Monday, April 30, 2007

Gore's Guru

Picture the young Al Gore, a university freshman, encountering an inspirational teacher and researcher at Harvard:

"It felt like such a privilege to be able to hear about the readouts from some of those measurements in a group of no more than a dozen undergraduates," Gore later explained. "Here was this teacher presenting something not years old but fresh out of the lab, with profound implications for our future!"
Who was this teacher?
In the history of the global-warming movement, no scientist is more revered than Roger Revelle of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Harvard University and University of California San Diego. He was the co-author of the seminal 1957 paper that demonstrated that fossil fuels had increased carbon-dioxide levels in the air. Under his leadership, the President's Science Advisory Committee Panel on Environmental Pollution in 1965 published the first authoritative U.S. government report in which carbon dioxide from fossil fuels was officially recognized as a potential global problem. He was the author of the influential 1982 Scientific American article that elevated global warming on to the public agenda. For being "the grandfather of the greenhouse effect," as he put it, he was awarded the National Medal of Science by the first President Bush.
[...]
Calling him "a wonderful, visionary professor" who was "one of the first people in the academic community to sound the alarm on global warming," Gore thought of Dr. Revelle as his mentor and referred to him frequently, relaying his experiences as a student in his book Earth in the Balance, published in 1992.
But there was a problem:
Gore's warmth for Dr. Revelle cooled, however, when it became clear that he had misunderstood his former professor: Although Dr. Revelle recognized potential harm from global warming, he also saw potential benefits and was by no means alarmed, as seen in this 1984 interview in Omni magazine: Omni: A problem that has occupied your attention for many years is the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, which could cause the earth's climate to become warmer. Is this actually happening? Revelle I estimate that the total increase [in CO2] over the past hundred years has been about 21%. But whether the increase will lead to a significant rise in global temperature, we can't absolutely say. Omni: What will the warming of the earth mean to us? Revelle There may be lots of effects. Increased CO2 in the air acts like a fertilizer for plants ... you get more plant growth. Increasing CO2 levels also affect water transpiration, causing plants to close their pores and sweat less. That means plants will be able to grow in drier climates. Omni: Does the increase in CO2 have anything to do with people saying the weather is getting worse? Revelle People are always saying the weather's getting worse. Actually, the CO2 increase is predicted to temper weather extremes ... .

While Gore in the late 1980s was becoming a prominent politician, loudly warning of globalwarming dangers, Dr. Revelle was quietly warning against taking any drastic action.

In a July 14, 1988, letter to Congressman Jim Bates, he wrote that: "Most scientists familiar with the subject are not yet willing to bet that the climate this year is the result of 'greenhouse warming.' As you very well know, climate is highly variable from year to year, and the causes of these variations are not at all well understood. My own personal belief is that we should wait another 10 or 20 years to really be convinced that the greenhouse is going to be important for human beings, in both positive and negative ways." A few days later, he sent a similar letter to Senator Tim Wirth, cautioning "... we should

be careful not to arouse too much alarm until the rate and amount of warming becomes clearer."

Then in 1991, Dr. Revelle wrote an article for Cosmos, a scientific journal, with two illustrious colleagues, Chauncey Starr, founding director of the Electric Power Research Institute and Fred Singer, the first director of the U.S. Weather Satellite. Entitled "What to do about greenhouse warming: Look before you leap," the article argued that decades of research could be required for the consequences of increased carbon dioxide to be understood, and laid out the harm that could come of acting recklessly: "Drastic, precipitous and, especially, unilateral steps to delay the putative greenhouse impacts can cost jobs and prosperity and increase the human costs of global poverty, without being effective. Stringent controls enacted now would be economically devastating, particularly for developing countries for whom reduced energy consumption would mean slower rates of economic growth without being able to delay greatly the growth of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Yale economist William Nordhaus, one of the few who have been trying to deal quantitatively with the economics of the greenhouse effect, has pointed out that '... those who argue for strong measures to slow greenhouse warming have reached their conclusion without any discernible analysis of the costs and benefits ... . ' It would be prudent to complete the ongoing and recently expanded research so that we will know what we are doing before we act. 'Look before you leap' may still be good advice."

Three months after the Cosmos article appeared, Dr. Revelle died of a heart attack. One year later, with Al Gore running for vice-president in the 1992 presidential election, the inconsistency between Gore's pronouncements -- he claimed that the "science was settled" then, too -- and those of his mentor became national news. Gore responded with a withering attack, leading to claims that Dr. Revelle had become senile before his death, that Dr. Singer had duped Dr. Revelle into co-authoring the article, and that Dr. Singer had listed Dr. Revelle as a co-author over his objections. The sordid accusations ended in a defamation suit and an abject public apology in 1994 from Gore's academic hit man, a prominent Harvard scientist, who revealed his unsavory role and that of Gore in the fabrications against Dr. Singer and Dr. Revelle.
I guess that makes Revelle a discredited, contrarian academic in the eyes of the current wave of eco-alarmism groupies.

Celebrity not irritating

There's nothing more irritating than celebrities telling us how to help the world's poor. Unless, of course, they happen to say something I agree with...

Natalie Portman says that for many of the world's poorest women, a small loan can change their lives.

Sponsored security

They are not going to be buying the best available security systems for the London Olympics, nor even the best value. There is a qualification hurdle for all potential suppliers to meet:

Giving an otherwise rather dull and predictable keynote speech at Infosecurity Europe about the IT security demands of running the London Olympics, Derek Wyatt MP has let it slip that UK Government hands are tied when it comes to security technology.
[...]
Wyatt sound quite upbeat about the possibility of using the London ‘Oyster’ card, used for public transport travel, which could be upgraded fairly easily to incorporate biometric data and turned into a mini-ID card. He also sounded quite impressed with the idea of using the Nokia based authentication system for mobile phones. Upbeat and impressed, and then he dropped the bombshell, which I hope will not be a bad choice of words for the future, when he casually revealed that because neither of these companies was a ‘major sponsor’ of the Olympics their technology could not be used.

Yes, you read that right, as far as the technology behind the security of the London Olympic Games is concerned best of breed and suitability for purpose do not come into, paying a large amount of money to the International Olympic Committee does.
[...]
... he was speaking in his official capacity as Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Olympic Group...
(emphasis added)

Quite apart from the obvious problems this could cause, with the best available technology unconsidered, there's a word for the sort of business deal where the supplier first has to make a payment, for one reason or another, to the customer.

It's "corruption".


Via Schneier.

Taxing fat smokers

Presumably the smokers and fat people refused treatment on the NHS will also have their taxes rebated.

The inner child

I don't mean this in a disparaging or patronising way: it's strange to see someone's childhood hurt revealed. It's in us all, deep down, to the day we die.

Pinheads

Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is quoted in the Telegraph:

Angels get an enthusiastic write-up from the Archbishop of Canterbury in a new book he has written on the Creed. "Thinking about these mysterious agents of God's purpose, who belong to a different order of being," he writes, "can be at least a powerful symbol for all those dimensions of the universe about which we have no real idea. Round the corner of our vision things are going on in the universe, glorious and wonderful things, of which we know nothing."
[...]
... Dr Williams notes that on other occasions too "a human form appears to give a message from God and something in the event tells the people involved that this is a moment of terror and truth, and they recognise that they have met an angel in disguise".
Yes, I know. He's the Archbish. It's still a start to realise that people believe in angels.

A Dutch creationist has built a replica of Noah's Ark. Every species that has ever existed on Earth was accommodated on this:


Lois Poppema, visiting from California, said she thought the Netherlands was exactly the right place for an ark.

"Just a few weeks ago we saw Al Gore on television .. saying that all Holland will be flooded" due to rising sea levels, she said.

