banner photo:

"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)

Monday, April 30, 2007

Prehistoric humans had sex for fun

Fox News is reporting on a study by archeology professor Timothy Taylor of the University of Bradford, UK which claims that Stone Age humans did not merely have sex to reproduce, they also got it on just for fun. Who says we've evolved?

He may have come down from the trees, but prehistoric man did not stop swinging. New research into Stone Age humans has argued that, far from having intercourse simply to reproduce, they had sex for fun.

Practices ranging from bondage to group sex, transvestism and the use of sex toys were widespread in primitive societies as a way of building up cultural ties.

According to the study, a 30,000-year-old statue of a naked woman -- the Venus of Willendorf -- and an equally ancient stone phallus found in a German cave, provide the earliest direct evidence that sex was about far more than babies.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The real reasons for the male/female wage gap

The US media made a big deal last week of "Equal Pay Day", which this year fell on April 24. This is the day when the average working woman in the US has earned the same amount that the average working man earned in 2006 - in other words, the average woman has to work sixteen months to earn the same as the average man working twelve. Steve Chapman of the Chicago Tribune points out that there are good reasons for this, and most of them have nothing to do with sexism or discrimination:

But read more [of the report by the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Educational Foundation] and you learn things that don't get much notice on Equal Pay Day. As the report acknowledges, women with college degrees tend to go into fields like education, psychology and the humanities, which typically pay less than the sectors preferred by men, such as engineering, math and business. They are also more likely than men to work for nonprofit groups and local governments, which do not offer salaries that Alex Rodriguez would envy.

As they get older, many women elect to work less so they can spend time with their children. A decade after graduation, 39 percent of women are out of the work force or working part time -- compared with only 3 percent of men. When these mothers return to full-time jobs, they naturally earn less than they would have if they had never left.

Even before they have kids, men and women often do different things that may affect earnings. A year out of college, notes AAUW, women in full-time jobs work an average of 42 hours a week, compared to 45 for men. Men are also far more likely to work more than 50 hours a week.

Buried in the report is a startling admission: "After accounting for all factors known to affect wages, about one-quarter of the gap remains unexplained and may be attributed to discrimination". Another way to put it is that three-quarters of the gap clearly has innocent causes -- and that we actually don't know whether discrimination accounts for the rest.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Gay hobbits can't get married in virtual Middle Earth

Some people need to get away from their computers more often ...

According to, the makers of Lord of the Rings Online, a multi-player on-line role-playing game, have decided not to allow same-sex marriage in their virtual Middle Earth. Inter-species marriage between hobbits and dwarves is also out. In spite of the fact that other virtual role-playing games like The Sims, World of Warcraft, and Fallout 2 have allowed their on-line characters to participate in same-sex relationships since 1998, the makers of LOTR Online decided not to allow that option to remain true to the spirit of JRR Tolkien's novels.
"The rule that we tried to follow across the board was: if there's an example of it in the book, the door is open to explore it," Nik says. "Very rarely will you see an elf and a human hook up, but it does happen; the door is open. Dwarves don't intermarry with hobbits; that door is shut ... Did two male hobbits ever hook up in the shire and have little hobbit civil unions? No. The door is shut."
Largely due to the uniquely libertarian culture of game design, games are ahead of the real world in terms of acceptance of same-sex marriage -- the first game reported to have allowed same-sex marriage debuted in 1998, two years before Vermont recognized civil unions and six years before Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriage. Today, the discussion of same-sex marriage in games redraws the battle lines over the issue, making it not a fight over marriage but an issue of the philosophy of video games themselves.

Free-market liberals should hope Royal wins French election

Mathew Parris, writing in The Times, thinks that the best hope for liberal free-market reforms in France may, counter-intuitively, be a victory by Segolene Royal's Socialists:

Next weekend all true market liberals should be rooting for Ségolène Royal. France, before it turns to embrace the free market, must first despair utterly of the alternative. France must have no lingering doubt, no hankering to go back. It must with all its being reject its half-century affair with the all-protecting State. France must know in its heart as well as its head that there is no exception française.

France is on the road to that knowledge, rejection and despair, but it is not there yet. Ms Royal, still passionate for l’exception française, is the leader to take France all the way. Onward, Ségo, I say: onward to the presidency. And after that, onward to the buffers. And hit them good and hard.

