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vrijdag 30 november 2007

Opening of Nazi archives

After more than 60 years the largest archives containing records of the Nazis have been opened to the public. The International Tracing Service (ITS), located in Bad Arolson, Germany, contains over 50 million records related to the persecution and Endlösung of the more than 17 million people who went through the concentration camp and slave labour system.

The origins of the ITS go back to 1943 with the founding of the Tracing Bureau, charged with the task of tracing and registering missing persons. In 1947, the International Refugee Organization (IRO) took over the Central Tracing Bureau (the "Central" was added in 1944) and gave it its current name. "While preparations were being made in 1954 to revoke Germany’s status as occupied territory, steps were taken to ensure the continued existence of the ITS. The service was to remain under the umbrella of an international commission and would be managed by an entirely neutral institution, the ICRC (International Committee of the Red Cross) in Geneva."

The archives are under the control of the ITS International Commission, comprised of 11 countries (Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Poland, United Kingdom, United States of America), which supervises its work since 1955. Up until now the main objective of the ITS was helping people find what they call DP's (Displaced Persons). The members of the International Commission have now agreed to open up the archives in order to promote historical research, within limitations concerning privacy issues. It is not expected that these records will provide new insights in our understanding of the history of the Holocaust, but it will deepen our knowledge. It will help us to keep the memory alive of the human suffering caused by the delusion of a small group of individuals.

Recently the Simon Wiesenthal Center has launched Operation Last Chance, the final effort to hunt down and capture Nazi war criminals. The campaign offers € 10,000 ($13,000) rewards for information leading to prosecution. It is sometimes very difficult to actually convict someone, because of a lack of good evidence. Maybe the ITS archives can be of assistance here.

On a side note: other interesting sites, among the many on the net about WWII, is the Holocaust History site, the BBC's WWII pages, Poland's Holocaust, and the German Propaganda Archive.

maandag 26 november 2007

Creating a European History Textbook Repository

The CITER project “Creating a European History Textbook Repository” is an eContentplus project funded by the European Commission. "The objective of this project is the creation of a digital European history textbook base by integration of already existing material with the publishers in the respective countries. The integration is achieved by introducing language independent metadata schemata based on space (locations), time (dates), and thematic categories.The specific metadata corpuses defined in this project will be a European thematic ontology for history concepts [and] a multilingual location corpus." "Overall, this project aims at increasing the use of electronic textbooks in a modern classroom scenario. The re-use of content will be increased by using language independent browsing in combination with quality machine translation providing access to foreign language content. Specifically designed educational evaluation scenarios will be used to access the usability in a classroom context, i.e., obtaining a multiperspective view of history but also as a research means for new textbooks." The project will be co-ordinated by the Research Academic Computer Technology Institute, located in Greece.

By adding multilingual metadata through ontologies, CITER will try to integrate history textbook resources with the aim of compiling a European text base and providing language-independent access. Teachers across Europe will have access to the history textbook content based on spatial, temporal and thematic metadata through a web-portal. The repository will provide support to the study of cross-cutting themes in history "by a multiperspective and a comparative approach to the discovery and interpretation of historical facts."

In this way it can become the basis for historical information for students. It will contain the facts and analysis of European history as it is widely accepted by scholars. Besides being an interactive tool that may make the experience of learning more interesting, it will also provide different angles to certain events. The Treaty of Versailles, for instance, did not have the same repercussions for France as for Germany. Both points of view can be presented within the repository.

Adding a multilingual historical metadata can prove to be a problem. Simply translating words is sometimes not enough. Certain events have a different wording in different languages sometimes. E.g. the uprising of the creoles and slaves against the Spanish in Cuba during the second half of the nineteenth century, where the Americans were involved in as well, is called the Spanish (-Cuban) -American War by the US. In Cuba it's named the War of Independance. Once these kinds of obstacles have been tackled, I think it might become a very interesting tool to work with.

vrijdag 23 november 2007

China's underwater museum

The Southern Sea Number One is an 800-year old shipwreck that lies under 24 metres of water and 2 metres of sand and soil. In 2002, archeologists took out more than 6000 items from one small room on the ship, and they expect to find 60 000 to 80 000 more.

