Monday, November 29, 2010

Christian woman faces death for blasphemy

From here:
Christian woman faces death for blasphemy

ITTAN WALLI, Pakistan – In early November, in the dusty city of Sheikhupura in Pakistan’s heartland, Asia Bibi, an illiterate Christian woman and mother of five, was sentenced to death by hanging under the country’s blasphemy laws.

Her crime? She allegedly insulted the Prophet Muhammad.


Bibi, 45, is the first woman condemned to death under Pakistan’s blasphemy laws. While no one has ever been executed, most of the accused – all men – languish in prison alone and forgotten. Human rights groups point out that the law is a convenient way to settle scores, often among the Christian community who total about 2 million of Pakistan’s 175 million people.


So far, the Minister for Minority Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti submitted a report on the case to Zardari. He concluded that the charges were baseless. In an interview with NBC News, he said that Bibi could be released on appeal in the high court. “We should wait for the court proceedings but if the court delays then the president may pardon her on the basis that she is innocent,” he said.

Bhatti is well aware of the possible consequences of an acquittal. Judges have been assassinated for freeing victims and several accused persons have been gunned down inside prisons or outside courtrooms as they walked free.

Read it all.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Peacherine Rag

As frequent readers know by now, I occasionally like to drop a bit of culture into this blog--especially musical performances. Well, this is something entirely different. In the interest of being inclusive, multicultural, ecumenical, here is the Bottle Band from St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Park Ridge, Illinois, demonstrating what may be the next big thing after church hand bell choirs:


Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Airport "Security"?

I have always loved Thomas Sowell's writing, and I think he really nails it in this piece. I am not even going to offer an excerpt. You'll just have to read the whole thing for yourself.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Support Wikipedia

"Imagine a world in which every single human being can freely share in the sum of all knowledge." This vision led Jimmy Wales to found Wikipedia in January 2001. Since then, the English-language Wikipedia has expanded to more than 3,450,000 articles today. In total, Wikipedia contains more than 17 million volunteer-authored articles in over 265 languages, and is visited by more than 408 million people every month, making it the fifth most-popular internet site in the world.

While it is fashionable in scholarly circles to look askance at citations from Wikipedia, the reality is that articles on Wikipedia are often as good or better than other encyclopedias that charge for access and are usually far more current. Articles are reviewed by teams of volunteers consisting of academics with credentials in relevant areas. In addition, the democratic nature of Wikipedia means that inaccurate information, unbalanced perspectives, and contributions of insufficient quality do not remain unchallenged for long.

In 2003, the Wikimedia Foundation began and now supports other valuable repositories of materials, including:
  • Wikimedia Commons, a media repository containing more than 7,700,000 freely usable images, videos, and sound files

  • Wikibooks, a project to create free textbooks

  • Wiktionary, a multilingual dictionary and thesaurus

  • Wikisource, a library of source texts containing more than 474,000 proofread pages in 19 languages

  • Wikinews, a citizen news website

  • Wikiversity, an interactive learning platform

  • Wikiquote, a collection of quotations

  • Wikispecies, a directory of life on Earth

Around this time each year, Wikipedia asks for contributions to support its work. There are no ads on any of Wikimedia's sites, so contributions are their only source of revenue. If you benefit from this free online resource, then I hope you will visit their contribution page and make a donation. And if you have expertise in any field of learning, I hope you will join Wikipedia and volunteer by contributing and editing content.

TSA pat-down leaves traveler covered in urine

I thought this news item deserved its own post: TSA pat-down leaves traveler covered in urine.

In related news: TSA forces cancer survivor to show prosthetic breast.

Best comments regarding the TSA situation I have seen on the internet:

"I should never have to explain to my five-year-old twins that a stranger is going to touch their genitals, and that it's okay."

"Since when did flying become "probable cause?"

"19 hijackers hijacked 4 airplanes with box cutters. One crashed into the Pentagon, two crashed into the World Trade Center and one crashed in a field in Western Pennsylvania (because the crew and passengers foiled it). Now we ban box cutters. Another nutcase decided he was going to use his shoe as an explosive. Now we have to remove our shoes. A third wacko tried using something liquid. Now we have the 3 ounces in a quart size baggy. A fourth wingnut tried to hide explosives in his underwear. Now we get x-ray screenings. Care to suggest what would the TSA do when they find someone who has explosives hidden in their [body cavities]?"

"So, it is OK to treat American Citizens as criminals, but you can't profile people, what the h e double l is wrong with our government ?"

