Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Justice Dept. gets it right

Nashala Hearn will get support from the federal government in her fight to wear her hijab to school.

The Benjamin Franklin Science Academy in Muskogee, Okla., made a dress code against hats, caps, bandannas or jacket hoods inside school buildings.

It's school administrators' inability to make any distinction between a baseball cap and a hijab or between wearing pink and wearing gang colors or between having a bread knife in the back of a pickup truck and threatening to shoot someone that makes them look like clowns and jokers.

"No student should be forced to choose between following her faith and enjoying the benefits of a public education," said Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights Alex Acosta.

That's right.

Blogging advice

Salon blogger Dave Pollard tells what it takes to build a blog in "The Top Five Ways to Improve Your Blog" and "The Five Top Ways to Attract More Attention to It."

Here are the tips for improvement, stripped of their explanatory material:
  1. Provide something unique
  2. Provide something valuable
  3. Be first
  4. Do your research
  5. Learn to write very well

The key is to give the reader something to take away. Maybe from somewhere else on the net, but he says don't forget about sources off the net (real people, print publications, documents and so forth).

And here are the attention-getters:
  1. Use other media to pull people to your blog
  2. Write, at least sometimes, about "hot" topics
  3. Make a great first impression
  4. Learn by studying who's reading what, and what works
  5. Get outside more

Blogging can teach a lot about marketing--what people want to read and how to tell them about it--at a level of experience that would take years in print publishing.

The page is a treasure chest of links. He's done a Blogging Table of Contents with more, more, more. Pollard's articles on blogging are the best I've run across.

He also links to a University of Southern Mississippi site called the 39 steps with practical info about writing stories--both fiction and nonfiction.

Big thank you to Douglas for posting the link.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

This is what bloggers do

that changes the way people look at the world.

Jeff Goldstein has taken an annoying but otherwise colorless bit of school idiocy and lifted the gauze veil of news-speak from it, revealing it in all its PINK hilarity.

Canadian blogger Kate at Small Dead Animals, who frequently does the same thing, turned me on to this guy.

'What is a friend anyway?'

Ze Frank asks this question along with other penetrating observations in his online video "small world" that satirizes online "friends" networks.

He raises good questions about exclusivity and how friends prove themselves. But don't miss his summary of the book of Esther.

(People of delicate sensibilties about language should probably give it a miss.)

Source: Boing Boing

Monday, March 29, 2004

Hope in Kosovo?

Here's some good news on Kosovo. I received the story by e-mail and can't find it on its sponsoring site:

We need surgical intervention; the time of voodoo doctors and deception in Kosovo is over

A meeting between the NATO commander for Southern Europe, Admiral Gregory G. Johnson, and Fr. Sava Janjic of Visoki Decani Monastery, who represented the Diocese of Raska-Prizren and Kosovo-Metohija in the absence of Bishop Artemije, took place today in Gracanica Monastery. In an extended conversation, they agreed that the situation in Kosovo and Metohija is complex and difficult, and Admiral Johnson expressed determination to establish values leading to an improvement of the situation.

In a brief statement for KIM Radio in Caglavica, Admiral Johnson emphasized that he and Fr. Sava had "a good discussion on the events of the past 10 days and the horrible tragedies that occurred here. We both spoke of a common wish to turn this tragedy into a new opportunity to work on the process of reconciliation in which Kosovo will become a model where every individual citizen, regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation, sex or race, will live in an environment where he wil have the opportunity to realize his potential."

Fr. Sava told KIM Radio and the ERP KIM Info Service that he feels "somewhat encouraged after the conversation with Admiral Johnson who expressed his deep regret for the tragic events in Kosovo last week." Fr. Sava emphasized that the Serb community and Church have been saying for years that the situation is bad and that UNMIK is deceiving the public and submitting false reports regarding the situation in Kosovo."

"In Admiral Johnson I saw a determination and decisiveness that I have not yet seen in a NATO representative or politician so far. I only hope that this line of thinking will prevail and that everyone will come to understand that problems in Kosovo cannot be resolved by pretending that the nightmare that happened here is over. I hope that capable surgeons will finally intervene and lance the wound of Kosovo, and that its treatment will be entrusted to competent surgeons, not voodoo doctors. A cancerous wound cannot be healed with aspirin and bandaids but by radical surgical intervention."

"It is now completely clear to everyone that this is a cancerous growth that can be resolved only through surgery. All the necessary tests need to be done, the diagnosis made, and then the growth must be surgically extracted in order for convalescence to begin, that is, a political process of reconciliation but only with those who are truly prepared to build a European civil society and committed to multiethnic society."

"Democracy cannot be be built on institutions which in critical moments remain speechless or incite violence, politicians who lack the most rudimentary sense of political accountability, and so-called multiethnic Kosovo institutions resting on foundations that are rotten. Serbs cannot participate in such institutions because that would be equal to collective suicide. Especially disappointing is the fact that a large part of the Kosovo Police Service (KPS), which was seen as an epitome of international success and multiethnicity, directly participated in the riots, orchestrating the ethnic Albanian violence and carrying out the ethnic cleansing of the Serb population, especially in Obilic and Lipljan but elsewhere, too. The rest of the KPS remained loyal to UNMIK and some police officers were even wounded defending Serb homes and churches.

"Dialogue can take place only with people who have a civilized view of society because a European future cannot be built by digging up graves, burning down churches, mutilating the face of Our Lord Jesus Christ on medieval frescoes and icons, and trampling the values that represent the foundation of European civilization. The Kosovo Albanians must understand this just like all the other Balkan peoples understand it, must understand it."

"Today Prizren looks more like Afghanistan than a part of Europe. If we continue on the same road, Kosovo will isolate itself from Europe and the civilized world forever. It's time for a decisive change of strategy and methods."

"I am convinced that NATO's role here is very significant and I sincerely believe that in the coming days we will be able to see whether these words will be transformed into deeds or whether the international community will continue its previous policy of covering up reality and persisting in an impotent political process."

"Kosovo Albanians might attempt to continue systematic destruction of the Christian Orthodox heritage in Kosovo, but they must be aware that in the flames and ashes of our churches, holy icons, frescoes and relics, their chances of joining the cultured and civilized democratic world will burn out too," Fr. Sava said.

"We resolutely ask that Serbs be enabled to return to their homes; that destroyed and damaged houses be repaired; we ask the return of our brotherhoods and sisterhoods (particularly of the Holy Archangels and Devic) to their holy shrines where they will live in temporary prefabricated homes until their shrines are fully rebuilt. It is NATO's responsibility to ensure this can happen. If we see it happening, we will know that we are going in the right direction. We must not allow extremists to achieve their goal by making their return impossible. This is a serious test for the NATO credibility and authority in the Province."

"While the cultural community of the United States admires the art of Byzantium and some of the most beautiful works of Serbian medieval art in an exhibition at New York's Metropolitan Museum, the greatest holy shrines of Orthodox art are perishing here.

"That is why I gave Admiral Johnson a piece of the burned engraved crucifix from the destroyed church in Pristina. It is a burned angel to remind him of what transpired here. We both expressed hope that the good will prevail over the evil and that the evil must not be allowed to triumph and achieve its goals by crimes and vandalism."

"I am certain that burned angel will be a meaningful token that will remind Admiral Johnson of everything we discussed needs to be implemented as soon as possible," Fr. Sava concluded in his statement for Radio KIM and the ERP KIM Info Service after the meeting in Gracanica.

In the photo above, Fr. Sava shows Admiral Johnson the destroyed churches of Prizren and desecrated tomb of St. Ionnachius of Devic. "German KFOR allowed the Albanians to destroy centuries of Christian culture in one night," Fr. Sava said, "and failed to protect a single church; they stood and watched and snapped photos of the burning of Holy Archangels Monastery. It's inexcusable and KFOR commander Kammerhoff and his colonel Hintelmann are directly responsible; they will be remembered in history books as accomplices in the destruction of centuries of Christian culture and civilization."

What's all this about Romanians?

I know a few Romanians here in Portland. They're normal, decent people who make delicious cabbage rolls and a polenta that will knock your socks off. But over the past year or so, I've read two horror novels (don't ask) in which the "monster" is Romanian.

I thought, "Ha ha--likely story," and since then have begun running across news stories like this one: Villagers dig up, 'kill' vampire corpses.

What is this? Are these like American snake-handlers--weird and few and held up for news interest?

Are they the same people who created these churches?

What does it all mean?

Mother Maria Skobtsova

Our priest gave a sermon yesterday on Mother Maria Skobtsova, cigarette-smoking nun, poet, former Bolshevik and martyr of the Nazi yoke.

When she became a nun, her bishop gave her a unique charge: that the world would be her monastery. She opened her home to every sort of poverty--hunger, alcoholism, mental illness, disease. When the Nazis took over Paris, Mother Maria and her partner in ministry, Fr. Dimitri Klepinin, worked to save as many Jews as they could. Fr. Keplinin would issue baptismal certificates; Mother Maria would hide the Jews until they could escape.

