Friday, August 29, 2008

A welcome statement

"We are not above the law."
That's Safdar Zia, general secretary of the Jaffria Islamic Centre, speaking in response to this:
A Shia Muslim was convicted of child cruelty yesterday after he forced two boys to flog themselves during a religious ritual.

Beauty and the beast

In Arabic, Al Wahsh means the beast or the monster. Nabih Al Wahsh, an Egyptian lawyer and activist, said this during an interview in 2005:

Nabih Al-Wahsh: No, there hasn't been a single modest and devout woman who follows her traditions and religion that was raped.

Host: It does happen. She was raped because the rapist was a sick man.

Nabih Al-Wahsh: No. Such a thing never happened.

Muna Hilmi: Why didn't those who raped her obey the commandments of your religion and treat her with respect?

Nabih Al-Wahsh: Because she was promiscuous. Because it was she that encouraged them to rape her.
This is what he looks like:

In 2007, he demanded that the hands of a television presenter called Abeer Sabi be amputated, to punish her for taking off her veil. This is what she looks like:

More faces of evil from Egypt here.

Censoring Darwin

"The team agreed the wording was poorly worded and could cause offence. We took the decision to obscure part of it rather than spend tax payers' money on a replacement."
Those are the words of a spokesman for Northampton Borough Council, explaining why a sign next to a display in Abington Park Museum was censored. The display related to Charles Darwin and fossil collecting. The third paragraph below was blacked out with tape:
In early Victorian times, most geologists still accepted the biblical view of evolution. They saw the different layers of fossil-rich rocks as telling the story of successive waves of creation, each one being obliterated by a deluge.

The young scientist Charles Darwin (right) was already beginning to question this view, but it was another 30 years before he had painstakingly put together the vast assemblage of facts and observations that enabled him to write On the Origin of Species.

He used the same layers of fossils that had supported the Genesis view of evolution to show the slow changes that are taking place over the millennia of earth history, each small change enabling a species to the rigours of it's (sic) environment – the struggle for survival through natural selection leading to the survival of the fittest.
It seems a single religious extremist complained, and the Council ordered the censoring. The censored paragraph is of course entirely true. But the feelings - the susceptibility to offence - of a religious maniac, a creationist, trumped truth.

Thanks to JuliaM in the comments of an earlier post.

UPDATE: As Julia points out in a comment, the credit should go to Unenlightened Commentary. Remiss of me.

UPDATE 2: Incidentally, anyone capable of writing "the wording was poorly worded" deserves to be dragged outside and beaten about the head with a copy of Fowler's (the original edition, to be fogeyish for a moment).

Printing buildings

Using inkconcretejet technology. Funded by Caterpillar Inc.


I missed this first time round, but David Thompson spotted it:

It is no disadvantage for those who thrill at enmity also to profess a universal brotherhood. There are many men who do not profess any such idea, or who do not do so with the demanded zeal, and who therefore make a most fitting object for hatred.
Yup, that hits the spot.

An America Carol

Clip montage:

Capitalism is rape

The roots of sexual assault, from the website of DNC Disruption 08:

Sexual assault is rooted in broader systems of oppression- such as patriarchy, white supremacy, capitalism, homophobia, and colonialism- and is not separable from them in how and why it is perpetrated, experienced, and dealt with.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Endarkenment news

This is the front page article on the free copy of the Ely Standard that just dropped through my door:

A WHITE witch is about to cast a bad weather spell on Ely's Oliver Cromwell celebrations due to take place next month. And perhaps even more controversially, the witch has told the Ely Standard that he was contacted by an Ely councillor and asked to cast a spell on the event.

Plans to mark the 350th anniversary of the Lord Protector's death on September 6 will have a spell put on tomorrow by Kevin Carlyon, a broomstick-riding* chat show regular who proclaims himself high priest of the British White Witches and guru to stars such as Ruby Wax.
The article is accompanied by a picture of Mr Carlyon 'at a previous cursing ceremony' and by another of him 'performing a spell'. It continues:
Tracey Harding, tourism team leader at Oliver Cromwell House's and the event's organiser, said she was seeking advice on whether to undo the hex
Let's round this up, so far. An elected politician has asked a "witch" to cast a spell to bring bad weather for an event. The event organiser is considering soliciting a rival spell to, presumably, bring her sunshine. And this is on the front page of a newspaper, even if it's just a local one.