"I think some nice furry bomb sniffing dogs would be acceptable to most people as a third option to pat downs and screenings. They are expensive to train, but if TSA went [all] out with the dogs there would be enough of them in every airport to eliminate the pat downs. TSA should also be willing to forgo political correctness and start profiling instead of random screenings."

To this last comment I would add that: (1) Bomb sniffing dogs would be cheaper than the new TSA radiation machines. And, (2) I would rather have a bomb-sniffing dog sniff my body than a TSA screener putting his/her hands all over it.

And finally, a comment that is popping up all over the internet in response to this situation: "Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." — Benjamin Franklin

TSA has met the enemy — and they are us

My travels took me through airport security twice yesterday. So when I saw this item on MSNBC, "TSA Has Met the Enemy — and They Are Us," I just had to pass along a few excerpts:
How did an agency created to protect the public become the target of so much public scorn?

After nine years of funneling travelers into ever longer lines with orders to have shoes off, sippy cups empty and laptops out for inspection, the most surprising thing about increasingly heated frustration with the federal Transportation Security Administration may be that it took so long to boil over.


The TSA "is not a flier-centered system. It's a terrorist-centered system and the travelers get caught in it," said Paul Light, a professor of public service at New York University who has tracked the agency's effectiveness since it's creation.

That built-in conflict is at the heart of a growing backlash against the TSA for ordering travelers to step before a full-body scanner that sees through their clothing, undergo a potentially invasive pat-down or not fly at all.


TSA operates on the belief that a key to foiling terrorists is to keep them guessing, agency watchers say. But it has never really explained that to a flying public that sees never-ending changes in policies covering carry-on liquids, shoes, and printer cartridges as maddening and pointless inconsistency.

"If you ask what its procedures are, how you screen people, its 'I can't tell you that because if the bad guys find out they'll be able to work around the system'," said Christopher Elliott, an Orlando, Fla.-based consumer advocate specializing in travel. "That's why a lot of what they've done has not really gone over well with air travelers. They perceive it as being heavy-handed and often the screeners come across as being very authoritarian."

Over time, TSA has settled into a pattern of issuing directives with little explanation and expecting they be followed. But increasingly fed-up travelers don't understand the agency's sense of urgency and aren't buying it.

"I don't think the law enforcement approach is going to work with the American public. You've got to explain yourself and reassure people. And they're not doing it," Light said.

Read it all.

At least my experiences with airport security ended up better than this poor fellow: TSA pat-down leaves traveler covered in urine.

Friday, November 19, 2010

"You have the choice not to fly."

Perhaps the most condescending and infuriating thing about the whole TSA experience is the remark being uttered by everyone from TSA administrator John Pistole down to the TSA employee with his or her hand in your forbidden zone: "You have the choice not to fly."

Our jobs require us to fly just as much as yours currently requires you to grope us. Whatever else is wrong with this whole process, the one thing that surely isn't going to fly is that kind of attitude from people who live at the taxpayers' expense.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Don't Touch My Junk!

The event that started it all:
SAN DIEGO — John Tyner won't be pheasant hunting in South Dakota with his father-in-law any time soon.

Tyner was simultaneously thrown out of San Diego International Airport on Saturday morning for refusing to submit to a security check and threatened with a lawsuit and a $10,000 fine if he left.

And he got the whole thing on his cell phone. Well, the audio at least.

Here's John Tyner's account on his own blog.

The issue is TSA's new x-ray machines and pat-down procedures, which even the head of TSA admits are "invasive".

The passengers are mad about it (video).

The pilots are mad about it (video).

And now comes this item from Newsweek about the worry the new procedures pose for survivors of sexual assault.

As a frequent flier on six different airlines, I have to say that I am not thrilled with a choice of either accepting an increased risk of being blown out of the sky, being irradiated every time I go to the airport, or submitting to legalized sexual molestation.

As retired airline pilot and air safety expert Chesley Sullenberger, the hero of the water landing of US Airways flight 1549, says in the video I referenced above, we need to utilize an "intelligence-based" approach—we need to know who the passengers are who are flying and look for terrorists rather than merely looking for weapons.

Here's why it matters: Right now the x-ray machines being used are designed to examine the body contours of the individuals being screened. The pat-downs are designed to tell by feel whether contraband is being hidden in the groin or breast area. The next step for terrorists, then, will be to hide explosives inside the human body. Experts are already warning that terrorists could use breast or buttock implants to conceal explosives. Either inserting explosives in a body cavity or surgically implanting them would put them beyond detection of current scanners or pat-down techniques.

