Sunday, December 23, 2007

In the Balance

A superb article in the Economist magazine, which can be found here, demolishes the argument that inequality is rising.

The article argues that although income inequality has risen, what we can buy with a dollar has increased. True, someone earning $1 million/year can afford to buy the upcoming $100,000 Mercedes S Class with a sushi bar but is the overall experience of owning an S-Class that much greater than owning a Fiat Punto? After all, driving a Fiat Punto is considerably better than walking or taking a bus.
[The point] is that, over time, the everyday experience of consumption among the less fortunate has become in many ways more similar to that of their wealthier compatriots. A widescreen plasma television is lovely, but you do not need one to laugh at “Shrek”.

The article goes on to remind us that:
today's Gilded Age income gaps do not imply Gilded Age lifestyle gaps. On the contrary, those intrepid souls who make vast fortunes turning out ever higher-quality goods at ever lower prices widen the income gap while reducing the differences that matter most.

Wise words indeed.

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Canadian's view of Ron Paul

An interesting article from the Financial Post about what a Ron Paul administration might be like can be found here. Though the chances of him getting elected are slim, he would certainly demonstrate whether or not the Austrian school was correct.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Radioactive Coal Ash

In this article from Scientific American, it appears that the ash from coal has higher radioactivity than nuclear waste - Eeek!

I've always been a fan of nuclear power. Done right and without some of the hysteria connected with it, nuclear energy can be the solution for a whole lot of problems. Best thing about it is that we don't have to depend on dodgy governments and cartels. Most of the world's uranium comes from Canada and Australia.

What can I say when even die hard former anti-nuke protesters are coming around?

Bali-hoo

Bali talks end in acrimony. What a surprise. Asking the "wealthy" countries to reduce CO2 emissions by 45% while China and India are exempt is a recipe for disaster.
If climate change is happening then the way "to do something about it" is not to impoverish ourselves to reduce it's impact. CO2 is linked to energy use, which is linked to the wealth of our countries. If we were all a whole lot poorer then our CO2 emissions would probably drop but I'm not sure I want that. A much more realistic approach is to mitigate climate change "catastrophes" when they happen. As I like to remind people - if Bangladesh were a rich country, they would be able to build dikes and levies against rising sea levels (if they are rising).

Friday, December 7, 2007

A sign of times to come

Food prices are rising as this article from the Economist describes. Two notable things can be gleaned from the article. The first is that the rising affluence of the world creates a demand for meat, which involves more grain per calorie than consuming grain alone. The second is that the production of biofuels is taking an enormous amount of maize off the world's food markets. Ethanol is a government subsidised activity and not driven by the market. Joule per joule, ethanol is uneconomical, which is why the market doesn't produce it without substantial artificial incentives.
The rising affluence of the world is a good thing and the market will adjust by producing more food - higher prices will attract more farmers, will improve agricultural technology and will encourage more "efficient" uses of food. The second factor - government subsidies to produce biofuels - is wrong-headed because those subsidies come from tax-payers who end up paying as much or even more per liter of fuel (through taxes and higher food prices).
Biofuels are being pushed because they are seen by the lesser politician and his hanger-ons as solving both the climate change issue and the high oil price issue.
Let's examine these, shall we? High oil prices are temporary. The history of economics suggests that the solution to high prices is high prices and requires no government intervention. Higher oil prices do two things - firstly they encourage efficiency and secondly they encourage alternatives (for example, how many people use whale blubber for lamps these days) - the market should be the judge and not the government.
The climate change issue is another boondoggle. We can pour trillions into preventing a catastrophe but those trillions are not worth it. Look at it this way. If we spend $6 trillion to prevent a global catastrophe and no catastrophe happens then can we really say that the $6 trillion spent prevented it (politicians will claim it did because they're the ones spending our money and will have to justify it somehow)? On the other hand if we spend $6 trillion and the catastrophe happens then we have $6 trillion less to deal with its consequences. This is not like an insurance policy where we spend a small amount of money today to hedge our bets for tomorrow - this is all or nothing. How much should we spend to avert this mythical catastrophe? $6 trillion, $10 trillion? How much is enough?
Paying for climate change is a little bit like paying penance to avoid purgatory. No clearer example can be found than the useless subsides for biofuels.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Another reason not to vote for Hillary (or why globalization must continue)

One does not need to go very far to find a reason not to vote for Hillary. The latest reason - her stand on the Doha round of trade talks. Ms. Clinton has said that she will take "a hard look" at whether or not the Doha rounds were worth it. You can read more here.
There is a mountain of literature on why free trade is good for everyone and so I won't go into a lot of detail here (I'm sorely tempted to write an entry on economics 101 and the law of comparative advantage) but I will, instead, recommend that people read a couple of books:
  1. Why Globalization Works by Martin Wolf. It is a superb overview of the economics of globalization and why it is so important that we do not go back to the protectionist past that contributed to the severity of the Great Depression.
  2. In Defense of Globalization by Jagdish Bhagwati. Bhagwati presents an impressive argument on how free trade has improved the lot of people both in the third world and in the first.

Both books serve to dismantle many of the myths of globalization such as jobs being stolen from rich countries etc. and they present a powerful argument about why without globalization we would all be poorer.

Be afraid be very afraid...

Interesting quotation from Stanford University climatologist Stephen Schneider.
We need to get some broad-based support to capture the public's imagination. That of course, entails getting loads of media coverage. So we have to offer up scary scenarios, make simplified, dramatic statements, and make little mention of any doubts we might have.

Hmmm...scientific honesty? Makes you think.

Leaping backwards

(Original post: Sunday, December 2)
Today two countries are poised to turn back their clocks and regress to the bad old days of the 20th century. Putin and United Russia have won a landslide victory in Russia, cementing Czar Putin's hold on power. This is bad news for Russia and really bad news for the West that may, after all, be faced with totalitarian opponent again and a new cold war. We shall see.
Venezuela also stands on the edge and the outcome is still not certain. The polling stations have opened and Venezuelans are voting on whether or not to adopt a new constitution that, among other things, grants Chavez pretty much a presidency for life. So long freedom, so long prosperity, hello Comandante.
There is an excellent review of this slip back in time to be found at Reason magazine.
Another analysis to be found at American.com.

Update (Monday, December 3):
Chavez lost the referendum - unfortunately, the margin was narrow, which might mean that he will try again.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Climate change madness

Why people take celebrities so seriously, I have no idea. Case in point is Prince Charles and the Bali Communiqué that 150 major companies have signed to limit greenhouse gases.
An interesting feature of the communiqué is the statement that emissions reduction "must be guided primarily by science" (as opposed to economics). Excuse Me? Economics is about costs and benefits. If it is more costly to prevent climate change than to mitigate it, then surely mitigating climate change is the better deal. Unfortunately, much of the economics behind the communiqué stems from the Stern Report, which has some significant flaws.
This could mean that we are using a completely wrong-headed approach to deal with a crisis that may or may not materialize. Think of all the trillions we could be wasting, trillions that could go into anti-malaria initiatives, schooling for poor children, prevention of many childhood diseases and prevention of an AIDS epidemic in many parts of the world still at risk. Sadly none of these causes have a globe trotting hypocrite or two to champion them.
There is evidence for climate change (although there are still some important voices that are skeptical) and it could turn out that the most economic solution could be to prevent it from getting worse but I would think twice and do some more analysis before forsaking or committing trillions to deal with it. And sometimes, as this article at American.com points out, the cure could be worse than the disease.

Ron Paul

I've kept quiet about Ron Paul for a long time because I was curious to see how he would develop as a candidate and I have to say that I'm not disappointed. While I do not find everything he says convincing, I find him light-years ahead of the other candidates running for either the GOP or the Democrats. He is a breath of fresh air and a return to Goldwater Republicanism from whence Ronald Reagan came.
He is a strong supporter of laissez-faire capitalism, free markets, and state rights. He is everything that I would have thought the Republican party should be instead of the bloated elephant that it has become - a party of big government, irresponsible finances, and over-intrusiveness in private lives.
Ron Paul is a follower of the Austrian school of economics that includes such luminaries as Friedrich Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. Whether he wins or not, he has demonstrated that libertarianism in the US is strong and, dare I say it, growing.

Friday, November 30, 2007

Schroedinger's universe

Quantum physics is not for the weak hearted. Sure the mathematics is simple - I mean what is as simple as |psi> = 1/sqrt(2)(|0> + |1>)? Well it turns out that this equation is the heart of the troubles. You see this equation says that a quantum state can exist as a superposition of one or more states until it is observed after which it is reduced to either one or the other (|0> or |1> in the equation above). This, in a nutshell, is Schroedinger's favourite cat.

A paper by Lawrence M. Krauss, which can be found here, implies that an act of observation on the age of the universe from inside the universe reduces the universe into one of many possible destinies. Here's my take on it: Bollocks. The universe is a closed system - an act of observation or even the ability to make an observation from inside the universe should have no effect whatsoever on the destiny of the universe. It's a bit like the electron being the observer of it's path through a double slit and thus preventing it from interfering with itself. Obviously it doesn't happen.

