Monday, March 31, 2008

A social scientist mugged by the data

Heartless conservatives, eh? Not like those caring Liberals:

If many conservatives are liberals who have been mugged by reality, Brooks, a registered independent, is, as a reviewer of his book said, a social scientist who has been mugged by data. They include these findings:

• Although liberal families' incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,227).

• Conservatives also donate more time and give more blood.

• Residents of the states that voted for John Kerry in 2004 gave smaller percentages of their incomes to charity than did residents of states that voted for George Bush.

• Bush carried 24 of the 25 states where charitable giving was above average.

• In the 10 reddest states, in which Bush got more than 60 percent majorities, the average percentage of personal income donated to charity was 3.5. Residents of the bluest states, which gave Bush less than 40 percent, donated just 1.9 percent.

• People who reject the idea that "government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality" give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.
Hmmm. OK, but the Christian fundamentalists, eh? Scary or what?
The single biggest predictor of someone's altruism, Willett says, is religion.
Not so scary. (In the USA there is a big correlation between conservative politics and professed religion, so this might be just that, correlation rather than causation. That doesn't take anything away from the people giving the money. They're giving more than Liberals.)

But who is standing up for the oppressed here? Do a double-take on this line:
Although liberal families' incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families...
Is it controversial to suggest more liberals than conservatives get income from the public sector?

So while claiming to be more caring, to have better intentions than conservatives, liberals give less and take more - making more money than conservatives in the process.

Non-question unanswered

You know it's going to be a stupid article when it begins:

Suddenly, atheism is the new religion.
And Nigel Hawkes, Health Editor of The Times does not disappoint:
While science answers the “how” questions, it leaves the “why” questions hanging in the air.
This is so hackneyed it's surprising to see in print, yet again. I suppose there's a limited quiver available to the religious apologist.

Sequences of words of the form "Why are we here?" are not questions, they are fallacies. They beg the question, in this case "Is there any reason why we are here?", or perhaps more succinctly, "Does life have a purpose?" If so, you can ask what it might be, but you can't ask that otherwise.

If this question is meant to be profound, to mean more than "Do you, personally, have a purpose?" then it presupposes the existence of the divine, because there's no other perspective from which such purpose could operate. The last quote above could be rephrased:
While science looks at the world and reality, religions consider questions that presuppose the existence of a God.
True enough.

This type of argument is inanity slipped between the covers of profundity; a sheep in wolf's clothing.


Maximum respect


** 30/3/2008: Liveleak Update **

On the 28th of March was left with no other choice but to remove the film "fitna" from our servers following serious threats to our staff and their families. Since that time we have worked constantly on upgrading all security measures thus offering better protection for our staff and families. With these measures in place we have decided to once more make this video live on our site. We will not be pressured into censoring material which is legal and within our rules. We apologise for the removal and the delay in getting it back, but when you run a website you don't consider that some people would be insecure enough to threaten our lives simply because they do not like the content of a video we neither produced nor endorsed but merely hosted.

The future of software

Platform independent, built on Open Source, networked, stateless:

Google has been recruited by US intelligence agencies to help them better process and share information they gather about suspects.

Agencies such as the National Security Agency have bought servers on which Google-supplied search technology is used to process information gathered by networks of spies around the world.

Google is also providing the search features for a Wikipedia-style site, called Intellipedia, on which agents post information about their targets that can be accessed and appended by colleagues, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
In the most innovative service, for which Google equipment provides the core search technology, agents are encouraged to post intelligence information on a secure forum, which other spies are free to read, edit, and tag - like the online encyclopedia Wikipedia.
"Each analyst, for lack of a better term, has a shoe box with their knowledge," Mr Dennehy was quoted as saying. "They maintained it in a shared drive or Word document, but we're encouraging them to move those platforms so that everyone can benefit."

Earth Day

Remember E Day, when a call to reduce electricity consumption for a day in the UK actually led to an apparent increase in power use?

Well, it was Earth Day worldwide a couple of days ago, and... can you guess?

Yup. It's happened again. Power consumption rose.

Mahdi Army ceasefire

What could have led to the cease fire called yesterday by Moqtada Sadr? Let's ask the BBC:

Moqtada Sadr's statement on Sunday said: "Because of the religious responsibility, and to stop Iraqi blood being shed... we call for an end to armed appearances in Basra and all other provinces..."

The BBC's Adam Brookes in Baghdad says this means the Mehdi Army will remain intact.

He says that although the move gives Mr Maliki a chance to claim victory, the central demand has not been met and this is not a resolution of the conflict.

The situation had appeared to be deteriorating on Saturday, with fierce fighting in both Baghdad and Basra.

Coalition forces had become more involved, with US air raids in the two cities in recent days, and British forces joining the fighting in Basra.
So things were going badly for the Iraqi army, fighting the Mahdi followers of Moqtada Sadr? It was jolly kind of the Mahdis to call a halt.

