Thursday, July 31, 2014

Martyrs Misapplied

Today's news, particularly from the Middle East, is filled with the brave actions of martyrs belonging to Al-Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, or a myriad of sub-sects connected in some way with the Muslim religion.

This denoting of such personnel as "martyrs" is rubbish.

It would be akin to celebrating the soldiers landing in Normandy on D-Day, or those who died at Ypres, as martyrs. Brave, yes. Patriotic, yes. Afraid, yes. Skilled, yes. But martyrs they were not.

My reasoning here begins with a definition, in this case from Merriam Webster's Free Dictionary: A martyr is "A person who voluntarily suffers death as the penalty of witnessing and refusing to renounce a religion."

Some examples come to mind. Various saints of the Catholic Church, such as Peter or Andrew would qualify, as would Thomas a Becket, Thomas More, or (although a number of Papal hurdles had to be crossed that took some time) Joan of Arc. And not to be forgotten are the deaths in Canada of Fathers Lalement and Brebeuf.

Indeed, the Catholic Church can be said to have originated the word "martyr." Yet in no case did such martyrs launch themselves into such a state. They endured passively; it was their persecutors that acted.

This point is key. There can certainly be Muslim martyrs, but not if you are wearing a suicide vest with an aim to create as much carnage as possible. That is not passivity, that is acting to purposefully harm; that is not martyrdom, it is murder.

And if you look carefully at my list of Catholic martyrs, all were adults, well aware of what they were doing, and why. The children that are often used as Muslim "martyrs" have barely lived, and are totally under the control of an Imam or Mullah who "is commanded by Allah."  And such Imams or Mullahs tend not to be near any incident that might suddenly turn explosive. I mean, they might be at risk. Can't have that.

Ghastly people. I suspect Dante, were he alive and writing The Inferno, would fire them all into the Ninth Circle. Couldn't happen soon enough.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Being Careful With Time

It was, I believe, Napoleon Bonaparte who once stated, "One always has a chance of recovering lost ground, but lost time --  never." It is for this reason that I, at some cost, employ a person skilled in the art and science of information technology.

Some have questioned the not inconsiderable expense of such an approach, but I stand firm. My reasons are as follows.

When I wish to write something electronically, and to communicate whatever was written to another, that is time well spent. Mind you, the written piece should be worth reading, but as a devoted reader of this weekly report, I'm sure there are no qualms in that regard. What would not be time well spent is thrashing about trying to get ta faulty communication device -- computer, laptop, or whatever -- to work effectively.

Too often I have seen others grappling with such an issue, and wasting a goodly amount of time being frustrated as this or that attempt fails. Worse, when dealing with that modern avatar of Satan, the Indian Help Desk located somewhere in Uttar Pradesh, the whole already too lengthy process can now, if allowed, extend to infinity.

Not a good use of time. Not at all. I want my time to serve my priorities, priorities which are some distance away from technical arcana.

Such time-wasting is not a mistake we make when we write a letter. When the mail sometimes goes amiss, a phone call to the post office will quickly clear up the situation. Could be a statuary holiday, or the union happily exercising its abundance of sick days,* or whatever. But rarely does such a conversation go beyond five minutes, if that.

Compare that use of time to your latest rumble in the jungle of technology, an area where it doesn't do to bungle. And there, methinks, lies the crux of the problem. Technology, and the newness of it all.

Therefore, my answer is to fight fire with fire, and employ a technical expert who can hold his (actually, her) ground with the best that Dell, Microsoft, IBM and others have to offer in the field of complicated technical advice. And I must add that my expert enjoys grappling with all the new advances that seem to occur daily.

After all, it was not that long ago that people thought semiconductors were part-time orchestra leaders and microchips were very, very small snack foods.


* Now, now -- a titch of bias showing there. -- Ed.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Perigee of Vladimir Putin

It was in my mind to write something quite different than that which follows, but events overtook.

I was expecting Rachel Levi, my IT specialist, to return from Kiev, whereupon I could get her thoughts on the whole Israeli / Hamas mess. However, when that Malaysian commercial airliner got shot out of the sky over Eastern Ukraine, she agreed to assist the Ukrainian authorities (the elected ones) on determining just who had done what, to whom, and why.

Here is her report.

In her opinion, after listening to various intercepts (she is understandably vague here) the incident boils down to the actions one of Putin's minions, a certain Igor Girkin, AKA Igor Strelkov. Rachel knew he was a former GRU operative, and recently was prominent in or around the eastern Ukrainian town of Donetsk. Indeed, Igor had recently proclaimed himself the Minister of Defence for the Donetsk Peoples' Republic.

Apparently he had taken credit for the missile hit, but then denied this. Rachel suspected he had heard from a furious Vladimir Putin.
She even forwarded a rather garbled recording in Russian when the incident occurred, as follows:

Voice: "We hit it! We hit it! The bomber is no more."

Strelkov: "I don't think it was a bomber, you idiot."

Voice: "What?"

Strelkov:"It was, I think, an civilian airliner."

Voice: "Shit!"

Admittedly the recordings were somewhat indistinct, and my Russian is a bit rusty, but the gist is there. The blowback on Putin would be severe, and justly deserved. Perhaps the words of Lord Macaulay were in his mind, although somewhat in reverse.

Macaulay had written, "Moderation in war is imbecility." What Putin could well be thinking is, "In war, imbecility can lose you everything."

Friday, July 11, 2014

A Technical Hiatus

I write this in hope that it actually sees the light of day -- or at least the light of a computer monitor. To alter an adage, "The spirit is willing, but the Wi-Fi is weak." You write a lovely sentence, and it disappears and is replaced with the dreaded "THIS PAGE CANNOT BE DISPLAYED."

Now it might be OK for Hiawatha to have an excellent wrestling match with the Corn God, but I have better things to do then wrestle with the Imps of Techdom. My IT support, Rachel Levi, is somewhere in Kiev right now doing something that apparently will
irritate Putin no end, but is expected back in two days. So I will take a break, and return next week.

These things happen.

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Surround Sound of Negativity

One of the causes I support is the work of the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation. (CTF). In this regard I attended a meeting where the suggestion was put forward that Ontario's fiscal situation, given its horrendous deficit position, was headed for trouble.

The CTF spokesman, however, went on to state that there were remedies, and things, yes, were bleak, but not irretrievable. A politician with a penchant for honesty and a deep respect for the taxpayer dollar could work wonders. Yes, this would take an iron will as "nice" programs were cut back severely, while leaving "needed" programs alone. Good news, this.

The press report after the meeting began, "A CTF spokesman said limply that..."

Why the word "limply?" Is it against media nature to report possible good news?

Now while I was born in Italy, I have become a Canadian citizen, and have become well- versed in northern pessimism. I can remember  someone quoting the following anecdote:

"Imagine if Moses had been a Canadian. He would have gladly received the Ten Commandments, taken time to review them, then looked skyward and in a rather petulant voice said, 'O Lord, the Commandments are fine. But....but what about funding?'"

Marshall McLuhan had the answer to such pessimism and negativity constantly finding its way into the media.*He indicated that the media concentrated on "bad news" that would contrast nicely with the "good news" surrounding the products advertised in the publication or program, and from which such media drew revenue.

Of course, this aspect of the media is not confined to Canada, although our glass half empty approach to life makes us perhaps more accepting. On the other hand, there is an upside. If you are constantly viewing things in a negative manner, there will always be, from time to time, a rather un-Canadian pleasant surprise.

Or so I am told.


* This insight first surfaced in McLuhan's The Mechanical Bride, and was later elaborated in his seminal work, Understanding Media. -- Ed.