They wanted to lift it out of the water, but experts advized against it, for fear the boat might break. Instead of letting it all go to waist, the Guangdong provincial government has now allocated £10 million to building a five hall underwater museum to preserve the wreck. Construction work on the museum is well underway and it is expected to open to the public by the middle of next year. How cool is that! You get to see the wreck the way it has been for ages, with added atmosphere. I hope they will put a glass dome around so that you can see the fish swimming past.

It sometimes amazes me what people can accomplish nowadays. Not even two hundred years ago we were driving carts, now scientists are sending robots to Mars. For centuries thieves were looting King's graves for some quick cash, now we're building museums on the bottom of the sea. Another great feat is the relocation of the Egyptian temples at the Abu Simbel site. They were being threatened by the rise of the Nile, that would follow after the completion of the Aswan High Dam. One of the propositions was to build a museum around the temples and thus leave them underwater. Eventually, the entire site was cut into large blocks, dismantled and reassembled in a new location (65 m higher and 200 m back from the river). It just goes to show that if we put our minds to it, we can accomplish virtually anything. In most cases it's just the willingness to act that is missing.

woensdag 21 november 2007

Quarterlife: life and tribulations of tweeners

Quarterlife is an online series produced directly for the internet, by Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick, the creative team behind My So-Called Life, thirtysomething, Legends of the Fall, and Blood Diamond. It "tells the ongoing stories of six creative people in their twenties. As with their earlier series, at the center of quarterlife is a commitment to realism, the recognition of universal human themes through the truthful depiction of the way young people speak, work, think, love, argue, and just goof around."

The show was originally conceived as a pilot for ABC, but it never got picked up. So, they decided to air it themselves online. The episodes are shown in 7 minute parts every sunday and thursday night, which can be seen on myspace and on the social networking site of the same name.

Only 4 episodes have aired so far, but it seems like a nice concept. Let's just hope that the story keeps up. Here and here are two reviews.

Some history links

For the First World War, or the Great War if you prefer, the English National Archives has created an online exhibition called The First World War, sources for history. It's divided into different parts: an overview, 'Britain and the war', 'the military conflict', 'service records', and 'aftermath'. There is also a timeline, particular 'spotlights on history', and maps. Another exhibit tries to teach kids something about crime and punishment in history through an interactive site with case studies to solve.

An interesting read is the blog WW1: Experiences of an English Soldier. The story of Harry Lamin is being retold by his grandson in the form of the letters that he had send home. As stated on the blog "the letters will be posted exactly 90 years after they were written. William Lamin has another blog where he publishes the "official war diary of the 9th Battalion of York & Lancaster Regiment." For more detailed info on WWI you can check out

The National Archives and Records Administration (USA) has an interesting collection of the Second World War. The NARA has put the images from the donated "Hitler Album" documenting looted art online here. A more general overview of the records they possess, can be found here.

Finally, the British Library has put up an online gallery called Turning the Pages, in which you can leaf through books in their collection that have exquisite miniatures.

dinsdag 20 november 2007

Military Wikipedia

Pieter Branckaerts, a 22 years old Belgian paracommando (sometimes also called special forces) had an accident during a parachute jump. The result was an unwanted resignation from the army. Since, he kept his interest in everything which has to do with the military. Now, five years later, he decided to build a knowledge community. Subsequently he created Milpedia, a wiki with the intent of becoming a complete military encyclopedia. For the moment the site is only in Dutch, but the creator aims to have an English and French version up and running in six months.

