Friday, February 29, 2008

Ronnie Drew

Is dying. No... wait. Ronnie Drew will never die.

Quote of the decade

Eric decided that given his lack of training and the critical food situation that to go to Belgium would have been a suicide mission
Via Mr Eugenides. Reading this in context, it was several minutes before the tears of laughter cleared sufficiently for me to type.

Eligible for inclusion

Sometimes, it helps to know a little javascript.

Quote of the day

Tim Blair:

Some weeks I’ll buy eggs from ranges so free that have no fences at all and cheerful hens volunteer their produce to gentle PETA workers wearing elf costumes. Other weeks I’ll select a carton from Buchenwald Farms, where caged and dewinged birds are nailed down as steroid-boosted eggs are extracted via their beaks. It’s all a question of balance.
Click through to see how these extremes combine.

Dodo Drive

They are ploughing up all the setaside fields round here. We face looming grain shortages, thanks to biofuel cultivation. The barn owl that used to work these fields until a week ago has disappeared, as the three barn owls did from the fields I used to walk in before they built the housing estates a couple of years ago. But they did give the new streets names like "Kestrel Way", to commemorate the birds they had displaced.

This is all the direct result of government policy. The children who played in those fields now hang out behind the Co-Op, and dead animals live on in street names.


Lord Mancroft has stirred up controversy by criticising nurses in a West Country hospital:

He told peers: "The nurses that looked after me were mostly grubby. We're talking about dirty fingernails, slipshod, lazy.

"It's a miracle I'm still alive. But worst of all my Lords they were drunken and promiscuous.

"How do I know that? Because if you're a patient and you're lying in a bed, and you're being nursed from either side, they talk across you as if you're not there.
(Mr E has a slightly different take on this).

I don't find Mancroft's comments surprising. And if someone had reported this about a private company:
"I can only tell you that it is a miracle that I am still alive. The wards were filthy. Underneath the bed where I was, there lay a piece of dirty cotton wool and it remained there for several days. The ward was never cleaned.

"It was a gastroenterology ward with lots people with very unpleasant infectious diseases. Neither the ward, nor the tables, nor the beds, nor the bathrooms were cleaned.

"I was extremely infectious at that time but they took no precautions with me at all. They were furious when my wife wanted my bed cleaned when it clearly needed cleaning."
what would have been the reaction?

The National Health Service has a long tradition of treating patients with contempt, or ignoring them entirely and chatting as though they weren't there, as Mancroft reports. My earliest memory of the NHS is from 1967, when I was seven years old and had been rushed, late at night, in an ambulance from a small district hospital (which was excellent) to a large one for an emergency operation after the site of a hernia repair burst open. I came round in a children's ward in the small hours, listening to nurses chatting nearby. They were competing to see who had seen a child die for the most trivial reason while in their care.

"I had one die from a cold!" - followed by laughter.

The most recent time I stayed in hospital overnight, in Addenbrookes in Cambridge about seven years ago, a stream of patients from the ward, including me, went to the nurses' station to ask them to help a very distressed and confused elderly woman who was writhing on her bed in the mixed ward, nightdress up around her neck, soaked in her own urine. They refused - they were having a meeting.


The BBC reports:

Israeli leaders are warning of an imminent conflagration in Gaza after Palestinian militants aimed rockets at the southern city of Ashkelon.

The deputy defence minister said the stepped-up rocket fire would trigger what he called a "bigger holocaust" in the Hamas-controlled coastal strip.
The use of the word "holocaust" by an Israeli minister, in this context, is completely extraordinary, and will make every idiot who suggests Israel conducts a policy of "genocide" towards Palestinians feel vindicated.

It's a grotesque incident. If this is true, the minister should be sacked immediately.

Don't touch anything!

The police made no attempt to investigate a burglary, not even visiting the crime scene.

That's news? They almost never bother to investigate burglaries.

But here's the bit that caught my eye:

Officers failed to visit Stephen Earp after the break in - even though his wife had contacted police and been told not to touch anything because someone would be round to take evidence.
How long did she spend in her house, waiting for the police who never arrived, trying not to touch anything?

The Nasty Party

The Conservative Party has been labelled "The Nasty Party" and "The Stupid Party". Both are, to some extent, true. Here's a quote about the Tories, from Winston Churchill:

A party of great vested interests, banded together in a formidable confederation, corruption at home, aggression to cover it up abroad...sentiment by the bucketful, patriotism by the imperial pint, the open hand at the public exchequer, the open door at the public house, dear food for the millions, cheap labour for the millionaire.
I pasted that in from a website run by a former Labour Party spin doctor. The website's name? Hate My Tory. I can't find an equivalent run by a Tory and aimed at Labour. Odd, eh?

And here's Richard Seymour, who thinks it's right to adopt the pseudonym of a mass murderer and slave master, Lenin, when he blogs. On the death of William Buckley he writes:
He's dead. Good.
When Margaret Thatcher dies, we will have some vivid evidence of which side of the political divide most richly deserves the epithet "Nasty".

The kindness of strangers

It's a vintage week for amusing tales from the fringe:

A British man who aimed to walk from Bristol to Gandhi's birthplace in Porbander, India without spending any money has been forced to give up at Calais... He is a member of the Freeconomy movement, which believes in a " moneyless society in which no money changes and there is no duality between giving and receiving", and would like to see money disappear altogether... After reaching Calais Mr Boyle made the decision to quit his trip because as he could not speak French people thought he was an asylum seeker or a freeloader and would not give him food or board... He now plans to learn French while walking round the British coast in preparation for a renewed assault on his passage to India next year.
Good thinking. I wish him luck in his next trek from Calais to France's well-known, and magnificent, border with India.