(h/t: Libertas)

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

"The thing I like best about being a conservative - I don’t have to lie."

Andrew Klavan has a good article in City Journal - "The Big White Lie" - about being a conservative surrounded by liberals (and he lives in California, so it must be tough) and why it is important for conservatives to tell it like it is and resist pressures to fit in to polite company. Here's an excerpt:
The thing I like best about being a conservative is that I don’t have to lie. I don’t have to pretend that men and women are the same. I don’t have to declare that failed or oppressive cultures are as good as mine. I don’t have to say that everyone’s special or that the rich cause poverty or that all religions are a path to God. I don’t have to claim that a bad writer like Alice Walker is a good one or that a good writer like Toni Morrison is a great one. I don’t have to pretend that Islam means peace.Of course, like everything, this candor has its price. A politics that depends on honesty will be, by nature, often impolite. Good manners and hypocrisy are intimately intertwined, and so conservatives, with their gimlet-eyed view of the world, are always susceptible to charges of incivility. It’s not really nice, you know, to describe things as they are.
I can sympathize: I once brought a party to a screeching halt when I responded to a guest (who lives in a 2000 square foot house in a new subdivision) who had lectured us about our materialistic society's wasteful ways, suggesting that the government should reduce urban sprawl by legislating building codes that mandate higher density and outlaw the very type of community he lives in. I replied "But that's what people want. That's the kind of house you live in. Why should the government dictate how the rest of us should live?" [sound of crickets chirping]

Monday, April 23, 2007

Montreal: "like being in Santa Monica only without the urine smell"

American film-maker Jason Apuzzo, editor of the conservative film blog Libertas, has some thoughts about Canada's most cosmopolitan city. He just returned to California from a week working on a film in Montreal, and shares his experiences. An excerpt:

Canada was interesting. I was in Montreal. Unfortunately, it was essentially cab to studio to cab to hotel for all five days so I didn’t see a lot of the city — but what I did see was quite nice. Montreal looks like Europe. Well, I can’t really say that because I’ve never been to Europe. What I can say is that Montreal looks like the Europe I see in the movies. However, since a lot of films set in Europe are filmed in Montreal it may very well be that Montreal just looks like Montreal.

My first night it snowed a good four inches. Heavy snow. The kind that turns to black slush. It was gray and cold and wet for the first three days and like being in one of those depressing Soviet bloc countries when they were still communist. I carried my passport everywhere sure the secret police would ask for my papers — which would’ve been cool.

They have homeless people in Montreal. I know that’s hard to believe because the only bad thing we know of that ever happened in Canada was acid rain, and that was Reagan’s fault, but they do have homeless people. A lot of them. It was almost like being in Santa Monica only without the urine smell thanks to the snow. One homeless guy had a sign that read: I Need A Joint Really Bad Right Now, and he didn’t mean an elbow. Personally I admired the guy’s honesty. Our homeless manage two lies using half the words: Will Work For Food. So, I think it’s safe to say Canada does have superior homeless people.

Nudie bars are everywhere. No matter where you go you’ll either see an advertisement for one or the front door for one. They open at ten in the morning. Can you imagine the people who show up at a strip joint at ten in the morning? Let me tell you it was one depressing place.

It seems everyone in Montreal is bi-lingual. The all speak English and French. They’re currently making Arabic a mandatory third language so all of their citizens are fully prepared for the inevitable surrender. I kid! I kid! The people were very nice.

The newspapers were extremely unkind to the U.S. regarding the terrible events at Virginia Tech. Naturally they blamed it on guns, our “violent” society, and we conservative NRA-types. Not the evil psychopath who pulled the trigger. It seemed unimaginable to them that a monster willing to murder thirty-two people might also be willing to break a few gun control laws to arm himself, and that he might not have killed so many had a non-psychopath come heavy to school that day. And those were American newspapers. I have no idea what Canadian newspapers said, they’re all in French.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Prom queens fight global warming

I was getting my hair cut last week and came across a copy of Verve Girl in the lounge. It's a magazine distributed free to high schools and other places where teenagers congregate, and aimed at teenage girls. The headlines on the cover announced "12 pages of PROM" and "Going green - do your part to save our environment". Leafing through it, I realized how divorced from reality the global warming hysteria has become, and how far the tentacles of the Suzuki Foundation have reached into Canadian society.