Sonny Rollins at the Bozar

Tomorrow 77 years old Jazz legend Sonny Rollins will be performing at the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels (Bozar). In his long career, which started at the age of 11, he has worked with great performers such as Jackie McLean, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Clifford Brown, Max Roach, Philly Joe Jones, John Coltrane, Horace Silver, Art Blakey, and many more. As a virtuoso on the sax, his improvisations have had a profound influence on Jazz music.

Tickets cost between € 45 and € 85. Although it is no doubt worth paying these prices, they're a bit too high for my wallet this close to Christmas. For those of you whose financial situation is better, don't hesitate to go and see him. If you want a taste of his music, click here.

Sonny Rollins - Tenor Madness

On The Road with Sonny documentary

maandag 19 november 2007

The National Security Archive and civil war in Guatemala

On his blog, Reading Archives, Richard J. Cox, professor in Library and Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Information Sciences, talks about an essay concerning the discovery of the archives of the Guatemalan National Police, which documents their role during the civil war (1960-1996), called The Atrocity Files: Deciphering the Archives of Guatemala’s Dirty War.

The author of the article is Kate Doyle, "a Senior Analyst for the National Security Archive in Washington, DC, a non-profit, nongovernmental advocacy group that campaigns for the citizen’s right to know, investigates U.S. national security and foreign policy, and uses the Freedom of Information Act to obtain and publish declassified U.S. documents", who "directs several research projects on U.S. policy in Latin America", including the Guatemala Documentation Project. She tells the story of how the archives were discovered in 2005 and what was done with it afterwards. The Guatemalan government didn't know immediately what to do with it. Support, in the form of funding came from Germany, Holland, Switzerland, and Spain, together with the work of NSA advisors, and consulting from experienced archivist Trudy Peterson. Piece by piece the original structure of the archive is being recreated, so that in the near future they may be researched.

Cox writes that "Doyle’s essay is a stark reminder of the social and political importance of government records." She "makes very clear the importance of such records: “For human-rights investigators the archive was the discovery of a lifetime, the long-abandoned scene of a terrible crime. The effort required to salvage the records and recover the evidence buried in them however, seemed beyond human power. Even more challenging, how could the countless pages be rendered meaningful to the rest of society? Would their opening lead to another symbolic acknowledgement of the brutal past or to a transformation of the country’s history?"

You would wonder why a government would keep track of its crimes. The perpetrators never thought they would get caught, for one. Keeping track of everyone and everything gives a state a certain amount of control over their denizens and documents the importance of certain individuals. Another example of the need of bureaucratic dictatorships to keep the bureaucracy going, can be found in the huge Stasi archives of the former DDR (Germany). The knowledge hidden in these archives can have a kathartic effect on a society. Research will not only point the finger towards guilty parties, it will also acknowledge the secret suffering of those concerned. What has happened can be placed in a historical context, which will help the community to let go of the past. Knowing is understanding.

vrijdag 16 november 2007

Dirty old man

Hammy and I live in an apartment building which is eleven stories high and has four entrances. The only people we see on a more or less regular basis are our neighbors right next to us. It’s an elderly couple. The woman is of the talkative nosey kind, but very friendly. Her husband is also a kind man, albeit a bit difficult to understand. Every time he talks to me I only get half of what he’s saying. His mental faculties aren’t what they used to be. He tends to forget things. In the last five years he’s asked me at least ten times where I come from (I’m not originally from Brussels). When I first moved in, I was living with a friend of mine. I’m sure he thought we were gay. About a year later my buddy moved out and my girlfriend moved in. It took him two years to understand that she’s living with me now.

