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


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

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Health & safety committee runs amok

This is from one of my favourite blogs, E-mails from Crazy People. It is from committees like these that future despots spring.

Stairway Audit

A surprise stairway safety audit was conducted by the East Building Office Safety Team on Tuesday morning, June 9th, from 6:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. The intent was to raise awareness of stairway safety and to mitigate accidents on the stairways that lead from the parking lot to the East Building entrance.

The results of the audit revealed that 35 percent of our employees use the stairway hand rails when arriving for work. Of the total 128 people who were observed using the parking lot stairway, only 45 used the hand rail, which means 83 of our co-workers neglected to use appropriate hand rail safety. A gender breakdown revealed that 69 percent of those who used the hand rail were female. One other notable observation: one employee was carrying two bags and a cup of coffee and still managed to use the hand rail.

Everyone who entered the building through the main doors during the audit received a “Steps for Stair Safety” handout. Those who demonstrated proper hand-rail safety on the main stairway from the parking lot were given a ticket for a chance to win a Sodexo CafĂ© meal voucher valued up to $10.

...

Notables:

One employee was very rude and refused the handout.

Bad example: an employee bounded down the stairs two at a time without holding hand rail.

Good example: an employee with two bags and a cup of coffee still used the hand rail.

Many people were surprised when they entered the foyer because they could not see the team observing them from that area. Those that were recognized for using good safety by using the handrails were noticeably pleased.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Naked hockey art at Whistler

OK, I promise this is the last post about nude olympic athletes (see previous posts here and here) but I have to comment on a work of art which is currently on display in Whistler. Called "Slapshotolus", it is installed in Pride House, a "welcoming space for gay winter Olympians" near the athlete's village.

The bronze sculpture depicts a male hockey player wearing nothing but helmet, skates and gloves, about to take a slap shot:

























Sculptor Edmund Haakonson describes his work:

There is also an element honoring the Canadian sense of humor as expressed in popular television with shows like “This Hour Has Twenty Two Minutes,” “Royal Canadian Air Farce” and “Rent a Goalie.” The image of ancient nude sculpture makes perfect sense to us, the image of a hockey player makes perfect sense, the hybrid of the two has a decidedly amusing result. There is an element of the absurd in a hockey player wearing only skates, gloves and helmet, especially for anyone who has actually played hockey. There is however, no conflict in the absolutely serious and the humorous co-existing in a single work, I would suggest that it reflects the true reality of life.

The statue is of course a parody of the Discobolus by Greek sculptor Myron, created around 450 BC:























I think this sculpture is great - it's an homage to the ancient Greek origins of the Olympic Games (and the Greek fixation on the naked male body), a salute to the aesthetic beauty of the fit young athletes from around the world gathered in Vancouver, and at the same time a cheeky (pun intended) wink at Canada's obsession with hockey and our tendency to elevate hockey players to god-like status. Well done.

Weaponizing classical music

Brendan O'Neill at Reason Magazine writes about a new British trend in social control - "weaponized classical music":
Britain might not make steel anymore, or cars, or pop music worth listening to, but, boy, are we world-beaters when it comes to tyranny. And now classical music, which was once taught to young people as a way of elevating their minds and tingling their souls, is being mined for its potential as a deterrent against bad behavior.

In January it was revealed that West Park School, in Derby in the midlands of England, was “subjecting” (its words) badly behaved children to Mozart and others. In “special detentions,” the children are forced to endure two hours of classical music both as a relaxant (the headmaster claims it calms them down) and as a deterrent against future bad behavior (apparently the number of disruptive pupils has fallen by 60 per cent since the detentions were introduced.)

One news report says some of the children who have endured this Mozart authoritarianism now find classical music unbearable. As one critical commentator said, they will probably “go into adulthood associating great music—the most bewitchingly lovely sounds on Earth—with a punitive slap on the chops.” This is what passes for education in Britain today: teaching kids to think “Danger!” whenever they hear Mozart’s Requiem or some other piece of musical genius.

O'Neill notes that life has again imitated art: the frightening world of Anthony Burgess' A Clockwork Orange is now becoming reality in Britain:
Anthony Burgess’s nightmare vision of an elite using high culture as a “punitive slap on the chops” for low youth has come true. In Burgess’s 1962 dystopian novel A Clockwork Orange, famously filmed by Stanley Kubrick in 1971, the unruly youngster Alex is subjected to “the Ludovico Technique” by the crazed authorities. Forced to take drugs that induce nausea and to watch graphically violent movies for two weeks, while simultaneously listening to Beethoven, Alex is slowly rewired and re-moulded.

