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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Roman Empire 2.0

Blogger No Pasaran has a proposal for Europeans who are uncomfortable with the use of English as the lingua franca of business, ideas & diplomacy - make Latin the official language of the EU:
Imagine the novelty! The entire sickly cartel, nearly-continent in size, run by priests, nuns, and a handful of squirrelly, verbally combative, and indecisive middle age scholars in corduroy and other peculiar garments. In fact it will be just like the old days when there were plagues and mercenaries.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Iran executes another gay man

On December 5, Iran executed a 21-year-old man convicted of sodomy after the Chief Justice had previously stayed his sentence. The alleged crime was committed when the suspect was thirteen years old, and all the witnesses had recanted their testimony, which was apparently obtained under torture:

[IGLHRC] has learned today that despite an order by the Iranian Chief Justice to nullify his death sentence, Mr. Makvan Mouloodzadeh was executed in Kermanshah Central Prison at 5 a.m. this morning, Iranian time. Neither Mr. Mouloodzadeh’s family or his lawyer were told about the execution until after it occurred. IGLHRC is still investigating the facts in this case.

“This is a shameful and outrageous travesty of justice and international human rights law,” said Paula Ettelbrick, IGLHRC’s executive director. “How many more young Iranians have to die before the international community takes action?”
Mr. Mouloodzadeh was a 21-year-old Iranian citizen who was accused of committing
anal rape (ighab) with other young boys when he was 13 years old. However, at Mr. Mouloodzadeh’s trial, all the witnesses retracted their pre-trial testimonies, claiming to have lied to the authorities under duress. Makvan also told the court that his confession was made under coercion and pleaded not guilty.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Why feminists dislike Hillary Clinton

Ann Althouse on why Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign leaves feminists cold:
Hillary is not just another professional woman of my generation, who ought to inspire sisterly empathy. She is a throwback to an earlier era, when women found their place through their husbands. The resistance I feel toward Hillary has to do do with her advancement under the aegis of a powerful man — a powerful man who seems to have diminished quite a number of women. According to the article, I'm responding the way women my age respond: "For many, it's visceral. While they struggled to break through institutional barriers in the workplace, Clinton hitched her star to her man and followed him to the top. When his philandering imperiled his political career, she not only pulled him out of the fire but helped orchestrate attacks against his accusers." Exactly.
Even Jane Fonda can't bring herself to get behind Hillary:
[I]n an interview with LA Weekly last May, Jane Fonda called Clinton "a ventriloquist for the patriarchy with a skirt and a vagina."

Monday, December 03, 2007

Khartoum then and now

Khartoum, Sudan - 2007

Britain sends two Muslim members of the House of Lords to Khartoum to grovel in front of the president of the Sudan and beg for the release of British primary schoolteacher Gillian Gibbons. Sentenced to 15 days in prison for naming a teddy bear "Mohammed", she is eventually released and deported.

Khartoum, Sudan - 1896

Britain sends Lord Kitchener to Khartoum at the head of an army of 25 000 to avenge the 1885 death of General Charles Gordon and to put down a rebellion by followers of a Muslim fanatic called "the Mahdi". This description of the subsequent events is from James Morris' Farewell the Trumpets:

For years the Sudan had been in a state of rebellion under a fiery Sufi mystic who called himself the Mahdi, 'the Leader', and who formally announced the End of Time, a conception particularly unwelcome to the British just then. In 1884 it had been decided to abandon the country and to organise the withdrawal the British Government sent to Khartoum, the capital, General Charles Gordon, Royal Engineers, everyone's archetype of the Christian soldier, 'not a man but a God'. Trapped in Khartoum by his own death-wish, in January 1885 Gordon was killed by the Mahdists, and so capped his already legendary career with an imperial apotheosis.... The Mahdi died in 1885, but his successor the Khalifa, held similarly apocalyptic views, and by the 1890s the Reconquest was at hand...