His favorite subject, by far, is sex. At some point in our limited conversations he brings up some story about some woman he once knew or about girls he’s seen. In general I have no clue what he’s talking about, except that it has something to do with sex. I’m guessing he doesn’t get any nowadays, so whenever he gets the chance to reminisce, he does. That’s all fine by me. In general, our conversations only last five minutes or so, and if it makes the man happy …

They have this little lapdog he takes out twice a day. Yesterday evening when I got home, he was just getting back inside. And then he told me something, which has led me to believe he’s starting to imagine things. He said that he saw a naked woman leave my apartment, carrying a bag. Just to make sure I heard right, I asked “a naked woman”. “Yeah, an American lady, wearing nothing but a nightgown.” At first I thought he was talking about Hammy. When I leave for work in the morning she usually stands at the door wearing a bathrobe, while I wait for the elevator. Sometimes my neighbor sees this if letting out the dog coincides with my morning ritual. But then, he said, the ‘American’ was a sturdy woman. Hammy is quite skinny and petite. On top of that, he ‘saw’ her at 2 or 3 o’clock in the afternoon. With a bag of some sort.

He knows I have a girlfriend, or at least he should know. He knows what she looks like. And now he believes that another woman, an exotic foreigner even, was in my apartment. I’m pretty sure Hammy isn’t a lesbian, nor is she bisexual. So, let’s assume the American was never there. In his head she was though. What probably happened, is this: he has seen Hammy in her bathrobe, his brain isn’t working at top speed anymore and he’s frustrated about being old and a lack of sex. If you mix these elements with wishful thinking, you get a story he would like to believe. Maybe, he thinks I’m living the life he never could. I’m young, educated, for all he knows I’ve got a trendy job where I meet hot chicks all the time. The morals of us youngsters nowadays aren’t the same as those that he grew up in. Everything goes now, especially since we’ve had the sexual revolution of the seventies. All chicks dig other chicks. It’s only natural that we men get to share in the fun. So now I’m living with two women, who’re both exclusively into me, and each other. Yeah. He’s too old to jack off, but that thought alone probably makes him smile inside. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t have access to internet. With the images he could be seeing there, he could imagine a whole new world for himself.

Walloon revolution: much ado about nothing

The newly formed, unknown organization Front Bruxelles-Wallonie Indivisible (FBWI), or Brussels-Wallonia Indivisible Front, has launched an appeal to the French-speaking population in Belgium to stand up against the Flemish oppressor on its website Nouvelle Revolution (New Revolution). The scission of BHV was the last straw. Now the French-speaking Flemish, so to speak, have been deprived of their democratic right to vote. For Walloons that is. No point in us staying together anymore, let's break the country in two.

Up to now, they had two goals to reach. The first one was blocking all the Flemish workers from getting to their jobs in Brussels by blocking the main roads and train stations. This has been postponed. The second goal, was having a manifestation in front of the Flemish Parliament on the 15th of November, which is the King's Feast (a day in honour of the King and monarchy). The national press was there to see what would happen. Well, nothing it seemed. 45 minutes after the official start one guy showed up, who quickly claimed that he didn't have anything to do with the whole thing.

There is only one suitable reply to all this:

woensdag 14 november 2007

End of Belgium?

For the last 150+ days our national representatives have been bickering about the direction our country should take. We still don't have a government. The views of the Flemish politicians are almost the direct opposite of the Walloon politicians.

The two main issues are the division of the constituency Brussel-Halle-Vilvoorde (BHV) and the further federalization of the state. The problem with BHV is different according to the language of the person explaining it. For the Flemish it's about the arrogant intrusion of the French language into Flemish territory. For the Walloons it's about the arrogance of the Flemish wanting to impose a strict language barrier. In short, it's about bullshit (which is the essence of bad politics).

The federalization of the state is another matter. The idea behind it is "what we do ourselves we can do better". At first the Walloons wanted separate communities in order to organize their (then stronger) economy. Now that the tables have turned economically, the Flemish want to divert more national responsibilities to the regional level, e.g. unemployment.

By federalizing more and more, our country is, de facto, heading towards a separation. And that scares the weaker (in money and in numbers) part of the country. Recently the division of BHV was proclaimed by the federal parliament. The Flemish used their numerical majority to force the matter. Although the Walloon politicians denounced the proceedings as a conflict of interest, thus locking it down in a legal process that could last years, they got freaked. It's the first time in Belgian history that the Flemish have used their numerical superiority. A dangerous precedent.

