March 31, 2008

The End

So. Farewell
Then George Junior,
As you were known,
Though some have
Called you other names
Yankee and
White cant
Spring to mind.
Brian Micklethwait,
Who I don't
Really read
That much,
Once called you
"This fellow".
The lyrical Samina
Used to call you
Every day.
But in the end,
No one was interested
In your borderline disorder.

Elmore J. Thribb III

Sweet About Me

mbox

Friends

Huh.

Laureate of the Boobolsie

"This writing certainly is a queer business, but I want to tell you, and it's just as sure as God made little apples, the thing that distinguishes our American commonwealth from the pikers and tinhorns in other countries is our Punch. You take a genu-wine, honest-to-God homo Americanibus and there ain't anything he's afraid to tackle. Snap and speed are his middle name! He'll put her across if he has to ride from hell to breakfast, and believe me I'm mighty good and sorry for the boob that's so unlucky as to get in his way, because that poor slob is going to wonder where he was at when old Red Lewis hit town! Do you suppose we could get old Red into Rotary some day?" "Wouldn't be surprised, it's a changing world," said George F. Babbitt wistfully.
Time Magazine, October 1945.

No, really

I wasn't joking. Wake me up in September.

Dumbing down

MULTIPLE CHOICE KOAN #9

(Choose one and only one)

@ Taoist

@ Confucian

@ Young soul rebel

The audacity of hype

Looking back across the water at the land that gave me birth, I sometimes wonder if the wide Atlantic adds perspective or just obscures the view.

In any case, I'm bound to say I find Obama Girl's latest video deeply disturbing. As near as I can make out, Leah Kauffman is what one might call an Obamarama ding-a-ling.

What hope is there? Really.

BBC Junior

Erm... , is it me or has the BBC News front page started to look a lot like George Junior?

I mean, really, take a look at it. I'm not kidding - compare them:

- font and text size
- text colors and strengths in main body and side bar
- gray sidings outside the content area
- relatively uncluttered with plenty of free space all over
- widely spaced, clean links in the side bar
- orange banner sidebar divider
- no advertising and no tip jar (I'm just throwing those two in there)

You see what I mean?

I'm not saying the BBC has copied my blog design - I use a standard Blogger template (I'm putting a bill in tomorrow anyway, by the way). What I'm saying is, the BBC is starting to look a lot less like a news site and much more like a blog. Hell, if you take it down to one column in the main body it is a blog.

It's convergence, baby!

Looking back a few years at Joho's thoughts on the future of blogs, I get the sense that things are happening a little faster than we thought.

Still, however much it might pain the BBC to admit it: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

March 30, 2008

Ludicrous idea

Clash of civilizations? What clash of civilizations?

The Third Case

The author of “A poet’s last request” explains why he won’t be linking to, or carrying video of, “Fitna” on his site.

I do not fear to give offense

I do not fear to give offense;
I cannot smile at ignorance.
But do not share your innocence
That others, in their arrogance,
Won’t wish me harm or want me dead.
Hunt me down: Cut off my head.

The days of innocence are sadly gone.
Now each, in silent fear alone,
Speaks not but thinks upon his plight:
“We are all guilty in their sight.”
It's dedicated: "@ LiveLeak dot com".

Family life

There can't be many 13 year-old boys who come back from playing rugby on a Sunday afternoon, clean themselves up and head straight for the kitchen to start making bread.

The Big Fella just popped his head round the door to tell me he's made the dough, the oven's on and his olive bread will be ready around dinner time.

I'm looking forward to it. And I'm not just saying this for the sake of it - his bread is really good.

Update
[If I keep posting stuff like this, do me a favor - pack me off to Twitter]

March 29, 2008

Weekend reading

Mark Danner: Taking stock of the war on terror.

Ross Douthat in The Atlantic on the movie industry's reaction to the Iraq War.

Catherine Mayer reports for Time Magazine on Britain's wayward youth.

David Selbourne in the Spectator: crisis and anger in British society.

Summer's here

British Summer Time starts today - the clocks have gone forward an hour.

It always seems to catch us unawares - I only realized at about five minutes to midnight. And we've got an early start today - the boys are playing in a rugby tournament. Still, it's clear and bright out there and I've already been round the house and changed all the clocks.

So, summer's here and the time is right - before you know it, we'll be dancing in the street.

Like ripples on water



Image courtesy of Scott Liddell. Title courtesy of Horace.

Ancient wisdom

When a virtuous man does something,
He leaves nothing undone.
When a just man does something,
He leaves a great deal to be done.
When an authoritarian does something
And no one responds,
He rolls up his sleeves
In an attempt to enforce order.

When virtue is lost, there is Goodness.
When Goodness is lost, there is Kindness.
When Kindness is lost, there is Justice.
When Justice is lost, there is only ritual:
The husk of faith and loyalty,
The beginning of confusion.
Lao Tzu

Breaking news

This just in from Sergeant Pepper:

I read the news today. Oh, boy! 15,000 bags in Heathrow's Terminal Five. And though the bags were rather small, they had to count them all. Now they know how many bags it takes to fill the departure hall.

Saturday roundabout

Small Town Scribbles has some thoughts on Sarkozy's visit to the UK.

Popular Mechanics magazine has a rundown of "The 10 Most Prophetic Sci-Fi Movies Ever". (Via Instapundit)

The latest edition of The Momma 'n' Daddy Collection is available at Normblog.

Philip Stott curses the Green Inquisition in "They Still Need Witches To Hang".

And finally,

Clive Davis has old footage of a political assassination in some banana republic.

Random quote

The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane.
Marcus Aurelius

Random picture

Day dreaming

I never finished my masters degree. The simple answer: I couldn't reconcile the demands of raising a family and working full-time in a demanding job with the level of work even a part-time MBA requires.

I managed to keep up the first two years. Most of the material wasn't new to me - I could probably have made a reasonable job of teaching a couple of the units. And I turned out some work that wasn't half bad. I passed the exams without too much trouble; I was doing better than most, not as well as some.

The real problem came in my final year. I couldn't find anyone to supervise my dissertation, and neither my tutors nor my employers were at all supportive of my chosen topic. As I remember it, a couple of them were downright hostile.

Why am I talking about this now? Well, because today, tidying the study and sorting out a pile of old books to take to the local charity shop, I came across some of my old research notes.

Will I ever finish my dissertation? I don't know. But it's nagging at me now. That old box of notes, sitting there neglected in the corner, is looking at me accusingly: "Quitter! Why don't you finish what you started?"

Maybe one day I will.

March 28, 2008

The Old Country



One of them.

It's like Granpa Simpson said: "The story of the Simpson family began in the Old Country. I forget which one exactly."

The last word

Having quoted extensively from Spinoza, and re-posted and referred to my own blog entries from two years ago, in order to make a number of points which I might have dealt with more concisely had I addressed the issues afresh and in my own words, I shall endeavour to abstain from further bouts of such unbridled pomposity.

Except to say only this (just in case I need to spell it out):

The reason why restrictions on freedom of speech are injurious, not only to liberty but also to the welfare of the state, is not because some grand moral principle is thereby transgressed, but primarily because when people are prevented from saying what they think, specifically when their opinions are driven from the public space by threat or violence, they may well (according to their nature) seek some other means of making themselves heard. In so far as their diverse experiences may have taught them that threats and violence will, in the public sphere, prevail over reason and debate, they are apt to consider whether they have been wrong, not in their views but in their methods. Thus might they be led to adopt the tactics of their opposers and thereby seek redress by any and all means necessary.

Such a state of affairs, were it to come to pass, would not only be damaging to the welfare of the state but injurious to the liberties of all.

Liberty and religion

[From the conclusion to Spinoza's Tractatus Theologico-Politicus]

It is impossible to deprive men of the liberty of saying what they think.

