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Thursday, February 28, 2008



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Friday, February 22, 2008

Flying High with Wim Robberechts & Co.

"Flying High with Wim Robberechts & Co.: 
The Apex of Aerial Photography in Europe"

by Neal Romanek

When the trans-channel ferry, Herald Of Free Enterprise, capsized in March 1987, a Belgian photographer working with the BBC was handed the responsibility of organizing all aerial photography of the disaster. For search & rescue, forensic analysis, and breaking news for an anxious populace, it was essential to collect as much aerial footage as possible, and as quickly as possible. Young Wim Robberechts called every aerial camera crew in the United Kingdom and so entered a niche he would occupy for the next 20 years, and eventually come to dominate.

Wim Robberechts is owner of Wim Robberechts & Co., one of the top aerial photography equipment and services vendors in Europe, perhaps in the world. We spent a day with Robberechts and his company, based in a two-story building in the Diegem area on the outskirts of Brussels.

Aerial cinematography is like the shooting of complicated visual effects - substantial sums are spent for a few seconds of footage, a crack team operates sophisticated equipment under the microscopic gaze of panicked producers, and in the end the director takes all the credit.

In a recent example from Michael Palin's "New Europe" (2007), the ex-Python is seen through the window of a DC-3 and then slowly drifts away in a massive pull back that dwarfs both him and the plane. The shot was captured by one of Robberechts's young operators, Evert Cloetens Vandenbranden, using the Cineflex, which has become the gold standard for gyro-stabilized aerial camera mounts. It was the only shot Wim Robberechts & Co. did for the Palin series, yet it is likely to be one of the show's most memorable moments.

Robberechts is keenly aware of the delicate position his – often anonymous – crew occupies. "Our job is always to serve the client. And we are always asking ourselves how to serve the client better." Robberechts describes, without mentioning names, working with arrogant or difficult personalities, where the equipment and expertise of his company are not always put to best use. When asked how he responds to such clients, he answers by putting a finger to his lips. "If they do ask us 'What do you think?" we will tell them. Otherwise, we keep our mouths shut."

Wim Robberechts & Co. has long employed Wescam helicopter mounts, for years an industry workhorse, but the foundation of the company is its three Cineflexes. The Cineflex is a gyro stabilized HD camera unit that allows for rock-steady camera support on unstable or fast-moving platforms. It has been used extensively in feature films and news gathering and is a mainstay of sporting events. Viewers gasped at the recent spectacular HD aerial shots of Groupe SFP's Tour de France coverage - captured by a Cineflex from Wim Robberechts & Co. The upcoming Olympic games in China will feature Cineflex mounts from several countries. The BBC's "Planet Earth" (2006) was the first nature documentary to employ the Cineflex, stunning us not only with superb HD images, but intimate aerial views of wildlife which would not have been possible with previous systems.

Operated via joystick, the Cineflex consists of an HD camera system that sits in a 14.5  inch diameter ball turret in the nose of a helicopter. It is comprised of five rotating axes, three of which are gyro-stabilized, allowing use of extremely long lenses which would be impossible to keep stable in a standard mount. Compared to bulky 35mm film camera systems, the Cineflex is fairly lightweight at about 85 lbs. The convenience of shooting to HD allows an aerial crew to stay in the air and stay shooting for much longer. Few are the producers who would go back to using film on an aerial shoot after capturing to HD.

One thing Wim Robberechts has learned through his years in the aerial photography business is practicality, and perhaps there is also a kind of native Flemish prudence at work. He has been able to capitalize on challenges and thrive while seeing many of his contemporaries and competitors fall by the wayside. He has no plans whatsoever to own and operate his own helicopters. "It would be sexy to have our own helicopter as well, but then we become competitors with our friends." Relationships with pilots and helicopter operators have been honed over long years of working together. Robberechts recognizes that expanding into every single niche of the aerial photography business would end up erasing those existing networks and do the company more harm than good. He says, very simply, that the companies he has seen drop like flies around him almost always "have decided to spend more than they could bring in." This most basic tenet of business is understood by most business owners, but is actually practiced by a very few. Robberechts is one of those few.

Though Robberechts is himself a broadcast industry veteran, he deliberately employs a youthful team of technicians, some straight out of Belgium's top film school, to help keep his edge sharp. "Some of these directors, the ones with the half-shaved face and expensive sunglasses, they are not going to speak the same language as me."

Robberechts is invited to give regular lectures at the Brussels Film School and when there, he keeps an eye out for new talent. His years of experience have dictated a clear, hard-line set of criteria for potential applicants. "You must be able to speak at least three languages, and be willing to work for little money for two years. And say goodbye to any girlfriend or family life." The training is intensive and all done in-house. "For the first two years, it costs more money to train a new operator than he brings into the company." The commitment level must therefore be very high and Robberechts accepts nothing less than 100% commitment.

The beginning of a technician's training might involve little more than riding in the chase van during the filming of a bicycle race, and might culminate with a first aerial shoot of power lines commissioned by the local government. Young company technician Evert Cloetens, an employee still in the middle of a long and steep education, earned his first solo shoot at Torino, shooting the downhill skiing. The Cineflex was mounted on the CAMCAT remote control cable camera system. While another company's technician handled the CAMCAT, Evert, seated at controls beside the CAMCAT tech, captured the HD footage with the Cineflex. Evert is also an enthusiastic skydiver and skydiving camera operator, but, at present, Robberechts has no plans to add skydive photography to his rate sheet.

Operator Bas Vandenbranden came directly out of film school to join Wim Robberechts & Co. In addition to having the "right stuff", he had a passion for remote control model aircraft. Some of Bas's early years were spent rigging up timer-set Polaroid cameras to small balloons – then chasing the Polaroid photographs they it floated, leaf-like, back to earth. He has also just returned from shooting San Diego's Red Bull Air Race with the Cineflex.

Robberechts briefly expanded with the addition of a Paris office, but he quickly abandoned the foray. The current situation in Brussels was hard to improve upon. Brussels is, if you include English, a tri-lingual city. Its designation as the economic hub of Europe puts it at the financial and political center of things, and its geography allows rapid, easy access to Britain or anywhere in continental Europe via air or Belgium's straight, wide roads.