In Flanders there is a lot of talk about the historical and ideological suppression by the Walloons. What I've read in the comments pages on the political crisis in the Walloon magazine Le Vif and the newspaper Le Soir is that they say roughly the same things about us. This made me think about the episode The Party of the sitcom Joey, where his scientist nephew Michael pretends that his neighbour is his girlfriend in an attempt to match his rival Seth, who also pretends to have a girlfriend. At the end of the episode, the moral turns out to be that they both think the other one always "wins" (by getting a new publication, a prestigious scholarship, etc.). This is exactly what's happening in Belgium. Each party thinks the other one always wins. Most of the time a wrong historical perspective is used. Because the Walloons suppressed us 50 years ago, we need to hate them. The Flemish on the other hand "always" get the better deal when there is power to be assigned. My dear Walloons, stop acting like a bitch and take responsibilty for your economic and political situation (e.g. PS, Charleroi). My dear Flemish compatriots, get off your high horse and stop invoking the past. If the Walloons living now are still to be held responsible for what their ancestors did, than all living Germans are still nazis and the Australians are still European criminals. As I said before, I'm fed up with this nonsense, and so is about 70% of the nation according to a recent poll.

The Dutch and the French wouldn't mind if we split up, it seems. Polls showed that about half the Dutch would welcome Flanders into the country, and half of the French wouldn't mind an annexation of Wallonia. Flanders has the extreme-right Vlaams Belang party and the NV-A who state sans gène that they want Flemish independence. The other side of the "border" has FDF and Rassemblement Wallonie-France with the same aim. There are even people calling for a revolution.

Will Belgium cease to exist? Not immediately. As long as initiatives like Save Solidarity, the Petition, Beglium (hehe), a march for solidarity (November 18th), and Belgium Hugs (November 21 - Louvain students' call to come and hug a Walloon/Fleming) can motivate enough people, we're good. Up until now I haven't met anyone willing to take up arms and cause an actual revolution. If this keeps up too long though, we will start to feel the economical repercussions of an instable regime. The only reason we haven't felt them yet, is the fact that we're a part of the eurozone. The old national currency would have devaluated dramatically by now. Plus, we're making an ass of ourselves internationally. Belgium, centre of the European institutions, advocate of the EU, can't keep its shit together.

In conclusion I would just like to say that it's time we stop throwing mud at each other. Especially those who live in a unilingual part of the country. Those who work with Belgians speaking a different language, in general, don't make a big deal out of it. Béatrice Delvaux from Le Soir has put it like this: "We need to open up a new dialogue between all [Belgium's] political parties, revisit and re-invent a form of Belgian federalism that could foster growth and progress in both of the language communities, and handle our differences much more smoothly. For francophones, this would involve taking our destiny in our own hands but it also means developing a much greater spirit of compromise. It also means the Flemings must somehow deal with the extremists and nationalists in their midst. The last word belongs not to myself but to Rik Torfs, a prominent Fleming: 'Don't dig your own graves, you the victors of the elections... Just stop and think what would happen if Flanders at last gained independence. If we Flemish were in effect to shoot our Walloon scapegoat, we and we alone would then become responsible for all our failures.'"

Update: March for Solidarity - 35,000 demonstrate for Belgian unity
Update 2: November 11 there was another event promoting unity called Be-Day for Peace.

zondag 11 november 2007

Funny sex ed for teens: The Midwest Teen Sex Show

With the Midwest Teen Sex Show, Nikol, Britney and Guy are trying to "create a space for frank discussion of all things related to teen sexuality." By using humor and sarcasm they are talking to teens about sexuality. Nikol describes herself as a "former expert practitioner of teen promiscuity", she "lives out her days as a Midwestern mother of three. Her interests range from music, movies, trash television, and naked rodeo clowns with handlebar mustaches to cooking, reading and naked rodeo clowns with handlebar mustaches." They're are not trying to replace traditional sex education at school or to promote teen sex. "The Midwest Teen Sex Show is here to provide sex information in a clear and entertaining way. We won’t pretend to be experts, but hopefully a few of our own embarrassing experiences and insights will keep you out of trouble."