By the way, what works do authorities find most effective at irritating teenagers? The Pastoral Symphony by Beethoven, Symphony No. 2 by Rachmaninov, and Piano Concerto No. 2 by Shostakovich.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Can promoting equality for gay people be compatible with conservatism?

Yes, says British Conservative MP Nick Herbert. In fact, "such equality is in fact an essential element of modern conservatism", says the openly gay Shadow Minister for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. In a speech to the Cato Institute in Washington, Herbert outlined the role of gay conservatives in the British Conservative Party:
So can promoting equality for gay people be compatible with conservatism?

In discussing this I'm going to take three things as given. And if they're contentious, they shouldn't be.

First, since - on the most conservative estimates - around 5 per cent of the population are attracted to the same sex, there are more than 3 million gay people in the UK and 15 million in the United States.

People often speak of gays as though we are a society apart from the rest, living in our own quarter.

And a few choose to be apart.

But most of us don't.

We live in every city and town.

We are businessmen and women.

We run shops and stack shelves.

We labour on farms and in factories.

We are fire fighters and police officers.

We save lives in hospitals.

We fight for our countries and sometimes we die for our countries.

Some of us are extraordinary, but mostly we are quietly ordinary.

We are not different. And we don't want to be different.

We're not asking for special treatment.

We are United States or British citizens.

Proud of our countries.

Wanting to play our part in society.

And across the world there are millions of us.

Millions of ordinary people.

Millions of voters.

Second, we can't be uninvented. Being gay is not a lifestyle choice. Our sexuality is a fact. It may be repressed, but it cannot be changed.

Doctors don't try to change a person's colour.

And healers or politicians shouldn't try to change anyone's sexuality.

Whether it is given by god, or set by nature, homosexuality isn't nurtured by doting mothers or weak fathers.

It isn't a condition to be cured and it can't be willed away through prayer.

Third, democracies should subscribe to a fundamental principle: that 'all men are created equal'.

Some claim that the promotion of gay equality has no place in conservatism. In fact, many deny that conservatives should be interested in the equality agenda at all.

It is argued that equality is incompatible with liberty ... that if men are free, they are bound to become unequal.

But conservatives who want people to become better through their own efforts can never stand by while others are denied that chance.

Conservatives should always believe that everyone should have an equal chance in life, regardless of any other factors, and that they should not be discriminated against.

As Robert Levy, the Chairman of this Institute, has recently written:

"Thomas Jefferson set the stage in the Declaration of Independence: '[T]o secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men.' The primary purpose of government is to safeguard individual rights and prevent some persons from harming others. Heterosexuals should not be treated preferentially when the state carries out that role. And no one is harmed by the union of two consenting gay people."

On the subject of gay marriage, Herbert had this to say:
In his first speech to the Conservative Conference as Leader of the Party - a major event which brings together party activists from across the country - David Cameron said something extraordinary.

Defying the critics who claimed that party leaders could no longer express a moral preference for the institution, he spoke of the importance of commitment and marriage as the bedrock of our society.

But then he added: "and by the way, it means something whether you're a man and a woman, a woman and a woman, or a man and another man."

And when he said these words, the delegates applauded. Not a half-hearted ripple of applause, but a spontaneous burst of approbation.

At that moment, we knew that the Conservative Party and British politics had changed.

David Cameron has put marriage at the centre of our prospectus for the next election, arguing that society is broken, and that we need to recognise the importance of marriage in providing a stable environment in which to raise children.

But in supporting marriage he has not done so in such a way as to denigrate or even exclude gay people.

In fact, the opposite, because we have recognised that commitment and stability are important in all relationships.

I appreciate the view held by some, on a strict reading of their faith, that marriage is a unique arrangement which is only available to a man and a woman.

And we should never dictate to religious organisations who are doing no harm that they should, in their own rites or places of worship, depart from their sincerely-held beliefs.

But in the UK, we created in law a civil union for heterosexual couples, specifically devoid of any religious ceremony and significance for those who do not wish to marry in church.

So what religious grounds could there be for opposing the extension of a secular institution to gay couples through the introduction of civil partnerships in 2005?

And why stand against the extension of a civil institution which demands a public declaration of commitment and stability?

Those who argue against legal recognition for gay partnerships often claim that many gay people have promiscuous lifestyles.

