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

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

Sunday, May 30, 2010

An RCAF Flight Sergeant's Diary

From "My Diary of Ops" - the notebook of Flight Sergeant E. Burnett, 419 Squadron R.C.A.F. (part of a series)

Sat May 30/42
Fourth trip.

Took off from Base in own aircraft, with own crew as rear gunner. With bomb load of 2 1/2 ton to 3 ton of H.E. Target:- Cologne. Made history tonight as this was the first 1000 aircraft raid, the largest ever carried out up to date in aerial history of any nation.
Actually there were 1,045 bomber air craft and approx 500 fighter A/C took part.
When we arrived there the target was more lit up than broad way, with fires and mostly search lights which were combing the sky. I have never seen anything like it in all my life. There were more search lights than I could count. easily two hundred at least, and flak of all sorts every where, mostly coming up at random as Jerry was or seemed to be completely foxed.
Visibility over the target was indeed very good. We were among the first lot in and going in at 20,000 ft. dropping our bombs of high explosives right smack on the centre of the town at 14 000 ft. On return back to base I saw one of our aircraft caught in a concentration of about 20 search lights, and flak coming up at him in great quantity. he suddenly burst into flames and going down exploded on impact. Shortly after that at two different times we were chased by two night fighters in the first case our front gunner opened up and we took evasive action on both occassions thus shaking them off.
No damage was done except one piece of flak hit our aircraft but was stopped by the skippers parachute, rendering it U.S.(Un-Serviceable) Landed at base approx 0420 hrs.
Everybody quite happy.
P.S. The raid was very successful. London, Coventry, Bath and any other two of British towns were fully revenged this night. As Cologne to my estimation was practically wiped out I personally feel very sorry for the population of Cologne for many people in deed must have been killed ???
This city (WAS) the second largest in Germany.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

An RCAF Flight Sergeant's Diary

From "My Diary of Ops" - the notebook of Flight Sergeant E. Burnett, 419 Squadron R.C.A.F.
(part of a series)

Friday May 29/42>
Third Trip

Took off from Base at 22 00 hrs with bomb load of two ton as rear gunner in own aircraft A. X3404 Wellington Skipper P/O Higham. Wire less op. Sgt. Svinson, Nav. Sgt. Lee, Front Gunner Sgt. Loach Target:- Dock area of Cherbourg on North West coast of france. Intense cloud of 10/10 over target area there fore was unable to see objective. Navigator forgot to switch off I.F.F. and Jerry could detect our position reception was very hot with heavy flak coming close all around us. Skipper took full evasive action and we got away. Returned to Base with full bomb load at 0200 hrs. No damage done, and a close shave was considered to have been had by all concerned?

[spelling & punctuation have been reproduced as in the original]

Global Warming: "the key to all mythologies"

James Delingpole explains why he "keeps banging on about Global bloody Warming":
Here’s the problem: the global economy has gone tits up. We are doomed. And nowhere is more doomed than Europe whose Monopoly-money currency is going the way of the Zimbabwe dollar and the Reichsmark, and whose constituent economies are so overburdened by sclerotic regulation and so mired in corruption, waste and the kind of institutionalised socialism which might work just about when the going’s good but definitely not now sir no sirree.

And what, pray, is the European Union’s solution to this REAL problem which has already led to riots and death in one country and which could well lead to many more in the horror years to come? Why, to impose on its already hamstrung, over-regulated, over-taxed businesses yet further arbitrary CO2 emissions reductions targets, which will make not the blindest difference to the health of the planet, but which will most certainly slow down economic recovery and make life harder and more miserable for everybody.

In Britain, David Cameron is wedded to the same suicidal policy – on the one hand brandishing £6.5 billion cuts in government spending as though this were a sign of his maturity and his commitment to reducing Britain’s deficit, while on the other remaining committed to a “low carbon” economy set to destroy what’s left of our industry and cost the taxpayer at least £18 billion (yep – almost THREE times as much as the pathetic cuts announced so far by his pathetic chancellor) a year.

Around the world, in the greatest financial crisis we have faced since the 1930s, our leaders are behaving like imbeciles. And nowhere is this imbecility more painfully manifest than in their approach to the non-existent problem they now call Climate Change.