Perhaps not:
With the fifth day of fighting in Baghdad, Basrah and the South completed, the Mahdi Army has suffered major losses over the past 36 hours. The Mahdi Army has not fared well over the past five days of fighting, losing an estimated two percent of its combat power, using the best case estimate for the size of the militia.

A look at the open source press reports from the US and Iraqi military and the established newspapers indicates 145 Mahdi Army fighters were killed, 81 were wounded, 98 were captured, and 30 surrendered during the past 36 hours.

Since the fighting began on Tuesday 358 Mahdi Army fighters were killed, 531 were wounded, 343 were captured, and 30 surrendered. The US and Iraqi security forces have killed 125 Mahdi Army fighters in Baghdad alone, while Iraqi security forces have killed 140 Mahdi fighters in Basra.
Ah. Perhaps that's why Sadr blinked.


Quote of the day

From the Judge, to the jury in the pointless Diana inquest:

“No one except you and I and, I think, the gentleman in the public gallery with ‘Diana’ and ‘Dodi’ painted on his forehead has sat through every word of evidence.

Imperial legacy

Andrew Sullivan quotes one of his readers:

The "Iraqi people" have been at each other's throats at least since Britain cobbled together the territory nearly 100 years ago. To think that we can outlast these ancient hatreds with our military presence is folly.
The idea that part of the problem is inappropriate national boundaries that are the legacy of colonialism is commonly heard about the Middle East and Africa. But so what?

It might be true, but we are where we are. Nobody really suggests that national boundaries be redrawn, though that might happen over time as, arguably, it has in the former Yugoslavia. The reflexive repetition of this idea has nothing to do with policy, now, and is just a sort of signal thrown out by the speaker or writer to identify him or herself to friends.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Some advice for muggers.

Quote of the day

Their suit also says CERN has failed to provide an environmental impact statement as required under the National Environmental Policy Act.
Walter L. Wagner and Luis Sancho contend that scientists at the European Center for Nuclear Research, or CERN, have played down the chances that the collider could produce, among other horrors, a tiny black hole, which, they say, could eat the Earth. Or it could spit out something called a “strangelet” that would convert our planet to a shrunken dense dead lump of something called “strange matter.”

Perceptions of greatness

Popular Mechanics has put together a list of movies:

When Arthur C. Clarke died last week at the age of 90, science fiction—hell, science in general—lost one of its greatest, most forward-looking masters. In his honor, PM’s resident geek and sci-fi buff analyzes the most eerily predictive, prescient films of the future. They’re not necessarily the best movies—just the ones that got the science right, or will sometime soon.
2001 A Space Odyssey comes in at number ten.

That's the only movie based on Clarke's writings in the list, but three of the movies are based on works by another author. Can you guess who?

Whoops, credit missed. Via.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Tales from the market

Two stories I think are related:

1. Wal Mart to the rescue:

While FEMA fumbled through its initial response, Wal-Mart was delivering thousands of truckloads of needed supplies, providing a life-line for battered communities and their residents. Some local leaders in Louisiana and Mississippi believe residents actually owe their lives to Wal-Mart, not the federal government.
Wal-Mart and building supply chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s began mobilizing for the storm well in advance. Wal-Mart’s emergency operations center started preparing for Katrina prior to the storm’s landfall in Florida, days before it struck the northern Gulf Coast. Home Depot made similar preparations, pre-positioning supplies in areas threatened by the storm. Contrast that to the ineptitude of state and local officials in Louisiana, who were still debating a proposed evacuation order--two days before the hurricane arrived.

While political leaders fiddled, Wal-Mart had 45 truckloads of water, generators and other needed items waiting at its distribution center in Brookhaven, Mississippi, only two hours from the coast. As soon as the hurricane passed, the trucks were on the road. In many locations, Wal-Mart tractor-trailers were the first “relief convoys” encountered by storm survivors.
2. Soldiers rescue a high tech battle system:
And then, something rather odd and unexpected happened. The 4/9 -- known since the early 1900's as the "Manchus," for their fighting in China -- stripped Land Warrior down, made the gear more functional, and discovered the equipment could actually be pretty useful in combat.

By consolidating parts, a 16-pound ensemble was whittled down to a little more than 10. A the digital gun scope was abandoned -- too cumbersome and too slow for urban fights. And not every soldier in the 4/9 was ordered to lug around Land Warrior. Only team leaders and above were equipped.

The Manchus suggested new features to Land Warrior's software, too.
In both cases, private organisations and individuals behaved more effectively than bureaucracies. If all the hurricane relief after Katrina had been contracted to private businesses like Wal Mart, hate target for the Luddite Left, many lives would have been saved. Here's how their managers cut through problems to provide urgent solutions:
Unable to reach her superiors, assistant store manager Jessica Lewis decided to run a bulldozer through her store, collect essential supplies that weren’t water-damaged. The supplies were then stacked in the parking lot and given away to local residents. Ms. Lewis also broke into the store’s pharmacy locker to supply critical drugs to a local hospital.
There are other cases like that. Can you conceive of a functionary behaving like that?