Sad all over

Mike Smith, of the Dave Clark Five, has died.

Feminism and the English Language

I didn't expect this, but I agree with every word she writes.

A lot of very valid criticisms can be levelled against a lot of contemporary feminist thinking. In fact, sometimes it can be so absurd it becomes great comedy. But the idea that it is acceptable for half the population to be linguistically invisible is, I think, contemptible.

Just imagine what that must be like, not least for girls and young women, as they develop a sense of themselves becoming adults. The idiocies of post-modern feminism shouldn't blind us to the appalling injustice suffered by women in western society for most of our history.

If you can't imagine it, read about it.

UPDATE: Whoops - credit omitted. I saw this via Dillow.


Norman Geras on democracy, Muslims and impositions.

Bicycle power

An interesting insight into the world wished for by environmentalists (who put the "mental" in environmental?) can be gleaned from the website of the wonderfully funny E-Day project:

E-Day's activities will include the following:

(1) St Paul's Cathedral launch (5:00pm - 7:00pm, Wed 27 February)

A launch event at St Paul's Cathedral will feature:

(a) The Cathedral's illuminations being left off

(b) A candle lit vigil

(c) A bicycle-powered cinema

(d) Fun and factual films

(e) Games

(f) A bicycle clinic

(g) A welcoming address by the Bishop of London

(h) An expression of thanks from Matt

The launch event will start at 5pm and finish at 7:00pm on Wednesday 27 Feb.
A bicycle-powered cinema. Picture it.

What's in a name? Libertarianism update

I wrote here about the origins of the word "libertarian", placing its adoption by Classical Liberals in the US to the 1970s. This is incorrect. In an introduction quoted in The Life and Works of Thomas Paine, Thomas Edison wrote:

Paine was too great a libertarian to be satisfied with the independence of America, so he went abroad and sought freedom for England with his "Rights of Man."
The book was based on two earlier collections, and was published in the 1940s but Edison died in 1931 so his introduction must pre-date this, and probably came from one of the earlier volumes, probably in the 1920s.

I'm starting to suspect this usage will prove to have begun even earlier.

Kosovan independence explained

I'm slightly late with this, but the gimlet-eyed accuracy of Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell's analysis demands it be brought to a wider audience. Yes, it's George Bush's fault.

Blogger complains to police about blogger

Blimey. After a ludicrous and ineffective threat of libel proceedings, Neil Clarke (the lack of a link is deliberate) has complained to the police about Oliver Kamm:

Yesterday morning I got a telephone call from a bewildered gentleman at Abingdon Police Station saying he had received a complaint from a Mr Neil Clark [...] Mr Clark maintained – as this example surely demonstrates - that he was the victim of a campaign of criminal harassment orchestrated by me.
Out of a sense of consideration for the desk staff at Abingdon police station, Mr Kamm has undertaken to "abstain from interest in Clark's pronouncements", thereby depriving the rest of us of an intermittent though reliable source of amusement.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Patenting the wheel

The corporations and speculators who have been abusing software patents have this in their favour: it's hard for the layman to understand the significance of something like this:

Consider, for instance, patent 5,175,857, which covers a "System for sorting records having sorted strings each having a plurality of linked elements each element storing next record address." What the '857 patent describes is a quicksort implemented with a linked list. Such patents are extremely detrimental to innovation because they apply serious encumbrances to the foundational building blocks of computer programming.
Or, to translate roughly, if people are allowed to patent the wheel, it stifles innovation among car manufacturers (environmentalists can calm down, someone has already patented the wheel).

This piece at Ars Technica is a good summary of a problem that is already costing businesses and therefore consumers more than $11B a year.

E-Day result

Well, it was a bit disappointing perhaps, but E-Day made back some ground to finish just 0.1% above the daily average of energy consumption.

Or did they?

Here's the screenshot I took of their energy consumption graph at about 7:30am this morning. Note how the nice green E-Day line is generally above the nasty red average consumption line, showing that E-Day began with above-average consumption:

And here's the equivalent screenshot from just after 6:00pm when the 24 hour period had finished:

See how they have clawed back ground from 1.5% above the daily average to just 0.1% above - not a roaring success, but not such a humiliating failure as it seemed it might be earlier today.

But look at the two graphs. On the second one, the difference between E-Day and the average has disappeared for most of the graph.

I noted on my earlier post that although the current figure ran at 2% to 2.5% most of the afternoon, the total difference shrank from 1.5% to 0.1%. How could that be? And how could the difference in consumption in the first 12 hours disappear by 6:00pm this evening.

I can't see any explanation other than a massaging of data. But I'm mailing the organisers to ask how they account for this:


I took screenshots of the E-Day site at about 7:30am this morning and then just after 6:00pm this evening. The first graph showed a clear difference between E-Day consumption and the average. On the second one, this difference, during the first twelve hours, had vanished.

How could that be?

I have blogged this here (link), and would be glad to add your explanation to the post.

Under the circumstances, I think it's fair to regard this correspondence as open and I have pasted the text of this email into the blog post.


Peter Risdon.

UPDATE: Incidentally, this does ring a bell

UPDATE 2: Thanks to anonymous in the comments for the news that the E-Day site now carries the following explanation:
E-Day did not succeed in cutting the UK's electricity demand. The drop in temperature between Wed 27 Feb and Thurs 28 Feb days probably caused this, as a result of more lights and heating being left on than were originally predicted. The National Grid refined their assessments, based on actual weather data, during Thursday afternoon but I am afraid that E-Day did not achieve the scale of public awareness or participation needed to have a measurable effect. I will do my best to learn the relevant lessons for next time. Thank you to everyone who helped me or left something off specially as their contribution to E-Day, and this Leave It Off experiment. Please enjoy E-Day's solution, video and science sections which all worked well. Warmest regards, Matt
This is unintentionally funny. A site based on the proposition that it's possible to model accurately a chaotic and half-understood system like the weather to the degree of accuracy necessary to attribute temperature changes of fractions of a degree over decades to a specific, human generated, cause had to adjust a line on a graph during the afternoon because the predictions of temperature, based on these models, for a very short and immediate time frame - one day, predicted a day in advance - were inaccurate.