I should clarify that Lawrence M. Krauss did stipulate that there is no causal relationship ie. our observation of the supernova that resulted in the conclusion that the universe's expansion is accelerating has no effect whatsoever on the age or destiny of the universe but that the mere possibility of our being able to make that measurement does imply something about which of the many quantum destinies the universe will follow. While we didn't cause the universe to become unstable, Krauss suggests that just by being able to make an internal observation can have some implication on the outcome. Going back to the electron, can the electron somehow be able to measure which of the slits it will travel through? I suspect that the answer is no.

If there is something observing the universe from outside, that's a different story entirely but I'm not sure that there is an "outside" to the universe. Lesson learned - quantum physics is a weird thing and it is hard to get our puny brains around it. Physicists have been struggling for almost a century to interpret the weirdness of quantum physics. I guess we will be struggling for some time longer.

Peter Woit discusses the paper in more detail here.

Stupidity...

The religion of peace consistently outdoes itself in acts of stupidity. First there were the Mohammed cartoons and now Mohammed the Teddy Bear.
Demonstrators are out in full force in Khartoum demanding the execution of Gillian Gibbons that evil mastermind who was planning to destroy Islam by naming a teddy bear Mohammed. Never mind that Sudan is one of the world's poorest nations - obviously teddy bears named after their prophet are more threatening than poverty.

One can learn many things from this:
  • Don't go to a country that is carrying out a genocidal campaign.
  • There is something wrong with Islam that makes such fools of people.
  • Teddy bears are diabolical creatures.
  • Never listen to children.
  • Religion is truly for the imbecile and one is better served by abandoning the whole dirty thing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

The Long(er) arm of the law

In a chilling reminder of how liberalism is dying in the West, the law in the UK requiring that people hand over the decryption keys for encrypted data in their possession has been enforced as reported here by the BBC.

Even more frightening is:

...the authorities can also issue a Section 54 notice that prevents a person revealing that they are subject to this part of RIPA.

While I do understand the need to fight terrorism etc., we cannot compromise our core values in doing so otherwise what is the point? This is a grave step backwards.

In another alarming piece of news, Germany has recently brought into law the Data Retention Directive voted in by the EU parliament. Was Orwell just a little to early?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Contrition

Apologies to our (small?) audience for our infrequent updates to this blog. At the moment, both Neil and I are currently swamped with work, which stops us from writing as much as we would like.

Anyway, I came across an interesting blog from a gay conservative from Canada. I happen to agree with a lot of what he says and so I'll include the link to his blog for good measure. He had a link to a good op ed piece from the Guardian, a normally leftist newspaper from the UK, that points out that Islamic terrorism against Western targets was happening way before Iraq or Afghanistan and so its roots cannot be laid at the feet of Messrs Bush and Blair.

Another article from the Economist looks at the relentless push to totalitarianism in Russia. Now they are targeting children's textbooks with the claim (among other things) that maybe Stalin wasn't so bad. Apparently murdering about 20 million of your own citizens and winning the dubious title of this century's worst mass murderer doesn't count as "being bad" in Putin's Russia.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Next year's Ig Nobel Prize for Medicine?

It is a wonder that researchers get away with such twaddle as this gem from Oliver Curry of the London School of Economics (I thought that the LSE was supposed to be reputable???).
What is even more remarkable is that the BBC chose to report on it. Dr. Curry claims that the human race will split into two - one part will be tall handsome and intelligent the other squat and dumb. Especially interesting is his observation that:

Women, on the other hand, will develop lighter, smooth, hairless skin, large clear eyes, pert breasts, glossy hair, and even features, he adds.

Sounds like the kind of fantasies I used to have when I was 14. ANYWAY...
The article goes on to say that:

Dr Curry warns, in 10,000 years time humans may have paid a genetic price for relying on technology.

This is the key. The BBC is part of the anti-technology Gucci Socialist/Environmentalist clique and anything that suggests that:
  • Technology and innovation is leading to our downfall

  • We should return to a simpler state (read living in jungles, praying to stone idols and dying of preventable diseases)

will get some airing on the BBC. Sad thing is that this sort of rubbish isn't even original.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

And the winner is...

The winner of the 2007 Man Booker Prize is Anne Enright for The Gathering. Congratulations Ms. Enright.

Now I must be off to write my magnum opus. It will be a bleak story about a heroin addict from a dysfunctional family who joins a fundamentalist faction and is prompted to write about her sad past when her father and mother, two brothers and dog commit suicide. Unfortunately her writing is interrupted by her abusive husband and she is then confined to a wheelchair. Then an evil capitalist bastard comes and buys the apartment block in East London where she lives and she becomes homeless as well. Things come to a head when she straps some explosives to herself and kills herself and the evil capitalist bastard. Of course this work abounds with religious allusions and symbolism. She is the modern Christ struggling against the hegemonic twin powers of capitalism and modernity and...

Dostoyevsky, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

La Passionata

In a passionate defense of capitalism in the form of Howard Roark (the hero from Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead), columnist Joseph Kellard contrasts the anti-life ethics of religion against the pro-life ethics of capitalism. You can read it here.

Adam Smith wrote:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages.

It is from self-love that we can afford to be pro-life. If one lives for others then there can be no love of life because one does not live for the most important life of all - one's own. Capitalism's miracle is that through self interest, society as a whole progresses.

Booker Prize Short-list announced

The Man Booker Prize shortlist has been announced. The key contenders this year are:
  • Darkmans by Nicola Barker (Fourth Estate)
    • A depressing story about a dysfunctional family haunted by Edward IV's court jester.
  • The Gathering by Anne Enright (Jonathan Cape)
    • A depressing story about a dysfunctional family from the eyes of a woman whose brother just committed suicide.
  • The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid (Hamish Hamilton)
    • A depressing story about a "well adjusted" Muslim who is drawn to fundamentalist Islam after 9/11. Basically an anti-American diatribe.
  • Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (John Murray)
    • A depressing story about a girl on a war-torn Island who escapes by reading Dicken's Great Expectations
  • On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape)
    • A depressing story about a couple's first time after getting married.
  • Animal’s People by Indra Sinha (Simon & Schuster)
    • I haven't read this one. Don't plan to. But reading the plot synopsis, it also sounds like "A depressing story about...".
Aside from Animal's People of which I know little, the other books are bleak and, quite honestly, dull. I don't mind bleakness in a book but it seems that literary merit in today's fiction equates to bleakness at least as far as the Man Booker prize is concerned. Absent from all of these novels is a sense of the wonder that it is to be human.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The triumph of folly

Al Gore wins the Nobel Peace prize. Well he joins such luminaries as Wangari Maathai who believes that HIV/AIDS is a part of an evil Western conspiracy to kill blacks, the late Yasser Arafat, the ethically challenged former leader of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and Le Duc Tho (who in fairness turned down the prize) the unpleasant former leader of Vietnam. Aside from the obvious question about what the making of a movie has to do with peace, there are also the questions about the validity of the claims of anthropogenic climate change and whether we should even do anything about it.

Al Gore winning an Academy Award is more appropriate as it is given by an institution more at home with fiction and certainly Al Gore is not above the use of fiction to further his agenda.

Congratulations Mr. Gore, you have proven once again what a hollow shell the Nobel Peace Prize is.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Saturn's Hex



Weird rotating hexagon formation on the North Pole of Saturn. Remembering Arthur C. Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey, which took place around Saturn, it's a bit spooky. But like most things, this also has a "prosaic" explanation - a weird result of fluid dynamics.


In an experiment carried out in Denmark, Thomas Bohr, grandson of Neils Bohr, rotated a fluid in a bucket at varying speeds. At high speeds, the cavity formed in the middle started to take polygonal shapes and at really high speeds, hexagons appeared. It doesn't take much to imagine that something like this must be going on at the north pole of Saturn.


Still, it does remind one of the strangeness, power and beauty of nature and that what comes from simple physical principles transcends the wildest imaginings of fairies, goblins, gods and goddesses.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Daily nonsense from the Religion of Peace

A Malaysian woman who wanted to convert to Hinduism from Islam was arrested and taken to an Islamic rehabilitation centre where she was made to pray, wear a headscarf and eat beef. This in a "moderate" Muslim state. More can be read here.

Sometimes I think that that the reason why we have not received any signals from extraterrestrial intelligence is that they are too busy laughing at us.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Freedom Lovin' Democrats

A student was tasered during a talk given by John Kerry. The student was asking him whether he was part of Skull and Bones, the same secret society of which George Bush is a member. The video says it all.



So much for the Democrats defending free speech.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Iran beware...

For some time, Iran has been hiding behind the lack of cohesion in the West's opposition to its program of enriching uranium (probably for nuclear weapons). Recent comments by Nicolas Sarkozy and his foreign minister Bernard Kouchner suggest that Iran now has fewer places to hide. Increasingly Washington and Europe are becoming united in their stances against Iran.
While out-and-out hostilities with Iran would not be pleasant, the alternative - a nuclear armed Iran - is far worse.