"I don't think the man who made this ever expected that global warning [sic] will become (such an important) issue — and suddenly having the ark would be meaningful in the middle of Holland."
Global warming, eh? Did I mention it's a religion? There's an interesting note in the report, though:
Visitors on the first day were stunned.
I suppose a swift blow to the back of the head might be the best thing for these particular visitors.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Surprise finding

Study: Prehistoric Man Had Sex for Fun

Global warming

America's top hurricane forecaster is at it again:

William Gray said Friday that global ocean currents, not human-produced carbon dioxide, are responsible for global warming, and the Earth may begin to cool on its own in five to 10 years.

Gray, a Colorado State University researcher best known for his annual forecasts of hurricanes along the U.S. Atlantic coast, also said increasing levels of carbon dioxide won't produce more or stronger hurricanes.

He said that over the past 40 years the number of major hurricanes making landfall on the U.S. Atlantic coast has declined even though carbon dioxide levels have risen.

Gray, speaking to a group of Republican state lawmakers, had harsh words for researchers and politicians who say man-made greenhouse gases are responsible for global warming.

"They're blaming it all on humans, which is crazy," he said. "We're not the cause of it."
The UK Met Office don't agree. They sent out a press release on Friday saying:
Records broken as temperatures rise
[...]
The Central England Temperature (CET) is the world's longest running temperature series and dates back to 1659. April 2007 and the 12-month rolling period ending in April 2007 are set to become the warmest since the records began 348 years ago.
[...]
Provisional figure for April 2007: 11.1 °C - beating the previous record of 10.6 °C set in 1865
1865, huh? So April 1865 was warmer than in every year since, until this year? The CET figures can be downloaded, so here are some press releases the Met Office didn't issue:
  • January 2007 cooler than 1834, 1921, 1796 and 1916
  • February 2007 only 47th warmest since records began
  • March 2007 cooler than March 1734 and only 38th warmest
  • 2005 cooler than 1733, 1834, 1921, 2004, 1959, 2003, 1989, 1995, 1997, 2002, 1949, 1999 and 1990
  • 1986, when warming was supposed to be underway, was only 268th warmest since records began.
My point is that while there is a gentle warming trend in their figures, the press releases the Met Office put out are alarmist, and represent a serious distortion of the facts - a distortion by omission. They only seem to release PRs for unusually warm data, giving the impression that's all the data there is.

They also say:
recent rapid warming of the CET is almost certainly due to human influence
But they don't point out that the figures are consistent with the view that we're just coming out of the Little Ice Age.

Whatever the case might be for AGW, these distortions are extraordinary. As Tim Blair keeps pointing out, it's a religion:
Visitors to the Gaia Napa Valley Hotel and Spa won’t find the Gideon Bible in the nightstand drawer. Instead, on the bureau will be a copy of “An Inconvenient Truth,” former Vice President Al Gore’s book about global warming.

White feathers

Egyptian blogger Sandmonkey calls it a day because he's attracting too much heat, while compatriot Nah·det Masr longs for an Egyptian Ataturk. Hundreds of thousands of Turks demonstrated in support of secularism. In the quaint way of free societies, we won't get numbers like that here until we're past crisis point.

Iraq the Model has one question: Why are the Democrats doing this?

I am Iraqi and to me the possible consequences of this vote are terrifying. Just as we began to see signs of progress in my country the Democrats come and say ‘well, it’s not worth it, so it’s time to leave’.
White feather campaigns have begun in the USA, aimed at the Democrats ITM questions.

The father of a schoolfriend, a conscientious objector, was sent white feathers during the Second World Way. He talked about it with us one evening. There's a whiff of the lynch mob about white feathers, which make me uneasy with the US campaigns. I certainly don't think my friend's Dad was a coward. Volunteering would have been a nobler course of action, but making a stand on an unpopular issue of conscience is vanishingly rare and profoundly difficult.

I don't think that's what the Democrats were doing, though. They aren't pacifists. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the Iraq invasion might have been, now we are here it is obvious that leaving prematurely would result in even more bloodshed. It was an act of political expediency and isolationism, and was deeply contemptible.

Meanwhile, in Egypt, Turkey and Iraq, people are bravely fighting for secularism and freedom. Whether or not white feather campaigns in America are helpful, there's a case for medals for bravery in the Islamic world.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Milton Friedman on drugs

Or, at least, talking about them.

From the comments at YouTube:

as a lefty - I have to say this guy was a genius.
how can we convince the rest of the west to see sense?
Yes, he was.

While I was watching it, I was struck by something. I used to be left wing, and I know most people who feel themselves to be libertarian began elsewhere on the political plane. Critics of libertarianism - especially but certainly not exclusively on the left - get the sequence wrong. People don't, for example, think drugs should be legalised because they are libertarians. They think drugs should be legal because of the consequences of illegality - because of what's actually happened. Because the consequences of prohibiting drugs have been the same as were the consequences of prohibiting alcohol in the USA, and therefore it's reasonable to think that the consequences of removing the prohibition would also be the same. It's a practical thing.

In other words, they haven't reached this conclusion because they are libertarian. They are classified as libertarian because they've reached this conclusion. Obviously, once you've started reaching this sort of conclusion about a number of things you start to see the pattern, reclassify yourself and bring to new subjects the orientation you've noticed with the previous ones, but this is where it starts: being mugged by reality.

There's a parallel with debates about religion. Religious people have certain beliefs and often suggest that atheists are also driven by belief. This is especially true of the argument between creationists and Darwinists.

In fact, because of the way we are brought up, most people start out with religious beliefs albeit, literally, childish ones. Atheists arrive at their standpoint because of their observations of reality. They have come to lose their belief, and therefore we call them atheist - they didn't suddenly become Atheists, join a club, get a membership card, and thereby lose their beliefs.

Free market advocates don't want there to be free markets, so much as observe that free markets seem, without exception, to make people - all people - richer.

Note that free markets are as much an anathema to Bill Gates as to Arthur Scargill.

Anyway, click to play, and to learn how much we gained, and how much we have lost.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hay power


Vital Signs shows the future:

Ford Motor Company, fast losing ground to its competitors, has moved aggressively into the area of "green transportation" with its 2008 hay-powered Ranchero IV.

Green asset stripping

The carbon credit scams keep appearing:

A US company bought last year by a private equity group stands to make financial gains selling carbon credits that have resulted from reducing its operations.

The gains arise because the Freescale Semiconductor has exceeded targets for cutting carbon emissions, in part because it has closed plants. The gains raise questions about whether some voluntary carbon trading programmes are effective.
Now productive capacity can be closed at a profit. Treble carrot juice all round.

A moron in Illinois

An 18-year-old student at an Illinois school is facing disorderly conduct charges for writing an essay that the authorities described as violent and disturbing.

Allen Lee, a student at Cary-Grove High School, was arrested on Monday after completing the essay. “At the very last sentence, I said that this teacher’s method of teaching could lead to a school shooting,” Mr Lee said yesterday. He said that he had intended the essay as a joke.

After reading the piece his teacher alerted the school’s head, and district officials reported it to the police.

“The writing assignment depicted violence, was disturbing and inappropriate” Ron Delelio, the Cary police chief, said. The police have declined to release a copy of the essay.

Mr Lee has been removed from the school and now faces disciplinary action.
The Times.

Arrested for making a joke in an essay?

What's happening here, I think, is that the teacher, then the police, are playing safe. If this kid subsequently shot up his school and the media frenzy turned up the essay in question, there'd be hell to pay.

There is absolutely no way to predict which person might commit the next such crime. Get used to it. And stop persecuting kids.

Flimsy

This morning, I've noticed several bloggers using flimsy excuses to link to a short video of Michelle Malkin in a cheerleader costume.

B&W roundup

Glancing at Butterflies and Wheels in my feedreader, I see the following:

An extract from Christopher Hitchens' new book How God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

A report on the plague of honour killing in Iraq.

A report on honour killings in Jordan.

A report on the opening of cobbled reflexology paths.

√ĀegisLiving co-founder and CEO Dwayne Clark said he began researching the benefits of reflexology about 10 years ago, reaching a point in his life when he began looking for alternative methods to promote health and well-being that supplement and sometimes even replace traditional care such as medications.

