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Robert Weaver
Sydney, Australia
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The weblog description is a misquotation from Steve Aylett's Indicted to a Party: What to Do, Who to Blame.
The weblog title links to the "No Country Redirect" version, for whatever that might be worth.
January 26, 2012

What a nice picture of Mexico.

Inciting Angelic Lust

The story of Sodom and Gomorrah is, as everyone knows, a story of God’s judgment against homosexuality, promiscuity, and other kinds of illicit sex. Except, Knust argues, it’s not. It’s a story about the danger of having sex with angels. In the biblical world, people believed in angels, and they feared them, for sex with angels led inevitably to death and destruction. In the Noah story, God sends the flood to exterminate the offspring of “the daughters of man” (human women) and “the sons of God” (angels, in some interpretations). Non-canonical Jewish texts tell of angels, called Watchers, who descend to earth and impregnate human women, who produce monstrous children — thus inciting God’s terrible vengeance. God razes Sodom not because its male inhabitants are having sex with each other, as so many contemporary ministers preach, Knust argues, but in part because the men of the town intended to rape angels of God who were sheltered in Lot’s house. And when the Apostle Paul tells women to keep their heads covered in church, he’s issuing a warning against inciting angelic lust: “The angels might be watching,” Knust writes.
Knust's own article about this created a bit of a cyber-flurry at the time - i.e. numerous prayhards linking to some bloke's rejoinder which, sadly, merely confines itself to insisting "The Bible does so too condemn gay sex" and has nothing to say about the bonking angels issue. Well, except:
Her claim that “from the perspective of the New Testament” the Sodom story was about “the near rape of angels, not sex between men” makes an "either-or" out of Jude 7’s "both-and."
So no homosexual sex, and no nailing cherubim* either. (And it's amusing that the NIV swaps in "perversion" for the KJV's "going after strange flesh". The newer version seems a trifle vague.)

* No, you're thinking of putti.


From Mondoweiss:

Thousands of the books were recycled into paper while others were absorbed into the library’s general collection, making it impossible to trace them today. Six thousand of these books were eventually categorized as foreign and placed in the Eastern Studies Department of The National Library, although technically still owned by the Custodian of Absentee Property. The fate of these books is much like that of the Palestinian people: unlawfully taken from their homes, expelled and made foreign in their own land...

In 1997, Benny Brunner became the first director to produce a documentary unveiling the story of the Nakba, Arabic for catastrophe. Today he is the first to make a documentary about the systematic looting of 70,000 Palestinian books during the war of 1948, The Great Book Robbery.
From an interview with Benny Brunner at Guernica in 2011:
Although Palestinians who fled their homes during the conflict in 1948 knew that many of their personal belongings were looted, few realized there was a systematic campaign to confiscate their books.

Between May 1948 and February 1949, thirty thousand books, manuscripts, and newspapers were seized from the abandoned Palestinian homes of west Jerusalem while forty thousand books were taken from urban cities such as Jaffa, Haifa, and Nazareth. Many of the books were later marked with just two letters — “AP” for abandoned property — and embedded in Israel’s national collection, where they remain today.


Benny Brunner: ...The Zionist narrative of 1948 or the official narrative (which, by the way, not many Israelis still believe these days) states that we didn’t kick the Palestinians out, they left on their own, their leaders told them to leave for a couple of weeks and they thought they’d be able to come back after they’d kicked the Jews in the sea. So it was rewritten to show the Jews in a more positive light.

...I do believe that the initial drive to confiscate the books was a noble one. Instead of these books being destroyed or looted by individuals, they wanted to keep them safe. You have to remember that there was a tremendous amount of looting taking place at the time in various parts of the country, such as Jerusalem, Jaffa, Haifa — everywhere where there was fighting and communities were fleeing. Even in Jerusalem, the Palestinians themselves were looting Palestinian homes. So the initial drive was noble. But very quickly it changed and the Palestinian books became “our” books, “our” cultural heritage, and the National Library is a very important Israeli cultural institution now. So indeed these books are part of “our” cultural heritage; they have been taken, and I think the books represent the loss of Palestinian cultural heritage.


