In Terrorism Fight, Government Finds a Surprising Ally: FedEx

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Is this a good thing or a bad thing? In Terrorism Fight, Government Finds a Surprising Ally: FedEx:

Before Sept. 11, 2001, when federal law-enforcement officials asked FedEx Corp. for help, the company had its limits. It wouldn’t provide access to its databases. It often refused to lend uniforms or delivery trucks to agents for undercover operations, citing fears of retribution against employees as well as concerns about customer privacy.

Then came the attacks on New York and Washington and pleas from the government for private-sector help in fighting terrorism. Suddenly, the king of overnight delivery became one of homeland security’s best friends.

FedEx has opened the international portion of its databases, including credit-card details, to government officials.

WSJ.com – Carthage Is Trying To Live Down Image As Site of Infanticide

Thursday, May 26th, 2005

Tunisian scholars, in an attempt to build up their nation’s pre-Islamic past, have decided to deny Carthage’s reputation for sacrificing large numbers of children in ceremonial fires. From Carthage Is Trying To Live Down Image As Site of Infanticide:

Lawrence Stager, a Harvard University archaeology professor and expert on the subject, calls the revisionism a whitewash. He’s now editing a book that will include the results of long forensic analysis of charred bones he helped dig up in Carthage in the 1970s. This, says Mr. Stager, will prove beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. Fantar and his followers are wrong. Still, he isn’t expecting to win them over. ‘No one really relishes having ancestors who committed such heinous acts,’ he says.

Human sacrifice was common in many ancient cultures. But Carthage was particularly notorious, branded as a serial killer of children for at least 600 years in a site now known as the Tophet, a Hebrew word meaning ‘roaster’ or ‘place of burning.’ Most Western scholars believe the practice was organized around the worship of two deities. Mr. Stager says it may also have been a primitive mechanism of population control. Others suggest a more sporadic activity connected to spring fertility rights.

The first to accuse Carthage of incinerating its young were the Romans, who destroyed the city in 146 B.C., ending the world’s first great superpower clash. Passed down over the centuries, tales of infant sacrifices inspired the 19th-century novelist Flaubert to visit Carthage in 1858 in search of material for ‘Salammbo,’ which detailed horrible sacrificial rituals. Foreign archaeologists then fleshed out fiction with hard evidence.

‘This is a dreadful period of human degeneracy that we are now unearthing,’ wrote Count Byron Khun de Prorok, a Frenchman who took part in the first excavations of Carthage’s Tophet in the 1920s. After his own digging decades later, Mr. Stager wrote with a colleague in the Biblical Archaeology Review: ‘It is repulsive…Perhaps the Carthaginians would have gotten a better press in the West had they concealed their practices more subtly.’

But what many scholars consider an open-and-shut case, Mr. Fantar and his followers view as a frame-up.

Saving Africa

Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

From Saving Africa:

A common socialist myth is that the high American living standard would depend on exploitation of Africa. How could this be the case when only 0.4 percent of the US economy is based on trade with all African countries?

Resolving the Clash of Civilizations

Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

As long as I can remember, Beirut has been the go-to example of a war-torn city. Only as an adult did I learn that Beirut used to be the Paris of the Middle East. According to Resolving the Clash of Civilizations, it’s on its way back:

I recently returned home from Beirut, Lebanon, where I spent a month covering the democratic Cedar Revolution and Syria’s withdrawal from the country after a 30 year-long occupation. Few places in the world beat Beirut as a foreign assignment. The city is packed from one end to the other with the classiest hotels, the hippest night clubs, the most stylish bars, the fanciest restaurants, the coziest cafes, and the best shopping districts this side of New York and Paris. But Lebanon’s sophisticated and freewheeling culture isn’t the only thing that makes a trip to that country both attractive and memorable. Nor is the nascent democracy movement the only encouraging news. One of the best stories out of Lebanon is the one that receives almost no coverage at all — the end of the long-simmering sectarian hatefest and a genuine yearning for friendship between Christians and Muslims.

Creationism: God’s gift to the ignorant

Wednesday, May 25th, 2005

From Creationism: God’s gift to the ignorant:

Aristotle, Jedi Master

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

From Aristotle, Jedi Master:

But when one takes a larger look at the story of Anakin Skywalker’s fall, one sees a special genius at work in the creation of that story.

And no, the genius in question is not George Lucas. Lucas succeeded in following the rules and using the elements of classical tragedy to tell the story of how Anakin Skywalker became Darth Vader. But those rules and elements were themselves laid down for posterity a long time ago, in a country relatively far away.