But there are few social incentives of the kind which conservatives should naturally embrace for gay people to embrace commitment.

There's little social support ...

... no institutions to encourage fidelity or monogamy ...

... and precious little religious or moral outreach to guide gay people into what may be seen as more virtuous living.

So it's right to recognise commitment in gay partnerships
.

Herbert speaks eloquently about the values that all conservatives should be able to agree on - gay or straight, social conservative or libertarian:
I don't believe that conservatism should be a closed membership club.

We must be open to everyone because we believe that everyone should have a chance.

Conservatism at its most powerful has always been a uniting creed.

We're conservative because we believe in strong defence and the nation state.

We're conservative because we believe in responsibility and justice.

We're conservative because we want to strengthen society and limit government.

We're conservative because we're sceptical about big government and have faith in our institutions and families.

Since Disraeli spoke of 'one nation' we have always understood the importance of maintaining a strong society.

And we have never confused that goal with faith in big government or state action.

The progressive conservatism which David Cameron has espoused is in the true one-nation tradition.

It's about using radical conservative philosophy, politics, and policy to serve truly progressive goals.

It's about fostering local democracy, engagement and accountability by returning power to town halls, neighbourhoods, and individuals.

It's about pursuing a family agenda that lets parents take responsibility for their children's education, allowing them to set up their own schools so that we can give everyone a fair chance in life.

It's about developing bold approaches to tackling poverty and inequality in all its forms, engaging more actively with the voluntary sector and encouraging a revolution in social responsibility.

And it's about recognising that there is such a thing as society, it's just not the same as the state.

If we stand against equality of opportunity, which should be an article of faith for the Right, it becomes the preserve of the Left ...

Warped into an agenda of state interference, targets and central control ...

... when it should be about getting out of people's way and letting them advance.

He has some blunt advice for conservatives who resist supporting gay issues or welcoming gays into the conservative tent:
But I can tell you what happens to a party when it closes the door to sections of our society and is reduced to its core vote. It's no fun being in opposition for thirteen years.

And I can tell you what happens when a Party opens its doors again and broadens its appeal.

A successful political party should be open to all and ought to look something like the country it seeks to govern
.

Hear hear.

(HT: BlogCabin)

Monday, February 15, 2010

More momentum for all-nude Olympics

A few days ago I wrote an argument for returning the modern Olympic games to the ancient Greek tradition of having athletes compete naked. Since then I have learned that Canada's women's biathlon team, currently competing in Vancouver, has published a nude calendar to raise funds for their sport. For those of you who enjoy pictures of fit naked women tastefully posed with guns, you can order a copy here.

The tradition of nude athletes was introduced to the Olympic games in 720 BC by the Spartans:
While the origins of physical exercise regimes cannot be pinpointed, the practice of exercising in the nude had its beginnings in the seventh century BC. It is believed that the custom began in Sparta, and while various theories have been advanced, it is commonly thought that the main reason for the convention was the appreciation of the beauty of the male body. The same purpose is frequently attributed to the tradition of oiling the body, a custom so costly that it required significant public and private subsidies (the practice was the largest expense in gymnasia).
It seems the athletes themselves don't have a problem with nudity at the Olympics - it's high time the IOC caught up with them.

Happy Thanks For Voting Liberal Day

Today is the second annual Family Day holiday in Ontario, or as I prefer to call it, Thanks For Voting Liberal Day. It has been two years since a shameless Premier McGuinty rewarded the citizens of Ontario with their own money by proclaiming a new statutory holiday to fulfill an election promise made in the 2008 election.

I'm used to being cynical about politics but the Ontario Liberals plumb the depths of political malaise. When McGuinty announced that he would give Ontarians a day off as a reward for re-electing him, I thought no politician could dish out pork so transparently. I guess I was wrong. Despite warnings that the new holiday would cost millions, a cost which would inevitably be passed on to consumers and taxpayers, McGuinty proclaimed the holiday with an Order in Council immediately after the election. Then he told us in that Sunday-school teacher tone that he uses when telling us what's good for us, that "there is nothing more valuable to families than time together."

I guess that's especially true when done at public expense.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Here's a prorogation model I can get behind

So, Dalton McGuinty is going to prorogue the Ontario legislature - cue the howls of outrage from Michael Ignatieff and the other guardians of democracy.

