Saturday, January 20, 2007

German songbooks from 1852, with black and white illustrations
Deutsches Balladenbuch volume 1
Deutsches Balladenbuch volume 2

Rule by decree passed for Chavez

"Venezuela's National Assembly has given initial approval to a bill granting the president the power to bypass congress and rule by decree for 18 months."

Friday, January 19, 2007

British Muslims Get Their Soapbox - review of a CNN show on Anjem Choudary (the Pope Benedict protest guy) and friends, to be broadcast "Saturdays and Sundays at 8 p.m. with a repeat at 11 p.m." (EST?)

On the process of becoming an Islamist - the "halal theory of terrorism" (at the end of the article)

After September 11th, while teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, [forensic psychiatrist and former C.I.A. case officer Marc] Sageman decided to examine the process of Islamic radicalization in a way that had not been done before: empirically.

He decided to gather data about Al Qaeda's members, in order to discern what they had in common. Using trial transcripts and news reports, he assembled biographies of a hundred and seventy-two militants. "By analyzing people individually, I didn't get very far," he said. "In groups, they seemed to have similar patterns."

Sageman discovered that most Al Qaeda operatives had been radicalized in the West and were from caring, intact families that had solidly middle- or upper-class economic backgrounds. Their families were religious but generally mainstream. The vast majority of the men did not have criminal records or any history of mental disorders. Moreover, there was little evidence of coördinated recruitment, coercion, or brainwashing. Al Qaeda's leaders waited for aspiring jihadists to come to them - and then accepted only a small percentage. Joining the jihad, Sageman realized, was like trying to get into a highly selective college: many apply, but only a few are accepted.

Perhaps his most unexpected conclusion was that ideology and political grievances played a minimal role during the initial stages of enlistment. "The only significant finding was that the future terrorists felt isolated, lonely, and emotionally alienated," Sageman told the September 11th Commission in 2003, during a debriefing about his research. These lost men would congregate at mosques and find others like them. Eventually, they would move into apartments near their mosques and build friendships around their faith and its obligations. He has called his model the "halal theory of terrorism" - since bonds were often formed while sharing halal meals - or the "bunch of guys" theory. The bunch of guys constituted a closed society that provided a sense of meaning that did not exist in the larger world.

Sageman examined scholarship on other revivalist movements and found important parallels. He learned that doctrine played a negligible role for new converts to the Reverend Moon's Unification Church, for example. "Many moved into the Moonie commune because of their attachment to group members while still openly expressing rejection of the Moon ideology," Sageman wrote in his book, "Understanding Terror Networks," which was published in 2004. But, once the converts experienced the social benefits of their new community, accepting their friends' beliefs was much easier. Later, when asked by researchers about their conversion, most Moonies spoke of the irresistible appeal of the church's religious outlook, and had forgotten their initial skepticism about the faith.

Within the "bunch of guys," Sageman found, men often became radicalized through a process akin to oneupmanship, in which members try to outdo one another in demonstrations of religious zeal. (Gregory Saathoff, a research psychiatrist at the University of Virginia and a consultant to the F.B.I., told me, "We're seeing in some of the casework that once they get the fever they are white-hot to move forward.") Generally, the distinction between converts and men with mainstream Islamic backgrounds is less meaningful than it might seem, Sageman said, since "they all become born again." Many Muslims who accept radical Salafist beliefs consider themselves "reverts." They typically renounce their former lives and friends - and often their families.

Sageman's model provides clues to how radicalization unfolds, but it cannot explain why one person embraces extremism and another does not. (As a former senior intelligence analyst told me, "It's not something you can plot on a graph and study.")

Thursday, January 18, 2007

A poll says that Quebecers (including almost half of minorities) consider themselves too tolerant toward the [religious?] customs of minorities

On apprend, cet après-midi, que 58 % des répondants jugent que les Québécois sont trop tolérants à l'égard des us et coutumes des différentes communautés culturelles.

Même dans ces communautés, 46 % des gens partagent cette opinion.

En contrepartie, seulement 11 % des Québécois et 15 % des membres des communautés culturelles jugent que les Québécois ne sont pas assez tolérants envers les habitudes des autres communautés.

The poll results, on making "reasonable accomodations" towards minority customs

1. Quel énoncé correspond le mieux à votre opinion ?

Les accommodements raisonnables: c’est NON !