It's also gibberish. To paraphrase: we didn't succeed because it was colder than we expected and people used more power. And we adjusted our analysis to compensate for this change in temperature and so make it irrelevant.

I'm trying to track down data for the temperatures yesterday and today (the Met Office don't have directly comparable figures that I can find yet) and for the effect of temperature on power consumption. More later. Probably.

Fining oneself

Network Rail, the company that manages Britain's rail infrastructure, describes itself as follows:

As a company limited by guarantee, we are a private company operating as a commercial business. We are directly accountable to our members and regulated by the Office of Rail Regulation (ORR).
Run like a PLC

The Board runs Network Rail to the standards required of a publicly listed company (PLC).

We produce an Annual Report & Accounts and hold an Annual General Meeting (AGM). We also publish our Business Plan each year – something that very few other companies do.
Some people think this is just a disguised form of nationalisation. NR is financed by the government, and its debts are underwritten by the government, or to put it another way, by me. And you, if you're a UK taxpayer. Most of Network Rail's indirect customers - railway users - are also British taxpayers.

Today's Telegraph reports:
Network Rail has been hit with a record breaking £14 million fine for the chaos it inflicted more than quarter of a million passengers over the New Year.

The penalty imposed by the rail regulator for the failure to complete three sets of engineering works is nearly double the 7.6m imposed on Network Rail's predecessor Railtrack in 1999.
So as a punishment for Network Rail inconveniencing rail users, the regulator has (indirectly) fined rail users.

E Day Update

See Bishop Hill and Matt Sinclair. E Day has been running for just over twelve hours now. The total amount of energy saved is... Well, in fact energy consumption is still running above average levels. Has been since this farce started. Perhaps they'll save us from global cooling.

UPDATE: 10:44am - E-Day has so far managed to raise electricity consumption by a total of 1.2%.

UPDATE: 12:30pm - It's down to about 1%. At this rate, they'll have managed to force the UK down to its average level of consumption by the end of the day.

UPDATE: 3:21pm - I'm starting to find their calculator a bit puzzling. Every time I have looked since 12:30, the current rate of usage has been around 2% (right now, it's 2.5%), yet the overall figure has been falling, to between 0.8% and 0.7%. Odd. But I'm sure their maths isn't at fault. There's a very helpful explanation of a Gigawatt on the home page: it's equivalent to 10 million 100W light bulbs. Or, to put it another way: 1,000,000,000 = 10,000,000 x 100.

UPDATE: 6:30pm - Hmmm... This is looking a bit fishy.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


William F Buckley died today. A more civilised age is passing.

Speaking truth to power

From comments beneath The Telegraph's report on last night's earthquake in the Midlands:

This quake, like the others, is a gentle warning from God.

God is angry with Britain (Israel), for there was an earthquake in Maastricht after John Major treacherously signed up for that treaty.

There was an earthquake in Kent near the tunnel recently as Blair was ready to sign the EU Constitution and the final stages of the St Pancras railway connection were being completed.

Now, the day after a Lib Dem demand (whether staged or real) for a referendum was thrown out of the House of Commons by that traitor Michael Lord, we have another earthquake. Be prepared for more!

Britain (Israel) is being warned and will be punished by God unless it withdraws from the Soviet/Fascist EU.

You have been warned by a messenger of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Posted by Charles Crosby on February 27, 2008 8:25 AM
And, after a few sceptical responses:
Re: Unconvinced of Tunbridge Wells on February 27, 2008 10:11 AM.

Rest assured Mr Unconvinced of Tunbridge Wells there is plenty of time for you to end up very convinced indeed!

For if we do not heed these warnings from God, much worse awaits us.

We even have a heathen warning us, re: Mr Ravi on February 27, 2008 10:13 AM

This too is something that The Lord prophecied in the Holy Scriptures, for these people, even in their deceived condition, are more righteous than us.

Posted by Charles Crosby on February 27, 2008 10:30 AM
Is the Telegraph allowing comments from heathens now? No wonder the Big Guy is cross.

Via Harry's Place.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Iraqi employees: fine words, shabby deeds

Dan Hardie has an update:

Do you like reading fine words? Here is the Prime Minister on the subject of Iraqi ex-employees of the British Government, speaking in the House of Commons on October 9th, 2007: 'I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to the work of our civilian and locally employed staff in Iraq, many of whom have worked in extremely difficult circumstances, exposing themselves and their families to danger. I am pleased therefore to announce today a new policy which more fully recognises the contribution made by our local Iraqi staff, who work for our armed forces and civilian missions in what we know are uniquely difficult circumstances.'

Fine words. What about deeds?

A small number of Iraqis - fewer than a dozen, according to people close to the operation who are in contact with me- were removed from Iraq in the early autumn of 2007. Since the Prime Minister's admirable declaration of October, how many Iraqi ex-employees have been evacuated from Iraq? According to all the Iraqis that I am in contact with: none.

Here are the words of an Iraqi employee in Iraq, emailing me, today: 'I am still in Iraq...I hear nothing from your Governmet yet!'