[Kitchener] with infinite care and thoroughness ... prepared the campaign, designing his own gunboats for the passage up the Nile, and commissioning his own railway to take his armies out of Egypt towards Khartoum. It was slow, but it was inexorable. By the end of 1896 Kitchener had an army of 25 000 men, 8 000 of them British, the rest Egyptian and Sudanese, deep in the Sudan. His method of campaign was barbarically deliberate and symbolic. The soldiers went in to action crying 'Remember Gordon!' Gordon's nephew directed the shelling of the Mahdi's tomb at Omdurman, and Kitchener seriously thought of keeping the Leader's skull as a souvenir. It all went like very slow clockwork. By Jubilee Day Kitchener was preparing his advance upon Khartoum, and by the autumn of 1898 he had annihilated the Mahdist army in the battle of Omdurman, killing at least 10 000 Sudanese for the loss of 28 Britons. On the morning of Sunday, 4 September 1898, he crossed the Nile into the ruined capital, where the shattered remains of Gordon's Residency lay as a wreck of rubble and undergrowth beside the river...

What the hell's happened to Britain?

"Muslim fags don't exist"

Mark Steyn, blogging on National Review Online :

From Der Spiegel, a report on how Europe's most tolerant city no longer seems quite so tolerant:

With the number of homophobic attacks rising in the Dutch metropolis, Amsterdam officials are commissioning a study to determine why Moroccan men are targeting the city's gays.
Gee, whiz. That's a toughie. Wonder what the reason could be. But don't worry, the University of Amsterdam is on top of things:

Half of the crimes were committed by men of Moroccan origin and researchers believe they felt stigmatized by society and responded by attacking people they felt were lower on the social ladder. Another working theory is that the attackers may be struggling with their own sexual identity.
Bingo! Telling young Moroccan men they're closeted gays seems certain to lessen tensions in the city! While you're at it, a lot of those Turks seem a bit light on their loafers, don't you think?

Any researchers who haven't fully signed on to the "social stigmatization" argument might like to dust off the reports following the stabbing in 2002 of Paris' first openly gay mayor, Bertrand Delanoe, by a Muslim immigrant, Azedine Berkane. Le Monde reported the views of M Berkane's neighbors:

“He was a bit like us,” said one. “We’re all homophobic here, because it’s not natural.”“It’s against Islam,” said another. “Muslim fags don’t exist.”

As I say somewhere in my book: If you think Iraq's Kurds and Arabs, Sunni and Shia are incompatible, what do you call a jurisdiction split between post-Christian secular gay potheads and anti-whoring anti-sodomite anti-everything-you-dig Islamists? If Kurdistan’s an awkward fit in Iraq, how well will Pornostan fit in the Islamic Republic of Holland?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Everything is caused by global warming

The American Thinker has a story about British engineering professor Dr. John Brignell who has compiled a list of links to media stories about the effects of global warming. It makes amusing reading:

Agricultural land increase, Africa devastated, African aid threatened, Africa hit hardest, air pressure changes, Alaska reshaped, allergies increase, Alps melting, Amazon a desert, American dream end, amphibians breeding earlier (or not), ancient forests dramatically changed, animals head for the hills, Antarctic grass flourishes, anxiety, algal blooms, archaeological sites threatened, Arctic bogs melt, Arctic in bloom, Arctic lakes disappear, asthma, Atlantic less salty, Atlantic more salty, atmospheric defiance, atmospheric circulation modified, attack of the killer jellyfish, avalanches reduced, avalanches increased, bananas destroyed, bananas grow, beetle infestation, bet for $10,000, better beer, big melt faster, billion dollar research projects, billions of deaths, bird distributions change, bird visitors drop, birds return early, blackbirds stop singing, blizzards, blue mussels return, bluetongue, boredom, bridge collapse (Minneapolis), Britain Siberian, British gardens change, brothels struggle, bubonic plague, budget increases, Buddhist temple threatened, building collapse, building season extension, bushfires, business opportunities, business risks, butterflies move north, cancer deaths in England, cardiac arrest, caterpillar biomass shift, challenges and opportunities, childhood insomnia, Cholera, circumcision in decline, cirrus disappearance, civil unrest, cloud increase, cloud stripping, cockroach migration, cod go south, cold climate creatures survive, cold spells (Australia), computer models, conferences, coral bleaching, coral reefs dying, coral reefs grow, coral reefs shrink , cold spells, cost of trillions, cougar attacks, cremation to end, crime increase, crocodile sex, crumbling roads, buildings and sewage systems, cyclones (Australia), damages equivalent to $200 billion, Darfur, Dartford Warbler plague, death rate increase (US), Dengue hemorrhagic fever, dermatitis, desert advance, desert life threatened, desert retreat, destruction of the environment, diarrhoea, disappearance of coastal cities, diseases move north, Dolomites collapse, drought, drowning people, ducks and geese decline, dust bowl in the corn belt, early marriages, early spring, earlier pollen season, Earth biodiversity crisis, Earth dying, Earth even hotter, Earth light dimming, Earth lopsided, Earth melting, Earth morbid fever, Earth on fast track, Earth past point of no return, Earth slowing down, Earth spinning out of control, Earth spins faster, Earth to explode, earth upside down, Earth wobbling, earthquakes, El Niño intensification, erosion, emerging infections, encephalitis, equality threatened, Europe simultaneously baking and freezing, evolution accelerating, expansion of university climate groups, extinctions (human, civilisation, logic, Inuit, smallest butterfly, cod, ladybirds, bats, pandas, pikas, polar bears, pigmy possums, gorillas, koalas, walrus, whales, frogs, toads, turtles, orang-utan, elephants, tigers, plants, salmon, trout, wild flowers, woodlice, penguins, a million species, half of all animal and plant species, not polar bears, barrier reef, leaches), experts muzzled, extreme changes to California, fading fall foliage, famine, farmers go under, fashion disaster, fever,figurehead sacked, fir cone bonanza, fish catches drop, fish catches rise, fish stocks at risk, fish stocks decline, five million illnesses, flesh eating disease, flood patterns change, floods, floods of beaches and cities, Florida economic decline, food poisoning, food prices rise, food security threat (SA), footpath erosion, forest decline, forest expansion, frostbite, frosts, fungi fruitful, fungi invasion, games change, Garden of Eden wilts, genetic diversity decline, gene pools slashed, gingerbread houses collapse, glacial earthquakes, glacial retreat, glacial growth, glacier wrapped, global cooling, global dimming, glowing clouds, god melts, golf Masters wrecked, Gore omnipresence, grandstanding, grasslands wetter, Great Barrier Reef 95% dead, Great Lakes drop, greening of the North, Grey whales lose weight, Gulf Stream failure, habitat loss, Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, harvest increase, harvest shrinkage, hay fever epidemic, hazardous waste sites breached, health of children harmed, heart disease, heart attacks and strokes (Australia), heat waves, hibernation ends too soon, hibernation ends too late, homeless 50 million, hornets, high court debates, human development faces unprecedented reversal, human fertility reduced, human health improvement, human health risk, hurricanes, hurricane reduction, hydropower problems, hyperthermia deaths, ice sheet growth, ice sheet shrinkage, illness and death, inclement weather, infrastructure failure (Canada), Inuit displacement, Inuit poisoned, Inuit suing, industry threatened, infectious diseases, inflation in China, insurance premium rises, invasion of cats, invasion of herons, invasion of midges, island disappears, islands sinking, itchier poison ivy, jellyfish explosion, Kew Gardens taxed, kitten boom, krill decline, lake and stream productivity decline, lake shrinking and growing, landslides, landslides of ice at 140 mph, lawsuits increase, lawsuit successful, lawyers' income increased (surprise surprise!), lightning related insurance claims, little response in the atmosphere, lush growth in rain forests, Lyme disease, Malaria, malnutrition, mammoth dung melt, Maple syrup shortage, marine diseases, marine food chain decimated, marine dead zone, Meaching (end of the world), megacryometeors, Melanoma, methane emissions from plants, methane burps, melting permafrost, Middle Kingdom convulses, migration, migration difficult (birds), microbes to decompose soil carbon more rapidly, monkeys on the move, Mont Blanc grows, monuments imperiled, more bad air days, more research needed, mountain (Everest) shrinking, mountains break up, mountains taller, mortality lower, mudslides, National security implications, new islands, next ice age, Nile delta damaged, no effect in India, Northwest Passage opened, nuclear plants bloom, oaks move north, ocean acidification, ocean waves speed up, opera house to be destroyed, outdoor hockey threatened, oyster diseases, ozone loss, ozone repair slowed, ozone rise, Pacific dead zone, personal carbon rationing, pest outbreaks, pests increase, phenology shifts, plankton blooms, plankton destabilised, plankton loss, plant viruses, plants march north, polar bears aggressive, polar bears cannibalistic, polar bears drowning, polar bears starve, polar tours scrapped, porpoise astray, profits collapse, psychosocial disturbances, puffin decline, railroad tracks deformed, rainfall increase, rainfall reduction, rape wave, refugees, reindeer larger, release of ancient frozen viruses, resorts disappear, rice threatened, rice yields crash, riches, rift on Capitol Hill, rioting and nuclear war, rivers dry up, river flow impacted, rivers raised, roads wear out, rockfalls, rocky peaks crack apart, roof of the world a desert, Ross river disease, ruins ruined, salinity reduction, salinity increase, Salmonella, salmon stronger, satellites accelerate, school closures, sea level rise, sea level rise faster, seals mating more, sewer bills rise, sex change, sharks booming, sharks moving north, sheep shrink, shop closures, shrinking ponds, shrinking shrine, ski resorts threatened, slow death, smaller brains, smog, snowfall increase, snowfall heavy, snowfall reduction, societal collapse, songbirds change eating habits, sour grapes, space problem, spiders invade Scotland, squid population explosion, squirrels reproduce earlier, spectacular orchids, stormwater drains stressed, street crime to increase, suicide, taxes, tectonic plate movement, teenage drinking, terrorism, threat to peace, ticks move northward (Sweden), tides rise, tourism increase, trade barriers, trade winds weakened, tree beetle attacks, tree foliage increase (UK), tree growth slowed, trees could return to Antarctic, trees in trouble, trees less colourful, trees more colourful, trees lush, tropics expansion, tropopause raised, tsunamis, turtles crash, turtles lay earlier, UK Katrina, Vampire moths, Venice flooded, volcanic eruptions, walrus displaced, walrus pups orphaned, war, wars over water, wars threaten billions, water bills double, water supply unreliability, water scarcity (20% of increase), water stress, weather out of its mind, weather patterns awry, weeds, Western aid cancelled out, West Nile fever, whales move north, wheat yields crushed in Australia, white Christmas dream ends, wildfires, wind shift, wind reduced, wine - harm to Australian industry, wine industry damage (California), wine industry disaster (US), wine - more English, wine -German boon, wine - no more French , winters in Britain colder, wolves eat more moose, wolves eat less, workers laid off, World bankruptcy, World in crisis, World in flames, Yellow fever.