Not only may such liberty be granted without prejudice to the public peace, to loyalty, and to the rights of rulers, but that it is even necessary, for their preservation. For when people try to take it away, and bring to trial, not only the acts which alone are capable of offending, but also the opinions of mankind, they only succeed in surrounding their victims with an appearance of martyrdom, and raise feelings of pity and revenge rather than of terror.

Uprightness and good faith are thus corrupted, flatterers and traitors are encouraged, and sectarians triumph, inasmuch as concessions have been made to their animosity, and they have gained the state sanction for the doctrines of which they are the interpreters.

Hence they arrogate to themselves the state authority and rights, and do not scruple to assert that they have been directly chosen by God, and that their laws are Divine, whereas the laws of the state are human, and should therefore yield obedience to the laws of God - in other words, to their own laws.

Everyone must see that this is not a state of affairs conducive to public welfare.

Wherefore, the safest way for a state is to lay down the rule that religion is comprised solely in the exercise of charity and justice, and that the rights of rulers in sacred, no less than in secular matters, should merely have to do with actions, but that every man should think what he likes and say what he thinks.

Reason and free speech

Nobody in the last three hundred years has said it any better than Spinoza.

THAT IN A FREE STATE EVERY MAN MAY
THINK WHAT HE LIKES, AND SAY WHAT HE THINKS.


If men's minds were as easily controlled as their tongues, every king would sit safely on his throne, and government by compulsion would cease; for every subject would shape his life according to the intentions of his rulers, and would esteem a thing true or false, good or evil, just or unjust, in obedience to their dictate. However, we have shown already that no man's mind can possibly lie wholly at the disposition of another, for no one can willingly transfer his natural right of free reason and judgment, or be compelled so to do. For this reason government which attempts to control minds is accounted tyrannical, and it is considered an abuse of sovereignty and a usurpation of the rights of subjects, to seek to prescribe what shall be accepted as true, or rejected as false, or what opinions should actuate men in their worship of God. All these questions fall within a man's natural right, which he cannot abdicate even with his own consent. I admit that the judgment can be biassed in many ways, and to an almost incredible degree, so that while exempt from direct external control it may be so dependent on another man's words, that it may fitly be said to be ruled by him; but although this influence is carried to great lengths, it has never gone so far as to invalidate the statement, that every man's understanding is his own, and that brains are as diverse as palates.
[...]
However unlimited, therefore, the power of a sovereign may be, however implicitly it is trusted as the exponent of law and religion, it can never prevent men from forming judgments according to their intellect, or being influenced by any given emotion. It is true that it has the right to treat as enemies all men whose opinions do not, on all subjects, entirely coincide with its own; but we are not discussing its strict rights, but its proper course of action. I grant that it has the right to rule in the most violent manner, and to put citizens to death for very trivial causes, but no one supposes it can do this with the approval of sound judgment. Nay, inasmuch as such things cannot be done without extreme peril to itself, we may even deny that it has the absolute power to do them, or, consequently, the absolute right; for the rights of the sovereign are limited by his power.

Since, therefore, no one can abdicate his freedom of judgment and feeling; since every man is by indefeasible natural right the master of his own thoughts, it follows that men thinking in diverse and contradictory fashions, cannot, without disastrous results, be compelled to speak only according to the dictates of the supreme power. Not even the most experienced, to say nothing of the multitude, know how to keep silence. Men's common failing is to confide their plans to others, though there be need for secrecy, so that a government would be most harsh which deprived the individual of his freedom of saying and teaching what he thought; and would be moderate if such freedom were granted.
[...]
It follows, plainly, from the explanation given above, of the foundations of a state, that the ultimate aim of government is not to rule, or restrain, by fear, nor to exact obedience, but contrariwise, to free every man from fear, that he may live in all possible security; in other words, to strengthen his natural right to exist and work - without injury to himself or others.

No, the object of government is not to change men from rational beings into beasts or puppets, but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled; neither showing hatred, anger, or deceit, nor watched with the eyes of jealousy and injustice. In fact, the true aim of government is liberty.

Read the whole thing.

Living in fearful silence

The removal of "Fitna": Official LiveLeak statement.

Following threats to our staff of a very serious nature, and some ill informed reports from certain corners of the British media that could directly affect the safety of some staff members, Liveleak has been left with no other choice but to remove Fitna from our servers.

This is a sad day for freedom of speech on the net but we have to place the safety and well being of our staff above all else. We would like to thank the thousands of people, from all backgrounds and religions, who gave us their support. They realised LiveLeak.com is a vehicle for many opinions and not just for the support of one.

Perhaps there is still hope that this situation may produce a discussion that could benefit and educate all of us as to how we can accept one anothers culture. We stood for what we believe in, the ability to be heard, but in the end the price was too high.
We've been here before, haven't we?

Note: I came across the above statement via Poligazette.com which carried a link to the LiveLeak page hosting Wilders' video. Poligazette's website account has now been suspended.

Update
After several hours, Poligazette is back - they're not sure what happened.

Update
A couple of days later and Poligazette still aren't sure what the problem was - a glitch at their INS, maybe.

Friday roundabout

At Samizdata: A libertarian law enforcement official [sounds of head-scratching] is having qualms about his work.

How did they build Stonehenge? One man thinks he knows; Faith in Honest Doubt has the video.

Norm Geras defends the right not to vote: I don't and won't vote, so I'm pleased to see that liberty defended.

Via Clive Davis: The Olympic Torch - "one of Hitler’s most pervasive legacies"?

And finally,

Good news from Joe Katzman at Winds of Change: every episode of "South Park" is now available online - free of charge.

That's the Netherlands

This video, posted yesterday on LiveLeak, seems to me to be a considered response to a thorny issue.
"Very rarely has a film sparked off as much pre-release controversy as 'Fitna, the movie', by Dutch MP Geert Wilders. Even before anyone has seen it, 'Fitna' has the world asking questions. Questions about the man who made it and his motives. Questions about the country he lives in, and its government - which issues warnings about the film but does nothing to stop it. And questions about the position of Muslims in The Netherlands. The central character in this film is also struggling with these questions, and decides to travel to The Netherlands in search of answers."



Wilders has an ugly agenda and a limited following. Support freedom of speech not discriminatory social policies.

Recurring issue

[Originally posted two years ago today]

SPIKED ON SPEECH

Brendan O'Neill at Spiked (yes, I know, it's Living Marxism in drag) has some thoughts on last Saturday's March for Free Expression.

An extract:

Saturday's rally reminded me of the dangers of defining free speech legalistically. Some seemed to see freedom of speech as something that the authorities must protect and promote, when to my mind freedom of speech means the authorities butting out of our conversations and correspondence, and all of us having the right to say, write, think and hear what we want without state intervention. At one stage Tatchell called on Metropolitan Police commissioner Sir Ian Blair to protect people from the 'intimidation' of religious fundamentalists. Five minutes later the organisers announced, to loud boos, that a protester's placard had been confiscated by the cops because it reproduced one of those silly Danish cartoons. But perhaps the police were simply protecting Muslims from the 'intimidation' of their secular critics? If you give the police an inch of moral authority on the free speech issue, they will take a mile of liberties. That's the cops for you.
Indeed it is and, true to form, the police have now summonsed the lone protester who displayed the cartoons.

What do I think of free speech in Europe? It would be a nice idea.

British comedy

Under extreme duress

What can I say? They made me do it. After all, I'm only their father. You don't understand the power they have over me. How could I refuse? And, if I'm going to have to do it, I may as well do it now, today. After all, Friday, as I understand it, is the traditional day for (I can hardly bring myself to say it), the day of the week usually reserved for [swallows pride - nearly chokes] cat blogging.

LEAVE NOW! You know what's coming next. Too late, you've already seen it, haven't you?



He was a stray (the one on the right), he'd been living rough for a couple of years, the boys took pity on him, started feeding him scraps, enticing him in with saucers of milk. What was I supposed to do? I don't have a heart of stone.

That's all I'm going to say; the subject is closed. Permanently.

Right, back to business. Nothing more to see here. Let's just move on. Pretend it never happened.