La très grande majorité des Québécois (83%) croient que les immigrants devraient respecter les lois et les règlements du Québec même si cela va à l’encontre de certaines croyances religieuses ou pratiques culturelles. Chez les membres des communautés culturelles, 74% sont du même avis.

2. Diriez-vous qu'il est secondaire, important mais pas indispensable ou indispensable que les membres des communautés culturelles vivant au Québec adoptent les habitudes de vie québécoises ?

Plus de 90% des Québécois croient qu’il est important que les immigrants adoptent les habitudes de vie québécoises

Tant les Québécois en général que les membres des communautés culturelles croient qu’il est important, voire indispensable, que les immigrants adoptent les habitudes de vie québécoises.

3. Est-ce que les Québécois sont trop, juste assez ou passez tolérants à l'égard des us et coutumes des différentes communautés culturelles au Québec ?

Le Québec, une société (trop) tolérante

De l’avis de 58% des répondants, les Québécois sont trop tolérants à l’égard des us et coutumes des différentes communautés culturelles. Même les membres de ces communautés abondent en bonne partie dans le même sens, alors que 46% partagent cette opinion.

4. Selon vous, le respect des pratiques religieuses suivantes, au Québec, pose-t-il ou non problème pour vivre en société ?

Cachez cette religion que je ne saurais voir

Bon nombre de Québécois estiment que le port du voile (62%) ou d’ornements religieux (56%) posent problème pour vivre en société, ce qui est moins le cas des prières (30%), du jeûne du Ramadan (21%) ou de l’interdiction de boire de l’alcool (15%). En d’autres termes, c’est d’afficher sa religion qui dérange, non pas de la pratiquer.

5. Êtes-vous favorable ou non à la construction de mosquées, de synagogues ou de temples autres que chrétiens au Québec ?

Les temples non chrétiens, pas de problème

60% des Québécois sont favorables à construction de mosquées, synagogues ou autres temples non chrétiens au Québec.

Poll: Sarkozy edges ahead of Royal

Nicolas Sarkozy, buoyed by his weekend nomination as the French right's presidential candidate and by rifts in his rival's camp, edged out Socialist Segolene Royal in a poll released Thursday.

A poll by CSA published Thursday in the daily Parisien shows Sarkozy gaining an slight advantage: 30 percent of respondents said they would vote for him in the first round of voting and 29 percent named Royal.

In a runoff, Sarkozy's lead would grow, the poll suggested, with 52 percent of respondents saying Sarkozy was the candidate they would most likely vote for in a second round, compared to Royal's 48 percent.

Chinese Test Anti-Satellite Weapon


U. S. intelligence agencies believe China performed a successful anti-satellite (asat) weapons test at more than 500 mi. altitude Jan. 11 destroying an aging Chinese weather satellite target with a kinetic kill vehicle launched on board a ballistic missile.

Details emerging from space sources indicate that the Chinese Feng Yun 1C (FY-1C) polar orbit weather satellite launched in 1999 was attacked by an asat system launched from or near the Xichang Space Center.

The attack is believe to have occurred as the weather satellite flew at 530 mi. altitude 4 deg. west of Xichang located in Sichuan province. Xichang is a major Chinese space launch center.

Although intelligence agencies must complete confirmation of the test, the attack is believed to have occurred at about 5:28 p.m. EST Jan. 11. U. S. intelligence agencies had been expecting some sort of test that day, sources said.

U. S. Air Force Defense Support Program missile warning satellites in geosynchronous orbit would have detected the Xichang launch of the asat kill vehicle and U. S. Air Force Space Command monitored the FY-1C orbit both before and after the exercise.

The test, if it occurred as envisioned by intelligence source, could also have left considerable space debris in an orbit used by many different satellites.

USAF radar reports on the Chinese FY-1C spacecraft have been posted once or twice daily for years, but those reports jumped to about 4 times per day just before the alleged test.

The USAF radar reports then ceased Jan. 11, but then appeared for a day showing "signs of orbital distress". The reports were then halted again. The Air Force radars may well be busy cataloging many pieces of debris, sources said.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Vocations Surge: The Priest Shortage Isn't Over, But Seminaries Are Filling Up

It's vocations awareness week - but most Catholics aren't aware of which dioceses are having successes with vocations.


"The south is very religious," said Father Tim McKeown, vocation director for the Diocese of Savannah, Ga. "We're about 3% to 4% Catholic, but there is a strong Christian ethos. I think that certainly helps."