When the Nazis came to her home to demand where the Jews were, Mother Maria took them to her chapel and showed them the icons of Christ and the Theotokos.

Mother Maria said that Naziism "represented a 'new paganism' bringing in its wake disasters, upheavals, persecutions and wars. It was evil unveiled, the 'contaminator of all springs and wells.' The so-called 'master race' was 'led by a madman who needs a straightjacket and should be placed in a cork-lined room so that his bestial wailing will not disturb the world at large,'" Jim Forest writes in a brief biography.

It's an inspiring story, and she's a wonderful character. Somebody should write a screenplay about her.

Here's a link to Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

Kursk Root Icon of Our Lady of the Sign

Fellow blogger Douglas tells me that the Kursk Root Icon of Our Lady of the Sign is on display in Minneapolis-St. Paul.

I've been Orthodox 14 years this Pascha, but I've spent my life in a remote backwater of the Orthodox world and have never been to see a pilgrim icon. The Stroganoff Exhibit at the Portland Art Museum doesn't count, because at an art museum, you look at art; you don't interact with the the saints. So the whole idea of going to see an icon, as if it were a visiting theologian, is remote from my experience, though in my head I understand it.

The central figures in the icon are the Theotokos (the Virgin Mary) and Jesus. That configuration is called The Lady of the Sign because it emphasizes the miracle of Christ's Incarnation, harkens back to "A Virgin shall bear a Son, Emmanuel," points to the hymnography asking, "How can you bear your Creator in your womb?" and illustrates that Mary kept Jesus in her heart, in the sense that Evangelicals use that expression. The surrounding figues are of Old Testament prophets, and the one at the top, I fear, is an image of God the Father. Church canons forbid making images of the Father, because He can't be seen, but sometimes people's devotion outstrips their attention to Church canons.

The covering of gold and silver was added centuries after the icon was found in 1295 at the root of a tree near Kursk, Russia, during the Tatar invasions.

Here is a detailed history of the icon. I don't know if this one dates from 1295 or if it's one of the copies made and lost over the centuries. That's a detail that matters more to art dealers than to Orthodox Christians. For example, there's a story of a Russian woman who went to a famous holy spring to bring water for her sick friend (or mother or someone). Along the way, she gave the water to a thirsty beggar and refilled the bottle from another source. The friend recovered, even though it wasn't the "original" water.

The Kursk Root Icon of Our Lady of the Sign has been in the Russian disaspora since the Russian Revolution, traveling from place to place around America and elsewhere. It seems to be on a last "tour" of the United States, before it's returned to Riga, Latvia.

If the truth be told, though, I'm happy at my own parish, with this icon (12 feet in diameter), by very much contemporary Heather MacKean, above my head and my own community around me.

UPDATE: Fellow Orthoblogger Karl took advantage of an opportunity to venerate the Kursk Root icon when it came to Oregon. He says, "Miracle working icons are a pledge, a sign of that which is both already in our midst but also yet to come--the total transfiguration and recreation of everything in Christ."

Saturday, March 27, 2004

More on Serbia and Kosovo Blog has a lot of good material on Serbia and Kosovo.

Arab Christians in America

Elesha Coffman has a good piece in Christianity Today Magazine about the opportunities and challenges of Arab Christians in America. A lot of Americans don't realize that most Arab-Americans are Christian; they assume they're all Muslim.

The reality, though, is that it's the religious minorities who are more likely to leave their home country, and most of the Russians in Portland are Evangelical, and most of the Arabs in America are Christian of one variety or another.

(Oh, yeah, and most of the guys wearing turbans are Sikhs, neither Muslim nor Christian.)

Dumb as fish

I've got a lot of stuff to do today, but I want to report my favorite line from the Akathist Hymn last evening:

"Eloquent orators we see dumb as the fishes in thy presence, O Theotokos, . . . ." It goes on to make profound theological points, but I loved the part about their being "dumb as the fishes."

Friday, March 26, 2004

Those funeral directors and morticians are funny guys

Harper's Magazine gives a helpful list of "theme funerals" ("staging areas") for that loved one whose identity was something outside himself.

Was he a pilot? Rent a hangar at the local airport and have local pilots fly out of the hangar and line up their planes in order of the age of the craft.

Banker? "Rent a local bank or use your local branch. Set up on the officers' side of the building, and make sure the window blinds are closed. Still gives the family some privacy."

Go-cart enthusiast? "Only during the spring and summer, after closing hours. Excellent viewing location. The visiting family and friends use go-carts. Dress the loved one in a car-racing suit."

Couch potato? "Loved one is laid out near a La-Z-Boy lounger, with television, remote control, and faux cigar in the ashtray."

But why stop at Wal-Mart or the zoo? A mystery buff could be laid out in the study in a faux crime scene, with tape marking the floor beneath him. Guests could portray detectives, crossing police tape for the viewing.

For a swimmer, rent the local pool and put in the swimmer in a dead-man's float. Have a poolside barbecue for the guests.

For an Out West setting, lean the loved one back in a chair with his feet on the table, his hat pulled over his eyes and a royal flush (ace of spades high) in his hand. Guests could toss "bets" on the table as they go to the bar for whiskey.

Anybody else want to play?

I picked this up from Maud Newton.

Lena's back

Lena, the Chernobyl ghost town biker, has brought up her site again with more pictures, sharper design, and the same eerie and compelling story. The photo shown here is cropped down from one of hers.

I picked this up from The Politburo Diktat.

Kosovo roundup

People who believe that terrorism should be treated as acts of crime, not war, seem to be getting a test case in Kosovo, as the UN begins to round up the usual suspects.

UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is "shocked and outraged" by recent killings of UN personnel and police.

Vecernje Novosti (not online) reports that the Serbian parliament has a resolution supported by all the caucus whips that if the international community doesn't do anything about Kosovo, Serbian security forces will.

Cantonization of Kosovo is being hotly debated, with people arguing that it is the only way of creating security for minorities and that it will not create security.

In the meantime, Serbia begins to catch up with the Albanians, Croats and Bosnian Muslims in understanding that justice from the U.S. costs big bucks.

Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo Albanians together paid Rudder and Fin nearly $1 million during the first six months of 1993. Kosovo Albanians have paid the firm another $1.2 million in recent years ang were willing to go up to $10 to $15 million.
As Leon Smith of 'PR World' says for 'Blic' it happens very frequently that governments, especially of developing countries are faced with impossible choice. Representatives of PR agencies are offering to such governments their expensive services. If the offer is accepted then there will be only several letters of support published in American media. If they refuse, however, then all doors are being closed. Mr. Smith is dealing with the work of lobbyist companies in Washington.

I reproduce this quote from the Yugoslav publication Blic Online because it sounds entirely possible, but the truth is, I can't find "Leon Smith" or "PR World" on the net, so my only secondary source is my own "Spidey sense." It might be a translation problem, or . . . .

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Shameless plug for The Blackbird's Nest

My friend Jenny Schroedel's new book is out from St Vladmir's Seminary Press.

The Blackbird's Nest is the story of St. Kevin, who spent Lent like a tree, holding up a blackbird's nest. I've read earlier versions of the story--haven't seen this one yet--and it's funny and charming and inspiring.

Jenny is a heck of a writer, and you should all go out and buy ten or twelve copies for your kids, nieces and nephews, grandkids, godchildren or the little brats that live down the street. If you don't have any kids, order at least one for yourself.

This gets her the notice, but you can order it directly from St. Vlad's.

I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog.

Letter to Colin Powell

I heard snippets of Madeleine Albright's testimony to the 9-11 commission yesterday, and as far as I could tell, when she listed the "plans" the Clinton Administration had "left in place" for the Bush Administration, the word "Kosovo" never came up.

Having committed NATO and the UN and several thousand U.S. troops to watch a boil fester in the Balkans seems like a "plan" "left in place" for the next administration to deal with.

As far as I can tell, the Bush Administration hasn't. I dunno. Maybe they've been busy. But since our adolescent president wrecked the family car in the former Yugoslavia, it does seem that it's up the the grown-ups to pay off the damage. (It might be nice to ground the adolescent for a few years and take away his car keys, but we don't do that to ex-presidents.)

The Serbian Unity Congress has written a letter to Colin Powell. It's a good letter, and I hope he takes it to heart.

Here are their recommendations:

Specific Objectives for Achieving Long-Term Stability in the Serbian Province of Kosovo & Metohija

  1. Guarantee security
    • Halt immediately all ongoing violence.
    • Guarantee freedom of movement:
      1. Checkpoints around non-Albanian enclaves
      2. Robust protection of patrimonial sites and sacral objects
      3. Escorts for general travel through province
      4. Full protection for agricultural enterprises
      5. Security in integrated/mixed communities
    • True and comprehensive demilitarization of all paramilitary forces (specifically, KPC) and armed civilians.