With a nicely judged sense of irony, Mr Carlyon had this to say about an email he received that was not supportive of his actions:
"The lady didn't agree with what I was doing but she expressed herself in such a loony manner you couldn't take her seriously."
These events, and their prominence in a news sheet, come straight from the dark recesses of the seventeenth century.

I know local newspapers are often short of stories but the journalists in question must be out of their minds.

Hang on. Let me rephrase that. The journalists in question must be out of their fucking minds. There's a headlong flight from reason happening right now. Carl Sagan warned us about as the last millennium approached. And as this reviewer said:
In fact, if there is anything I disagree with in Sagan's book it is probably his encouragement of skeptics to be as civil as he is in dealing with what skeptics see as the dark that extinguishes the candle.
It's noteworthy, in passing, that the word "sceptic" has become tainted by the advocates of global warming, one of whose leaders, as I pointed out earlier, the head of the IPCC no less and an alleged man of science, has calculated how many reincarnations will be necessary for him to neutralise his carbon profile.

Reason taught us all we know. Scepticism is the handmaiden of reason, without which reason cannot operate except within narrow and often absurd and non-true boundaries - such as those pegged out by religions.

Journalists have a duty to ignore or deride drivel about Wiccans, or be ignored or derided in their turn. The Ely standard has brought itself and its profession into even further disrepute.

* And they think he can ride broomsticks? The journalist asserts he rides a fucking broomstick?

A history of violence

There's a transactional view of crime that holds a certain punishment to balance out a given crime, after which the felon has paid his or her debt to society. "If you don't want the time, don't do the crime," shouted Michael Howard, when Home Secretary, to a Conservative Party conference back in the 1990s.

There are two problems with that. If you don't mind the time, or the risk of the time, the corollary goes, then do the crime. That's not so great for society. Secondly, if no thought is given to, or measures taken to prevent, re-offending, then there can be grave dangers for some of the most vulnerable in society.

Joseph Edward Duncan III has just been sentenced to death in Idaho for doing this:

He took [9 year old] Dylan and the boy's then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, to a remote western Montana campsite where he raped, tortured and threatened them before shooting Dylan in the head and burning his body. Jurors viewed horrifying video Duncan made of him sexually abusing, torturing and hanging Dylan until the boy lost consciousness.
First, though, he had tied up their 13-year-old brother, his mother and her fiance and bludgeoned them to death with a hammer.

Here's something about Duncan's background (emphasis added):
... by the time he was 16, Duncan estimated he had raped 13 younger boys, some at gunpoint, it said.

“It was an outlet for my feelings [of] rejections. One from my mother and one from my father,” Duncan wrote in a personal history cited by The Times. He said he didn’t feel wanted at home and at school, he was bullied by peers because of his constant moves.

His hostility led him to sexually assault a 9-year-old boy at gunpoint when he was 15, and a year later, to tie up six young boys and sexually assault them, the newspaper said.

Duncan was deemed a sexual psychopath at 17, after he was arrested for the rape and torture of a 14-year-old boy in 1980. Police said Duncan broke into a neighbor’s house, stole a gun, and then pulled it on the boy, who was walking to school.

Duncan forced him into a wooded area and made the boy take off his clothes and perform a sexual act, according to court documents. Duncan then prodded the boy further into the woods, sexually assaulted him again, and then beat the boy’s buttocks with a stick and burned him with a cigarette. He led the boy back to his clothes and told him to run away.

Duncan's next encounter with the law came in April, when he was released on $15,000 bail after being charged with molesting a boy in Minnesota. Police in Fargo, where his last-known address was, had been looking for Duncan since May, when he failed to check in with a probation agent.
Note the psychobabble of victimhood in Duncan's words. His self-pity also drips from the entries of the blog he maintained until 2005. On the whole, this sort of self-exculpatory drivel is learned by the offender from some of the professionals they encounter as a consequence of their crime, generally those most self-consciously motivated to help the offender. It doesn't help. It excuses. It makes matters worse.

A fundamental principle of the criminal law is that people should not be punished for crimes they have not (yet) committed. The parenthetical "yet" in the previous sentence seems to me to be reasonable in the case of Duncan, a lifelong, unrepentant, violent, sexual predator, but perhaps not so in the cases of most criminals - who generally grow out of it.

If people fell neatly into the categories of "mad or bad", things might be simpler, but they do not. We all inhabit the continua of human behaviour and psychology and while there are extremes, like Duncan, there are few of them.