Amid the ads for zit creams, deodorants & cosmetics are numerous guilt trips aimed at insecure ill-informed girls to convince them that their mere presence in the world is raping Mother Earth. The "Ed's Note" at the beginning sets the tone:

Since April is Earth Month there's no better time to start making green lifestyle choices! Not too long ago I read about a climate-change report that was being prepared by the world's leading scientists. According to the Globe and Mail, the draft of this report states that there is absolutely no doubt the world is heating up. Now. And we can only expect more frequent heat waves, droughts and rain storms, as well as more violent typhoons and hurricanes.

Heavy stuff to be sure, and by now you're likely all caught up on the inconvenient truths. So VerveGirl's dedicated this issue - and will continue all year round - to helping you make green choices. Start by taking the time (if you haven't already) to calculate your carbon footprint. I did and, while I've been separating my garbage and recycling for a while now, it's a whole other thought process when it comes to reducing and reusing. Let's just say I am on my own personal mission to lighten my load on this earth.

We encourage you to visit the websites recommended in this issue, and for ways you, your family and friends can go carbon neutral. Also, keep in mind that we all owe it to the planet to be environmentally as well as socially conscious. So when you are organizing your summer job or vacay, plan to incorporate some aspect of giving back - volunteer locally or gain a new perspective by travelling! Perhaps you'll be inpired by our special report on Argentina's cartoneros.

From tips on being earth-friendly, Vervegirl guides you through getting ready for Prom 2007, From fitness and fashion to etiquette tips and important info on alcohol abuse, we want you to look and feel your very best. Last thing. We wonder how many Proms will make like Oscar and "go green" this year? If yours is, then tell us how you're doing it in the Green Room @!

The rest of the issue is the same rehashed eco-propaganda that we see every freakin' day in the media. There's a plug for An Inconvenient Truth ("Al Gore is a rock star in our books! An Inconvenient Truth chronicles exactly what is happening to our world, from the shift in global warming to what we can do to stop it."). There are suggestions for being "earth-friendly every day", including the one to "nag your parents" ("By now many of you have perfected the 'But I really reeaaally want it' technique handed down by proud mall patrons that came before you. Now it's time to put your skills to good use. If you notice your parents breaking the rules, let them know how you feel about it. If they don't listen the first time, they sure will the tenth."). There's a tip that teens can assuage their guilt by buying carbon offsets, with a link to - who else - for details.

Most disturbing is a suggestion that teen girls stop eating meat: "Incorporating meat-free meals into your weekly diet can also make a difference. The production of meat is extremely water-intensive and factory-farming practices have been known to lead to the pollution of local ecosystems". This from a magazine full of ads showing glamorous stick-thin, blemish-free models shilling products at insecure girls who already think they're fat and are desperate to land a date for the prom.

Kyoto activists are opening a new front - using guilt to enlist insecure and impressionable teenagers into spying on and applying pressure to the adults around them. Fidel Castro would approve.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Richard Gere burned in effigy

Crazed mobs are burning effigies of Americans in India, and this time they're not of George Bush. Indian fans of Bollywood star Shilpa Shetty are outraged that Gere kissed her hands and face on stage at an AIDS awareness benefit. Talk about cultural imperialism. Gere is now getting death threats, which must be seriously affecting his Buddhist equanimity.

Check out the post at Libertas. I love their headline "Richard Gere risks beheading to make fool of self", and the comment "Why do I have a feeling that if they cut off Gere’s head the air inside would make it blow around the room like a balloon?".