  2. Reversal of ethnic cleansing during UNMIK administration
    • Return of all refugees to sustainable conditions of safe habitation.
    • Rebuilding of all churches, homes and infrastructure.
    • Reparations for all damage to private and community property.
    • End discriminatory practices in employment and other social spheres

  3. Accountability and justice
    • Enforcement of the rule of law.
    • Decriminalization: investigation, indictments (at the level of the Hague War Crimes Tribunal), trials and convictions of perpetrators of all ethnically motivated crimes (crimes against humanity, acts of terrorism and general violations of human rights) committed during UNMIK administration and the armed conflicts that preceded it - actual perpetrators as well as political leadership.
    • Resolution of all unresolved ethnically motivated abductions.
    • Establishment of an independent and objective judiciary system.

The above objectives can be achieved only with mechanisms capable of providing:
  1. Effective monitoring of compliance
  2. Enforcement of administrative accountability
  3. Implementation tracking with defined milestones and timeframes

These recommendations seem like a reasonable beginning to me.

As much as we are occupied by the Middle East, we need to remember that the Balkans have long served as the gate between the Eastern invaders and Europe. The invaders now are arguably more barbaric than the Ottomans, and Europeans would be wise to remember how lucky they were that the Ottomans stopped at Venice in the 17th century.

It would be a shame to see centuries of art and architecture in Italy, Greece, France and England follow the great Buddhas in Afghanistan and the churches of Kosovo into piles of rubble. People are more important than buildings, but our heritage is important, as the barbarian invaders know quite well.

Fellowship of St. Caedmon

Andrew Stephen Damick tells why I became Orthodox in "Notes towards a Definition of Orthodox Christian English Literature," for the Fellowship of St. Caedmon.

It sounds weird, maybe heretical, even to me, converting on the basis of a literary theory--a literary theory I have never heard so well summarized till now.

Damick captures the literary side of Alexander Schmemann's For the Life of the World, that there's no division between "the spiritual life" and "real life," that divisions along the lines of "spiritual" vs. "material," "sacred" vs. "profane," and "supernatural" vs. "natural" are based on asking the wrong questions.

Damick writes:
Christ’s incarnation made real the possibility of our salvation, and . . . He even took part in a religious and cultural life. Our Lord’s time on this Earth did not solely include prayer and meditation on the truth of God. Rather, it was a time of active engagement in and with culture . . . . It is this incarnational approach to faith that . . . is at the heart of our desire to do literary work as Orthodox Christians. Let us therefore fill every moment with a culture transfigured by the Gospel, whether it be in icons, chant and Holy Mystery or in literature, cooking and child-rearing.

The idea that every human pursuit can be made holy and life-giving is the rebuttal to the internal Taleban, which demands that every action have some measurable impact for the Kingdom. Nobody ever fulfills those demands (probably not even of the physical Taleban, backed up with lashings and beheadings), but its unrealistic requirements lead to self-deception and hypocrisy more often than they lead to a disciplined and productive life.

Schmemann says, "The world is a fallen world because it has fallen away from the awareness that God is all in all. . . . And even the religion of this fallen world cannot heal or redeem it, for it has accepted the reduction of God to an area called 'sacred' . . . -- as opposed to the world as 'profane.'"

It makes sense, then, that in the search for an Orthodox aesthetic, we don't make "Orthodox" literature yet another small ghetto separated from the wide "profane" world:
With all this in mind, I would suggest that we as Orthodox Christian students of literature avoid two things. First, we should avoid the creation of an Orthodox niche for the market to take into its commercial grasp. . . .

We do not have to try to "make" our work Orthodox. It should flow out of and be informed by the mind of the Church, to be sure, but we should not try to make it distinctly Orthodox by making sure that we include enough Easternisms other such things to distinguish it from other Christian art or even from art in general.

Literature will flow out of and be informed by the mind of the Church to the extent that it is true and to the extent that the artist is informed by the mind of the Church--that is in the meaning and mode of the writing. In the meaning, because non-Orthodox, non-Christians, non-believers frequently observer big truths about "life, the universe and everything."

It's why in the ancient world pre-Christian philosophers were sometimes painted in the narthex--or entryway--of the churches, because, in pointing to realities beyond what they had been taught, they led people to the Kingdom.

Last Sunday, a friend and I were talking about portrayals of Christ in the movies: she knew someone who had been led toward faith by The Last Temptation of Christ, and I recalled that Jesus Christ, Superstar had the same effect on me. I wouldn't take a middle-school religion class to see either movie, but sometimes these seeds of Truth travel in surprising carriers.

Faith will inform the mode of the work to the extent that the artist has structured his internal life around the seasons and Liturgy of the Church. Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is a good example of that, as he structures his action-adventure Passion Play on the Via Dolorosa. But as Damick says, an "Orthodox" structure has to fit the work like a skeleton in a body, or it will be hybrid monster. It may take time for the artist to acquire the inner conversion, and the artist's works may show this structure without the artist's being aware of it.

The second thing for avoidance . . . is ideological theories of literature. . . . The last thing we as Orthodox Christians need is yet another rationalistic theory of literature, and even more dangerous for us is the formation of ideology. . . . Our life in Christ is not a systematized series of rational models and dialectics machined to logical perfection. Down that way lies our enemy of totalitarianism.

Yes, because it eliminates the possibility of either the human or the Holy Spirit's involvement in the artistic process--with all the messiness and surprise those partnerships entail.

Since we're not codifying "Orthodox" literature according to an ideology, Damick says, "Therefore, from Chaucer to Sidney to Shakespeare to Herbert to Coleridge to Keats to Whitman to Eliot to Lewis to Tolkien, let us revel in the beauty and truth which are available throughout all times in English literature."

I would make a parallel list: Chaucer, Mallory, Shakespeare, Fielding, Austen, Shelley (Mary), Mark Twain, Faulkner, Vikram Seth. We're on parallel lanes of the same highway, because where poetry puts its main emphasis on image at the level of phrase and line, ficton builds image at the level of myth and character interaction. Each has its own superiorities, but the remarkable artists are the ones on both lists.

Another essential element of our incarnational faith is that its working out proceeds from and within community. . . . It is also manifestly the case that language itself assumes a relationship. . . . Language has inherent to it the quality of creating connection and communion between persons.

One of the marks of our individualistic culture is how often people forget this simple truth, especially young writers who have been trained that writing is "self-expression," as if without community there is any "self" to "express." These errors get a natural correction, though, as readers adopt the time-honored response of throwing the book against a wall.

The Church’s sanctification of culture does not proceed from a sensibility of replacement, eradicating previous culture and supplanting it. Rather, the Church saturates a culture, transfiguring it and baptizing all things within it, purifying and sanctifying the whole of it. . . . We are all called to be the priests of God’s creation, taking that which He gives us and offering it back up to God as a sacrifice. He sanctifies it and returns it to us, filled with Himself. Our work as writers and readers is nothing less than this common priestly vocation. We therefore seek to participate in God’s sanctification of the English language, bringing it to Him for His blessing and then with it openly proclaiming the Incarnation to all.

A frequent prayer in the Orthodox Church is one to the Holy Spirit: O Heavenly King, the Comforter, the Spirit of Truth: You are everywhere present, filling all things . . . ." Recognizing that reality can make a grocery list luminous.

The Fellowship of St. Caedmon is a new group, still laying its groundwork. It has 18 members by my count, including some names I've seen on bookshelves and in the blogosphere. When I think about the number of people interested in literary topics even in our small local Orthodox community (Oregon tends to be a fairly literary state), it seems that there's a lot of room for the fellowship to grow, and being on the 'Net, it's already international. The organizers are giving us the opportunity to see what unique perspectives Orthodoxy can bring to the literary pursuits.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

More about the destruction in Kosovo

I happen to have received photos of the cathedral described in this fine Associated Press story in the Northwest Alabama Times Daily.

Here are a few quotes from the story with photos of the items they refer to:
[Bishop Atanasije] then softly placed two fingers on the image of Virgin Mary in the soot-covered fresco. But his visit to the cathedral to assess the damage would last but four minutes: a U.N. police officer acting as his bodyguard, a semiautomatic shotgun at the ready, hustled him away, shouting, "It's not safe! It's not safe!"
. . . .
Among the province's many treasures was the Holy Virgin of Ljevis Cathedral, which is located just down the street from the U.N. administration's offices. Mobs transformed the brick structure into a gutted hulk.

Of particular note was a fresco of Jesus Christ, said Father Sava, a spokesman for the Orthodox Church in Kosovo, who wept upon learning that flames, smoke and soot left only a vague image on the wall.

"The church meant so very much," he said. "In France there is Notre Dame ... but for us that was the Holy Virgin of Ljevis Cathedral."

Father Sava said that Serbs who remained in Prizren after the war have left for good now, and the only people visiting the wrecked structures this week were ethnic Albanians curious about what damage had been done.

The article has a photo worth seeing of the skeleton of the church with its burned frescoes.

Do you know where your bank's old hard disks are?

You don't have to be a geek to realize the implications of this little problem: A lot of people, including financial institutions, are putting used hard drives on the market without really erasing the data.
Much of the data we found was truly shocking. One of the drives once lived in an ATM. It contained a year's worth of financial transactions--including account numbers and withdrawal amounts--from a organization that had a legal requirement to not divulge such information. Two other drives contained more than 5,000 credit card numbers--it looked as if one had been inside a cash register. Another had e-mail and personal financial records of a 45-year-old fellow in Georgia. The man is divorced, paying child support and dating a woman he met in Savannah. And, oh yeah, he's really into pornography.