There's no easy answer that I can see. The suffering and deaths of the children and adults in the wake of Duncan's passage through life seems too high a price to pay for a legal principle. Unfortunately, I suspect this is a false opposition: while Duncan was an extreme and might have been preventable, I have no confidence that any bureaucratic system would successfully identify risks while avoiding false positives. A system of preventative detention, even if acceptable in principle which I doubt it could be, wouldn't work.

But perhaps we could look again at the transactional view of justice. The idea that a given term of imprisonment in some way equals a certain crime is silly. It might be that such a term is proportional to a given crime, but ideas of reparation and prevention should also have a place.

Prevention needn't mean detention. But it would surely be reasonable to subject proven recidivist criminals to a greater burden of surveillance and inconvenience than that endured by the rest of society, until such time as their behaviour seems proven, in return, to have changed.

In the case of the tiny group of very dangerous psychopaths like Duncan, that would be never.

Unions vote for no-strike agreement

Or so suggests the Spy Blog:

We wonder if any of the Trades Union leaders realise that by accepting " the government's proposals for ID cards", they have effectively agreed to a "no strike" and "no work to rule" arrangement, for any of their members who happen to work with, or to simply use, the forthcoming National Identity Register systems ?

Quote of the Day

Worstall on energy windfall taxes:

We have high energy prices, certainly. This is because there are more of us who want to use cheap energy than there is cheap energy around. Prices thus do their magic thing and change so as to balance supply and demand. What we want to do to get out of this bind of high demand and low supply is to increase supply and reduce demand. Those backing a windfall tax and energy subsidies are proposing exactly the opposite. They're suggesting that we can solve high demand and low supply by reducing supply and increasing demand.

The veil - a quote

From The Heresiarch, in response to an article by the Guardian's religion correspondent, Riazat Butt, about some abuse her fully veiled sister encountered on a street. Butt asked how her sister should respond next time such a thing might happen. Here's the Heresiarch's response:

How should she respond? By taking it off.

I'm sorry your sister has been abused, but the veil not only gives many people the creeps (and that is only natural, given that it is utterly alien, not just to western culture, but to western conceptions of human dignity) it is also extremely rude. So it's something your sister wants to do? I might want to walk down the street stark naked. I don't, as it happens, but I might. If I did, I would run the risk of being arrested; but even if walking around naked were not illegal, it would still be an act of selfishness, even self-absorption, displaying a complete lack of regard for other people and the common proprieties. Wearing a face veil is exactly the same.

If your sister wishes to go about her business like everyone else, then she should prepared to meet society at least half-way. She should accept that, far from being "modest" (it is, surely, as immodest a garment as it is possible to imagine) the veil is a proclamation of difference, even of superiority. It is (in an unveiled society) an assertion of not wanting to belong. Well, that is her right in a free society. But it would be wrong for her to imagine that it is or should be cost-free. If your sister has a right to passive-aggressively insult the culture in which she lives, then, sadly, rude ill-bred people have an equal right to be rude to her. Most people will be silently pitying her.
Click through to Heresy Corner to read more from Maryam Namazie and another Guardian commentator, Clare London.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

String 'em up

There's been a lot of discussion recently about the return of convicted child molester Garry Glitter, now better known as Paul Gadd.

But less about the trend in movies that depict the sexual molestation and rape of young girls including - seriously - one that suggests the victim is strengthened by the experience.

Suicide bomber chooses life

There's an extraordinary set of photographs at The Guardian's website, showing what happened when a young woman decided not to blow herself up. The Iraqi policemen who removed the explosive belt from her showed exceptional courage.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A domain registrant to avoid

Details are a bit thin on the ground at the moment, but the Harry's Place blog has disappeared, temporarily no doubt, because the company handling their domain registration has deleted/suspended their (DNS) name service.

; <<>> DiG 9.4.2-P1 <<>>
;; global options: printcmd
;; Got answer:
;; ->>HEADER<<- opcode: QUERY, status: NXDOMAIN, id: 28594
;; flags: qr rd ra; QUERY: 1, ANSWER: 0, AUTHORITY: 1, ADDITIONAL: 0

; IN A

;; AUTHORITY SECTION: 10573 IN SOA 2008082603 10800 900 604800 43200

No answer section, you might note. Apparently, this is because a complaint of some kind was sent to them.

At first sight, this is an escalation of the tactics used in past attempts to suppress blogspeech, during which complaints were sent to the hosting company involved but, to my knowledge, there were no attempts to have DNS records suspended.

More later.

Oh, and the registration company to avoid? Daily Internet Services Limited. They're the people who manage this DNS zone.

