Live from Brussels
Musings from a bored analyst/project-manager.
Saturday, June 22, 2002
*The* Jose Padilla? Or just some kid?
About now, everybody has heard about the Padilla/OKC suspect similarity. But is the kid in this picture also the same Padilla? (click on the picture to see where I found it)
The names match, but does the timeline? The article is of 1992, and it claims the kid was 15 back then. That makes him 25 by now. Then again, the picture and the story could have been published in 1992, but reported earlier. Anyway, it's probably just a coincidence, because there are more José's Padilla: this one even recorded some albums! Which could conceivably be played by this one, because he appears to be a famous DJ.
Friday, June 21, 2002
Allah and Arafat
Ha'aretz has an interesting story about Israeli defense minister Ben-Eliezer meeting with failed suicide bombers to try to get a handle on them. The article is fairly long, but here is a good quote:
Ben-Eliezer: "If Yasser Arafat called for a halt to suicide bombings, would it have any effect on you?"
Stiti: "No. It's a religious imperative from Allah. It has nothing to do with whether Arafat says yes or no. Allah supersedes everyone." He thinks for a moment and continues: "But maybe if he did call for it to stop, we might think twice about it."
(Via:Little Green Footballs)
You can't take your money with you when you die
That's why I rolled my eyes at the announcement the Belgian minister of social affairs made this afternoon. Apparently, people who choose to die at home instead of in a hospital now will get free doctor's and nurses visits and a welfare check of about 500$/€ for two months. They claimed dying at home was 'too expensive' for some people... Sheesh! If I knew I was going to die, I wouldn't worry about money to pay for the doctor. What's he gonna do, sue me?
And another thing I wonder about concerning this policy: what are they going to do when you're not dead after two months? Help a bit? Ask for their money back? What?
Gays and pedophiles
Eric S. Raymond has a controversial article up at his site Armed and Dangerous. Among other things, he states:
Are gay men biologically or psychologically prone to rape boys at a level that makes a gay man even without a known history of abuse into a bad risk around boys? Does queer culture encourage a tendency to rape in gay men who are put in authority over boys?
Here is where the question becomes practical: were the Boy Scouts of America so wrong to ban homosexual scoutmasters? And here we are with a crashing thud back in the realm of present politics. After the numbing, horrifying, seemingly never-ending stream of foul crimes revealed in the scandal, even staunch sexual libertarians like your humble author can no longer honestly dismiss this question simply because it's being raised by unpleasant conservatives.
I disagree with this: statistically speaking, men are much more dangerous drivers than women, killing thousands on the roads each year. Yet we still allow them to get a drivers license. Same thing with gays: just because Raymond says they're statistically more likely to be pedophiles is no good reason to treat them like they are! And even if someone is a pedophile, he can't help it. Only when he acts on it does he need help... in the form of a kick in the nuts and life imprisonment without parole!
1 - 0
So the results of United States vs. Germany are in. Wonder what this will do to the tide of rising soccer-mania in the blogosphere. Meanwhile, the rest of the world breathes a collective sigh of relief that the only sport the rest of the world cares about is still not dominated by the USA. For now.
Over at File13's Amish Tech Support, read about an interesting thought experiment. I guarantee you, you'll never feel the same again reading another "Suicide bomber kills X people" headline.
Just this morning I heard a report on the radio here that in Spain a group of illegal immigrants from North Africa are occupying some university buildings. They claim to be doing this because their jobs are being taken away by... legal immigrants from Poland! How dare these Polish women ask for legal work permits, and the nerve of Spanish farmers to hire them instead of people who break the law! Don't these people know that illegal North African immigrants have an unalienable right to be hired by Spanish farmers? It's in the Declaration of Human Rights, somewhere...
I wonder if this will have any effect on the EU summit about immigration going on in Seville at the moment.
This just makes me mad...
