Monday, May 29, 2006

An Affront To American Values

Albert Mora, recently retired as Navy general counsel, made the following remarks upon receiving a 2006 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

This year's other recipient was John Murtha shown with Caroline Kennedy and Mora.

Mora's remarks were reprinted in the Washington Post.
"[Formal government] documents justifying and authorizing the abusive treatment of detainees [at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and elsewhere] during interrogation were approved and distributed. These authorizations rested on three beliefs: that no law prohibited the application of cruelty; that no law should be adopted that would do so; and that our government could choose to apply the cruelty — or not — as a matter of policy depending on the dictates of perceived military necessity.

The fact that we adopted this policy demonstrates that this war has tested more than our nation's ability to defend itself. It has tested our response to our fears and the measure of our courage. It has tested our commitment to our most fundamental values and our constitutional principles. [Emphasis added.]

In this war, we have come to a crossroads — much as we did in the events that led to Korematsu [the Supreme Court decision allowing the detention of Japanese Americans during World War II]: Will we continue to regard the protection and promotion of human dignity as the essence of our national character and purpose, or will we bargain away human and national dignity in return for an additional possible measure of physical security?
In other words, do we really stand for freedom and human dignity as Bush claims, or do we discard that commitment when we find it inconvenient?

There is a nice article on Albert Mora in the Feb 27, 2006 issue of the New Yorker.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Benedict's homily, again

I was interested to see what would be left of Pope Benedict's homily if one took out the explicitly Christian/theistic parts—but left in quotations from Jesus as a teacher. The full text is here. Here's my version.
Dear brothers and sisters. I thank the cardinal primate for the words that he addressed to me. I greet all the bishops here present. I am glad that the president and the authorities of national and local government could be here. I embrace with my heart all the Polish people both at home and abroad.

"Stand firm in your faith!" We have just heard the words of Jesus: "If you love me, you will keep my commandments. With these words Jesus reveals the profound link between faith and the practice of a life inspired by the commandments.

This action is manifested as an inner force that makes [the disciples] capable of loving. Hence faith is a gift, but at the same time it is a task.

Every Christian is bound to confront his own convictions continually, even when it is demanding and, humanly speaking, hard to understand. We must not yield to the temptation of relativism or of a subjectivist and selective interpretation of [Jesus' teachings]. Only the whole truth can open us.

Faith does not just mean accepting a certain number of abstract truths about the mysteries of man, of life and death.

What other response can we give if not that of a heart that is open and ready to love?

This is achieved through continuous prayer, praise, thanksgiving and penance.

Jesus showed us with a new clarity the unifying center of the laws revealed on Sinai, namely love of neighbor: "To love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices" (Mark 12:33).

In this spirit, Jesus formulated his list of the inner qualities of those who seek to live their faith deeply: Blessed are the poor in spirit, those who weep, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake ... (cf. Matthew 5:3-12).

Dear brothers and sisters, faith is revealed as love that prompts us to promote the good inscribed into the nature of every man and woman among us, into the personality of every other human being and into everything that exists in the world. Whoever believes and loves in this way becomes a builder of the true "civilization of love,"
Having constructed this version of Benedict's homily, I'm not clear what faith has to do with it. This is all about love and compassion. Why is faith invovled?

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Google and AJAX

As anyone who has talked to me about it knows, I've been pretty down on AJAX and JavaScript as a platform for Web applications. But AJAX is not going away.

Now Google is releasing Google Web Toolkit (GWT), a Java to JavaScript compiler, which will allow developers to write in Java and then compile to JavaScript. That makes it much more reasonable from my perspective to develop real applications—with well designed and disciplined code—that runs in a browser. (This will also add life to Java itself.)

What is Google's motivation in doing this? I guess it's to support and encourage the development of browser based applications—which will make thin clients more powerful and reduce the need for (Windows-based) thick clients.

Garrison Keillor on Republicans and air quality in Catholic churches

My cousin Lynn points out this extract from a recent column by Garrison Keillor.
Having been called names, one looks back at one's own angry outbursts over the years, and I recall having once referred to Republicans as 'hairy-backed swamp developers, fundamentalist bullies, freelance racists, hobby cops, sweatshop tycoons, line jumpers, marsupial moms and aluminum-siding salesmen, misanthropic frat boys, ninja dittoheads, shrieking midgets, tax cheats, cheese merchants, cat stranglers, pill pushers, nihilists in golf pants, backed-up Baptists, the grand pooh-bahs of Percodan, mouth breathers, testosterone junkies and brownshirts in pinstripes.' I look at those words now, and 'cat stranglers' seems excessive to me. The number of cat stranglers in the ranks of the Republican Party is surely low, and that reference was hurtful to Republicans and to cat owners. I feel sheepish about it.
The column itself is about air quality in Catholic churches. He writes:
I am a low-church Episcopalian, and all you can smell in our midst is a medley of deodorants and some hairspray and a faint aroma of baking croissants for the fellowship hour.