A scientist writes

I've become a vegetarian. I try to minimize the use of cars. Where I've failed is my impact with regard to air travel. I tell people I was born a Hindu who believes in reincarnation.It will take me the next six lives to neutralize my carbon footprint. There's no way I can do it in one lifetime!
Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Secularism trumps religion

In India. Good - about time we started seeing this here:

A centuries-old tradition in Nepal of worshipping a virgin girl-child in a palace as a "living goddess" has been deemed outdated by the country's supreme court, which has ruled that the supposed deity must go to school.
Incidentally, I'd also like to see the Guardian start referring to Mohammed as a "supposed prophet".

Monday, August 18, 2008

Farewell Ronnie

Ronnie Drew died a couple of days ago. One of the greats.

Here's to you:

Saved by the police

People in Kent can sleep more soundly, following the seizure of a board game from a climate protest camp. The game, called 'War on Terror', allows players to struggle against one of their number - the terrorist state - and they get to poke fun at George Bush at the same time.

So far, so innocent you might think. But the player selected randomly by a spinner to be the terrorist has to wear a balaclava with the word "Evil" stitched across the front. Kent Police seized the game because the balaclava can be used - by a real terrorist - to conceal their identity.

Now if a real terrorist wants to conceal their identity with a balaclava with the word "Evil" emblazoned on it, they'll just have to go and buy one in the normal way. And they'll have to do their own damn embroidery.


Saturday, August 16, 2008

A diplomatic success


Tbilisi, Georgia - Bowing to a withering barrage of pointed criticisms and strongly-worded letters of reprimand from the international diplomatic community, an embarrassed Russian military today abandoned its attack on the former Soviet republic of Georgia late this afternoon and retreated sheepishly over the Caucasus.

"Look, I don't really know what to say - other than, 'hey, our bad,'" said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an awkward, shoe-gazing statement to the United Nations. "Seriously, dude, it just totally wasn't like us to lash out like that. We've been having a couple of bad decades, and I guess we just sort of snapped."

And while we're at it, you really should read the best introductory paragraph of a news story this century.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Georgia and the RBN

The RBNexploit blog has been relaying messages from the Georgian government while their webservers came under sustained DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack during the Russian offensive. This post also explored the status of this cyber attack and investigated its sources.

The Russian Business Network (RBN) has been called the "baddest of the bad". Spamhaus describes them as follows:

Among the world's worst spammer, child-pornography, malware, phishing and cybercrime hosting networks. Provides "bulletproof hosting", but is probably involved in the crime too.
More than half of all internet related crime is linked to this shadowy organisation. A detailed, 70 page, study by David Bizeul can be downloaded from here (pdf, 1.5MB).

The RBN began as a legitimate business and was set up by computer science graduates, not career criminals. Originally based in St Petersburg, the RBN has been expanding and shifting during the past year as efforts have been made to shut down their upstream bandwidth - one supplier of connectivity was the UK based Tiscali.

RBNexploit's tracing focused on a domain called ‘’, also using ‘’ as a redirect. Though primarily hosted by a company called Softlayer, in Plano, Texas (said to be a hosting organisation associated with malware), the domain registrations are associated with the following address: 29 Kompozitorov St., Saint Petersburg, RU. For observers of the RBN, this address rings a bell.

Dancho Danchev doubts that the RBN is directly responsible for the attacks on Georgia, sensing instead both widespread Russian 'hacktivism' and also what he described in a piece at ZDNet, in the context of the defacement of the Georgian President's website, as "a three letter intelligence agency’s propaganda arm".

Clearly, attribution will be difficult to prove. But there are significant possible implications, beyond further proof that cyber warfare is becoming a part of mainstream international conflict.

The RBN has been linked, vaguely, to Russian politics, partly on the basis that, it has been argued, they could not operate in Russia as they have were it not for mainstream political support, and partly because there have been suggestions that the founder of RBN is the nephew of a prominent Russian politician.

In the other direction, even without formal RBN involvement, these cyber attacks against Georgia have included people using tools developed and distributed by the RBN, and Danchev was implying, at ZDNet, that a state intelligence agency played at least some part in the campaign.

This means there are suggestions that most of the world's cyber crime shelters beneath some form of Russian political protection, and that some cyber attacks conducted by or in support of the Russian state have been facilitated by the world's worst cyber criminals.