Let's hope Iran gets the message and steps back but with their current leadership, that's doubtful.

The Flying Spaghetti Monster and other things of note...



Every once in a while, I come across something that makes me think that the human race is not so stupid after all or at least elements of it are not. Anyway, I came across this relationship between global warming and piracy. Apparently, there is an inverse relationship between the number of pirates and the average temperature of the world - so they are obviously related. I've always contended that we needed more pirates to roam the open seas with Jolly Rogers and swords. Their decline is obviously an egregious assault on the natural order of things.

In an open letter to the Kansas School Board, who believes that intelligent design should be taught at school, the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster has petitioned them to add the Flying Spaghetti Monster to the curriculum and mention that He goes around in a pirate costume. Obviously, the slow decline in piracy offends Him greatly and He's planning to boil the world as a result.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

In the name of Climate Change...

Now that the new religion of climate change is in full swing, we should expect to see things like an inquisition. Questions asked like:
"Have you been showering for longer than 5 minutes?...Answer me heretic"
"Do you turn off all the lights, when you leave the house?...Answer me or I will stick this flaming, recyclable rod up your a***"

Of course, I wouldn't have expected these developments to emerge for at least a few years more but this story about military planes flying over houses in the UK to spot thermal emissions does at least make me wonder. It's quite a simple idea really - well thought out but just *wrong*.

NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise...surprise and fear...fear and surprise.... Our two weapons are fear and surprise...and ruthless efficiency.... Our *three* weapons are fear, surprise, and ruthless efficiency...and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope.... Our *four*...no... *Amongst* our weapons.... Amongst our weaponry...are such elements as fear, surprise.... I'll come in again.
Monty Python

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

More from the Religion of Peace

Stories from the S. Koreans taken hostage by the Taleban:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/6990811.stm

Frightening stuff.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Global Warming

Two interesting recent developments in the Global Warming debate:

NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies has recently revised their data to say that the hottest year on record was not 1998 but 1934.

Canadian and amateur climate researcher Stephen McIntyre discovered that NASA has made a mistake in standardizing the air temperature data post-2000 resulting in a temperature correction of nearly 0.15 degrees. This may not sound like much until one realizes that climate researchers allege that the world's temperature has increased by 0.21 degrees since the 1930s - which means that around 3/4 of the change is attributable to an error!


An interesting Op-ed piece from the Wall Street Journal about this can be found here.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Auntie Beeb misses the point, as ever

The award for the silliest media statement of the week has to go the BBC, which today reported on the new tests that the Australian government will be imposing upon prospective immigrants to that country. Naturally, the BBC is incapable of delivering anything like an objective report on the matter without sneaking in its own opinion: "critics believe the requirement of an English language exam discriminates against non-English speakers." That's the fucking point, you wankers. You don't test people's knowledge of English unless you intend to screen out those who don't know English! Presumably people emigrate for the purpose of making for themselves a better life than the one they left behind; how can they even begin to prosper in a new land without being able to communicate in the most basic way with their neighbours? (And will the BBC, in the interests of consistency, determine next that calculus examinations are biased against the innumerate?)

Also telling is the article's treatment of the concept of "mateship". I'm not Australian, so I can only guess at what the full cultural resonance of this word might be. According to the Beeb's report, Aussie PM John Howard says that "mateship" is about people helping each other out in times of adversity. Sounds like a blameless enough idea, you'd think, but the article goes on to say that a previous attempt to include it in the constitution was dismissed because it was "sexist" (even though "mateship" doesn't specify any sex) and because it was also deemed to be -- gasp! -- "inappropriate for a formal document."

Surely, if that "document" was intended to be one which reflected the way of life that a majority of people in Australia held dear, how or why on earth could it possibly have been made so "formal" as to have excluded a basic concept that ordinary Australians felt to be at the core of their national identity? I'm reminded of Bertolt Brecht's sarcastic remark that if the people proves itself to be unsatisfactory, the government should dissolve it and form another -- but since we don't live in a Marxist police state as Brecht did, perhaps the modern liberal democratic equivalent is that our betters should feel free to dismiss out of hand the people's opinions on the most important issues of the day.

We should never deceive ourselves into thinking that the BBC is merely reporting contrary opinions in a spirit of fairness. Whenever you see the words "critics say...", "it was criticized...", or variations thereof in one of their news items, you can be pretty sure that what is to follow is in accordance with the views of most of its journalists. The veteran BBC producer Antony Jay recently revealed the innermost workings of the corporation in an article in the Times of London, and his confirmation of the political bias warping even the most basic coverage of the world and its affairs should give the lie to the Beeb's pretence of journalistic objectivity once and for all.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Dispatches from the future caliphate

The ever- incisive Theodore Dalrymple brings us his analysis of recent capitulations to Islam in Italy and Scotland, of all places. The example of pro- Muslim sycophancy in Scotland is so jaw- droppingly craven that it reinforces my determination to walk up and down the street during Ramadan eating a foot- long submarine sandwich with all the trimmings -- after all, what's the point of a Muslim's having to fast if he isn't going to suffer a little for the sake of his faith? By stuffing my face in front of his, I will only increase his virtue in the eyes of Allah.

Update: In my round- up of European spinelessness towards the Religion of Peace, I forgot to mention the item about the Catholic Bishop of Breda in the Netherlands, the improbably- named Tiny Muskens, who has suggested that the faithful ought to pray to "Allah" rather than to "God" -- since it's really the same thing in the end and, you know, it would serve as a gesture of goodwill towards those notoriously touchy Mohammedans. Needless to say, these futile and extravagant "gestures" only ever go in one direction. In much of the Muslim world it isn't safe to worship as a Christian at all, whatever name you choose to call God; and yet it is always the Christian West that feels the need to make concessions in the name of religious tolerance. Our muskens are tiny indeed.

Bordering on insanity

The US Border Patrol announces that it can no longer be held responsible for... patrolling the border. Perhaps a name change is now in order? --Note the specious rationalization that the group's resources must be entirely devoted to fighting terrorism instead: if you can't prevent unwanted individuals from entering your country, you can't stop terrorism at all -- it's as simple as that.

In another interesting snippet of news from "El Norte", environmentalists are apparently concerned that a proposed border fence between the US and Mexico (which will likely never be built in any case) would have an adverse effect on "migrating species". I doubt Americans would very much mind if it deterred one migrating species in particular.

Their dark materials

A recent article by David Owen in The New Yorker about the dark- sky movement in the US got me to thinking about the kinds of impositions socio- economically elite people feel they should be free to impose upon everyone else. The International Dark- Sky Association lobbies for darker night skies in towns and cities, not only as an aid to astronomers but also for the gratification of those romantics who pine for the days when the Milky Way was not only visible, but cast its own shadow.

At least one part of the IDA's agenda is quite reasonable: energy- efficient lighting should be installed by municipalities wherever possible, if only because of the savings to the taxpayer that are involved. But the writer, whose sympathies lie with the IDA, goes so far as to endorse government restrictions on certain kinds of lighting on private property as well. He even enthusiastically relates an anecdote about a town which "periodically" shuts off all its electricity -- not just its lighting -- for a few hours just so that the astronomers can have a fun night out. And in what progressive country does this happen, you ask? Why, in Iran. Living in a theocratic police state apparently has some advantages, one of which being that you can get everyone else's lives to grind to a screeching halt so that you can better indulge your favourite hobby. It's a geek's fantasy come to life.

Any kind of progress or technological development in our society involves the concomitant loss of something; this fact has been known and deplored ever since Socrates complained that the invention of writing was likely to dilute the use of memory and the dialectical method. Emerson (or possibly Thoreau, I forget) put it well enough when he said that progress was about taking two steps forward and one step backward; there is a net gain, but inevitably we have to sacrifice something. I live in a comparatively remote part of North America and am pleased to be able to see the Milky Way on a cloudless, moonless night, but if it were a choice between having that and having electricity, I'd opt for the latter anytime. Nighttime lighting is both a feature and a symbol of a civilized society, i.e. one which is not governed by the rhythms of nature... and if any more proof of that is needed, you can see it for yourself here.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

RIP: William Deedes

The British journalist (and sometime MP and Cabinet member) Bill Deedes has died at the age of 94. He was the original for the character of William Boot in Evelyn Waugh's 1936 novel "Scoop"; Waugh had accompanied the young and apparently somewhat naive Deedes to Abyssinia to cover the Italian attack on that country the previous year. Deedes wrote for various newspapers throughout his life, beginning his career in 1932 and continuing it up until last week, when he wrote what proved to be his final weekly column for the Daily Telegraph.

For the past couple of years I'd enjoyed his work in the international version of the Telegraph, and was impressed both by his self- effacing good nature -- something that always struck me as being quintessentially English -- and by his old- fashioned civility: two qualities sadly lacking in so much political commentary nowadays.