That’s why I keep banging on about Climate Change. It is, unfortunately, the Key to all Mythologies.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The liberal love of autocracy

Ann Althouse writes:
A love of autocracy often lurks beneath the liberal veneer. There's this idea that the right answers are known and the people are just too deluded and distorted to see what they are and to vote for them.
She's commenting on recent remarks by Thomas Friedman and Woody Allen, who both wistfully dream of an America where a liberal president has dictatorial powers. Friedman, appearing on Meet The Press yesterday, had this to say:
I'm worried about this, it's why I have fantasized--don't get me wrong--but that what if we could just be China for a day? I mean, just, just, just one day. You know, I mean, where we could actually, you know, authorize the right solutions, and I do think there is a sense of that, on, on everything from the economy to environment. I don't want to be China for a second, OK, I want my democracy to work with the same authority, focus and stick-to-itiveness. But right now we have a system that can only produce suboptimal solutions.
Woody Allen also thinks it would be good if President Obama was more like Hugo Chavez. From the LA Times:
The notorious and formerly funny movie director Woody Allen is apparently frustrated with the cumbersome operations of American democracy too.

The onetime-father-now-husband-of-his-daughter tells the Spanish-language magazine La Vanguardia that the United States' Democratic Smoker-in-Chief could accomplish a whole lot more from his White House if he didn't have so many disorderly, annoying people objecting, distracting and criticizing him all the time.

Such social messiness has been known to occur in functioning democracies, even cinematic ones, although less often on celebrity-strewn movie sets under the direction of a dictatorial director.

"It would be good… if [President Obama] could be dictator for a few years because he could do a lot of good things quickly," Allen is quoted as saying.

Allen is also to have said: "I am pleased with Obama. I think he is brilliant. The Republican Party should get out of his way and stop trying to hurt him."
Here's an idea - Allen & Friedman & all the other liberal celebrity millionaires who got rich in America should voluntarily relocate to Cuba or Venezuela and actually live in a country where their fantasies are a bitter reality for millions of people. Of course people like Allen & Friedman always imagine that they would naturally be the people running the place, not the miserable peasants toiling away for the glory of the motherland.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

An RCAF Flight Sergeant's Diary

Many years ago a neighbour of mine showed me a notebook that had belonged to her father, RCAF Flight Sergeant E. Burnett. It was titled "My Diary of Ops" and contained a fascinating account of his experience flying bombers into Germany in 1942. I asked my neighbour if I could make a photocopy of the journal. She agreed, and I filed it away and forgot about it. Last week I was sorting through some files and came across it again - it seems a shame not to share it with others, so over the next few weeks I'm going to post entries on the anniversary of the date they were written. I've kept the spelling and punctuation the same as the original.

The title page of the little notebook (which measures 4" x 6.5") reads:

264 A. F/SGT E. Burnett
419 Sqdn R.C.A.F.

My Diary of ops.

The diary starts on Wed. May 6 1942:

First Trip.
Took off from Base (Mildenhall Suffolk County Eng.) in Wellington bomber aircraft as rear gunner. Skipper F/SGT. Wilson.
Target:- Dock area at Nantes in french un-occupied territory. three oil tankers anchored there. Night was good visibility fair, thick haze over target area. No opposition accross France until reaching target. Dropped six flares Made five runs over target Dropped 16(250) lb Bombs Raid successful. Time of take-off 9:30 P.M. Landed 4:30 AM.

Thur May 7/42

Second trip.
Took off from Base at approx 1050 hrs. in Wellington aircraft as front gunner. Skipper Sgt. Foye. Target:- Shipping lanes just off East coast of Denmark North of Kiel harbour. Night was good, no moon or clouds visibility perfect Had no opposition what so ever. Made two runs over target. Dropped two mines into water. Raid successful Time of return approx 0430 hrs.

[Next entry: May 29 1942]

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Aliens to probe 2012 Olympic athletes?

Today's WTF moment comes courtesy of the London 2012 Olympic organizing committee, which just unveiled the games' official mascots. Behold - Wenlock & Mandeville:

LOCOG chairman Sebastian Coe introduced the mascots at a London school near the new Olympic stadium. Here's an explanation for the perplexed:
Wenlock is named after the village of Much Wenlock where Pierre de Coubertin visited in 1890 and where his idea for a modern Olympics was born while Mandeville is named after the Stoke Mandeville Hospital where the Paralympic movement began shortly after World War II.

