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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)

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.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How to write like a Bush-hating Manhattan liberal

Timothy Noah at Slate has written a hilarious send-up of Lewis Lapham, former editor of Harper's, which includes this handy fill-in-the-blank guide on how to write like Lapham:
The Bush administration's forbearance as Gen. Pervez Musharraf proclaims, like [vainglorious monarch], that [famous megalomaniacal statement] recasts [open Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire to any random page, close eyes, plunge finger into text, and insert here a précis of incident described therein] as opera bouffe. The sham outrage teases forth memories of the contortions displayed by [famous Ottoman acrobat of the 15th century] or the prevarications of [obscure three-fingered gangster of the 1930s] as the Katie Courics and Wolf Blitzers of their day distracted the starving masses with [celebratory ritual performed by an island-based indigenous people] and competitions to mimic the cry of the mighty [extinct animal from the Cretaceous period].

(via Reason Magazine)

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Celine Dion - extraterrestrial?

Resistance is futile, Earthlings. I, for one, welcome our new alien overlord.

Don't believe me? Check out these pictures (but don't let the hair fool you):

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Man tortured with hot cookies

So, what's the big deal with waterboarding? In an Illinois drug deal gone bad, a man was tortured with freshly-baked cookies:

Two students at Southern Illinois University in this St. Louis suburb kidnapped, paddled and burned a young man with freshly baked cookies after a drug deal went bad, prosecutors said.
Sheriff's Capt. Brad Wells said that Friday night, three men went to James' house to buy marijuana, but two of them grabbed the drugs and fled, leaving the third behind. The suspects held that man, who is in his late teens, and told him he needed to find $400 for the drugs, Wells said.

The suspects beat the man with a wooden paddle, burned his neck and shoulders with cookies immediately after taking them from the oven, shaved off some of his hair and poured urine over him from a soda bottle, Wells said.

"It was just sheer torture," Wells said.

Prepare yourself for the debate: "Would you be prepared to use hot cookies on a terrorist if you knew it would save innocent lives?"

Evangelicals for Giuliani

I love to say "I told you so". Back in March I wrote a post praising Rudy Giuliani's brand of conservatism and suggesting that it was a model for the direction of both the Republican Party and the Conservative Party of Canada. I was promptly lambasted by uber-crank Canadian Cynic who called my post a dispatch from "Wankerland North" and said:

Yeah, Eric, why don't you promote Rudy Guiliani [sic] as a presidential candidate? I'd love to see how that turns out.
Suzanne over at Big Blue Wave wrote "if Republicans nominate Giuliani, they will lose". She had this to say:

Diogenes Borealis suggests that the Republicans would do well to allow Giuliani to be nominated as the Presidential candidate.If the Republicans don't nominate a pro-lifer, they will lose. The so-con base is not going to move mountains the way they did for George Bush for some guy who is not nearly as pro-life as he is.
So, it was with a bit of a smirk that I learned that Giuliani has now been endorsed by Christian evangelist Pat Robertson:

"To me the overriding issue before the American people is the defense of our population from the blood lust of Islamic terrorists," Robertson said in his opening statements. Robertson added that the United Stated needs a "leader with a bold vision who is not afraid to tackle the challenges ahead" and that leader was former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, R-N.Y.
Critics of Giuliani who think that his past pro-abortion & pro-homosexual positions make him unacceptable to the Christian Right in the US are deluded, in my opinion. As Robertson has stated, Christian Republicans want a candidate that at least has a shot at defeating the Democrats in 2008, and if that means supporting a divorced pro-choicer from New York, so be it. The alternative is a Hillary Clinton presidency. Who is more anathema to Christian Republicans - Clinton or Giuliani? Exactly.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Pornography & sexual violence

There's an interesting article at Reason Magazine which questions the conventional wisdom that exposure to hard-core pornography is a significant cause of sexual violence against women:

In the 1980s, conservatives and feminists joined to fight a common nemesis: the spread of pornography. Unlike past campaigns to stamp out smut, this one was based not only on morality but also public safety. They argued that hard-core erotica was intolerable because it promoted sexual violence against women.

"Pornography is the theory; rape is the practice," wrote feminist author Robin Morgan. In 1986, a federal commission concurred. Some kinds of pornography, it concluded, are bound to lead to "increased sexual violence." Indianapolis passed a law allowing women to sue producers for sexual assaults caused by material depicting women in "positions of servility or submission or display."

Author Steve Chapman points out that easy access to on-line hard-core pornography has in fact coincided with a dramatic decrease in rape and other sexual assaults in the US:
So in the last two decades, we have conducted a vast experiment on the social consequences of such material. If the supporters of censorship were right, we should be seeing an unparalleled epidemic of sexual assault. But all the evidence indicates they were wrong. As raunch has waxed, rape has waned.This is part of a broad decrease in criminal mayhem. Since 1993, violent crime in America has dropped by 58 percent. But the progress in this one realm has been especially dramatic. Rape is down 72 percent and other sexual assaults have fallen by 68 percent. Even in the last two years, when the FBI reported upticks in violent crime, the number of rapes continued to fall.
A researcher at Clemson University quoted by Chapman suggests that pornography may provide a safety valve for potential perpetrators of sexual violence:
How can it be explained? Perhaps the most surprising and controversial account comes from Clemson University economist Todd Kendall, who suggests that adult fare on the Internet may essentially inoculate against sexual assaults.In a paper presented at Stanford Law School last year, he reported that, after adjusting for other differences, states where Internet access expanded the fastest saw rape decline the most. A 10 percent increase in Internet access, Kendall found, typically meant a 7.3 percent reduction in the number of reported rapes. For other types of crime, he found no correlation with Web use. What this research suggests is that sexual urges play a big role in the incidence of rape -- and that pornographic Web sites provide a harmless way for potential predators to satisfy those desires.
Chapman rightly points out that other factors may be at play, and the two coincidental trends do not necessarily mean a causal relationship, but at the very least it calls into question the hypothesis that pornography inevitably leads to violent sexual crime:
But if expanding the availability of hard-core fare doesn't prevent rapes, we can be confident from the experience of recent years that it certainly doesn't cause such crimes. Whether you think porn is a constitutionally protected form of expression or a vile blight that should be eradicated, this discovery should come as very good news.