In the second case, the people who actually use a system became able to provide design ideas and a weapons system representing millions of taxpayer dollars was changed from useless to useful - at no cost. This situation came about by accident, essentially. Nobody thought the bazaar might have something to contribute to the work of the cathedral.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Pivot moment in Iraq

As Shia militias take parts of Baghdad in response to the offensive in Basra, which has stalled.

At least there are more US troops there, but I wish the British Army would leave Basra airport and help.

The ugliness of identity politics

The Dunbar Village case.

The incident:

On June 18th, 2007, ten black male youths gang-raped a 35 year old woman for three hours and forced her to perform oral sex on her 12-year old son, who was also beaten and doused with household chemicals[2]. The young men not only viciously punched, kicked and sliced the woman and her son with glass objects, but they also blinded her boy by pouring nail polish remover into his eyes.

The young men forced the woman and son to lay naked in a bathtub together, and attempted to set them on fire (they could not find matches). The youths boldly took cell phone pictures of their violent, immoral and sadistic acts. The violence continued for over three hours, and although the woman's neighbors heard her screams, no one called the police or came to her aid. Even after the attack, no one came to their aid and the woman and her son had to walk a mile to a hospital before receiving any help, because the assailants stole her car, and threatened to kill her and her family if she told the authorities.

As of September 3, 2007 only four of the 10 rapists have been arrested for the crime, ranging in age from 14 to 18.

The appeal for help:
Notably, in the case of the NAACP and Al Sharpton's National Action Network, both organizations were repeatedly contacted in 2007 by activists and individuals pleading with them to turn a spotlight on this case and to press for additional action to catch the rapists. In response to a phone call from the authors of the blog What About our Daughters, an NAACP spokesperson responded that they would not be getting involved in the case because "it was outside their mission". Al Sharpton did not respond to numerous requests for a statement or other action until January 2008, when he responded to communication from a Dunbar Village resident and toured the property. Sharpton helped organized a town hall meeting that was scheduled for February 10, 2008. Sharpton, a day before the event and without conferring with or telling the residents, canceled the event

The betrayal:
On Tuesday, March 11, 2008, Al Sharpton and the West Palm Beach NAACPheld a press conference accusing the prosecutor of treating those arrested in this case unfairly. They demanded that the prosecutor offer bail to the youths arrested in this case and not try them as adults, because this was being done by the prosecutor in another gang rape case involving white perpetrators in a different Florida jurisdiction. The NAACP has apparently event sent attorneys to aid those arrested in their defense, this in spite of the heinous nature of the crime, air tight DNA evidence and confessions.

Fitna - the movie

Available at last, after even Network Solutions pulled the plug on the website. After all the censorship, it's a duty to show this - and you have a right to see it. That's even more important since there's a Dutch campaign to stop you seeing it by making and uploading as many videos as possible with the same title, most of which have people saying "Sorry". I looked at the organisers' website, which I won't link to. Wittily, they say they value "freedom of expression".

They obviously don't value freedom from genital mutilation. Nor do they seem to value freedom from rape within forced marriages, rape of under-aged girls, or freedom of conscience. And they don't seem to see any value in opposition to fascist movements.

WARNING: Very graphic images. Very disturbing.

Incompetent Britain

At a cost of £4.3 billion:

The situation at Heathrow's new Terminal 5, where thirty-three flights have been cancelled amid baggage chaos, worsened shortly before 5 pm, when the entire baggage system crashed because it was unable to handle the amount of in and outbound luggage.

Incompetence and totalitarianism

A poisonous combination.

Bishop Hill gives an account of a government IT project:

So we have a set of procedures that are not needed and a bureaucracy that nobody wants, all supported by a computer system that doesn't work.
And the totalitarianism? You'll have read this elsewhere, I'm sure:
It looks as if we will have to again go through all the fuss and lobbying that we saw over the wretched Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, the previous attempt by this Labour Government to neuter Parliament by Order of a Minister
I am unable to understand how anyone can fail to appreciate the urgency of our need for a formal constitution that limits the powers and scope of government while separating the executive from Parliament and setting in place effective checks and balances between the arms of the state - executive, Parliament and the courts. Oh, and enshrines absolutely no responsibilities whatsoever for the citizen.

Constitutions should limit governments, and that's all.

In the meantime, this is what we are faced with: incompetence and totalitarianism.

Danish fatalism

Kurt Westergaard is fatalistic about the violent reaction to his cartoon:

"I would do it the same way (again) because I think that this cartoon crisis in a way is a catalyst which is intensifying the adaptation of Islam," he told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday, speaking in English.

"Without a cartoon that provoked the Muslims, it would have been something else; a novel a play, a movie, this situation would have occurred sooner or later anyway."
I think that's right.

Trouble in Canada

Security expert Bruce Schneier runs an open access wireless network in his home:

To me, it's basic politeness. Providing internet access to guests is kind of like providing heat and electricity, or a hot cup of tea. But to some observers, it's both wrong and dangerous.
I guess it depends where you live. Canada, for example, might not be the best place to try this. If you're Canadian, you might find a "human rights investigator" has hijacked your wireless connection in order to pose as a racist Nazi, posting hate messages to the Stormfront website. And to provide them with anonymity, they're using your ip address as cover.