Technologies like the Cineflex demand a new way of employing aerial photography. It is no longer sufficient to show viewers high resolution images shot from a great height without also giving attention to aesthetics. With the dollar weak, Europeans are buying up the American-made Cineflex at a tremendous rate. As the technology becomes ubiquitous, the art of the aerial shot – its beauty, its dramatic context, its resonance – will come to the fore. Robberechts's crew are likely to exchange the designation "operator" for "artist".



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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Pat Buchanan + Neal R., TLA

You know what I hate? I hate that I keep agreeing with Patrick Buchanan:

Does Balkanization Beckon Anew?

By Patrick J. Buchanan

19/02/08 "Human Events" --- - When the Great War comes, said old Bismarck, it will come out of "some damn fool thing in the Balkans."

On June 28, 1914, Gavrilo Princip shot the archduke and heir to the Austrian throne Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, setting in motion the train of events that led to the First World War.

In the spring of 1999, the United States bombed Serbia for 78 days to force its army out of that nation's cradle province of Kosovo. The Serbs were fighting Albanian separatists of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA). And we had no more right to bomb Belgrade than the Royal Navy would have had to bombard New York in our Civil War.

We bombed Serbia, we were told, to stop the genocide in Kosovo. But there was no genocide. This was propaganda. The United Nations' final casualty count of Serbs and Albanians in Slobodan Milosevic's war did not add up to 1 percent of the dead in Mr. Lincoln's war.

Albanians did flee in the tens of thousands during the war. But since that war's end, the Serbs of Kosovo have seen their churches and monasteries smashed and vandalized and have been ethnically cleansed in the scores of thousands from their ancestral province. In the exodus they have lost everything. The remaining Serb population of 120,000 is largely confined to enclaves guarded by NATO troops.

"At a Serb monastery in Pec," writes the Washington Post, "Italian troops protect the holy site, which is surrounded by a massive new wall to shield elderly nuns from stone-throwing and other abuse by passing ethnic Albanians."

On Sunday, Kosovo declared independence and was recognized by the European Union and President Bush. But this is not the end of the story. It is only the preface to a new history of the Balkans, a region that has known too much history.

By intervening in a civil war to aid the secession of an ancient province, to create a new nation that has never before existed and, to erect it along ethnic, religious and tribal lines, we have established a dangerous precedent. Muslim and Albanian extremists are already talking of a Greater Albania, consisting of Albania, Kosovo and the Albanian-Muslim sectors of Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia.

If these Albanian minorities should demand the right to secede and join their kinsmen in Kosovo, on what grounds would we oppose them? The inviolability of borders? What if the Serb majority in the Mitrovica region of northern Kosovo, who reject Albanian rule, secede and call on their kinsmen in Serbia to protect them?

Would we go to war against Serbia, once again, to maintain the territorial integrity of Kosovo, after we played the lead role in destroying the territorial integrity of Serbia?

Inside the U.S.-sponsored Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the autonomous Serb Republic of Srpska is already talking secession and unification with Serbia. On what grounds would we deny them?

The U.S. war on Serbia was unconstitutional, unjust and unwise. Congress never authorized it. Serbia, an ally in two world wars, had never attacked us. We made an enemy of the Serbs, and alienated Russia, to create a second Muslim state in the Balkans.

By intervening in a civil war where no vital interest was at risk, the United States, which is being denounced as loudly in Belgrade today as we are being cheered in Pristina, has acquired another dependency. And our new allies, the KLA, have been credibly charged with human trafficking, drug dealing, atrocities and terrorism.

And the clamor for ethnic self-rule has only begun to be heard.

Rumania has refused to recognize the new Republic of Kosovo, for the best of reasons.
Bucharest rules a large Hungarian minority in Transylvania, acquired at the same Paris Peace Conference of 1919 where Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were detached from Vienna and united with Serbia.

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two provinces that have broken away from Georgia, are invoking the Kosovo precedent to demand recognition as independent nations. As our NATO expansionists are anxious to bring Georgia into NATO, here is yet another occasion for a potential Washington-Moscow clash.

Spain, too, opposed the severing of Kosovo from Serbia, as Madrid faces similar demands from Basque and Catalan separatists.

The Muslim world will enthusiastically endorse the creation of a new Muslim state in Europe at the expense of Orthodox Christian Serbs. But Turkey is also likely to re-raise the issue as to why the EU and United States do not formally recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Like Kosovo, it, too, is an ethnically homogeneous community that declared independence 25 years ago.

Breakaway Transneistria is seeking independence from Moldova, the nation wedged between Rumania and Ukraine, and President Putin of Russia has threatened to recognize it, Abkhazia and South Ossetia in retaliation for the West's recognition of Kosovo.

If Putin pauses, it will be because he recognizes that of all the nations of Europe, Russia is high among those most threatened by the serial Balkanization we may have just reignited in the Balkans.

Mr. Buchanan is a nationally syndicated columnist and author of "The Death of the West," "The Great Betrayal," "A Republic, Not an Empire" and "Where the Right Went Wrong."

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Baconian Diptych


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Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Great Film Monologues 3 - "Network"

Paddy Chayefsky was one of the great writers of motion pictures. His masterpiece, "Network" (1976), lost the Best Picture Oscar to "Rocky". "Rocky" is an excellent movie. Really great. But "Network" is transcendent.

"Network" tells the story of the news anchor of a major network who, after a psychotic break, becomes a prophet condemning the very corporate media that employs him, and that exploits his anti-television ranting to further expand its influence and profit.

You can read Chayefsky's entire script online HERE.

Paddy Chayefsky spent most of his career in television, and he got to an intimate view of the electronic medium's move from a curiosity in the 1940's to the center of American life in the 1970's.

This scene, in the last half of the film, consists entirely and exclusively of a single monologue, masterfully performed by Peter Finch in the role of Howard Beale:


A bare stage except for one stained glass window, suspended by wires upstage center. HOWARD BEALE, in an austere black suit with black tie shambles on from the wings. TUMULTUOUS APPLAUSE from the STUDIO AUDIENCE.

