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Mostly it’s religion, now and then it’s sports

Sunday, July 7th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — beheadings and the questions they raise ]


Tim Furnish, friend of this blog, had a piece titled Beheading in the Name of Islam in the Middle East Quarterly back in 2005, in which he wrote:

The February 2002 decapitation of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, true to its intention, horrified the Western audience. Chechen rebels, egged on by Islamist benefactors, had adopted the practice four years earlier, but the absence of widely broadcast videos limited the psychological impact of hostage decapitation. The Pearl murder and video catalyzed the resurgence of this historical Islamic practice. In Iraq, terrorists filmed the beheadings of Americans Nicholas Berg, Jack Hensley, and Eugene Armstrong. Other victims include Turks, an Egyptian, a Korean, Bulgarians, a British businessman, and a Nepalese. Scores of Iraqis, both Kurds and Arabs, have also fallen victim to Islamist terrorists’ knives. The new fad in terrorist brutality has extended to Saudi Arabia where Islamist terrorists murdered American businessman Paul Johnson, whose head was later discovered in a freezer in an Al-Qaeda hideout.

For myself, convinced as I am that perceived, preached or proclaimed divine endorsement for such killings plays a major role in facilitating them, the existence of what are overtly at least non-religious examples of the same brutal behavior are valuable, albeit humanly distressing, for the questions they raise:

  • is the brutal behavior in question a bestial aspect of human nature in general, and religion merely a thin veneer with which it sometimes conveniently clothes itself?
  • or are sports in some way alternative modalities of group transcendence — and thus effectively religious in their essence?
  • **

    Bryan Alexander, another friend, comments today on a related story at his gothic-themed blog, Infocult, under the heading When sports fans attack, Russian remix.

    DoubleQuote Sources:

  • Seventeen Afghan partygoers beheaded
  • Brazilian referee beheaded
  • Where’s Ms. Waldo?

    Sunday, July 7th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron — on two technologies for human dot-connection ]

    How long would it take you to find this particular woman:

    in this crowd, if you already had another photo of her?

    Click here and give it a try.

    Next question: how long would it take the best pattern recognition software in the world?

    For bonus points: how many cameras like this are there in the world, who has access to that kind of software, what countries are cameras and software in, what kinds of agencies use them, under whose supervision, how easily hacked — and how many such photos will have been taken, grand total, by the end of 2013?

    I don’t have even a hazy idea of the answers. I don’t even know where in the photo the woman in the headband can be found. I imagine there are export controls on both cameras and software, I suspect they can be circumvented…


    As I noted in a comment here three weeks ago:

    Green party politician Malte Spitz sued to have German telecoms giant Deutsche Telekom hand over six months of his phone data that he then made available to ZEIT ONLINE. We combined this geolocation data with information relating to his life as a politician, such as Twitter feeds, blog entries and websites, all of which is all freely available on the internet.
    By pushing the play button, you will set off on a trip through Malte Spitz’s life. The speed controller allows you to adjust how fast you travel, the pause button will let you stop at interesting points. In addition, a calendar at the bottom shows when he was in a particular location and can be used to jump to a specific time period. Each column corresponds to one day.

    You can give that one a whirl, too: feel free to zoom in and out.


    Happy trails!

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