And you'd be paying for the privilege of being set up. These investigators are staggering around, belching and loosening their belts, after gorging themselves at the tax trough.

Young minds

David T has a post up at Harry's Place, describing the influence of the SWP in the University teachers' trade union. There have been repeated attempts there to start some kind of boycott of Israel, and the SWP has been behind them:

But it is imperative that we shift the debate, to focus on the utterly malign influence of members and supporters of the racist and totalitarian Socialist Workers' Party, and of other marginal extremist political parties, on British academia. The likes of Tom Hickey, Phil Marfleet, Tom Hickey, John Rose and the rest of them, are not quirky eccentrics or idealists whose hearts are basically in the right place. They're nasty, vicious, demagogues whose political values are utterly opposed to everything that liberal progressives stand for. They should evoke in us, precisely the same response that we felt when we learnt of Frank Ellis's published views: disgust.

Smash the SWP.
Meanwhile, Oliver Kamm has written about the man behind the school teachers' union's proposed ban on army visits to schools:
McGarr is a maths teacher from Tower Hamlets and a former council candidate in Millwall for the Respect party. He is not being entirely open in disclaiming a wish to undermine our armed forces. In fact, he's lying. This is what he wrote in Socialist Worker, 23 March 2003, just before the military campaign to overthrow Saddam Hussein..
In the quoted piece, McGarr suggests it would be best if British (and American) troops suffered "reverses" or were defeated.

So in the same week a member of the SWP in the university teachers' union suggests punitive arrangement aimed at Israeli academics, and a member of the SWP tells the teachers' union to ban the armed forces from schools.

SWP entryism seems to be having significant success in these unions, and these fanatical extremists are thereby in a position to influence young minds to the full. This is a bad thing.

It's worth noting that it is left-wing writers doing the exposing. (It would be better if some on the right displayed an less relaxed approach to their own racist and hateful fringes).

In Canada, Ezra Levant has been waging an impressive and unusual campaign against the Human Rights Commissions there. It's unusual because he is winning. His main tactic, outside his immediate legal struggle, is what he terms "denormalization". He explains it as follows:
By "denormalizing", I mean bringing the public's perception of these commissions in line with the awful facts about them. Denormalizing the commissions means demonstrating how they disrespect Canadian values, showing how they have become a sword, attacking human rights, rather than a shield protecting them.
That's what David T and Oliver Kamm are doing with the SWP. It's the right policy.


Tim Worstall has been getting annoyed with Tony Makara, who wrote a piece at the Conservative Home site defending trade protectionism.

Tim's right to be annoyed, of course. Protectionism has a terrible history. But it isn't surprising to see a Tory make this argument. Protectionism has always been a strong thread in conservative politics.

Vested interests, of course. Politics attracts interest groups like, well, you can supply the simile. I was about to be coarse.

Chinese pdfs

Don't open them, at least not if you're a Tibetan dissident:

Here's an email that was mailed to a pro-Tibet mailing list three days ago.

It looked like it was coming from the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). However, the email headers were forged and the mail was coming from somewhere else altogether.

Seemingly, the mail issued a statement of solidarity for the people of Tibet
When you open the attached PDF file, you actually get a real PDF document with a relevant statement
However, this is not a normal PDF document. It contains a modified version of a PDF-Encode vulnerability
to exploit Adobe Acrobat when the document is opened.

The exploit silently drops and runs a file called C:\Program Files\Update\winkey.exe. This is a
keylogger that collects and sends everything typed on the affected machine to a server running at And is a Chinese DNS-bouncer system that, while not rogue by itself, has been used over and over again in various targeted attacks.

The exploit inside the PDF file was crafted to evade detection by most antivirus products at the time it was sent.


Brain pr0n

It's such a pleasure to read a really well constructed argument.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

King was not a Democrat

So claims the National Black Republican Association:

From its founding in 1854 as the anti-slavery party until today, the Republican Party has championed freedom and civil rights for blacks. And as one pundit so succinctly stated, the Democrat Party is as it always has been, the party of the four S's: Slavery, Secession, Segregation and now Socialism


From Yahoo Answers:

Tax is so depressing does anyone feel like committing suicide ?

Best Answer - Chosen by Voters
I used to work for Inland Revenue (now HMRC) and that's certainly how I felt.

Tax should be voluntary.

Blog attacks

Something about these three posts from three left of centre bloggers makes my flesh creep. They have discovered that Paul Staines, aka Guido Fawkes, went bankrupt in 2003. The fig leaf for this irrelevant exposé is that Guido complains about the rising level of insolvency in the UK.

Who can blame him? People are being over-taxed into bankruptcy and even suicide at an alarming rate.