Asked to describe exactly what his creations are, designer Grant Hunter of London-based firm Iris, said they were "magical beings" that would become "multi-dimensional" mascots aimed at capturing the imagination of children across the world.
OK, thanks for clearing that up. There's more:
Rather hard to describe, Wenlock and Mandeville both have one large eye, representing a camera lens so they can record what they see, cannot speak, don't smile and have features borrowed from London's iconic taxis.
Now I get it - they're supposed to be surveillance cameras, this being London and all.
"The mascot will help us engage with children which is what I believe passionately in," London organising committee chairman Sebastian Coe told Reuters as human-sized versions of the eye-catching mascots danced in the school playground.

"The message we were getting was that children didn't want fluffy toys, they didn't want them to be human but thy did want them rooted in an interesting story. "By linking young people to the values of sport, Wenlock and Mandeville will help inspire kids to strive to be the best they can be."

Kang & Kodos could not be reached at their World Domination Headquarters in Springfield.

UPDATE: Ann Althouse thinks "Wenlock looks dangerous and Mandeville seems to have wet his man-da-pants."

UPDATE II: Design critic Stephen Bayley, quoted in The Telegraph, asks "What is it about these Games which seems to drive the organisers into the embrace of this kind of patronising, cretinous infantilism? Why can’t we have something that makes us sing with pride, instead of these appalling computerised Smurfs for the iPhone generation? If the Games are going to be remembered by their art then we can declare them a calamitous failure already.”

University education in Canada: "corrupt beyond repair"

Professor Robert Martin of the University of Western Ontario vents his spleen about the sorry state of Canadian universities:
Right at the top of my ever-lengthening list of "things about Canada which I cannot understand" is the fact that, every year, we spend billions of dollars on institutions which we are pleased to call universities.

People arrive at university after completing lengthy processes, which we call education, of idiotisation and moronification. They have also spent years immersed in a barbarous popular culture which is, in my view, vulgar, coarse and infantile. The universities, thus, face a severe challenge, one which they largely fail to meet.

Each fall a horde of illiterate, ignorant cretins enters Canada's universities. A few years later, they all move on, just as illiterate, just as ignorant, rather more cretinous, but now armed with bits of paper, which most of them are probably not able to read, called degrees.

(HT: Improbable Research)

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Re-booting the Anglican Church

Walter Russell Mead writes about the sad decline of the US Anglican (Episcopalian) Church. An excerpt:
[It] is incontestable that the American Episcopal church has been grievously inadequate for decades now, and the lack of theological and institutional gravitas that now limits our church’s ability to make the case effectively for gay rights is one of the many bitter fruits of this institutional failure. I have blogged before about the degree to which the Episcopal church leadership in the last generation has frittered away its moral and political authority and capital, and that its inability to respond creatively to the challenges the church faces is accelerating its decline. In this context, the loss of the link to Canterbury is going to have a greater impact than it otherwise might. There are significant numbers of Episcopalians who don’t feel particularly Nigerian, but who are appalled and disheartened by the gap between the challenges of the church and the capacities so many of its leaders. If Canterbury offers a way for American Episcopalians to go on being Anglican without having to give up the kind of broad church tolerance that has always been part of the American Anglican tradition, a surprising number of Episcopalians might welcome the opportunity to shift over to an ecclesiastical structure that has more of the dignity and gravitas that, historically, have been among the great virtues of the Episcopal church.

But that is speculation. What is real is how far we Episcopalians have fallen. When I contrast what Episcopalians were doing and thinking about when Reinhold Niebuhr, Dean Acheson and George Kennan were working on what became known as the Marshall Plan and what we are doing today, I am so overwhelmed by a sense of our failure and decline that it is hard to see how to go forward. Saving democracy and restoring prosperity in Europe while fighting the excesses of anti-communist hysteria at home: the Episcopalians of sixty years ago thought more clearly and acted more effectively than we are doing today. Episcopalians were disproportionately influential in the expansion of opportunity and justice in the United States and the world in the not too distant past. Theologically, intellectually, politically, we provided this country with some of its greatest leadership. We like to think we care more for social justice than those stuffy old Episcopalians of old, but what they did for the world was farther reaching, more consequential and accomplished more real good for more people than anything our poor, foolish, divided, distracted and declining church can dream of today.

