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Saturday, August 27, 2005

Leaving Home

We took Tycho off to college today. It's a day of thoroughly mixed emotions. On the one side we are proud of what he has already achieved, and we know he's going to do well in college. On the other, our "baby" is gone, and we don't know when he'll be back. He's less than an hour away, but it seems farther.

On a lighter note, we have the computer checkin at the school. Before arrival each student was informed of the system requirements and instructed on removing viruses and spambots. They then drop off the computer with the campus IS group for checking, antivirus installation, network configuration (including wireless), etc. The students fill out a form, attach it to the computer, and are told to come back in 2 hrs.

Except when Tycho handed her his PowerBook, the IS person said, "Oh. It's a Mac. You can just wait, if you want. This will only take 10 minutes."

Where They Come From

We're sure you get plenty of these, too. Now we see why: 3rd Annual Nigerian EMail Conference

Thursday, August 25, 2005


Back in July we hopped off the Autoroute des Deux Mers to visit the village of Montcuq. Admittedly, it was mainly for the joke the town's name provides. Normally, a consonant at the end of a French word is silent, and the "t" would also be silent.


So the name of the town would be pronounced like "moan coo," which is just like the French words for "my ass." In fact, the locals do pronounce the "q" on the end in this case, which is perhaps not any big surprise. Still the town name is the butt of many jokes among the French, so to speak.

It's actually a cute little medieval town, as you can see in the picture. The tower in the center is the remainder of an old fort.

Nuclear Plant

On the way to Montcuq we passed this nuclear power plant. France has moved agressively to nuclear energy to offset the high cost of imported oil. French anti-nuclear groups have not been able to stifle the growth of nuclear power like their American counterparts have done here.

So we should give them some credit. In this area the French have been more successful than we have at preventing fringe groups from blocking actions backed by a political concensus.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Frog vs. Frog

We've previously stated that some of our best friends are frogs. This includes Mrs. Abe, who hails from the southwestern French province of Gironde. Now an ecological problem in the region is pitting frog against frog, as reported in Independent Online Edition:
"Hunters working for the government's wildlife agency will be stalking ponds in south-west France this weekend, aimed with flash-lights, rifles, silencers and night-vision sights.

They have been mobilised for the most intensive effort so far to terminate a plague of giant Californian bullfrogs which is threatening to disrupt the ecology of the Gironde, Dordogne and several other départements.

The aggressive and voracious bullfrog (Rana catesbeiana), introduced illegally 37 years ago, can grow to more than 4lbs in weight and almost 2ft long. It consumes other frogs, fish, lizards and even small birds."
The love of the French for frog legs is well-known, but unfortunately these frog legs are reportedly inedible. Some might argue that's true of frog legs in general. However, we do like them better than chicken feet.

African or European Swallow?

A castle to visit: "'They usually play with their coconuts,' says Mr Caldwell, a castle steward for Historic Scotland. 'Sometimes they bring their own coconut shells. Mostly, they borrow ours.'"

International Symbol of Marriage

Originally uploaded by Abe of Lincoln.
The great thing about these international signs is that they mean the same thing in every language.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Voice of the Cape Talks Back

Last month I wrote about some articles on the web site of the Voice of the Cape, a Muslim radio station in South Africa. That post can be found here. The thrust of it is that there is indeed, at last, a shift in "Muslim opinion" away from terrorism, and that the VOC articles are evidence of that shift.

This week Mr. Shafiq Morton, the author of one of the articles, posted two comments on my original post. These are given below in their entirety. The first is:
"Imam Faisel Abdur-Rauf was edited out by the New York Times. Read his book 'What's Right with Islam'."
This is in reference to this part of his original article, which I quoted with a "Yeah, right" dismissal:
"The other side of the proverbial coin is that the broader community may argue that it sees too little of Muslim abhorrence of terror. The fact is that it's usually there, but unheard. When, for example, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf of New York condemned 911 with his Christian and Jewish counterparts, the New York Times edited out his statement."
First of all, Mr. Abdur-Rauf's remarks may or may not have been edited by The New York Times. I doubt very much that any strong condemnation of a Muslim of 9/11 in a public forum about the attack would (or could) have been covered up by the Times. It would have been "big news" in the US. Even had they desired to do so, there would certainly have been plenty of other media present to publicize it.