There's a lot of niggle in the relationship between Staines and these left wing bloggers. Staines was out of line to threaten Tim Ireland with libel action acouple of weeks ago. But Ireland and the other two are out of line with this creepy insinuation. Their posts had the ring of blackmail about them, in their phrasing. Ugh.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


Two excellent pieces on the security mindset, with a focus on IT security. Bruce Schneier and a response by Colin Percival.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Embryo research

Religious protests are hardly surprising:

One of Britain's leading Catholics has criticised Gordon Brown over his Government's "monstrous" plans for embryo research and compared them to the creation of Frankenstein's monster.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien will use his Easter Sunday sermon to censure the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, which will allow scientists to create part-human, part-animal embryos for use in stem cell experiments.
Cranmer comments:
the Cardinal’s concern (and that of many Christians, Jews and Muslims) is more to do with the spiritual status of the chimera – that is, its ensoulment, and the sanctity of its existence. If humans are made ‘in the image of God’, in whose image is something that is part human part animal? And does such a creation have ‘human rights’, ‘animal rights’, both or none?
This is not an exclusively ‘anti-Catholic’ Bill; it is a fundamentally anti-Christian one, and some might say an anti-religious one, for it is secular to the core.
Central to the beliefs of most religions is the idea of human singularity; the idea that biological humans are a sort of temporary container for a soul and that no other form of life is; that the soul is the important thing and that the rest of creation, including other animals, is separate, qualitatively different and placed here to provide us with refreshment while we sit an extended examination that will determine whether we spend eternity in bliss or suffering the agonies of torture.

If this viewpoint were wholly correct in all its implications, it shouldn't be possible to combine genetic elements from humans with elements taken from non-human animals. In other words, the very fact that this sort of research is possible at all is an affront to, and a refutation of, this core principle of religious belief.

The fact that this research is possible has been accommodated within the mainstream religious armistice with evolution, whereby some evolution is accepted - how much varies, often it's just enough to account for observed adaptations by and within individual species. This allows acceptance of biological mechanisms of inheritance. At a stretch, it can allow the idea that human genetic material is compatible with things that derive from other species - in this case structures rather than genes: the research in question involves removing the genetic material from an animal embryo and replacing it with its human equivalent.

But claims to prime movement (creation) and to human singularity have not been surrendered by any religious leaders.

With cosmology unlikely, in its present form, to have anything to say about what (if anything) might have preceded or initiated the Big Bang, or indeed whether either is meaningful, there is a truce over, or at least an absence of things to say about, the prime movement.

The unique and soul-filled nature of humanity is another matter. Abortion, embryo research and genetic research more generally will continue to be active battlefields for decades to come. The problem has always been simple: religions are, not so much wrong, as incorrect. There's sensible, uncontroversial stuff in religious teaching (don't kill, for example), but we weren't created by God. There isn't a God. As more is discovered about the world, and more ways to manipulate it are worked out, this conflict will continue.

Cranmer was clever, and correct, to bring animal rights and human rights into the mix. But embryo research simply throws new light on an existing ethical problem, it doesn't create the problem.

Cardinal O'Brien used the F word - Frankenstein. There's a perspective on this story, not necessarily one its author would have shared, that sees The Creature as the victim of superstition and hatred. This reaction against embryo research, and genetic engineering generally, is more the product of superstition, loathing and fear. That it is superstitious is either self-evident or offensive, depending on your perspective. There is fear, because in this process of biological discovery lies the end of intellectual respectability for theist religious thought. And there is loathing; I have no doubt the Cardinal, and the blogger known as Cranmer, both feel a genuine and compassionate disgust at the thought of human hybrids - and it is compassionate. For no very good reason, there's an instinctive idea in most of us that any such creature would be deformed, suffering and grotesque.

Of course, at the moment nobody is suggesting doing anything more than letting some cells reproduce for a few days. But sometime, somewhere, someone will try to bring a human hybrid to term. It's an unnerving thought. I'm not sure anyone has yet successfully imagined what it will be like in a world in which genetic engineering is routine and reasonably complete as a technology.

But for all our trepidations, I suspect people living in such a world will look back on our era much as we look back at the Dark Ages, as a period when life was nasty, brutal and short. Ancient footage of people with cancers or Parkinson's, accounts of the minds that were lost to Altzheimer's, will fill them with horror and despair.

And I doubt there will be much reverence felt for the clerics who tried to stop experiments like those covered by this forthcoming Bill.

New blog

From a regular of this blog - Counting Cats in Zanzibar. Check it out.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Also from Zombietime

The unflattering photos of Hillary mosaic:

Click to enlarge at your own risk.

Why would anyone go into politics?

Piece Now!

The lead banner in a protest march. That's Cindy Sheehan, second from the left.


Counterknowledge has been writing about a homeopath working in Africa:

did the flip-flop homeopath bother to tell the Africans “treated” by her that the medicine they were being given had no scientific evidence supporting its effectiveness?

Here’s another horrific example of her supposedly ‘philanthropic’ work:

“My final case of the day is once of the many patients here that I suspect of having read the Repertory! For the past 22 years, since the age of 13, Ibou has suffered from an abscess near the anal entrance. He says it is very itchy, much worse at night and ‘feels good’ when scratched, but he tries to resist doing this as it burns violently afterwards.

