Playing with my blog

After all, if I can’t play with my own blog, what can I play with?
I’ve been updating some of the plugins and widgets that I use to customize WordPress. While I was doing this, I decided to add a new feature which some of my colleagues at Amazon have been working on: “Context Links”. The idea is that a bit of Amazon JavaScript scans my HTML, looking for a few interesting phrases which can be linked to Amazon products. The phrases are marked with double underlines, and mousing over will trigger a small product popup.
In the past, I’ve tried various pop-over plugins, like the notorious Snap!, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. The problem with Snap! is that every link triggers a pop-up with a thumbnail of the page, which really gets in the way if you simply want to click on a link. Hopefully Context Links will be more acceptable. The feature is still in beta, and I’m doing this more to help out my friends than anything else. (I’ve never been tempted to try to monetize my blog.) You won’t necessarily see any of the links: I get the impression that there is a lag between my changing the page and a new set of links being generated. (I’ll have to ask the author.)
The other big change that I made was to add in the All-in-one SEO Package, a plugin which rewrites the page titles, cleans up the meta tags, and generally does everything it can to make the site as clean as possible to Google and the other search engines. Right now, this is what Google sees: almost every entry is prefixed with “Geoff Arnold » Blog Archive » “, except for a few links to the old Movable Type entries which I’ve left in place. ((They’re duplicated in the new WordPress blog, but I can’t figure out how to easily forward the old URLs to the new pages, because the database keys don’t line up neatly.)) I’ll check agan in a few days to see if anything’s changed.

"Friends don’t let friends commit, or condone, evil."

Over at Secular Philosophy, Dan Dennett points out the opportunity for clarity which the death sentence of the Afghan student, Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh provides.

The time has come for Muslims to step up to the plate and demonstrate that Islam is a great faith that has no need for violence or intimidation to maintain the loyalty of its congregation. And we outside Islam must make it crystal clear that we cannot respect or honor a religion that would consider blasphemy a capital crime, no matter how ancient the tradition from which this decision flowed. Muslims who support – or refrain from condemning – the conviction and sentence of Kambakhsh must be made to realize that they share responsibility for bringing dishonor to their cherished heritage, and if we non-Muslims do not speak out, we too must share in the blame. Friends don’t let friends commit, or condone, evil.

There are plenty of people in the west who have written off all Muslims as evil enemies. Ed Brayton blogged about a particularly egregious example of this today. A “breathtakingly stupid woman named Dorris Woods” who is a trustee at the College of the Siskiyous in California, is objecting to the creation of a course in Arabic and Middle East history, saying

“We know all we need to know about Arabs and Islam. They are our enemies pure and simple. There is no getting away from that. They have declared war on the United States and they are committed to our destruction.”

Obviously this blanket categorization is absurd. ((It’s also illogical: if “Arabs and Islam” are at war against us, it would seem prudent to learn about them in order to be prepared.)) Yet it provokes a momentary pause, a hesitation, because there is a widespread feeling that there is something “other” about Islamic values: a subjugation of the individual to social orthodoxy from which we have only recently freed ourselves.
The Kambakhsh affair ((In the interests of full disclosure, it’s worth mentioning that, according to the Guardian, the charge against Kambakhsh is actually a tactic to get at his brother, a journalist who has exposed the unsavory activities of certain Afghan warlords. This should not distract us from the legal and moral issue involved; I have a sinking feeling that some Muslim “spokesmen” will try to do so, however.)) throws this into sharp focus in a way that even the Salman Rushdie fatwa did not. This is not a matter of a distant, raving ayatollah posturing for domestic consumption: we’re dealing with the power of a (supposedly friendly) state being exercised in support of clerical rules. The charge is the purest of thought-crimes: the accused simply read material which was deemed blasphemous. Any Muslim who fails to condemn this is simply confirming the fear which underlies the bigotry of Dorris Woods and her ilk.
There is a minor issue of language to be considered. Apart from the ancient split between Shia and Sunni, Islam has resisted the proliferation of labels to indicate which branch of a particular religious tradition a believer identifies with. Logically, I’d hope that Muslims who oppose the criminalization of freethought (including apostasy) would identify themselves as “Reform Muslims”, in contrast to their “Conservative” or “Orthodox” counterparts. However there are some obvious problems with this terminology….