Here is what this man was told on February 3 by a conscientious British Civil Servant, out in Iraq to arrange the evacuation of Iraqi ex-employees and clearly shocked by the lack of progress: ''I'm sorry that everything is taking so long to complete. Please note that we are waiting to hear what happens next from London and I can assure you all that I will personally contact you as soon as I receive instructions from London to confirm the next arrangements.'

Here is why he is hiding: 'They (the militia) keep asking my relatives and my family's neighbors about me and they keep moving in my family's street and keep their eyes on our home... they told them: anyone know anything about A__ he should tell us immediately and also they said: we will never give up until we catch A__ .'

And here is what the Right Honourable Bob Ainsworth, Minister of State for Defence, wrote to David Lidington, MP, about this same man on 16th January: 'Mr Hardie expresses concern over the handling of a claim for assistance by a former employee of British Forces, Mr A_ ... Mr A_ is eligible for the assistance scheme, and we have passed his details on to the Border and Immigration Agency who will take forward his request for resettlement in the UK via the Gateway programme. Assuming that there are no problems with Mr A__'s immigration checks he should be able to leave Iraq by the end of January...' I added the emphasis, and I can also say that I have it in writing from the MoD that there were no problems with Mr A__'s immigration checks.

The Border and Immigration Agency is the Home Office Agency handling the last phase of the operation to resettle Iraqi ex-employees. And it is the BIA, according to every source of information that I have, that is delaying the evacuation of the Iraqis.

It is also supposed to be the Home Office that is co-ordinating the provision of housing to those Iraqis who do get resettled in the UK. In the House of Lords last month there was a debate on Iraq at the request of Lord Fowler, whom I had briefed on Iraqi ex-employees. Lord Chidgey, later backed by the Earl of Sandwich, asked a very pertinent question of the Foreign Office Minister Lord Malloch Brown, and he did not get a good answer: '...on the resettlement of Iraqis at risk under the Gateway Protection Programme, the Minister will be aware that its success is dependent on a sufficient number of local authorities participating. There is considerable concern that this is not the case at present. Will he advise what steps the Government are taking to ensure that local authorities will come forward?'

There are many operational and logistical difficulties in the way of an operation: I know that. But the Government has known about these people for at least six months, and has been publicly committed to helping them for over four months. That is enough time to plan for the difficulties- far more time than you usually get in a war.

The Home Office is dawdling while people are threatened with death.This is either incompetence in the face of a crisis, or it is a deliberate policy of putting bureaucratic obstacles in the face of fugitives. Neither is acceptable.

And beyond that, the policy itself is being used to keep out Iraqis who can prove that they worked for British forces, and who can prove that their lives are at risk as a result. One man, Hamed, worked for British forces on Shaibah Logistics Base for over two years, as the Government accepts. He was threatened by the militias, and gunmen went to his house, so he moved his family to Syria and slept on the base's floor. He continued to work for the British. Hamed finally was given 'notice to quit' Shaibah when the base closed, and fled to Syria, where he cannot legally work and where he and his family are safe (so far) but hungry. The British Government knows who Hamed is. A British Army NCO who knew him has confirmed every detail of his story to me, saying that he knew that Hamed had reported the threats against him to the military authorities. The Government has written to Hamed to reject any claim for help, since he was 'not directly employed' by the military.

Another man, Waleed, was directly employed by the military, in 2005 and 2006. He worked as an interpreter for one Army unit for its six month tour, during which time he was fired upon and chased by militiamen as he made his way to the base; he started work for a second unit, after which he received a threat on his mobile phone detailing where he lived, what he did, and what would happen to him if he 'collaborated' any more. He was also hunted in Iraq, and has also fled to Syria. A British Government letter, which I have seen, informed him that he would not be assisted since he had not worked for the twelve-month period specified by the Government's policy- which, alas, the militias do not seem to respect.

We got the Government to admit to its moral responsibilities. Now we have to get them to match their deeds to their words.

Please write a letter to your MP. His or her address is The House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA. If you don't know who your constituency MP is, go here and type your postcode in. When you've sent a letter, follow it up with an email: his or her address will normally be - for example

Two or three days after you have written the letter, call the Parliamentary switchboard on 0207 219 3000 and ask for your MP's office. Repeat your concerns to the secretary or research assistant you speak to (and be nice: most of these people work damn hard for little reward), check that your letter has been received, and politely request that the MP ask questions of Ministers and reply to you. In your email, your letter, and your phone calls, you must be courteous: insulting an MP or a research assistant will discredit this cause. Talking points for the letter are below:

  • The Prime Minister announced a review of British policy towards its Iraqi ex-employees, due to the threats of murder they faced, on August 8th 2007, and he announced a change in that policy on October 9th, 2007. The Foreign Secretary made a more detailed policy statement on October 30th, 2007.
  • Nearly four months later no Iraqis who have applied under the scheme have been evacuated from Iraq.
  • Not one Iraqi ex-employee living as an illegal immigrant in Syria or Jordan has been resettled under the scheme.
  • A debate in the House of Lords on DATE contained several references to resettlement being blocked by the failure of the Home Office to provide housing in the UK. The Home Office has had between four and six months to plan for this eventuality: it is inexcusable that they have not done so.
  • Would the MP please put down written Questions to the Home Secretary asking why the Home Office is unable to live up to the Prime Minister's publicy expressed commitment to rehouse Iraqi ex-employees whose lives are at risk for having worked for British forces?
  • Would the MP please write in private to the Home Secretary, and to the Immigration Minister, Liam Byrne MP, asking what provision their department has made to implement a policy decided in early October, and further asking them if they are aware that lives are at risk and that rapid action needs to be taken?
  • Would the MP also please write to the Foreign Secretary and the Defence Secretary asking how many Iraqis who are ex-Employees of their departments have been resettled, and asking why Iraqis who are at risk for having worked for British forces are being abandoned for having 'worked for less than 12 months'?
  • Can the MP please forward these letters to the Prime Minister, who personally approved the change in policy.
  • And finally, can the MP please reply to you with details of any Government response.
  • If you want: you can give your MP my name and email address ( ) and tell them that I am in contact with a number of Iraqi ex-employees inside and outside Iraq, none of whom have received help from the Government, and that I would be happy to brief them with confidential details of these cases, either by telephone, email or in person at their Parliamentary offices. They should feel free to contact me.
  • When you get a reply to your letter, email me (again, at ) -it's very important that I know which MPs are sympathetic and what the Government is telling them. And email me if you have anything else that needs saying. Thank you.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Pit bull attacks baby