“It also burns after washing, to the extent that he takes four paracetamol every evening before bed in order to get some sleep. He has to press the abscess every single day in order to obtain a little relief, and the discharge consists of pus and blood. He feels extremely hot all the time but doesn’t sweat at all, has the sensation as if (SAI) there’s a weight on his head and constant movements in his belly as though he were about to have diarrhoea.

“He also has an aching pain between the scapulae..."
Antibiotics? No, the man is given, sorry - prescribed sulphur:
“I’m tempted to give support remedies such as Gunpowder and/or Silica to cleanse the blood and liver, which is obviously an issue in view of the intrascapular pain, and is being further damaged by the daily administration of paracetamol.

“However, Sulphur is so clearly indicated that it seems a shame to steal its thunder, so he receives 12s tds. However, since I’m adamant that he should come off the paracetamol, I also give him a combination remedy of Bell. 200 and Arnica 10M, to take as needed for the pain.”
The blog author is outraged, but hasn't grappled with the central problem. Most homeopaths - effectively all, I think - believe in what they are doing. This isn't some sort of grisly conspiracy to kill Africans with quack medicine, it's a heartfelt and earnest attempt to help.

So the issue isn't whether or not homeopathy works - the evidence seems to be that it doesn't - nor is it whether or not the specific remedies seem absurd to the unconvinced. The thorny question is what we do about it. Should we prevent homeopaths going to Africa? Or should we restrict the ailments they can consider to the trivial, to prevent them from offering homeopathic cures for malaria and AIDS? Or, indeed, should we leave them alone?

He beat me to it

And put it much better than I would have:

I might as well remind Barack Obama that the war in Iraq hasn't lasted longer than WW2. There were, in fact, some isolated outbreaks of fighting before Pearl Harbour.

Capitalism - the issue

Chris Dillow recently posted about the debate over capitalism:

... pro and anti-capitalists often misunderstand each other. I suspect there are at least five misunderstandings:
1. What is capitalism? Some pro-capitalists, particularly in the US, have a habit of identifying capitalism with markets. Intelligent anti-capitalists find this very irritating. Tim, though, gets it right:

There's rather a large difference between "capitalism" and "free markets"...Capitalism defines a system of ownership, markets a method of exchange.

This matters enormously. Markets are essential in any form of society, and have existed pretty much throughout history. But capitalism, in the sense of outside limited liability ownership of firms from which workers are excluded, is a relatively new thing.
From which workers are excluded? Perhaps that's true for private limited companies - the workers can rarely buy shares in the company they work for. But such workers are not specifically excluded, because nobody else can buy such shares either, and almost all own shares in other firms, even if only through their pension, and are therefore themselves capitalists. All workers in public companies can buy shares in the business they work for.

This was just an insubstantial dig at nasty old capitalism, and some anti-capitalists, particularly in Europe, have a habit of identifying capitalism with anything and everything bad. Intelligent pro-capitalists find this very irritating.

But that's just the spinach that gets stuck between the reader's teeth, the meat of the argument is that alternatives to capitalism are worth exploring, even if only as counterfactuals that shine light on capitalism itself. And he ends:
My problem, though, is that many on both the left and right are unable or unwilling to see the debate in these terms. I wonder why.
One problem is that these aren't the terms in which the the debate needs to be framed. Few pro-capitalists want to prohibit other forms of business structure, like mutuals and cooperatives. Dillow is right, other forms of ownership should be explored. But the real issue is whether capitalism should be banned. If not, then there's no political debate to be had, it becomes a question of business practices.

The issue isn't capitalism. It's economic freedom. A very common tactic - maybe it's evangelism rather than a tactic - is to support an illiberal suggestion with an account of how great one of the subsidiary aspects of it is. The suspicion must exist that an anti-capitalist doesn't merely want to argue against capitalism in a free society, they want to prohibit it. That's incompatible with economic freedom, and the case for economic freedom doesn't rest on the merits of capitalism - it rests on the merits of freedom.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Weekend timewasting

The Urban Exploration database.

Seventy years ago

Over a period of just three years, roughly half the Jewish families in Villepinte have left. Some have gone to other suburbs or Paris neighborhoods considered safer for Jews; a few have left the country.

Of 300 families three years ago, only 150 remain today.

The reason, he says, is anti-Semitism.

Now Villepinte’s 40-year-old synagogue, which was torched in 1935 and 1938, is at risk of closing because there are barely enough regulars for a minyan.
OK, I changed the dates and cut out a bit about a community leader, which would have been a give-away. Torchings were in 1991 and 2001.

Question of the day

If a model gives completely wrong numerical predictions for five-year periods, what is the exact reason that it won't give wrong predictions for ten-year or thirty-year periods?
Context: The oceans don't seem to have been warming as predicted. If anything, they've become slightly cooler.

Seasonal advice

If you're planning your own crucifixion this weekend, perhaps consider having a tetanus jab first. And it's a good idea to sterilise the nails.