Nothing to see here, folks

The always refreshingly forthright Chinese government is preventing media coverage of a bridge collapse in the southern city of Fenghuang, with some officials even attacking and chasing away reporters trying to cover the accident. --In other news from the Middle Kingdom, it has been reported that over one million people in Beijing have been evicted from their homes in the run-up to next year's Olympics.

Believe it not, I'm not one of those spoilsports who feels that China shouldn't be allowed to play host to the Olympics until it cleans up its human rights record. China is perfect for the Games, when you consider what the Olympics have come to symbolize over the past few decades: fake bonhomie towards other nations; empty political grandstanding and posturing; and internal corruption on a massive scale. Just like everyday life in the People's Republic, in other words.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Poles apart

Three Polish Members of the European Parliament have announced that they will not be taking part in an upcoming UN conference, to be held at EU facilities later this month, aimed exclusively at criticizing Israel and its policies. The name of the agency organizing the conference says it all: the "Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People." Needless to say, there is no parallel UN committee on the inalienable right of the Israeli people to defend their state from external aggression.

Here is the forthright and courageous assessment of MEP Bronislaw Geremek: "I will not take part in this conference. I saw the materials prepared by the organizers... although there is no official statement that Israel must be pushed down to the sea there, the choice of subjects and the attitude towards the problems shows that it will be a biased, conflict generating conference. Actually we can call it anti-Israeli."

Since Poland's accession to the EU in 2004, the Poles have proven very reluctant to go along with the mildly coercive attempts of that body to force a liberal consensus of opinion on its members -- hardly surprising when you consider that they live in what is still an overwhelmingly religious country, and one with many painful memories of ideological bullying by its neighbours. The stance of the Polish MEPs against the EU's uncritically worshipful attitude towards the Palestinians is especially gratifying when one remembers the dark history of anti- Semitic violence in Poland. Na zdrowie!

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Vandals in high places

This week's hero in cyberspace is Virgil Griffith, an American academic who, using basic research tools, has put together a webpage to show which established institutions are modifying Wikipedia entries, and what changes those institutions are making. Mainstream media outlets such as the BBC which have picked up this story have highlighted the role of the CIA in making alterations to their own liking, but really: we expect the CIA to be evil; that's what they're there for, to act as the scapegoat for all of our fears about unchecked American power.

What is of far more interest, at least to an evil right- winger like me, are the changes made to Wikipedia entries by respected media organizations such as -- to take one totally random example -- the BBC itself. The most egregious example of vandalism committed by the CIA that the BBC could come up with involved the baffling insertion of the exclamation "Wahhhhhh!" into an entry concerning Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; but unnamed employees of the BBC changed the name of "George Walker Bush" to that of "George Wanker Bush" (hilarious that, and so sophisticated), and also substituted the words "freedom fighter" for that of "terrorist" in a context where only the latter designation could be justified.

Another heroic guardian of our liberty from the oppressive Bush- Cheney- Zionist axis which succumbed to the temptation to alter entries was the New York Times, whose minions apparently thought that any article on President Bush would be incomplete without the word "jerk" being added to it ten times in a row, and that Condoleezza Rice could more accurately be described as a "concert penis" rather than a "concert pianist". Pure comedy gold -- or is it meant to be trenchant political analysis? Who can decide?

Now, it's true that Virgil Griffith's page only logs the IP addresses originating within a given organization; no-one should assume that the viewpoint expressed through the changes is necessarily representative of that of the organization itself. But of course this is as much true for the CIA as it is for the BBC and the New York Times. Apparently the media only feels that this sort of petty chicanery is alarming enough to report upon when it is being undertaken (in even the most rudimentary fashion) by US government agencies. When they themselves do it, of course, it's a different story. They are always looking out for your interests, after all, and are thoughtful enough to perform extra services on your behalf that you don't even have to pay for along with your subscription or television licence fee... because that's just the kind of great guys that they are.

(Update: a comprehensive look at Wiki edits can be found here.)

Don't you just love the religion of peace...

Another day, another mass killing in Iraq courtesy of the ROP.

And in entertainment news, Hamas TV child actor is ready for martyrdom.

And finally in tech news, Texas based alhesbah.org offers tips on kidnapping Americans.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Creative writing

One of the more interesting scandals being discussed in the blogging world these days concerns a certain Scott Thomas Beauchamp, a US soldier currently serving in Iraq. Until a few weeks ago, Beauchamp was known to the world by his first and middle names alone, which he somewhat unimaginatively employed as a pseudonym while writing first-hand accounts of the war for The New Republic, a centre-left political magazine based in Washington.

Beauchamp's accounts were both entertaining and shocking: they depicted American troops running over stray dogs in Baghdad in their Bradley fighting vehicles, donning the skulls of dead Iraqi children for humorous effect, and mocking the disfigurement of those wounded in insurgent explosions. The accounts were meant to suggest the dehumanizing effects that the war was having on otherwise decent and sensitive people -- bread and butter for the anti-war readership of TNR.

Sadly, and perhaps inevitably, little of Beauchamp's writings seem to have been based in reality. Beauchamp himself, after his true identity was exposed by persistent bloggers, turned out to be an aspiring author whose voluntary enlistment in Iraq was by his own admission aimed at accumulating personal experiences that he could use for a novel that would launch his career. His avowedly fictional writings about the horrors of war date back to a time when he hadn't yet been deployed in Iraq, but still use some of the same elements that he later transposed to Baghdad and presented as fact. What he really saw in Iraq during his tour of duty was apparently lacking enough in dramatic intensity that he felt entitled to embellish it: as the Italians say, si non é vero, é molto ben trovato -- even if it isn't true, it's very well invented.

The whole sorry episode tells us once again that the establishment media is instinctively agenda- seeking and not to be trusted automatically. (The New Republic, even though it has a low circulation nationally, is still influential enough with Washington insiders to be considered part of the "establishment", and it has a loyal following among American- politics junkies everywhere: I used to read it faithfully myself when I was in university and had access to free copies at the library.) --The rise of the bloggers has been necessary and beneficial if only because they have once and for all exposed the myth of media transparency. TNR, looking for an anti- war angle, saw one in the fictions of Beauchamp and eagerly embraced them without making even the slightest attempt to verify that they were true. Such oversights and overt fabrications happen almost every week at The New York Times, the Washington Post, the BBC, and other pillars of respectable public opinion, and probably they have been taking place for years, but only in the past few years has it become possible to disseminate knowledge of these errors to a wide audience via the Internet.

On a purely aesthetic level, it also saddens me to recognize in Beauchamp the spectre of the typical North American liberal- arts graduate: educated badly enough to have turned out to be a pretentious and sub- standard writer (you can check out specimens of his dismal output here); indoctrinated well enough to have actively pursued a political agenda even at the cost of his own personal integrity; and under- employed enough that he would have even considered enlisting as a soldier not out of a sense of duty or vocation, but merely for the experience -- and only then because he thought he'd become famous if he wrote about it.

The last word on this subject has to rest with the esteemed short story writer Flannery O'Connor: "Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them."

Sorry for all that

My apologies for the long silence. Blogging will resume in 3... 2... 1...

Saturday, July 28, 2007

News from the U.S.

Two recent news items make it clear why Americans should never take their freedoms for granted: in one, a North Carolina couple were harassed and arrested by a policeman for flying a flag upside down outside their house as a protest against President Bush; in another, a Florida man was sentenced to 25 years in prison for possessing a quantity of prescription drugs for which he did, in fact, have a prescription. (He has since been released.) As the famous saying has it: "the price of liberty is eternal vigilance." In other words, we grow complacent at our peril.

Think locally, eat globally

Tonight while shopping at my local supermarket I noticed that the American- made Doritos brand of nacho chips boasts a new flavour called "Tandoori Sizzler". (Despite being well aware that any variety of Doritos represents a nutritional dead- end, I bought a bag, and found it to quite yummy too, at least when taken with beer -- courageously spicy, in fact.) In other aisles I also noticed freshly made naan bread, as well as a variety of chutneys and tinned Indian sauces. All this was is in a store serving a catchment area of perhaps ten thousand rural people, of whom only a couple dozen, at most, are from the Indian subcontinent.

I've said or at least suggested in the past that globalization should never get a free pass just because it is the buzzword of the moment, and to be accepted uncritically as inevitable or desirable whatever its effects. But it is fair to say that in gastronomical terms, at least, the importation of foreign ideas and items has been an unmixed blessing. I was born and at least partly raised in Scotland and, while I believe there are underestimated glories in Scottish and British cuisine, for the most part I look back on the food of my childhood and wonder how I managed to keep most of it down. I can just about get away with claiming Italian cooking as part of my family heritage thanks to my wife, whose mother hails from the region between Rome and Naples, but apart from that if I were going to try to be a purist and reject foreign influences in my cuisine I'd probably never eat again at all. (The staple dish of the Scottish Gaels -- a small but great people distinguished for their magnificent tradition of poetry and song, not to mention their martial valour -- is a mixture of smoked herring with potato.) --I've been told by local old- timers in Cape Breton that when broccoli first appeared in stores here a few decades ago it languished on the shelves unbought, since nobody knew what it was or what was to be done with it.