"Edward George Ruddy died today! Edward George Ruddy was the Chairman of the Board of the Union Broadcasting Systems - and he died at 11 o'clock this morning of a heart condition and woe is us! We're in a lot of trouble! So ... a rich little man with white hair died. What does that got to do with the price of rice, right? And why is that woe to us? Because you people, and sixty-two million other Americans are listening to me right now. Because less than three percent of you people read books! Because less than fifteen percent of you read newspapers! Because the only truth you know is whatever you get over this 'tube'. Right now, there is a whole, an entire generation that never knew anything that didn't come out of this tube! This tube is the gospel. The ultimate revelation. This tube can make or break Presidents, Popes, Prime Ministers. This tube is the most awesome goddamned force in the whole godless world! And woe to us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people! And that's why woe is us that Edward George Ruddy died! Because this company is now in the hands of CCA, the Communications Corporation of America. There's a new Chairman of the Board, a man called Frank Hackett, sitting in Mr. Ruddy's office on the twentieth floor. And when the twelfth largest company in the world controls the most awesome goddamned propaganda force in the whole godless world, who knows what shit will be peddled for truth on this network? So, you listen to me. Listen to me! Television is not the truth! Television is a goddamned amusement park! Television is a circus, a carnival, a travelling troupe of acrobats, story-tellers, dancers, singers, jugglers, side-show freaks, lion- tamers and football players. We're in the boredom-killing business! So if you want truth, go to God. Go to your gurus. Go to yourselves! Because that's the only place you're ever going to find any real truth!
But, man, you're never going to get any truth from us. We'll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell. We'll tell you that Kojack always gets the killer, and nobody ever gets cancer in Archie Bunker's house. And no matter how much trouble the hero is in, don't worry, just look at your watch - at the end of the hour, he's going to win. We'll tell you any shit you want to hear. We deal in illusion, man! None of it's true! But you people sit there day after day, night after night, all ages, colors, creeds - we're all you know. You're beginning to believe the illusions we're spinning here. You're beginning to think the tube is reality and your own lives are unreal. You do whatever the tube tells you. You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube, you even think like the tube. This is mass madness, you maniacs! In God's name, you people are the real thing! We are the illusion! So turn off your television sets! Turn them off now! Turn them off right now! Turn them off and leave them off! Turn them off right now, right in the middle of this sentence I'm speaking to you now! Turn them off!! - "

At which point, HOWARD BEALE, sweating and red-eyed with his prophetic rage, collapses to the floor in a prophetic swoon.

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Roy Scheider (1932 - 2008)

Roy Scheider died. I feel sad.

Surprised to say, sad.Sunday Self-Portrait
When major movie stars and media personalities perish, I don't generally feel too much one way or another about it. I feel some curiosity, possibly some sympathy for the person's family. But generally, after the short shock of the initial news, it all feels to me like just one more sequence in their public drama.

I liked ... that guy who just died ... I literally just forgot his name - either because I am old, or I am dangerously out of touch with the very industry I work in, or - most likely - the coffee hasn't taken effect yet.

Heath Ledger.

I liked Heath Ledger a lot. His "Brokeback Mountain" (2005) performance was superb. He managed a character of deeply strangled emotion without giving a strangled performance. Paul Newman pulled that off in some of his early roles. It's not easy.

I regret that I won't be able to see Heath Ledger's career. We always wonder, when a promising talent dies, what spectacular heights they might have scaled, had they been allowed to conttinue and to develop. James Dean, River Phoenix, Jimi Hendrix. But more often than not, promising talents fade away and do not last a lifetime. If a performer stays in the game and takes care of his body & soul, often the best that can be expected is a cycle of hits and misses, missteps and lucky breaks and missed opportunities and minor successes leveraged to great advantage.

We like success and excellence and we like more of it and more of it and more of it. We like to see it played out on our screens. We like to imagine such a thing would be possible in our own lives, and pocketbooks. I do anyway. But I have come to believe that such an expectation is not only childish - or, at least, something born out of childish fears - but that it's also undesireable. Very much the equivalent of wanting the season to be summer all year long.(people relocate thousands of miles to bask in this fantasy). The best of Heath Ledger's career may have already been behind him. Not likely. But not without precedent.

But Roy Scheider. I loved watching him. His image may very well have imprinted on my soft young brain when I first saw him, as Martin Brody, in "Jaws" (1975). I enjoyed every performance of his I ever saw.

I saw "Jaws 2" (1978) on opening day with my friend John Horvath and though, even as a little kid, I knew the movie was crap, I was excited to be able to watch Roy Scheider again. I suppose Scheider - along with Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw - must have been among the very first actors whose names I knew.

Roy Scheider missed out on playing the lead in "The Deer Hunter" (1978) because of his obligation to do the "Jaws" sequel. And here we see the flaw in revering ever-expanding, ever-increasing successes. Had he done the role, we would have been robbed of one of Robert De Niro's great performances, and that film - one of the greatest American films ever made - would have suffered incalculably. So the Big Picture is working out well and one missed opportunity also means another opportunity somewhere else. The end of one career means the beginning of something else.

Thanks, Heath Ledger. Thanks, Roy Scheider.

BRODY: "What day is this?"
HOOPER: "It's Wednesday... eh, it's Tuesday, I think."
BRODY: "Think the tide's with us."
HOOPER: "Keep kicking."
BRODY: "I used to hate the water."
HOOPER: "I can't imagine why."


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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Archbishop of Canterbury Lecture - "Civil and Religious Law in England: A Religious Perspective"

Civil and Religious Law in England: a Religious Perspective

Thursday 07 February 2008

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams gave 

the foundation lecture at the Royal Courts of Justice

The title of this series of lectures signals the existence of what is very widely felt to be a growing challenge in our society – that is, the presence of communities which, while no less 'law-abiding' than the rest of the population, relate to something other than the British legal system alone.  But, as I hope to suggest, the issues that arise around what level of public or legal recognition, if any, might be allowed to the legal provisions of a religious group, are not peculiar to Islam: we might recall that, while the law of the Church of England is the law of the land, its daily operation is in the hands of authorities to whom considerable independence is granted.  And beyond the specific issues that arise in relation to the practicalities of recognition or delegation, there are large questions in the background about what we understand by and expect from the law, questions that are more sharply focused than ever in a largely secular social environment.  I shall therefore be concentrating on certain issues around Islamic law to begin with, in order to open up some of these wider matters.