March 27, 2008

Ethnicity and identity

What Naftali said.

And I say that as a German-American immigrant to England whose mother’s family were free-thinking Irish Catholics who grew up in a largely Jewish community.

Golden memories

With the Beijing Olympics approaching, I find myself thinking back to the most thrilling moments from past Games. Three Olympic gold medal performances really stand out for me: two Americans from Mexico '68 and a young Russian girl at the Munich Olympics in '72.

We were in England at the time of the Mexico City Games. I was 8 years old and we watched the BBC's black and white coverage of the event on my grandparents' old Decca set. I can remember pleading with Mom to let me stay up to watch some of the events - the time difference meant that many of them were broadcast late in the evening and some went on into the early hours of the morning.

Thanks to the magic of YouTube, I can now watch those events in color, whenever I want. So...

First, Bob Beamon's extraordinary leap in the long jump. His first jump in the finals effectively ended the competition - Beamon leapt 29 feet 2 1/2 inches, beating the previous world record by an amazing 21 and 3/4 inches, a record that would stand until 1991.

Then, footage of Dick Fosbury demonstrating his revolutionary new technique in the high jump, winning gold and setting a new Olympic record of 7 feet 4 1/4 inches.

And so to Munich '72 and a different sport - gymnastics. Olga Korbut, a young Russian gymnast making her Olympic debut, won four medals that year - a gold for her (thrilling and technically brilliant) beam exercise, a team gold and a silver medal on the asymmetric bars. But it was her gold winning performance in the floor exercise that really captivated the crowd.

Watching that performance again, and hearing the delight of the commentator as she performs her routine, brought it all back to me - she was a Russian, we were in the middle of the Cold War and she was representing the enemy, but everyone was rooting for her. She didn't disappoint.

It really is a delight to watch.

Thursday roundabout

Tarek Heggy at Winds of Change on religious education in Egypt.

Via Instapundit: Internet Scofflaw on propaganda fever in Iraq.

Oliver Kamm opposes the noisy coalition intent on silencing Tony Blair.

Zoe Brain fighting ignorance and callous disregard on the discussion boards.

Ophelia Benson on the parents who let a child die because of their faith.

And finally,

I was wrong.

I got mail

This from Mac, who couldn't wait until she got home:

A classic “have your say” from the Grauniad posted in response to a reasonably sensible, tho’ rather pointless article on anger:

“I believe that most anger comes from frustration, either in sex; problems at work, pressure from wives. Most driving accidents will be caused in the morning due to arguments between husbands and wives. In the evening caused by problems in the work place.”

Thank you for sharing your belief Mr V.A., unsullied as it is by any evidence whatsoever.
Yep, some people just love pressing the "What I reckon" button.

[Link opens video from the BBC sketch show "That Mitchell and Webb Look"]

The roots of culture

One of the books on my wish list:

The Psychological Foundations of Culture: Edited by Mark Schaller and Christian S. Crandall.

Most other investigations into "cultural psychology" have focused on the impact that culture has on the psychology of the individual. The focus of this book is the reverse.

The authors show how questions about the origins and evolution of culture can be fruitfully answered through rigorous and creative examination of fundamental characteristics of human cognition, motivation, and social interaction. They review recent theory and research that, in many different ways, points to the influence of basic psychological processes on the collective structures that define cultures. These processes operate in all sorts of different populations, ranging from very small interacting groups to grand-scale masses of people occupying the same demographic or geographic category. The cultural effects--often unintended--of individuals' thoughts and actions are demonstrated in a wide variety of customs, ritualized practices, and shared mythologies: for example, religious beliefs, moral standards, rules for the allocation of resources, norms for the acceptable expression of aggression, gender stereotypes, and scientific values.
Other works in the same vein can be found on the Centre for Evolutionary Psychology's reading list.

Spotlight on Bangladesh

Bangladesh's military government is stepping up its harassment of Salah Choudhury, the Dhaka newspaper editor charged with sedition in 2004.

According to the Wall Street Journal, following a raid on his newspaper's offices, Choudhury has now also been charged with treason, blasphemy and espionage.

His real "crime" was to advocate for peaceful relations between Muslims and Jews in the Mideast and to call attention to the radical Islamist threat within Bangladesh. Pressure from the U.S. helped lead to his release on bail in April 2005, although the charges have not been dropped.

Now Dhaka is ratcheting up the pressure. On March 18, more than a dozen members of the government's Rapid Action Battalion stormed Mr. Choudhury's newspaper offices in Dhaka at gunpoint. After "discovering" illegal drugs in Mr. Choudhury's desk drawer, the RAB blindfolded Mr. Choudhury and a colleague and carted them to headquarters. There, Mr. Choudhury tells us, his interrogators accused him of being a "Zionist spy" and beat his colleague, Mahboob Ar Rahman, a 57-year-old man who had to seek medical treatment.
Here's one of the articles that got Choudhury into trouble. According to the WSJ, he is undeterred. Following his release, he has returned to work and is likely to continue his campaign.

Good luck to him.

School crossing

My boys don't complain about having to walk to school each day. But if they ever do, I was planning on telling them how lucky they are - their grandfather and his brother had to ride two-up and bareback for miles to get to and from school (shades of the Four Yorkshiremen, I know).

Now, instead, I think I'd just point them to this story from the BBC:

A South African village is demanding that a bridge be built across a crocodile-infested river to stop children swimming it to get to school. Students as young as seven have been making the crossing for two months since the community's boat was stolen.

"There are about 70 households on that side of the river but there are no buses and no-one owns a car," a Kwazulu-Natal local councillor said. To cross safely would require a 20km (12 miles) detour to get to the school.

Hosting terrorists

According to Brian Krebs on the Washington Post's computer security blog: Network Solutions, the internet hosting service that blocked access to Geert Wilders' Fitna website in response to complaints, has been providing services to Hizbollah:

NetworkSolutions on Monday pulled the plug on Hizbollah.org, one of the official Web sites of Hezbollah, a political and paramilitary group in Lebanon. NetworkSolutions spokeswoman Susan Wade confirmed that the company suspended the domain in response to numerous complaints, and to findings that the site violated the company's acceptable use policy. As noted in the comments for this post, Hezbollah is rather prominently included under the U.S. State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations. FTOs are designated under section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and under that law it is illegal "for a person in the United States or subject to the jurisdiction of the United States to knowingly provide 'material support or resources' to a designated FTO." So, complaint or no, NetworkSolutions would appear to have been in violation of that law until it terminated its contract with Hizbollah.
I hope they throw the book at them.

March 26, 2008

Blogger mayhem

That was weird.

When I opened my blog this morning, I found a video from YouTube (which I'd tried, and failed, to post here two days ago) had somehow become the top post. And not just one copy of it, but three!

Normal service has now been resumed.

Wednesday roundabout

Good news: One of Michael Totten's reports from Iraq has unexpected consequences.

Jonathan Quong at Normblog argues for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics.

Via Samizdata: the latest development in suborbital flight.

Understanding Obama: Cobb has some thoughts.

David T at Harry's Place is questioning Britain's anti-jihadist strategy.

And finally,

The Fractal Theory Of Canada: reproduced at Language Log.

The Little Duke



Palace secret revealed after Duke of Edinburgh (3'6") and Madame Sarkozy (even smaller) are inadvertently photographed with normal size people.

Starved of ideas

Philip Stott at A Hot Topic takes the British government to task for failing to address the issue of food security in its National Security Strategy.

[T]he desperate needs to keep food production ahead of population growth; to face up to diversifying food demands, especially in the developing world; to balance the fierce competition for land, from biofuels, from conservation, and from development; and to grasp the structural changes inherent in agricultural economics are abundantly clear. These all have historical precedents, and they remain at the heart of human survival.