For the benefit of anyone who hasn’t been following, here’s the story so far: your garden-variety bird flu has always been a bug that combines a really nasty mortality rate (>50%) with fairly pathetic transmission, at least among us bipeds (it doesn’t spread person-to-person; human victims generally get it from contact with infected birds). But ... Ron Fouchier, Yoshihiro Kawaoka, and assorted colleagues set out to poke H5N1 with a stick and see what it might take to turn it into something really nasty.

The answer was: less than anybody suspected. A few tweaks ... turned poor old underachieving bird flu into an airborne superbug that killed 75% of the ferrets it infected. (Apparently ferrets are the go-to human analogues for this sort of thing. I did not know that.) By way of comparison, the Spanish Flu — which took out somewhere between 50-100 million people back in 1918 — had a mortality rate of maybe 3%.

When Fouchier and Kawaoka’s teams went to publish these findings, ... the US National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity ... strongly suggested that all how-to details be redacted prior to publication. ...[T]hose ... details, the board warned, “could enable replication of the experiments by those who would seek to do harm.”

...The National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity has a diverse makeup, including representatives from the Departments of Commerce and Energy, Justice, the Interior — and oh, Defense and our old friends at Homeland Security. They’ve already read the details that they would deny to others, and you can be damn sure that none of them are volunteering to have their memories erased in the name of global security... And once the government starts deciding who gets to see what parts of this or that scientific paper, you have in effect (as one online commenter points out) “essentially a biological weapons program”...

Suppression might be a valid option if your enemies have about as much biological expertise as, say, Rick Santorum. That is not a gamble any sane person would make...

On the other hand, you have the very real likelihood of an accidental outbreak; of natural mutation to increased virulence; of the bad guys figuring out the appropriate tweaks independent of Kawaoka’s data. In which case you’ve got a few thousand epidemiologists who’ve been frozen out of the Culture Club, improvising by the seat of their pants as they go up against something that makes the Black Plague look like a case of acne.
Peter Watts at his blog.

Defacing the Fly

It is true that the Australian flag was chosen following a national competition in 1901. But the competition was a British, not an Australian, idea. And it was to choose not a national flag as such, but an ensign to be flown on ships. It was for this reason that the two ensigns could not be formally adopted until they had been approved by the admiralty. And it was clear at the time that the only possible design for such an ensign was one that carried the union flag in the quadrant and a local symbol on the fly, or “defacing the fly” in the language of flags. With its two ensigns Australia joined the fifty or so other British colonies that had blue or red ensigns defaced with a local symbol. In other words, it was one of the least original flags in the world. But it was the only type of flag that Australia was permitted to have. The Britishness of the flag, apparent to everyone in 1901, was re-emphasised in 1954 with the passage of the Flags Act, which for the first time declared the blue ensign to be Australia’s national flag. But in doing so the preamble of the act declared that the Australian flag was the British blue ensign...

There are still places in the world that have flags very similar to Australia’s blue ensign. With the exception of New Zealand and Fiji they are the tiny island remnants of Empire [and Hawaii - RobW]... Ten of the islands have fewer than 10,000 people; all of these are administered as British Overseas Territories. It is strange company for Australia to find itself in. If this does not produce any embarrassment, there is also a proliferation of blue ensigns in Britain itself, where they are used by government departments and even more prolifically by yacht clubs, which have been able to adopt blue ensigns since 1922. There are now about one hundred of them.
Henry Reynolds, at Inside Story.

Just for the record, I regard the idea of changing the flag for nationalistic reasons as being as much of a wank as the insistence that the design is inviolate. It's a design: the only valid criteria for assessing its worth are aesthetic (well, and avoiding unfortunate cultural resonances, such as you'd get from four L-shapes in rotational symmetry), and the current design is simply boring and ugly, like our leaden anthem. Personally I'd like to see the Eureka flag adopted, but only the design. As it's such a distinctive and recognisable design (no other flag with a similar cross sports stars in those positions), people could use whatever colours they want: Green and Yellow for the boxing kangaroo types; Blue, White and Red for traditionalists; Red, White and Blue for Yanqophiles, White, Blue and Red for Russophiles; White, Red and Blue for Czechophiles; Orange and White and Green, Black and Yellow and Red, Blue and White, Red and White, Yellow and Blue and Red, and all the other combinations of other national flags for those commemorating immigrant heritage; Black and Red for the anarchists; Red, White and Black for Nazis; Red and Yellow for fans of the People's Republic of China; Yellow and Red for fans of Ronald McDonald; etc...

