Monday, August 06, 2007

August Monday 2007 roundup . . .

Today is August Monday here in Montserrat, a day for celebration of the Emancipation of August 1st 1834. (It took four years of Apprenticeship before all former slaves across the Caribbean were fully free.)

Let us, first, therefore not forget the sacrifice of many here in the region and in the Britsh Isles and elsewhere, who took up a very unpopular cause because they were convinced it was right, and against all odds, won the day. And, let us reflect soberly on how we have used God's precious gift of freedom.

Now, too, I have been slowed down considerably by an ongoing engagement on a blog visit over at UD. While that has been happening, a lot of developments worthy of blogging have been piling up.

So let's just do some brief notes and links, not necessarily in any order of relative importance:

1] On breaking codes . . . Potter and Da Vinci

In the first of these two stories, Linda Harvey pointed out on July 18th, how the consistent characterisation of "Muggles" in the popular Harry Potter books as bullying, hypocritical, blundering oppressors of the magical, may well in context be read as indicting those of us who adhere to the West's Judaeo-Christian value system, as Pharisaical, party-spoiling hypocrites. [BTW, early reports are that the latest book to come out, is sharply darker in tone than previous books, and it seems that six of Potter's friends die at the hands of the evil Voldermort in the course of the book.]

A couple of weeks back now, Slavisa Pesci caused an online sensation by superposing the image of Da Vinci's The Last Supper with its mirror image. The claimed result was: "superimposing the "Last Supper" with its mirror-image throws up another picture containing a figure who looks like a Templar knight and another holding a small baby . . . . In the superimposed version, a figure on Christ's left appears to be cradling a baby in its arms, Pesci said, but he made no suggestion this could be Christ's child . . "

Given the widespread fascination with Mr Dan Brown's speculations, the resulting Internet stampede caused the relevant web sites to crash, and as of the last count my check on the images leads to a substitute page without the images. [Of course, Da Vinci was in no position to say anything of consequence on the history of the First Century, 1400+ years before his time.]

2] Worried about Second Hand Smoke? Try out Laser printers for a change . . .

It seems that some laser printers give off microparticles while printing. In offices that use split unit air conditioners -- which only recycle the air in teh room -- this can be a problem: " That laser printer sitting on your desk could be emitting high levels of potentially hazardous particles, according to a study published today. Some printers released almost as many ultra-fine particles as a smoldering cigarette, the study authors said . . . . The emissions varied widely among printers. Morawska and her colleagues classified 37 printers as non-emitters, eight as medium or low emitters, and 17 as high emitters. Among the machines that had no emissions were eight HP LaserJet 4050 series printers and four Ricoh Aficio models. High emitters included the HP LaserJet 1320 and 4250, which, when printing, increased the particle number in the air more than tenfold. The study did not consider variables such as printer age or cartridge type, leading to variations even among printers of the same model. The scientists noted that they found one HP LaserJet 5 to be a high emitter, while another was a non-emitter. Hewlett-Packard, maker of the LaserJet printers, responded that it tests all products for dust emissions and follows international health and safety requirements."

So if you print, it would be wise to prefer say an ink jet printer for most work, and to make sure to vent the air after heavy printing.

3] Spiritual suicide of the West Watch . . .

A recent poll has shown a dangerous spiritual trend in the USA, which through its media presence has a great impact in our region:
. . . Americans are growing progressively more skeptical of the existence of God and do not believe in other key principles taught in the Bible.

While the May Gallup Poll indicates that a large majority of Americans deem that there is a God (86 percent), that belief is shrinking (90 percent in May 2004).

Other findings in the poll indicate that many individuals' belief in God is tentative, since lesser percentages also express a belief in heaven (81 percent), in angels (75 percent), in the devil (70 percent) and in hell (69 percent).

The poll also found only 56 percent of respondents saying that religion was "very important" in their own lives. Twenty-six percent said religion was "fairly important," while 17 percent said it was "not very important." Remember, these are the same people that overwhelmingly said they believe in God.

These numbers indicate that while people may believe in God, they are not concurrently interested in applying godly principles to their lives. Also consider that in 1965, 70 percent of Americans said that religion was "very important" in their lives. That's a 14 percent decrease over the last four decades.