[According to the Financial Times:] “Most governments now agree that the astounding surge in food prices last year - the cost of food rose almost 40 per cent globally, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation, and has continued to rise this year - is structural, meaning that prices will not retreat to former levels. This is because newly wealthy consumers in countries such as China and India, who can increasingly afford to improve their diets, as well as the biofuels industry, are expected to maintain a rapacious demand for basic food commodities such as wheat, corn and soyabeans.”
And things are only going to get worse. Let's hope the government starts giving this issue the attention it deserves.

Ancient hatred

Something my mother said some time ago keeps coming back to me. We were talking about the 7/7 bombings in London and I mentioned that a lot of commenators where concerned there might be a backlash against Muslims in the UK. She looked at me like I was stupid.

"Oh, George" she said, in a voice weary with age and bitter experience, "You don't know the English like I do. They'll go after the Jews before they'd even think to trouble the Muslims."

I dismissed it at the time. But I'm beginning to think maybe she wasn't far wrong.

Controversial criticism

The BBC reports:

A Muslim scholar involved in high-level dialogue with the Vatican has denounced the Pope's baptism on Saturday of a prominent Italian Muslim convert.
It's a provocation, supposedly. That's pretty much par for the course, but what I found interesting was this bit:

The Egyptian-born Italian TV and newspaper commentator has been an outspoken critic of Islamist militancy and a strong supporter of Israel.

He says such controversial views and his conversion to Christianity have provoked threats on his life, and he is now protected by a police escort.
I know the BBC regards support for Israel as somehow outlandish (that's just the way they are) but criticism of Islamist militancy is now controversial?

Who knew?

Hillary's moment

Mixing Memory (one of my favorite science blogs) is Defending Hillary Clinton From a Memory Researcher's Perspective.

Since it became clear that Clinton's story wasn't accurate, bloggers and the mainstream media have been taking her to task, and understandably so. If you're telling a story that's supposed to demonstrate your experience with dangerous foreign policy situations, and it turns out the story isn't really true, you're going to hear about it. But I think it's unfair to accuse Clinton of lying. Don't get me wrong, I think all politicians lie, and I'm no fan of Clinton (I voted for her opponent in my state's primary), but this appears to be a pretty straightforward failure of memory to me, and I'd bet a lot of money that source monitoring has its dirty little hand in it.
I'll go with that. But it's not really a defense Hillary can effectively deploy in the political arena: "I'm not a liar, I just have memory lapses" doesn't sound good coming from a presidential candidate.

At the movies

Richard Dawkins doesn't usually post movie reviews to his website but he makes an exception for "Expelled!", an artless propaganda piece from the supporters of Intelligent Design.

What a shoddy, second-rate piece of work. A favourite joke among the film-making community is the 'Lord Privy Seal'. Amateurs and novices in the making of documentaries can't resist illustrating every significant word in the commentary by cutting to a picture of it. The Lord Privy Seal is an antiquated title in Britain's heraldic tradition. The joke imagines a low-grade film director who illustrates it by cutting to a picture of a Lord, then a privy, and then a seal. Mathis' film is positively barking with Lord Privy Seals. We get an otherwise pointless cut to Nikita Krushchev hammering the table (to illustrate something like 'emotional outburst'). There are similarly clunking and artless cuts to a guillotine, fist fights, and above all to the Berlin wall and Nazi gas chambers and concentration camps.
Yep, I've seen the trailer - it's a stinker.

The release of the movie indicates a change of tack by the ID crowd. Having re-clothed Creationism in an attempt to circumvent the constitutional restrictions on religious education in schools, they lost the battle to have ID taught alongside Darwinism in science classes and have now started portraying the teaching of ID as a free speech issue, claiming their supporters are being persecuted and excluded by evil Darwinists.

It won't work, guys. Give it up!

March 25, 2008

Meet the Clampetts

While I was searching through the archives for that old promo pic of an F-117, I remembered this photograph, taken in New Mexico the following year.

We were visiting Cloudcroft (pop. 749) and, after we'd eaten our vittles and strolled around some, we decided the only thing left to do was to mosey into the offices of the Western Foto Company and get our picture taken like respectable folk.


[Click photo for larger image]

Of course, that's not Mac's normal facial expression you see there. That's just how she looks when someone unexpectedly drapes roadkill over her shoulder.

Auntie’s bloomers

If you're interested in following the machinations of the BBC’s online news editors as they twist and turn in response to righteous criticism from bloggers and informed readers, you might like to read through this post at Monkey Tennis Centre about the BBC’s coverage of one of President Bush’s recent speeches.

It’s a long post but worth the read - trying to clearly demonstrate an example of media bias often requires a level of detail which might at first glance seem inappropriate, not to say obsessive.

Having said that, I think MTC may be overestimating the quality of journalism at the BBC when he suggests (in regard to the BBC’s initially distorted coverage of the speech): “The journalists who edited the report knew exactly what they were doing.”

Unfortunately, it has become glaringly obvious over the past five years that some journalists at the BBC don’t have the slightest clue what they’re doing. They make so many mistakes (even when reporting on events in British history) and oftentimes, it’s difficult to tell the difference between compound error and calculated bias.

Also, I have to say, I think it’s a good thing when the BBC amends its online content to correct an error, even if they don’t own up to it. The BBC’s stance when it gets found out is pretty clear: amend the story but don’t acknowledge the fact and never, ever apologize.

George Senior

Writing that last post made me think of my father's experience of war - he was a platoon first sergeant in the US Army Rangers.

He didn't feature in the Normandy landings - he was spared the horrors of Omaha Beach - by that time, he was already a POW.

The Rangers' role at Pointe du Hoc is widely remembered; few remember Cisterna, the rigours of Stalag IIB and the depredations of the Death March.

My father died on April 11, 1992. Not being religious, I don't say a prayer for him on the anniversary of his death, I read a poem. I like to think he'd appreciate that.

The 4,000

As the American death toll in Iraq reaches four thousand, the New York Times looks at Six of the Fallen, in Words They Sent Home.

Back in 2003, I said we needed to get the job done and bring our people safely home. But four thousand of them won't ever be coming home and many times that number have returned from Iraq with debilitating injuries.

Some people will use these numbers to assert that the cost of the war has been too high and that we need to disengage, others will argue that we need to stay the course to ensure they did not die in vain.

I know it is too much too ask that we conduct such arguments somewhere other than over the bodies of our dead - the issue is too important and the cost in human lives (American and Iraqi) is, of course, a major consideration.

Nevertheless, irrespective of your attitude towards the war, I'd ask you to take some time out from politics today and give some thought to those who have given their lives in the service of their country. Some thought also, to the wives and husbands they left behind, to the children who will grow up without them and to their parents who have lost something dearer to them than life itself.

Their sacrifice humbles us all.

Tuesday roundabout

The geometry of sin: Zoe Brain has an angle on it.

Republicans and stem cell research: Chris Muir sees a link.

Hill and Bill: The Wonder Years - photo available here.

Pootergeek picks up on a snippet from the NUT conference.

Spiral thingy lightning bolt! Arnold Zwicky explains it at Language Log.

And finally,

Are you having problems with purple energy? Or perhaps your energy isn't purple enough. Whichever it is, Depleted Cranium has the product for you.

March 24, 2008

Strange days indeed

Damn these meds! I've had insomnia so bad for so many days now that, sitting here at four in the morning, I can't figure out whether I've stayed up too late or woken up too early. Either way, the news just keeps getting stranger.

For example: These observations on the effects of climate change from James "Gaia" Lovelock (via Dave Price at Dean's World).

By 2040, parts of the Sahara desert will have moved into middle Europe. We are talking about Paris. As far north as Berlin. In Britain we will escape because of our oceanic position.
[...]
China will be uninhabitable. So I think the Chinese will go to Africa. They are already there, preparing a new continent - the Chinese industrialists who claim to be out there mining minerals are just there on a pretext of preparing for the big move.

This is not science fiction.
No, it's not science fiction. I'm not sure what you'd call it, but it sounds demented.

Robot pack mule

Via Harry's Place: Video of BigDog - an advanced quadruped robot - one of the latest developments from Boston Dynamics.