In the Catholic Church, as often as not, you have the priest whipping around a censer on a long chain, emitting clouds of repellent smoke like burning tires that all are required to inhale, a censer that could easily come loose and fly willy-nilly into the congregation and brain somebody and perhaps come apart and spew red-hot coals among small children, scarring them forever and requiring years of therapy. If this isn't a public safety issue, then I am Catherine of Aragon.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Benedict's homily

From a transcript of the homily Pope Benedict gave yesterday in Warsaw's Pilsudski Square as reported by Zenit News Agency
"Dear brothers and sisters, faith … is revealed as love that prompts us to promote the good inscribed by the Creator into the nature of every man and woman among us, into the personality of every other human being and into everything that exists in the world. Whoever believes and loves in this way becomes a builder of the true 'civilization of love.'
I looked up the homily because I was curious to know what he really said about faith and reality. In a statement I like to quote Lorenzo Albacete says
Benedict's conversations with nonbelievers have convinced him that their major concern about Christianity is not its 'other-worldiness' but the very opposite. For them, what makes Christianity potentially dangerous as a source of conflict and intolerance in a pluralistic society is its insistence that faith is reasonable — that is, that it is the source of knowledge about this world and that, therefore, its teaching should apply to all, believers and nonbelievers alike.
I wanted to see whether Benedict stayed on the faith side in his homily or strayed to the truth side.

Benedict talked about the "the truth about God and about man" and he talked about "the truths of faith." But he did not claim that faith is a road to secular (i.e., scientific) truth. His message was that a good Christian lives a life of love as a result of faith and not that he believes any particular fact about the world. The core of his message was the passage quoted at the beginning, a sentiment everyone can subscribe to.

Friday, May 26, 2006

In the Fight Against Spam E-Mail, Goliath Wins Again

From the Washington Post
Eran Reshef had an idea in the battle against spam e-mail that seemed to be working: he fought spam with spam. Today, he'll give up the fight.

Reshef's Silicon Valley company, Blue Security Inc., simply asked the spammers to stop sending junk e-mail to his clients. But because those sort of requests tend to be ignored, Blue Security took them to a new level: it bombarded the spammers with requests from all 522,000 of its customers at the same time.

That led to a flood of Internet traffic so heavy that it disrupted the spammers' ability to send e-mails to other victims -- a crippling effect that caused a handful of known spammers to comply with the requests.

Then, earlier this month, a Russia-based spammer counterattacked, Reshef said. Using tens of thousands of hijacked computers, the spammer flooded Blue Security with so much Internet traffic that it blocked legitimate visitors from going to, as well as to other Web sites. The spammer also sent another message: Cease operations or Blue Security customers will soon find themselves targeted with virus-filled attacks.

Today, Reshef will wave a virtual white flag and surrender. The company will shut down this morning and its Web site will display a message informing its customers about the closure.

"It's clear to us that [quitting] would be the only thing to prevent a full-scale cyber-war that we just don't have the authority to start," Reshef said. "Our users never signed up for this kind of thing."

Security experts say the move marks a disheartening development in the ongoing battle by computer users, online businesses and law enforcement against those who clutter e-mail inboxes with a continuous glut of ads for drugs, porn and get-rich-quick schemes. According to Symantec Corp., maker of the popular Norton antivirus software products, more than 50 percent of all e-mail sent in the latter half of 2005 was spam.

Alan Paller, director of research for the Bethesda-based SANS Institute, a computer security training group, said extortion attacks have exploded in the past few years. With Blue Security, Paller said, the attackers' extortionist demands were that the company merely stop interfering in a multimillion-dollar spam operation.

"We're hearing from federal law enforcement that they are getting more than one new case of online extortion each day," Paller said. …

Saturday, May 13, 2006

The great Singularity debate

At his talk at the Singularity Summit, Ray Kurzweil is quoted as having said the following.
Within a few decades, machine intelligence will surpass human intelligence, leading to The Singularity — technological change so rapid and profound it represents a rupture in the fabric of human history. The implications include the merger of biological and nonbiological intelligence, immortal software-based humans, and ultra-high levels of intelligence that expand outward in the universe at the speed of light.
I have the following questions for Ray.
  • Do you think we are the first civilization in the universe to reach the singularity?
  • If so, isn't that too amazing to be true?
  • If not, what evidence do we see that ultra-high levels of intelligence have been expanding from other sources in the Universe?

P.S. My theory about change is that it's not getting faster; it's getting denser. Until we develop an artificial intelligence that can create change faster than we can think, change won't happen any faster than we can think it up. But since more and more people are thinking about things, more and more things will be changing all the time. That means that the density of change, i.e., the sense that more and more of the world is changing around us, will continue to increase.
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Friday, May 12, 2006

Republicans Reject Amendment Calling for Religious Tolerance in Military

From Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) | Official Website.
05/04/06 Washington, DC — On Wednesday night, Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY 2nd) … offered an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 [H.R. 5122] to support religious tolerance among military chaplains. The base version of the bill considered by the committee included language that appeared to support proselytizing … Mr. Israel's amendment brought the language back in line with current military guidelines by requiring military chaplains to demonstrate 'sensitivity, respect and tolerance' for the beliefs of those to whom they minister. It was defeated on a near party-line vote, 26-31, with every Republican voting against Rep. Israel except Rep. Candice Miller (R-MI 10th).