Monday, April 16, 2007

VA Tech shootings & gun control

I've been watching the horrific news coverage of the killings at Virginia Tech, and predictably CTV News has talking heads from the NDP and the Liberals making the the case that today's tragedy points out the need to keep and even expand Canada's gun registry. Before we start in on that debate, it might be worth reviewing a few points:
  • Virginia Tech already restricts guns - it is illegal to carry guns on the VA Tech campus. Although we still don't know the gunman's identity and motive, it seems that, as far as campus policy was concerned anyway, that he was illegally carrying the weapons that were involved in these shootings. See this related post at Mesopotamia West
  • In a shooting incident in 2002 at the Appalachian Law School, also in Virginia, a former student named Peter Odighizuwa shot and killed two professors and a student after he had flunked out of the school. Before he could continue his rampage, he was subdued by four students, three of whom used their own legally-owned guns to disarm him before police could arrive on the scene. As Tracy Bridges, one of the students, described the incident: "Me and Ted [Besen]and [student] Rob Sievers went out to look. A professor ran up the stairs and said, 'Peter [Odighizuwa] has got a gun and he's shooting.' I ran back and told the class to get out. They went out the back way," Bridges said. "We went down, too, and Peter was in the front yard. I stopped at my vehicle and got a handgun, a revolver. Ted went toward Peter, and I aimed my gun at him, and Peter tossed his gun down".

So - Virginia Tech's ban on guns on campus didn't prevent this tragedy, and in another university shooting five years earlier in the same state, students legally armed with guns were able to disarm a crazed gunman before he could take more lives. Let's keep this in mind before we start opportunistically using this sad event to make political points about Canada's gun registry.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Movie review - Shooter

Shooter is a reasonably entertaining political thriller & has enough car chases, explosions & McGyver-esque gadgets to satisfy most techno-geeks (in one scene the hero takes out an entire SWAT team of assassins with black powder, duct tape, homemade napalm and his trusty sniper rifle). It has plot holes you can fly a burning helicopter through, and the acting is often stilted and one-dimensional (especially by Danny Glover who delivers his lines like he's choking on his own tongue), but Mark Wahlberg does a decent job portraying the psychologically damaged anti-hero and the action moved along at a fast-enough clip that it kept me from glancing at my watch or being distracted by butt numbness.

Wahlberg plays Bob Lee Swagger (yes, Swagger) - an army sharpshooter who is lured out of retirement by Colonel Isaac Johnson (Danny Glover) to try to thwart an assassination attempt on the President. Swagger is ultimately double-crossed and framed for the incident, and after taking a few bullets and learning that government agents have killed his dog, he spends the rest of the movie shooting the bad guys in the head and seeking revenge with improvised explosive devices.

One doesn't expect much from this kind of movie, but I do have one major complaint. I know that Hollywood is an oasis of liberals (they gave an Oscar to Al Gore, after all), but does every villain in a Hollywood thriller have to be a Republican? Just in case you didn't get the connection, the office of the head bad guy has framed portraits of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and Nick Memphis (Michael Pena), the rookie FBI agent who stumbles on the truth, wears a Che Guevara T-shirt. The plot's mastermind, Senator Charles Meachum (Ned Beatty) is a cartoonish caricature of a venal right-wing Republican capitalist - he smokes cigars & drinks scotch from crystal decanters while explaining that of course US foreign policy is all about oil. You almost expect him to eventually show up in a top hat and monocle lighting his cigars with $100 bills. At one point he delivers the line "The Secretary of Defense actually told the American people that it was all about freedom and had nothing to do with oil" and then cackles dementedly. Swagger delivers impassioned speeches about failing to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq while his best-friend's widow digs bullets out of his shoulder. OK - we get it: Republicans bad, Democrats good. Jeez. Just once, I would like to see a script green-lighted which contains an evil plot being run out of UNICEF and masterminded by Barbra Streisand while smuggling illegal guns in her biodiesel tour bus. I guess that movie could kiss the Palme d'Or goodbye.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

The lighter side of globalization

Anti-globalization has largely been replaced by global warming as the left's cause du jour in its endless struggle against capitalism - one could argue that the Kyoto Accord is really an attempt to restrict the capitalist economies of the developed world. People tend to think that globalization has a net negative effect on economies in the developed world - after all, who wants all those jobs being out-sourced to India or having our manufacturers compete with cheap imports from Mexico? A recent article in the National Journal nicely makes the point that if you look at the economic data from 1980 on, globalization has had a net positive effect on both rich and poor countries.