According to the Official Catholic Directory's 2006 statistics, the Diocese of Savannah ordained five men in 2005, putting it at second in the Top 10 list of dioceses with the most ordinands per Catholics. With a total Catholic population of 73,649, that makes the ratio one ordinand per 14,730 Catholics.

Compiling data from the 2006 Official Catholic Directory published by Kenedy and Sons, the Register discovered that outside of Ogdensburg, N.Y., those dioceses with the most ordinands-per-Catholics are concentrated in the South. They include Savannah, Ga., Alexandria, La., Knoxville, Tenn., Pensacola-Tallahassee, Fla., and Memphis, Tenn. The remaining four are located in the Midwest: Fargo, N.D., Duluth, Minn., Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., and Springfield, Ill.


The Diocese of Memphis has quadrupled its number of seminarians in the past five years. Father Keith Stewart, vocation director, cited personal contact as the key.

"I've really worked with our priests to get them to extend a personal invitation to men," said Father Stewart, who has been at his post for five years. "It's been one of my biggest priorities because I've seen it borne out in experience that the personal invitation is what gets the ball rolling."

According to Father Stewart, those interested in pursuing a priestly vocation come to him only after having initial contact with a priest.

"The priests are the real recruiters
," said Father Stewart. "Ninety percent of them come to me only after someone else got the ball rolling. I've only had one or two who have come to me on their own."

A U.S. bishops' conference survey bears that out. According to the study done by the Secretariat for Vocations and Priestly Formation, 78% of the men being ordained said they were initially invited by a priest to consider the priesthood. That same survey showed that very few men are inspired to consider the priesthood by a website or advertisement.

"Ask any of our seminarians and they will tell you that they began to seriously consider the priesthood only the third or fourth time someone asked them," said Father McKeown.


On a new Navy railgun


The weapon, which was successfully tested in October at the King George County base, fires nonexplosive projectiles at incredible speeds, using electricity rather than gun powder.

The prototype fired at Dahlgren is only an 8-megajoule electromagnetic device, but the one to be used on Navy ships will generate a massive 64 megajoules. Current Navy guns generate about 9 megajoules of muzzle energy.

Elizabeth D'Andrea of the Office of Naval Research said a 32-megajoule lab gun will be delivered to Dahlgren in June.

The projectile fired yesterday weighed only 3.2 kilograms and had no warhead. Future railgun ordnance won't be large and heavy, either, but will deliver the punch of a Tomahawk cruise missile because of the immense speed of the projectile at impact.

Garnett compared that force to hitting a target with a Ford Taurus at 380 mph. "It will take out a building," he said. Warheads aren't needed because of the massive force of impact.

The range for 5-inch guns now on Navy ships is less than 15 nautical miles, Garnett said. He said the railgun will extend that range to more than 200 nautical miles and strike a target that far away in six minutes. A Tomahawk missile covers that same distance in eight minutes.

The Navy isn't estimating a price tag at this point, with actual use still about 13 years away. But it does know it will be a comparatively cheap weapon to use.

"A Tomahawk is about a million dollars a shot," McGettigan said. "One of these things is pretty inexpensive compared to that."

He said estimates today are that railgun projectiles will cost less than $1,000 each, "but it's going to depend on the electronics."

Projectiles will probably eventually have fins for GPS control and navigation.

To achieve that kind of control and minimize collateral damage, railgun ordnance will require electronic innards that can survive tremendous stress coming out of the muzzle.

"When this thing leaves, it's [under] hundreds of thousands of g 's, and the electronics of today won't survive that," he said. "We need to develop something that will survive that many g 's."

At the peak of its ballistic trajectory, the projectile will reach an altitude of 500,000 feet, or about 95 miles, actually exiting the Earth's atmosphere.

"The big difference is that with a Tomahawk, planning a mission takes a certain period of time," McGettigan said. "With this, you get GPS coordinates, put that into the system and the response to target is much quicker from call to fire to actual impact."

General Atomics, a San Diego defense contractor, was awarded a $10 million contract for the project last spring.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

From hearings on "Terrorist Recruitment and Infiltration in the United States: Prisons and Military as an Operational Base." October 14, 2003 (a more complete version in PDF format here)

Saudi recruitment of American military personnel

U.S. counterintelligence is vigilant against recruitment of American military personnel by foreign intelligence services, but has been blind toward the possible recruitment of American officers into Wahhabi political extremism or Islamist terrorist networks. See Appendices 3, 5 and 6 for case study of Bilal Philips, a former Jamaican Communist Party member-turned-Saudi agent of influence who claims to have converted thousands of American soldiers from the Persian Gulf War period to the present.