These people are lucky that their disks were picked up by Simpson Garfinkel, writing for CSO magazine. He's been buying up hard disks off the dusty shelves of computer shops for $5 apiece, buying them in bulk from E-Bay. He says that only about 10 percent of the drives he bought had been properly sanitized.

Just erasing a disk doesn't do it, at least not for true techies, of whom there must be at least a few nefarious types. Wiping the data means overwriting it with random information--programs are available at prices from free to $1,000--or running it through a metal shredder.

I hope my bank is listening.

I picked this up from BoingBoing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Atrocity inflation

At Pensate Omnia, Seraphim provides links documenting the atrocity inflation practiced by the Albanians in Kosovo.

The estimates start at 500,000 Albanian Kosovars missing or dead; then drops to 100,000. Oops, make that 10,000, no, 11,000. Wait, it's 2,000, really. Oh, uh, 187. Make that 379 people killed and 135 of them Serbs, 145 Albanians, 99 unknown ethnicity. And that was up through the end of the war to save the Albanians from the marauding Serbs.

I think they've got a bridge over the Danube they'd be willing to sell, too.

Question of the Day

Beta News Agency in Belgrade reports that Czech diplomat Jiri Dienstbier is saying that the West must dispel its illusions about the Albanians. Writing in the daily Lidove Novini, he said that NATO fell into a trap by bombing Yugoslavia, especially by allowing the Kosovo Liberation Army to get itself into place and form its organizations before the international forces were set up.

"Western representatives have a hard time understanding that the elections they've organized, the institutions they've formed, the laws that they've passed or allowed to be adopted by provisional officals do not ensure democracy if real power is left in the hands of terrorists," writes the former UN envoy for human rights in former Yugoslavia.

As early as the summer of 1999, he said, when he asked the KFOR commander why Serbs were being evacuated to Serbia instead of being provided with security guarantees in Kosovo, the commander replied, "We have to be realists."

"Representatives of Kosovo Albanians are rejecting everything that might bring independence into question," Dienstbier said. "The extremists want to see the unification of all Albanians. It was only a question of time when they would provoke a conflict to obstruct reconciliation efforts and the return of one quarter of a million refugees, as well as expelling the remaining Serbs from Kosovo," emphasized Dienstbier.

He believes that the only hope for peace is cantonization of Kosovo.

"The illusions of the Albanians must be dispelled that their rights will be realized by changing European borders. It is unlikely that the Security Council would permit this without an agreement between Belgrade and Pristina," he said.

The prize-winning question: "If NATO and UN can't defeat terrorism in an area the size of one-eighth of the Czech Republic, how do they expect to confront global terrorism?"

This explains a lot

Joe Strupp at Editor & Publisher relates how The Onion almost won a Pulitzer for its 9-11 coverage:
The longtime editor of The Philadelphia Daily News was on the committee choosing finalists in the commentary category in 2002 when a submission from The Onion, the irreverent humor newspaper, came before the group.

"As it went around the table, you could see that people were blown away by this work," Stalberg said about the entry, which included the paper's mock Sept. 11 coverage. "But it was a little too different, a little too risky. I voted to make it a finalist, but nobody else did."

I've got two reactions to this wonderful piece of news.

First, this may explain why so many "mainstream news" stories seem to have come from The Onion. See for example this piece from The Scotsman, and here's another picked amost at random from today's news: "Journalist's Arrest Sparks Cage Protest."

The other thing is that this may give hope to our collecting a Pulitzer for our coverage at The Onion Dome, where our Intrepid Editor will likely post this week's in-depth and hard-biting news coverage this evening sometime. Miss it at your peril.

If we do get nominated for a Pulitzer, I'll be sure you let you know.

I picked this up from Maud Newton.

Would a sympathy card do?

It's a nice idea: Holkeri demands that Kosovo leaders condemn violence
The head of the United Nations Interim Administration in Kosovo (UNMIK), former Finnish Prime Minister Harri Holkeri, has called on the political leaders of Kosovo to denounce the violence of recent weeks, and to help bring the guilty to justice.

But he sounds like a high-school principal:
"I have heard many explanations for the events, but something was left unsaid. Violence was not condemned."
Holkeri also said that he is sure that the Albanian leaders know more about the events of recent days than they have let on.

What next? Suspend them for a week? Make them pick up garbage in the cafeteria?

No wonder UNMIK is so toothless.

Here's a piece from the same publication from about a year ago, when Holkeri took on the job: Harri Holkeri faces big challenges in new Kosovo post (I think that headline falls into the "No sh*t" category).

The article says that the three prior UN administrators didn't last a year (note that it's only be about a year thus far for Holkeri). Holkeri's predecessor, Michael Steiner from Germany, said, "A year and a half in Kosovo sank deep into my bones. At difficult times I would often listen to Mozart's Requiem." He sank his career there when he lost his temper with German soldiers and demanded caviar in Moscow. At the end of his time in Kosovo, he said he happy to be going back to Germany where he could attend the theatre and concerts swim in an indoor swimming pool.

I wonder if Holkeri is looking forward to a swim in an indoor swimming pool.

Monday, March 22, 2004

Nikolas Gvosdev on Kosovo

Here's a good piece about Kosovo in National Review Online

Nikolaus Gvosdev makes a couple of significant observations:
Two sad lessons have been communicated. The first is that NATO countries have placed such a high value on "no-casualty" missions that aggressive and effective peacekeeping — including disarming militias, hunting down war criminals and combating organized crime and terrorist groups — takes a back seat to "not stirring things up." Even if the deployment of additional U.S. and British forces this week to Kosovo calms things down, we simply return to the pre-March 2004 status quo.

The second is that ethnic cleansing still works as a strategy, despite all the West's moralizing. Throughout the region, there has been a clear logic at work: When an ethnic community that forms an overall minority in a country wants to purse self-determination, it finds it useful to establish itself as the absolute majority in the territory in question. The Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh, the Abkhaz, and the Turkish Cypriots all found it politically expedient to push out residents of the titular majority (Azeris, Georgians, Greek Cypriots, respectively) to bolster their case for separation.

He also points out what's at stake--and it's not just a little province in a corner of the world where nobody can pronounce the names of the countries:
In Iraq and in Kosovo and elsewhere, the United States has made promises about providing peace and security. Extremists and terrorists everywhere are challenging America's commitment to seeing its promises through. And others are watching to see how our resolve holds up.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Bad news for brainiacs (or wanna-bes)

Brain scientist Barry L. Beyerstein breaks the bad news in "Do we really use only 10 percent of our brains?"
All told, the foregoing suggests that there is no cerebral spare tire waiting to be mounted in service of one's grade point average, job advancement, or the pursuit of a cure for cancer or the Great American Novel.


I picked this up from

Is peace possible?

Here in Oregon, 1840 is a long time ago.
In the Balkans, recorded history fades into the mist in the third and fourth centuries.

This article from St. Vladimir's Seminary Quarterly is posted on the website of the Serbian Orthodox Diocese of Raska and Prizren.

Prof. Veselin Kesich says:
Yet the destruction, hostility and killing of the last decade of the twentieth century should not obscure the era of peaceful and constructive contacts between Serbs (Kosovci) and Albanians (Kosovars). Both are rooted in the land of Kosovo and share the cultural, religious, and emotional attachment to this region, so rich in history and symbolism. Each nationality claims rights to the same piece of land. The purpose of this article is to explore some important historical links between these two distinct ethnic groups, with particular emphasis upon the place and meaning of Kosovo in the history of the Serbian church.

Prof. Kesich discusses the mischief caused by the Ottomans, the Austro-Hungarians, the Nazis and Italian Fascists and Communists, followed by Tito, Milosevich and the breakup of the multi-ethnic Yugoslavia in the 1990s. He acknowledges the suffering of the Kosovo Albanians under Milosevich and details a new role for the Serbian Orthodox Church, coming out of the shadows of irrelevance imputed to it by Milosevich and predecessors:
From the start of the civil war, the church stood in defense of human rights for the persecuted minorities and raised its voice against the folly of the ethnic leaders, particularly against the government of Milosevic in Belgrade. In May 1992, The Council of Bishops of the Serbian church issued a proclamation, confronting the years of forced silence. It first reminded the secular authorities and the faithful that the church had been the victim both of the Nazi occupation and of Communist terror. The post-war leaders had written their own history of the war, lying about their role as well as about the activities and intentions of their opponents. After referring to the recent past, the Council of Bishops in this document turned to the activities of the ruling party in Serbia under the leadership of Slobodan Milosevic. For the first time it criticized the neo-Communist system now installed in Serbia. Now styled the "Socialist" Party, the structure and organs remained those of the old Communist system. The bishops recognized that there was now a multiparty system in Serbia and some freedom of expression, but warned that in reality there has been no democratic development or sharing of responsibility. The Serbian ruling party still exercises restraints on church activities and influence, and, by excluding it from the schools, does not allow the church to assume the place it claims in Serbian society.

