Hero of the day

April 28, 2007

George Lucastrooper saves his comrades from the Ewok’s revenge… search your feelings, you know you want to look.


Taz

April 28, 2007

This was published a couple of weeks back but it’s still one of my favourite front pages in recent times. It’s from Germany’s Die Tageszeitung (a.k.a. Taz). Click for a bigger version.

.TazIran


Something suspicious this way comes…

April 28, 2007

Does anyone else find the news of Abdul Hadi al-Iraqi’s capture rather suspect? The timing certainly is. Just as the US military faces an almighty shitstorm regarding the Pat Tillmann and Jessica Lynch illusions, BAM! THEY GOT ONE! And a senior one at that.

Having been held in secret by the CIA for several months, he was apparently shipped to Guantanamo Bay this week. A few Associated Press reports state he was captured last autumn while trying to cross back into his native Iraq. He is suspected of all sorts of terror-related crimes, from plotting to kill the president of Pakistan to masterminding the July 7 bombings in London.

Iraqi (a nom de guerre) may have a fearsome reputation, but that reputation is being hyped by the US. That’s not to say he hasn’t been involved in terrorism, but there is an underwhelming amount of concrete data on the guy. Check out the speculative terms in this Guardian article on him.

I can’t be the only person who feels pulling him out now has managed to overshadow the PR damage being done by the lies about Tillmann and Lynch.

If nothing else, it puts a new face on the “war on terror”, and a face behind bars at that.


Climate report

April 24, 2007

The UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will release its third climate report on May 4 (in Bangkok; I wonder just how much environmental damage scientists flying all over the world to attend conferences actually does?). Things ain’t looking much brighter, although the latest findings are set to reveal climate change will only hurt the world economy by a few percent if we all get our asses in gear.

Interestingly, the IPCC may embrace wider use of nuclear power, which produces little in the way of greenhouse gases compared to oil and coal. They’re unlikely to call for every nation on Earth to go nuclear, but suggest it as part of a wider package to stave off ecological disaster. Bringing a halt to deforestation is another aspect of said package.

Also, Japan is to press US president George W Bush on signing up to a deal to fight global warming when prime minister Shinzo Abe meets the American leader this week. Whether anything concrete comes out of this remains to be seen.


Bye-bye Boris

April 23, 2007

One of the late 20th century’s most prominent leaders has gone out not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Boris Yeltsin, who came to national and international prominence when he clamber onto a tank outside the Moscow White House during an attempted coup by communist hardliners, has given up the ghost. He had lived the last few years of his life largely in seclusion, although he was still thought of by various well-known people; Bill Clinton flew to Russia to celebrate Yeltsin’s 75th birthday.

But the word is that his passing has gone largely unmarked by ordinary Russians, many of whom blame their former president for the country’s woes.

Yeltsin’s reign was marked by contradictions. He oversaw the peaceful break-up of the Soviet union, then promptly crushed Chechyn separatists in a bloody war which obliterated Russia’s international standing. He ushered in an era of democracy and a free press, then gave the president as much power as possible. Overall, he was a man of occasionally penetrating vision but suffering from overwhelming personal troubles.

Although Yeltsin introduced free-market reforms, his nation’s income per capita plummeted 75%. Many people saw their savings dissipate while unemployment soared. What Vladimir Putin has described as a “new epoch” quickly turned from one of great promise to one of great misery.

One could argue that his tenure was marked by economic myopia.

He put the communist system to death while having nothing concrete to replace it with. His administration’s sale of state industry, to a small group who would go on to be billionaires (60 of whom now live just outside Moscow), provided the new democracy with a certain amount of hard cash, but deprived the state of valuable, marketable resources. The state-controlled Gazprom is now addressing that issue.

Yeltsin the man was as inconsistent as Yeltsin the president. While possessed of great charisma, his eccentric nature led him to commit gaffe after gaffe, such as playing spoons on the head of the ex-president of Kyrgyztan. He suffered terrible depressive periods, although he was nothing if not resilient. During his re-election campaign in 1996, he was filmed shaking his rather ample booty onstage with various lovely ladies; he had suffered a heart attack just days earlier.

However, his chronic drinking (something he always denied) caused huge embarrassment. The most celebrated incident was in 1994, when Yeltsin, on the way back to Russia from a trip to the US, was due to meet Irish Taoiseach Albert Reynolds at Shannon Airport.