Dr. Brignell is accepting additions to the list.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The good old days behind the Iron Curtain

Tom Palmer , just back from a trip to Poland, recalls what it was like before the wall came down. He can't believe the positive changes in Eastern Europe since the fall of Communism:

Years ago I gave a lecture at the University of Lublin and invited the participants out to dinner. Over 40 people came, so we went to “the nicest restaurant in town,” at the state-owned Urania hotel, mainly famous among foreigners as a place where the state pimped Polish girls to visitors who could pay in hard currency. Dinner came to a little over a dollar a person (not counting the five dollars I gave the terrible “rock band” to stop playing and go home, so we could talk). Each participant was introduced and stood up and bowed. Many of the introductions were like this: “Professor So-and-So teaches linguistics/history/philosophy/etc. and was for 17 years in prison, first under the Nazis, then three times under the Communists.” When I asked the chair of the faculty if she came to the restaurant often, she blanched and informed me that, no, it was really very, very expensive and people like her would only go for special events, like weddings and fiftieth wedding anniversaries.

(I can’t help adding that on my first visit to Prague, I was offered a great treat — a glass of Coca Cola! I was not that enthusiastic, but I told my host, “Sure, that would be nice.” In the pub they dunked a dirty glass into much dirtier water, so it came out nasty and greasy, and then poured in the coke, which had little spots of oil floating on the surface. I somehow managed not to drink it. That was quite mild compared to Communist Albania, where I managed to throw up after almost every meal, an experience I had in some other socialist countries, as well, where the food was sometimes actually slippery from the bacteria.)

