And now . . . this

June 30, 2004

Here’s a good story about cyber-blackmail in Maryland:

A Maryland man with a grudge against a Connecticut-based patent firm used unsecured wireless networks at homes and businesses in the Washington D.C. area to penetrate the company’s computers and deliver untraceable threats and extortion demands, until an FBI surveillance team caught him in the act. . . . .

At one point, the company president tried to use a “Web bug” to trace his cyber tormenter, but Tereshchuk detected the ruse. Meanwhile, FBI agents traced some of the e-mails and intrusions to two homes and a dentist’s office in Arlington, Virginia. The residents, and the dentist, made poor suspects, and the agents learned that all three were running unsecured 802.11b networks.

So far, so good. Our crook has taken some serious steps here to keep himself anonymous. He does wardriving to locate insecure wireless networks to mask his identity. He successfully defeats the company’s countermeasures.

And then . . .

Though he went to some lengths to make himself untraceable technically, past altercations between Tereshchuk and the company made him the prime suspect from the start, according to court records. The clearest sign came when he issued the seventeen million dollar extortion demand, and instructed the company to “make the check payable to Myron Tereshchuk.”

[Full Story]



A nice new Bible translation for the itching-ears gang

June 27, 2004

A few days ago my attention was drawn to an article on WorldNetDaily concerning “[a] brand-new translation of the Bible . . . [that] flatly contradicts traditional core Christian beliefs on sex and morality.”

WorldNutDaily being what it is, I decided to search out some confirmation. Turns out this is quite real. Good as New: A Radical Retelling of the Scriptures is the work of a John Henson, a former Baptist minister, part of an organization calling itself the “ONE Community for Christian Exploration,” whatever that is (their mission also appears to include deconstructing the historic creeds of the Church).

Words used in the preface and foreword (contributed by Rowan Williams, current Archbishop of Canterbury) include “radical,” “outlandish,” “inclusive,” “demythologise,” and the usual other buzzwords.

And some of this stuff is unintentionally hilarious. This is what Jesus’ baptism in the River Jordan looks like in a legitimate translation of the Scriptures:

And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. (Matt. 3:16-17)

The voice of God comes from heaven and expresses his divine approval at the act of obedience of his adult Son. This is a majestic passage.

Now, here’s Henson’s take:

As he was climbing up the bank again, the sun shone through a gap in the clouds. At the same time a pigeon flew down and perched on him. Jesus took this as a sign that God’s spirit was with him. A voice from overhead was heard saying, “That’s my boy! You’re doing fine!”

Gee, that sounds an awful lot like something my dad would have said the first time I jumped into the deep end.

Between this passage and Henson’s tendency to use outrageous nicknames for various Bible characters – Madge, Rocky, Barry, John the Dipper, and so forth – Henson makes light of the translation process. I’m usually the first person to say the Scriptures ought to be colloquial. After all, the New Testament wasn’t written in literary Greek, but the common greek of personal letters and shopping lists. But there’s a difference between informality and flippancy, and Good as New is the latter. At least Henson had the decency not to call John the Baptist “Jack the Dipper.”

Meanwhile, on the other end of the theological spectrum, Good as New has all the KJV-onlyists in a headspin. Here we have a literary effort by a very few theological liberal feel-gooders. If it sells a thousand copies, three of them will be to people who take this paraphrase serously; the remaining 997 will be to people like me who value comedy. Nonetheless, on the one hand, it’s enough to throw the KJV nuts into Chicken Little mode, running about screaming that the sky is falling. On the other hand, there are those of us who don’t believe the King James Version was handed to the disciples by Jesus himself on golden plates descending from heaven on a velvet pillow. According to the KJV nuts, we’re supposed to accept this kind of crap. Because if you don’t believe that the KJV is exclusively the Word of God in English, well, then anything published with “Bible” on the title page is of equal value, right? You gotta laugh.