January 25, 2012
Hoop's Eye View

Via Laughing Squid

January 23, 2012
Part of the Machine

This month's statement of the blindingly obvious - couldn't have said didn't say it better myself:

You see, the Australian media - largely because it is part of the machine itself - wants you to believe that 'politics' is about what happens in Canberra. They shine the light almost exclusively on the confected battle between tweedle dee and tweedle dum - the figureheads at the top of decaying political parties that everyone outside the inbred Canberra vortex can see are just shells of organisations pretending to believe in something beyond power itself. The issues they fight about are just props for the pantomime that the media reports on as "politics". The real issues - the pokie industry that destroys families, the mining boom that's threatening every other industry outside resources, the climate change that's threatening the planet - these are just just kindling for the eternal bonfire that keeps the huddled hacks in the press gallery in the warmth of secure employment.

January 17, 2012
The Numbers

Possum Comitatus on Australian exceptionalism:

So this is our economic reality – we are the wealthiest nation in the world with 75.5% of our adult population making it into the global top 10%, our economy has grown faster than nearly all others (certainly faster than all other developed countries), our household income growth has been one of the fastest in the world (including our poor having income growth larger than everyone else’s rich!), we have the highest minimum wages in the world, the third lowest debt and the 6th lowest taxes in the OECD and are ranked 2nd on the United Nations Human Development Index.
I have serious misgivings about aspects of this analysis, and some of them are raised by others in the comments thread (e.g. years of selling off non-renewable resources while making little investment in infrastructure is no recipe for long term economic health), but still... what planet are Abbott, his party and their media enablers living on?

January 10, 2012

If you haven't already, read What You Should Know About 2012. Not just an un-useless debunking but an interesting history of yet another silly idea.

The significance of the date was popularized during a counterculture event known as the Harmonic Convergence that was organized by [José] Argüelles ... who thought that the problems of Western civilization were due to the use of a calendar that was not directly linked to the movements of the Sun, the Moon, the planets, and the stars. He sought to revive a version of the Maya calendar based on solar and lunar cycles, creating a new system that he called the Dreamspell....

The Harmonic Convergence... was promoted using new computer technology ... and early computer networks. Since the 1960s, interest in astrology, Tarot, the I Ching, and the Maya calendar had been widespread among programmers associated with the new personal computer and software industry in what was to become Silicon Valley in northern California. Counterculture and New Age concepts ... had been a part of cyberculture since its inception, so it was only natural that early digital social networks ... played a role in spreading the word about the Harmonic Convergence and 2012 among psychedelic and computer "hacker" subcultures that frequently overlapped...

As computer networks grew, the ideas spread among individuals using the World Wide Web... People created websites promoting the idea of either: 1) the literal end of the world, or 2) a spiritual transformation. However, this happened independent of academic scholarship on the ancient Maya, which did not support the idea of any "prophecy" or either scenario. The "prophecies" about 2012 are best considered a kind of folk mythology of the digital age, a collection of myths and legends that are spreading via commercial publications, television, and especially digital computer networks. The attention being given to the Maya date 4 Ajaw 3 K'ank'in (December 21, 2012) is largely the result of persistent folk beliefs about astrology, numerology, mysticism, and revelation. (Notice, for example, the unusual appearance of the numbers "" and "12-21-12".)

January 08, 2012
Lazy Links

While waiting for their yearly 50 Most Loathsome list, here's the Buffalo Beast's Eight Most Awesome Drone Stories of 2011.

And David Bentley Hart gives Steven Pinker's latest piece of reductionist gibberish a right kicking. (Via IOZ.)

I've also been having some kind of fun watching author interviews at the Wheeler Centre's site and at the Sydney Opera House's Ideas at the House thang. So there's that.

January 04, 2012
Ronald Searle 1920-2011

Links to tributes, and something lovely at Drawn.

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