I have a bully dog, Sam, who had three days to live when I first heard about him. At that time his name was Warrior and he was a very lost little dog, who could still break the skin on your arm if he got excited.

A Scottish Ghillie said to me: "There are no dogs, just owners". He was right.

Sam's best friend was a very frail kitten, who would play with him and he would be deeply gentle in return. She was run over, a year or so ago. Sam saw her body, and was depressed for weeks. He lay despondently on his bed, uninterested even in pigs ears. Then one day my ex-girlfriend, in the kitchen, picked up the cat's collar, which had a bell on it, and there was a quiet tinkle sound. Sam sprang up, ran to the kitchen, then ran out to the place he had last seen Maddie's body.

Then he walked, sadly, inside and lay down. Maddie was not there.

Bobby Brown

For one reason or another I was in France when Frank Zappa died. It was almost a national day of mourning. France does rock, in some respects.

Saturday, February 16, 2008


What do you do if a land based temperature sensor is moved from a greenfield site to an urban one, surrounded by buildings and asphalt that are bound to raise temperatures? Easy. You adjust the temperatures, and that's what NASA's GISS institute did.

They adjusted the temperature history so the past records, from the cooler greenfield site became even cooler, and the more recent measurements remained unaltered.

Friday, February 15, 2008

CIA spies on FaceBook

Or perhaps not. From the excellent Counterknowledge blog.

Climate alarmism and groupthink

Via Benny Peiser's CCNet emails, Tom Nelson investigates the links between prominent climate alarmists and suggests, not a conspiracy, but:

When this worldwide global warming hysteria inevitably dies, it will probably become clear that a core cause was groupthink among a surprisingly small set of people.
One such, in some ways the man at the centre, is James Hansen of NASA'a Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Hansen's work was also at the heart of the global cooling scares of the 1970s.

Comics roundup

Compare and contrast: graphic novels from inside the Muslim world, and the anti-jihadi The Infidel, featuring Pigman, from Bosch Fawstin.

The panels of the ones translated from Arabic need to be read from right to left. I particularly like Metro by Egyptian artist Magdy al-Shafee.

I don't like Fawstin's work. Here's the concluding paragraph from one of his explanations of his stance:

Only when the enemy is crushed will the non-Mohammed Muslims be able to take the stage of Islam that the jihadists owned for a thousand years. Then Muslims will be given a chance to join the civilized world and begin making the case for a pacified Islam, or scrap the whole mess entirely. Islam’s fate will be up to them at that point, unless they pull a jihad revival, and then it’ll up to us, because we cannot allow ourselves to be at the mercy of an enemy for whom Nukes are the answer.
Mazan Kerbaj's graphic novel about growing up in Lebanon, born at the start of the civil war in the 1970s, is an account that speaks to any human being, that of a child caught up in a war:
At the age of six I could already tell between outgoing and incoming shells, by sound alone
Would Fawstin have nuked him?

I learned about The Infidel from the author, who emailed me because I published the Danish Mohammed cartoons on this blog and got included in a roundup of links on various sites. There's no comparison between the Danish cartoons and the advocacy of mass murder. In fact, incitement to murder was, in that earlier case, the province of those who objected to the cartoons. That's why I published them. Incitement to murder should never be allowed to gain traction, no matter where it comes from.

Egypt to Gazans: we'll break your legs

Seriously. Those are the words of Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abul Gheit.

Government department issues misleading statistic

Say it ain't so!

From the excellent blog of John Adams, Emeritus Professor of Geography at University College London, two posts about seat belt laws and misleading statistics - Adams uses the word "falsehood". See here and here.

Shari'a law in the West - a Muslim writes

Ali Eteraz isn't impressed with the Archbishop of Blather's recent suggestions. See here, here, here and here.

Also see here for a disturbing example of a Shari'a scare story from The Times that was wrong, yet although this has been pointed out to the newspaper no correction was forthcoming.

There's a serious danger that a combination of widespread non-Muslim discomfort - to use a mild word - with Islam in the West, unrepresentative yet vocal and often subsidised extremist "community organisations", people like the Archbishop and elements of the political far-left who are willing to use Islamists as a stalking horse for their own agendas, and alarmist but inaccurate news stories are combining to produce very high levels of hatred against ordinary, law-abiding Muslims.

There are other voices.

A new Dalton type minimum?

Want to know why there's increasing concern about a possible swing to colder global temperatures, perhaps similar to those of the Dalton Minimum?

See here for a single post explanation, and here for a dedicated blog.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Animal Wrongs, evolution and gravity

I left a rather breathless comment at Tim Worstall's blog recently, railing against factory farming of chickens, and didn't look back to see how the discussion developed.

I hate industrial livestock farming and buy free range poultry and pork, and wild meat wherever possible. That's not to say (straw man #1 in the comments that followed) that I want to ban it. There is a case for animal welfare legislation and therefore a debate about how far it should extend, but I'm instinctively against banning anything. I'd prefer it if people voted with their feet, hence the comment on a blog rather than a letter to my MP asking him to introduce new legislation.