Among the manifold anxieties that haunt the discussion of the place of Muslims in British society, one of the strongest, reinforced from time to time by the sensational reporting of opinion polls, is that Muslim communities in this country seek the freedom to live under sharia law.  And what most people think they know of sharia is that it is repressive towards women and wedded to archaic and brutal physical punishments; just a few days ago, it was reported that a 'forced marriage' involving a young woman with learning difficulties had been 'sanctioned under sharia law' – the kind of story that, in its assumption that we all 'really' know what is involved in the practice ofsharia, powerfully reinforces the image of – at best – a pre-modern system in which human rights have no role.  The problem is freely admitted by Muslim scholars.  'In the West', writes Tariq Ramadan in his groundbreaking Western Muslims and the Future of Islam, 'the idea of Sharia calls up all the darkest images of Islam...It has reached the extent that many Muslim intellectuals do not dare even to refer to the concept for fear of frightening people or arousing suspicion of all their work by the mere mention of the word' (p.31).  Even when some of the more dramatic fears are set aside, there remains a great deal of uncertainty about what degree of accommodation the law of the land can and should give to minority communities with their own strongly entrenched legal and moral codes. As such, this is not only an issue about Islam but about other faith groups, including Orthodox Judaism; and indeed it spills over into some of the questions which have surfaced sharply in the last twelve months about the right of religious believers in general to opt out of certain legal provisions – as in the problems around Roman Catholic adoption agencies which emerged in relation to the Sexual Orientation Regulations last spring.

This lecture will not attempt a detailed discussion of the nature of sharia, which would be far beyond my competence; my aim is only, as I have said, to tease out some of the broader issues around the rights of religious groups within a secular state, with a few thought about what might be entailed in crafting a just and constructive relationship between Islamic law and the statutory law of the United Kingdom.  But it is important to begin by dispelling one or two myths about sharia; so far from being a monolithic system of detailed enactments, sharia designates primarily – to quote Ramadan again – 'the expression of the universal principles of Islam [and] the framework and the thinking that makes for their actualization in human history' (32). Universal principles: as any Muslim commentator will insist, what is in view is the eternal and absolute will of God for the universe and for its human inhabitants in particular; but also something that has to be 'actualized', not a ready-made system.  If shar' designates the essence of the revealed Law,sharia is the practice of actualizing and applying it; while certain elements of the sharia are specified fairly exactly in the Qur'an and Sunna and in thehadith recognised as authoritative in this respect, there is no single code that can be identified as 'the' sharia.  And when certain states impose what they refer to as sharia or when certain Muslim activists demand its recognition alongside secular jurisdictions, they are usually referring not to a universal and fixed code established once for all but to some particular concretisation of it at the hands of a tradition of jurists.  In the hands of contemporary legal traditionalists, this means simply that the application of sharia must be governed by the judgements of representatives of the classical schools of legal interpretation.  But there are a good many voices arguing for an extension of the liberty of ijtihad – basically reasoning from first principles rather than simply the collation of traditional judgements (see for example Louis Gardet, 'Un prealable aux questions soulevees par les droits de l'homme: l'actualisation de la Loi religieuse musulmane aujourd'hui',Islamochristiana 9, 1983, 1-12, and Abdullah Saeed, 'Trends in Contemporary Islam: a Preliminary Attempt at a Classification', The Muslim World, 97:3, 2007, 395-404, esp. 401-2).

Thus, in contrast to what is sometimes assumed, we do not simply have a standoff between two rival legal systems when we discuss Islamic and British law.  On the one hand, sharia depends for its legitimacy not on any human decision, not on votes or preferences, but on the conviction that it represents the mind of God; on the other, it is to some extent unfinished business so far as codified and precise provisions are concerned.  To recognise sharia is to recognise a method of jurisprudence governed by revealed texts rather than a single system.  In a discussion based on a paper from Mona Siddiqui at a conference last year at Al Akhawayn University in Morocco, the point was made by one or two Muslim scholars that an excessively narrow understanding sharia as simply codified rules can have the effect of actually undermining the universal claims of the Qur'an. 

But while such universal claims are not open for renegotiation, they also assume the voluntary consent or submission of the believer, the free decision to be and to continue a member of the ummaSharia is not, in that sense, intrinsically to do with any demand for Muslim dominance over non-Muslims.  Both historically and in the contemporary context, Muslim states have acknowledged that membership of the umma is not coterminous with membership in a particular political society: in modern times, the clearest articulation of this was in the foundation of the Pakistani state under Jinnah; but other examples (Morocco, Jordan) could be cited of societies where there is a concept of citizenship that is not identical with belonging to the umma.  Such societies, while not compromising or weakening the possibility of unqualified belief in the authority and universality of sharia, or even the privileged status of Islam in a nation, recognise that there can be no guarantee that the state is religiously homogeneous and that the relationships in which the individual stands and which define him or her are not exclusively with other Muslims.  There has therefore to be some concept of common good that is not prescribed solely in terms of revealed Law, however provisional or imperfect such a situation is thought to be.  And this implies in turn that the Muslim, even in a predominantly Muslim state, has something of a dual identity, as citizen and as believer within the community of the faithful.