Or to put it more crudely: Do we expect that the TSA staffer giving a pat-down will be able to tell whether breast implants are silicone or something more dangerous? Will the TSA staffer watching the x-ray screen be able to distinguish whether someone's colon is full of fecal matter or plastic explosive?

Sullenberger and other experts agree: There simply has to be a better way—a way that doesn't spend billions of dollars and countless hours of TSA staff time conducting procedures that treat everyone who boards an airplane as a suspected terrorist.

Reflecting on his experience that started the "passenger pushback," John Tyner points out that, after the first three events of 9/11, every terrorist act on an airplane has been halted by passengers. "It's time to stop treating passengers like criminals and start treating them as assets," he said.

Monday, November 15, 2010

[Off topic] Why I'm Still Worried About the Pelosi-Reid 'Lame Duck'

From here:

They laughed when I worried that a "lame duck" Democratic congress might pass the so-called DREAM Act--a conditional amnesty for illegal immigrants who were brought into the country when they were young, a bill that would provide a powerful new incentive for illegal immigration (cross the border and your kid gets to be legal!). People like me shouldn't worry, we were told. Dems were only pandering to Latino voters. The pols would lose interest after the election.

Ha. The election's over--and both Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, and Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, say they want to bring the DREAM act to a vote in the lame duck, while the Dems still control Congress.

Be sure and read the rest.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Can you guess the verse?

Here's another verse turned into word art by Wordle, where you can create your own using any text of your choice.

Wordle: Philippians 2:5-11

Ephesians 1:3-10

Wordle: Ephesians 1:3-10

Wordle: Ephesians 1:3-10

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—-to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

Friday, November 05, 2010

(NY Times) Bloggingheads: Ban Marriage?

Jack Balkin of Yale and Ann Althouse of the University of Wisconsin debate whether marriage should be replaced with civil unions for both gay and straight couples.

The video cannot be embedded, so you'll have to go here.

(Frankly, I find it scary that either of these individuals is actually teaching the next generation.)

After you watch these two professors, you may want to come back and listen to the aria on my previous post and be reminded that there is still beauty and sanity in the world somewhere.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Montserrat Caballe "Senza mamma"

Soprano Montserrat Caballe does a splendid job on the aria "Senza mamma" from Suor Angelica by Giacomo Puccini.

Suor Angelica (Sister Angelica) is the second in a group of three short operas by Puccini known as Il trittico (The Triptych). Suor Angelica begins with scenes of life in the convent. Three sisters confess their inmost desires: Sister Genevieve confesses that she wishes to see lambs again because she used to be a shepherdess when she was a girl, and Sister Dolcina wishes for something good to eat. Sister Angelica claims to have no desires. But Sister Angelica has lied: Her true desire is to hear from her wealthy, noble family, from whom she has not heard in seven years. The rumors have it that she was sent to the convent in punishment.

Soon after, a carriage arrives at the convent bearing the Princess, Sister Angelica's aunt. The Princess explains that Angelica's sister is to be married and that Angelica must sign a document renouncing her claim to her inheritance. Angelica replies that her only concern is for her illegitimate son who was taken from her seven years ago when she was sent by her family to the convent. At first, the Princess refuses to speak, but finally informs Sister Angelica that her son died from a fever two years ago. Sister Angelica, devastated, signs the document and collapses in tears. The Princess leaves.

Sister Angelica is seized by a heavenly vision — she believes she hears her son calling for her to meet him in paradise — and sings this aria:
You died without your mother, my baby--
Without my kisses on your lips.
My baby, you closed your lovely eyes.
Unable to caress me, you crossed your tiny hands on your chest.
And you died without knowing how fiercely your mother loved you.

Now you are an angel in heaven.
Now you can see your mother at last.
You can descend through the heavens.
I can feel you hovering about me.
You're here with me.
You kiss and caress me.

When will I be able to see you in heaven.
When will I be able to kiss you?
That moment will mark the end of all my pain.
When can I rise up to meet you?
When can I die?

Speak to your mother, lovely child.
Speak through the light of a flickering star.
Speak to me.

Eager to join her son, Angelica makes herself a poison and drinks it, but realizes that in committing suicide, she has committed a mortal sin and has damned herself to eternal separation from her son. She begs God for mercy and, as she dies, she sees a miracle: the Virgin Mary appears, along with Sister Angelica's son, who runs to embrace her.

Tragic opera at its best--and beautifully sung by Montserrat Caballe.