Straw man #2 was that I should become a vegetarian. It's another post, but I think vegetarianism is immoral, or possibly amoral, though again I wouldn't ban it.

Then there was the predictable accusation of anthropomorphism. It's bizarre how some people seem to regard any gesture of recognition that animals can suffer as anthropomorphic. I have come to think of this attitude as "lithomorphism": the attribution of the characteristics of lumps of rock to higher animals with complex nervous systems and brains. Apart from anything else, it's stupid because it's counter-factual.

But the comment that really struck me was this one, from Philip Thomas, a science teacher, who wrote:

“For a century and a half, since Darwin, it has been intellectually and morally insupportable to uphold the religious belief, akin to creationism, that humans are qualitatively different to other species.”

By definition, humans are different from other species. Darwin pointed to all species being connected but not that we were some blurred continuum. Quite the opposite in fact.
He was quoting my earlier interjection, which an observant reader might have noticed said "since Darwin" and therefore included work done in the past century or so as well as that of the great man.

Humans are different from other species in the same way that lions are different from other species, in the latter case including humans. That doesn't do anything to distinguish humans in a unique way. But in fact species are part of "some blurred continuum", as the post-Darwin discovery of ring species has underlined. We're looking at a snapshot of a process, when we look at an animal. We call patterns in the variations between individual creatures "species" when they are sufficient to prevent interbreeding. When variations are even greater than just that we have other words, like genus. But that's just us, classifying things. We like to classify things but it's an imposition of order, not an underlying reality.

Richard Dawkins has coined a term for the widespread inability to see continua instead of discrete units - the "discontinuous mind":
We would all agree that a six-foot woman is tall, and a five-foot woman is not. Words like 'tall' and 'short' tempt us to force the world into qualitative classes, but this doesn't mean that the world really is discontinuously distributed. Were you to tell me that a woman is five feet nine inches tall, and ask me to decide whether she should therefore be called tall or not, I'd shrug and say 'She's five foot nine, doesn't that tell you what you need to know?' But the discontinuous mind, to caricature it a little, would go to court (probably at great expense) to decide whether the woman was tall or short. Indeed, I hardly need to say caricature. For years, South African courts have done a brisk trade adjudicating whether particular individuals of mixed parentage count as white, black or coloured.

The discontinuous mind is ubiquitous. It is especially influential when it afflicts lawyers and the religious (not only are all judges lawyers; a high proportion of politicians are too, and all politicians have to woo the religious vote). Recently, after giving a public lecture, I was cross-examined by a lawyer in the audience. He brought the full weight of his legal acumen to bear on a nice point of evolution. If species A evolves into a later species B, he reasoned closely, there must come a point when a mother belongs to the old species A and her child belongs to the new species B. Members of different species cannot interbreed with one another. I put it to you, he went on, that a child could hardly be so different from its parents that it could not interbreed with their kind. So, he wound up triumphantly, isn't this a fatal flaw in the theory of evolution?

But it is we that choose to divide animals up into discontinuous species.
This isn't an entirely abstract point. There is a continuing battle over whether or not creationism should be taught in school science lessons, or more broadly as a valid intellectual position rather than as a load of archaic and superstitious drivel of purely anthropological interest. One of the key arguments deployed in support of creationism is an argument from incredulity (it's a logical fallacy as well as ignorant) over the process of speciation. Animals can't just lurch suddenly in one generation between quite distinct species, it is argued. Well no, they can't, and nobody should suggest they do. We are looking, with our discontinuous minds, at a continuum and we like to classify the things we see in it, to sort them into groups and put each group in a pigeon hole. It's helpful in some ways to do that, no doubt, but it isn't the underlying reality, to repeat myself for emphasis.

There's another argument used by creationists, especially those who have dug up the corpse of William Palley, dressed it in fine new clothes and propped it up in a chair with a sign round its neck, saying "Intelligent Design": that creationism is a theory, and so is evolution. Most of the time this is criticised, it is on the basis that the word "theory" is being abused. The scientific meaning of the word "theory" is close to the everyday use of the word "fact" - it's an idea that has been tested, preferably extensively, and not yet disproved. The popular use of the word "theory" is closer to "not a fact". Creationism is "not a fact" whereas the idea of evolution by natural selection is a "fact". But there is something in science even closer to a "Fact", and that's a phenomenon.

Take gravity as an example. There's a phenomenon: apples fall on people's heads. That's a fact. Newton thought they did so because masses attract, and that was a theory. It wasn't right, but it worked and so took a long time to disprove. Then Einstein suggested that mass affects space, which in turn affects other masses. This explained the effect of mass on something like light, which Newton's theory failed to do. But there's no completely acceptable theory of gravity yet, not least because anything that seems to work and can be tested properly is hard to reconcile with other parts of physical theory.

So we have a phenomenon - falling apples - and we have theories that seek to explain it, like quantum gravity and string theory. It's worth noting in passing how very long it took before anyone noticed that even such an obvious and ubiquitous thing as gravity was a phenomenon that needed an explanation. People just took it for granted, like the (equally unnoticed, for such a long time) air they breathed.

Applying this system of classification (there we go again) to biology, evolution itself isn't a theory, it's a phenomenon. Like gravity, it took a long time for people to notice it, perhaps in part because noticing it would have led, for many centuries, to a fiery death. That this phenomenon is caused by natural selection is a theory, and it's such a good one that it is still not disproved. This makes it equivalent to the use, in everyday language, of the word "fact", but it isn't quite a fact - it's a well tested and consistently successful scientific theory.

