29 March 2010

The silence of the Vatican, I

In April 1994, a Catholic priest, Athanase Seromba, promised safety to 2000 men, women and children in his church in Rwanda. These people expected to find refuge in Seromba's church from the atrocities which left a million people dead (the infamous Rwandan genocide). The people asked Seromba to pray for them. Instead, he ordered a bulldozer bring down the walls of the church, while the 2000 lives were in it, killing most of them. The ones who survived were shot by Seromba himself.

Nevertheless, Seromba continued working as a priest. In July 1994 he moved closer to the Vatican. He went to Italy and worked as a priest in a church near Florence under the name Anastasio Sumba Bura. He did so until 2002 when he was forced to surrender to the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). In 2006 he was found guilty of mass murders and was sentenced to just 15 years of prison.

This is but one example of the complicity of the Catholic Church in the Rwandan genocide. Did the Vatican know? It is believed that, indeed, it did. But even if it did not, the Vatican keeps an eerie silence for the happenings in Rwanda. In fact, the Vatican has never taken back its statements defending Seromba before his conviction.

It appears that the Rwandan genocide is not high up in the priority list of Vatican apologies. It doesn't matter now. The Vatican has to deal with peadophilia and sexual abuses, offering lukewarm apologies to its European victims. Africans can wait for later. For now, the Vatican keeps (once more) silence...

Today's article from the Guardian:


For Rwandans, the pope's apology must be unbearable

If sexual abuse in Ireland warrants his contrition, what contempt is shown by the Vatican's silence over its role in genocide.

If you are an Irish Catholic, and have suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a priest, you were recently read a letter from Pope Benedict that tells you: "You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated."

For any practising Catholic in Rwanda, this letter must be unbearable. For it tells you how little you mean to the Vatican. Fifteen years ago, tens of thousands of Catholics were hacked to death inside churches. Sometimes priests and nuns led the slaughter. Sometimes they did nothing while it progressed. The incidents were not isolated. Nyamata, Ntarama, Nyarubuye, Cyahinda, Nyange, and Saint Famille were just a few of the churches that were sites of massacres.

To you, Catholic survivor of genocide in Rwanda, the Vatican says that those priests, those bishops, those nuns, those archbishops who planned and killed were not acting under the instruction of the church. But moral responsibility changes dramatically if you are a European or US Catholic. To the priests of the Irish church who abused children, the pope has this to say: "You must answer for it before almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres."

The losses of Rwanda had received no such consideration. Some of the nuns and priests who have been convicted by Belgian courts and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, respectively, enjoyed refuge in Catholic churches in Europe while on the run from prosecutors. One such is Father Athanase Seromba, who led the Nyange parish massacre and was sentenced to 15 years in jail by the tribunal. In April 1994, Seromba helped lure over 2,000 desperate men, women and children to his church, where they expected safety. But their shepherd turned out to be their hunter.

One evening Seromba entered the church and carried away the chalices of communion and other clerical vestments. When a refugee begged that they be left the Eucharist to enable them to at least hold a (final) mass, the priest refused and told them that the building was no longer a church. A witness at the ICTR trial remembered an exchange in which the priest's mindset was revealed.

One of the refugees asked: "Father, can't you pray for us?" Seromba replied: "Is the God of the Tutsis still alive?" Later, he would order a bulldozer to push down the church walls on those inside and then urge militias to invade the building and finish off the survivors.

At his trial, Seromba said: "A priest I am and a priest I will remain." This, apparently, is the truth, since the Vatican has never taken back its statements defending him before his conviction.

In the last century, Catholic bishops have been deeply mired in Rwandan politics with the full knowledge of the Vatican. Take Archbishop Vincent Nsengiyumva. Until 1990, he had served as the chairman of the ruling party's central committee for almost 15 years, championing the authoritarian government of Juvenal Habyarimana, which orchestrated the murder of almost a million people. Or Archbishop André Perraudin, the most senior representative of Rome in 1950s Rwanda. It was with his collusion and mentorship that the hateful, racist ideology known as Hutu Power was launched – often by priests and seminarians in good standing with the church. One such was Rwanda's first president, Grégoire Kayibanda, a private secretary and protege of Perraudin, whose political power was unrivalled.