Here's the essence of the argument:

For workers in poor countries, [globalization] has been unambiguously good news. The IMF's numbers show that manufacturing wages in poor nations are rising -- and quickly enough, overall, to shrink the gap with manufacturing wages in the United States. For the developing world's earliest industrializers, the gap has all but disappeared. In 1970, the average manufacturing wage in South Korea was less than 10 percent of the average manufacturing wage in America; by the turn of the century it was 70 percent. Wages in China, India, and other developing countries have so far converged with rich-world wages much more slowly than that -- but the gap is closing nonetheless, and in most cases at an accelerating rate. Be clear about one thing: If you are interested in helping the world's poorest, globalization is the best possible news.

But what about workers in America and other rich countries? Given this huge expansion in the global labor force, you might expect a collapse in wages in America and Europe. Well, that has not happened. True, labor's share of national income has fallen in the United States and in other rich countries. In industries using mostly unskilled workers, labor's share of income has fallen significantly; in industries using mostly skilled labor, its share has tended to rise. But, thanks to trade, which has made prices lower than they otherwise would be, pay in real terms has kept on rising regardless -- albeit more slowly in some places than in others. In America, real compensation per worker has risen by about 20 percent since 1980. In Europe, it has risen by more than 30 percent. (Note, though, that America has added new jobs at roughly twice Europe's rate -- hence its consistently lower unemployment rate.)

The author argues that the focus of government policy should be to cushion the blow on unskilled workers in developed countries who are undoubtedly adversely affected by the global labour market by giving them the training and skills to move into the industries that are expanding because of the trade opportunities opening up overseas. Protectionism is ultimately futile and counter-productive.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Why Cyprus but not Afghanistan?

By now we're all familiar with the chorus coming from the opposition benches demanding that the government either pull out of Afghanistan immediately, or as Stephane Dion urged recently, to give notice that our troops will be withdrawn when the current commitment ends in 2009. I'm trying to imagine a similar debate forty years ago when Canada committed troops to Cyprus and maintained a military presence there for 29 years at the cost of 28 Canadian lives.

Here's a brief reminder of the situation that led to Canada's involvement in Cyprus, from Veterans Affairs Canada:

Cyprus asked the UN to establish a peacekeeping force in 1964. Once it arrived, the situation was unlike anything that UN peacekeepers had previously experienced. The quarrelling populations of Turks and Greeks were very intermingled on the island and the UN troops were faced with maintaining the peace in a situation where many small groups of Turks lived among the larger Greek population. Canadian soldiers needed both their traditional skills of soldiering and the skills of managing disagreements and conflicts between civilians. It has been remarked of difficult situations like these that "Peacekeeping is not a soldier's job, but only a soldier can do it."

A fragile balance was reached but was upset in 1974 with a coup d'etat by Greek Cypriots who wanted the island to become a part of Greece. In turn, Turkey invaded the island and took control of the northern part of Cyprus. Canadian and the other UN peacekeepers suddenly found themselves in the middle of a war zone where there was little stability and much violence.

After several weeks of active fighting in which three Canadians died and 17 were injured, a cease-fire was negotiated. The UN established the famous ‘Green Line,' a cease-fire line and buffer zone stretching across Cyprus, separating the portions of the island controlled by the Greeks and the Turks.

UN peacekeeping forces patrolled this uneasy buffer zone which, in places, was only several metres wide. At times, gunfire regularly occurred along the Green Line. It was not safe to move so much as a sandbag along the buffer zone because it might create an incident. Canadian peacekeepers had to live with the fact that they were between two very agitated groups and that they were tasked with keeping a lid on simmering tensions. Crowd control and dealing with unruly mobs upset over some violation, whether real or imagined, were ongoing issues that the Canadians were constantly called on to diffuse.

Hmmm - sounds familiar. So, why support for the mission (or at least indifference) then, but not now? Why wasn't there anguished debate in Parliament every time a Canadian was killed in Cyprus and the body brought back to CFB Trenton? For one, during most of that time we had a Liberal federal government maintaining the status quo in Cyprus while today it's the perfidious Tories urging us to stay the course. Secondly, the Cyprus mission was under the leadership of the United Nations, which Liberals (and most Canadians) hold in an awe that borders on the irrational. The Afghanistan mission is led by NATO, an unapologetically military alliance not traditionally associated with "peacekeeping", and since the Korean War Canadians have been a little queasy about getting involved in overtly military actions.