It was Aristotle in his Poetics who discussed the construction of the tragic drama. Aristotle notes that the fortunes of the tragic hero must swing ‘from happiness to misery; and the cause of it must not lie in any depravity, but in some great error on his part…’ Tragic fear and pity, on the part of the audience, ‘may be aroused by the Spectacle … he who simply hears the account of [the tragedy] shall be filled with horror and pity at the incidents…’ Thus, the tragic hero must have a fatal flaw, or ‘some great error’ that helps arouse ‘horror and pity’ on the part of the audience.

Vouching for Gender Equality in Sweden

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

Vouching for Gender Equality in Sweden points out a surprising element of Sweden’s educational system:

Sweden has a system whereby parents decide upon the school they wish their child to attend, the State paying the costs, whether that school be public or private, for profit or not. With a couple of minor limitations, parents are not even tied to the specific locality or municipality. It is also extremely easy for qualified teachers to set up a new school, teaching what they wish, how they wish, subject only to certain minimum standards.

Stop Blaming China

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

From Stop Blaming China:

For all their sins, foreigners should not be blamed for America’s large trade deficits. China especially is doing nothing worse than producing goods that are cheaper than those produced elsewhere.

Never mind the Chinese policy to keep their currency artificially weak. In all events, this is doing them more harm than good. China gives Americans things that they want in exchange for green bits of paper that are depreciating.

China gives Americans things that they want in exchange for green bits of paper that are depreciating.

The Complete List – ALL-TIME 100 Movies – TIME Magazine

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

Time just published its All-Time 100 Movies list — and, as a fairly film-literate guy, I must admit that I haven’t seen half the films on it.

On the other hand, I’ve seen the vast majority of the AFI’s 100 Greatest American Movies.

Two hurt in mock light sabre duel

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

Two hurt in mock light sabre duel:

Two Star Wars fans are in a critical condition in hospital after apparently trying to make light sabres by filling fluorescent light tubes with petrol.

A man, aged 20, and a girl of 17 are believed to have been filming a mock duel when they poured fuel into two glass tubes and lit it.

Of course, you’re not eligible for a Darwin award unless you successfully kill yourself through your own stupidity.

Wired News: Everything Bad’s Not Bad

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

I found one element of Wired‘s review of Everything Bad Is Good for You, Everything Bad’s Not Bad, inadvertantly amusing:

[Everything Bad Is Good for You]‘s chock-full of interesting insights that are clearly the reflection of an agile and catholic intellect.

The reviewer (or editor) actually linked to a dictionary definition of catholic.

I planned on picking up the book, of course, but this might get me to pick it up even sooner:

The essay begins with a rumination on Johnson’s own boyhood experiences exploring dice-based baseball simulations and Dungeons and Dragons games, and describes how he graduated from playing those simulations to building his own in search of a more realistic experience.

Vanity Plate Spells Out Methamphetamine

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

I would have found this even funnier in high school, when I was studying chemistry. Vanity Plate Spells Out Methamphetamine:

Most drivers may be puzzled by the vanity license plate C9H13N, but plenty of crooks likely nod their heads knowingly.

It’s the chemical compound for methamphetamine, and despite a state law that prohibits references to alcohol or illegal substances on vanity plates, it may be perfectly legal.

Bradley A. Benfield, a spokesman for the state Licensing Department, said such a license has been granted to the owner of a black 2002 Audi registered in Seattle. The plate may be legal because the same compound represents amphetamine, a legal substance when used in medicine.

As Cartoons Go Digital, Something Gets Lost

Tuesday, May 24th, 2005

When Disney restores an animated film, it has artists inspect it frame by frame. Other studios aren’t so meticulous and rely on digital tools designed for live-action films. From As Cartoons Go Digital, Something Gets Lost:

The technology at issue — called “digital noise reduction,” or DNR — works by removing lines that appear in one frame of a film but not the next, reasoning that the line doesn’t belong. In live-action films, that usually works well. But in cartoons, the process gets sketchier.

Scholarly Journals’ Premier Status Is Diluted by Web

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

I didn’t know this bit of trivia, from Scholarly Journals’ Premier Status Is Diluted by Web:

The venerable nonprofit Science was founded in the 1880s by Thomas Edison.

How Old Media Can Survive In a New World

Monday, May 23rd, 2005

An amusing metaphor from How Old Media Can Survive In a New World:

“People aren’t going to the Internet because it looks like a newspaper,” Mr. Ellin says. “It’s because they’re getting something exotic and fresh and new and unfiltered. It’s like eating French cheese. It hasn’t been pasteurized. And it’s good.”