"At √ĀegisLiving, we constantly seek out and implement innovative health philosophies and care techniques for our residents and employees," said Clark. "Our positive experiences led me to introduce reflexology to all our communities. I'm a true believer."
Lots of true believers, then. And just the one nasty sceptic.

Praise be.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Banning free speech, part 10,343,213,734

Not everybody could write a sentence beginning:

Of course, the North Koreans are right...
But MEP Glyn Ford has made something of a career of it. Even "slavishly loyal" fellow Labour Party hacks can feel a bit squeamish about his approach:
Perhaps I have missed the sections in his writing on the topics where he focusses on the tortures, the killings, the needless starvation, the endemic corruption and the hugely wasteful spending on a military that is eating up every chance of prosperity in North Korea.
Taking a break from blaming North Korea's problems on George Bush, Ford has teamed up with four other MEPs to:
... banish racism and hate propaganda from the Internet altogether.
Doin' good ain't got no end, as they say - even when the reasons for it change. Ford has been trying to restrict freedom of expression on the internet for at least a decade, speaking in 1997 at a conference aimed at prohibiting sexually explicit imagery.

From Child Porn to Hate Speech is an easy and predictable shimmy for anyone given to cloaking their appetite for censorship in clouds of unimpeachable purity. Who could object?
Some of the attendees courageously tried to defend the argument of free-speech, but were aggressively countered by the chair of the conference with the words; but you cannot mean that you want to allow child pornography and smut on the Net
A decade later, Mr Ford has more ambitious plans:
Internet providers will be expected to do more against violence- and hate-extolling pages on the Internet.
[...]
A question not addressed in the declaration is whether the appeal it contains is primarily aimed at Web hosters or whether entities that offer Internet access services are also thereby to be reminded of their duties. The delicate question of where to draw the line between pages a company should on no account host and those it might find offensive but not be expected to do anything about, the initiators also fail to give an answer to in their short text.
Which provides a certain recipe for large ISPs to play it safe and prohibit any content that might be in any way contentious. What are the principle targets of this initiative?
The preamble to the declaration mentions anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and anti-Romany campaigns.
Ah... Islamophobia. No mention, I notice, of the European jihadist websites - which I refuse to link to - that exult in murder and circulate videos of beheadings. No, but Islamophobia is a problem.

Vague codes of conduct or legislation against "hate speech" are just recipes for censorship of the most thoughtful by the most aggressive and shrill; the hateful content there will also be in a free society is the price we have to pay for that freedom but, in a free society, we can argue against it. And while these proposals are informal at the moment, the drafters have made it clear they won't stay like that if they don't get their way:
Should the providers refuse to act more forcefully the five initiators of the declaration have vowed to pressure the European Commission into drafting appropriate legislation.
The question, with these kinds of legalistic challenges to free speech, is not so much whether they would untimately suppress reasonable and informed criticism of political and religious movements in Europe - and religion and politics have not been so closely entwined for centuries - but rather whether upstream service providers would be prepared to go to court over what will always be a marginal aspect of their business. Just the threat of action, however vexatious, could be enough to see legitimate content pulled.

We can't even feel reassured by the idea that content could always be hosted offshore. China is pioneering technology for blocking access to sites on a continent-wide scale. And as Mr Ford has made clear in his writings about North Korea, he sees no problems when authorities seek to emulate China:
But equally - with the help of its neighbours and the European Union, which Pyongyang sees as the only power capable of checking the US - there is every chance that North Korea could follow China, emerge from isolation, and join the rest of the world to play its own special role.
Our worry must be that the influence from people like Ford might see the EU start to "follow China" in some regards.


With thanks to John, for emailing me details of this initiative.

TIAA

There Is An Alternative. To this:

According to the report "Targeted Attacks March 2007" by service provider MessageLabs, the number of targeted attacks through manipulated Excel, Word and PowerPoint files in email attachments, that exploit Office vulnerabilities, is on the rise. If recipients open such documents, their PCs can be infected with malware used to spy out data on the system or even the network.
[...]
While early in 2006, only two such attacks were registered per week, 716 such mails were detected alone in March 2007, coming from 249 sources and addressed to 216 different companies. In most cases, these mails contained manipulated PowerPoint files. Only rarely, anti-virus programs detected the malware hidden in these attachments. Microsoft also takes a very long time to provide patches to fix the respective holes, once they have been detected. During the last year, East Asian agencies of the US State Department were victims of such attacks, which infected several PCs. Although the problem was under control at the beginning of July 2006, a patch by Microsoft to close the respective hole was not provided before mid-August.

Office vulnerabilities known since February have not yet been patched.

YAMS

Yet Another Mapping Service. Just what we needed, at the bargain price of £3.03 Million.

Paid for by the British taxpayer. Password protected. Unavailable for use by the British taxpayer.

The New Journalism

Michael Yon, dateline April 25 2007.

Desires of the Human Heart, Part One:

People talk of an Army breaking under the strain, but while there remains a sliver of hope that Iraq might avoid conflagration into full-scale genocide, out here, where bones splinter and flesh really does burn, there is a kind of clarity. And on these empty streets, a practiced eye regards the slivers of hope that are strewn among all the chards of broken glass.

IT projects

silicon.com, 2005:

This isn't a campaign about the principle of ID cards or civil liberties but a campaign about what we believe to be serious flaws in the bill over the estimated cost, scope, benefits and technology. If ID cards are to be introduced we believe the project is potentially heading for disaster unless these issues are addressed now.

Some might find it surprising for an IT-focused publication to take a stand like this but we believe that at risk are not only billions of pounds of taxpayers' money but also the reputation of the UK IT industry.
Channel 4, 2007:
Not only can we see what they wrote in their applications; their addresses; their phone numbers; who their referees are. We can also see if there were white, heterosexual, gay Asian, Christian, Jewish or Hindu, and we can also see if they have got police records and what the crime was.
Garbage in, garbage out applies to the commissioning of IT projects, as well as to their operations.

When is the next General Election?

Reality politics

It was just a matter of time:

The online social networking site MySpace and reality TV producer Mark Burnett are teaming to launch the search for an independent presidential candidate.

The political reality show "Independent" comes with a $1 million cash prize and a catch: the winner can't keep the money.

The prize can be used to finance a run for the White House or can be given to a political action committee or political cause.
Jade Goody for Health Secretary? Hang on... that might even be an improvement...

Cheap, unlimited, clean power

Nuclear fusion is making huge strides:

This achievement has been described as "amazing" and "the biggest breakthrough in energy generation in decades". It seems to indicate that no scientific hurdle stands in the way of nuclear fusion. Just 5-7 years of engineering and configuring about 60 next generation linear transformer drivers. Then refining the system for commercial use starting in 20 years or less.

Media Bias Shock

The paper also shows how an open society, Israel, is victimized by its own openness and how a closed sect, Hezbollah, can retain almost total control of the daily message of journalism and propaganda.
Yup. Hezbollah played the media like fish, and the media went along with it.

Time for post-post-modernism?

Now a bullshit artist has even managed to annoy his peers:

Noonan went on to affirm that his thesis was guided by post-structuralist theory, which in our view entails moral relativism [No kidding?]. He then showed video clips in which he had set up scenarios placing the intellectually disabled subjects in situations they did not devise and in which they could appear only as inept.

A precedent?

Crikey. Someone who actually knows what they're talking about writing about the internet...

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A contemptible Tory

I agree with Mr Eugenides:

... it's rather shoddy of Coleman to gossip about it in a national magazine, and particularly in such graceless language
He was referring to this:
A senior gay Conservative claimed yesterday that Sir Edward Heath propositioned men for sex in the 1950s.

Brian Coleman, chairman of the London Assembly, claimed that the former Prime Minister curbed his behaviour after he was warned that it would harm his career.