Of course, this is based on the precise pattern of apostasy shown in Romans 1 - 2: people who refuse to be thankful to God, and turn away from the evidence he has planted in our consciences and minds and the world around us that point clearly to him, will make up images that look like the various things in the world around us and convince themselves of the trustworthiness of stories they make up to substitute for and explain away the testimony of the evidence within and without that points to the true God. Thus, the recent popularity of amateurish and extremely militant books promoting atheism and attacking God, is neither hard to understand, nor in the end anything more than a reflection of the West's ongoing suicide.

We here in our region need to be very aware of this trend [tidal wave no 1 as I have sometimes called it], and we must prepare ourselves to respond vigorously.

Indeed, just the other day, I had two disturbing conversations here in Montserrat: one with a circle of young men who disdained the Bible, and another with an older lady who pointed out that many of the youngsters from this Island who fled to the UK following the onset of serious volcanic eruptions, were exposed to the taint of atheism there. Many have adopted atheism or agnosticism, and imagine that this is a well-founded worldview. [My ongoing exchange with a professor at UD as linked above is illuminating on that!]

4] Pray -- and act -- for the Suffering Church, 1:

Voice of the Martyrs, through a regular reader and email correspondent, reminds us of events in North Korea:
Son Jong Nam, a Christian in North Korea, has been held in a bleak, North Korean death row basement cell for more than a year. He has been sentenced to die by "public execution." He is charged with being a "national traitor" and "receiving Christianity." Mr. Son has already spent 3 years in prison and has gone through brutal tortures. Mr. Son's crime? Sharing his faith in the communist nation of North Korea.
We must realise that Communist persecution of the Christian Faith is not finished, and should pray for the suffering church under the Marxist Leninist boot-heel, not only in North Korea but in China and elsewhere including our very own sister Caribbean country of Cuba. One practical step might be to write a letter on behalf of Brother Son.

5] Pray and act, 2:

Over in Gaza, we see a worrying development for Christians and for women, one that as usual you will not see headlined in your usual media sources:

Hamas-linked militants kidnapped and forcibly converted to Islam a female Christian professor in the Gaza Strip, according to the professor's family and officials from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah organization.

Hamas members denied the accusations, accusing rival Fatah of spreading lies even though the professor, Sana al-Sayegh of Gaza City's Palestine International University, has indicated she was converted against her will.

Sayegh, head of the university's Science and Technology Department, disappeared June 24, failing to show up at work where she serves as the Gaza Strip's only female doctorate in her field . . . . According to sources close to her family, about five days after she disappeared Sayegh caller her parents to say she was being held against her will in order to marry a Muslim man, who was also a professor at the university . . . .

A few days later, the family said it received a copy of a conversion document certifying Sayegh had become a Muslim. The document was signed by two witnesses, as required. One witness was Zaher Khail, president of the Palestine International University, who, according to Palestinian security officials is an Islamist close with Gaza-based terror groups, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Fatah officials say Khail assisted in kidnapping Sayegh, whose family stated she would "never" convert willingly to Islam. Fatah officials also accused Hamas leaders directly of overseeing Sayegh's "forced" conversion . . . . Sayegh yesterday [i.e. on Aug 4th] showed up to work at the university but has not been in touch with her parents. Sources close to her family and Fatah officials speculate she was threatened against contacting her family again. Calls by her family to Sayegh's new husband and his family were not returned.

Is this what "Islamic law/justice" and "Islamic values" mean? What it means for Hamas leaders to say: "Christians can continue living safely in the Gaza Strip only if they accept Islamic law, including a ban on alcohol and on women roaming publicly without proper head coverings"? And, where is the public outcry in the Middle East, in the wider Muslim world, not to mention, internationally? Also, let us not forget that to try to "de-convert" from Islam is to put one's life at risk.

Let us pray, and let us act, in this case, maybe we need to organise our own international petitions and initiatives, perhaps though communicating with the Barnabas Fund, as the churches of the descendants of slaves, concerned for freedom?

6] Part of why you won't hear about such things in your friendly local and international news . . .

Mark Steyn has alerted us to how even Cambridge University Press can be intimidated into backing away form speaking the truth on Islamism:

How will we lose the war against "radical Islam"? . . . .

The war will be lost incrementally because we are unable to reverse the ongoing radicalization of Muslim populations in South Asia, Indonesia, the Balkans, Western Europe and, yes, North America. And who's behind that radicalization? Who funds the mosques and Islamic centers that in the past 30 years have set up shop on just about every Main Street around the planet?