I'm sure that people with a broomstick up their ass will take offense, but at least they're giving a more positive message than those crazy abstinence preachers (like Purity Balls, Silver Ring Thing and True Love Waits) and other sexually repressed hypocrites (like Larry Craig, Ted Haggard and Newt Gingrich).

Here is the first episode: Female Masturbation

vrijdag 9 november 2007

Discovery of unique papyrus codex

The Gallo-Roman Museum in Tongeren has discovered in its collection the most complete book made of papyrus of North-Western Europe. It is a unique piece because it dates from the 10th century, during which time papyrus had been replaced by parchment (even in Egypt it wasn't used anymore).

The book had already been found in the 1930s together with fragments of Roman wood and leather. Because the item didn't look all that special and wasn't numbered (and thus not a part of an inventory) it stayed there until last year. Staff of the museum thought that it looked like papyrus, but they didn't think that was very likely since papyrus has hardly been preserved in Europe. Research done by an expert on the matter, professor Clarysse of the Catholic University of Louvain, confirmed their suspicions.

Given the importance of the find, preliminary investigations were done by the Royal Institute for the Study and Conservation of Belgium's Artistic Heritage, KIK-IRPA. At first it was thought the artefact stemmed from the Roman period. The KIK-IRPA however dated it between 880 and 990 AD. Further research is now needed to determine the contents of the book. The leaflets have been compressed through time to almost a solid block. The painstaking task of pealing them off must be undertaken. Apparently only one page can be "freed" per day.

woensdag 7 november 2007

Funky Israel: The Apples

While checking Reck's myspace if there were any new tracks (I know he's working on some stuff), I saw a post about a band playing at Club Bugalu called The Apples, "a 9-piece band hailing from Israel, weaving traditional Jewish klezmer and big band jazz into raw funk rhythm patterns and scratch routines. The band has developed an eclectic approach on funk, playing with four horns, two djs, double bass, drums and a MixMonster. The album 'Attention!' for Freestyle Records got them onto the international deepfunk circuit, their fresh version of Rage Against The Machine's "Killing in the name of..." becoming a long running gig favourite. The Apples live performances have audiences dancing and laughing from the get go!"

From what I've heard on their site and myspace page, I think that live they could very well rock. They'll be playing in Belgium the 9th and 10th of November. Unfortunately I can't go, but let's hope they'll come back in the near future.

Legia: forum for studies of the Iron Age in Belgium

Legia is a non-profit organization that should start its official activities today, with the intent of becoming a multidsciplinary forum for studies of the Iron Age. The aim is to further the knowledge of the peoples that inhabited Europe, and Flanders in particular, by becoming a place where scholars and researchers with different academic backgrounds can meet to share their knowledge and experience.

Although our ancestors have an interesting story to tell, a lot of research into our history before the arrival of the Romans hasn't been done. In the high school history class we are taught how the Greeks, Persians and Romans lived, but apart from Julius Caesar's Horum omnium fortissimi sunt Belgae (the Belgae were the bravest of all the inhabitants of Gaul) we know practically nothing about the Belgae (or Old Belgians). In order to change this, Legia will set up a open air laboratory for experimental archeology, where empirical programmes based on historical and scientific research, will be set up.

The project will be based on three pillars: information, education and recreation. The public will be informed at regular intervals by the website, presentations and publications in an easily understandable language. To keep the educational process fun, a historical journey will be prepared on the site by means of re-enactment and living history.

dinsdag 6 november 2007

Terry Pratchett's minor stroke

"I meant," said Ipslore bitterly, "what is there in this world that truly makes living worthwhile?" Death thought about it. "Cats," he said eventually. "Cats are nice."