Asked to substantiate his claims, Mr Coleman told The Times: “I have this on very good authority. There were many stories about Ted Heath. I did not know him well myself, but have been told this by people who did.

“It was certainly not a secret that he was an old queen. I have been told that he was warned about his behaviour and then stopped.”
Heath was a lying toad who deliberately framed the EEC referendum in misleading terms, but his sexuality has nothing to do with it and to talk about it like that is contemptible.

A moron at Yale

Via Schneier, I notice:

In the wake of Monday’s massacre at Virginia Tech in which a student killed 32 people, Dean of Student Affairs Betty Trachtenberg has limited the use of stage weapons in theatrical productions.
That'll end the years of fake stage weapon carnage in America.

Saving the planet

E.U. style...

J F Beck points out a report:

The double seat arrangement of the European Parliament generates at least 20,000 extra tonnes of CO2 emissions – equalling 13,000 return flights from London to New York - according to a new study.

Kryptonite discovered

In Serbia:

The rock — named jadarite — was discovered in a mine in Jadar, Serbia, by the Rio Tinto company and identified by London's Natural History Museum.
[...]
We went to check it out and found that in the 'Superman Returns' movie of 2006, Lex Luthor steals a rock fragment from a museum and it zooms in on the fragment and it lists the chemistry of the mineral and that happens to be exactly the same — or almost exactly the same — as what we had found

Leveraging and inequality

As the teaser for the next Harry Potter film is released, Marginal Revolution considers Harry Potter and the Mystery of Inequality:

Rowling has the leverage of the book but also the movie, the video game, and the toy. And globalization, both economic and cultural, means that Rowling's words, images, and products are translated, transmitted and transported everywhere - this is the real magic of Ha-li Bo-te.

Rowling's success brings with it inequality. Time is limited and people want to read the same books that their friends are reading so book publishing has a winner-take all component. Thus, greater leverage brings greater inequality...
Technology means that the top produce even more and pull ahead while the bottom move less - but they still move. The poorest today, in technological societies, are far wealthier in absolute terms than their counterparts a hundred years ago, but this is not true in less technologically developed societies.

Why this should be considered to be a problem for the technologically developed societies is also a mystery.

Software patents

Over at Cato, a good piece about software patents:

Last month, Vonage, a company that pioneered Internet telephony, was ordered to pay $58 million to Verizon and enjoined from signing up new customers. Vonage is appearing in court today to appeal the decision. Given that Vonage has yet to turn a profit, if the injunction is upheld it’s likely to be a death sentence for the company.

The really frustrating thing about both cases—and numerous other software patent cases in recent years—is that there was no allegation that the defendants’ products were in any way based on the plaintiffs’ technologies. It’s universally agreed that RIM and Vonage developed their technologies independently. Rather, the problem is that the patents in question cover extremely broad concepts...
[...]
... software is built out of a very large number of modular components. (A typical software product might have 100,000 lines of code, and just a handful of lines of code could conceivably be considered an “invention”) If you allow a significant number of those components to be patented, it becomes prohibitively expensive for software companies to even find, much less license, all of the patents that might be relevant to their particular software.

Carbon Credits, a nice little earner...

Benny Peiser has alerted CCNet subscribers to a nice little earner in Russia - the deal is, you recalculate your 1990 emissions and raise your Kyoto baseline by 576 mt/year, then you sell your extra carbon credits to your existing gas customers:

Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, has made handsome profits selling natural gas to Europe.

Now the company is positioning itself to make even more money, this time from the effluents from all that gas it sells to Europe. Gazprom announced Tuesday that it is selling carbon dioxide emissions credits that companies in the European Union need in order to burn Gazprom’s fuel.
Saving the planet is turning out to be surprisingly lucrative.

Iranian repression

Remember the clampdown on women in Iran? Now they are collecting satellite dishes in Teheran.



What might have emboldened the regime?

Message from Lt Ala

He joined the new Iraqi Army because he wants a life for his family that is better than one of war. He fought the Americans twice, lost both times and says we offer a better life for Iraq than the terrorists.
Read his message at Outside the Wire

Totten in Kurdistan

Part two is online now.

Elsewhere

Very busy today, but there's still time to link to this piece about gun control:

In each of these cases a killer is stopped the moment he faces armed resistance. It is clear that in three of these cases the shooter intended to continue his killing spree. In the fourth case, Andrew Wurst, it is not immediately apparent whether he intended to keep shooting or not since he was apprehended by the restaurant owner leaving the scene.

Three of these cases involved armed resistance by students, faculty or civilians. In one case the armed resistance was from an off-duty police officer in a city where he had no legal authority and where he was carrying his weapon in violation of the mall’s gun free policy.

What would have happened if these people waited for the police? In three cases the shooters were apprehended before the police arrived because of armed civilians. At Trolley Square the shooter was kept busy by Hammond until the police arrived. In all four cases the local police were the Johnny-come-latelys.


And to point you to the ultimate hippie-offending pickup truck, as judged by Iowahawk in celebration of Earth Day.

Both links via the Prof.

Anzac Day



Thank you.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Oscar



When beef on the bone was banned (1997), I bought a whole side and had it delivered by van. I had hired a butcher, and he set up his block outside my side door, and cut as I boxed it up in the kitchen. I can butcher game adequately, but get a bit lost in all the various muscles in the rump of beef - topside, silverside, top rump and so on. So the butcher cut, and I boxed - I was sharing it with three friends - and everything was left on the bone. I mean, even the brisket (which is OK on the bone, but better rolled when it comes down to it).

Even so, there were bones surfacing as by-products; you don't eat anything on the femur of a cow, for example. Not unless you wear a horned helmet, at least. And Oscar thought it was his birthday.

That's him at the top of this post. He was the only dog I ever had from a pup (except a wolf-german shepherd cross I had in Alaska, and found a family for when I had to come back to the UK - a dog from the far north shouldn't be quarantined for six months), all the others have been rescues, but I don't think that's the only reason he was so special to me.

For one thing, he was a big fella - that's a three-seater sofa he's lying on in the picture. A breeder of Great Danes crossed the road one day to tell me he was the biggest dog she'd ever seen.

He understood language so well that "walk" became "w.a.l.k." to keep him from getting prematurely excited, then when he learned that it became "promenade", then "excursion"... then just the word "would" - as in "would he like to go out?" - became a buzz word, and so it remains to this day in my house for my other dogs.

And he understood bones, a lot better than he understood the meaning of the word "covert". As the butcher cut, Oscar pestered, so I sent him down into the garden beyond. He then tried sneaking back along the blindside of the van. There wasn't much room though, so he tried to barge the van out of the way, and it rocked side to side on its suspension. When his head peered carefully round the corner, he was mortified to see us all standing looking and grinning at him. There's nothing a dog hates more than to be laughed at. He backed out and returned, with studied carelessness, to the garden. Ten minutes later, the van started rocking from side to side again... Oscar had his fill of bones that day.

I wish I could give him bones today, but he died last January. Big dogs don't live so long, and nine was a good age. He was an English Mastiff, the oldest English breed. Huge, powerful, fierce, gentle and protective. You should absolutely not let a mastiff suspect you're a danger to a child of his or her family. The Anglo Saxons and early English let them loose at night, and I'd take that over our present excuse for a police force any day.

They'd be a better symbol for the English than the modern, crippled, bulldog. For the English I want to be a part of.

But this post is about Oscar. I miss him, but I'm glad I knew him.

Religion is good for kids

As an atheist, I'm not at all surprised by this US study:

Kids with religious parents are better behaved and adjusted than other children, according to a new study that is the first to look at the effects of religion on young child development.
[...]
Bartkowski thinks religion can be good for kids for three reasons. First, religious networks provide social support to parents, he said, and this can improve their parenting skills. Children who are brought into such networks and hear parental messages reinforced by other adults may also “take more to heart the messages that they get in the home,” he said.