And so, if ever we find that the world is changing far more quickly than we would like, we can at least always find consolation for that fact in stuffing ourselves silly with the latest imported treat to hit our shelves.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Explosion at Spaceport

An explosion occurred at the Mojave Air and Space Port at 2:34 pm PDT. This is the location where Scaled Composites, Burt Rutan's space venture firm was testing out a new rocket.
Lesson learned? Space travel is dangerous. However, the proper response of government should be to do nothing. Risky ventures can open up new frontiers literally and the people involved know what they are getting themselves into. Innovation is dangerous.

Societies that are totally risk averse, however, do not progress and lack of progression is equivalent to decay. Anyone who doubts this need look no further than the Ming Dynasty. After centuries of progress, they declined when they shut their borders to the outside world, hoping that a wall would keep out dangerous innovations. This stagnation continued through to the Qing dynasty and ended when the British sailed up the Yangtze river technologically and militarily superior. The source of the divergence between East and West was the risk tolerance of the two societies.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Friends like these...

Pakistan has just tested a nuclear capable missile. Considering the fact that Pakistan is one of the biggest exporters of terrorism alongside Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran, this piece of news is hardly one for comfort.

Don't forget that Abdul Khan, the creator of Pakistan's nuclear program, ran an illicit network (probably with the help of the Pakistani intelligence services (ISI)) selling nuclear technology to Iran and North Korea and that the terrorists behind the 7/7 bombings were trained in Pakistani Madrassas. Pakistan should be punished for this latest provocation. It's time that the US Congress and the current US President faced up to facts that Pakistan is no ally. Phrasing it a little differently - with friends like this who needs enemies?

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

How to become Europe's friend

The six Bulgarian medics accused of deliberately infecting children in Libya with the HIV virus have been released. The BBC has reported more details of the release and it comes as little surprise that if someone wants something from Europe, the best way to do so is to hold European citizens hostage. The charges were obviously trumped up but was a convenient way for Libya to get trading and other concessions out of Europe. Nice work if you can get it.

What does this signal to Iran and North Korea? Threaten, kidnap and bully and you get everything you want.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Biased BBC

Discovered this website that documents BBC bias. Now that it is coming close to election time again, the BBC is very carefully avoiding criticism of Ken Livingstone (Red Ken), the current mayor of London, whom they have consistently supported in the past, who is also a friend of Hugo Chavez and who has welcomed Sheikh Al Qaradawi, a known extremist who supports suicide bombings. Instead, they have gone on the offensive by attacking Red Ken's opponents.

It's time to end the BBC's monopoly, end the TV license in the UK, and let people decide with their wallets whether they want this sort of blatant left-wing propaganda coming out from their TVs and radios.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The unbearable lightness of being



The Wall Street Journal recently published an article on Norman Borlaug. If you're scratching your head and wondering who that is then join the club. I didn't know about the man who had quietly saved a billion lives either. You see, Norman Borlaug was the architect of the Green Revolution. In 1944 Mexico was teetering on the brink of a famine. Norman Borlaug arrived when a fungus was destroying the native crops and leaving acres of land dry and dying. Norman Borlaug left in 1964 by which time, Mexico was growing an engineered strain of wheat that was durable and resistant to the fungus. In fact, Mexico grew so much that it became a net exporter of wheat. This was the genesis of the green revolution that prevented nearly a billion people from dying of hunger.

What I found interesting was that Greenpeace opposed Borlaug because when people weren't starving to death they would start producing and creating and establishing, horror of horrors, industry. Greenpeace even managed to convince the Ford and Rockefeller institute not to fund Borlaug.

This makes my blood boil. I've had conversations with die-hard environmentalists who have said things like "if they reproduce like cockroaches then they deserve to die." If they only could understand the fundamental immorality of their position. They are willing to kill off people so that a small minority can go camping and enjoy virgin nature. They would put the lives of spotted tree frogs above that of a human being.

The less cynical environmentalists talk about an us vs. them situation - that they will take away our food. Thank goodness that economics is not a zero sum game. An increase in the demand for food leads to increased prices, which means that suppliers have higher profits, which attracts new suppliers or makes existing suppliers more productive who want to produce more to take advantage of higher prices. This leads to increased supply, which leads to a drop in prices. New suppliers means new people attracted to farming because of the higher prices or better technology such as genetically engineered crops. In other words, the markets prevent starvation. Face it guys, Malthus was wrong. (Cases of famine are largely due to other factors than any natural shortage - such as politics and wars).

Today, many African countries refuse to grow genetically modified crops because they are afraid that they can't export to Europe, which has imposed huge restrictions on their sale (thanks to the Greens). Genetically modified crops require less maintenance such as sophisticated irrigation systems and can grow faster and are more resistant to disease. The obvious side effect is that if people aren't starving then they can concentrate on other things such as producing goods to sell that we may actually want.

The radical greens, however, aren't interested in them selling things. It's better that they starve, that taxpayers of rich countries give handouts to them, and that we buy bead bracelets and hemp Mao handbags made by refugee children from Sierra Leone to alleviate our collective guilt.

Pleasure island

According to the BBC, police in a majority- Muslim city in Nigeria are attempting to impose Sharia law even on the non- Muslim minorities within their jurisdiction. The enclave of Sabon Gari within the city of Kano has been dubbed a "pleasure island" by some for its offerings of alcohol, dancing, cannabis, and sex.

I know you are all reading this description of Sabon Gari and thinking, "damn! what's not to like?" Well, I agree. But the Islamic puritans don't, and the reason why we should care about this is that Nigeria is not even an officially Muslim country; instead, it's a nation almost evenly split between Christianity and Islam, but with areas where local governments have attempted to implement and enforce Islamic law. It's not inconceivable that such a future awaits those regions of Europe where in fifty or a hundred years' time Islam will predominate by the same force of demographics. As the Dutch Justice Minister Piet Hein Donner recently stated, "if two thirds of all Netherlanders tomorrow would want to introduce Sharia, then this possibility must exist." In other words, if you want to visit those hash cafés in Amsterdam, do it now. They won't be there forever.

Mind the gap

I've never understood the problem that some politicians and pundits have with there being a widening gap between the richest and the poorest people in society. It often turns out that the poor are at worst staying their ground or (more usually) gaining somewhat while the rich are vaulting ahead much more quickly. While this does indeed widen the "gap", it doesn't leave anybody economically worse off. Whether the head of your company makes five or ten or one hundred times as much as you do is really a matter of academic interest, the only important point being that he makes more.

An opinion to the contrary is expressed by Max Hastings in the Daily Mail, who feels that the Labour party in the UK has sold out its traditional working- class constituency in allowing disparities in wealth to become greater under its rule. To his credit, Hastings does not put his faith in higher taxation for the rich as a solution, noting correctly that it would only drive more wealth offshore. Instead, he proposes more education for the people trapped in "inner-city housing estates in an apparently hopeless spiral of debt, drugs and unemployability."

Hastings's commitment to education is commendable, but it has to be said that education by itself will not stop the wealth gap from widening. If you have a basic education you are only basically employable. Beyond that, if you have some kind of post- secondary education which teaches you a marketable skill -- bearing in mind that this would exclude many university graduates in the humanities -- you will be more employable, and you will receive more remuneration for your services. Either way, though, as an employee you will still find yourself earning far less than the executives in your company, or other successful entrepreneurs elsewhere. In that case, knowing that you are smart (and possibly even smarter than your employer who skipped further education altogether in favour of an early entry into the job market) will prove to be of little consolation.