It is true that this account would be hotly contested by some committed Islamic primitivists, by followers of Sayyid Qutb and similar polemicists; but it is fair to say that the great body of serious jurists in the Islamic world would recognise this degree of political plurality as consistent with Muslim integrity.  In this sense, while (as I have said) we are not talking about two rival systems on the same level, there is some community of understanding between Islamic social thinking and the categories we might turn to in the non-Muslim world for the understanding of law in the most general context.  There is a recognition that our social identities are not constituted by one exclusive set of relations or mode of belonging – even if one of those sets is regarded as relating to the most fundamental and non-negotiable level of reality, as established by a 'covenant' between the divine and the human (as in Jewish and Christian thinking; once again, we are not talking about an exclusively Muslim problem).  The danger arises not only when there is an assumption on the religious side that membership of the community (belonging to the umma or the Church or whatever) is the only significant category, so that participation in other kinds of socio-political arrangement is a kind of betrayal.  It also occurs when secular government assumes a monopoly in terms of defining public and political identity.  There is a position – not at all unfamiliar in contemporary discussion – which says that to be a citizen is essentially and simply to be under the rule of the uniform law of a sovereign state, in such a way that any other relations, commitments or protocols of behaviour belong exclusively to the realm of the private and of individual choice.  As I have maintained in several other contexts, this is a very unsatisfactory account of political reality in modern societies; but it is also a problematic basis for thinking of the legal category of citizenship and the nature of human interdependence.  Maleiha Malik, following Alasdair MacIntyre, argues in an essay on 'Faith and the State of Jurisprudence' (Faith in Law: Essays in Legal Theory, ed. Peter Oliver, Sionaidh Douglas Scott and Victor Tadros, 2000, pp.129-49) that there is a risk of assuming that 'mainstreram' jurisprudence should routinely and unquestioningly bypass the variety of ways in which actions are as a matter of fact understood by agents in the light of the diverse sorts of communal belonging they are involved in.  If that is the assumption, 'the appropriate temporal unit for analysis tends to be the basic action.  Instead of concentrating on the history of the individual or the origins of the social practice which provides the context within which the act is performed, conduct tends to be studied as an isolated and one-off act' (139-40).  And another essay in the same collection, Anthony Bradney's 'Faced by Faith' (89-105) offers some examples of legal rulings which have disregarded the account offered by religious believers of the motives for their own decisions, on the grounds that the court alone is competent to assess the coherence or even sincerity of their claims.  And when courts attempt to do this on the grounds of what is 'generally acceptable' behaviour in a society, they are open, Bradney claims (102-3) to the accusation of undermining the principle of liberal pluralism by denying someone the right to speak in their own voice.  The distinguished ecclesiastical lawyer, Chancellor Mark Hill, has also underlined in a number of recent papers the degree of confusion that has bedevilled recent essays in adjudicating disputes with a religious element, stressing the need for better definition of the kind of protection for religious conscience that the law intends (see particularly his essay with Russell Sandberg, 'Is Nothing Sacred?  Clashing Symbols in a Secular World',Public Law 3, 2007, pp.488-506).

I have argued recently in a discussion of the moral background to legislation about incitement to religious hatred that any crime involving religious offence has to be thought about in terms of its tendency to create or reinforce a position in which a religious person or group could be gravely disadvantaged in regard to access to speaking in public in their own right: offence needs to be connected to issues of power and status, so that a powerful individual or group making derogatory or defamatory statements about a disadvantaged minority might be thought to be increasing that disadvantage.  The point I am making here is similar.  If the law of the land takes no account of what might be for certain agents a proper rationale for behaviour – for protest against certain unforeseen professional requirements, for instance, which would compromise religious discipline or belief – it fails in a significant way tocommunicate with someone involved in the legal process (or indeed to receive their communication), and so, on at least one kind of legal theory (expounded recently, for example, by R.A. Duff), fails in one of its purposes.

The implications are twofold.  There is a plain procedural question – and neither Bradney nor Malik goes much beyond this – about how existing courts function and what weight is properly give to the issues we have been discussing.  But there is a larger theoretical and practical issue about what it is to live under more than one jurisdiction., which takes us back to the question we began with – the role of sharia (or indeed Orthodox Jewish practice) in relation to the routine jurisdiction of the British courts.  In general, when there is a robust affirmation that the law of the land should protect individuals on the grounds of their corporate religious identity and secure their freedom to fulfil religious duties, a number of queries are regularly raised.  I want to look at three such difficulties briefly.  They relate both to the question of whether there should be a higher level of attention to religious identity and communal rights in the practice of the law, and to the larger issue I mentioned of something like a delegation of certain legal functions to the religious courts of a community; and this latter question, it should be remembered, is relevant not only to Islamic law but also to areas of Orthodox Jewish practice.

The first objection to a higher level of public legal regard being paid to communal identity is that it leaves legal process (including ordinary disciplinary process within organisations) at the mercy of what might be called vexatious appeals to religious scruple.  A recent example might be the reported refusal of a Muslim woman employed by Marks and Spencer to handle a book of Bible stories.  Or we might think of the rather more serious cluster of questions around forced marriages, where again it is crucial to distinguish between cultural and strictly religious dimensions.  While Bradney rightly cautions against the simple dismissal of alleged scruple by judicial authorities who have made no attempt to understand its workings in the construction of people's social identities, it should be clear also that any recognition of the need for such sensitivity must also have a recognised means of deciding the relative seriousness of conscience-related claims, a way of distinguishing purely cultural habits from seriously-rooted matters of faith and discipline, and distinguishing uninformed prejudice from religious prescription.  There needs to be access to recognised authority acting for a religious group: there is already, of course, an Islamic Shari'a Council, much in demand for rulings on marital questions in the UK; and if we were to see more latitude given in law to rights and scruples rooted in religious identity, we should need a much enhanced and quite sophisticated version of such a body, with increased resource and a high degree of community recognition, so that 'vexatious' claims could be summarily dealt with.  The secular lawyer needs to know where the potential conflict is real, legally and religiously serious, and where it is grounded in either nuisance or ignorance.  There can be no blank cheques given to unexamined scruples.

The second issue, a very serious one, is that recognition of 'supplementary jurisdiction' in some areas, especially family law, could have the effect of reinforcing in minority communities some of the most repressive or retrograde elements in them, with particularly serious consequences for the role and liberties of women.  The 'forced marriage' question is the one most often referred to here, and it is at the moment undoubtedly a very serious and scandalous one; but precisely because it has to do with custom and culture rather than directly binding enactments by religious authority, I shall refer to another issue.  It is argued that the provision for the inheritance of widows under a strict application of sharia has the effect of disadvantaging them in what the majority community might regard as unacceptable ways.  A legal (in fact Qur'anic) provision which in its time served very clearly to secure a widow's position at a time when this was practically unknown in the culture becomes, if taken absolutely literally, a generator of relativeinsecurity in a new context (see, for example, Ann Elizabeth Mayer, Islam and Human Rights.  Tradition and Politics, 1999, p.111).   The problem here is that recognising the authority of a communal religious court to decide finally and authoritatively about such a question would in effect not merely allow an additional layer of legal routes for resolving conflicts and ordering behaviour but would actually deprive members of the minority community of rights and liberties that they were entitled to enjoy as citizens; and while a legal system might properly admit structures or protocols that embody the diversity of moral reasoning in a plural society by allowing scope for a minority group to administer its affairs according to its own convictions, it can hardly admit or 'license' protocols that effectively take away the rights it acknowledges as generally valid.