Secondly, the types of values and norms that circulate in religious congregations tend to be self-sacrificing and pro-family, Bartkowski told LiveScience. These “could be very, very important in shaping how parents relate to their kids, and then how children develop in response,” he said.

Finally, religious organizations imbue parenting with sacred meaning and significance, he said.
Secular society hasn't, on the whole, found any substitutes for these vital goods:

1. The social networks that centre on churches.
2. Lives that value morality and sacrifice expediency for it.
3. Valuing children, actually having them, putting them first, not trying to "have it all".

And that's killing us.

When justice is blind

I was going to blog about the new guidelines that will allow people to give evidence, or conduct cases in court, with a sack over their head. But Steve said it all:

The Judicial Studies Board’s Equal Treatment Advisory Committee drew up this guidance. It seems that allowing some people, but not others, to hide their faces in court now counts as equal treatment.

Self sacrifice

A view of Al Gore's personal sacrifices for the planet, from MIT professor Richard Lindzen:

I think he's either cynical or crazy. But he has certainly cashed in on something. And 'cash in' is the word. The movie has cleared $50-million. He charges $100,000-$150,000 a lecture. He's co-founder of Global Investment Management, which invests in solar and wind and so on. So he is literally shilling for his own companies. And he's on the on the board of Lehman Brothers who want to be the primary brokerage for emission permits.
Read the whole thing

Via The Reference Frame, which also reminds us:
Lindzen also mentions the story of Roger Revelle who was one of the greatest oceanographers of the 20th century at Harvard University. One of the last papers he wrote was one with Fred Singer and Chauncey Starr

What to do about greenhouse warming: look before you leap


that argued, among other things, that existing science justifies no action to mess up with the climate.

Alarmists hated the paper so much that Al Gore, together with another Harvard professor, created a whole disgusting fairy-tale that Roger Revelle was senile and manipulated. Fred Singer sued the #$#$ alarmists and won a full vindication. Mainstream media are, of course, silent about this lawsuit.

The politics of violence

Remember the riots that followed Gordon Brown's raid on private pension funds? Nor do I.

Remember the Poll Tax riots? Only one side of the political spectrum is violent, and it's the sanctimonious one. Only one side drops concrete blocks onto their opponents.

If a genuine conservative, or classical Liberal, won power in Britain, we'd have to go through this all over again. In France, it might just be beginning:

Mr Jaoussou’s views are shared widely among the 11,000 people who live on the bleak 1970s estate in Grigny, outside Paris, the home to 52 different nationalities.

Many say that the youths, who have come to see Mr Sarkozy as a figure of hate, would greet his election with a fresh round of firebomb attacks on cars, buses and the police.

Similar rumours have been circulating on other troubled suburban estates and senior police officers appear to be taking them seriously.

Privately they say they are preparing for clashes if Mr Sarkozy is elected on May 6.

“We have to be ready for these gangs to demonstrate like they do on New Year’s Eve,” one high ranking officer told Le Figaro, referring to the street battles that have become an annual ritual in the suburbs.
In the debate about Islam and the left (the "youths" mentioned above are of course Muslim), people tend to dwell on how the left has moved towards the religious extremists - abandoning gay rights, women's rights - but not so much on how disaffected Muslims have copied the violent tactics of the left.

But that's what they have done.

Gore pledge

Heh:

A leading skeptic of global-warming science is challenging celebrity activists such as Al Gore and Sheryl Crow to lower their "carbon footprint" to the same level as the average American by Earth Day in April 2008.
[...]
Mr. Gore says he pays a self-imposed "carbon tax" to offset the environmental impact of his large home and global travels.
[...]
Yesterday, the Web site thesmokinggun.com revealed that Miss Crow's tour caravan includes three tractor-trailer rigs, four buses and six cars.


Via Libertas

Not funny

This was a joke:

THE Scottish Parliament is drawing up plans for a wide-ranging ban on swear words in public places.

Concerned at the effects of passive swearing on children, MSPs are compiling a list of words and phrases that will be banned in pubs, hospitals, police stations, art galleries, farmyards and the front - but not the back - of Transit vans.
But, sadly, this isn't:
Swearing in public or being rude to shop workers should be as "unacceptable as racism", David Cameron said yesterday as he began a campaign to create a more civilised society.

Vale


It took a while to find it, but after reading The Sandmonkey's account of Egyptian student Waleen Shaalan I wanted more information. The Sandmonkey wrote:

In case you didn't know, there was an egyptian Victim amongst the V-Tech shootings: 32 year old Waleen Shaalan, who got killed while trying to stop the crazy fucker gunman and save the life of another student. He is survived by his wife and 1 year old baby.
I found more details here:
Waleed Shaalan, a 32-year-old graduate student, came to the United States from northern Egypt last year to study engineering. He lived among other Egyptian students in Blacksburg, Va., and was planning on bringing his wife and one-and-a-half-year-old son to America in May to live with him.

He was gunned down on Monday while he was studying in Norris Hall, but witnesses say he died a hero.

According to Randy Dymond, a civil engineering professor at Virginia Tech, Mr. Shaalan was in a classroom with another student when the gunman entered and opened fire.

Mr. Shaalan was badly wounded and lay beside the other student, who was not shot but played dead, as the gunman returned two times searching for signs of life. Just as the gunman noticed the student, Mr. Shaalan made a move to distract him, at which point he was shot a second time and died. The student believed that Mr. Shaalan purposefully distracted the shooter to save him, Mr. Dymond said.

"Waleed was bright, energetic and caring," Mr. Dymond said. "The reason we are in higher education is because there are students who are the bright light to the future. Waleed was one of them."

Equally social and studious, Mr. Shaalan was active in the Muslim Student Association at Virginia Tech, and he especially enjoyed participating in the group's community activities.


Now, I hate to sound a discordant note when celebrating bravery, but the other hero of the day was Liviu Librescu. If I do a google search for Mr Librescu, here's what I get:



Whereas if I do a google search for Mr Shaalan, I get this:



OK? 1,130,000 results for the former, 125,000 for the latter.

That's an interesting discrepancy - a factor of ten, that tells us something ugly about ourselves.

The Monbiot Award

For Dishonest Climate Change Alarmism

Goes to...(drum roll....................)

Michael McCarthy, Environmental Editor of The Independent:

The map of Greenland will have to be redrawn. A new island has appeared off its coast, suddenly separated from the mainland by the melting of Greenland's enormous ice sheet, a development that is being seen as the most alarming sign of global warming.
[...]
As the satellite pictures and the main photo which we publish today make clear, Warming Island has been created by a quite undeniable, rapid and enormous physical transformation and is likely to be seen around the world as a potent symbol of the coming effects of climate change.
[...]
The second-largest ice sheet in the world (after Antarctica), if its entire 2.5 million cubic kilometres of ice were to melt, it would lead to a global sea level rise of 7.2 metres, or more than 23 feet.
We're all going to die!

Monday, April 23, 2007

Happy St George's Day




No other posts today.

UPDATE - Instead of posting, I'm going to have a few pints of English beer, eat a very rare roast beef surloin (with potatoes roasted in the last of the Christmas goose fat), and dream about independence...

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Mercy killing

For those who don't already read lgf:

Imam Fouad ElBayly, president of the Johnstown Islamic Center, was among those who objected to Hirsi Ali’s appearance.

“She has been identified as one who has defamed the faith. If you come into the faith, you must abide by the laws, and when you decide to defame it deliberately, the sentence is death,” said ElBayly, who came to the U.S. from Egypt in 1976. ...

Although ElBayly believes a death sentence is warranted for Hirsi Ali, he stressed that America is not the jurisdiction where such a crime should be punished. Instead, Hirsi Ali should be judged in a Muslim country after being given a trial, he added.

“If it is found that a person is mentally unstable, or a child or disabled, there should be no punishment,” he said. “It’s a very merciful religion if you try to understand it.”
Hirsi Ali is not a Muslim.

