Sunday, July 17, 2005

Various bits and pieces

Here are a few things I've bookmarked to blog about lately and never got around to it.

  • Social Machines -- This is an excellent overview of the social use of computers, mobile phones and digital cameras. I remember IBM, for several years at Comdex in Las Vegas or Cebit in Hanover, Germany, pushing their "Ubiquitous Computing" project, where people will use cheap, simple and small computers everywhere. Xerox and MIT scientists also pushed similar ideas. Much of the devices designed turned out to be a bit over-engineered: a smart conference room, identification badges that signaled computers embedded in the walls, etc. What actually seems to be happening is that people are adopting existing devices and software (like mobile phones and Web sites) and putting them to new, more community-oriented uses. The secret ingredient? A constant, dependable, fast connection to the Internet.
  • On cults and cult leaders -- Mick Fealty summarizes an article on cults in the Irish Times that goes some of the way to explaining how someone could, for example, teach young children and live in a community for many years and then strap on a bomb and kill a shed load of their fellow citizens. Most terrorists, in fact, are highly educated and spend many years living with the people they eventually try to kill. How did they lose their moral compass?
  • Does the IRA practice "Catholic Terrorism"? -- Karen Armstrong, a writer about religions who I've written about before, says we never used to call what the IRA does "Catholic terrorism" and we should avoid "Islamic terrorism" for the same reason. Neither form has anything whatsoever to do with religion. The violence coming out of the Middle East is better described as extreme nationalism, a form of fascism.
  • Finally, there's been a couple of good blog posts lately about fear. Jeff Duntemann asks whether fear will ever lead to the end of democracy in the U.S. It's not as far fetched as it sounds. People are very afraid, of all sorts of things, not just terrorism. Jim Kunstler writes about how America (and I'd add much of the Western world) is saturated by violence, so much so that it's only noticeable when we step outside for a moment.