Impressive and kind of scary.

Facing the nightmare

DANGER ROOM examines our threat response capability:

How you deal with a rampaging five-hundred-foot monster in a crowded urban area? Now that Cloverfield has opened in the UK, it's time for DANGER ROOM to go to the movies and consider this utterly vital question.
[...]
Cloverfield has been described as a 'reimagining' of The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms – both use Coney Island – but the monster is tougher to deal with, shrugging off all sorts of modern weaponry. The reason, as I see it, is fairly simple: the kit simply isn't designed for this sort of target.
Read on.

A hundred lines

I must finish editing a post before I hit the publish button.
I must finish editing a post before I hit the publish button.
I must finish editing a post before I hit the publish button.
etc etc etc

Supra et Ultra

The last black bird has flown the Otero County skies.



The Air Force has retired the last of the F-117A "Stealth Fighters" in service at Holloman Air Force Base. They will be replaced by the new F-22A Raptor. The Nighthawks aren't being scrapped, they've been sent to the boneyard at the Tonopah Test Range in Nevada - they'll be ready if we need them again.

The Lockheed Nighthawk was designed in the late 1970s and first entered service in 1983. It's a reliable and deadly effective airplane, but it was getting old - it's slow and it was wearing out.

During a visit to Holloman in 2000, I was honored to be given a tour of "The Canyon" where the F-117s were kept - each in its own hangar, the Stars and Stripes hung vertically overhead (even had my picture taken with one of them) - it was some sight. I was impressed by the professionalism of the people who worked to maintain them and grateful that they took the time to show me around.

I know a lot of people thought it was an ugly bird; I always thought it was beautiful. It will be missed.

More (than enough) politics

Pejman Yousefzadeh's word for the day is "internecine", describing the struggle between Clinton and Obama.

Is it too late to ask Jed Bartlet to run?

Bridging the divide

Over at Dean’s World, I left a comment to this post, where I said, on the issue of race in America:

We’re still a nation in denial - to a large extent we’ve accepted the sins of our past but continue to be wilfully blind about how that past continues to shape the present and constrains all our futures.
I also repeated what I said in a post here - that some people may understand the experiences that might lead Pastor Wright to use such fiery anti-American rhetoric in his speeches.

Judging by some of the views expressed by other commenters, I got the impression that I might have been misunderstood. So I want to set out my thoughts here, as much to explore my own thinking on the matter as to clarify my position to anyone who might be reading.

----

We can condemn Jeremiah Wright for his views and equally we can question Obama’s relationship with the man and what that means in terms of Obama’s views and/or his integrity. Personally, I think he’s damaged his credibility and compromised what, for many of his supporters, seems to have been the promise of his candidacy.

In speaking of understanding, I wasn’t trying to defend the actions and opinions of either Wright or Obama, nor was I seeking to offer some historical justification for what one commenter called “black rage”. I’m pleased to see that people are able to recognize and condemn racist attitudes, wherever they come from.

And yet there is, I believe, a need for understanding, an understanding that the views Wright expressed (wrong as they are) are not uncommon in certain sections of American society – some people I know well hold views (on AIDS, on drugs, and on black redemption) that are not dissimilar to Wright’s. I don’t think anyone has a duty to understand or tolerate such views. But I do think that issues around race distort our society and damage us as a nation. Wright’s preaching seems to have won over the hearts and minds of quite a large congregation. His views are not unique and the traction they have is not insignificant – understanding why that is so might go some way towards helping us win some of those people back.

If other people don’t think that’s a good thing then I guess we’re not on the same page.

A small quibble

The BBC is reporting the death of Neil Aspinall, a childhood friend of Paul McCartney and one-time manager of Apple Corps. Strange that the Beeb should headline the story:

Beatles' guru Neil Aspinall dies
In what way was he the Beatles' guru? I don't think Aspinall was in the business of marketing idiosyncratic knowledge. Of course, these days, when BBC journalists use a word, it means just what they choose it to mean, neither more nor less - rather confusing for the rest of us, though.

Meanwhile, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi must be spinning in his grave.


Not Neil Aspinall with The Beatles, Bangor 1967

Update
The headline has been changed, it now reads: "Beatles' ally Neil Aspinall dies". Nice to see them responding to a little bit of feedback. No, not from me, I'm sure they'll have got e-mails from all over about that headline.

Faith in education

From the BBC:
Head teachers should allow imams, rabbis and priests to offer religious instruction to pupils in all state schools, teachers' leaders have said.

The National Union of Teachers (NUT) said the move would be a way to reunite divided communities. The NUT said parents had a right to have specific schooling in their own faith, if that was what they wanted. But having children taught at different faith-based schools had led to community breakdown in some areas.

Offering pupils some instruction in their own faith could reduce the demand for faith schools, said NUT General Secretary Steve Sinnott.
This is a bad idea on so many levels that it's difficult to know where to start in criticizing it.

The idea that faith-based schools have led to community breakdown is a new one on me. I went to a faith school over thirty years ago, I don't remember anyone arguing back then that they were breaking down communities. What's changed?

And if parents have a right to "specific schooling in their own faith", that can't just mean imams, rabbis and priests, can it? What about Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jains, Jehovah's Witnesses, Mormons, Scientologists, Spiritualists, Shintoists, Baha'is, Taoists, Zoroastrians and the rest? The list goes on and on. (Do Satanists have children?) And what about the agnostics and the atheists - don't they have any rights here?

The British education system is overstretched and under-resourced, class sizes are a national scandal and literacy and numeracy are major problems. Money spent on religious teaching will divert resources away from infrastructure spending and the teaching of basic skills.

Is that a good idea? God, no.

March 23, 2008

Pardon my French

I haven't visited Un Swissroll for a while but going there today, I notice that François Brutsch has a review of the XO up at Domaine Public. I think he likes it.

Already in use in Nigeria, Brazil and Thailand, bought by the governments of Uruguay and Peru for their schools and set for distribution in Mongolia, Afghanistan, Haiti and Rwanda - the XO is destined to rank as a masterpiece of design, on a par with the Apple Macintosh and the CFF station clock: the dream of "a $100 dollar computer" for the children of the Third World has arrived.
That's my translation, so I can't really vouch for its accuracy. Still, if your French is as bad as (or indeed, worse than) mine*, François' prose is robust enough to survive automatic translation.

[* I'm forced to tell any Francophone who, momentarily dazzled by my masterful deployment of a stock phrase or two, compliments me on my command of the language: Ah, oui. Je parle français très bien, mais je comprends rien.]

War on Terror

The board game.



The boys bought it for me for Christmas but we haven't played it yet. Maybe we'll get a chance to play it tomorrow (it's a public holiday here). It's not that we haven't had the opportunity before, it's just that when it's games time we usually go for a Cheapass game: The Great Brain Robbery is the current favorite, but Kill Doctor Lucky comes a close second.

The film that wasn't there

From the BBC:

A website that a Dutch right-wing politician was planning to use to release a film expected to be fiercely critical of Islam has been suspended.

The US hosting service, Network Solutions, said it was investigating complaints that it may have breached guidelines on hate language.
Interesting, since according to Little Green Footballs (emphasis added):

[M]ajor internet registrar Network Solutions has apparently suspended the web site of Dutch MP Geert Wilders—before he posted anything.
It's difficult to see how the content of the site could contravene Network Solutions' conditions of use if there was no content.

Which leads me to consider a startling possibility - perhaps there is no Fitna movie. Maybe Wilders has been promoting a project that doesn't exist. As the howls of protest have grown louder and louder, the proposed release of the film has been repeatedly delayed - so maybe it's not such an outlandish suggestion.

According to the text on this UK based website:

It should be fairly obvious by now that there is no "Fitna" movie. No movie to insult Islam or Muslims or anyone else for that matter. The month of April is upon us, we all know the month of April starts with the 1st April and that day is famous for (practical) jokes.