Discussion about the legitimacy of the actions of the Russian government in Georgia might benefit from a broader consideration of the question: what sort of state interacts with cyber crime in these ways, and to this degree?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Nothing really matters

Except me.

Bohemian Rhapsodie, in 25 voices. Though I wasn't counting;


Cutting its tongue off with a knife

A curious deposit all over my snuff-box, evidently residue of moisture acting on lacquer.
George Orwell's diaries are being blogged. This, from my feed reader for today*:
Am told the men caught another snake this morning – definitely a grass snake this time. The man who saw them said they had tied a string round its neck & were trying to cut out its tongue with a knife, the idea being that after this it could not “sting.”
1938. He was in a sanitorium.

*Well, yesterday. It's past midnight.

Another quote of the day

I need a collective noun for quotes... Tim Blair:

Maybe it’s because he’s an incredibly inexperienced lightweight running as Tyre-Pump Jesus.
I'll bet you can guess who.

Quote of the day

Take it away, Gene of Harry's Place:

Before I read Gulag, I was among those who (like Seymour and his comrades now) was prepared to draw a distinction between Lenin and Trotsky (basically good and right) and Stalin (bad and wrong). After reading Gulag, I couldn’t do that anymore, even if I wanted to. Solzhenitsyn, with his overwhelming accumulation of evidence, had made it impossible. I had to face it: the whole Bolshevik enterprise was rotten at the core, even if it took the reactionary Solzhenitsyn to make me finally understand that.
Seymour is a young SWP blogger who calls himself, "Lenin" - after one of the worst mass-murderers of the century of mass murder.

The non-psychopathic left take him far too seriously.

South Ossetia

Bob rounds up in an excellent post.

Post of the day

You know how you can be surprised by people's sudden, unexpected, venom? You don't? Oh. Maybe that's just me. Anyway, and despite that, this, from the purveyor, not so long ago, of such venom, still wins this accolade.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Quote of the day

The whole (five parts) of this program is respectfully recommended. But right at the end of part four, Victor Davis Hanson says this:

We sit here in the most wealthy, affluent age of civilisation and we go back to our ancestors who really, in a direct lineal process, gave us everything we have and we say "You know what? They weren't perfect, and therefore they weren't good."
Christopher Hitchens, VDH and Peter Robinson discuss WWII historical revisionism.


Out of interest

Is no one else worried about the possibility that a man with an advanced Messiah complex stands a chance of becoming the most powerful person in the world?

Gravedigger crisis

Christopher Hitchens:

One day I will publish my entire collection of upside-down Iraq headlines, where the true purport of the story is the inverse of the intended one. (Top billing thus far would go to the greatest downer of them all: the tale of Iraq's unemployed gravediggers, their always-insecure standard of living newly imperiled by the falling murder rate. You don't believe me? Wait for the forthcoming anthology.)

Britain's betrayal of the Iraqi people

From Iraq, the model:

The news about a secret deal between the British and anti-American cleric Moqtada al-Sadr did not come as a surprise to us. Britain’s war policy has been clear for the past several years: the country demonstrated no readiness to make sustained efforts in a prolonged war, nor did it act as a serious partner determined to win the conflict.

There are three aspects in this British betrayal. First, striking a deal with the enemy; second, selling an Iraqi city to the enemy of their Iraqi hosts and partners; and third, by not informing their American partners of their plans, enabling the U.S. military’s reliance on an untrustworthy partner — something the British military leadership turned out to be.

What’s worse — even assuming the “accommodation” was a thoughtful plan with good intentions — is that Britain upheld the deal even when the militias violated it. The militias did not renounce violence (attacks continued), and they did not switch to civil political activity. Still, the British didn’t take action.

Violating terms of service

You may have read about the tragic case of 13 year old Megan Meier:

Meier had received messages on MySpace from someone who purported to be a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. The two became online friends, exchanged some online flirtations, and her family said she seemed happier after having "met" Evans. In October of 2006, however, Evans' messages turned sour as he accused her of being mean to her friends and began forwarding her messages to "him" around to other people, prompting malicious gossip (both online and off) to spread about Meier being fat and a slut, among other things.
Meier killed herself, allegedly as a result of this online bullying. "Evans" turned out to be a neighbour, Lori Drew, the mother of one of Meier's friends.