To put the question like that is already to see where an answer might lie, though it is not an answer that will remove the possibility of some conflict.  If any kind of plural jurisdiction is recognised, it would presumably have to be under the rubric that no 'supplementary' jurisdiction could have the power to deny access to the rights granted to other citizens or to punish its members for claiming those rights.  This is in effect to mirror what a minority might themselves be requesting – that the situation should not arise where membership of one group restricted the freedom to live also as a member of an overlapping group, that (in this case) citizenship in a secular society should not necessitate the abandoning of religious discipline, any more than religious discipline should deprive one of access to liberties secured by the law of the land, to the common benefits of secular citizenship – or, better, to recognise that citizenship itself is a complex phenomenon not bound up with any one level of communal belonging but involving them all.

But this does not guarantee an absence of conflict.  In the particular case we have mentioned, the inheritance rights of widows, it is already true that some Islamic societies have themselves proved flexible (Malaysia is a case in point).  But let us take a more neuralgic matter still: what about the historic Islamic prohibition against apostasy, and the draconian penalties entailed?  In a society where freedom of religion is secured by law, it is obviously impossible for any group to claim that conversion to another faith is simply disallowed or to claim the right to inflict punishment on a convert.  We touch here on one of the most sensitive areas not only in thinking about legal practice but also in interfaith relations.  A significant number of contemporary Islamic jurists and scholars would say that the Qur'anic pronouncements on apostasy which have been regarded as the ground for extreme penalties reflect a situation in which abandoning Islam was equivalent to adopting an active stance of violent hostility to the community, so that extreme penalties could be compared to provisions in other jurisdictions for punishing spies or traitors in wartime; but that this cannot be regarded as bearing on the conditions now existing in the world.  Of course such a reading is wholly unacceptable to 'primitivists' in Islam, for whom this would be an example of a rationalising strategy, a style of interpretation (ijtihad) uncontrolled by proper traditional norms.  But, to use again the terminology suggested a moment ago, as soon as it is granted that – even in a dominantly Islamic society – citizens have more than one set of defining relationships under the law of the state, it becomes hard to justify enactments that take it for granted that the only mode of contact between these sets of relationships is open enmity; in which case, the appropriateness of extreme penalties for conversion is not obvious even within a fairly strict Muslim frame of reference.  Conversely, where the dominant legal culture is non-Islamic, but there is a level of serious recognition of the corporate reality and rights of the umma, there can be no assumption that outside the umma the goal of any other jurisdiction is its destruction.  Once again, there has to be a recognition that difference of conviction is not automatically a lethal threat.

As I have said, this is a delicate and complex matter involving what is mostly a fairly muted but nonetheless real debate among Muslim scholars in various contexts.  I mention it partly because of its gravity as an issue in interfaith relations and in discussions of human rights and the treatment of minorities, partly to illustrate how the recognition of what I have been calling membership in different but overlapping sets of social relationship (what others have called 'multiple affiliations') can provide a framework for thinking about these neuralgic questions of the status of women and converts.  Recognising a supplementary jurisdiction cannot mean recognising a liberty to exert a sort of local monopoly in some areas.  The Jewish legal theorist Ayelet Shachar, in a highly original and significant monograph on Multicultural Jurisdictions: Cultural Differences and Women's Rights (2001), explores the risks of any model that ends up 'franchising' a non-state jurisdiction so as to reinforce its most problematic features and further disadvantage its weakest members: 'we must be alert', she writes, 'to the potentially injurious effects of well-meaning external protections upon different categories of group members here – effects which may unwittingly exacerbate preexisting internal power hierarchies' (113).  She argues that if we are serious in trying to move away from a model that treats one jurisdiction as having a monopoly of socially defining roles and relations, we do not solve any problems by a purely uncritical endorsement of a communal legal structure which can only be avoided by deciding to leave the community altogether.  We need, according to Shachar, to 'work to overcome the ultimatum of "either your culture or your rights"' (114).

So the second objection to an increased legal recognition of communal religious identities can be met if we are prepared to think about the basic ground rules that might organise the relationship between jurisdictions, making sure that we do not collude with unexamined systems that have oppressive effect or allow shared public liberties to be decisively taken away by a supplementary jurisdiction.  Once again, there are no blank cheques.  I shall return to some of the details of Shachar's positive proposal; but I want to move on to the third objection, which grows precisely out of the complexities of clarifying the relations between jurisdictions.  Is it not both theoretically and practically mistaken to qualify our commitment to legal monopoly?  So much of our thinking in the modern world, dominated by European assumptions about universal rights, rests, surely, on the basis that the law is the law; that everyone stands before the public tribunal on exactly equal terms, so that recognition of corporate identities or, more seriously, of supplementary jurisdictions is simply incoherent if we want to preserve the great political and social advances of Western legality.

There is a bit of a risk here in the way we sometimes talk about the universal vision of post-Enlightenment politics.  The great protest of the Enlightenment was against authority that appealed only to tradition and refused to justify itself by other criteria – by open reasoned argument or by standards of successful provision of goods and liberties for the greatest number.  Its claim to override traditional forms of governance and custom by looking towards a universal tribunal was entirely intelligible against the background of despotism and uncritical inherited privilege which prevailed in so much of early modern Europe.  The most positive aspect of this moment in our cultural history was its focus on equal levels of accountability for all and equal levels of access for all to legal process.  In this respect, it was in fact largely the foregrounding and confirming of what was already encoded in longstanding legal tradition, Roman and mediaeval, which had consistently affirmed the universality and primacy of law (even over the person of the monarch).  But this set of considerations alone is not adequate to deal with the realities of complex societies: it is not enough to say that citizenship as an abstract form of equal access and equal accountability is either the basis or the entirety of social identity and personal motivation.  Where this has been enforced, it has proved a weak vehicle for the life of a society and has often brought violent injustice in its wake (think of the various attempts to reduce citizenship to rational equality in the France of the 1790's or the China of the 1970's).  Societies that are in fact ethnically, culturally and religiously diverse are societies in which identity is formed, as we have noted by different modes and contexts of belonging, 'multiple affiliation'.  The danger is in acting as if the authority that managed the abstract level of equal citizenship represented a sovereign order which then allowed other levels to exist.  But if the reality of society is plural – as many political theorists have pointed out – this is a damagingly inadequate account of common life, in which certain kinds of affiliation are marginalised or privatised to the extent that what is produced is a ghettoised pattern of social life, in which particular sorts of interest and of reasoning are tolerated as private matters but never granted legitimacy in public as part of a continuing debate about shared goods and priorities.