Granted, Afghanistan is a totally different situation on the ground than Cyprus ever was. The level of violence and fanaticism that our soldiers face over there is like nothing they have ever seen before. The casualty levels in Afghanistan are an order of magnitude greater than they were in Cyprus. However, the political factors that led our nation to intervene in Cyprus in 1964 have parallels with the situation that led us to commit troops to Afghanistan. For all the rhetoric about abandoning Canada's "peacekeeping tradition", we have as a nation historically intervened in violent civil war overseas, taken casualties and maintained a long-term troop commitment. We seem to have short memories.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Ontario government enlists kids to fight climate change

The Government of Ontario, ever mindful of its green credentials, has two new websites up aimed at making the fight against climate change seem cool and hip to young kids. Look! There's uber-hipster Sam Roberts with his You Tube video on the environment! There are The Bare Naked Ladies extolling the virtues of their biodiesel tour bus! There's Leonardo di Caprio touting the upcoming Global Cool concert tour! And permeating the whole package is the beaming face of High Priest David Suzuki. Check them out for yourself: the website for elementary school students is here, and the one targeting secondary schools is here. Follow the links on each site and have fun!

Several things disturb me about this program. For one, check out the links on the secondary school website, for more information, you are urged to link to the David Suzuki Foundation, the Natural Resources Defence Council, and An Inconvenient Truth, among others. Wow - there are some unbiased objective sources of information for you.

Then there's the nagging, hectoring tone to it all. There are some hilarious moments, like when we are introduced to Toronto couple Sarah McGaughey and Kyle Glover, who decide to live for a month without producing any garbage:

These two aren’t amateurs. Both are incredibly dedicated to the idea of a garbage-free lifestyle.

They’re getting a fair bit of media attention too. The Globe and Mail is doing weekly updates on their progress. CBC’s The Hour has profiled them and they’ve been on the Gillian Deacon Show, amongst others.

Despite their previous attempts, going totally garbage free has created a whole new set of problems to be solved. Take Gris Gris, their cat, who when scratching a scratching post produces small flecks of fibre, which Glover pointed out one day was, well, garbage. He started to collect the fibres to stuff a cat toy he’s going to make.
That’s the key, really. Ingenuity. Figuring out ways to do the things you’ve always done, but without the resulting garbage. Glover can’t eat soup without crackers but you can’t buy crackers that don’t come prepackaged so McGaughey taught herself how to make crackers. The recipe is on their blog if you feel so inclined. They’re picking up other helpful tidbits along the way, like how to make their own toothpaste (three parts baking soda and one part salt) or what to do about earwax and Q-tips. As for the stickers on fruit, well Glover and McGaughey have been keeping them to make collages and cards for friends.

However, there is also an undertone of guilt: do this, kids, or you're guilty of gang-raping Mother Earth. And by the way, it would help if you made your parents feel guilty, too. (Mom! Dad! Turn off that light bulb or black bears in Algonquin Park will DIE!)

Be loud and proud about everything you do to help the environment!
You’ll find that a lot of the people you know who aren’t environmentally considerate, simply don’t know how to be.So take it upon yourself to educate your friends and family. Tell them what you do, and why you do it.

Here are some of the things we say and do:
When you leave a room and shut the lights, explain, “I try to make sure I turn off the lights every time I leave a room—even if I’m just leaving it for five minutes. Fuels are burned to create electricity, and when that happens, greenhouse gases are released into the air.”
Explain to people how a 75-watt light bulb = an Algonquin Park black bear! (If you need a refresher on this go back to Eric’s Climate Change and Global Warming section).
Encourage people to plant trees. Lots of them! Trees absorb greenhouse gases and take them out of our air!
If you and your family are going somewhere that’s just a 5-to-10-minute drive, suggest, “Why don’t we walk there instead of taking the car? We’ll save money on gas, we’ll get some exercise, and we won’t put harmful pollutants into the air we breathe.”
Type up a list of everything that can be recycled and composted where you live (or just go online and see if your city or town’s website already has a list). E-mail it to your friends and family, and write something like, “Betcha didn’t know how much stuff we can recycle and compost!”
Tell people about the plastic fork that Maya talks about in her Conservation and Consumption section! Explain how we can help the environment simply by buying and using less stuff! And don’t forget to mention how this will help us save money too!