Brief note for classical lovers

June 27, 2004

I recently added Brian’s Culture Blog to my blogroll. Brian Micklethwait is a British blogger who writes more-or-less daily notes about things he’s up to – mostly digital photography and old movies, but occasional notes on pop culture and classical music, amongst other things. It’s the last that I am particuarly interested in, because I can identify with his listening habits:

As I have often confessed here, I think, I am not as disciplined a listener to classical music as classical music listeners are, I imagine, often imagined to be. I just love the stuff so much, and love to have it on, in the background for when I am concentrating on something else, or in the foreground when I either attend to it or it forces itself upon my attention.

[Full Text]

It’s because of an older post of his, however, that I recently started tuning in BBC 3 on a sort-of-weekly basis. In particular, there are two programs that caught my attention.

CD Review is exactly what its name suggests: a three-hour program devoted to sampling new classical CD releases. Of particular interest to me is the regular “Building a Library” feature, in which various recordings of the same composition are evaluated. Someone unfamiliar with classical music might be surprised that so much variation exists in the interpretation of a given piece. I include myself in this, as my listening habits tend to be “horizontal” – I prefer a wide range of different compositions, as opposed to a more “vertical” study of multiple recordings of the same piece. (Nonetheless, there are two classical pieces with which I have a more vertical relationship: Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5.) So it is neat to hear a single passage of, say, Mozart studied that closely.

The second of these programs is The Cowan Collection, a more general-interest classical program in which selections by the host and listeners are played. The feature I most appreciate is the opportunity to hear the complete recommended recording recommended on CD Review‘s “Building a Library.”

As a result, I am enjoying Mozart’s Bassoon Concerto in B flat, which I heard for the first time on CD Review a few weeks ago. This isn’t the recommended disc; rather, it’s Philips’ recording of Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martins in the Field, nonetheless a good rendition by a competent conductor of Mozart.

CD Review airs on BBC 3 at 9 am on Saturday, local time; The Cowan Collection at 9 am Sunday. Fortunately both programs can be heard live or later in the week thanks to the magic of the Internet. Sound quality is pretty good, too. Check it out if you have the patience to sit through seven hours of programming.

On an unrelated note, my recent disappointment with Neil Gaiman’s novel American Gods has prompted me to look into an artist who took the old myths more seriously. I have started listening to Wagner’s Ring of the Nibelung, a cycle of four operas – Das Rheingold, Die Walküre, Siegfried, and Die Götterdämmerung – about a ring of power desired by mortals and gods alike. (Gee, sounds an awful lot like a certain other highly regarded, lengthy cycle of stories inspired by mythology.) The local public library has the complete set of the classic recording by Karl Böhm and the Beyreuther Festspiele. Wonderful stuff. But long.

And now . . . this

June 23, 2004

Everyone’s favourite webhead – well, the only one, really – is about to go Hindu:

SPIDERMAN will put on a sarong and fight the bad guys through the rickshaw-clogged streets of Bombay in an Indian version of the US comic classic, according to reports.

Peter Parker, the American who becomes a superhero thanks to a spider bite, will be replaced by Pavitr Prabhakar who gets his crime-fighting powers from a Hindu holy man.

The article adds – oh, no:

He said that if the comic is successful, the company will consider turning it into a movie. Hollywood scored a massive success in 2002 with its film Spiderman featuring Tobey Maguire slinging across the skyscrapers of New York.

[Full Story]

Please no. Fans of bad movies will no doubt recall that Bollywood attempted to do the same thing some years ago, with Superman. The result was, shall we say, less than mindblowing.

Ye gods!

June 22, 2004

American Gods (William Morrow-HarperCollins, 2001) is my first experience with fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, excepting Good Omens, a collaboration with Terry Pratchett. I thought I detected more Pratchett than Gaiman in that novel, but the overall theme of myth-come-to-life is the same in both novels.

Shadow is an ex-con who has spent three years in prison for aggravated assault. The story begins with his release – three days early, because his wife has just been killed in a car accident, along with his best friend, for whom Shadow was going to work. Having nowhere else to go and no other purpose, he accepts work doing odd jobs and facing unspecified risks for a shady, one-eyed old man calling himself Mr. Wednesday who knows more about him than he should.