Deep historical understanding

Thank Glory we have Margaret Beckett as Foreign Secretary. At the United Nations, she has been explaining the deeper currents in the ocean of world history:

"What makes wars start?" she said. "Fights over water; changing patterns of rainfall; fights over food production; land use."

She added, "There are few greater potential threats to our economies, too, but also to peace and security itself."

Beckett continued, "This is a groundbreaking day in the history of the Security Council, the first time ever that we will debate climate change as a matter of international peace and security."
Indeed. Who could forget the wars over rainfall patterns that so disfigured the twentieth century?


Via that man Blair again

Almost too modest

Following news of journalist and blogger Alan Hart's threats of libel action against those who were rude about his claim that Israel might be behind the kidnapping of a BBC journalist in Gaza, I've been reading Hart's sidebar:

To make the project work, Alan, on the strength of his international reputation, raised £1 million in grants from international development institutions and governments and put together a think-tank of world leaders to advise him.
The privilege was undoubtedly theirs.

Semaphore

Blackfive points out a new tendency for US soldiers to send simple messages to the press:



Note which finger is "ready" by the trigger guard.

Nick Cohen...

... is half right:

A class divide is opening up between taxpayers and tax avoiders and the Labour party, bizarrely, is on the wrong side.
The divide is in fact between tax payers, and tax consumers in the public sector. But yes, the Labour Party is on the wrong side.

R o P

For some strange reason, some of Australia's biggest psychos are converting to Islam:

The 37 Super Max inmates, including backpacker serial killer Ivan Milat, have committed 48 murders and are serving combined sentences of 550 years.

Now 12 of them claim adherence to Islam and form a close-knit culture in the purpose-built jail within a jail.



Via Tim Blair

Where beauty is a crime


Iran, of course.

Yesterday, a crackdown against women began. The police are stopping, fining or arresting women who allow any of their hair to be seen, or who wear colourful clothing. The fine is $50, the arrest can lead to an Islamic court.

More pictures here and here.

Via The Spirit of Man - one of the expat Iranian bloggers who deserves our support. Our country needs to do whatever it can to help the Iranian opposition bring about their own regime change.

Right message, wrong address

Iraq The Model takes on the Stop The War crowd and the Defeatocrats:

Instead of telling us to stop fighting back, I'd like to see some people stand up and protest the crimes of the terrorists and tell them to stop the killing and destruction…turn the stop-the-war campaign against the terrorists, is that too much to ask for?
Tell the criminals to stop killing us and stop attacking the people who are risking their lives fighting for liberty and equality.
We're not asking the media and the stop-the-war crowd to carry arms and shoot the terrorists; we just want them to stop shooting at us.

A.S.

If you click on the WebCHeck link at the Companies House website today, you'll see a message like this:

Access to the service is closed

Companies House is available from Monday to Saturday 07:00 - 12 Midnight UK Time
The website doesn't quite keep office hours, but public sector electrons clearly need their beauty sleep, and a little downtime at weekends. Private sector electrons have to buzz around 24/7 - as plain an indictment of capitalist exploitation as you'll ever find.

But today, there is an extra message on this webpage:
Please be aware that there will be 24 hour National Industrial Action by the Civil Servants Trade Union (PCS) on Tuesday 1st of May.
Companies House on-line services will be available on the day but they will not be supported, it is also likely that both the Edinburgh and London Offices will be affected. Companies House would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.
So the website won't be going on strike? Scab! Hopefully, the next time there is Union action the site can be made to see the errors of its ways.

This drift towards human behaviour on the part of public sector servers has been reported surprisingly little. The DTI's electronic circuitry is becoming increasingly indistinguishable from its human colleagues - and seems close to that elusive goal of all Artificial Intelligence (A.I) researchers - passing the Turing Test.

Perhaps this is because it's not entirely clear that A.I. is the right name for this syndrome. Artificial Stupidity (A.S.) might be closer to the mark.

Leftist understatement

From... where else?

The Crusaders have infested Iraq with vaporized DU, and this will mean a holocaust that will last for 2 billion years
Comment is Free

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Supersized slimming

No warming

The Reference Frame summarises new research on temperatures in the troposphere:


Christy, Norris, Spencer, Hnilo (ADSABS) have studied the temperature of the lower troposphere in tropics (-20...+20 latitude) during the 1979-2004 period in their article in Journal of Geophysical Research (2007).

They used two sources, UAH (University of Alabama in Huntsville) and RSS (Remote Sensing Systems). The nighttime trend is 0.12 K/decade while the daytime trend is 0.07 K/decade - a strange difference indicating that an adjustment may be needed.
[...]
... the surface warming trend is 0.13 K/decade while the troposphere is only 1/2 of it, and even when you add the error margin, it is still less than the surface trend and much less than the trend 0.17 K/decade predicted from the surface trend by the AGW climate models.

The opinion that there's no warming in the troposphere at all seems alive while the opinion that the warming in the troposphere is dominated by the greenhouse effect doesn't seem to be alive.

Unelected Bishops

I have just signed the following petition on the P.M.'s website:

We the undersigned petition the Prime Minister to remove the unelected bishops from the House of Lords.
Christianity is a relatively benign religion and there is the weight of tradition behind the episcopal presence in the House of Lords, but the bishops should go, for at least the following reasons:

- We will be unable to get any effective check on the at present excessive power of the House of Commons until the Lords is fully elected.

- Other religions are claiming unelected places on the grounds that Christians have them. They have a point. This point needs to be removed.

- Clerics can stand for election if they wish to be involved in government.

- The presence of Lords Spiritual discriminates against secular, humanist, agnostic and atheist citizens.

Violent men

Beatrix Campbell's 1993 book Goliath was a fascinating examination of what one Amazon reviewer called "lawless masculinity", but it was fascinating in a way the author did not intend. Ostensibly an examination of three outbreaks of urban disorder in "Thatcher's Britain" - in Oxford, Cardiff and Newcastle - it was in fact a straightforward illustration of the dangers and dishonesties inherent in any feminist (or Marxist) work of analysis. But this was only the case because Campbell is a brilliant reporter.

The book fell into two halves: reportage and analysis.

In the first half, Campbell clearly showed the complicated interactions between men and women. This is from memory, and it's at least ten years since I read it, but she showed how in Cardiff rioting with a racist aspect was incited by women but carried out by men, and how when the men began to flag their women spurred them on again. Her descriptions of joyriding showed clearly how it was a form of mating ritual, with girls making themselves available as prizes to the most daring boys.

In the second half, she started with her conclusions - that men were to blame - and disregarded her own reportage. No mention was made of the interactions with women, except of course, to depict them as victims. But she had to do this; she already knew what her conclusions were going to be, before she even began to look at the events themselves. Starting with an open mind and examining the evidence without any preconceptions isn't going to be a feminist, or a Marxist, analysis.

It was an extraordinary display of a certain type of intellectual pathology that even her admiring four-star reviewer at Amazon was moved to mention:

Campbell writes from a feminist perspective, and while this is generally insightful, she sometimes seems to portray the women involved as being preyed upon by these dangerous youths
After her own reporting had shown this was not the case, the analysis was genuinely bizarre.

The Guardian today reports on the case of:
A mother and her three daughters who forced two toddlers to take part in a "dog fight" and filmed it...
[...]
The women, including the children's mother, goaded the tearful brother and sister to punch each other and even use a magazine and hairbrush as weapons. When the boy, who was in a nappy, stopped fighting they called him a "wimp" and "bloody faggot".
[...]
... the children's grandmother... she saw nothing wrong with what they had done as it would "toughen them up".
I think most people actually know that men and women are complimentary, and participate equally, but differently, in most human activities. These include violence and criminality.

Unfortunately, this view does not inform public policy, which is more driven by the idea that men and women are identical, except where men are bad.