I did Google searches on Mr. Abdur-Rauf, using some variations of the spellings. He appeared on the TV show "60 Minutes" on Sept. 30, 2001, talking about Islam and terrorism with other panelists. Reading his remarks in the transcript of the show, he does offer some condemnation of the killers along with criticism of the US. The "60 Minutes" shows are always heavily edited, so perhaps this is the venue and incident he refers to in his book? He would not be the first guest (or the last) on "60 Minutes" to complain about the editing, as the show is notorious for that.

Mr. Morton's second comment was:
By the way, don't insult my intelligence by saying I'm "half-heartedly" condemning terrorism. I have never condoned - and never will- the killing or hurting of innocents anywhere, at any time. Please don't smear me with innuendo. It doesn't serve debate very well.

I went back to the VOC site to try to re-read the entire article, but I cannot find it anymore. The link leads to a page that changes. I don't see the article in the archives, and a Google site search doesn't find it either. There is a new article by Mr. Morton at the site (link will not last).

Mr. Morton, I must agree based on the parts of your original article that I quoted and your new article that I see no instances of you "half-heartedly" condemning terrorism. I therefore withdraw that charge and apologize for making it in the first place. I will update my original post accordingly.

Returning to the issue of Muslim condemnations of the "Islamists" / "jihadists," I (and others) often find them tepid. Too often the main aim seems to be protection of Islam's reputation by denial and taqqiya. Actually combatting the radicals is not so important. For example, CAIR has apparently never seen an anti-terrorism measure or arrest that it agrees with.

In contrast, consider the reaction of the Israelis to the Jewish terrorist who attacked Arab Israelis. Similarly, if any American were to get wind of a plan to attack a mosque or Muslims, it would be expected that we would immediately report it to the police. Failure to report it would make anyone who knew about it an accomplice and subject to arrest. Do Muslims get a similar message from their imams about the need to root out and expose extremists? Perhaps many do, but clearly there are many who do not get that message.

We'd like Islam to really be a "religion of peace," but look around the world today. Muslims are killing innocent people of all religions: Christians; Hindus; Jews; Buddhists; atheists... They are doing it in the name of Islam. This is not a problem of the perception of Islam by non-believers; it's a fundamental problem within Islam itself. In the end, that can only be fixed by Muslims vigorously rejecting the killers.

Mr. Morton and VOC seem to be moving the discussion in the correct direction. We wish them well.

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Iraqi Constitution Birthing Pains II

OpinionJournal just posted an excellent article on the negotiations toward an Iraqi constitution. See our previous post on this topic. The article is by Bartle Breese Bull (poor guy didn't get one decent name in three), and he is optimistic about the constitutional process. The key thing to watch for women's and minority rights is how the constitution will manage the clash between competing values:
"For this reason, it is the new draft's language about Iraq's high courts that counts most as we assess Islam's proposed role in the country's legal affairs. Who appoints the judges on the highest court? Who fires them? What are the powers of the bench vis-à-vis the executive and judiciary branches? Constitutions, like holy books, are about interpretation, and Americans and Iranians alike know that their rights, or at any rate their freedoms, can hinge on the opinion of a handful of bewigged sages.

The matter of federalism is also not as simple, or as vexed, as it looks. Iraq is already a federal country, de facto and de jure. Iraqi Kurdistan is already autonomous, and the Shiite south, east and center represent 65% of the population. When push comes to shove and the time for rhetoric has passed, Iraq's Sunni leadership, such as it is, is unlikely to agree with Western critics of Iraqi democracy that a return to the centralized nightmare is practicable. For centuries under the Ottomans, Iraq existed relatively harmoniously in a federal form, with the three vilayets of Basra, Baghdad and Mosul (which was mostly composed of what is now Iraqi Kurdistan) under the loose administration of the Pashalik of Baghdad. That is how it is now, and it will not change by Monday, when the final document is due.

History and current realities aside, the federal question in Iraq is subject to two other truths that ultimately will deliver compromise from the Sunni Arabs. Both are overlooked in the current analysis. The first is the fact that if the current process fails to deliver a new constitution--either because a new draft does not emerge, or because it is rejected in October--then it is the current constitution, the TAL, that will be the law of the land. And the TAL, which in terms of representative genesis and U.N. approbation is probably the most legitimate constitution in the Middle East, explicitly states that Iraq is 'republican, federal, democratic and pluralistic.' It goes on to refer to the 'federal' nature of the state 26 times and to say, 'Any group of no more than three governorates ... shall have the right to form regions from amongst themselves.' So the Sunni Arabs or any other group that blocks the desires of Kurds and many Shiites for a federal system in the new constitution will instead get the same result from the current one."
Read the rest.