Terry Pratchett, writer of the Discworld series, has had a stroke in August. "Symptoms include weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, confusion and difficulties with speech and vision. But, like many people, Terry did not realise that some strokes, classified as mini strokes, might last only minutes and produce less extensive symptoms, which are often put down to other causes. Tests revealed his stroke had been the result of a cerebral thrombosis — a blood clot that causes a blockage in the artery to the brain, killing off brain cells." Luckily it did not affect the part of his brain that he needs to be creative.

For those who don't know the Discworld: The world, which is a disc naturally, travels through space on the backs of four elephants that stand on the back of a giant turtle named Great A'Tuin. It looks something like this or this. It is a world filled with magic, but mostly with a lot of humor. Like the Tolkien novels, the setting isn't more than that: a setting in which a story is being told. That's also where the analogy between the two authors ends. The writings of Pratchett are mostly witty and satirical, full of references to literature, world events and (pop) culture. I would urge anyone to read one of his books. If you like fantasy, the world he has invented is rich and filled with colorful characters; if you don't, there's more going on than wizards, witches, trolls, librarians, assassins, and Death (with his horse Binky and the Death of Rats as companions).

Anyway, I'm very pleased that this stroke was only minor, and I hope that he will be around for some time and keeps churning out books. For more info, check out LSpace (and its Wiki), his profile at Bebo, the site of his American publisher, Discworld Monthly Newsletter, and the Guild of Fans and Disciples (GOFAD).

maandag 5 november 2007

MEMRI: bringing the Arab world closer to the West or US/Israeli propaganda?

For those of you who would like to get a glimpse of what is being talked about in the press of the Middle East the website of the Middle Eastern Media Research Institute (MEMRI) gives you that chance. "Founded in February 1998 to inform the debate over U.S. policy in the Middle East, MEMRI is an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit, 501 (c)3 organization." "MEMRI bridges the language gap which exists between the West and the Middle East, providing timely translations of Arabic, Persian, and Turkish media, as well as original analysis of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends in the Middle East."

On their site you can find written translations of selected newsitems and interviews, as well as subtitled fragments of television shows and newsreports (on MEMRITV). Besides this, analysis and special reports of political, ideological, intellectual, social, cultural, and religious trends are being offered. A division is provided so that you can browse by subject matter or country. Translations have been made in English, French, German, Hebrew, Spanish and Japanese. In addition, companion blogs have been created for more specific subjects: economy, Turkish media, Arab music, movies and literature, and a general news blog.

Next to the general media coverage, MEMRI also keeps an eye open for islamist extremists with the Islamist Websites Monitor Project. Along the same lines, but more in order to inform the public that not all muslisms are terrorist maniacs, and that those who are, interpret the Qu'ran only in a way that suits their political needs, Terrorism Has No Religion has put up a campaign. They want to "expose the fallacy of the distorted and politicized Islamic teachings used by ungodly extremists to sanctify and justify terrorism.It has become crucial to inform the Muslim and Arab people - particularly the Iraqi people - about the deceptions terrorists employ in distorting the peaceful teachings of Islam. These terrorists, who claim to follow the Islamic Faith, are in truth only drowning in an abyss of mistaken beliefs."