But this means that we have to think a little harder about the role and rule of law in a plural society of overlapping identities.  Perhaps it helps to see the universalist vision of law as guaranteeing equal accountability and access primarily in a negative rather than a positive sense – that is, to see it as a mechanism whereby any human participant in a society is protected against the loss of certain elementary liberties of self-determination and guaranteed the freedom to demand reasons for any actions on the part of others for actions and policies that infringe self-determination.  This is a slightly more gentle or tactful way of expressing what some legal theorists will describe as the 'monopoly of legitimate violence' by the law of a state, the absolute restriction of powers of forcible restraint to those who administer statutory law.  This is not to reduce society itself primarily to an uneasy alliance of self-determining individuals arguing about the degree to which their freedom is limited by one another and needing forcible restraint in a war of all against all – though that is increasingly the model which a narrowly rights-based culture fosters, producing a manically litigious atmosphere and a conviction of the inadequacy of customary ethical restraints and traditions – of what was once called 'civility'.  The picture will not be unfamiliar, and there is a modern legal culture which loves to have it so.  But the point of defining legal universalism as a negative thing is that it allows us to assume, as I think we should, that the important springs of moral vision in a society will be in those areas which a systematic abstract universalism regards as 'private' – in religion above all, but also in custom and habit.  The role of 'secular' law is not the dissolution of these things in the name of universalism but the monitoring of such affiliations to prevent the creation of mutually isolated communities in which human liberties are seen in incompatible ways and individual persons are subjected to restraints or injustices for which there is no public redress.     

The rule of law is thus not the enshrining of priority for the universal/abstract dimension of social existence but the establishing of a space accessible to everyone in which it is possible to affirm and defend a commitment to human dignity as such, independent of membership in any specific human community or tradition, so that when specific communities or traditions are in danger of claiming finality for their own boundaries of practice and understanding, they are reminded that they have to come to terms with the actuality of human diversity - and that the only way of doing this is to acknowledge the category of 'human dignity as such' – a non-negotiable assumption that each agent (with his or her historical and social affiliations) could be expected to have a voice in the shaping of some common project for the well-being and order of a human group.  It is not to claim that specific community understandings are 'superseded' by this universal principle, rather to claim that they all need to be undergirded by it.  The rule of law is – and this may sound rather counterintuitive – a way of honouring what in the human constitution is not captured by any one form of corporate belonging or any particular history, even though the human constitution never exists without those other determinations.  Our need, as Raymond Plant has well expressed it, is for the construction of 'a moral framework which could expand outside the boundaries of particular narratives while, at the same time, respecting the narratives as the cultural contexts in which the language [of common dignity and mutually intelligible commitments to work for certain common moral priorities] is learned and taught' (Politics, Theology and History, 2001, pp.357-8).     

I'd add in passing that this is arguably a place where more reflection is needed about the theology of law; if my analysis is right, the sort of foundation I have sketched for a universal principle of legal right requires both a certain valuation of the human as such and a conviction that the human subject is always endowed with some degree of freedom over against any and every actual system of human social life; both of these things are historically rooted in Christian theology, even when they have acquired a life of their own in isolation from that theology.  It never does any harm to be reminded that without certain themes consistently and strongly emphasised by the 'Abrahamic' faiths, themes to do with the unconditional possibility for every human subject to live in conscious relation with God and in free and constructive collaboration with others, there is no guarantee that a 'universalist' account of human dignity would ever have seemed plausible or even emerged with clarity.  Slave societies and assumptions about innate racial superiority are as widespread a feature as any in human history (and they have persistently infected even Abrahamic communities, which is perhaps why the Enlightenment was a necessary wake-up call to religion...).    

But to return to our main theme: I have been arguing that a defence of an unqualified secular legal monopoly in terms of the need for a universalist doctrine of human right or dignity is to misunderstand the circumstances in which that doctrine emerged, and that the essential liberating (and religiously informed) vision it represents is not imperilled by a loosening of the monopolistic framework.  At the moment, as I mentioned at the beginning of this lecture, one of the most frequently noted problems in the law in this area is the reluctance of a dominant rights-based philosophy to acknowledge the liberty of conscientious opting-out from collaboration in procedures or practices that are in tension with the demands of particular religious groups: the assumption, in rather misleading shorthand, that if a right or liberty is granted there is a corresponding duty upon every individual to 'activate' this whenever called upon.  Earlier on, I proposed that the criterion for recognising and collaborating with communal religious discipline should be connected with whether a communal jurisdiction actively interfered with liberties guaranteed by the wider society in such a way as definitively to block access to the exercise of those liberties; clearly the refusal of a religious believer to act upon the legal recognition of a right is not, given the plural character of society, a denial to anyone inside or outside the community of access to that right.  The point has been granted in respect of medical professionals who may be asked to perform or co-operate in performing abortions – a perfectly reasonable example of the law doing what I earlier defined as its job, securing space for those aspects of human motivation and behaviour that cannot be finally determined by any corporate or social system.  It is difficult to see quite why the principle cannot be extended in other areas.  But it is undeniable that there is pressure from some quarters to insist that conscientious disagreement should always be overruled by a monopolistic understanding of jurisdiction.