Holland might not be considered as a country with a great sense of humour but ever once in awhile even in Holland they crack a joke. So, bottom line; if you are here to find the Famous Fitna movie I guess you have been had !!!

On the other hand, if you are worried about how much unrest the rumour of a 15 minute movie about Islam can create, maybe it is time to identify and deal with the issues at hand.

Broken dreams

When I was young we never really talked much about racism as such. Mostly we used words like prejudice and discrimination. Then, as now, you could find people who were prejudiced against all sorts of people: black people, Jews, Catholics, immigrants, gays.

In my family we divided people who were prejudiced into one of two camps, they were either ignorant or bigoted. The difference being that the ignorant people didn’t like black people, Jews, Catholics, immigrants and gays, whereas the bigots hated them and thought of them as inferior and unworthy of civil rights. Of course if you were on the receiving end, the distinction didn’t matter much, the behaviour was the same.

Except there was a difference, generally speaking the ignorant had arrived at their views by absorbing them from their parents and peers. Their views were the kind of conventional un-wisdom that gets handed down from generation to generation.

If they were intelligent ignorants you could talk to them, discuss things and maybe, just maybe, sometimes get them to understand that their views were irrational, based on myths and stereotypes and just plain wrong. Of course most times, even if you could get these people to agree with you, they would still end the conversation by saying “I don’t care, I just don’t like them”.

In contrast, it was never worth trying to discuss things with a bigot. If talking with the ignorant would sometimes make me feel sad that otherwise decent people could hold such ugly views, conversing with a bigot just used to make me angry. They held to hate for hate’s sake alone and nothing would budge them.

Nowadays it seems to me that there aren’t so many ignorant people about as there used to be and the bigots mostly either keep quiet or keep to themselves. But it still seems that race is a big issue in America. Sometimes I think I understand it and sometimes I know I don’t, but it always makes me sad.

I grew up in the Sixties; too young to really understand, I heard the words of Kennedy and King and I watched Neil Armstrong take that giant step. And, in my innocence, I imagined that one day America would be a raceless society and we could all go to the moon.

[First posted July 2003]

Painkillers and Paradise

Large doses of codeine and a shot of Milton. Well, it works for me.

(Let's hope it keeps working; my next surgical assessment is still 10 days away.)

Easter Sunday

The boys have eaten their eggs and, hyped on chocolate, they're now bouncing around the house like a couple of Tiggers.

Mac's gone wild in the kitchen with the ice-cream maker - today's dessert will be homemade blackberry and apple pie with pineapple, peach, coconut and lime ice-cream. Tangy!

And I'm in the study - of use to neither man nor beast - popping painkillers and dawdling through the Prelinger Archives. Check out Dating: The Dos and Don'ts, a Coronet Instructional Film from 1949. It's quaint.

Today's blogging outlook: Light posting with an occasional smattering of bizarre links.

Happy Easter.

Weekend reading

Nonie Darwish in the Huffington Post on the Arab world's treatment of the Palestinians.

Fraser Nelson in the Spectator on British Intelligence and the fight against Al Qaeda in the UK.

Joseph Brean from the National Post on the strange goings-on at the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal.

Robin McKie in the Observer: How the myth of food miles hurts the planet.

He said what?

From the Dail Mail: Lord Digby, Labour's Minister for Trade, in a speech Wednesday to an audience of Arab businessmen and diplomats at London's Café Royal:
“We don't care what colour you are, we don't care if we can't pronounce your names and we don't care where your money comes from. We just want you to invest in our country.”

March 22, 2008

A cunning scam

From Angie Schultz at The Machinery of Night:
A week ago today I got an email from my stepdad that started out like this:
How are you doing today? I am sorry i didn't inform you about my traveling to Africa for a program called "Empowering Youth to Fight Racism, HIV/AIDS, Poverty and Lack of Education"...
"Dad, you scamp!" I thought, "What are you up to now?" Dad is what is known in the vernacular as a card, and so I read along, figuring I'd come to a lame punchline at some point. I thought maybe he'd stumbled across some other fellow with his name who was the kind of do-gooding low-life who trots off to African conferences.

But no. No punchline of any degree of lameness. Instead it's a sad, long-winded (sounds like Dad there) tale of how he stupidly left his dough, credit cards, ID, etc in a taxi and now he's flat busted and is going to be kicked out of his hotel and he's using a library computer and only has thirty minutes and can he have $1300, pronto.
Read on.

Five years on

On the fifth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, a number of commentators and some newspapers have asked the question: Knowing what you know now, would you still have supported the invasion?

I have a similar question that could be asked: Knowing what you will know in five years time, would you still be against it?

Both questions are nonsensical to me.

I supported the war (for fairly conventional reasons) and still believe, on the basis of the information available at the time, that it was the right thing to do. Yes, horrendous mistakes were made and the result of those mistakes, compounded by an inability to learn from and quickly correct them, has contributed considerably to the bloody aftermath.

In any case, I supported the war, I do not accept that the invasion was illegal and in the absence of meaningful alternative strategies for achieving and maintaining security in Iraq, I continue to support the presence of American troops.

I am not a big fan of Christopher Hitchens, but (in his recent article for Slate magazine) he asks a question that, while we cannot know the answer to it, should at least give pause for thought: What would a post-Saddam Iraq have looked like without a coalition presence?

Poetry corner

John Cooper Clarke

I'm sure I wasn't the only person surprised to hear John Cooper Clarke's "Evidently Chickentown" feature at the end of one of The Sopranos episodes. I did wonder what the folks back home would make of it. As E.J. at Loudersoft notes:
Clarke never quite made a name for himself stateside. The reasons are undoubtedly two-fold: firstly, his works are steeped in British cultural references and nomenclature. Secondly, Clarke spent the better part of the 1980’s struggling with his addiction to heroin. Further, according to Wikipedia, Clarke was living and involved with, either romantically or addictively, one-time member of the Velvet Underground Nico.

Clarke’s works (which occasion to remind one of Ian Dury & The Blockheads, Robyn Hitchcock or even Art Brut) while quite brilliant musically and poetically, are not entirely accessible works; the songs come out frequently so avant-garde as to initiate stand-up comedy potential. Having apparently recovered from his addictions sufficiently, Clarke has embraced his humor with dignity and humility as he continues to perform live around England.
There's a link to the audio of "Evidently Chickentown" in E.J.'s post. Those interested in hearing more can check out Clarke's homepage, but it's such a mess of a site that it's difficult to find the gems.

The audios of live performances of "You never see a nipple in the Daily Express" and "I married a monster from outer space" (to be found on this page) are worth a listen. Sadly, I couldn't find an audio link to "Beasley Street" which many people, myself included, regard as Clarke's best work. (Tripe Soup has the words - you'll just have to imagine the delivery).

The Madonna of the Pinks



Bought by the National Gallery in 2004 for £34.88 million, Raphael's Madonna is currently on display at Bristol Museum as part of the National Gallery Touring Exhibition. Mac got to see it in her lunch hour one day last week.

I'm hoping to catch it before it moves on - if I'm well enough to get out of the house.

In a hole

The Jawa Report goes to town on Barack Obama after he refers to his maternal grandmother as a "typical white person".

So, from what I'm hearing, Barack Obama's kinda racist-ish white grandmother is, according to Barack, a "typical white person" who has her kinda racist-ish attitudes "bred into" her as a fundamental part of her whiteness...or something.

Obama's campaign explained later that Barack didn't intend, of course, to imply that ALL white people harbor kinda racist-ish attitudes like his grandmother. Just MOST, I guess.

Now, Barack apparently thinks a "typical white person" is gonna get nervous if she's alone and runs into a black male stranger on the street. Although Barack didn't come out and say it directly, the context of the statement would seem to indicate that he considers this "typical white person" reaction to be kinda racist-ish.

Of course, any female (of any race), walking alone at night, who runs into a male stranger (of any race) and doesn't give at least a passing thought to what intentions that male stranger may harbor, is naive.
Dig up, Obama. Dig up!