Thursday, June 20, 2002
Why Belgium was eliminated from the World Cup
Got this nice little ditty in my inbox today:
I was gonna become a referee but then I got high
Still I was selected by the FIFA although I was high
I'm gonna judge the match Belgium Brasil
- although I'm high [repeat 3X]
I was gonna have my eyes checked but then I got high
I am as blind as a mole and I am high
My eye are still fucked up and I know why
- cause I got high [repeat 3X]
I wasn't gonna blow my whistle but I was high
Wilmots didn't make a foul but I was high
now I'm discriminating against the Red Devils and I know why
- cause I'm high [repeat 3X]
I was favoring Brasil cause I was high
I just got a very nice bribe and I got high
they doubled my paycheck and I know why
- to get high [repeat 3X]
I messed up the entire match because I was high
The Red Devils lost the game because I was high
now I'm hated by the Belgian's and I know why
- cause I was high [repeat 3X]
The man in all four pictures below is Louis Michel, Belgium's foreign minister. Can you spot the common theme?
Khamenei, Castro, Kabila, Arafat... no problem! yet he refuses to shake hands with Jorg Haider, has had a row with Berlusconi and has been a driving force behind the persecution of Pinochet. Talk about double standards!
Blogging the Qur'an
Bjørn Stærk of The World After WTC is reading the Qur'an, and he already has a collection of nice quotes up on his blog. While this is a nice idea, I don't think it is wise to base one's opinion of a religion on the contents of its holy book alone. If one did that to christianity, you'd have to conclude it endorsed sex, drugs and violence! But I'm sure Bjørn is aware of that, he seems to be an intelligent chap.
Here is an indispensable book for those of you who want to start their own blog, or have recently done so. I present to you: Understanding the Blogosphere. Any similarity with existing books is purely coincidental.
A friend sent me a page with some great cover spoofs of the famous (among programmers, geeks and other nerds) O'reilly books. Unfortunately, the one about finding porn on the net is missing...
In today's Bleat, James Lileks has plans for a radio station:
Should I ever get a server here at Jasperwood - and it’s my fond dream for down the road - I’m going to run a nifty little radio station out of the closet. All soundtracks.
Well, there already exists such a station, and what's better, the listeners determine what gets played! Doncha just love the internet?
Wednesday, June 19, 2002
National ID card
On many American blogs I have read discussions and arguments against a national ID card. It seems that on the whole, the idea is not very popular in the U.S.A., mostly out of fear for abuse or invasion of privacy. For me, as a Belgian citizen, this whole debate comes accross as a bit strange: here in Belgium, we've had a national ID card for years, and nobody seems to mind. On the contrary, people seem to find it very convenient to have a card with them which proves without a trace of doubt who they are.
As for abuse, there are strict laws governing who can ask for this card, which data can be stored about you and for how long. It certainly beats having to get a drivers license just to be able to buy a beer (and we sell beer to sixteen year olds here anyway)...
For illustration purposes, here is mine:
(The blacked out parts are my signature, my home address and the serial number, I don't want to make it too easy to steal my identity... which would kind of defeat the entire purpose of having this card anyway)
I can't know what I don't know! (And neither can you...)
JunkYardBlog disagrees with my 'McVeigh should be in jail, not in a coffin' post. He seems to be of the opinion we know everything we can know about him, and there is nothing further interrogation could have revealed. Well, this might be true, but I don't agree. By definition you can't know what it is you don't know, because if you could, you'd know it!
Even if in this specific case no extra information could have been gained by not executing him, I still stand by my opinion that the death penalty is a horrible waste of resources. And way too definitive, too. A life of forced labour, with the profits going to paying for the cell and the food, and reparations if there is anything left, seems much more economical to me. And if the convict refuses to work, he can always starve, of course.
But the death-penalty topic has been done to death (mmm, maybe I should pick another word) on Usenet etc. already, so I won't waste more bits on it here (unless I get some really good comments, hint, hint).
Conspiracy theory and the death penalty
In the last few days, JunkYardBlog rocked the blogosphere with a comparison between the pictures of Jose Padilla, the dirty bomb plot suspect recently arrested, and John Doe #2, an unknown suspect in the Oklahoma City bombing. The latest update on this story is here.