He ends with a story from Rebecca West:
Suffering such as the people of Kosovo are enduring calls out for a search for meaning. Meaningless suffering is truly unbearable. Rebecca West, in that epic of our own time, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon, describes a Montenegrin woman she met while walking in the high mountains. The woman had lost her husband, son and daughter during World War I. "I am walking about to try to understand why all this happened," she went on. "If I had to live, why should my life have been like this?" The author experienced a shock of revelation. "She was the answer to my doubts," wrote Rebecca West.

She took her destiny not as the beasts take it, nor as the plants and trees; she not only suffered it, she examined it. As the sword swept down on her through the darkness she threw out her hand and caught the blade as it fell, not caring if she cut her fingers, so long as she could question its substance, where it had been forged, and who was the wielder.

Deeply and traditionally Christian, this representative of an earlier generation transmits the religious culture as truly as the monuments and the poetry of medieval Kosovo. The question remains whether this treasure of traditional faith can still give meaning to the sufferers of Kosovo today.

It's a long piece about a long history, but useful in understanding where the people of the Balkans -- and we who have chosen to meddle in their destiny -- need to go if we're to see these people living in harmony again.

Seven basic plots

I've always wondered about the seven basic plots. John Leary lists and describes them here:
1. Man v (Wo)man
2. Man v Nature
3. Man v Environment
4. Man v Machine
5. Man v The Supernatural
6. Man v Self
7. Man v God

The distinction between "nature" and "environment" may not be clear, and their descriptions give a taste of his approach:

Man v Nature:
Wash the car and it rains. Go outside without an umbrella and it rains. Try to have a little vegetable garden in that fenced-off part of the backyard, and the plants get attacked by snails and crows, and then it never rains. Pissed off, you open the refrigerator and a Bengal tiger jumps out. You wrestle it to the death and have a beer. A homebrew you made from plants you gathered around the neighborhood.

Man v Environment:
 A man eats too much fast food and the growth hormones the hamburger-cattle eat cause him to grow enormous breasts. He wants to open a dry cleaning business in his backyard but the neighbors prevent him because he can’t figure out how to dispose of the cleaning chemicals without infecting the ecosystem. He tries to grow a lawn and his neighbors all offer conflicting advice, so he ends up with the only front yard on the street covered in brown stains. He paints the trim on his garage a brick-red color and one of his neighbors comments that the color looks “like a monkey’s ass.”  One of the neighbor’s kids, a five year old boy, stands in his front yard in his underwear holding his ears, jumping up and down and screaming, for several hours a day. No one seems to complain. Zoning laws can be so arbitrary, so fickle. The man applies for a permit to open a muffler repair shop and the permit board turns him down. Some days, he just wants to cry. This story never has a happy ending. Either the man goes mad and hops up and down on his front lawn holding his ears and screaming, or he becomes just like the neighbors. Exactly like them, down to their fatty white teeth.

I picked this up from Maud Newton.

Saturday, March 20, 2004

Here's why

In a comment on yesterday's Kosovo post, Havdala
reports this conversation:
Woman 1: The Serbs are fascists, right? This all started because they were trying to ethnically cleanse the other ones, what are they again?

Woman 2: Albanians.

Woman 1: That's right, Albanians. So now they're getting a taste of their own medicine.

Some people won't care until they can't leave the house without a burka. It's amazing to think that Yugoslavia was once nearly as popular as Spain for British tourists, now to listen to people you'd think it was Mars.

I can tell you exactly how that happens with an article from my own local newsrag, The Oregonian.

Here is the link to the LA Times story. It's biased enough, as you'll see, but the Oregonian makes it worse.

The Times headlines the story: "NATO Deploying More Troops as Kosovo Violence Continues"; the Oregonian: "NATO increases forces in Kosovo to end ethnic fighting." Notice that "violence" (which could be one-sided) becomes "fighting," which is two-sided.

The lead:
NATO sent more troops to Kosovo as violence flared Thursday for a second day and the United Nations struggled with the reality that five years of international intervention and billions of dollars in aid have not calmed the hatred between Serbs and ethnic Albanians.

Notice whose "hatred" gets named first here. Just in case you haven't gotten the message, the Oregonian includes a large photo of one of two mosques destroyed in Serbia to protest the Albanian destruction of more than 100 Orthodox churches over the past five years. Just to reiterate, it was also wrong to burn the mosque, but if there's only one photo, they pick the one that represents reality as they see it, or as they want to present it. This is how the Oregonian displays its "truth."

After a nod to the fact that Serb churches were burned and "NATO forces evacuated dozens of Serbs as homes smoldered across Kosovo," the newspapers helpfully inform us:
Kosovo's majority 1.9 million ethnic Albanians are demanding independence and are angry over what they view as occupation by NATO forces -- a dynamic that led to the attacks against Serb villages and the torching of at least one U.N. vehicle.

It's the Palestinian situation. They're frustrated at the "occupation," and that "led to" the attacks against Serb villages.

Balkans "expert" Florian Bieber adds, "There's a considerable degree of frustration among ethnic Albanians toward the United Nations. The ethnic Albanians see a failure of getting independence. There's a great feeling of being let down." They're not trying to evict the Serbs and wipe out every vestige of Serbian culture. They're trying to get independence. Of course.

Kofi Annan, a follower of "the glass is not smashed to bits; it's half-full" school of state-building, said, "It shows that despite the progress that has been made since 1999, we have not come far enough." Here's the progress:
The unrest comes as Serbs throughout the region are bitter about high unemployment and disillusioned with the West, which they say rarely sympathizes with their problems and unfairly charges their politicians with war crimes. Nationalist Serbian political parties made gains in recent elections, and the violence in Kosovo -- where Serbs compose only 10% of the population -- could spark a revival of the kind of hate that roiled the Balkans throughout the 1990s.

High unemployment could be related to the fact that only Albanians are allowed to work in Kosovo; in fact, for any Serb to seen outside the "enclaves" is punishable by death. It's not "official," but the Albanians in control simply haven't pursued the perpetrators of the thousands of attacks against citizens of Kosovoover the past five years, which include murders and missing-person reports.

Which, in turn, puts the "Serbs compose only 10% of the population" into perspective. Albanians were a majority before the war, but 200,000 Serbs were driven out already, leaving these 80,000 to await their fate.
Many Serbs say the burning of mosques could incite Islamic extremists such as the Al Qaeda terrorist network and prevent the former Yugoslavia from eventually joining the European Union. But Serbs are also loath to relinquish Kosovo, which they consider sacred land where centuries ago their ancestors fought Turkish invaders.

When Patriarch Pavle spoke out against burning mosques, he said nothing about inciting extremists or any worries about joining the European Union. Since members of the EU have been among those standing watch over the destruction of Serbia and Kosovo, I wonder that they would even want to join, but that's their decision. All the same, the news piece makes them seem more interested in these external outcomes than in maintaining human rights.

Second point in a tightly packed paragraph, those Serbs are "loath to relinquish Kosovo . . . ." There is no reason to relinquish Kosovo. No one has bought it from them. The United States bombed the crap out of Serbia but hasn't yet taken away this piece of property. It has historical value to Serbia, even though it has a majority of non-Serbian residents. What if the non-Anglo majority of southern California decided to "return" San Diego through LA to Mexico? What if they decided to accomplish their goal through murder and mayhem? (I don't accuse the Hispanics of southern California of such a plan, but they have as much reason as the Kosovo Albanians have.)
"We are not fighting the Muslims. This is not a religious war," said Tomislav Nikolic, deputy leader of the ultra-right Serbian Radical Party, who condemned the mosque fires. He added that Serbs in Kosovo were "not attacked by Muslims but by the worst breed of terrorists."

Here's a Serb trying to calm Serb anger over Albanian atrocities. Why the gratuitous zinger that he's the leader of the ultra-right Serbian Radical Party? These left-right labels don't translate very well from country to country anyway, and the writers haven't bothered to give us the context for this particular label: economic?, military?, some other? or their own? We'll never know.
Ethnic clashes were less fierce Thursday, but a spate of church fires dotted Kosovo as NATO troops -- firing rubber bullets and tear gas -- were unable to deter ethnic Albanian arsonists. There also was an unconfirmed report of grenades fired at an Orthodox Church in the town of Lipljan.

There are those rascally "ethnic clashes" again; it sounds like Fords and Chevys hitting each other on the freeway. A telling detail, though, is that NATO troops were firing rubber bullets and tear gas. That may explain why they're not having any effect on the Albanian arsonists. And it's an "unconfirmed report of grenades fired" on a church: Maybe that report is unconfirmed, but there are plenty of confirmed reports if the reporters are looking around.
The Oregonian piece ends with this paragraph:
"The escalating violence in Kosovo must end," U.S. State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said. "It threatens the process of democratization and reconciliation."