Philips, recruited in the U.S. by Tablighi Jamaat, went to school in Saudi Arabia, was made a proselytization official by the Saudi Air Force. One of his greatest influences was Mohammad Qutub, who developed a political theory for Islamist revolution and who taught Osama bin Laden.


(Khalil) How did you switch from teaching to preaching Islam to the US Forces stationed in Al-Khubar?

(Philips) The idea came from Ali al-Shammari who had a strong urge to convert US soldiers into Islam. But, he did not speak English well. So he sought my help in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Bahrain. Since that date, I began giving religious lectures to US soldiers on Islam.

(Khalil) Was the matter confined to giving religious lectures, or did it go beyond that to persuading US soldiers to convert to Islam. And, when precisely did you begin your call and how long did it last?

(Philips) I can say that we began our campaign to convert US soldiers to Islam after the end of the war in Kuwait and the withdrawal of the Iraqi forces. The campaign lasted five and a half months during which we formed a special team, which spoke fluent English. We set up a big camp in the US military barrack in Al-Khubar for this purpose called: "Saudi Camp for Cultural Information."

(Khalil) Were you doing that with the official permission of the Saudi authorities and the US Forces Command?

(Philips) No, but a considerable number of US officers and men asked us to deliver such lectures. So I can say that the US Army welcomed our work.

(Khalil) Why, in your opinion, did some US officers welcomed giving such lectures on Islam to their soldiers?

(Philips) I believe it was to divert their soldiers' attention from other issues, as Saudi Arabia lacked entertainment places for these. The Christian missionaries accompanying the US forces tried, before the conversion of 11 US soldiers, to shut down the camp and stop the lectures we gave to the soldiers. In the meantime, the camp acquired the name of "conversion to Islam camp," especially since the number of soldiers who converted to Islam daily were about 15 to 20. This is in addition to the fact that many US soldiers bought copies of the Holy Koran in the English language.

(Khalil) Who were the members of the team that helped you in your work?

(Philips) It was a special team whose members spoke fluent English. I recall that we expanded our work at the time to the point of operating for 24 hours. We obtained an apartment in the barrack and divided the team into groups working on rotation.

(Khalil) What were the means and methods used to persuade US soldiers to convert to Islam?

(Philips) At first we prepared the soldiers mentally. A member of the team with experience in broadcasting and American psychology undertook that job. He called in 200-250 soldiers. Once he prepared them psychologically, I began giving the lectures and opened the floor for discussion on different issues. In my answers to their questions, I often linked the topics to the call for conversion to Islam.

(Khalil) Were there special factors that helped you persuade the Americans to convert to Islam?

(Philips) Of course; foremost, the sense of security felt by the soldiers and the Arab and Islamic hospitality accorded to them throughout their presence in Saudi Arabia. They often spoke to us about these things with great admiration, comparing them [to] customs in the United States. We also arranged visits to Saudi families in their homes to get a close look at Muslim family life. They were stunned by the standard of Saudi culture and education. Perhaps, seeing us performing prayer as a group in mosques, to which we organized visits, had a big effect on them and many of them converted to Islam. Many of them became Muslim for these reasons.


(Khalil) Did you keep the channel of communications with them open after their return to the their homes?

(Philips) After preparing a list of names and addresses, we worked out a plan according to which Islamic centers all over the United States were asked to follow up on the ones nearest to them. This continued successfully until 1994. Then my contacts with those following up on their affairs in the United States stopped. So since then I had no knowledge about their progress in this field.


(Khalil) What is your reply to the reports that say that you persuaded a number of US officers, whom you converted to Islam, to volunteer to train fighters in Bosnia and that some of them actually took part in the war there?

(Philips) First of all, these were not officers, but US Army experts. It is also not accurate that I persuaded them to do that. My role was confined to encouraging them to train Muslim American volunteers and go to Bosnia to help the mujahidin and take part in the war at the request of the Bosnians to help them defend themselves. Some of these Americans remained there and married Bosnian girls. I believe that my encouragement to them was welcomed by these people, who [knew] Islam through me. I kept in touch with them, and when I visited the United States I made it a point to pay courteous visits to them. So the talk that I was the one who persuaded them to do that, as mentioned in some US investigations and revealed by a person called Imad Salim who worked as translator for Shaykh Umar Abd-al-Rahman, is not true.