What's to be done about this nonsense? Here's a proposal - lets adopt the legislative model of some US states. For example, the legislature of the state of New Mexico, population approximately 2 million, convenes in Santa Fe on the third Tuesday in January every year. It meets for 60 working days in odd-numbered years and for only 30 working days in even-numered years. The bicameral legislature is made up of a 70-member House of Representatives and a 42-member Senate. Members of the legislature are not paid for their work, but they do receive a daily living allowance when the legislature is in session.

The bicameral legislature of South Dakota (population approximately 800 000) meets on the second Tuesday of January every year and sits for 40 working days in odd-numbered years and for 35 working days in even-numbered years.

In both states an executive committee runs the government when the legislature is not in session.

I think this is a great idea. Imagine what would get done in Ottawa if the session of Parliament was restricted to 60 days. It would certainly focus the minds of MPs, and it would put a limit on some of the cockamamie legislation that emanates from the House of Commons.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Let's run the Olympics like the ancient Greeks did: all nude

Chatelaine magazine has an on-line photo spread of six of Canada's male winter Olympic athletes in various stages of undress. The picture at right is of skier Kyle Nissen, wearing nothing but gloves, skis strategically placed. So here's an idea - lets start staging the Olympic games with nude athletes, just like they did in ancient Greece. I think it would do wonders for TV ratings.

The ancient Greek Olympic games were held every four years from 776 BC to 393 AD. The tradition of nudity at the games was introduced in 720 BC by the Spartans. In fact, the word gymnasium is derived from the Greek word meaning "place to be naked". The origins of this tradition were apparently aesthetic more than athletic:
While the origins of physical exercise regimes cannot be pinpointed, the practice of exercising in the nude had its beginnings in the seventh century BC. It is believed that the custom began in Sparta, and while various theories have been advanced, it is commonly thought that the main reason for the convention was the appreciation of the beauty of the male body. The same purpose is frequently attributed to the tradition of oiling the body, a custom so costly that it required significant public and private subsidies (the practice was the largest expense in gymnasia).
One of the most amazing things about the modern Olympic games is the fact that every four years the world's most astonishingly fit young men and women gather in one place for two weeks. I think its time to start lobbying the IOC to return to the ancient tradition of having them compete completely naked and oiled up. Granted, it might be problematic in the winter, but I'm sure we can come up with a technical fix for that.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Life imitates The Onion

Headline from The Seattle Weekly:

Gay, Mentally Challenged Biracial Male Cheerleader Claims Discrimination

(HT: Mark Steyn, The Corner)

Hideous Public Art: "I see boobs"

In today's installment of Hideous Public Art we take a trip to the deep south for a look at works by Craig Wedderspoon, art professor at the University of Alabama. An aluminum sculpture of his called Argyle was recently ... um ... erected in a quadrangle of the univerity's campus in Tuscaloosa.














According to the Tuscaloosa News the sculpture has provoked some mild but, in my opinion well-deserved, mockery:
Although Craig Wedderspoon's 10-foot-tall “Argyle” was crafted as part of a series on fabrics and textiles, frozen in metal, some viewers see more than an upwardly mobile construction set on a stout base.

The buzz began Jan. 25 as the sculpture, consisting of 1,500 4-inch aluminum squares welded together to create a sense of arrested twist, was being installed in the center of the University of Alabama's Woods Quad.

“We had a lot of people come by and comment ‘giant phallus,' ” said Wedderspoon, head of the sculpture program at UA's Department of Art. “When confronted with something abstract, we may not know what it is, it's curious how quickly it is we go to our sexual organs.

“But on a college campus, at least, it may be what everyone's thinking about,” he said, laughing.
Fellow metal-sculptor Steve Davis doesn't see what all the fuss is about:
“To me, its smooth and textural lines belie a more complicated structure, made up of welded square components,” Davis said. He walked around the work in late afternoon as sundown approached. “I enjoyed seeing the sunlight bounce off the form, and could really see the subtle waves twisting their way around the piece.”

It's clearly abstract and not representational, he said, but if he were to describe it in realistic terms, he'd pick a gourd, the kind people carve for purple martin houses.
William Dooley, dean of the UA's art department, defends the installation:
That sense of looming, impending physicality, combined with the abstract nature of “Argyle,” could lead to initial negative reactions, including juvenile references.

“If you don't ‘get it,' it's kind of an instinctual response to reject it,” Dooley said. “If I don't know what it is, I really don't want it.”