The Oregonian leaves out this tiresome background information from the wire story:
The trouble began Wednesday when fighting broke out in several towns amid unsubstantiated rumors that Serbs in a village near Kosovska Mitrovica set a dog on three Albanian boys who fled into a river and drowned. A day earlier, a Serb man was killed in a drive-by shooting.

Most of Kosovo's Serbs -- whose population has fallen to about 100,000 from 200,000 before the war -- live sequestered in the north of the province.

The violence arrived a week before the fifth anniversary of the NATO war against then-Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic. Since then, the United Nations has helped build an autonomous democratic government in Kosovo.

But sporadic violence, organized crime and nationalist tendencies have prevented Serbs and ethnic Albanians from successfully integrating. The U.N. is blamed by ethnic Albanians for not granting Kosovo independence, and by Serbs for not protecting villagers from attacks.

Kostunica said the ethnic Albanian attacks were an organized attempt to chase Serbs from Kosovo.

"An attempted pogrom was carried out against the Serbian population," said the prime minister, alluding to policies used against European Jews in the early 20th century. "What has happened has a scope of attempted ethnic cleansing and hallmarks of something that several years ago was called humanitarian catastrophe."

The lax attitude of the United Nations "towards ethnic Albanian violence in the past several months is the core of the problem," said Dusan Janjic, director of the Belgrade-based Forum for Ethnic Relations.

"The violence now is only being directed against Serbs. But soon it will be turned towards the U.N., the real target of the Albanians. Their aim is to make the U.N. either leave or make huge concessions to the Albanian side."

I know that newspapers frequently can't run the entire text of a story, but when it's so loaded from the beginning, and then they cut the entire context, it's inexcusable.

Greg at Gregorian Rants reports a telling exchange:
Granted, I could have read more, but I think I'd read enough to be troubled by the simplistic attitudes I heard expressed towards the situation in the Balkans at that weird summit I attended in London a few years ago. Listening to George Robertson, Geoff Hoon, Wes Clark, Socrates Kokkalis, and especially CNN's Christian Amanpour I was horrified by their black-and-white statements about what had happened in Yugoslavia. Particularly offensive was Amanpour's offhand observation that in conflict situations there's always a bad guy, and the job of the journalist is to identify that villain; in the case of Yugoslavia the villain was clearly 'the Serbs'. That's insane. Journalists have a job to report on what's happening, not to impose a false order on the bloody reality by labelling people heroes and villains. That's turning it into a story; life is usually more complicated than that.

Is it any wonder that people are turning way from newsherd outlets and to the Internet, where they can easily find out what Pravda says and what Serbian News says, what a guy they never met saw at a journalists' summit in London, then compare and contrast CNN USA and CNN International, Associated Press and Reuters, and the story in the daily rag and the wire story it was based on.

Friday, March 19, 2004

USA Today says reporter faked major stories

Another shocking development from the pack: USA Today says reporter faked major stories: "Hotel, phone or other records contradicted Kelley's explanations of how he reported stories from Egypt, Russia, Chechnya, Kosovo, Yugoslavia, Cuba and Pakistan, the newspaper said."

Emphasis added.

Nice coincidence that this guy is outed now, don't you think?

Troops ride into Kosovo, but is it too late?

If you want to know what's going on in Kosovo, ask Reuters. CNN International is only good for fisking.

You can read the whole CNN article and never learn that the violence is being done to the Serbs by the Albanians that NATO and the UN put in charge. CNN calls the aggressors "protesters," which connotes people who disagree with what the party in power is doing. No, the "protesters" in Kosovo are the ones in power. Only in Reuters do we this helpful paragraph:
NATO has squarely blamed Albanians for the latest violence, which some see as a bid to clean up territory ahead of negotiations on Kosovo's final status and possible partition.

I'm not going to waste any more time on CNN except to note that the term "enclaves" sounds like a place people want to live. In fact, they might be better termed "holding cells" where Serbs who have lived their whole lives in Kosovo live under house arrest in protective custody. Here's Reuters again:
In the immediate aftermath, Albanian revenge attacks, arson, killing, abduction and intimidation drove 200,000 Serbs out of Kosovo. But 80,000-100,000 stayed on, many in north Mitrovica but many others in enclaves surrounded by Albanian communities.

In fact, the Albanians' forceful removal of the Serbs continued throughout the period, unnoticed by most of the world.

Taking the radical step of getting real news instead of merely asking the press pool, The Scotsman reports:
But in a sign that the outbreak of violence could have been planned, Serb enclaves in the towns of Caglavica and Gracanica, as well as villages elsewhere, were also attacked. A senior international United Nations police official said: "The situation is not under control. This is planned, co-ordinated, one-way violence from the Albanians against the Serbs. It is spreading and has been brewing for the past week.

"Nothing in Kosovo happens spontaneously."

Crowds had begun gathering at both ends of the Ibar crossing in Kosovska Mitrovica in mid-morning, after Albanian media reported that Albanian boys aged nine and 12 had drowned in the river near the town.

The reports quoted a survivor as saying they had been chased into the water by a gang of Serb youths taking revenge for the near-fatal shooting of a Serb teenager in Caglavica, a village near the capital, Pristina.

UN police confirmed they had found two bodies in the river and were looking for a third boy. A spokesman said it was unclear how they had died and expressed shock that the media had rushed to judgment.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer has done good news work on the issue over the past few years, including this editorial in today's paper that sums up the blame and politics and prospects better than I could:
By letting ethnic extremists operate with impunity, U.N. overseers in Kosovo have encouraged the province's most violent and unscrupulous elements to think they can achieve an independent, all-Albanian homeland through murder and intimidation. They've also radicalized Serbs to think the rules will always be stacked against them and that the world is determined to deny them justice, even in the province they consider the cradle of their nation.

In the middle of all this comes the horrible news that mosques in Belgrade have been burned. The acts are as foolish (destroying any international sympathy that may be accruing in Kosovo) as they are misguided (the Muslims in Belgrade are likely to be the ones who were also chased out of Kosovo for being too "moderate") as they are evil. As it has from the beginning of the conflict in the early '90s, the Serbian Orthodox Church calls for a cessation of the violence, including that caused by its own people:
We also call upon on Albanians in Kosovo and Metohija and upon their leaders to stop this insanity, for their own sake as well as for the sake of their future. We remind them and also ourselves of the all-human experience, that violence, injustice and hatred have never brought any good to anyone. Finally, we call upon all of our people that they in these extremely difficult times double their fasting and prayer for their salvation and redemption, for peace among us and all over the world. We should not allow ourselves, for the sake of any interest of this world, to commit anything that would be unworthy of the People of God, anything inhuman. During this turbulent time one should avoid any form of senseless and foolish revenge, such as that which certain imprudent persons committed against mosques in Belgrade and that in Nish. We should defend ourselves from evil and evil-doers, but not in an inhuman way or that, God forbid, we commit an evil or brutal deed in the way of evil-doers. O Lord, help all, and also us and our enemies, as peace, freedom and justice are necessary for all, both for us and for all peoples and nations.

Here's a news source: B92 News from Serbia and Montenegro. (There are some people who say that nothing Serbs say about the situation can be true. Several months ago, when I was telling someone I know about the developments in Serbia, he informed me that my opinion had no standing because I was Orthodox. Anyone who is waiting for the KLA to tell the truth or take a stand against violence will wait a lot longer than for the Serbs to do the same thing.) It seems that NATO forces are finally turning their guns against the aggressors.

Balkanalysis has a good backgrounder on the situation.

Hat tip to bloggers Chrysostom, Karl, Seraphim and Huw for comments and links.

OK, I've gone on and on about this, and I should shut up and do something useful. But I've got two more things to say.

Thing one: What happened to the Albanians in Kosovo before the war was wrong. The conduct of the war and the "peace" that followed it have made the situation worse, not better, but the media-savvy KLA and the complicit and lazy newsherd made the Serbs into such a byword of evil that no one has listened to their cries for help for years. Maybe this tragedy will wake people up.

Thing two: If you want to know what would happen in the Middle East if Israel is defanged and Arafat and his ilk take power, look at Kosovo. If you want to know what will happen in Iraq if the UN administrates it, look at Kosovo. If you want to see the world that would be created if Al-Qaida and its allies have their way, look at Kosovo.

I've got a little blog here, and not many people read it every day, but this is what I can do to get the word out. What can you do?

UPDATE: Here's a very good piece by Gregory Copley in Defense & Foreign Affairs Daily. I can't get a direct link, but go here and search for Gregory R. Copley.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

Abbott and Costello do voice recognition

Catherine Jamieson has a hilarious post this morning titled "I said 'SUCKS', you stupid thing!" in which an offhand remark of frustration turns into "Abbott and Costello meet Robert Heinlein."

Kosovo in flames

Many on both left and right see Kosovo as Clinton's "good little war," but once it was over, most people turned to other interests. Maybe this piece will wake people up, but perhaps not: this story makes it sound like the Serbs caused this attack. In other circles that's called "blaming the victim"; but apparently it's OK in some situations.

CNN says, "NATO is sending peacekeeping units from Bosnia to Kosovo, which is experiencing the worst spate of violence since the end of the ethnic war there five years ago." I don't know where CNN has been sleeping, but violence has been going on more or less unabated since the end of the war.