The old wisdom is still the best: since there will always be those who are richer, or stronger, or more intelligent than we are, we can either torment ourselves with that fact and condemn ourselves to a lifetime of unhappiness, or we can accept it and move on. Rather than obsessing over pay differentials, a working class man will always find his greatest fulfillment in knowing that he is doing the best job he can every day for a reasonable wage that allows him to support his family. Anything more than that is -- or ought to be -- beyond his care or concern.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Art, apparently

These childish daubings of anti- American and anti- Israel sentiment on display at the current Venice Biennale art exhibition are almost indistinguishable from bathroom graffiti -- or is that the point? As leftist intellectuals feel their political influence weakening year by year, the "art" that they produce becomes ever more desperate in its attempts to shock and denounce, and even the pretense of working in an artistic medium is increasingly cast aside. Walter Pater claimed that all art aspires to the condition of music, but nowadays it seems as if all left- wing art aspires to the condition of agitprop.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Total surprise of the day

The Communist terrorist and mass murderer known as Carlos the Jackal, currently imprisoned in France, claims to have once been a faithful reader of The Guardian. He further explains that he only stopped reading The Guardian, in fact, because they were the ones who came up with his silly nickname. His revelation is interesting but hardly surprising, as the London lefty broadsheet is still pimping for terrorism even now, decades later.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Abolish the CBC

Canada's allegedly public broadcaster continues to lurch from bad to worse, what with its recent makeover to appeal to a younger demographic. Despite the perennially hostile and delusional bent of the CBC's political coverage -- one typical recent example was allowing the deranged anti- Israel fantasist Robert Fisk to rant unchallenged on a Maritime Noon phone- in show, with every one of the callers turning out to be members of his fan club -- one could at least count on solid mainstays such as the excellent classical music programming on Radio 2 or the majority of decent regional shows to justify Mother Corpse's continuing existence. Alas, no longer. Driving home tonight after midnight and frantically twiddling the dial I discovered that, in place of its usual low-key overnight classical and jazz programme, CBC Radio 2 was offering experimental music that sounded like a cross between grinding industrial machinery and the weeping and gnashing of teeth ascribed to the damned in the Gospels. Radio 1, meanwhile, in place of the highlights of public broadcasting throughout the world that used to occupy its overnight slot, boasted an achingly unfunny show aimed at being self- referential and hip and... it's difficult to determine what it was about, precisely, other than the fact that despite it being on the radio you just knew that the host was wearing a soul patch and suitably ironic trucker hat, and felt himself to be far above the obligation to provide actual entertainment to his audience. --Yeah, I know I'm not the target demographic. I've been listening to classical music since I was sixteen: I was born old. But I also know that actual young people are going to be as bored to death by all of this as I am. They know when they are being merely pandered to, and they resent it like hell.

Public broadcasting is always going to be an unjust imposition on the people who don't listen to it but have to pay for it regardless. There is no possible justification for injuring taxpayers by pissing away still more of their hard- earned money and then adding insult to that injury by broadcasting pretentious and boring bullshit that the majority of them won't ever enjoy or (in the case of political programming) agree with. Don't get me wrong -- I do sympathize with the motive for robbing the average Canadian of his money to provide a forum for unhinged or marginal views: how else is the Left going to guarantee itself a platform? Nevertheless, as much as I sympathize, I also believe that the time has come to stop supporting our CBC welfare bums. End it now, scrape them off the public tit and let's have done with it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Das Leben der Anderen

For anyone who doubts the viciousness and brutality of communism or excuses its "excesses", the film Das Leben der Anderen by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck should quickly dispell any illusions.
photo of Leben der Anderen, Das,  Ulrich Mühe
It won the Oscar for best foreign film in 2006 and it well deserved it. A gloomy film about a Stasi officer ordered to spy on a playwright and his girlfriend, it is both powerful and moving as well as being highly engaging. I finally got to see it and I was most impressed. I have been increasingly worried about the rise of "Ostalgie" in Germany - a weird nostalgia for all things East German - and I'm relieved to see that the Germans haven't completely lost it. This film serves as a healthy antidote.
Perhaps this new hotel opening in Berlin should play this film in the hotel rooms to remind people of the nightmare of the DDR. Better yet, to get the true immersive experience, they should keep hidden cameras in each hotel room, employ large men in polyester suits watching guests surreptitiously behind plants, and keep a special "Ostalgie Tour" in the basement where guests, for a price of 50 euros (donated to Hugo Chavez) get to be interrogated for 50 hours in a row and occasionally prodded with cattle rods if they do not reveal the most sensitive details of their sex lives. For an extra 15 euros, a good beating in a soundproof room can be included.

The true face of environmentalism

Sometimes I'm impressed by how brazen the environmental left can be. Just ran into this quotation from the former Canadian Environment Minister Christine Stewart

No matter if the science is phony (sic), there are collateral environmental benefits... Climate change [provides] the greatest chance to bring about justice and equality in the world.


Aside from the cynical implication that government policy should be based on fraud if the ends are "justified", I am also wondering what her vision of justice and equality means? That we in the West start to scrounge for our meals, live at the mercy of nature and start praying in front of stone idols for the next monsoon like our brethren living in other parts of the world?

Frightening...

A pox on both your churches

Nothing new here: the Pope has reiterated in a recent statement the traditional Catholic belief that the Protestant denominations, having broken with the mythical "apostolic succession", cannot possibly be considered as true churches in their own right. Despite being a Catholic church- goer myself, I can't help at this point (thanks to my east Belfast heritage) hearing in my mind an Ian Paisley-ish sort of voice intoning : "Yon Paypust church is the hoare of Babylon, aye, thay abomination named in Revelaytions..."

And I find that I can only resolve this cultural and ancestral conflict by realizing that both the Catholics and the Protestants are drunk on power and the hatred of each other -- and by concluding that Jesus himself would have had nothing whatever to do with either of them.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Symbiosis

For those of you who are fans of the BBC's classical music broadcasts (and especially if you're not among those poor souls who live in the UK and have to pay through their noses for the TV and radio licence fees that make these things possible): yesterday evening there was a concert broadcast on Radio 3 of an entire programme featuring songs that Franz Schubert set to the poetry of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It should remain available in the audio archive for another six days or so.

Putting the boot in

In my last posting I discussed conspiracy theories surrounding the recent failed terror attacks in the UK, but I forgot to mention that although these are prevalent about the incident in London they're rather less so about the one in Glasgow. Perhaps it strains credulity too much to believe that agents of the British government would volunteer to crash a burning car into an airport, set themselves on fire, and earn a beating from passing Scotsmen.

Speaking of which, I was very pleased to hear of the aggressive reaction that the would-be attackers met with. It looks as if the Scots still have some fight left in them; at any rate, the ones at the scene didn't fall victim to the blind panic and passivity so many civilized people react with when they are confronted by violence. Here are a few choice eyewitness accounts from the event:
"Well, aye, I saw him running for the polisman, and I thought, 'hoo no ye don't' so then I ran over and tackled this Asian chap."

"It's a good job I wis ther! This gentleman was on fire, so I tackled him with a jab o' my airm, then these other guys got intae 'im."

"Aye, I knew there was gas in the car, it was making these popping sounds, you know like when you chuck a can of deodorant on a bonfire, like"."
Robert Burns had it right: "what a parcel of rogues in a nation!"

The Grand Unified Theory of Oppression

No-one who has even a passing acquaintance with the Islamist mindset can be surprised by the choice of a nightclub for the location of last week's failed car bombing in Piccadilly. The freedom to live one's life as one chooses, rather than in accordance with the dictates of religion, is naturally going to lead to a degree of hedonism that some fanatics will find infuriating. There has already been another plot against a large London club, the Ministry of Sound, which was thwarted last year when the conspirators were taped by the authorities saying things like "no-one could turn round and say 'oh, they were innocent', those slags dancing around". Such charming fellows; and great with the ladies too, I'll bet.

Perhaps even more distressing than the inept bomb plots in the UK have been the responses recorded on online forums and discussion groups claiming that it was all staged by the British government, as a pretext for ushering in a new Fourth Reich (or whatever). I say that the comments are more distressing, because if successful the nightclub bomb would have killed perhaps a few dozen people; but if it turns out that large numbers of people in the West lack the basic will to correctly identify their enemies and resist them accordingly, our civilization as a whole is going to disappear, and many more people will die as a result. So where does this blind denial masquerading as smart cynicism come from? It doesn't help that in Britain, as in most Western countries, young people (especially university students) are educated to believe that the world's geopolitical situation and much of its history as well can be explained using something I call the Grand Unified Theory of Oppression.

The GUTO, in its simplest form, states that everything bad that happens on the planet is the fault of the West, or more specifically of the white man (who is taken as the West's standard- bearer). The world was an Edenic paradise until the advent of Western colonialism, after which warfare, poverty, and disease became as prevalent elsewhere as they had originally been in Europe; and to this day, the United States, Israel, and (to a varying extent) the European and anglophone democracies enjoy wealth solely on the basis of their ability to plunder the nations of the Third World, which are thrown into turmoil as a result. Don't believe me? Try thinking of any conflict or massacre or man- made disaster in the world over the past fifty years that has received wide coverage, and I guarantee you there is a popular explanation for it that faults the West and implicitly absolves the people who were actually involved -- and that this explanation is a mainstay of the public and post- secondary education systems in your country. Here are just a few of the most popular examples:


The Atomic Bomb on Japan. A pure act of racist American aggression, having nothing whatever to do with forcing the surrender of an intransigent power which had brutally subjugated half of Asia before dragging the US into war with an unprovoked attack on its territory. (Bonus: the US "knew" that the bomb was unnecessary, but dropped it anyway to scare the Soviets and wipe out a few more gooks.)

Vietnam. French and, later, American aggression against a people merely struggling for "self- determination". --Luckily in this case the Westerners were defeated, so that Vietnam was in the end able to determine for itself a decades- long Communist dictatorship and the expulsion of about a million refugees.