After 30 minutes waiting on the tarmac, Albert and his boys twigged that the Russian president wasn’t coming out any time soon. In fact, he never left the plane, and one of his officials came out for a quick chat instead. Yeltsin’s official explanation was fatigue and the fact one of his aides had forgotten to wake him… however, the prevailing wisdom is that he was simply too drunk.

When Yeltsin finally ended his turbulent presidency — having presided over four governments in four years — he placed the nation in the hands of a man who would go on to erode post-Soviet reforms. He largely disappeared from public life, only emerging now and again at some function or another (once even travelling to Ireland to go deep-sea fishing off the coast of Co Clare).

His passing will be marked by a state funeral and a day of mourning, but in all likelihood he will be remembered more by people outside Russia than inside it.


Sign of the times

April 21, 2007

It’s an indication of how routine the slaughter in Iraq has become when stories are headlined “Yet another Fallujah leader assassinated”. This Associated Press article, written by Sinan Salaheddin and copy edited by persons unknown, details how the killing of a 65-year-old politician marks the fourth murder of a city council chairman in some 14 months. Sami Abdul-Amir al-Jumaili, a Sunni critic of al-Qaida who was the only person brave enough to accept the job, died in a drive-by shooting as he walked outside his home.

UPDATE, APRIL 22: the article now has a new heading, “Sunni struggle claims 4th Fallujah chief”.


Bidding farewell to limbo

April 21, 2007

The Catholic Church has finally got its act in gear and published a document burying limbo. While never a formal part of the Church’s doctrine, it was taught for generations; in medieval Christian theology it was where the unbaptised dead went, even the good people who lived before Jesus.

But what got the Church moving on the issue was the spiritual destination for unbaptised babies, who were, according to the theory, sent to limbo. This is because of the Church’s doctrine of original sin; i.e. the sin of Adam and Eve in giving into temptation. Baptism is said to wash this sin away, leaving one’s soul squeaky clean.

That’s fine if you’re an adult or otherwise have some understanding of sin, confession, forgiveness, etc. But if you were unfortunate enough to be born and die shortly afterward without the requisite trickle of cold water over your forehead, off you went to that great waiting room in the sky.

Although it wasn’t necessarily a bad place to be. Thomas Aquinas considered it a state of natural happiness, although lacking the presence of God. Which is certainly a better fate for unbaptised infants than that espoused by Augustine of Hippo, who believed they went to hell.

I have never understood the logic in excluding infants from heaven. What could be more innocent than a newborn baby? I thought God was benevolent, loving and forgiving? And He would send babies to limbo because they couldn’t ask to be baptised? It all clashed horribly with the Christian teaching of salvation. Now the Catholic Church has come to its senses in this regard with a document called The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptised.

The report by the International Theological Commission, authorised by Pope Benedict (who himself cast doubt on limbo before he was elevated the papacy), decided that limbo represents “an unduly restrictive view of salvation”.

“The conclusion of this study is that there are theological and liturgical reasons to hope that infants who die without baptism may be saved and brought into eternal happiness even if there is not an explicit teaching on this question found in revelation,” it reads.

“There are reasons to hope that God will save these infants precisely because it was not possible (to baptize them).

“People find it increasingly difficult to accept that God is just and merciful if he excludes infants, who have no personal sins, from eternal happiness, whether they are Christian or non-Christian.”

The reference to non-Christian infants is particularly interesting. I look at it as a recognition of universal innocence; after all, babies have no understanding of the world and its foibles, and in that respect they’re all the same.

Of course, it is possible to argue that this is the Catholic Church staking a claim to the soul of every child born on the face of the Earth (and there’s no getting around its doctrine that salvation is only possible through Christianity, and the report stresses it is not challenging the concept of original sin). I am unsure if what the report says is intended to also be applied to non-Christian adults, although Rev Thomas Reese, a senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Woodstock Theological Center, seems to think so.

So there we have it. While the document lacks the weight of a papal bull, Benedict has nonetheless backed it. And while the report only expresses the “hope” that the non-baptised can go to heaven, hope is better than limbo.

The report can be read online at http://www.originsonline.com (log-in required).