A 1999 report from Amnesty International says, "Murder, abductions, violent attacks, intimidation, and house burning are being perpetrated on a daily basis." The same article adds:
Amnesty International is also concerned that the UN mission and KFOR appear reluctant to take steps to bring to justice members of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) and the Kosovo Protection Corps who commit human rights abuses such as unlawful detentions, beatings or evictions. At present there is no effective sanction for crimes committed in Kosovo.

Here's an Agence France Presse report about recent events in an online newspaper from Singapore. It's not so loaded toward the "both sides must end the violence" of U.S. media outlets. In the Washington Times, Kofi Annan is quoted as "called for an end to a new round of violence that has flared up in Kosovo between Albanians and Serbs." I don't like to overdo Holocaust similes, but that really is like someone in 1939 asking for "an end to the violence that flared up between the Nazis and the Jews."

Since 1999, the Albanian victors have evicted Serbs, Roma and moderate Albanians from the province. They made the Serbian language illegal; it is unsafe for a Serb to be seen on the street outside enclaves protected by outside military forces. Serbs have no access to jobs, hospitals or public schools or protection from the government from any depredation that might be visited upon them by their Al-Qaida-trained overlords. Further, the Albanians have been working to remove every vestige of a Kosovo's history and culture. Crucified Kosovo has "before" and "after" photos of 76 churches, along with the name of the country supposed to be protecting them. That's 76 churches in a province the size of Belgium.

In February, Bishop Artimije of Kosovo visited the United States in an effort to get national leaders to look at the problem. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette covered a speech he made at a local parish. He said:
The Serbian government reports that since the war ended in June 1999 there have been about 6,500 attacks against civilians in Kosovo -- 200 of them against ethnic Albanians -- resulting in 1,200 Serbian and 110 Albanian deaths. Artemije's report to Washington says that progress in Kosovo cannot be solely measured by the safety of the Albanians.

"While it is true that many hospitals have been restored, Serbs cannot seek treatment in them; numerous roads have been paved but Serbs lack the freedom to travel on them; tens of thousands of homes have been renovated but only about 100 of them are owned by Serbs. After the war, all mosques were repaired and many new ones built while over 100 Serbian churches still lie in ruins and not one has been reconstructed," he wrote.

Bishop Artimije arranged refuge in monasteries for Albanian Muslims threatened by Serb extremists before the war began. One of those, the 14th-century Decani Monastery is now under attack.

UPDATE: Havdala at Doves and Pomegranates has more to add on the subject, including this link to the Diocese of Raska and Prizren for some graphic photos as well as a lot of links to information about this sparsely covered atrocity, committed under the watchful eye of U.S. and European troops.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

'Anything, Mr. Frenkel'

Teresa Nielsen Hayden tells a great story on her blog, Making Light: It seems that Tor editor Jim Frenkel was approached at a convention by an attractive young lady, who said, "Golly, Mr. Frenkel, I'd do anything to be a published author."



"Then write me a good book."

I love it. Writing a good book is much harder than "anything," but it's also more possible.


This picture means that I've taken off the html training wheels and I'm riding my little blogger bicycle all the way to New York City by myself!

The photo is of a fountain titled the Triumph of Good over Evil outside a cathedral off Broadway. I was on sensory overload and don't remember the name of the cathedral or the street, but I loved the fountain. (I hope someone will straighten out my NYC geography.)

A few minutes later, my friend Barbara and I were walking toward the subway when we passed a couple of black men going in our direction. One was pushing the other in a wheelchair. As we passed them, we overheard one say to the other, "God said, 'I'm going to smite your bad ass.'"

Barbara and I looked at each other and came up with the same reaction: it was probably pretty close to Ezekiel's message.

Great post at Small Dead Animals

Kate at Small Dead Animals blogged yesterday about "Anti-Semitism, Overt and Covert." Her topic is timely, the message important and profound, but she communicated it by an effective technique of interlacing public news with a private conversation with a friend.

I'm not going to quote it, because it's only by reading the whole thing that you catch the rising tension as the two stories tighten around each other.

Good blogging is ultimately good writing, but I love to see the genre develop, as people find new ways to make the universal particular and the particular universal.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

What to do with the body in Lenin's tomb?

So what do you do with a dead body that's been lying around unburied for the better part of a century?

That's what the Russians are trying to figure out . It seems that some people want to give him a Christian burial. Probably some people want to leave him in Red Square as a historical piece. I suspect that others want to throw him in a hole like the one the last tsar and his family landed in, but it's probably not on their better days--nor mine, since I'm the only one who mentioned it.

It seems that "a Russian Orthodox spokesman has called for Lenin's body to be removed from its mausoleum in Moscow's Red Square and reburied according to Christian rites." It's an ironic suggestion for a man who launched the Soviet Union's first attack on the Church: "In 1918 the church lost all its legal rights, including the right to own property. [Patriarch] Tikhon initially resisted, excommunicating the 'open or disguised enemies of Christ' (without naming the government specifically), but persecution soon overwhelmed him. His official position during the civil war was neutrality, though this did not stop the state from subjecting the church to bloody terror--or from employing an even craftier tactic."

Lenin started the "Living Church," more loyal to the Soviet authorities than to Christ, which probably would be quite comfortable among some congregations today. The Russian Orthodox eventually rejected it, but it caused confusion throughout the Orthodox diaspora. A Portland legend is that a Living Church priest was sent to our parish, and the babushki chased him away with umbrellas. Like a lot of these stories, it's probably truer in the gist than in the details, but when I grow up to be a babushka, I want one of those Russian power umbrellas.

Since Lenin's death in 1924, generations of Russian embalmers have maintained his body in an "incorrupt" state in a glass box. During the days of the Soviet Union, people used to visit the site by the thousands. When I was in Moscow in 1995, I didn't see a long line waiting to get in, but I passed on the chance to see it myself--it felt like principle at the time; perhaps it was squeamishness.

But the symbolism would not have been lost on a people with a thousand years of saints. On the same trip, I stood in a long line to venerate the relics of St. Sergius of Radonezh at the Holy Trinity Monastery in Sergeiev Posad, and even with the incense clouding the chapel, the relics themselves smelled like flowers.

Christian Century tells the story that soon after Lenin's death, a sewage leak flooded the original wooden mausoleum. Patriarch Tikhon (later himself martyred) said: "For relics such as these--an appropriate oil."

In the meantime, what to do with someone responsible for the martyrdom of thousands, much of the confusion and chaos that exists in the Orthodox world today, and who was held up in a Soviet imitation of a saint just a stone's throw from St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square?

I know a Russian woman, now in her 80s, who had the opportunity to visit Moscow for the first time since her parents escaped with their lives. Her trip happened in 1994, when the Russian Army declined to fire on the demonstrators and the Soviet Union effectively died. She was talking about how sad it was that Lenin was still in Red Square and how they ought to give him a decent burial, and a Catholic priest friend replied, "You know why people go to see his body?" He waited a beat. "They go to see the birthplace of Dostoevsky and Pushkin and Tchaikovsky. But they go to Lenin's tomb to be sure that the son of a bitch is dead." (He didn't use a euphemism, nor did this very proper Russian-American lady when she repeated the story to me.)

So maybe it's a translation problem: the patriarchate spokesman meant something like "decent" or "appropriate," and whoever retold the story got it down as "Christian." I guess it's not my place to dictate, since my only contact with Soviet oppression has been Solzhenitsyn's The Gulag Archipelago. It's not like the Russians to get confused on matters like this. I'll be waiting to see what they decide to do.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Like the new look?

If you notice anything different, it might be the color pallette here. I've been stretching my html skills and this site was a big help in visualizing the colors.

But at least he spelled your name right

It's probably evidence of my bad character that this amuses me so (or maybe it's the photo). "Deborah Schoeneman reports that Richard Ford spat on Colson Whitehead (The Intuitionist) at a Poets & Writers party, having nursed a grudge for two years over Whitehead's negative New York Times review of A Multitude of Sins."

Author Ford explained to Powell's that the problem was that "apparently somebody [Colson Whitehead] took me to task for the very thing I want to do.... To make all the words count, and to put the words in the right order. . . . I want to be interesting because all the words are in the order that I think make sense to the reader. And at the same time not sacrifice complexity, not sacrifice good sense, not sacrifice felicity, not sacrifice intelligence. "

Those critics. They really hate it when you get the words in the right order.

Blog of the Day

Thanks to Albert McIlhenny for naming this his Blog of the Day for March 15.

Albert's blog looks at issues of the day through the lens of what he calls the historical churches -- "as defined in the traditional formularies of the Christian Faith."

Have a look.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

More on Bishop Seraphim

To yesterday's post on Bishop Seraphim, Havdala replies:
I loved that post! One of my favourite painters is the Celtic revivalist, John Duncan. Many years ago the Orthodox priest in Edinburgh told me he had met Duncan when he was a child, 'But of course,' he said smoothing his beard, 'he believed in faeries.' There was such a twinkle in his eye when he said it I wondered if he did too.