There has been some criticism on the institute. Some claim that in fact MEMRI is, in fact, mere propaganda, aimed at putting the Arab world in a bad light. Only newsitems that give Muslims a negative image are being shown and gross "mistakes" in translations are known to be made. An example of a distortion of reality can be found in the story of Mr. Finkelstein, an outspoken critic of Israeli policies and the U.S. pro-Israel lobby: "In 2006, he gave a TV interview in Lebanon on the way the Nazi Holocaust is used to silence critics of Israel. Finkelstein later wrote on his Web site: “MEMRI recently posted what it alleged was an interview I did with Lebanese television on the Nazi Holocaust. The MEMRI posting was designed to prove that I was a Holocaust denier.” Far from being a Holocaust denier, Finkelstein’s own parents were Holocaust survivors, a fact he has often spoken about. But MEMRI was able to create the opposite impression, as Finkelstein demonstrated on his Web site, by editing out large chunks of the actual interview. When some comments by the moderator were included, it appeared that Finkelstein’s interview was about nitpicking the number of Jews who died in the Holocaust rather than about Israel/Palestine."

More insight can be found in its founders: Yigal Carmon is a reserve colonel in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), who served as acting head of the civil administration in the West Bank from 1977 to 1982, counterterrorism adviser to premiers Shamir and Menachem Begin from 1988 to 1993, and senior member of the Israeli delegation to peace negotiations with Syria in Madrid and Washington. Meyrav Wurmser, "an Israeli-born analyst of Mideast affairs, ... who has taught at Johns Hopkins University and the U.S. Naval Academy, is a central figure in the right-wing's web of Middle East policy institutes."

All of the above has led critics to believe that MEMRI's sole object is to disseminate negative images of the Arab world, and provide a justification of the American and Israeli actions in the Middle East. In response to these allegations Carmon replied: "You are right: we do have an agenda. As an institute of research, we want MEMRI to present translations to people who wish to be informed on the ideas circulating in the Middle East. We aim to reflect reality. If knowledge of this reality should benefit one side or another, then so be it." But, "Whatever the agenda, the research has to be scientific." "Memri has never claimed to 'represent the view of the Arabic media', but rather to reflect, through our translations, general trends which are widespread and topical."

I'll let you decide for yourselves what you think of this initiative. However it can not be denied that some of the ideas propagated by religious nuts in that area (and everywhere else in the world of course) are disconcerting (e.g. the children's show Pioneers of Tomorrow, don't indoctrinate kids, let them figure it out for themselves). I, for one, am glad that there exists a site like this, because I don't understand Arabic and at least part of the information on the Arab world that doesn't come from the regular media can be found there. Nonetheless, it is important to remain critical. There is a whole lot of internet out there, meaning it is a good thing not to base your opinion on only one source of information. Apart from CNN and BBC there are also the English version of Al-Jazeera, Middle-East Online and Arab Media (to state the obvious), and specifically for our subject: MEMRI Watch ("a small collective of translators and analysts who are bothered by the output of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) for various reasons. ... Our primary concern will be to highlight instances of mistranslation and doctoring, as well as address the wider strategy of MEMRI, which is in line with its unwritten agenda. Thus we aim to balance the discussion, rather than engaging in a full and balanced discussion.").

About women, this guy is right though ;-):

donderdag 1 november 2007

WBC fined $10.9 billion

A soldier's father didn't take kindly to the "protests" of the Phelpses at his sons' funeral. He took the Westboro Baptist Church to court. Naturally the WBC argued that they are protected by the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution. The jury at the Baltimore courthouse thought otherwise and fined them with $10.9 billion. Since this is an amount the WBC will never be able to pay, it has more to do with sending a clear message than getting financial compensation for the mental anguish that they have caused. The WBC didn't get the message. They will appeal to a higher court and don't intend to give up. Luckily, the families of the fallen soldiers get some help from the Patriot Guard Riders, a loose collective of bikers which has taken it on itself to "shield the mourning family and their friends from interruptions created by any protestor or group of protestors." In my opinion, the only sensible thing to do is to lock these maniacs up in a nature (or religious fanatics') reserve and charge visitors to go and look at them. Maybe throw some peanuts. Or to put it in other words: "Funeral Protesters may indeed have the right to free speech. They may indeed have the ability to say what they want, when they want and where they want. They may also be the most vile and despicable people on the face of the Earth...and some people have just had enough of it."