I labour the point because what at first seems to be a somewhat narrow point about how Islamic law and Islamic identity should or might be regarded in our legal system in fact opens up a very wide range of current issues, and requires some general thinking about the character of law.  It would be a pity if the immense advances in the recognition of human rights led, because of a misconception about legal universality, to a situation where a person was defined primarily as the possessor of a set of abstract liberties and the law's function was accordingly seen as nothing but the securing of those liberties irrespective of the custom and conscience of those groups which concretely compose a plural modern society.  Certainly, no-one is likely to suppose that a scheme allowing for supplementary jurisdiction will be simple, and the history of experiments in this direction amply illustrates the problems.  But if one approaches it along the lines sketched by Shachar in the monograph quoted earlier, it might be possible to think in terms of what she calls 'transformative accommodation': a scheme in which individuals retain the liberty to choose the jurisdiction under which they will seek to resolve certain carefully specified matters, so that 'power-holders are forced to compete for the loyalty of their shared constituents' (122).  This may include aspects of marital law, the regulation of financial transactions and authorised structures of mediation and conflict resolution – the main areas that have been in question where supplementary jurisdictions have been tried, with native American communities in Canada as well as with religious groups like Islamic minority communities in certain contexts.  In such schemes, both jurisdictional stakeholders may need to examine the way they operate; a communal/religious nomos, to borrow Shachar's vocabulary, has to think through the risks of alienating its people by inflexible or over-restrictive applications of traditional law, and a universalist Enlightenment system has to weigh the possible consequences of ghettoising and effectively disenfranchising a minority, at real cost to overall social cohesion and creativity.  Hence 'transformative accommodation': both jurisdictional parties may be changed by their encounter over time, and we avoid the sterility of mutually exclusive monopolies.

It is uncomfortably true that this introduces into our thinking about law what some would see as a 'market' element, a competition for loyalty as Shachar admits.  But if what we want socially is a pattern of relations in which a plurality of divers and overlapping affiliations work for a common good, and in which groups of serious and profound conviction are not systematically faced with the stark alternatives of cultural loyalty or state loyalty, it seems unavoidable.  In other settings, I have spoken about the idea of 'interactive pluralism' as a political desideratum; this seems to be one manifestation of such an ideal, comparable to the arrangements that allow for shared responsibility in education: the best argument for faith schools from the point of view of any aspiration towards social harmony and understanding is that they bring communal loyalties into direct relation with the wider society and inevitably lead to mutual questioning and sometimes mutual influence towards change, without compromising the distinctiveness of the essential elements of those communal loyalties.

In conclusion, it seems that if we are to think intelligently about the relations between Islam and British law, we need a fair amount of 'deconstruction' of crude oppositions and mythologies, whether of the nature of sharia or the nature of the Enlightenment.  But as I have hinted, I do not believe this can be done without some thinking also about the very nature of law.  It is always easy to take refuge in some form of positivism; and what I have called legal universalism, when divorced from a serious theoretical (and, I would argue, religious) underpinning, can turn into a positivism as sterile as any other variety.  If the paradoxical idea which I have sketched is true – that universal law and universal right are a way of recognising what is least fathomable and controllable in the human subject – theology still waits for us around the corner of these debates, however hard our culture may try to keep it out.  And, as you can imagine, I am not going to complain about that.         

© Rowan Williams 2008

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Wednesday, February 06, 2008

FDR Quotes For A Super Wednesday

We all know Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a legless commie so-and-so and that he ruined the Great American Nation after the triumphs of the 1930's. But he said some really good stuff. I wonder how much of it he wrote himself. Certainly, they had many professional speechwriters back then. But these days speechwriters concoct every last word of speech spoken by public figures. Including the things they say at night in bed to their wives. It's true, look it up.

I believe that no one should write speeches for the President of the USA unless he is actually qualified to lead a superpower himself. I just don't think working at the NY Times and writing a few seasons of "The West Wing" are good enough qualifications to write the words that are feared around the globe.

Here are some quotes by FDR (who was President of the USA from 1933 - 1945, making him the only president to serve more than two terms and causing Congress to say, "Whoa, we're never going to let that happen again!"):

"In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way."

"Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough."

"Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country."

"Governments can err, presidents do make mistakes, but the immortal Dante tells us that Divine justice weighs the sins of the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted on different scales. Better the occasional faults of a government that lives in a spirit of charity than the consistent omissions of a government frozen in the ice of its own indifference."

"These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the flag and the Constitution stand for. Now, as always, they stand for democracy, not tyranny; for freedom, not subjection; and against a dictatorship by mob rule and the over-privileged alike."

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Mid-East Internet Outages, Cut Cables, Space Ships

A fourth internet cable was cut in the Middle East yesterday.

There has been a lot of speculation that the outages may be the first move to cut off Iranian communications prior to the attack on the country. I, of course, have no way of knowing anything about that because I am only a writer of fictions about space ships and supernatural happenings and guys who fight each other with broadswords.

As of the last time I checked at Internet Traffic Report, information transfer to and from Iran was still completely null, nil, nothing, nyet.

So that's fun.

Iran was scheduled to start its "Oil Bourse" this week or next, with a plan to start moving oil about in currencies other than dollars. Boy, I bet that made some people mad.

Flag Telecom operates two of the four cables that have were cut - one cable in the Mediterranean, the other in the off Dubai. Flag's most recently press release (Feb. 4, 2008) says:

Update on Submarine Cable Cut - Daily Bulletin
@ 0900 GMT February 4 2008
Bulletin will be updated Daily with Progress.

Cut # 1:

− FLAG Europe-Asia cable was reported cut at 0800 hrs GMT on January 30 2008.
− Location of cut is at 8.3 kms from Alexandria, Egypt on segment between Egypt and Italy.
− The Repair ship loaded with spares is expected to reach the repair ground by February 5 2008.
− We have received the necessary permits to commence work from the Egyptian Authorities.
− FLAG has restored circuits of customers covered under Pre-planned Restoration service.
− FLAG has restoration on alternative routes for customers who have requested Ad hoc Restoration service.

Cut # 2:

− FALCON cable was reported cut at 0559 hrs GMT on February 1 2008.
− Location of cut is reported at 56 kms from Dubai, UAE on segment between UAE and Oman.
− The repair Ship is loaded with all spares and ready to sail. Awaiting clearance from Port Authorities due to 36 knots winds.
− FLAG is executing restoration on alternative routes for customers who have requested Ad hoc Restoration service.

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Space Battleship Yamato Blazers - LIVE!

Certainly, one of the greatest things ever to appear in a moving picture is Isao Sasaki singing the theme song to "Space Battleship Yamato" / "Star Blazers" to a crowd of rabid, cheering fans. Actually, just the fact that there are rabid, cheering fans of Isao Sasaki's singing the theme song to "Space Battleship Yamato" is itself pretty delightful.

Who can say what whom was the greatest artistic influence on my generation? Oh, some might say Steven Spielberg or The Clash or David Lynch. But could it really be Isao Sasaki? Could it be?

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