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The day of the Oslo Warning

A short story from | Peak Oil News Clearinghouse.
On 22 June, at 8am, all operators in the oil sector in Norway received the same message from the authorities: 'Starting today, Norway will no longer authorise oil exports from its territory. You are required to reduce your production accordingly, effective immediately. Delays will only be tolerated for imperative technical or safety reasons'.

At the same time, a communiqu� was sent to all major press agencies, with the similarly terse content. 'As of today, for national security reasons, Norway has decided to suspend all oil exports. Further information will be communicated at 1pm today. All operators in Norway and Norwegian waters have been required to reduce production, effective immediately'.

Panic broke immediately in trading floors in Asia, …
The rest is here.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Stop Pretending

Tricycle's Daily Dharma for today is from Josh Baran.
The great teachings unanimously emphasize that all the peace, wisdom, and joy in the universe are already within us; we don't have to gain, develop, or attain them. Like a child standing in a beautiful park with his eyes shut tight, there's no need to imagine trees, flowers, deer, birds and sky; we merely need to open our eyes and realize what is already here, who we already are—as soon as we stop pretending we're small or unholy. I could characterize nearly any spiritual practice as simply being: identify and stop, identify and stop, identify and stop. Identify the myriad forms of delusion we place upon ourselves, and muster the courage to stop each one. Little by little deep inside us, the diamond shines, the eyes open, the dawn rises, we become what we already are. Tat Twam Asi (Thou Art That). —Bo Lozoff, from 365 Nirvana, Here and Now by Josh Baran.
I think that's fine. But I also think it's confusingly poetic and etherial. What he's really talking about in my opinion is the simple fact that all subjective experience is just that: subjective experience. By its very definition, every subjective experience—peace, wisdom, joy, etc.— happens inside ourselves.

When looking for a picture of Josh Baran, I found this profile.
Josh Baran is a former Zen priest, a contributor to Tricycle: the Buddhist Review, and currently a strategic communications consultant in New York City. His clients have included Amnesty International, Earth Day, Rock the Vote, the Pediatric AIDS Foundation, Special Olympics, Universal Pictures, Miramax Films, Time Magazine, Warner Records, Oracle and Microsoft. For many years, he has managed media relations for the Dalai Lama's visits to the Eastern United States. In addition, he is a longtime student of the Dzogchen tradition of Tibetan Buddhism and now works closely with Byron Katie.

I gather that the extract above is really Baran quoting Lazoff. In fact, I found it on this page. Here's a more complete (and more meaningful) extract.
In fact, most of the great spiritual commandments, precepts and teachings throughout history have been merely guidelines for what we should stop doing. Most of the ten commandments start with "Thou Shalt Not…"; the Buddhist precepts and Hindu Yamas and Niyamas start with "Non…," as in "non-killing, non-stealing, non-lying," etc. Many contemporary people have complained about such overwhelmingly negative wording in the ancient teachings, but there is a good reason for it: There really isn’t anything to do in order to realize the Divine Presence, the natural Holiness which life offers. We have merely to stop thinking and acting in ways which are harmful or selfish. Think about your own life for a moment, and the main improvements you would like to make: Don’t most of them involve stopping — smoking, drinking, drug use, uncontrolled lust, anger, fear, self-hatred, etc.; just stopping what keeps you bound?

The Great Teachings unanimously emphasize that all the peace, wisdom and joy in the universe are already within us; we don’t have to gain, develop, or attain them. Like a child standing in a beautiful park with his eyes shut tight, there’s no need to imagine trees, flowers, deer, birds and sky, we merely need to open our eyes and realize what is already here, whom we already are — as soon as we stop pretending we’re small or unholy. This is not a philosophy; this is the way things are.

I could characterize nearly any spiritual practice as simply being: Identify and Stop. Identify the myriad forms of limitation and delusion we place upon ourselves, and muster the courage to stop perpetuating each one. Little by little, deep inside of us, the diamond shines, the eyes open, the dawn rises, we become what we already are. Tat Twam Asi — Thou Art That (as soon as Thou stops pretending otherwise).

The final invitation from the saints and sages is to stop even the last sense of self — true ego-death, to leap into the volcano as a human sacrifice, followed by a resurrection from the ashes as a Perfect One. The BIG Stopping! The consequence of this ultimate stopping is pithily described in a little story by Father Theophane in his book, Tales of a Magic Monastery:
I sat there in awe as the old monk answered our questions. Though I’m usually shy, I felt so comfortable in his presence that I found myself raising my hand. "Father, could you tell us something about yourself? He leaned back. "Myself?" He mused. There was a long pause. "My name … used to be … Me. But now … it’s you."