Religious refusal to accept the existence of a phenomenon - an actual observable thing - is not unusual. After all, there were longstanding religious objections to the existence of gravity, as Galileo discovered to his cost. An acceptance of the existence of gravity as a measurable physical phenomenon leads inexorably to the realisation that the observed phenomena of the motion of planets means the sun is at the centre of the solar system. That doesn't rely on any particular theory of gravity, just on the observed behaviour of objects.

Perhaps one of the most serious claims that can be levelled against religions is that they make clever people think incredibly stupid things and even deny the existence of incontrovertible physical phenomena like gravity and evolution.

But it isn't just religion that can do this. To a lesser degree, chauvinism makes people stupid, and specism is just as stupid as racism. And that's where we came in.

UPDATE: Just for clarification, specism is the division of the world's fauna into the two categories of humans, and everything else. Thus, a trout is lumped together with a cow, whereas a chimpanzee is separated from a human, when the question of ethical treatment is considered.

Elvis threatened

So a veteran Nessie hunter has quit:

World War II veteran Robert has devoted almost half his life to scouring Loch Ness.

Despite having hundreds of sonar contacts over the years, the trail has since gone cold and Rines believes that Nessie may be dead, a victim of global warming.
A commentator remarks:
I fear unless we curb the warming soon, it may also claim the lives of Bigfoot and Elvis.
Sadly, scepticism - even denial - seems to have afflicted the Scots. The other comment at the foot of this article reads:
Correct me if I'm wrong, but Nessie was supposed to be a dinosaur that somehow survived. And now, supposedly was killed by Global warming?

So it's hotter now than is comfortable for a dinosaur. Hotter than the Mesozoic era I guess. Odd that nobody noticed that.

I've run out of goat entrails and my scrying pool needs cleaning; so I can't reproduce the "science" used to make this claim; but I think the conclusion may be faulty.

A counterfactual music experiment

What if the clip I've posted that I listen to most often:

weren't religious?

Maybe then, he and his choir might be playing with this guitarist, and this sax player:

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A bijou anecdote-ette

When I was in Alaska, in 1981, I met someone who had been a driver for Willie Nelson's tour bus. We were both hired by the same house builder, in my case because I had bought 4 ounces of the best Colombian grass when I was on the Kenai peninsula, and he wanted a smoke. You understand that I disapprove, of course. In fact, I deny ever buying any Colombian grass, let alone selling an ounce of it to an employer.

Willie, it was alleged - no doubt maliciously - and his entourage had developed the tradition of burning a handful of grass on a tin lid, and holding a large black refuse sack over it until it was full of smoke. Then someone would climb into the sack...

So the first morning I met this bloke, the ex-tour-bus-driver, was in Anchorage. We were both picked up by our broken-necked, ex-Oregon-Gyppo-logger employer, in his pick up truck. The ex-tour bus driver said he had to collect his luggage from the Anchorage Hilton and, as we pulled up outside, asked if I'd help carry his bags down. Sure, no problem.

On the way up in the lift he expanded on this. He'd fallen out badly with his room-mate, who had a .44 magnum and might be sleeping with it under the covers. So if he jumped on top of the guy, would I mind searching the drawers in the room until we found the weapon? Well, OK.

In a very neat move, he approached a chambermaid in the corridor and, very convincingly, told her we were his room-mate's buddies wanting to surprise him on his birthday, and would she give him the pass key. She agreed, sharing in the fun. So we walked to the door with a pass key, opened it and then exploded into the room.

We found the gun and made things safe, for us. My new Texan friend exchanged views with the man in the bed while I stood to one side, partly a heavy, partly irrelevant.

Then we left.


And here's the Highwaymen, singing Highwayman:

I like this, partly because it's kewl - you mean you didn't know Country was kewl?

Partly because I love Willie Nelson's singing - unrelated to the music yet perfectly on-beat - and then for some other reasons. There's an occasional commentator on this blog called Kes, who I happen to know in Real Life. I played her this tune, and as Waylon Jennings started singing I said "Ah yes, Johnny Cash. Unmistakable." Even when she found a video of the performance she had the delicacy not to point out my, ah... premature attribution.

Last resorts

Well, I guess the last resort of the time-strapped blogger is to post some music videos. Here's a British Muslim playing a beautiful song, Beeswing:

And here he is playing The Turning of the Tide:

I play the guitar, and normally seeing a guitarist play makes me go home and pick up the old instrument. I saw Richard Thompson during the tour the last clip comes from, and I went home and reverently draped a dust sheet over the thing, feeling there was no point even trying to play his songs.

My favourite line from the first song is "Maybe that's just the price you pay for the chains you refuse". Reading the reactions of some supposedly liberal bloggers and commentators to the Archbishop of Canterbury's latest speech has made me realise that some of us will have to pay a price for refusing chains, and it won't include them. I won't link. But I will pay that price.

UPDATE: Damnit, I will link.

UPDATE 2: I hadn't seen Dillow's earlier post on the subject of the Archbishop. Having now seen it, I withdraw the suggestion he's a part of this problem.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Slow posting

Sorry it's been so erratic. Business is booming, I'm training new employees and trying to do three jobs-worth of work. Normally I'd be about to blog for the evening, instead I have another meeting to get through.

Mind you, there might be some kind of - let's be pretentious - événement in the offing... Some kind of kick back against the bastards. More later.

Women in black

A black light, that is, according to his reverence, President Ahmamadbastard of Iran. Human Rights First reports:

With parliamentary elections around the corner in Iran, the free press and the right to freedom of expression are increasingly under fire.