The support for Hutu Power was therefore not unknowing or naive. It was a strategy to maintain the church's powerful political position in a decolonising Rwanda. The violence of the 1960s led inexorably to the 1994 attempt to exterminate Tutsis. These were violent expressions of a political sphere dominated by contentions that Hutu and Tutsi were separate and opposed racial categories. This, too, is one of the legacies of the Catholic missionary, whose schools and pulpits for decades kept up a drumbeat of false race theories.

This turning away from the Rwandan victims of genocide comes at a time when the Catholic church is increasingly peopled by black and brown believers. It is difficult not to conclude the church's upper reaches are desperately holding on to a fast-vanishing racial patrimony.

Perhaps it is time Catholics forced the leaders of their church to deal with a history of institutional racism that endures, if the church is truly to live up to its fine words. Apologies are not sufficient, no matter how abject. What is demanded is an acknowledgment of the church's political power and moral culpability, with all the material and legal implications that come with it.

The silence of the Vatican is contempt. Its failure to fully examine its central place in Rwandan genocide can only mean that it is fully aware that it will not be threatened if it buries its head in the sand. While it knows if it ignores the sexual abuse of European parishioners it will not survive the next few years, it can let those African bodies remain buried, dehumanised and unexamined.

This is a good political strategy. And a moral position whose duplicity and evil has been witnessed and documented. For, it turns out, many people, scholars, governments and institutions inside and outside Rwanda are excavating their own roles in the genocide. The Vatican stands as an exception, its moral place now even lower than that of the government of France for its enduring friendship with genocidaires.

19 March 2010

Don't Cite Works You Haven't Read, II

As previously mentioned, the philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy made a ridiculous blunder giving a citation to a non-existent philosophical work: he had not read his references. This is not a serious scientific approach.

But is Bernard-Henri Lévy serious? No, according to a Greek philosopher who says (personal comments):
You suspected well: Bernard-Henri Lévy is not serious. He belongs to a generation of philosophers promoted by the media in the 80s as "new philosophers". In trying to critique the soviet totalitarianism, they developed a right-wing approach; behind their pompous rhetoric there was no philosophical substance.
Further information on Lévy from wikipedia:
  • Some of his professors there included prominent French intellectuals and philosophers Jacques Derrida [remember the Sokal hoax?] and Louis Althusser.
  • Returning to Paris, Lévy became famous as the young founder of the New Philosophers (Nouveaux Philosophes) school. This was a group of young intellectuals who were disenchanted with communist and socialist responses to the near-revolutionary upheavals in France of May 1968, and who articulated a fierce and uncompromising moral critique of Marxist and socialist dogmas.
  • Lévy was one of the first French intellectuals to call for intervention in the Bosnian War in the 1990s.
  • When his father died in 1995, Lévy became the manager of the Becob company, until it was sold in 1997 for 750 million francs to the French entrepreneur François Pinault.
  • He drew controversy due to his support of the Iraq War, in 2003.
  • Le Testament de Dieu or L'Idéologie française faced strong rebuttals, from noted intellectuals such as historian Pierre Vidal-Naquet, philosophers Cornelius Castoriadis, Raymond Aron and Gilles Deleuze, who called Lévy's methods "vile".
  • Lévy's writing and speaking style is regularly lambasted as grandiloquent and smug by fringe essayists and popular satirical TV puppet show Les Guignols de l'info, in which Lévy has his own puppet.
  • Lévy is, with his third wife, a regular fixture in Paris Match magazine, wearing his trademark unbuttoned white shirts and designer suits. Some have attributed to Lévy a reputation for narcissism. One article about him coined the dictum, "God is dead but my hair is perfect.
  • He once said that the discovery of a new shade of grey left him "ecstatic."
  • He is a regular victim of the "pie thrower" Noël Godin, who describes Lévy as "a vain, pontificating dandy".
  • Lévy is proudly Jewish, and he has said that Jews ought to provide a unique Jewish moral voice in world society and world politics.
  • Lévy was one of six prominent European public figures of Jewish ancestry that were targeted for assassination by a Belgium-based Islamist militant group in 2008.

