Monday, January 31, 2005

31 January 2005: Disagreements

Law isn't aboslute, it seems, but is all about interpretation.

Today a federal judge in the US decided that Guantanamo Bay prisoners (referred to in my previous entry) actually should have some rights and that it's not fair to hold people indefinitely without trial, even if it's offshore. This conflicts directly with a decision made two weeks ago in a case involving different prisoners from Guantanamo, where the judge said that if they weren't held on the US mainland, they had no right to protection under the constitution. Which to me seems a little harsh, since they're being held by US forces under US authority in US controlled territory. Still, it's all about interpretation, isn't it?

On the upside, there was a good turnout at the Iraq elections, especially outside of Baghdad. Within the capital, 35 people were killed as voting continued, which in any other country or situation would be regarded as perhaps preventing the election from being "free and fair". But this is inside the bubble, so who's to say what's right and wrong? I'm pleased the election has been greeted so warmly by the average Iraqi; my worry is that it wasn't postponed, at least for a couple of weeks, so that people could go and vote without fear of being killed for it. The situation in Baghdad is still hairy, some might say war-like, but the elections went ahead nevertheless.

And for some reason, my mind kept flicking back to Apocalypse Now, the scene where Robert Duvall tells his soldiers to go surfing, despite the ongoing bombing of the beach they are trying to secure in Vietnam.
"If I say it's safe to surf this beach, Captain, it's safe to surf this beach!"

Was it really just pride on behalf of Bush and Blair that prevented this election being held a couple of weeks later, and instead saw those 35 people killed?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

25 January 2005: Rights

Amnesty International aren't happy.

They keep writing to a government who arrest people without charge, hold them indefinitely (thus far for three years) without trial or any prospect of a trial, they withhold all human rights, imprison them offshore so they don't come under the constitutional rights of the country concerned, they insist the prisoners are not prisoners of war (thus meaning the Geneva Convention doesn't come into the equation) and they legalise torture by saying it's only torture if the pain experienced is equivalent to organ failure or death - anything less is acceptable practice.

If it was anyone other than the US government doing this, they would probably be more of an outcry.

Today, the last of the British prisoners held there without charge and without trial for three years were released to British authorities, who will question them and quite possibly (like the other prisoners from last year) release them without charge. Which is good, but a little harsh on nationals of countries who aren't such good buddies with the US.

Pinochet must be wondering what he did wrong.

Monday, January 24, 2005

24 January 2005: Happiness

So today is the most depressing day of the year, according to Dr Cliff Arnalls from Cardiff University.

I disagree.

I've long maintained that November is the most pointless and depressing month of the year, a halfway-house between the end of summer and Christmas, a month containing nothing of joy for your average Brit except for November 5th, Bonfire Night, when we celebrate some prat who failed to blow up the king. As I said many years ago, how typical to celebrate a failure. Do we have no successes?

January 24th should be a happy day. Look at the facts:
  • We're a week away from February, when Spring Training starts in the baseball and Camp Leo gets the Braves rag-tag company of makeshift pitchers and turns them into the consummate fighting machine that will powerhouse the Braves to another NL East title (and thence to tumbleweed week).
  • Saints have just won their first game under Harry, and thoroughly deserved it having outplayed Liverpool of all people in the best game of the year yet at St Mary's.
  • The sun is shining.
  • The AKT Workshop is about to begin.
  • I've managed to get another cheapo flight to Texas for a week or so around Easter.
  • England are quite possibly about to win the test series in South Africa, confirming them as the second-best team in the world and ready to take a shot at the title in the Ashes series this summer.
  • The daffodils in our garden have been out and in full bloom for over a week now, believe it or not.

So smile, you dumb depressed people. And if you don't I'll make you drink tapwater, and that will sort you out good and proper.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

19 January 2005: Outposts

More of the same? Yes, but...

Condoleezza Rice, the new Secretary of State over in the US, isn't exactly going to change the way things are run, but there was one tiny little shift in her (and therefore the Bush administration's) viewpoint yesterday: Zimbabwe is now, finally, on the agenda.