Khmer Rouge Genocide. America's fault for chasing the Viet Cong into Cambodia (if indeed the genocide happened at all -- the Chomskyites beg to differ.)

The Iranian theocracy. America's fault for propping up the Shah. Consequently the Iranians had no choice but to start stoning rape victims for adultery, to sponsor terrorism throughout the world, and to begin work on a nuclear programme aimed at the elimination of a neighbouring state.

Taliban rule in Afghanistan. America's fault, because the US armed the insurgents against the Soviets (whose invasion of Afghanistan was also the West's fault, because we had set a bad precedent in Vietnam or something.) Resisting the Taliban is a violation of Afghan sovereignty, and even if they did sponsor Al-Qaeda and the attacks of 9/11, who can blame them? It's all just payback for those redcoats on the Khyber Pass during the reign of Queen Victoria.

The Rwandan Genocide. Belgium's fault for having favoured one ethnic group over the other about a hundred years ago. Why, it's as if the Belgians wielded the machetes themselves...

Anything China Does is our fault because made them "lose face" during the Opium War. If they want to grab Tibet or Taiwan, it's only because we made them so touchy.

The Balkan War. Germany's fault for recognizing Croatia too early. Also the West's fault as a whole for hastening the fall of Communism and, later, for taking sides with the Muslims (!) over the downtrodden, innocent Serbs.

Iraq. Sectarian violence there is America's fault. Muslim- on- Muslim murders are counted as "deaths caused by the US invasion." (After all, any other country invaded by Americans would experience the same degree of bloody fratricidal strife, right? If the US invaded Canada, I'm sure the anglophones and francophones would start tearing each other apart in exactly the same manner.) As for Saddam Hussein, America is to blame both for supporting him and for removing him from power.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A no-brainer. Israel is a "colony" (though not of any country in particular) made up of "settlers" (half of whom, curiously, are indigeneous to the area) fleeing a genocide that took place in the West (or perhaps didn't, allowing for the tendency of Jews to exaggerate to their own advantage.) Having stolen "Palestine" (itself a colonial fabrication) the Israelis can be faulted for wishing to use actual force to defend their state from destruction; this defence is also the cause of Islamic terror attacks on the West, or at least the ones we admit to be genuine and not "inside jobs" perpetrated by the government.


As you can see, it's laughably easy to explain everything that happens on Earth using the Grand Unified Theory of Oppression. And remember that the GUTO has a corollary: if the West has the ultimate moral responsibility for everything bad that happens, non- Westerners (or non- whites living in the West) bear none of that responsibility. So when bad things happen that appear to be the fault of non- Westerners, such as terrorist attacks in New York and London, they are really the work of the governments in those countries; but even if they could be proven to be the work of Islamic extremists, that too would be the fault of the West for making the Muslims upset. The Grand Unified Theory of Oppression is nothing if not perfectly airtight.

All this, and she's Catholic too

Now that Tony Blair has left office, one of the retrospectives being offered by the British press details the fads, quackeries, and delusions embraced by his wife Cherie over the past ten years. It looks very much as if no New Age nostrum to come down the pike was too absurd to escape her. Bear in mind that Cherie Blair is a highly trained lawyer and judge, which only goes to show that education and skill in a particular field are not always correlated with a high level of intelligence or critical insight. (Needless to say, Tony doesn't get off lightly here either; the thought of the leader of a major democratic power smearing mud and papaya over himself after being "rebirthed" in the jungle makes me very nervous for the future of the West, although I can't say it's all that much worse than his reading the Koran every night before bed).

There seem to be few surer ways of making money than playing on the credulousness of affluent, semi-educated, middlebrow women going through what New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast calls "the goddess years".

Monday, July 2, 2007

A drug to delete bad memories?

If so, I'd like to buy a caseload of it right away, because all that malt liquor just isn't doing the trick.

The accompanying article is well worth a read for its excursions into sci- fi history and pop- culture geekdom. I only wish that more reporting was done on a cross- disciplinary basis like this, with references to literature, history, and art -- the cult of professional neutrality and (supposed) objectivity has conspired to make most journalism in North America stultifyingly boring. If the mainstream media really wants to increase its younger readership, which is increasingly getting its news from more colourful sources online, this is the way.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Good news from the Great Satan

Both the amnesty (in "immigration reform" clothing) bill and the attempt to revive the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" have been defeated this week by the legislative branch in the US. Rare victories for sane politics south of the border.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Getting warmer

Some contrarian analyses of "global warming" here, here, and here.

Divine attribution

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have recently discovered a direct link between oral sex and cancers of the mouth and throat. Apparently, if you've been on the receiving end of more than five oral- sex partners during your lifetime, you increase your risk of developing such cancers by 250%. Needless to say, this got me thinking -- no, not about that, but about the idea of natural law and whether or not such a thing really exists.

For the past month or two I've been engaged in correspondence with an intelligent Catholic friend who believes that there is a "natural law" ordained by God which rewards or (more usually) punishes us for our behaviour. The original basis for our discussion was homosexuality: she is against it, in accordance with her faith, while I have no problem with it, seeing it as merely a natural variation. In support of her position, she has pointed to higher rates of depression and suicide among gays and especially to their higher incidences of infectious disease, up to and including AIDS. I've countered that self-destructive activity is a natural response to exclusion and prejudice from one's friends and community, but more importantly still that while there are very many patterns of behaviour that are proven to be hazardous to your health, few Christians seem to believe that God frowns upon the ones that don't involve sex. Athletic activity of any kind, for example, is more hazardous than sitting on your duff at home. Runners drop dead during marathons; skiers slam headfirst into trees. But I can't imagine that the Almighty has a particular moral problem with those who are doing their best to keep in shape. Good, rich food can clog your arteries, even if you don't eat to excess: all you need is an unfortunate genetic disposition towards the production of cholesterol and boom, you're dead of a heart attack at 45 through absolutely no fault of your own. And so on. Casual observation suggests that life is unfair, and that the good die young while the unjust live full and pleasurable lives -- even the Bible concurs on that, and isn't it supposed to be the ultimate authority?

Any supposed moral law derived from the recounting of personal disasters is going to be tainted by a tendentious selection of the facts. My friend has informed me that certain parts of the body are not meant to be used in the manner entailed by most homosexual activity, and I don't disagree that they are ill-suited to it. But consider the female anatomy during the act of childbirth. The infant's head is larger than the birth canal and turns 180 degrees during its descent; the disproportion between its dimensions and the mother's body almost guarantee that its birth will be a painful and hazardous process. Historical records confirm, in fact, that until comparatively recently maternal mortality was high. And yet, according to the proponents of natural law, the propagation of children is the fulfillment of God's will; its very absence is what is said to blight homosexual relationships. If we were creating our morality anew, from nothing, and were observing all of this dispassionately, wouldn't we conclude that there was something intrinsically immoral in a woman subjecting herself to the risks of childbirth?

Like "creation science", "natural law" is only a way of putting a more plausible, empirical gloss on ideas which one has already arrived at through faith alone.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Scotland the craven

The Scottish Executive has found itself following in the illustrious footsteps of the Hanoverians in an attempt to regulate traditional dress: licences are soon to be required for sporrans, in order to prove that they were not made from endangered animals.

As a former Scot it breaks my heart to see the country of my birth using its new- found autonomy to turn itself into such a ridiculous nanny state.

Muzzling the masses

As a followup to a post I wrote last weekend, here's a Fox News transcript of US senators Trent Lott (Republican) and Dianne Feinstein (Democrat) expressing their support for measures to fix the "problem" of talk radio. The "Fairness Doctrine" Feinstein refers to was a previous attempt by the Federal Communications Commission to ensure equal time for opposing political opinions; begun in 1949 when there were only three major broadcasting networks, it was discontinued in 1987 as being incompatible with the spirit of the First Amendment. In addition to being a violation of freedom of speech, the Doctrine allows unelected regulators a large degree of control over the airwaves to enforce their subjective notion of what constitutes a "fair" balance. Since the vast majority of talk-radio in the US is conservative in orientation (especially since the demise of the left- of- centre and low- rated Air America), the proposal to revive the Doctrine amounts to a partisan desire to capture a listening audience by any means necessary. (This at least is the motivation for Democrats. For Republicans like Lott, the measure is more a way to exact revenge against a medium which has rallied widespread support against his immigration- amnesty bill.)

For a real nightmare, just imagine how this sort of thing would apply to the Internet. Proponents of "fairness" have suggested that political advocacy websites be forced to link to sites promoting opposing points of view. But there are more than seventy million blogs in the world, the majority of them based in the United States and a fair number of which concern themselves with political issues. To police these sites would require a vast expansion of FCC authority, so that the US could end up with a degree of internet regulation rivalling that of China. (Not that the FCC would mind, of course -- more jobs for the boys.)

If this kind of insanity can seriously be considered in the United States -- traditionally the nation which has been most committed to freedom of speech and property rights -- the rest of us who live in countries with even more government regulation have lots to worry about.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Fashion victims

How many people do you have to murder to finally go out of style? If you're Mao Tse-Tung and only killed 40 million people or so, you can still inspire a Hollywood airhead to tote around a bag emblazoned with your wisdom.