17 March 2010

Don't Cite Works You Haven't Read

Taken from
Recursivity: Don't Cite Works You Haven't Read:

I couldn't agree more with what Shallit says below.

It's something you teach your graduate students: Don't cite works you haven't read.

I have worked with co-authors who, when working on their version of a joint paper, they add citations to a number of papers I am not familiar with. This is fine, as long as they (i) have read the papers themselves and (ii) tell me what the papers are about, i.e. give me a summary. If they have not read a paper then I expect them to tell me why they think that the paper is relevant and agree on which of us should read it and explain to the other. If these conditions are not met, we end up with a paper which violates the rule: "none of the authors have read some of the papers cited". This is bad. We can't tell students not to violate this rule when, at the same time, we do it ourselves.

It's something you teach your graduate students: Don't cite works you haven't read.

It's a rule with good reasons behind it. First, it's a bad idea to rely on someone else's summary of another work. Maybe they summarized it incorrectly, or maybe there is more there you need to consider. Second, as a scholar, it's your obligation not to spread misinformation. Maybe the page numbers or the volume are given incorrectly.

Like all rules, there are occasional exceptions. Maybe it's a really old and obscure work that you've tried to get a copy of, but failed. In that case, you can cite the work but mention that you haven't actually been able to find a copy. (I've done this.) That way, at the least the reader will be warned that you're relying on someone else's citation.

And now, from Paris, comes a spectacular case of why citing works you haven't read is a bad idea. The French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévi has been caught citing and praising, in his new book De la guerre en philosophie, the work of the philosopher "Jean-Baptiste Botul". Only problem? Botul doesn't actually exist. He is the creation of journalist Frédéric Pagès.

Now, maybe Lévy did actually read Botul's book La vie sexuelle d'Emmanuel Kant. But if so, despite the big warning signs (Botul's school is called "Botulism") he failed to recognize it as a big joke, which raises even more questions about his perspicacity.

Maybe I need to tell my graduate students another rule: Don't cite works that you suspect may be a hoax.

The Earth now spins (a tiny bit) faster

Indeed, due to the recent earthquake in Chile, the distribution of mass on the Earth has slightly changed, most likely resulting in slightly shorter days by 1.26 microseconds. It has been estimated that the Earth figure axis has moved by about 8 centimeters.

Similar effects have been caused to the Earth by previous earthquakes, like the 2004 Indian Ocean quake.

But because of tidal effects of the moon, the length of a day increases at an average of 15 microseconds per year, so neither earthquake will have any significant long lasting effect.

1 March 2010

Space-time visual music instrument

It's called tonematrix. And it's very inviting. Rows correspond to frequencies. Columns to time (they are separated by equal time intervals). I learned about it here.


What measure theory is about

It's about counting, but when things get too large.
Put otherwise, it's about addition of positive numbers, but when these numbers are far too many.

The principle of dynamic programming

max_{x,y} [f(x) + g(x,y)] = max_x [f(x) + max_y g(x,y)]

The bottom line

Nuestras horas son minutos cuando esperamos saber y siglos cuando sabemos lo que se puede aprender.
(Our hours are minutes when we wait to learn and centuries when we know what is to be learnt.) --António Machado

Αγεωμέτρητος μηδείς εισίτω.
(Those who do not know geometry may not enter.) --Plato

Sapere Aude! Habe Muth, dich deines eigenen Verstandes zu bedienen!
(Dare to know! Have courage to use your own reason!) --Kant