Hot and Sour Noodles

I haven't posted a recipe for quite some time, so I thought I might share one of my favorite noodle dishes with you. I cook Chinese food a lot and this side dish is pretty popular in the Junior household. I usually serve it in small portions along with egg fried rice as an accompaniment to the main course, so this recipe should be enough for up to 6 people.

Ingredients
2 tsp cornflour
12 fl oz cold water
6 tbs yellow bean sauce
Few drops of chili oil (depends how hot you like it)
1 tbs light soy sauce
3 tbs rice vinegar
3 tbs sugar
1 tbs sesame oil
1 tbs vegetable oil
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
½ inch of fresh ginger, finely chopped
3 spring onions, finely sliced
1 tbs of sesame seeds, roasted and lightly crushed
12 oz of fine noodles

Method
Gradually mix the cornflour and water then add the bean sauce, chili oil, soy sauce, sugar, vinegar and sesame oil.

Put the vegetable oil in a wok and heat over a medium heat, add the garlic and ginger and cook for a few seconds (don’t let the garlic brown) then add the spring onions. Cook for one minute then add the cornflour mixture, stirring until the sauce thickens.

Meanwhile, cook the noodles in boiling water, drain, stir in the sauce, add the sesame seeds, toss and serve.

P.S. If you don't have chili oil, you can use a red chili pepper instead - deseeded and finely chopped, fry it up with the garlic and ginger. For a fuller, more authentic flavor: if you can get hold of a jar of Ma Po sauce, substitute a table-spoon of that for the chili oil.

Political note: ABC has recipes for John McCain's Ribs and Obama Family Chili but nothing from Hillary Clinton - not even her chocolate-chip cookies.

March 21, 2008

More Remington

Following on from this post, David Apatoff at Illustration Art has a picture-filled post featuring some of Remington's most luminous works.

Friday roundabout

Zoe Brain follows up on a report from PZ Myers that he's been banned from watching a creationist movie.

Clive Davis on the decline of the British curry house.

Is Global Warming sloppy science? Roy Spencer thinks so, and says so at Watts Up with That.

Snarksmith's Michael Weiss takes a pop at John McCain for embracing "backwater religious hucksters".

The good people of Venezuela are generously subsidizing London bus fares; Samizdata's Michael Jennings isn't grateful.

And finally,

A bit of monkey business: Essays & Effluvia explains how the stock market works.

March 20, 2008

Chinese games

Via Normblog: In September of last year, two Chinese human rights activists, Teng Biao and Hu Jia, issued the following open letter calling for the international community to examine the reality behind China's promise to improve human rights in the run up to the 2008 Olympics.

The Real China and the Olympics

On July 13th 2001, when Beijing won the right to host the 2008 Olympic Games, the Chinese government promised the world it would improve China’s human rights record. In June 2004, Beijing announced its Olympic Games slogan, “One World, One Dream.” From their inception in 1896, the modern Olympic Games have always had as their mission the promotion of human dignity and world peace. China and the world expected to see the Olympic Games bring political progress to the country. Is Beijing keeping its promises? Is China improving its human rights record?

When you come to the Olympic Games in Beijing, you will see skyscrapers, spacious streets, modern stadiums and enthusiastic people. You will see the truth, but not the whole truth, just as you see only the tip of an iceberg. You may not know that the flowers, smiles, harmony and prosperity are built on a base of grievances, tears, imprisonment, torture and blood.

We are going to tell you the truth about China. We believe that for anyone who wishes to avoid a disgraceful Olympics, knowing the truth is the first step.
You can read the rest here.

Three months after the letter was published, Hu Jia was arrested by the Chinese authorities and is now on trial for “incitement to subvert state power”.

Lawrence Donegan at the Guardian's Sportblog takes up the story.

Close encounter

Twenty years ago:

Saturday morning after a late night out and I'm lying in bed dozing when there's a knock at the door. Ignore it. No, there it is again, insistent knocking. Dressing hastily, I rush downstairs, open the door and find a middle-aged couple standing on the doorstep smiling at me.

"Have you heard the good news?"

Wow! I'm still half asleep but... Wow! I'm thinking something momentous must have happened if total strangers are knocking on my door to tell me about it. So, I lean out into the street looking for signs of commotion and general rejoicing but there's no one else about.

"No. What's happened?" (I was thinking maybe Thatcher had died or something.)

"Jehovah God is going to rid the world of wickedness; only the Righteous will be saved."

"Oh. Listen," I said "if that's the 'good news', you better come in and have a cup of tea."

And they did, of course, they did.

The next week, they came back with their "supervisor" - I don't think they were trying to convert me, they were just curious. Of course, the head honcho rumbled me straight away: Inquisitive Rationalist - I'd asked too many questions.

I haven't been visited since. I think they must have put some secret mark on my door - a sign for other Witnesses to stay away. Still, I like to think I planted a seed.

March 19, 2008

Brick art


Reflection by Nathan Sawaya August 2006

From The Art of the Brick:
"Some artists use paint, others bronze – But for Nathan Sawaya he chooses to build his awe-inspiring art out of toy building blocks. LEGO® bricks to be exact.

With more than 1.5 million colored bricks in his New York studio, Sawaya’s sculptures take many forms."
An exhibition of Sawaya's work Architecture of the Imagination: The Lure of the LEGO® Brick is currently on display at the Stamford Museum, Connecticut, until August 18.

Critical perspective

Dale at Faith in Honest Doubt puts the critics of "fundamentalist" atheists straight on a few points:
The hideous depredations of Abu Ghraib, Guantanimo, and the rest don't come from Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or even Christopher Hitchens, but from George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, and General Sanchez. These are Christians, not book-peddling atheists, behind these actually-occurring atrocities.

The 9/11 highjackers were acting from faith in god, not killing thousands fresh from reading Michel Onfray. Salman Rushdie, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and assorted Danish newspaper editors and cartoonists live under the threat of death for expressing the wrong opinions about god, not about Dan Dennett's books.
Strange that it's necessary to point these things out - but it is.

YouthTube

The boys' current YouTube favorites.

From my 13 year-old (who assures me it's hilarious): Harry Potter and the love that dare not speak its name.

From Spud (who's 10): He loved the TV ads for Cillit Bang so the Kitchen Gun spoof really cracks him up.

From both of them (and under duress): A cat playing the piano.

Headlining for dummies

Darn it! I thought I'd come up with the most ludicrous headline of the week but then "the most hated woman in Britain" goes and does something stupid and The Sun gives us:

MUCCA CHUKSA CUPPA WATER OVER MACCA'S LAWYER SHACKA

British tabloid journalism at its best. Or worst.

[Will I get an e-mail about the title of this post?]

The best of British

The Wardman Wire hosts Britblog Roundup #161.

The Philadelphia story

Yes, it was a good speech - the man is a consummate orator. And, on the issue of race in America, he told it like it is - he didn't pull any punches or attempt to sweeten the pill but addressed the issues head-on. And he did so with the calm dignity that has become his hallmark.

It might even have been a great speech had Obama only been concerned with the abstract and not the particular. But it was necessary that he deal with the controversy surrounding Pastor Wright and his membership of Trinity Church. Yet even here Obama turned the issue to his advantage. In saying he repudiated Wright's controversial ideas but could not and would not disown the man himself, he chose to separate the personal from the political and cast himself as someone ready to accept, acknowledge and forgive the failings of a man he has come to regard as part of his family.

And yet some nagging doubts remain.

Was it necessary (or indeed seemly) for him to "throw grandma under the bus" as some commentators have phrased it?

And, while we may understand the experiences that could lead Wright to use such fiery anti-American rhetoric in his sermons, it is difficult to regard his appointment as an adviser to the Obama campaign as anything other than a serious error of judgement.

March 18, 2008

British weather



(It's Venice but you get the picture)

Steele boots Obama

Uncomfortable reading: Shelby Steele in today's Wall Street Journal.