There are the usual links beneath the Guardian piece, links to associated topics of interest. They all relate to child care. They should instead point to the gender pages. This case - rare only because it was filmed and therefore became known - stands in silent reproach to every Guardian columnist who writes as though it were an established fact that violence is an exclusively male failing. But that link won't be made. The evidence has been there all along. The evidence was in Bee Campbell's book. They all choose to disregard it.

Poor fat people

Contrary to Oliver Kamm's thesis that blogs limit the range of political debate, I find it has opened it up so that now my regular reading includes some stimulating and well-argued positions I instinctively disagree with and would not otherwise be so exposed to.

At the head of the list, is Chris Dillow's blog Stumbling and Mumbling. In a recent post, he asks "Why are the poor so fat?", concluding:

Economic insecurity, [a recent paper] says, causes weight gain for men. In the US in 2000, each one percentage point higher probability of becoming unemployed is associated with a one pound gain in weight; figures refer to the year 2000.
This suggests a basic evolutionary (subconscious) mechanism is still at work - animals store up fat as a larder against future bad times.
That's plausible at first sight, but I think two other points can be made here.

Firstly, they are rich enough to get fat; even the poor can afford to overeat, sometimes to the point of obesity. While this supports an idea I generally denegrate - that "relative poverty" is a valid idea and can affect people's psychology - it also raises a question about how meaningful the word "poor" is in this context.

Secondly, this disregards what I think of as the KwikSave Effect: poor people buy highly processed, unusually fattening food. The better-off buy raw ingredients and eat more heathily, though not necessarily at greater actual cost (it's very hard to pay more, even at The Dorchester, for potatoes, oil, water, sugar and flavourings than you do when you buy a fizzy drink and a bag of crisps from a budget supermarket).

This raises the possibility that the paper Dillow cites has found a correlation rather than a causality. A different argument, based on the same information, could run as follows:

The most processed ("value-added") food is the most heavily advertised and the most fattening. People with the greatest susceptibility to advertising will therefore tend to be the fattest.

There is a causality between intelligence and wealth: clever people are worth more and get paid more, on the whole, than less clever ones.

There is a causality between intelligence and the ability to see through, place in context and ignore advertising messages.

So relative poverty does not lead to fatness. Rather, low intelligence leads both to relative poverty and to the consumption of heavily advertised foods that in turn lead to fatness.

A measure of the success of capitalist and free-market economies is that in these, and in no other forms of society, even the relatively worst-off can afford to get fat. A measure of the sort of problem capitalism can generate (in this case, predatory advertising) is that the poor do get fat.

Killed by compromise

Compromise isn't always a good thing.

In Virginia, it was easy for a student with a history of psychological issues that fell short of certifiable illness to buy handguns. But gun-licensed students and teachers were not allowed to carry weapons on campus. This compromise led to a situation where an armed killer could shoot down tens of unarmed people.

If the sale of guns had been banned in Virginia, it would have been harder - though not impossible - for the killer to acquire his weapons. If everyone had been allowed to carry guns, the death toll would have been far lower - maybe just the two people who were shot initially.

The present compromise means there are likely to be more shootings, and higher death tolls, in America than would be the case if either side had its way entirely.

Equalising

82 year old Venus Ramsey, Miss America 1944, foiled a crime on her Kentucky farm:

Ramey said the man told her he would leave. "I said, 'Oh, no you won't,' and I shot their tires so they couldn't leave," Ramey said.

She had to balance on her walker as she pulled out a snub-nosed .38-caliber handgun.
[...]
Ramey then flagged down a passing motorist, who called 911.

Curtis Parrish of Ohio was charged with misdemeanor trespassing...

Friday, April 20, 2007

Banning dihydrogen monoxide

Penn & Teller take on this vital work...

Quotes of the day

A reader has been kind enough to point me to constitution.org - though that's a link you shouldn't click on if you have any plans for the next couple of days. Here is a jewel from it:

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience. — C.S. Lewis
And another:
Good intentions will always be pleaded for every assumption of authority. It is hardly too strong to say that the Constitution was made to guard the people against the dangers of good intentions. There are men in all ages who mean to govern well, but they mean to govern. They promise to be good masters, but they mean to be masters. — Daniel Webster
(emphasis added)

Those who learn from history learn they are doomed to repeat it.

Bullying

School bullying, over at the Educational Conscription blog.

Vale

Liviu Librescu:

The 76-year-old Israeli lecturer who was shot to death as he blocked the door to his Virginia Tech classroom was buried in Israel today.
[...]
His widow said his students are still writing to her, telling of her husband's heroism and thanking him for saving their lives.

Treading carefully

I note that thousand year old remains of sacrificed children have been discovered in Mexico:

"They had some incisions on the vertebrae that suggested they had used some sort of [stone] to cut their throats," [an archaeologist] said.

Accounts written by Spanish priests soon after Spain conquered the Aztecs in 1521 indicated that the tribe had sacrificed children and archeologists have since discovered the remains of some Aztec children who had been offered to the rain god.

The Toltecs are thought to have dominated central Mexico between the 10th and 12th centuries, before the Aztecs rose to prominence.

The Aztecs believed that sacrificed children would become the servants of Tlaloc, and bring more rain, said Archaeologist Victor Arribalzaga, who is excavating a temple to Tlaloc on the eastern outskirts of Mexico City.

The new evidence suggests that the Toltecs may have had similar beliefs.
But I'd better not comment. I wouldn't want to insult a religion.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

... destructive of those ends...

The quotation at the top of this blog comes from the American Declaration of Independence, a superb distillation of British Enlightenment thinking that defines the proper relationship between the citizens of a country and their government.

Sitting on this side of the Atlantic, we find ourselves faced with almost daily reminders that our ancestors were on the losing side in that British civil war; supporters of the republicans were to be found on both sides of the water, and so were supporters of the monarchy.

We now find ourselves trying to manage our daily lives in a state in which the powers of an absolute monarch are wielded and abused by elected representatives, and increasingly by appointed supra-national committees.

No authority is entitled to the power of an absolute monarch. Through centuries of conflict with kings, our ancestors forced limitations onto monarchical authority, famously beginning with Magna Carta. These limitations came to be embodied in Parliament, through which the powers of the crown were exercised and by which they were limited.

But, more than a century ago, the gradual process was completed whereby these powers were transferred entirely to Parliament, upon which there are no limitations or restraints.

Parliament, of course, has for the past thirty-odd years been transferring these powers to appointees within the structures of the European Union. We now find ourselves largely governed by an appointed, and in part hereditary, class of European grandees, who wield the same unlimited powers their hereditary monarchical predecessors enjoyed before the centuries of revolution and reform.

For the moment, though, we have the consolation of at least being able to say such things. This basic right, without which no democratic process can operate, is now being challenged. The European Union proposes to make free speech illegal.

The Devil's Kitchen has an excellent roundup of responses to the Proposal for a Council Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia [PDF]. This seeks to criminalise inconvenient or distasteful political discussion, and even thought, but its proponents have the indecency to hide this tyrannical intention beneath the corpses of six million Jews. They talk about holocaust denial and hate crime, but with flaccid and wide-ranging definitions and the provision that no complainant or victim need exist.

Freedom of speech is an inalienable right. To secure such rights we institute governments. And...

... whenever any form of Government becomes destructive of those ends, it is the right of the People to alter or abolish it and to institute new Government.


I think we have reached that point today.

I never expected to find myself facing this sort of crisis, and I don't think the reality of the erosions of rights and of democracy has sunk into the population in general. We have seen dilutions of protections like the right to jury trial and of habeas corpus which mediaeval kings established and repeatedly confirmed, and which were defended when absolutist monarchs tried to claim absolute powers.

Unfortunately, it falls on us to defend these rights and protections all over again, and we're not making a very good job of it at the moment.

The only honourable course must be to pledge not to be bound by this legislation, should it come into effect, whatever the consequences might be.

I make that pledge. My freedom of speech is not negotiable.

The sky is blue...

... and Tom Cruise is a Twat.