In that case, read on:
I think to put off to tomorrow, so as not to make too long a post today, consideration of the problem of the Faerie world and how it in theory might share our Reality...a problem which might flow from thinking about yesterday's post, and made relevant (since probably almost no one, living outside of County Cork at least, literally and firmly and with simplicity believes in Faeries) by its parallel to the anyway possible sharing of the one Cosmos by humanity and other intelligent and spirited beings.

I haven't had the opportunity to read his site extensively--I'll save it for treats, like candy--but I don't think he's actually gotten around to the promised Faerie post.

I'll be watching for it.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Seraphim's Journal

I just discovered that one of my favorite bishops is blogging at Live Journal. It can be dizzying to follow Bishop Seraphim's March 13 post from Celtic saints to Bodidharma crossing the Himalyas to planetary scientist Michael Allison to Thomas Merton to Alaska to Henri Nouwen to Tolkien's poem on the Death of Brendan, but an enjoyable dizziness like when I was a kid and spun myself around till I fell down.

If you want to know why I wish he were my uncle or something, see this post.

Ebooks hit the big time in Japan

Japanese school girls are part of what may be a trend as they read a new novel on their cell phones.

An entrepreneurial genius named Yoshi delivers the romantic novel about 17-year-old Ayu in small daily installments:
Mobile phones can receive e-mail of up to 1,600 characters. While this is more than adequate for most personal use, the limit presents unique challenges to the author of a novel. Yoshi, however, not only managed to overcome this challenge but even turned it to his advantage by keeping the prose concise and fast-paced. The novel maintains a straightforward, conversational style and avoids the use of difficult words. Thanks to this quality, the story has found favor even among people who do not typically read novels.

Yoshi invested about $1,000 in his content-providing website and passed out business cards to 2,000 high-school girls in a chic section of Tokyo. His site has received 20 million hits over three years. He took feedback from readers and added plot twists based on their suggestions.

A movie is in the works, but I had to go to the original source to find out if it was about Ayu or Yoshi. (I suspect Yoshi's story is better than Ayu's.) Yoshi is filming the movie himself and planning to use his e-mail network to promote it.

Major publishers are putting content on phone companies' literary websites, mostly out-of-print titles they had lying around.

The Trends in Japan website says that the draw for the phone books is convenience, portability and the user's ability to read them in the dark. Funny, that's what people said about ebooks. But ebooks died and these phone things seem to be taking off. What's the difference? Maybe the hefty price tag for an ebook reader and the fact that Yoshi wrote the book to fit his medium. I suspect Hemingway would work better by phone than Faulkner.

Nod to Boing Boing

Friday, March 12, 2004

How do we respond?

Friend and fellow blogger Karl comments on yesterday's post: ""And by next week most of the world will have forgotten and 'moved on.'"

It's true, of course, "most of the world." A lot of it never stopped in the first place. But most isn't all.

When I came to understand the enormity of what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, I had become someone else. I'm not the only one. I've heard of some people bemoaning the change, being concerned that they had become harder, more vengeful. More frequently the responses I've heard or read for myself have gone along the lines of being mugged by reality, coming face to face with evil, understanding the depth of what human beings are capable of doing.

For me, it was more a case of lighting up a dark corner of reality I'd never really explored--an illumination of the imagination. I had been aware of terrorist attacks over the years--the murder of the Israeli athletes at the Munich games, the IRA's bombing of a department store in London, the first World Trade Center bombing and the Oklahoma City bombing, and, too many to name, the truck bombs and suicide bombs in Israel.

Until 9/11, I passed them like traffic pile-ups, acknowledging in some general way that it was too bad, but not entering the experience. I filed the events in that dark corner where evil dwells, and where it doesn't bother me because, well, because nothing real happens, or so I thought. I accuse myself of a great crime: a failure of imagination.

After 9/11, that corner is bright with the illumination of the exploding towers, and it doesn't matter any more if the evil is close by or far away, if the victim is "my kind" or someone else's. Now I know. I know how it feels to lose someone, to wonder about someone's fate, to see heroes die saving others' lives, to see people choosing death by falling from 100 stories over death by fire. I didn't experience any of it directly, but the eyes of my imagination have been opened. Interests, activities, topics and controversies come and go, but that lamp is always burning.

A detail from Spain that adds its light to the corner: In a car where all the passengers have died, cell phones ring, one after another or many at once, chirp, beep, play melodies. People calling their loved ones to find out if they're all right, and the phones like aural memories of dead, gone, everyday life.

And today millions gathered in Spain to say that they were not beaten.

What those fools, those murderers, don't know is that every time they commit such atrocities, they spark that fire in more hearts--not all, maybe not even most--but more, until--maybe--no darkness in the world will hide them. And sooner or later, whether in the short run they win or lose, they will harden like trolls at the break of dawn.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Madrid blast

I've got topics, but they don't seem important in light of a bombing in Madrid with a toll comparable to our Sept. 11, 2001.

There will be time for questions about who did it and who's responsible (different parties to some people's minds), but today is a day to think about specific people, "pieces of train in the street and dead people trapped in the twisted iron," as one witness reported. It's time to see blood running down people's faces and the intensely focused expressions of the rescue workers. It's time to think about families waiting for news and others who have already heard what they never imagined while they were eating breakfast and planning who would do the shopping after work.

Tomorrow they'll have a rally and begin to dig out. Tonight around the world, prayers are being offered for their dead.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Another last and final word on The Passion

St. Vladimir's Seminary assistant professor Peter C Bouteneff is so eloquent in his review of Gibson's The Passion that I can't let it pass unnoted.

Money quote:
Yet in a time when the top five grossing films were "The Passion of the Christ," "50 First Dates," "Twisted," "Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen," and "Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights," one has to feel a certain gratitude that we had something of substance to engage with.

Indeed, one has to bring reasonable expectations to the movies.  It would be hard to imagine a cinematic depiction of Christ's perfect fulfillment of the vocations of prophecy, priesthood, and kingship, or of his two unconfused and unchanged natures, wills, and energies.  For all of its flaws, and in some ways because of them, this film has managed at least to bring people to think in some way about Jesus Christ, and at most to convey some fresh insights on His passion.  Until the world becomes Orthodox, we take what we can get from popular culture.

Yeah. What he said.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

New Onion Dome

The Onion Dome has more than just a twist this week.

Our intrepid editor reports that Patriarch PATRIARCHUS the Nth insists that he did not have a wardrobe malfunction when he showed the Turks what he really thought of them.

Our man in Moscow caught "the last" recording session of the great retired Orthodox rapper Bug Vasileivichivich. Here's a selection:
Foo, step up to the
O to the RTH to the O-DOX,
Sucka, I on you like Chicken Pox
You sin is like wolf eating fox!

Let's hope that the retirement is temporary.

Marie and I have found the two poles of nutty Orthodox spiritual life.

And guest writer Foma Zatvordnik reports on a new diet sensation: seven weeks of low calories, no meat, no oil, no dairy, and the great new exercise regime "Ephraim's Power Floor Folds."

The Onion Dome, almost as big as the New York Times with less made-up stuff.

What's in Our Pascha Basket

Here's a good article about the contents and symbolism of the traditional Pascha basket. It's beyond my domestic skills, but it's a valueable resource: What's in Our Pascha Basket by Nichola Krause: "When I was young, I never knew why we were eating these strange 'basket foods' after fasting for Lent. I didn't like ham; I wanted lasagna and meatballs! I didn't want horseradish; I wanted Arby's! But as I grew older, and wiser, and stayed up later (in the kitchen with Grandma, Mom & Auntie Sue, talking late into the night), I learned how to prepare these foods, and what they meant."

Monday, March 08, 2004

How News Travels on the Internet

Stephen VanDyke has created an illustration that addresses a question that's been niggling at my brain for a while: Where do bloggers get this stuff?

Now I know. Pull it from Google news or e-mail, lift from other bloggers, quote, comment, modify, parodize.

Hmmm. Same thing I do (like this), except that I throw in some original stuff (you never saw my choir piece anywhere else). But I don't know if that adds value or not ("adding value" in this case means making my blog something people are more inclined to read frequently).

Remember Lena, the Ukrainian motorcyclist who traveled through the Chernobyl wasteland? Fascinating story. Great pictures. She's famous, and I don't think she had any expectation of that happening. Her original content went all over the web and out to the Greater Blogosphere (see VanDyke's graph).

I'm sorry to talk backstage like this for you folks who don't care a lick, but I know a lot of bloggers read each other's works. Do you folks wonder about this, too? It's not about the numbers, but when your site meter records 4 hits per day, it's disheartening. When it spikes, you wonder if you're doing something right. And then the numbers become a kind of game, too.

Anyway, check out the link. VanDyke links a couple of others, such as BlogPulse, which actually tracks the common blog memes (I never knew three months ago that I'd actually be using the term "blog memes" in a sentence. Scary), common ideas bouncing around from blog to blog

Sometimes the blogosphere seems not so much like atmosphere as like a breeder reactor.