Drew has been charged with breaching MySpace's Terms of Service. But this is causing some wider concerns:
The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology, along with Public Citizen and a group of 14 law professors, have filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that violating MySpace's Terms of Service agreement shouldn't be considered criminal offense under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The groups believe that if the mother, Lori Drew, is prosecuted using CFAA charges, the case could have significant ramifications for the free speech rights of US citizens using the Internet.
Why? Because it would potentially criminalise every web user. Even the act of accessing a site to discover what the terms of service are, then clicking away, would be a crime. If we are all criminals, then the decision who to prosecute can be made for other, external reasons. The law becomes an arbitrary tool that can be used to suppress activities that are deemed undesirable.

Understanding Afghanistan

One of the most serendipitous book publishings of recent years was Ahmed Rashid's Taliban, which was published in April 2001, six months before 9/11. It went on to become Yale University Press's all time best seller.

Rashid has a new book about, analysing Afghanistan, Pakistan and the conduct of the war against AQ and the Taliban. This interview with the author is worth a few minutes of your time.

Phrase of the day

Totalitarian Darwinism.

From here.


Sunday, August 10, 2008

Older than I once was

But the alternative is worse.

Simon and Garfunkle, in Central Park:

And then, later:

They got gentler. That happens.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

This guy is good

OK, talent shows are my weakness. I love seeing the dream. But I'm with Sharon on this one.

An open goal

There are some. John Williams, in his pomp, playing the second movement of Rodrigo's Concierto de Aranjuez.

First movement

Third movement

I don't apologise for getting them out of sequence.

UPDATE: And Miles Davis, with the same piece:

Friday, August 08, 2008

Ultimately halting capitalism

Important news from Scotland:

Social War Not Climate Chaos! Starting Tuesday, daily meetings at the Scottish Barrio from 5-7 PM will explore how the climate crisis, a facet of the more general latest crisis in capitalism itself, can be used to build a new kind of autonomous social movement constituted as a material force...a force capable of confronting and ultimately halting capitalism. These meetings are not on the official climate camp workshop list, of course.
Of course not. So, what's the agenda?
There will be three gatherings of the Invisible International this week.

Venue: Scottish Barrio

Tuesday: Gathering 1 - How do we exploit the crisis that climate change poses to capitalism?
5-7 PM

Wednesday: Gathering 2 - Are we capable of confronting capitalism and how to we constitute ourselves for the next week?
5-7 PM

Thursday: Gathering 3 - How do we expand the possibilities of social war in the coming years?
(emphasis added)

Do I sense a new book from Naomi Klein - Disaster Anti-Capitalism? Because isn't this the reality, that the anti-capitalist movement she belongs to is seeking to exploit the possibility of global warming for their own, pre-existing, political ends?

It's just that the Invisible International is a bit more frank about their agenda than some.

Israelis in Kosovo

Michael Totten:

It's hard to describe how startling it was to see any book written in Hebrew in a Muslim-majority country. Perhaps I've spent too much time in Lebanon where something like that just would not happen. What ails the Arab world begins to seem “normal,” at least by the standards of the Islamic world, after enough constant exposure. The Kurds are startlingly different. The Albanians are startlingly different. The story behind the Sarajevo Haggadah is especially salient considering where and by whom the original was saved from destruction.

Improving erectile function in cycling police officers

Really. Penile sensation too. The answer, it seems, is not to have a nose.

Take the world from another point of view

Richard Feynman:

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four

All ten minutes long.

Perpetuating the problem

I noted a few days ago that while the Mulsim Brotherhood has called for an end to the sexual harassment of women tourists in Egypt, they restricted this just to tourists. What of Egyptian women themselves?

An advertising campaign running at the moment might answer this:

“You Can’t Stop Them, but You Can Protect Yourself.”

“A Veil to Protect or Eyes Will Molest”

Not all Egyptians are impressed.

Experience suggests, also, that when male Egyptian chauvinism and sexual repression boil over into mass public sexual assaults, veils do not protect women.

The problem is not female beauty, it is a male syndrome rooted in cultural and religious pathologies. These have to be addressed, not perpetuated, for progress to be made. The Muslim Brotherhood, and those behind these advertisements, by perpetuating the idea that male sexual aggression against women is inevitable unless women walk around in dustbin bags, are perpetuating the problem.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Bad writing

I bookmarked this long enough ago that I can't remember where I saw it, but in 1999, Judith Butler wrote a piece in the New York Times defending the sort of language used by postmodernists or, as they prefer to think of themselves, proponents of "critical theory".

It's an interesting piece, in the way that a tropical disease is interesting to a skin specialist. It begins:

In the last few years, a small, culturally conservative academic journal has gained public attention by showcasing difficult sentences written by intellectuals in the academy. The journal, Philosophy and Literature, has offered itself as the arbiter of good prose and accused some of us of bad writing by awarding us ''prizes.'' (I'm still waiting for my check!)