What could he have been thinking? Of course he wasn't thinking. He was driven by insecurity, by a need to "be black" despite his biracial background. And so fellow-traveling with a little race hatred seemed a small price to pay for a more secure racial identity. And anyway, wasn't this hatred more rhetorical than real?

But now the floodlight of a presidential campaign has trained on this usually hidden corner of contemporary black life: a mindless indulgence in a rhetorical anti-Americanism as a way of bonding and of asserting one's blackness. Yet Jeremiah Wright, splashed across America's television screens, has shown us that there is no real difference between rhetorical hatred and real hatred.

No matter his ultimate political fate, there is already enough pathos in Barack Obama to make him a cautionary tale. His public persona thrives on a manipulation of whites (bargaining), and his private sense of racial identity demands both self-betrayal and duplicity. His is the story of a man who flew so high, yet neglected to become himself.
The New York Times reports that Obama is planning to address the issue of race in America in a speech today in Philadelphia.

It had better be a good one.

Modern Britain

POLICE PROBE GLOVE PUPPET IN RACE ABUSE SCANDAL

Pickled Politics has the details. The Daily Mail has pictures.

March 17, 2008

Dazed and confused

Wide awake at 4 in the morning: these Zapain tablets are playing hell with my sleep pattern.

Posting may well be light to non-existent tomorrow. Erm..., today.

China and Tibet

How long do you have to be part of an empire before you lose the right to national self-determination? Tim Worstall would like to know.

Also, Vodkapundit links to an Al Jazeera English video of the unrest and Chinese reaction to it.

1968 and all that

The year was 1968 and, worldwide, there was revolution in the air. But when John Hoyland attacked John Lennon's politics in a radical paper, he didn't expect the fiery Beatle to rise to the bait.
I'm not sure what it is about this Guardian piece from John Hoyland concerning his correspondence with John Lennon that gets my goat. It's not because I'm a Lennon fan - yes, I like his music but he was, in many ways, politically naive and he gave his support to a number of causes I find objectionable - Angela Davis being a case in point. So no, it's not that.

And it's not that Hoyland sounds so pompously self-important about his role in the events of 1968 - though he does.

I think maybe it's because, forty years on, Hoyland shows absolutely no insight - he's obviously still inordinately proud of having been a useful idiot all those years ago.

Here's the then student John Hoyland writing in a Keele University magazine:
In order to change the world, we've got to understand what's wrong with the world. And then - destroy it. Ruthlessly. This is not cruelty or madness. It is one of the most passionate forms of love. Because what we're fighting is suffering, oppression, humiliation - the immense toll of unhappiness caused by capitalism.
Since then, Hoyland says "I like to think I shifted my position as well to one that was a little less naively and narrowly political."

A "little"? Really?

The Wright thing

Armed Liberal has a post up about Obama and Wright that's worth reading, as are the comments that follow - this one, from Michael Totten, struck a chord with me:
As recently as last week I said I won't vote for Obama, but that I like him anyway. I cannot say that anymore.

He's either a cynic (per Yglesias), an idiot for not figuring this out after two decades, or a paranoid racist nutjob.

I suspect Yglesias is correct, but that right there is enough to change my opinion of him forever.

This scandal (and it really is a scandal) strikes right at the heart of what made him appealing to so many people, including me.
Looks like Clinton's prayers have been answered; this one could run and run.

Reading science

I don't read much fiction (it's all made up, you know) but I do read a lot and I appreciate good writing. On that basis, here are three "popular science" paperbacks I strongly recommend to anyone with more than a passing interest in physics, mathematics or evolution:

The Magic Furnace by Marcus Chown;

Imagining Numbers: (Particularly the Square Root of Minus Fifteen) by Barry Mazur;

In the Blink of an Eye: How Vision Kick-started the Big Bang of Evolution by Andrew Parker.

By the way, that last one is a must for anyone who's been engaged in debate by Creationists who can't understand how something as complex as the eye could ever have evolved. If they only knew.

March 16, 2008

Family life

After one of my comments (on Lord Goldsmith's proposal that schoolchildren swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen) is quoted in the Sunday Times, No 1 Son offers his congratulations: "That's great, Dad! Now you can say you've been 'published' - time to quit while you're ahead."

Daughters. I should have had daughters.

Then again, maybe not:
"Daughters. They're a mess no matter how you look at 'em. A headache 'til they get married - if they get married - and after that they get worse. Either they leave their husbands and come back with four kids and move into your guest room or the husband loses his job and the whole caboodle comes back. Or else they're so homely that you can't get rid of them at all and they hang around the house like Spanish moss and shame you into an early grave."
Well, that's Officer Kockenlocker's take on it anyhow.

Weekend reading

Kenan Malik on the failures of multiculturalism.

Us and Them: Jerry Muller on the enduring power of ethnic nationalism.

Dead man walking: Geert Wilders' speech to the Dutch parliament.

From Democratiya: Simon Cottee on The Rot of the Western Left.

March 14, 2008

Frederic Remington (1861-1909)

It is well known that John Ford (that arch mythologist of the Old West) based the screenplays for his Cavalry Trilogy on the works of James Warner Bellah. Perhaps less well known is that the look of all three movies owes a lot to Frederic Remington.



In an interview with Peter Bogdanovich, Ford acknowledged Remington's influence: "I like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon. I tried to copy the Remington style there - you can't copy him one hundred percent - but at least I tried to get in his color and movement, and I think I succeeded partly."*



[* Quoted in Edward Buscombe's Painting the Legend: Frederic Remington and the Western]

Discoloring the working class

I never ever thought I'd say this, but I agree with Seumas Milne.
[T]he BBC's decision to commission a series of programmes about the marginalisation of the working class in New Labour's Britain should have been a rare opportunity to shine a light on the heart of modern life. Instead, under the banner of "The White Season", the programmes have been focused entirely on the impact of immigration and race on the white working class, as if it were some sort of anthropological study of an endangered tribe.

The message was unmistakeably clear in the series trailer, where a shaven-headed man's face is blacked up with writing by brown hands over the words: "Is white working-class Britain becoming invisible?" White working people were being written out of the script, we were given to understand, and multiculturalism and migration were to blame. But in reality, it is the working class as a whole, white and non-white, that has been weakened and marginalised in the past two decades. By identifying the problems of the country's most disadvantaged communities as being about race rather than class, the BBC has reinforced stereotypes and played to the toxic agenda of the British National Party.

I don't deserve him

"So what are you going to do with your gap year, son? Work? Travel? Volunteering? What's that? You're going to make videos of freaky chin-eyed creatures for BBC3! Is there any future in that?"

"You'll see, Dad - one day my chin will be famous!"

Mamet reborn

After cognitive dissonance gets the better of him, David Mamet comes out in Village Voice as No Longer a 'Brain-Dead Liberal'.

Has he seen the light or turned to the dark side?

March 13, 2008

The Clinton machine

Hillary is toast and she knows it - she just won't admit it. Why?

Dale at Faith in Honest Doubt asks the same question and (in the comments) offers the only answer that makes any sense.

And it ain't pretty.

Kite aerial photography

Not something I've ever thought about before but what a great way to take pictures - hitch your camera to a kite, fly and shoot.

Of course, there are some thorny technical issues involved but there's a whole slew of online resources available - if you're interested then KAPER E-magazine is a good place to start.

As well as offering tips, links and technical information, KAPER has a number of gallery pages that are worth checking out - I especially liked this collection from Chun-Yen Chang.

Worthless lives

Via Normblog: From an article in the Economist:
[S]o big is counter-terrorism spending and so limited is terrorism's economic impact that, even if 30 attacks like the London bombings of July 2005 were prevented each year, the benefits would still be lower than the costs.
So, if I've got this right, the Economist is suggesting that there are enormous benefits to be gained from reducing spending on counter-terrorism even if this were to result in thousands of deaths from terrorist attacks.

Of course, as Norm points out, the Economist's figures only hold up if you assume that a human life has no value.