2013 he had joined the militants on the Islamic State in Syria. Now he is better known as “Jihadi John,” the black-masked figure who has appeared in numerous beheading videos.

[NDLR:  Many further cases could be added, of assassins antecedently well-known to the police for recidivism or violent crimes, from Denmark, France, etc. -- dbj]

In stark contrast, two young men in New York who were similarly enthralled by the Islamic State’s vision and who the government claims wanted nothing more than to join the fight, were arrested before they could make it to the killing fields in the desert.

In all of these cases, the suspects were known to the authorities. But only in New York were the suspects arrested, accused of pledging support for the Islamic State and trying to leave the country.

The decision to arrest the men highlights the evolving challenges confronting law enforcement as officials calculate whether and when to intervene in instances of what some have begun calling “known wolves.”
There are “lone wolves and known wolves,” said a law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the continuing investigation. “A lone wolf is someone who comes out of the woodwork; a known wolf is on your radar.”

Sidenote:    The same issue has a quite interesting article on one of the more influential Islamist provocateurs for Egypt.  His background might give some people pause, but not the tens of thousands who follow him on Facebook:

Bolsen was born a freckled redhead, named Shannon Morris, and baptized as a Catholic. He converted to Islam in his early 20s, and he adopted the middle name “King” after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his mother’s maiden name, Bolsen, to become Shahid King Bolsen.
The family’s life in Dubai came to an end three years later in a lurid scandal. Prosecutors later accused Mr. Bolsen of posting a picture of the family’s Ethiopian maid on the Internet in order to lure a German businessman, Martin Herbert Steiner, 48, with offers of sex.
They met at Mr. Bolsen’s home, and in the interview Mr. Bolsen said he had sought to convince Mr. Steiner to change his ways. “He was soliciting illicit sex with Muslim women in the United Arab Emirates, and I was trying to convince him that this was dangerous,” Mr. Bolsen said.
Mr. Steiner was drunk and tried to force himself on the maid, Mr. Bolsen said. “We fought and I unfortunately caused his death,” he said.
The cause of death was an overdose of chloroform, which Mr. Bolsen told the court he kept in the house to fight insomnia but had used to try to sedate Mr. Steiner. After the killing Mr. Bolsen stuffed the body in a suitcase, disposed of it by a desert highway, and was arrested as he tried to fly to Oman, he acknowledged.
Mr. Bolsen was initially convicted of murder and sentenced to death by an Emirati court.

Well, well, you take your imams where you find them, I guess.

Footnote:  For some reason, Shahid King (a.k.a. Jihadi Jerkoff) has an especial animus against Kentucky Fried Chicken;  after his incitements, several franchises in Egypt  were hit.  In this,  “King” follows in the footsteps of that other noted crusader for human gallinaeous rights, the shred guitarist Buckethead.

"You deserve a break today ♬"

[Appendix] Désabusé French commentary on the issue of what had been called “les électrons libres du jihadisme”:

Le loup solitaire n'existe plus. C'est un vestige de «l'époque» afghane, qui occulte les profonds changements survenus dans les mouvements islamistes radicaux depuis le début de la guerre en Syrie, et l'engouement des jeunes européens pour le jihad. Nous ne sommes plus face à une poignée de combattant venus d'une terre lointaine, mais à des milliers de jeunes volontaires immergés dans une nébuleuse salafiste qui contrôle désormais une grande partie des «cités» européennes.

Cheik Omar Bakri, une figure emblématique de l'Islam radical qui a endoctriné des dizaines de milliers d'européens, me confiait à Tripoli que «le jihad ne s'arrêtera que quand le drapeau de l'Islam flottera sur le balcon de l'Elysée et de la Maison Blanche».

Pour connaitre personnellement les membres de ces organisations, je puis vous affirmer que ces loups sont tout, sauf solitaires…

[NB: «cités»  means ‘public housing projects’.]

Friday, February 27, 2015

Explication de texte

A prayer for the Lenten season:

Almighty and everlasting God,
who hatest nothing that thou hast made,
and dost forgive the sins of all them that are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts,
that we  worthily lamenting our sins, and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of thee, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness;
 through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sterling commentary  here:

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Fahrenheit 451 revisited

Since the Islamic State is currently among the limited roster of phenomena that the media follow, we are informed of this:

While the world was watching the Academy Awards ceremony, the people of Mosul were watching a different show. They were horrified to see ISIS members burn the Mosul public library. Among the many thousands of books it housed, more than 8,000 rare old books and manuscripts were burned.

Well, ISIL will do anything for attention;  naturally it was a public holocaust, not covert vandalism: compare the public book-burnings by the Nazis.   But what stands out is this lesser-known fact:

During the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003, the library was looted and destroyed by mobs. However, the people living nearby managed to save most of its collections and rich families bought back the stolen books and they were returned to the library.

Mobs, that weren’t even making any particular political point.  (They also looted and vandalized Iraqi museums.)  

A couple of years ago, during the Azawad adventure in Timbuktu, Salafist takfiris destroyed ancient books, mausoleums, and musical instruments.   And for centuries, the locals have looted archeological sites.

Prior to that, it was the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul, repeatedly looted in the early 1990’s (before the U.S. came in).  Showing how little they cared, the Afghans went on to use what remained as a military base, which was duly rocketed and destroyed.
Subsequently, the collection is being replenished from holdings long faithfully curated in Switzerland and Germany, now donated.

Sculpture from Nineveh,
being taken to the British Museum for safekeeping

[Update]  For our viewing pleasure, Da`ish has followed this up with videos depicting their Art Critic Commandos smashing ancient statues with hammers and electric drills.
In a kind of scholarly pun, IS attackers both destroyed ancient Assyrian statues  from the days of Nineveh, and kidnapped hundreds of modern "Assyrian" Christians (no relation except the name) in Syria.