But at least the trains ran on time.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

American Gangster - review

In a year when Hollywood seems to have forgotten how to make good movies, Ridley Scott's American Gangster stands head & shoulders above the rest. I saw it this weekend, and I was amazed - this film will be ranked along with other greats like The French Connection, Raging Bull or The Godfather.

The movie follows the parallel stories of Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) and Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe). Lucas starts out as a quiet, two-bit character, a driver for a black New York mobster. When his boss dies of a heart attack, Lucas gradually fills the power vacuum and takes over his former boss' empire. He quickly figures out a way to smuggle high-grade heroin from Viet Nam into the United States and floods the streets of Harlem with a product both better & cheaper than his competitors, becoming rich & powerful in the process. Roberts is an honest cop who is ostracized by his colleagues for turning in a fortune in untraceable cash that he & his partner find at a crime scene. He is eventually put in charge of a task force charged with taking down Lucas.

Although Washington & Crowe don't appear together in a scene until about 15 minutes from the end of the movie, watching them on screen is like watching two chess grand masters. The interrogation scene near the end of the movie is like a master class in acting - these two guys could eat actors like Tom Cruise for breakfast. Every supporting actor in the film plays their role to perfection.

The real star is the New York City of the pre-Giuliani 1970s, back when it was a truly decayed and frightening place. I remember visiting the city in 1978 when I was a teenager & being shocked by the experience - when I returned in 2001 I hardly recognized it. Director Ridley Scott has beautifully captured the atmosphere of decay & anarchy that pervaded the city then. The sets, the props, the hair-styles & clothing, the music & TV shows - everthing is finely tuned to set the mood of the time. Every scene seems to be bathed in a sickly fluorescent light that simultaneously reminds you of one of those 70s crime dramas like Shaft and an Encyclopoedia Britannica film like we used to watch in high school science class.

My favourite aspect of the film was the way Scott toyed with our sense of morality. There is little that is clearly right or wrong in this world - only various degrees of moral ambiguity. Roberts, the last honest cop in New York, is a cheating husband and a failure as a father. Lucas, the man who runs a criminal operation that brings untold misery to the streets of Harlem, is a devoted husband and takes his mother to church every Sunday. In a perverted version of the American Dream, Lucas exploits the principles of free market capitalism to establish his criminal empire. The heroin epidemic that is ravaging the black neighbourhoods of New York is fueled by Lucas, the most powerful black man in the city. The NYPD drug squad responsible for stopping the carnage is full of corrupt cops who are in on the operation. At the end, when Lucas & Roberts eventually meet, they develop a grudging admiration for each other that borders on friendship.

Hollywood industry types are constantly griping about the decline of the industry & the fact that audiences don't go to theatres much anymore. Well, there's a reason for that - they've been making crappy movies. I'm not sure how American Gangster made it through the meat-grinder, but it sure is one great movie - like they used to make.

"Like being trapped in an ugly room with a hopeless stutterer"

Libertas has an amusing review of the new anti-Bush film Southland Tales, which received zero stars by the reviewer. I loved these choice comments:
Watching writer/director Richard Kelly’s attempt at an operatic HateBush, anti-war cult film is what it must be like trapped in an ugly room for 160-minutes with a hopeless stutterer who’s trying to tell you a story but can’t. We’ve all seen directors fail miserably to bring their vision to the screen, but Southland Tales doesn’t even rise to that. It’s just a miserable failure without a vision anywhere within a country mile.
If Kelly was so desperate to prove he’s a no-talent, pretentious, hack, did he have to spend $18 million and 2 1/2 hours of my life doing it? Couldn’t he have just bought a beret?
The acting is dreadful. But it’s only dreadful if dreadful is a harsher word than embarrassing.
Southland Tales isn’t nihilism, liberalism, anti-Americanism, or even anti-Bushism. Because, regardless of what you might think of those things they are at least about something. Southland is about nothing. It’s rank piece of amateurish incompetence, and the current holder of the central exhibit in the quickly-expanding Hollywood Bush Derangement Syndrome Museum.