Last week, the authorities shut down Zanan, the country's premier women's magazine. President Ahmadinejad said that Zanan showed Iranian women in a "black light" and was a threat to the psychological well being of Iranian society. Zanan had long argued that the legal discrimination suffered by women in Iran is not mandated by Islamic law and that therefore it can and should be changed.

Join us in demanding that Iran:

* Cancel the order to close the magazine and reinstate its press license.
* Ensure the safety of the staff of Zanan.
* Urge all branches of the government to respect the right to freedom of expression and the importance of a free and independent press.
Click the link to join the protest.

A perfect logo

The Adam Smith Institute blog spotted this transport poster, and commented:

...if you're going to use gears in your promotional material, it might be worth using a graphic designer who knows how gears work
True enough. But it's possible the designer actually knew how local government works.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Mist in the morning

One of the best things about owning dogs is that I start every day walking somewhere like this. The lake in the picture is managed by the fishing club that owns it, and that has made it such a beautiful and well-kept place.

The sight, in the early light of dawn, of men sitting quietly by the waterside asking for nothing except to be left alone gives me great hope. The great male virtue of the comradeship of silence is still with us.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Quote of the Day

The Telegraph:

The sentence was later reduced to beheading...

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Rowan Williams

I hadn't commented yet, because the Archbishop seems more militant and reactionary to me than most commentators have suggested. If his recent calls for restrictions on free speech and the allowance of Shari'a Law are considered carefully, he is trying to drag us back to a dark, violent and priest-ridden nightmare. So I have been reading his speeches, trying to track the threads through his almost inarticulate density and vagueness of language. But I needn't have bothered. As usual, Matthew Parris gets it, and sounds a note we minimal-government people ought to consider carefully (I have highlighted the relevant sentence):

Properly understood, the effect of devolving national law and national morality to local and group level is profoundly conservative. Dr Williams's ideas really represent the wilder fringes of a bigger idea: communitarianism. Communitarianism can come in a surplice, a yarmulka or from a minaret and is all the more dangerous because armed with a divine rather than a local loyalty. It almost always proves a repressive and reactionary force, fearful of competitors, often anti-science, sometimes sceptical of knowledge itself, and grudging towards the State.

There is absolutely nothing “left-wing” or woolly-liberal about empowering it. A Britain in which Muslim communities policed themselves would be more ruthlessly policed, and probably more law-abiding than today. But it would be a Britain in which the individual Muslim - maybe female, maybe ambitious, maybe gay, maybe a religious doubter - would lose their chances of rescue from his or her family or community by the State.

The State, not family, faith or community, is the guarantor of personal liberty and intellectual freedom, and it will always be to the State, not the Church, synagogue or mosque, that the oppressed individual needs look. Some two centuries ago Nonconformism in Britain, by offering the individual an unmediated approach to a personal God, started to liberate Christians from the Church. Dr Williams seems not to understand this. Or perhaps he does, and is on the other side.
Williams does understand this. He is on the other side, with his fellow post-modernists.

Italy to win

A wish, not a prediction. England's rugby establishment needs a spring cleaning. If Italy beat us tomorrow, this will be more likely. It would be a good thing for Italy too, after a good performance in the World Cup.

Friday, February 08, 2008

MySQL full text searching

Good piece here on this crucial subject.

Forces of darkness

From here:

The ignorant moralists who tend to make policy in this area are, however, pushing hard in the opposite direction. Just today's newspapers had two stories, one from the UK, the other from Afghanistan, to show that the forces of ignorance and darkness are on a winning streak.
Who is he talking about? Drug prohibitionists. Read it all.


Top prize at the World Press Photo awards has gone to Tim Hetherington for a photograph of an American soldier, exhausted after a pitched battle with the Taliban in Afghanistan. The judges said it communicated "the exhaustion of a nation".

The nation in question will be pressing forwards, continuing to do the heavy lifting for the free world, to the shame and disgrace of us in Europe, long after the judges of this competition have collapsed, spent from issuing fatuous and false prophecies about America.

Greatest historical error

The Times comment section has asked contributors what they think was the greatest error in British history. I agree with Mick Hume: the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660. There are almost too many reasons to list... but we might have to wait for King Charles III before present day Liberal monarchists understand, and in that there would be a certain symmetry.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Statistic of the day

333,000 Australian troops were sent overseas during the First World War. There were 226,000 casualties.

Yet more blog libel threats

Tim Ireland has just posted about a libel threat he has received from Donal Blaney, acting for Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes:

Recently, I wrote an article about Paul Staines (you know him better as 'Guido Fawkes') stealing images and bandwidth. Now I'm getting threatening emails from his lawyer, Donal Blaney (you can't see those, but you can see my replies).

To put it bluntly, I suspect that I am being targeted not because of what I said, but because of who I am.

Blaney appears to be very closely aligned to Staines personally, professionally and politically. He also appears to be an odd choice of lawyer for a libel case (if indeed one is truly in the offing), as his specialty/background is tax law.

Via Donal Blaney, Paul Staines has been badgering me to reveal my home address or retain the services of a lawyer in an effort to bully me into silence without true recourse to law.
I'm not going to get into the argument itself beyond commenting that Ireland's allegations against Guido seem to me to be both trivial and debatable. But Guido should debate them, or post his side of the argument, not issue libel threats to another blogger who he knows will not have the resources to face down legal threats easily.

Assisted suicide

The front page of the Guardian website contains the following link:

Suicide bombers. Here's how the linked article starts:

This was not a suicide bombing. Two mentally disabled women were murdered. The Guardian's deceitful wording on their front page is an example of the insidious sanitisation of Izlamist evil so characteristic of that newspaper.

Friday, February 01, 2008

There is such a thing as society

And it isn't the state.