Painful

Jesse Jackson once said:

“There is nothing more painful for me at this stage in my life than to walk down the street and hear footsteps and start thinking about robbery—then look around and see somebody white and feel relieved.”
Ali Eteraz, the reform-minded Muslim blogger, seems to have known how he felt. His running post a few evenings ago was candid:
At least 20 people have been killed by two people on a homicidal rampage at Virginia Tech. One person is in custody; another sought. Story will be updated.

I will not lie. My first thought is: what if these fuckers are Muslim?

The right to bear arms

I don't think he intended the connection, but Norman Geras reminds his readers that:

Today is the 64th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

How others see us

Consider that Britain’s national experiment with gun-free living is proving to be a disaster, with violent and gun crime rates soaring.
Barbara Oakley, N Y Times

Bush to blame for Virginia Tech massacre

AP are first off the mark:

The sister of the gunman responsible for the deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history works as a contractor for a State Department office that oversees billions of dollars in American aid for Iraq...
And who was behind the Iraqi War? Hmmm?

Coincidence?

I think not.

Why your computer is insecure

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, there were more than a hundred competing firewall products. The few that "won" weren't the most secure firewalls; they were the ones that were easy to set up, easy to use and didn't annoy users too much.
Bruce Schneier.

This pattern applies to all computer software, not just firewalls.

RSS Feed of the day

From Times Online:

Revulsion at killer's hate-filled final message

View the Cho video

Dull boy

I've been too busy to post.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Busy

Sorry for the lack of posts - have been wrapped up with some work commitments.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The rain in Iraq

... is sometimes of the leaden variety:

I've always had scary experiences with stray bullets falling from the sky.

Iraq the Model casts light on an aspect of life in Baghdad.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Vonnegut

There's been some debate since Kurt Vonnegut died, mainly in newspapers and on blogs I sympathise with, about Vonnegut's political stance. His book Slaughterhouse Five used fatality figures for Dresden that came from the holocaust denier and all-round whacko David Irving, and in his later years Vonnegut expressed sentiments that I don't agree with.

But so what?

If it's right that Kipling be considered as a writer by the sinister element in politics (the left), and Ezra Pound by anyone who dislikes Nazis, then it's right that I read Vonnegut's work without reference to his politics. Which I propose to carry on doing.

By the way, Mother Night was his best book. Different class.

Not endangered

Polar bears have become a football in the global warmening squabble. Now Canadian Inuits have objected to the proposed listing of the bears as an endangered species:

"Nunavut has a very effective polar bear management system," Environment Minister Patterk Netser said in a release today. "We are managing our polar bear populations on a sustainable basis, in a way that provides economic benefits to Nunavummiut (residents of the territory)."

Most polar bear populations in Nunavut are abundant and appear to be able to withstand current hunting levels, said Netser, who suggested the U.S. move has more to do with politics than concern for the bears.

"Polar bears have become a political tool for environmental groups trying to force a change in U.S. climate change policy," he said.

"We oppose the listing of polar bears because it is currently unwarranted, highly speculative and will hurt Inuit and our economy."
There is then a very candid admission by a warmening enthusiast - polar bears are not endangered, but they might be sometime in the future:
"People are trying to muddy the waters," said Andy Derocher, a professor of biological sciences at the University of Alberta.

"Nobody in the polar bear world has ever objected to the notion that some populations are large. It's the longer-term context for the species that's really the main issue of the threatened status."

The numbers now are fine, but may not be in the future, said Derocher.

The concern is that in the next 45 years, which is about three generations, the loss of sea ice will cripple the bear population and diminish it to that of an endangered species.

"If the projection models . . . come to fruition, it's very clear that polar bears have a very high likelihood of slipping from a threatened status into an endangered status in many parts of the Arctic."
That's a big "if", brother.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Unpolluted waters

It's a striking phenomenon, still, that the left has a passion for a managerialism that can disguise hate-filled and bigoted actions. "Composite B in Order Paper 4" was the name of a motion at the National Union of Journalists' annual meeting, that:

condemned the "savage, pre-planned attack on Lebanon by Israel" last year.

This motion... was carried by a large majority and also condemned the "slaughter of civilians by Israeli troops in Gaza and the IDF's [Israeli Defense Forces] continued attacks inside Lebanon following the defeat of its army by Hezbollah".
It was passed by a large majority.

A narrower vote - 66 to 54 - carried a motion calling for a boycott of Israeli goods.

Oliver Kamm would not approve, but he can console himself that at least this is not an example of nasty bloggers, polluting the pure professional waters of political reportage and debate.

Educational Conscription

Fabian Tassano and Surreptitious Evil have been generous enough to invite me to contribute to the Educational Conscription blog.

The most recent post there, by Celia Green, begins as follows:

The fact that the educational system cannot manage to teach basic skills (literacy and numeracy) by the age of sixteen is being taken to justify an even longer period of supervised incarceration (up to the age of eighteen).
And we should not allow this to pass unchallenged.

I'm very grateful to Fabian and S-E for the opportunity to contribute.

Courage

Comes in many forms.

The phrase "must read" is used a lot, but this series of posts should almost be compulsory. I found it via Dr Crippen. It is a translation, from the French of an account of a Senegalese woman's discovery that her circumcision can be reversed by a doctor, provided he survives the death threats long enough to make their May appointment.

The layers of courage displayed are extraordinary. The courage to confront the problem; the courage to seek advice; the courage to countenance surgery; the courage to confront, through action, familial and cultural legacies; the courage to handle personal relationships - with her lover, her sister, her cousin. The personal, everyday anxieties about sexuality overlaid by family issues, her mother and grandmother did this to her against the wishes of her father, yet it is her father she feels most estranged from. It is a complex story told with great simplicity, honesty and directness.

She is a very brave woman. But this is the line that will be in my mind when I wake up tomorrow:

I believe, at this moment I am writing, that ... I have forgiven myself a little for having been circumcised.

Suicide suicide

Suicide bombing has become something of a nominal battlefield, with "homicide bombing", "martyrdom operation" and other weighted expressions competing for headway.

It has also seemed a perfect metaphor for the extreme of Islamism - pointless, destructive, superstitious, self-destructive, ugly and futile. It is about the most horrific way anyone could devise of accomplishing absolutely nothing whatsoever.

Now it has been taken to what is, in some ways, its logical conclusion: suicide suicide:

Two suicide bombers blew themselves up Saturday in Casablanca near an American cultural center, just days after three suicide attacks stoked new fears of terrorism in this North African kingdom, an official said.
Although a woman was injured, they weren't especially trying to hurt anyone, just to kill themselves:
The official Moroccan news agency MAP quoted an unnamed police source as saying the bombers were driven by "despair" — because of police forces' efforts to break up terrorist cells and successes of recent weeks.
Good for the Moroccan Police.

Perhaps this is the start of a new type of campaign. Oddly enough, it would be far more likely to achieve something - self-sacrifice is always more effective than slaughter.

If so, perhaps the more senior clerics and Al Qaeda figures, whose enthusiasm for personal martyrdom has so far seemed surprisingly tepid when you think of the wonders of paradise they have promised their younger and more impressionable followers, could be persuaded to join in.

The Russian Revolution

Seems to be gathering momentum:

RUSSIAN riot police detained scores of demonstrators today, including former chess champion Gary Kasparov, in a crackdown against an opposition protest in central Moscow.
The Financial Times' profile of Kasparov was syndicated today.

I can't help feel that the, perhaps legitimate, criticisms of Berezovsky that have appeared in the last couple of days are missing the point.

Brace yourself

A headline in The Telegraph:

Britain braced for warmest weekend of year
Braced?

What are they talking about?
We'll have temperatures of around 22C-25C (72F-77F) across the south, with highs in London. And in Scotland the temperatures will still be in the high teens or low 20s.
A nice spring day then. But in our global warmening mania, all news about the weather has to be reported as though it were some kind of catastrophe.