I don't now if there is any truth to this theory, but in any case this is another argument in the death penalty debate. If only Tim McVeigh had been rotting in jail instead of pushing up daisies, maybe he would have been able to tell us something...
N.Z. Bear has an interesting article on moral codes, called Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. In that order. It's a good read, well worth it despite being a bit on the lenghty side. In short, he argues that freedom would be a good base for a moral code, better than 'maximizing happiness' or 'because $deity said so'.
Personally, I think he's right, and that 'maximizing freedom' is the way to go. But what I find the beauty of this philosophy is that in theory, it doesn't need advocating an absolute belief or forcing people to behave in a certain way. I think people gravitate naturally to a situation of more freedom, and any obstacles on the way to it are washed away, in the long run. No dictatorship or tyrrany I know lasted forever. It may take time, but eventually corrupt regimes or leaders get toppled, just like the highest mountain eventually washes to the sea.
This is also the reason I am certain freedom will eventually prevail in the 'War against Islamism', just like in the 'War against Communism', the 'War against Fascism', even the 'War on Drugs' and the 'War on Poverty'.
It is said often that extreme despair and hopelessness drive suicide bombers to commit their terrible attacks. But the 9/11 bombers were said to have come from wealthy or middle class families, and yesterday's Jerusalem terrorist was studying at the university. Surely these people can't be that hopeless or in despair, can they? At least not about their personal situation or future.
When you take despair about their country/people/religion into account, we may be on to something. Japanese and German suicide pilots have been known to sacrifice their lives in defense of their countries, so if you look at it from that point of view, it is not very 'new' or 'unusual'. What boggles me is that the Palestinian suicide bombers mostly seem to choose civilian targets, aiming to kill or maim as many non-combattants as possible. The Japanese and Germans at least sacrificed their lives attacking allied bombers or ships heading towards their homeland, but I still have to hear about the first Palestinian to jump an Israeli army tank to blow it and himself up.
What possible use could this tactic have? Are they hoping to scare the civilians into massively leaving their country out of fear? Or hoping that the Israeli government will overreact, do something stupid and cause another war (the seventh, by the last count) between Israel and its neighbours?
That's what I am after reading this post from Jerusalem blogger Tal G. It describes his experience of the suicide bombing today. I'm glad he wasn't on that bus, but many people were, unfortunately. I feel a mixture of relief and anger. Relief that I don't have to worry about the bus I'm driving next to exploding, anger that people here still try to explain these senseless acts of barbarism as being a legitimate form of resistance. Killing unarmed civilians, children even, is not a valid form of self defense. In fact, I strongly believe the people who did this are digging their own hole: the only effect of an atrocity like this is to strengthen the resolve and fuel the anger of those they are trying to defeat. Sooner or later, this is going to get back to them. I hope sooner...
Tuesday, June 18, 2002
Read some interesting things about anthrax on Joe Katzman's site today. Have a peek! Especially the link to the Kuro5hin article is interesting.
I like driving, I really do. What I hate is being in traffic jams. Right now, it looks like there's going to be a downpour just about when I will be going home in a few hours. I don't like that: for some reason, the slightest bit of rain seems to cause some people to slam their brakes, and drive 70 or 80 km/h on the highway (120 is the limit here). I really hate that! You might think it is no big deal, but people like that are the main cause of traffic waves, which can block an entire area's road system for hours on end.
Welcome InstaPundit readers...
But as many of you probably already noted, my last name is 'Schenk', not 'Schenck'... Oh, well, I've been instapundited on my second day, so why complain?
About two years ago, I happened to be in the USA for my job, and I took the opportunity to stay a little longer and do some sightseeing. I rented a car, and drove all the way from Boston to Florida and back, in one week. Along the way I took in some sights, visited some things and generally tried to get to a better understanding of what the USA was all about.