But then, there are some suggestions that leave me shaking my head. Is it the provincial government's role to discourage consumerism in its citizens? (Remember, this is the same government that gave tax breaks to General Motors to build the Camaro muscle-car in Ontario.) For example, do we really need the Ontario government suggesting to impressionable teenagers (many of whom already have warped ideas about food and body image) that they try to go without eating meat?
The eco-scene is a numbers game. You’ve got big numbers and little numbers. The big numbers are usually about the problem: ten thousand of this, 20 years of that, 4,000 tons of toxic whatchamacallits. Oh crap! Kill me now! On the upside, the small numbers tend to be about the solution. There are six and a half billion people alive in the world, give or take, and if we spread the work around, what one person needs to do is easy and small. Take your eating habits. You can help the world’s climate by eating more fruits and vegetables. For real. People did the math. Eco-initiatives like The David Suzuki Foundation’s Nature Challenge ask people to eat at least one meatless meal a week.
I guess the Ontario government has come to the conclusion that one way to push a reluctant public into re-enacting life in the Middle Ages is to make their kids nag them into doing it. It reminds me of this passage in George Orwell's 1984:
With those children, he thought, that wretched woman must lead a life of terror. Another year, two years, and they would be watching her night and day for symptoms of unorthodoxy. Nearly all children nowadays were horrible. What was worst of all was that by means of such organizations as the Spies they were systematically turned into ungovernable little savages, and yet this produced in them no tendency whatever to rebel against the discipline of the Party. On the contrary, they adored the Party and everything connected with it. The songs, the processions, the banners, the hiking, the drilling with dummy rifles, the yelling of slogans, the worship of Big Brother - it was all a sort of glorious game to them. All their ferocity was turned outwards, against the enemies of the State, against foreigners, traitors, saboteurs, thought-criminals. It was almost normal for people over thirty to be frightened of their own children. And with good reason, for hardly a week passed in which the Times did not carry a paragraph describing how some eavesdropping little sneak - 'child hero' was the phrase generally used - had overheard some compromising remark and denounced his parents to the Thought Police.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Conservative movie review of 300

I've already posted about how much I loved the movie 300, but I can't resist one more. I just read the review on Libertas ("a forum for conservative thought on film" and a great blog) and I think it really nailed the movie's appeal to conservatives. Here are a few excerpts:

How did this one slip through? That’s all I can think of to say right now: How did this one slip through? I sat in the theatre waiting. Waiting for the switch. Though I refused to take the bait (too many movies I’ve seen, says I) I still waited for the switch. There’s always a bait and switch. You don’t make the white guys the good guys and the non-white guys the bad guys without a switch — especially bad guys in turbans. Turbans! But there was no switch. Here’s a movie about free men dying to protect freedom against tyranny — where the anti-war voices are corrupt, cowardly, dead-wrong, and politically driven — where people talk about the honor of dying for one’s country — where a strong women urges a skittish council to declare war because the enemy already has — and there’s no switch. And then to top it off: The movie’s actually good.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a conservative or pro-Bush film. If it were it would be just another Hollywood polemic. It’s no message film, either. It is first and foremost a highly sylized, very violent battle film that will appeal to conservatives for the same reason it’ll have close-minded liberals — spoiled by thirty years of getting their way in darkened theatres — grinding their teeth: The film is not liberal.

The author's conclusion does a good job of summing up the movie's appeal to audiences who love it in spite of liberal critics:
I’ve no doubt critics are calling 300 old-fashioned, and worse. But they’re wrong. After forty years of liberal rule in Hollywood it is nihilism that’s old-fashioned. It is moral relativism that is tired. It is political correctness, the always-noble people of color, the always-evil white guy, and the metrosexual that is cliched. A film with a clear divide between good and evil is something new. A film that celebrates patriotism, heroism, sacrifice, freedom, and honor is something revolutionary. In 1955 300 would be old-fashioned. In 2007 it makes a counter-culture statement as strong as Easy Rider in its day.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bunny boiler