In other news, Arthur C. Clarke will be buried this weekend. His final instructions:

"Sir Arthur has also left written instructions that his funeral be strictly secular.

"Absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral."

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

You're more creative

With an Apple.

An assertion

From Eteraz:

It is my hypothesis that modern day Islamism represents a step towards the severance between Islam and the State. This is because Islamism upends the historical, de-centralized, partitioned relationship between Islam and the State by turning the clerics into agents of secular power. While in the short term these clerics certainly utilize the State to perpetuate laws rooted in the holy texts, in the long term, their entrance into the State structure essentially renders them machiavellian apparatchiks, disconnecting them from their religious base and rendering them into ideologues.

Black conservatives and Obama

Not impressed.

Organic farming in Africa

James Shikwati writes:

Kenyan peasants (and by extension over 70% of Africa's farming population) already practice organic farming. They cannot access technology, fertilizer, pesticides, and quality seeds but heavily depend on the 'will of nature' to harvest their crops. Our farmers use hand-held back-breaking hoes, and are exposed to hot sun rays 6 hours per day (on average) in order to finally deliver ugali (maize meal )on the table. We are starving precisely because we practice organic farming albeit inadvertently!
It's a good piece, touching on attempts by westerners to impose organic farming in Africa:
I came across an interesting internet posting that read thus: "Starved by the rich: the cult of organic food imposed on Africa." The writer, Waldo Vanderhaeghen, argues that wealthy countries are blocking biotechnological progress from deprived regions like Africa by giving incentives that make it difficult for peasants to access technology. The organic 'cult' members, according to Waldo, are basically anti-technology.They abhor use of pesticides, large industrial farms and seek to consume locally grown food to avoid a 'large carbon foot print.' (This means soon, you will not export far and wide lest you violate the foot print!)
and lamenting the lack of access to biotechnology and interest in developing agricultural production of indigenous African plants.



This is odd. Translation error?

The Lebanese authorities, like every country, issue out statistics on various economic indicators. Below is the chart that shows the number of employment permits issued for various professions between 2003 and 2005. Click to get a bigger image and look at under “specialized professions,” where there is a category for “knight.” A holdover from the Crusades?
Click through and look - there is indeed such a category.

A gratuitous clause

The Times (emphasis added):

Three senior appeal judges have refused to recognise an “over the telephone” Muslim marriage between an autistic British man and a woman in Bangladesh — even though the union is valid according to sharia or Islamic law.
The status of their actions under sharia law is irrelevant.

History begins

From CCNet in 1999, Arthur C. Clarke's predictions for the twenty first century. These end:

2095 The development of a true "space drive" - a propulsion system
reacting against the structure of space time - makes the rocket
obsolete and permits velocities close to that of light. The first
human explorers set off to nearby star systems that robot probes
have already found promising.

2100 History begins...
Sir Arthur's story has ended. R.I.P.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Good enemies

They do exist. If that's the test, Pat Condell is on the side of the angels.

His latest YouTube monologue is making the rounds, and YouTube has a facility that allows people to post video responses. Here's Condell:

And here's one of the responses - a well-made response at that. Nice titles:

There's a website link on that video - It's an, um... interesting website. It's a part of the Vanguard News Network, run by a man called Alex Linder:

Alex Linder (born 1966) is the owner and operator of the Vanguard News Network (VNN), an antisemitic, white supremacist website launched in 2000. VNN is one of the most active white supremacist sites on the Internet, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Its motto is "No Jews. Just Right."
Here are Alex's thoughts about a crime committed by a black man in the town where he lives:
Forcing blacks like Cookie among Whites is an act of hate directly attributable to the jewish community, from which came the lawyers that stripped Whites of the Constitutional right to free association. Free association is legal means by which a community protects itself. Free association secures people’s right to determine whom they hire and fire and rent to. Free association, thus, allows White communities to keep out undesirables. Niggers are the ultimate undesirables. No other race can stand their presence because they are, taking one with another, dirty, loud, stupid, and violent.

Before the jewish communists took power in the 1960s...
The post (for this is Linder's blog) begins:
A TSU nigger named Cookie multiculturalized seven Whites in the St. Louis suburb Kirkwood the other day, leaving five dead and two seriously injured. This multiple murder came only days after a similar rampage by a simian up in Chicago in a Lane Bryant store.Blacks murdering Whites is the news that doesn’t make the news. “Jewish writers and producers deliberately hide the fact that blacks are less than 13% of the population yet commit the majority of violent crimes,” said Alex Linder...
I'm labouring the point, you think? Not so. Linder's website:
is close to breaking into the big time by becoming one of the 10,000 most-visited pages on the Net. And he wants more.

Earlier this year, Linder told National Vanguard, a magazine published by the neo-Nazi National Alliance*, that he hoped to turn his site, Vanguard News Network (VNN), into a "White Viacom" composed of "an integrated global media and services company getting out the White message and serving the White market in a thousand forms."
And they're certainly making nice, high production value videos to get their message across.