Naturally I snapped pictures of the Statue of Liberty, drove a country road into West-Virginia and visited the Coca-Cola museum in Atlanta. But one of the things that impressed me most was in Washington D.C., in the National Archives Building. I happened to walk past this neoclassical building while strolling around the National Mall, feeling like I had arrived in Rome, at the height of its power. A sign caught my eye, and curious as I was, I climbed the heavy stone steps to the entrance. Inside, I quickly made my way to the exhibit I was interested in.
It was displayed in a semi-circular hall, with a semi-domed roof. The open side of the hall was separated from the rest of the building by a metal grating, much like a chapel is in a cathedral. There were more similarities to a chapel: the exhibit looked like a relic from some saint, as it was set behind thick glass, encased in a heavy metal frame and set atop what seemed like an altar. A narrow walkway ran along the curve of the wall, separated from the rest of the hall by a handlebar. As it passed the 'relic', the walkway was slightly elevated, so the 'pilgrims' who shuffled by could have a better look.
I say shuffled, because next to the 'altar' a stern looking guard kept on telling people not to stand still, to keep moving at all times and not to touch anything. He also briefly described the contents of the glass encasing, explaining that it was filled with inert gasses, in order to better protect the contents, and that it was lowered down into a concrete-lined shaft every night, for safe keeping.
The people who passed the exhibit were quite impressed with what they saw, apparently. Some had their mouths open in awe, others went back to the end of the que repeatedly to have a better look. I also saw parents lifting their children so they could see better, and explaining to them in whispered tones what the thing behind the glass was and why it was so important.
I had always known it to some degree, but only while watching these people look at their Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights I fully realised just how sacred these documents were held by many people in the United States. And in my opinion, many people here in Europe just don't have the slightest idea about this, unfortunately.
Monday, June 17, 2002
I never really believed there were people that actually adhered to this 'philosophy'. Yes, you read about them on blogs, but surely they don't really exist? Until I had a conversation with a friend recently, which went something like this:
Me: I sure am glad I live in Belgium, and not in some hellhole like North-Korea or Afghanistan.
Me: Because it's so much better here. We have food, civil rights, medical care, education,...
Me: What do you mean, 'and'?
He: How can you say it is better here? Have you been to those other places?
Me: No, but I've read about them...
He: Maybe the people who live there are happy, and they think it is awful here, with high suicide rate, crime, traffic accidents, pollution...
Me: They why are they fleeing here in droves?
He: They must have been misled by our propaganda...
Me: At least we have a free press...
He: Maybe they are happier without a free press?
Me: Well, the fact that they are fleeing here seems to imply that they are of the opinion that it is better here...
He: How can you know that? You've never been there...
Me: There are a lot of places I haven't been, but still I believe what I read about them... it's what things like science are based on, reading things so you don't have to redo all the experiments for yourself.
We went on for a bit longer, but halted the argument eventually, seeing we obviously were never going to convince each other. Oh, well, next time he says something about America, or alcohol, I'm going to ignore his statements, safe in the knowledge that he's never been there and has never drank a drop, so obviously he can't know anything about those topics (which doesn't stop him from having opinions on both, BTW)...
If anyone reads this, I might as well introduce myself first: I'm a 26 year old guy living in Belgium. I studied computer linguistics, and I now work as a programmer (well, scripter) at a large ISP in Brussels. I mainly do stuff in Perl and Oracle SQL, with a bit of mysql and PHP on the side. But let's skip the geek stuff! I'm an avid follower of current affairs, both Belgian and international, and I love reading blogs. I happen to work near NATO headquarters and the European district of Brussels, and I find it fascinating to be able to read the opinions about what is going on there, written by people from all over the world.
Well, I've finally done it! Welcome to this new blog on the block... After many months of reading InstaPundit, Den Beste, Stryker and many others, I thought it was time I gave something back to the blogging community. I don't know if this blog will turn into anything good or not, but that's okay, I'm in it just for the excitement and fun! Well, here I go, time to hit that big, shiny 'Post & Publish' button for the first time... wish me luck!