Some Peruvians are upset that actress Cameron Diaz, who is visiting Machu Picchu, has chosen to bring along an olive- green bag sporting a red star and the slogan "Serve the People" written in Chinese. The article helpfully explains to its readers that Peru suffered for decades from the ravages of a Maoist insurgency which claimed 70,000 lives, but it makes no mention of the casualties that Mao himself was responsible for in China, which were about a thousand times greater. Since no Chinese person was reported to have been offended by Diaz's bag, a reference to the greatest mass murder in human history wasn't included even as background to the story: like, whatever.

It's shocking to realize the extent to which the political allegiances of most people are not held deeply and sincerely but are instead worn as accessories, whether literally or figuratively. To take the most well-known current example, it's obvious that nobody who travels constantly by air or lives in an enormous house can be honestly be said to be committed to the environment: what motivates celebrities to claim that they are ecologically sensitive, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, is the desire to wear an elegant opinion. Green politics can be as flattering to the appearance as an expensive outfit, and no actual change in one's lifestyle is required.

Communism is another flattering accessory. Some dim idea that the communists were tough guys has filtered down to the consumer of the Che Guevara poster or Little Red Book or Mao bag; consequently a whiff of danger accompanies these items and supposedly rubs off on the person who buys them. As a bonus, they also carry an implied disdain of Western capitalism, which as all progressive people know is the real evil. (The latest variation on chic power- worship is the expression of sympathy with radical Islamists, which can go so far as the wearing of kaffiyehs or marching in support of terrorist groups.)

The greatest thing about using politics as a fashion statement is that you don't have to think deeply about what you believe; you simply go along with the other members of your peer group. Dubious opinions and erroneous assumptions always go unchallenged when everyone else around you believes in them (or claims to). And if that means lending your tacit support even to ideas which are directly responsible for the deaths of thousands or millions of people -- well, you know what your priorities are. History is in the past, but fashion is forever.

In their own words

The latest BBC whitewashing of Hamas comes from their reporter Paul Adams, who in the course of an astonishingly worshipful paean to the group makes the following claim:
The international community shunned Hamas because of its association with terrorism, despite being advised by many on the ground that constructive engagement might be a more profitable course of action.
It's worth having a look at the Hamas charter to see what that group really thinks of "constructive engagement":
"Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it" ([Quote from] The Martyr, Imam Hassan al-Banna, of blessed memory).

The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: "The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him." The Islamic Resistance Movement believes that the land of Palestine is an Islamic Waqf consecrated for future Moslem generations until Judgement Day. It, or any part of it, should not be squandered: it, or any part of it, should not be given up.

The Zionist plan is limitless. After Palestine, the Zionists aspire to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. When they will have digested the region they overtook, they will aspire to further expansion, and so on. Their plan is embodied in the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion"...

So, to summarize: Hamas believes that no part of Palestine must be surrendered, and that Israel must be destroyed; it finds inspiration in a brutal anti-Semitic forgery like the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and looks forward to the day when, with Allah's blessing, all of the Jews will be massacred by Muslims. And just imagine: the Israelis believe that this group is somehow dangerous to them! Where on earth could they have gotten that idea from?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Thought for the day

"You must either hate or imitate [the way of the world]. But both courses are to be avoided." (Seneca, from Epistulae Morales 7).

I like the paradox contained in this: you have only two choices, neither of which you can whole- heartedly opt for if you want to retain your integrity. So what do you do? You can only try to chart a tortuous (and tortured) course between the two, using both as a guide while surrendering to neither, only to end up being condemned in any case -- whether by yourself, or by others -- as a hopeless waverer! It only makes one feel slightly better to realize that the Romans had the same concerns...

Mind out of balance

Like a number of other rural people and/or antisocial shut-in types I belong to one of those DVD- by- mail services that deliver movies to the house two or three times a week. It's a simple concept: for a flat rate, you get to watch a certain number of DVDs at a time, and keep them for as long as you like. Instead of getting exactly what you want when you want it, though, you have to go to the company's website and assemble a list of things you'd like to see someday, and they'll send along to you whichever of those is available at the moment. Being a voracious cinephile my own list has gone wildly out of control and is now approaching 800 titles. Consequently I often get the surprise, sometimes pleasant and sometimes not, of receiving a movie in the mail whose title I don't recognize, and in which I can't remember ever having expressed an interest. Still, it's somehow strangely comforting to know that if I were to drop dead of a heart attack tomorrow these DVDs would continue arriving at the house for another three or four years.

I didn't recall having requested Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance when it arrived a few days ago, but I was at least familiar with the title, having seen it about twenty years ago on TV. At that time it just seemed like a random collection of hypnotic images depicting various aspects of urban civilization, speeded up using time-lapse photography and set to the bleak, repetitive music of Philip Glass; the kind of movie you'd ideally want to watch in college while smoking a bowl in the dorm room. Watching it the second time, though, left me with an entirely different impression.

It's not very often that a film leaves me feeling physically tainted, as if I needed to right away jump in the shower and wash it off somehow, but that's exactly the reaction I had after seeing Koyaanisqatsi. A film that demonized a particular group of people such as Jews or blacks would not even have been so repulsive as one that, like this, demonizes humanity as a whole. The rapid- motion shots of people commuting, eating, playing games -- engaging in normal human activity, in other words -- are intended to make them look like teeming insects, infesting the face of an earth which (as the movie clearly implies) would be much better off without them.

The title is a Hopi word meaning "life out of balance", and we get to hear noble savages chanting their prophecies at various intervals. The sort of people who would scoff at a Biblical prophecy as the purest form of ignorance are apparently meant to be awed by the same sort of inspired guesswork when it emerges from the mouth of an exotic brown person. The prophecies themselves are conveniently of a sort to flatter the deepest anxieties of a white liberal audience: that Mother Earth is screaming when we dig stuff out of her and will eventually give us our comeuppance; and that burning ash will fall from the sky and scorch the earth (the film was made in 1983, at the height of the hysteria over nuclear winter). There's a further, third prophecy included, something about "cobwebs" being spun on "the day of purification", but it makes little sense either on its own or in relation to the film; presumably its hidden wisdom is lost on palefaces like me.

The cinematographic technique is pure agitprop: by showing one thing and then another, apparently different thing, you prove that those two things are connected. Brilliant! So a shot of Wall Street leads us right to a panorama of what looks to be the devastated South Bronx, proving that it is callous bond-traders who burn down impoverished neighbourhoods (rather than, say, local arsonists and vandals.) Masses of cars arrayed in a parking lot are juxtaposed with masses of tanks in formation, proving that war is the ultimate expression of industralized society. People shown moving quickly up escalators (once again using time-lapse) are followed by rows of wieners moving quickly down conveyor belts, proving that people (at least the non-Hopi ones) are really just mass-produced, undifferentiated tubes of meat. And so on. This is adolescent emotionalism at its best, a kind of political posturing no more sophisticated than that you would expect from, say, a whiny, self-pitying Goth kid in the suburbs.

And like most such posturing it is not only shallow but hypocritical, too. Spectators are shown swilling popcorn in a movie theatre; OK, so where was Koyaanisqatsi shown? Against a cliff-face or adobe wall in New Mexico? Cars are portrayed as choking the planet, but Philip Glass owns a summer home in Cape Breton; does he use teleportation to get there? Environmentalists may well have a hatred of humanity -- that much is evident from the film, and especially from the close-up shots of ordinary people (often visibly reluctant to be filmed) whom we are meant to find repulsive and inauthentic -- but they don't hate themselves, and they certainly don't expect to have to live up to the same standards they would like to set for everyone else. In our own day we have Al Gore telling us to reduce our "carbon footprint" while using twenty times the normal amount of electricity to run his own home, Prince Charles chartering a private flight across the Atlantic to pick up an award for his green sensibilities, and celebrities with private jets and multiple homes -- whose film and TV appearances use untold amounts of energy to produce -- hectoring us on the need to use less toilet paper or take the bus to work. This is a modern-day religion in which faith is an adequate substitute for works, and as in any other religion there is a priestly class which is happy to preach to the laity in return for special exemptions and amenities of its own.

Civilization as we know it would be inconceivable without industrialization. There is a terrible amount of waste in our society, but since a perfect balance between over- abundance and scarcity is nearly impossible to achieve, we should be grateful if we are erring on the side of the former rather than the latter. If we were to go back to living as the Hopi did before the arrival of Europeans in North America, we would find ourselves returning to a time of high infant mortality and low life expectancy, alternating periods of sufficiency and famine, and constant vulnerability to attacks from other tribes. Life would be a constant and unremitting struggle against hardship, want, and oppression. If this is what we want then we should at least have the decency to say so openly. Self- righteous preening, easy and agreeable as it might be, makes no difference to the planet at all.