Imad Salim used to coordinate with US intelligence. And, when Croatia closed its borders to Arab volunteers, there were a group of black Americans who completed their training and knew Islam through me. Imad Salim contacted Shaykh Umar Abd-al-Rahman and offered to use this group for sabotage acts inside the United States. The offer was made on the telephone, which apparently was tapped by US intelligence. Shaykh Umar replied by saying: "Avoid civilian targets." This was the expression under which he was sentenced to life. After this conversation, Imad Salim took the group to an apartment that was known to US intelligence and bugged by listening devices and cameras. The group was along with the American who trained them. He was the one who mentioned my name during the interrogation after denying his knowledge of any sabotage plans inside the United States. He said that he trained the group to go to Bosnia and that he was converted to Islam through me. This was how my name was involved in this case.


(Khalil) Where did you meet with the US military experts?

(Philips) In Al-Khubar, Tabuk, Dhahran, and also in the United States when I visited there. It was a courteous visit.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Skyscraper Picture Collection

"A collection of skyscraper pictures of cities and their tallest and most distinctive high-rise buildings. At the moment, this site has over 3,000 pictures from 58 different cities in 18 countries on four continents."

Robo-builder threatens the brickie - on automated building construction

Engineers are racing to unveil the world’s first robot capable of building a house at the touch of a button.

The first prototype - a watertight shell of a two-storey house built in 24 hours without a single builder on site - will be erected in California before April. A rival design, being pioneered in the East Midlands, with £1.2m of government funding, will include sunken baths, fireplaces and cornices. There are even plans for robots to supplant painters and decorators by spraying colourful frescoes at an affordable price.

By building almost an entire house from just two materials - concrete and gypsum - the robots will eliminate the need for dozens of traditional components, including floorboards, wooden window frames and possibly even wallpaper. It may eventually be possible to use specially treated gypsum instead of glass window panes.

Engineers on both projects say the robots will not only cut costs and avoid human delays but liberate the normal family homes from the conventional designs of pitched roofs, right-angled walls and rectangular windows.

"The architectural options will explode," predicted Dr Behrokh Khoshnevis at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, who will soon unleash his $1.5m robot. "We will be able to build curves and domes as easily as straight walls.

At Loughborough University’s School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, the technology involves computer-controlled robotic nozzles which pipe quick-drying liquid gypsum and concrete to form walls, floors and roofs.

Inspired by the inkjet printer, the technology goes far beyond the techniques already used for prefabricated homes. The robots are rigged to a metal frame, enabling them to shuttle in three dimensions and assemble the structure of the house layer by layer. The sole foreman on site operates a computer programmed with the designer’s plans.

The researchers in Los Angeles claim their robot will be able to build the shell of a house in 24 hours.

The British system is likely to take at least a week but will include more sophisticated design features, with the computer’s nozzle weaving in ducts for water pipes, electrical wiring and ventilation within the panels of gypsum or concrete.

While the Americans’ first robot-built home is predicting a completion date of April, the Loughborough prototype is unlikely to be built for at least five years.

Robot builder could 'print' houses - 10 March 2004 - New Scientist

Sunday, January 14, 2007

9% GROWTH party - the blog of a (real?) Scottish political party dedicated to permanent 9% economic growth

Ball lightning created in the lab

[One theory] is that ball lightning forms when lightning strikes soil, turning any silica in the soil into pure silicon vapour. As the vapour cools, the silicon condenses into a floating aerosol bound into a ball by charges that gather on its surface, and it glows with the heat of silicon recombining with oxygen.

To test this idea, a team led by Antônio Pavão and Gerson Paiva from the Federal University of Pernambuco in Brazil took wafers of silicon just 350 micrometres thick, placed them between two electrodes and zapped them with currents of up to 140 amps. Then over a couple of seconds, they moved the electrodes slightly apart, creating an electrical arc that vaporised the silicon.

The arc spat out glowing fragments of silicon but also, sometimes, luminous orbs the size of ping-pong balls that persisted for up to 8 seconds. "The luminous balls seem to be alive," says Pavão. He says their fuzzy surfaces emitted little jets that seemed to jerk them forward or sideways, as well as smoke trails that formed spiral shapes, suggesting the balls were spinning. From their blue-white or orange-white colour, Pavão's team estimates that they have a temperature of roughly 2000 kelvin. The balls were able to melt plastic, and one even burned a hole in Paiva's jeans.