H/T Dominique

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

A disengaged occupation

Seumas Milne in The Guardian:

In spite of Israel's disengagement in 2005, Gaza remains occupied territory, both legally and in reality. It is the world's largest open-air prison, with land, sea and air access controlled by Israel, which carries out military operations at will.
So you can occupy a territory without setting foot on it? Even if Milne's description of the circumstances faced by Gaza were reasonable and complete, which it isn't, it would still be a description of a siege rather than an occupation.

There is, of course, another purpose to Milne's language: to set the meanings of words such that Israel's very existence can be called an 'occupation'.

Padded Brick

Britain's first idiot-safe street has been unveiled, in London. Lampposts in Brick Lane, London, have had padding wrapped round them, so people who walk into them will be unharmed.

This long-overdue move has been attributed to the, apparently, large number of people who walk into lampposts while sending texts, but of course it will also protect people in propeller hats who haven't quite mastered their unicycles.

UPDATE: On reflection, this is plainly a case of misuse of resources. The padding is a good idea, but it's application is flawed. It should be removed from the lampposts and taken, all of it, to the room where the committee that thought this up meets, and then it should be attached firmly to the walls, floor and ceiling.

Via normblog, where there's even a sensible remark about this news.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Climate censorship

While on the one hand a survey of climate scientists that suggests merely a majority, and not a "consensus", agrees with the principles of AGW has great difficulty getting published, on the other one of the "most preeminent scientists of the last 100 years" waits until the safety of her retirement before voicing her reservations.

Abuse of process

The website Snapped Shot was set up to expose bad practice in photojournalism. In order to criticise specific shots or captions by press agencies, they of course had to show the images. While these were copyright, there is a Fair Use exemption from copyright restrictions in the USA, and a clearer case of fair use would be hard to find.

Nevertheless, Associated Press has retained lawyers to write a menacing letter to the person behind Snapped Shot, and he has taken his content offline.

This is an example of one of the main problems now confronted by the new media. Bloggers and independent journalists do not have the resources, especially access to legal advice, that the conventional, mainstream media has always enjoyed. A letter like this one from AP would, I think, have received a dusty answer from anyone able to retain a specialist lawyer and confident they could afford legal fees if necessary.

We now face a situation in which even a hollow threat of action can close down a small publisher, and thereby stifle legitimate criticism.

Denmark and Sudan

The Sudanese government, complicit in the mass murder of several million people over two decades, has called for sanctions against Denmark in all the Muslim world, to protest against the publication of line drawings. Sudan is one of the biggest recipients of Danish Aid and the Danish government is considering withdrawing this assistance.

Good. They should, and it should be a precedent.

Guide to employing women

This is funny. From 1943:

Eleven Tips on Getting More Efficiency Out of Women Employees: There's no longer any question whether transit companies should hire women for jobs formerly held by men. The draft and manpower shortage has settled that point. The important things now are to select the most efficient women available and how to use them to the best advantage.

Here are eleven helpful tips on the subject from Western Properties:

1. Pick young married women. They usually have more of a sense of responsibility than their unmarried sisters, they're less likely to be flirtatious, they need the work or they wouldn't be doing it, they still have the pep and interest to work hard and to deal with the public efficiently.

2. When you have to use older women, try to get ones who have worked outside the home at some time in their lives. Older women who have never contacted the public have a hard time adapting themselves and are inclined to be cantankerous and fussy. It's always well to impress upon older women the importance of friendliness and courtesy.

3. General experience indicates that "husky" girls - those who are just a little on the heavy side - are more even tempered and efficient than their underweight sisters.

4. Retain a physician to give each woman you hire a special physical examination - one covering female conditions...
Click through - there's more.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Poor people don't matter

Who is, or was, Shannon Matthews? I couldn't remember initially, when R. phoned and said she was reading about her in The Times:

When Shannon Matthews vanished after leaving her primary school, there was an initial flurry of attention on the impoverished council estate in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, where she lived. West Yorkshire Police knew that they were dealing with a potential case of child abduction and threw unprecedented resources into their search. As the community pulled together, the satellite vans of the national media arrived on the hillside streets of Dewsbury Moor and for a few days Shannon’s name featured prominently on newspaper billboards.

But no longer. The search for a vanished innocent continues but Britain seems to have lost interest. This week the hunt appeared to have been classed as less newsworthy than the most minor developments in the search for Madeleine McCann, who disappeared nine months ago.

Is Shannon — a shy, timid, gentle girl — somehow deemed less worthy of our concern?
Her parents are the opposite of photogenic. It seems her mother called two of her seven offspring "the twins", even though they were born a year apart, because, unusually, they had the same father.

But the fecklessness of this little girl's family is not her fault. Whatever might have happened to her, or might be happening to her, she deserves as much public concern as any other child. The Times article is absolutely right.

I've published her photo in the hope others might follow suit. If she is alive, her face needs to be recognisable. It's a remote chance, I know. But even poor children deserve a chance.

Thanks R, for suggesting this post.

Photo credit - PA, hotlinked from The Mirror's website.