The targets, however, have been restricted to scholars on the left whose work focuses on topics like sexuality, race, nationalism and the workings of capitalism -- a point the news media ignored. Still, the whole exercise hints at a serious question about the relation of language and politics: why are some of the most trenchant social criticisms often expressed through difficult and demanding language?
I don't think, incidentally, that the fact this kind of language is employed exclusively by the hard left has escaped the attention of its critics. But let's not get sidetracked.

Butler argues that she and her colleagues employ a sort of re-made language designed to:
... question common sense, interrogate its tacit presumptions and provoke new ways of looking at a familiar world.
This is because:
If common sense sometimes preserves the social status quo, and that status quo sometimes treats unjust social hierarchies as natural, it makes good sense on such occasions to find ways of challenging common sense. Language that takes up this challenge can help point the way to a more socially just world. The contemporary tradition of critical theory in the academy, derived in part from the Frankfurt School of German anti-fascist philosophers and social critics, has shown how language plays an important role in shaping and altering our common or ''natural'' understanding of social and political realities.
She then goes on:
The philosopher Theodor W. Adorno, who maintained that nothing radical could come of common sense, wrote sentences that made his readers pause and reflect on the power of language to shape the world. A sentence of his such as ''Man is the ideology of dehumanization'' is hardly transparent in its meaning. Adorno maintained that the way the word ''man'' was used by some of his contemporaries was dehumanizing.

Taken out of context, the sentence may seem vainly paradoxical. But it becomes clear when we recognize that in Adorno's time the word ''man'' was used by humanists to regard the individual in isolation from his or her social context. For Adorno, to be deprived of one's social context was precisely to suffer dehumanization. Thus, ''man'' is the ideology of dehumanization.
... demonstrating, thereby, that it is entirely possible to rephrase the sorts of ideas that get hidden in this language in a way that is entirely clear and conveys directly their meaning without ambiguity. It manages to do this without perpetuating the kinds of hegemonies* it sets out to criticise.

Intelligibility is not the enemy of reform and Ms Butler has demonstrated this in a piece that sets out to argue the opposite.

Marcuse is quoted (I'm embarrassed to admit I quite like some of his stuff, but not this bit) as follows:
Understanding what the critical intellectual has to say, Marcuse goes on, ''presupposes the collapse and invalidation of precisely that universe of discourse and behavior into which you want to translate it.''
But this does not seem to be a presumption Ms Butler shares in practice, or else she would not have been writing, more or less intelligibly, in the New York Times - and nor does any other experience suggest it contains an ounce of truth. Anything built entirely on this invalid presumption will be equally invalid - Ms Butler's essay, for example.

I therefore recommend her piece most highly. It is always a pleasure to read a self-refuting argument.

UPDATE: One further point. Logical fallacies are something of a trademark of critical theory. One well known such fallacy is that of "begging the question":
Also Known as: Circular Reasoning, Reasoning in a Circle, Petitio Principii.
Description of Begging the Question

Begging the Question is a fallacy in which the premises include the claim that the conclusion is true or (directly or indirectly) assume that the conclusion is true. This sort of "reasoning" typically has the following form.

1. Premises in which the truth of the conclusion is claimed or the truth of the conclusion is assumed (either directly or indirectly).
2. Claim C (the conclusion) is true.

This sort of "reasoning" is fallacious because simply assuming that the conclusion is true (directly or indirectly) in the premises does not constitute evidence for that conclusion. Obviously, simply assuming a claim is true does not serve as evidence for that claim. This is especially clear in particularly blatant cases: "X is true. The evidence for this claim is that X is true."

Some cases of question begging are fairly blatant, while others can be extremely subtle.
Butler argues, channelling Marcuse, that her use of language "presupposes the collapse and invalidation of precisely that universe of discourse and behavior" the rest of us inhabit. But has this univese collapsed and become invalid? The case is not made, indeed no attempt is made to make it.

Butler's justification for her use of language during her day job is therefore a claim that even the very use of language chosen by critical theorists contains a logical fallacy, and this even before they attempt to make any actual (often fallacious in other terms) arguments.

This is a sort of meta-fallacy - a mechanism for wrapping fallacious arguments in a higher level fallacy, and as such possesses a distinct, if strange, grandeur.