I don't know - to me it looks like a shmoo. Remember the shmoo? They were a race of creatures living in the Valley of the Shmoon and discovered by Li'l Abner:




















Wedderspoon is no stranger to Freudian controversy. A previous work of his entitled Soft II is on display at Virgina Commonwealth University:

















According to VCU's student newspaper The Commonwealth Times, Wedderspoon explains that this work represents "an argument between individuals as expressed through what they have unknowingly left behind."

Some VCU students apparently aren't getting the symbolism:
"Basically, I see a lot of geometric figures made into one gigantic figure," junior business major Jonathan Cummings said. "I guess it's interesting ... that would be the best adjective to keep things positive. … All right, I'll come out and say it; it's a pair of testicles. That's what I see.

"Someone put a huge sack in front of the business building, and, being a business major, that's kind of a slap in the face."

Chrysany Collier, a sophomore broadcast journalism major, said she didn't see testicles. Although she originally likened the sculpture to "a messed-up world," she admitted the robust art form could resemble a pair of breasts.

"When I first saw it, I thought it was a wasp nest," Collier said. "But I could see boobs."
"I see boobs." That's as good a description of much of what passes for art these days as we're ever likely to get.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Howard Zinn, RIP

Michael C. Moynihan at Reason.com has written a not-too-flattering obituary of American historian Howard Zinn, who died last week at the age of 87. Zinn is most famous for being the author of the immensely popular book A People's History of the United States, loved by socialists the world over. Moynihan sums up Zinn's legacy: "Call him what you will—activist, dissident, left-wing muckraker. Just don't call him a historian."
It's a mystery how A People's History of the United States, which has sold over a million copies and currently sits at number fourteen on the Amazon bestseller list, has become so popular with students, Hollywood types, and academics. It is a book of no original research and no original ideas; a tedious aggregation of American crimes (both real and imagined) and deliberate elisions of inconvenient facts and historical events.

Much of the criticism of Zinn has come from dissenters on the left. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once remarked that "I don't take him very seriously. He's a polemicist, not a historian." Last year, the liberal historian Sean Wilentz referred to the "balefully influential works of Howard Zinn." Reviewing A People's History in The American Scholar, Harvard University professor Oscar Handlin denounced "the deranged quality of his fairy tale, in which the incidents are made to fit the legend, no matter how intractable the evidence of American history." Socialist historian Michael Kazin judged Zinn's most famous work "bad history, albeit gilded with virtuous intentions."

...

Zinn wasn't, as Schlesinger correctly said, a historian in any traditional sense. Zinn abjured footnotes (there are a number of quotes in A People's History that I couldn't verify), his books consist of clip jobs, interviews, and recycled material from A People's History, and he was more likely to be found protesting on Boston Common than holding office hours at Boston University. But it is clear that those who have praised his work do so because they appreciate his conclusions, while ignoring his shoddy methodology.

If you're not familiar with Zinn's work or his take on American history, watch this clip narrated inevitably by Viggo Mortensen:

Monday, February 01, 2010

Climategate - "now it's payback time"

James Delingpole has strong feelings about the collapse of the anthropogenic global warming consensus -
I first met Professor Stott a couple of years ago. He’s emeritus professor of biogeography at the University of London, and I tracked him down because in those days he was pretty much the ONLY senior scientific academic anywhere in Britain brave enough publicly to dispute the AGW ‘consensus.”

We had lunch. “There are many more scientists who think the way I do,” he told me. “But they don’t want to stick their heads above the parapet. They don’t want to lose their jobs.” We talked a bit about the loneliness of our position, how impossible it was to place dissenting articles anywhere in the media, how people who thought like us were treated like pariahs.

Now suddenly it has all changed utterly. And you know what? I’m in no mood for being magnanimous in victory. I want the lying, cheating, fraudulent scientists prosecuted and fined or imprisoned. I want warmist politicians like Brown and disgusting Milibands booted out and I want Conservative fellow-travellers who are still pushing this green con trick – that’ll be you, David Cameron, you Greg Clark, you Tim Yeo, you John Gummer, to name but four – to be punished at the polls for their culpable idiocy.

For years I’ve been made to feel a pariah for my views on AGW. Chris Booker has had the same experience, as has Richard North, Benny Peiser, Lord Lawson, Philip Stott and those few others of us who recognised early on that the AGW thing stank. Now it’s payback time and I take small satisfaction from seeing so many rats deserting their sinking ship. I don’t want them on my side. I want to see them in hell, reliving scenes from Hieronymus Bosch.