For the answer, let us turn to a fascinating book called "Alms for Jihad: Charity And Terrorism in the Islamic World," by J. Millard Burr, a former USAID relief coordinator, and the scholar Robert O Collins. Can't find it in your local Barnes & Noble? Never mind, let's go to Amazon. Everything's available there. And sure enough, you'll come through to the "Alms for Jihad" page and find a smattering of approving reviews from respectably torpid publications: "The most comprehensive look at the web of Islamic charities that have financed conflicts all around the world," according to Canada's Globe And Mail, which is like the New York Times but without the jokes.

Unfortunately, if you then try to buy "Alms for Jihad," you discover that the book is "Currently unavailable. We don't know when or if this item will be back in stock." Hang on, it was only published last year. At Amazon, items are either shipped within 24 hours or, if a little more specialized, within four to six weeks, but not many books from 2006 are entirely unavailable with no restock in sight.

Well, let us cross the ocean, thousands of miles from the Amazon warehouse, to the High Court in London. Last week, the Cambridge University Press agreed to recall all unsold copies of "Alms for Jihad" and pulp them. In addition, it has asked hundreds of libraries around the world to remove the volume from their shelves . . . .

As to whether allegations about support for terrorism by the sheikh and his "family, businesses and charities" are "entirely and manifestly false," the Cambridge University Press is going way further than the United States or most foreign governments would. Of his bank's funding of terrorism, Sheikh Mahfouz's lawyer has said: "Like upper management at any other major banking institution, Khalid Bin Mahfouz was not, of course, aware of every wire transfer moving through the bank. Had he known of any transfers that were going to fund al-Qaida or terrorism, he would not have permitted them." Sounds reasonable enough. Except that in this instance the Mahfouz bank was wiring money to the principal Mahfouz charity, the Muwafaq (or "Blessed Relief") Foundation, which in turn transferred them to Osama bin Laden.

In October 2001, the Treasury Department named Muwafaq as "an al-Qaida front that receives funding from wealthy Saudi businessmen" and its chairman as a "specially designated global terrorist." As the Treasury concluded, "Saudi businessmen have been transferring millions of dollars to bin Laden through Blessed Relief."

Indeed, this "charity" seems to have no other purpose than to fund jihad. It seeds Islamism wherever it operates. In Chechnya, it helped transform a reasonably conventional nationalist struggle into an outpost of the jihad. In the Balkans, it played a key role in replacing a traditionally moderate Islam with a form of Mitteleuropean Wahhabism. Pick a Muwafaq branch office almost anywhere on the planet and you get an interesting glimpse of the typical Saudi charity worker. The former head of its mission in Zagreb, Croatia, for example, is a guy called Ayadi Chafiq bin Muhammad. Well, he's called that most of the time. But he has at least four aliases and residences in at least three nations (Germany, Austria and Belgium). He was named as a bin Laden financier by the U.S. government and disappeared from the United Kingdom shortly after 9/11.
In short, with financial muscle like that, and with a little jurisdiction shopping, a lot can be supressed, thank you.

For the rest, it helps if you can appeal to the West's sense of guilt over its Imperialist past and loss of cultural confidence, the South's resentment over same, and the ignorance of most of the history of Islamist expansionism over the past 1400 years. Etc, etc, of course.

So let us become ever more aware of the ever-widening gap between what is headlined and what is credibly true and important enough for us to act on -- what news is supposedly about.

7] Mr Obama stumbles . . .

There has been a lot of breathless buzz and enthusiastic gushing over Mr Obama as an emerging Democratic party Presidential contender, both in the Black community in the USA and in our region.

Unfortunately, the thinness of his resume [as compared to say that of either Mr Powell or Ms Rice] is beginning to show. In commentator Barbara Simpson's unfortunately telling words:

[Mr Obama] declared he'd support increased U.S. military operations against al-Qaida in Afghanistan and, if Pakistan doesn't cooperate better with us on ridding itself of al-Qaida, we'll attack Pakistan and do it ourselves.

It seems no one briefed him that Pakistan is our ally, President Musharraf has a fragile hold on power and is fighting domestic battles against terrorists. We depend on Pakistani airspace, and Pakistan has a huge, well equipped, well-trained military.

Oh, and it has the bomb. That bomb.