*Use of the word "hegemony" is obligatory in this context. I can only apologise for not deploying it more than once.

Freeborn John

The first Libertarian, at the Mises Institute.

Lilburne, in his own day, was described as a Leveller, a term he did not like. He usually preceded it with words like "falsely so called" or "commonly (though unjustly) styled" to make his point.

As Pauline Gregg points out:
Lilburne always coupled liberty and property. Freedom to live unrestricted entailed freedom to possess: no passionate defender of the rights of individual could argue otherwise. It was "liberty and propriety," not "communitie and levelling," for which the Levellers stood.


Images of Jupiter



Headline of the day

From the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood website:

Brotherhood MP Calls on Gov’t to Fight Sexual Harassment of Tourists
But just, you will note, of tourists.

Bad antecedents

From The Australian:

This is not the first time, of course, that superstition has paraded itself as science, or created a priesthood masquerading as the exponents of reason. At the beginning of the previous century we had the fascination with eugenics, when the Gores of the age such as E.A. Ross and Ernst Haeckel warned that modern industrial society was headed for race suicide.

The list of otherwise sensible people who endorsed this hokum, from Winston Churchill to Oliver Wendell Holmes, is embarrassing to read today.

Then as now, money was poured into foundations, institutes, and university chairs for the study of eugenics and racial hygiene. Then as now, it was claimed that there was a scientific consensus that modern man was degenerating himself into extinction.

A leftie gets it

Brett at Harry's Place:

The council is there to serve us, the people. The bin men are not our bosses, we are their bosses. It is our taxes that pay their salaraies and we elect councils because we have needs, which include taking away rubbish. Somehow - with the government’s backing - this relationship has become inverted.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Erratic posting

I fell off a horse on Thursday - entirely my fault, of course.

I managed not to get too much blood on the horse's coat when I got back on, you'll be relieved to hear. Bleeding on valuable Arab geldings, especially ones that compete internationally for Britain, is simply not done.

That's not why I've been posting rarely, but the person I was riding with is.

Normal service will be resumed shortly. Or perhaps I mean, gradually. My feed reader now has about three gazillion unread posts in it. Perhaps I need to delete them all and start again.

Although I did notice that Gordon Brown has become Prime Minister. Is it too late to comment about that?

Settled science

If you haven't seen it yet, there's an article at Ithica Journal explaining the science behind man made global warming. It gets off to a bad start:

I'd like to step back for a moment and actually examine what burning carbon dioxide is doing to change our world...
Carbon Dioxide is a product of combustion.

And then it gets worse:
Our world is full of positive feedback cycles, and so is our society. Popular children's books like “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie” by Laura Numeroff are excellent examples. In Numeroff's tale, a mouse asks for a cookie, leading it to ask for a glass of milk, and so on, till finally it asks for another cookie.
And then it gets even worse:
Here's an example everyone in Ithaca can relate to: the snowball. If you make a small snowball and set it on the top of a hill, what happens? 1) It begins rolling, and 2) it collects snow as it rolls. When it collects snow, the snowball becomes heavier, which causes gravity to pull on it with more force, making the snowball roll faster down the hill.
Heavy things fall more quickly than light things? This has been known to be untrue for about half a millennium.

The piece continues:
This causes more snow to collect on the snowball faster, etc., etc. Get the picture? That is a positive feedback cycle.
And, in terms of climate alarmism that might be more true than the author realises: a laboured piece of reasoning based on faulty science that leads to an incorrect diagnosis of positive feedback.

The idea that positive feedback characterises our planet's climate has one major problem: the climate has fluctuated in the past. If you think about it for a moment, that simple piece of information is an adequate disproof. Perhaps I should add, the idea that raised levels of carbon dioxide will lead to positive climate feedbacks has one major problem: levels of carbon dioxide have fluctuated in the past.

I doubt this piece of scientifically illiterate drivel would have been passed for publication were it about any other subject. This is just one of the latest indications that there is no more intellectually disreputable position to adopt today than that of the global warming alarmist.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

The Anglosphere and economics

Megan McArdle has posted some interesting maps at The Atlantic:

When you see the map, it becomes radically apparent just how firmly Britain was the root of the Industrial revolution. With the lone exception of Japan, the darkest places on the map are either next to Britain, or former British colonies. And aside from Saudi Arabia and Chile, all the growth seems to spread outward from those Anglosphere points of infection. Nowhere, not even Saudi Arabia, has the income density of Western Europe and North America.
And there's more.

Thanks to The Prof.