From here Wednesday and Shadow embark on a road trip through midwestern America – a small town in Wisconsin where nothing bad happens except for the occasional missing child; Chicago, where we meet Wednesday’s friend Mr. Czernobog who used to work at the abbatoir slaughtering cattle with a hammer, and the three Russian sisters all named Zorya; Cairo, Illinois, where Shadow works for a time for Messrs. Ibis and Jacquel, two morticians of Egyptian descent.

As it happens, I live across the river from the province of Quebec. The province is home to some 3,000 “wayside shrines.” These structures mark spiritually significant spots: they mark an event or someone’s territory, or just went up because someone felt like reminding the world that he was a French Catholic and proud of it. They serve as a reminder of the Québecois’ cultural identity. But in Gaiman’s America, it is not the wayside cross or shrine that occupies places of power, it is the “roadside attraction.” “People feel themselves being pulled to places here, in other parts of the world, they would recognize that part of themselves that is truly transcendendent,” Wednesday tells Shadow. But instead they “buy a hot dog and walk around feeling satisfied on a level they cannot truly describe, and profoundly dissatisfied on a level beneath that” (p. 92). Much of the action in American Gods takes place around such spectacles: for example, the House on the Rock, the Geographical Centre of the U.S., and Rock City.

Why is this significant? Because American Gods is a commentary about the loss of spirituality in America. The transcendence of religion is dying out and being replaced with materialism, convenience, and technology. Wayside crosses play second fiddle to gigantic balls of string. For it gradually dawns on Shadow that Wednesday and his friends are gods, and Wednesday himself is, of course, Odin, the Norse All-Father. The old gods came to America at the same time as their followers, but as fewer and fewer people believe in them, they find themselves growing older and having to turn to shadier means to support themselves. Meanwhile, their place in the hearts of Americans is being taken by new gods: Messrs. Stone, Town, and Road, and a fat kid who sounds like he spends an unhealthy amount of time on the Internet. Obviously a war between the old and the new is brewing, and part of Shadow’s job is to travel around with Wednesday and recruit old gods to take on the young upstarts.

With all these gods lining up to do battle, American Gods has the makings of an epic. Admittedly, the story’s premise is intriguing. I believe the principal characters are a bit more well rounded than many of Gaiman’s critics give him credit for – after all, they are gods, right? Aren’t they supposed to move in mysterious ways?

But unfortunately the structure of the novel is its biggest weakness. Gaiman spends far too long setting up the conflict, so the first three-quarters of the book feels like introduction. Apparently Gaiman had some difficulty deciding whether this was supposed to be an epic or a road trip. Frequent interludes tell little vignettes about how the old gods came to America. Some of these are quite interesting. Others are just gross, such as Bilquis, Queen of Sheba, who turns tricks in L.A. and, um, absorbs a customer. Then, when the final battle does come, it’s a bit of a mess, and possibly a little too conveniently resolved – though, to Gaiman’s credit, all the clues to the surprises of the ending were there if you were reading carefully enough.

At least Gaiman didn’t lose my attention. I don’t know whether American Gods is Hugo- or Nebula-worthy, but at least I will probably re-read Good Omens and give one of Gaiman’s own novels another chance.

Rating: 3/5. ***

And now . . . this

June 19, 2004

What do you do when liberal sacred cows start butting heads out in the pasture? From the Associated Press:

Scientists on Friday postponed plans to relocate a killer whale off Canada’s west coast so Indians could spend time with the animal they regard as the reincarnation of their late chief.

“Luna” the whale separated from his pod, or family, and arrived in Notch Sound off British Columbia in 2001 at about the same time the chief of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht tribe died.

[Full Story]

“Save the whales . . . celebrate diversity . . . free animals from captivity . . . respect native traditions . . .” [head explodes]

Major annoyance . . . solved!

June 18, 2004

This is handy, and I discovered it by accident.

I don’t know how many times I’ve wished you could cycle through the tabs in a Mozilla window in the same way as you can through open windows using Alt-Tab. Turns out you can. Cycle left-to right by typing Ctrl-PgDn, or right-to-left with Ctrl-PgUp.

Unlike several other handy Mozilla functions, there isn’t a menu option for this. After all, why would you waste time clicking through menu options when you can just click on the tab? So the user interface doesn’t document this much-appreciated hotkey. It does, however, appear in the Mozilla FAQ.