It was clear: Sen. Obama was pleased with his toughness. Too bad he didn't realize how it illustrated his naivet̩ both in war strategy and diplomatic relations with allies Рto say nothing of his unawareness of the consequences of such poorly thought-out intentions. His venture into military operations and strategy wasn't well received and was quickly trounced. The violent, anti-American demonstrations in Pakistan and official Pakistani criticism of Obama's "irresponsible" words make that clear.


8] That bridge that fell . . .

It is a measure of how much we have progressed that a bridge collapse is big news: in C19, that -- sadly - was a regular an occurrence. The online AP report I clipped reminds me of the old engineering saying that "any structure will fail by its weakest mechanism -- usually the one no-one thought of beforehand":
Though inspections rate more than 70,000 bridges nationwide structurally deficient, a top transportation official Friday called the deadly failure of a Mississippi River bridge an "anomaly" and said motorists shouldn't fear for their safety [NB: much later in the article, the report notes: " A bridge is typically judged structurally deficient if heavy trucks are banned or there are other weight restrictions, if it needs immediate work to stay open or if it is closed. In any case, such a bridge is considered in need of substantial maintenance, rehabilitation or even replacement."] . . . .

The Minneapolis bridge was found structurally deficient in 1990. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters, asked Friday whether she could be sure none of the other structurally deficient bridges are unsound, said there are no indications that substantive changes in bridge inspections are needed.

She added, "Obviously something happened here that none of us expected."

Repairing all spans rated structurally deficient would take at least a generation and cost more than $188 billion at least $9.4 billion a year over 20 years, according to the American Society of Civil Engineers.

Those bridges carry an average of more than 300 million vehicles a day.

Rosenker said it's too soon to know if the Minnesota collapse could have been avoided: "This is an anomaly and we're going to try to find out why this is an anomaly and prevent that anomaly from ever happening again," he said on ABC's "Good Morning America" Friday . . . . .

In short, we are finite and fallible, so there is an inescapable element of risk in putting our lives into the hands of technology. But, the risk of not using technologies is even higher. So, we must learn and accept the price of progress and make prudent decisions -- including where we have to strike the financial balance relative to the clamour of a tidal wave of claims by various interests that would overwhelm any budget.

And, ambulance-chasing finger-pointing games don't help, once there is reason to believe that prudent policies were in place.

9] The fate of the Swiss Army Knife, under the WTO: Hecho en Chine?

I am an enthusiastic supporter of the classic Swiss Army knife, and own several of them up to an including the big camper. [If you see a leather cell-phone pouch on my belt, that's what is in it!]

I also own several "made in China" copies, which I view as more expendable. [They cost a lot less, and give enough performance for a lot of things. but, they don't measure up to the big boys from Victorinox or Wenger, nossiree!]

So, you will understand my closing off on the following note:
. . . the Swiss army knife, considered by millions around the world to be an indispensable tool, is in danger of losing its Swiss identity.

The Swiss army, which is to order a fresh batch of 65,000 of the pocket knives with new specifications, has caused nationwide consternation by declaring that under World Trade Organisation rules, the tendering process must be opened to companies worldwide because of the high value of the contract.

China, which has been producing pirate copies of the knife for years, is thought to have the best chance of winning the contract, which is estimated at 1.7m Swiss francs (£695,000), followed by Taiwan and Bulgaria.

The issue has become one of the hottest political topics of the summer, with far-right politicians saying that national pride is at stake.

"If the Swiss army knife no longer comes from Switzerland, then we might as well stop producing it altogether," said Thomas Fuchs, MP for the far-right Swiss People's party . . . .

The army is saying little, except that it is working on the technical specifications for the new product to make it suitable for modern soldiering, including a serrated blade with a locking mechanism, a saw, and a Phillips - crosshead - screwdriver. It should also have a case, allowing it to be attached to a belt.

Victorinox, the company that makes the knives, said it was confident it would win the bid on the combined factors of quality and cost.

The knife, which was first produced in Ibach in the canton of Schwyz in 1897, can be equipped with anything from a nail file and a tin opener to a fish-scaler and a USB stick, and features in the design collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

So, it looks like the Swiss Army's soldiers are suing only the more basic knives! (Even my EC$12.00 ~ US$ 4.00 made in China el cheapo has most of these things on it.)

But, the serrated locking blade sounds nice, and I would sure like to look at the civilian version when it comes out! END

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