 Ancient Assyrian lamassu.
This one, at least, is safe in Chicago.

In recent years, there has been much squawking ex partibus infidelium (as well as from American indigenes) about Western preservation of their treasures, demanding the items’ return.   But nota bene:  It is only thanks to the labors of colonialists and scholars, that things like the Rosetta Stone, or  early Arabic manuscripts, or greenfield artefacts, have survived intact.


A look back, to an earlier post about  the preservation of incunabula:

For more on Islamist destruction of antiquities -- and the very selective Western response:

Further examples of bibliocide, from Muslim history.
Re the 8th-century ruler al-Mahdi bi-'llah, and his suppression of the Persian-leaning dualists:

The Caliph Mahdi distinguished himself by an organised persecution of these enemies of the faith.  He appointed a Grand Inquisitor (Sâhibu l-Zanâdiqa … ) to discover and hunt them down.  If they would not recant when called upon, they were put to death and crucified, and their books were cut to pieces with knives.  Mahdi’s example was followed by Hâdi and Hârûn al-Rashid.
R.A. Nicholson, A Literary History of the Arabs (1907)

Theological themata

The following are snippets from posts of some religious import; click on the link for the full essay.

Rejecting our appointed time of circa threescore and ten, he arranges for his brain to be kept alive in a beaker:  thus seeking eternal life, not on God’s terms, but on Satan’s.  (These deals usually do not turn out well.)

I am not saying that numbers are ideas.  Or if they are that, they are that in addition, where they keep such scruffy company as the Idea of a Unicorn and the Idea of a Ham Sandwich. They are, rather, facts as hard as baseballs, packing quite as much wallop. (Also, admittedly, we are interested in the Pitcher …)

Now Solly got thoughtful.   “Y’know… Just indulge me here, okay?  Because I heard a rumor there’s this, some kind of Church doctrine, in this general area -- I won’t even try to quote it, I’d just screw it up:   but something along the lines of, like, a woman and a man, yadda yadda, and they get hitched up by God, in just the right way:  and from then on,  it’s like trying to yank a horseshoe loose from the hoof -- or no:  more like, trying to yank the blue right out of the sky.”
            Murphy raised a respectful eyebrow.  “That’s pretty much it, Solly.  That’s very well put.”   He nodded again, and savored.  The blue, right out of the sky.

Sober orthodoxy of each camp would doubtless concede that the others “believe in” the “same” God (whatever it means to “believe in” something ultimately unknowable  this side the grave, and whatever “same” means  when comparing finitely described infinites); adding simply, that they worship Him amiss.

But now here is the key -- and it is a key to Christianity as well, that faith that embraces paradox …

Sidenote on theologoumenon.  It is not every day that Dr. J. learns a new word;  this one’s a doozer. 

Sin has a certain dignity, as only upon a foundation of Morality can it raise its head.  Chimps in their lubricious oestrus cannot be considered “adulterers”.  In this sense, we are not certain that M. Hollande has actually committed any “sin”.

Such creatures are needful, lest the scala naturae  wane at its base.

Age-old Theological Conundra cheerfully solved by Dr J

We are sweaty, dust-caked survival machines -- that has been shown -- much like the cockroach and the rat.  Are we anything else as well ?

This frame of clay which Thou hast shaped
and quickened with Thine inblown Word,
a cloak about my spirit draped:
Mold it a little longer, Lord.

I may well have much more free time after I die.  (No more dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles!  Free at last, Lord -- Free at last !!!)

“Gödel turned out to be an unadulterated Platonist, and apparently believed that an eternal ‘not’ was laid up in heaven, where virtuous logicians might hope to meet it hereafter.”

Tares planted in the Endarkenment (humorously known as the Enlightenment) have sprouted to weeds that choke the vacant lots where atheists briefly couple and depart …

I believe I have successfully defended C.S.Lewis against any suggestions that he was either a prude or a scold;  but what of his original suggestion that the sexual instinct in modern man has somehow gone wrong?  That is indeed a startling thesis -- and utterly at variance with the  contemporary climate of right-thinking opinion that anything goes and that’s just dandy.

Whether the evidence of the Apostles for all that they saw and sensed and heard, was indeed no greater than that whereby we announce, “Hullo!  A penny-bun upon the table.” -- the testimony of the senses, the notoriously wayward senses -- I cannot say.   Wasn’t there; only read the book. 

On this Landscape question, Hawking notwithstanding, I’ll go with the Pope.

Die ganzen Zahlen hat der liebe Gott gemacht …

We know, on scientific grounds, that penguins cannot exist.  How, then, to explain the persistence, among the unlettered, of a belief in these fanciful creatures?

Desecrating a sacrament is, no doubt, protected “speech”, in the greatly and sometimes grievously distended sense that that simple word has gradually acquired in secular law;  but that doesn’t mean the Church has to put up with it.

Erdős sees the Deity, not exactly through a glass darkly, but under some distortion -- perhaps a projective transformation.

That God is simply the sum of All that Is, is mere pantheism.  We shall posit rather, that He is its Stone–Čech compactification.

What makes a movie moral  is by no means that the ultimate verdict of Judgment Day shall be anticipated here in this life -- as it so manifestly is not, despite the hype and come-ons from certain motivational evangelists outside the discipline of the Historical Church.

Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” does not come from this world.  It’s less a traditional film than a passion play, a ritual re-enactment.  If you weren’t well versed in the Gospels, most of it wouldn’t even make sense

There is something prelapsarian about the penguins, a thing that indeed tugs at us  like a magnet  the filings, we in our fallen state.