The Sydney Morning Herald has reported that North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il has eaten the giant rabbits that were purchased from a breeder in Germany and sent to North Korea to establish a breeding program.
A German farmer who sold 12 giant rabbits to North Korea with the aim of setting up a breeding program to alleviate famine has said he was shocked to hear they were eaten at Kim Jong-il's birthday banquet.
Mr Szmolinsky told Der Spiegel that although he had no evidence, he believed his rabbits, which each weighed more than 10 kilograms, had been eaten at a banquet for the North Korean leader on February 16. "North Korea won't be getting any more rabbits from me, they don't even need to bother asking," he told the magazine.
(h/t: Tom Palmer )

How biofuels starve the poor

The increasing mania for replacing fossil fuels with biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel may seriously disrupt the food system & cause devastating food shortages in the developing world, all for limited environmental benefits. This is the argument made by authors C. Ford Runge and Benjamin Senauer in a recent article in Foreign Affairs:

The enormous volume of corn required by the ethanol industry is sending shock waves through the food system. (The United States accounts for some 40 percent of the world's total corn production and over half of all corn exports.) In March 2007, corn futures rose to over $4.38 a bushel, the highest level in ten years. Wheat and rice prices have also surged to decade highs, because even as those grains are increasingly being used as substitutes for corn, farmers are planting more acres with corn and fewer acres with other crops.

This might sound like nirvana to corn producers, but it is hardly that for consumers, especially in poor developing countries, who will be hit with a double shock if both food prices and oil prices stay high. The World Bank has estimated that in 2001, 2.7 billion people in the world were living on the equivalent of less than $2 a day; to them, even marginal increases in the cost of staple grains could be devastating. filling the 25-gallon tank of an SUV with pure ethanol requires over 450 pounds of corn -- which contains enough calories to feed one person for a year. By putting pressure on global supplies of edible crops, the surge in ethanol production will translate into higher prices for both processed and staple foods around the world. Biofuels have tied oil and food prices together in ways that could profoundly upset the relationships between food producers, consumers, and nations in the years ahead, with potentially devastating implications for both global poverty and food security.

It's the ultimate left-wing dilemma - help the poor or save the environment? Read the whole thing.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

What's happened to Britain?

I watched the news with astonishment on Friday as Middle East analyst Rosemary Hollis, of Britain's Royal Institute of International Affairs, defended her government's handling of the hostage crisis in Iran: "It is a British tradition of diplomacy, which is about literally relishing the complexity of the situation and finding what is achievable without having to behave like a cowboy." Would that be the Neville Chamberlain Munich Agreement tradition of British diplomacy? Certainly not the tradition of Britain's more, shall we say, robust foreign policy history. Here's a history lesson for Miss Hollis:

I know I have the body of a weak and feeble woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma of Spain or any Prince of Europe should dare to invade the borders of my realm, to which, rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field. Elizabeth I, August 1588, as the Spanish Armada approached the British Isles

Hard pounding, gentlemen; but we will see who can pound the longest. The Duke of Wellington at the Battle of Waterloo, 1815

Unless Britain and her sons come to the rescue, it will be a dark day for humanity.... If the old British spirit is alive in our British hearts, that bully will be torn from his seat. Were he to win, it would be the greatest catastrophe that has befallen democracy since the days of the Holy Alliance and its ascendancy. David Lloyd George, September 1914, referring to Kaiser Wilhelm II and the German invasion of Belgium

Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us. Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Winston Churchill, June 1940, to the House of Commons

The significance of the Falklands War was enormous, both for Britain's self-confidence and for our standing in the world...We had come to be seen by both friends and enemies as a nation which lacked the will and the capability to defend its interests in peace, let alone in war. Victory in the Falklands changed that. Everywhere I went after the war, Britain's name meant something more than it had. The war also had real importance in relations between East and West: years later I was told by a Russian general that the Soviets had been firmly convinced that we would not fight for the Falklands, and that if we did fight we would lose. We proved them wrong on both counts, and they did not forget the fact. Margaret Thatcher, "The Downing Street Years", 1993

So now we have the new spirit of British diplomacy, as evidenced by the following comments. Compare and contrast:
I expect he [Tony Blair] means that we shall have to step up criticism and generate additional international pressures on Iran. It could be that they think that by dramatising the fact that these people were taken on an international mission while in Iraqi waters even further, will give Iran pause and give them a chance to rethink. Sir Richard Dalton, former UK ambassador to Iran, March 27 2007