In her appearance before the Senate, which has to ratify her appointment (not that there's any question that they won't), she stuck to the party line completely, including the worrying-but-hey-we're-getting-used-to-it idea that Iraq II has gone completely according to plan, no mistakes were made and there's nothing we'd change about it in retrospect (hint, Condy: Weapons of Mass Destruction?). The 'Axis of Evil' has apparently now changed its name to 'Outposts of Tyranny', which is a kick in the bread-tray for one of my songs (the one entitled 'Axis of Evil') but which allows for a re-defining of who's in and who's out of the current most-likely-to-receive-a-military-kicking next list. Out, it seems, are Iraq (well, done that), Libya and (for some unknown reason) Syria; in come Cuba (I knew they couldn't stay away long), "Burma" (actually called Myanmar for a number of years now, but we won't worry about that), Belarus (?!) and, finally, Zimbabwe.

About time. For too long, standing up to the disgusting, murderous regime of Robert Mugabe has been the exclusive job of the England Cricket Team and Henry Olonga. I'm not suggesting that the US is right to continue its self-proclaimed role of world police-person, but the fact that Zimbabwe is mentioned in such a list at least shows that some attention is being paid to states who torture and murder their own citizens, implement apartheid and even give police backing to ethnic-cleansing programmes, even if there is no oil in the country. After we missed the boat with Darfur (perhaps the worst genocide since Rwanda, and that's saying something when you consider Bosnia and Kosovo), it is somehow encouraging to see the US, and therefore Britain (like we're going to disagree??), saying something about it. Finally, Nassar Hussein has some backing.

Final point: since we're talking about countries that murder their own citizens, implement apartheid and (occasionally) ethnic cleansing and things like that, it's worth remembering which country is currently in breach of more UN Security Council resolutions than any other, by some distance. Israel, please stand up. Interestingly Turkey are second on this list, and they're about to join the EU.

Postscript: Blogspot's spellchecker thinks 'Condoleezza Rice' should be corrected to 'Candle-wick Rice'. Sounds like a kids TV show to me, maybe a spin-off from Camberwick Green?

Monday, January 17, 2005

17 January 2005: Patent

I may have missed an outcome to this since the article is a few weeks old now, but it seems an interesting question to me: is Google Scholar, unwittingly or otherwise, infringing a patent held by the Citeseer folks?

If anyone knows, I'd be interested to hear.

Monday, January 03, 2005

3 January 2004: Mullins

Goodness me, seems a long time since I wrote anything on here. That's Christmas vacations for you.

And what to write about? The fact that it's been the coldest winter here in Texas for eighty-seven years? (Which isn't saying much: there was snow, but I've been wearing shorts most of the time.) The tales of travelling to meet Gloria's family and friends? The introduction of Christmas crackers to rural Texas towns? Actually, all of those would be good topics, but last night we watched a video about the life of Rich Mullins, and that gave me much more to think about.

For those who don't know, Rich Mullins was a distinctly unconventional Christian musician. He read the Bible for himself, he didn't take denominational instructions from anyone, he led a ragamuffin life where he gave away the vast majority of his income: he himself lived in a trailer in New Mexico, where he wrote his songs and taught the local native American kids about the Bible in his own unique way. He rattled the cages of the mainstream religious movements, but the people loved him. He did what he was gifted to do, he loved people with a genuine love and he said what he thought, and didn't care what others said about him. When he died in a car accident in 1997 it was a sad loss to the world (not just to the Christian cliques of America), but somehow it was fulfillment rather than loss for Mullins himself. Heaven was something he'd been running toward all his life.

He was cynical about government - he didn't believe any government would ever have the answers to the problems of the world - and he championed the unprivileged, the oppressed, the minority. He personally brought the good news to the poor in his native land and around the world. Watching the video last night brought home to me the stuff Jesus talked about, stuff like being the light of the world, and how the church has twisted it almost out of all recognition. It's about love, having time for people, meeting needs, showing grace, allowing God to work through us. Mullins was far from perfect - but he was so unconventional it was often hard to tell what was wrong and what was just prejudice on the part of those judging him.

I wish I'd known more about him while he was alive - I only knew the song 'Our God is an Awesome God' prior to his death - but I'm pleased he did what he did, and I'm pleased that people haven't forgotten. Christianity over here in America is often so middle-class, so morality-preaching, that it's forgotten what the word 'grace' means. But even in these days of bad news, where the death toll from the tsunami continues to increase daily and we continue to ask how there can be a God when such suffering takes place, it's helpful for me to remember Rich Mullins, who served faithfully and loved honestly with all he was, being Jesus to all the people he could. We're not here to judge God or each other. We need to learn to love again. And to do that, we need to learn how to show grace, which is something so many of us have forgotten to do.

There's a ninety-minute tribute to Rich Mullins by Jon Rivers on the '20 The Countdown Magazine' website in Windows Media format. Well worth a listen.