The difference between then and now is not, I think, a question of liberal and conservative. It is a difference between wisdom and inconsequence, leadership and drift, excellence and mediocrity, purpose and impulse. A church whose leadership was more concerned with its institutional integrity, more prudent, more committed to preserving unity of faith on essential matters, better equipped to defend and expound its core doctrines would actually be more effective at innovation and reform than the Episcopal Church now is. Each new step forward would increase our credibility; we might not be the trendiest group in town but when we moved, it would mean more than it now does.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

I Love New Jersey

Republican Chris Christie, newly-elected Governor of New Jersey, takes a strip off a reporter. I love this guy - President Christie in 2014?
Gov Christie calls S-L columnist thin-skinned for inquiring about his 'confrontational tone'

(HT: Ace of Spades)

What does it take to get Ontarians mad at their government?

Puppies with ringworm, it seems. Matt Gurney of the National Post comments:
As a rule, it's hard to provoke an Ontarian. It takes a lot to get our hackles up.

The Premier is pushing through a tax hike that he only recently admitted was a tax hike.

There are natives in Ontario towns seizing property and setting up blockades without any interference from the provincial police.

A billion dollars was blown on creating electronic health records without any progress being made.

The Premier and Toronto's Mayor responded to a drug-fuelled gang war by calling for a pointless handgun ban.

The list goes on. Yet we're not complaining. What does it take to get people in Ontario angry?

Apparently, euthanizing cute animals.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Harper's real hidden agenda?

Hugh McIntyre parodies Marni McDonald's ridiculous book about the so-called threat from Canada' s religious right in this post at Full Comment: Fear-mongering & Canada's religious right.
If you think that the Conservative Party’s connection to the religious right is scary, then I have something even more frightening for you: many Conservative Party stalwarts have contacts with LIBERTARIANS!

I know, I know, this is a frightening thought. You would prefer to think that libertarians and politics would stay far away from each other. But there is a pattern, in Mr. Harper’s own inner circle, of regular contact with organizations that are affiliated with libertarianism.

For more on Marni McDonald, take a look at Charles Lewis' article in today's National Post: Wrong to judge religious right:
By now I should be used to this particular view of the world: It's one in which only bad people, fanatics and crazies disagree with Canadian values, whatever those are. It is a world of "we" versus "them." And we all know who "we" are and we certainly know "them."

It is a world in which certain views are smart and others are for rubes. It is a world in which religion has no place in public life, unless, of course, it is "moderate" religion that is never judgmental, thinks of sin as medieval and whose values are always vague and never challenging to anyone.

It is a world in which anyone who strays outside the narrow realm of proper Canadian debate is an enemy.


Want to know something about social conservatives? The Catholic Church and many evangelical Christians are opposed to abortion and gay marriage but spend a lot of time feeding the hungry and housing the homeless and lobbying for social justice. As well, the religious, some of whom are conservative, pay taxes, support schools, vote, volunteer and look after their neighbours.

They also give to charity, run shelters and give comfort to the sick..

In the view of Ms. McDonald, these activities are distractions.

Ms. McDonald has a sweet voice and Ms. Findlay has the self-assurance of a veteran broadcaster. But together, they helped present a deeply paranoid view of the world in which only one side is ever right.

The next time these two go hunting for real intolerance in this country, they should simply look at each other.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Toronto Star: Conservatives in the Mist

Marci McDonald's report in Friday's Toronto Star entitled How Canada's Christian right was built is such an appalling piece of journalism that I think it should be included in every Grade 9 English curriculum as an example of bad writing, and an encouragement to clueless and barely coherent teenagers that, if all else fails, a career at the Star is always a possibility.

Ezra Levant has already posted on McDonald's ridiculous diatribe, but even Ezra doesn't do this piece justice. McDonald writes about Christians like Dian Fossey wrote about the "gorillas in the mist" in Rwanda - they seem to be almost an alien species to her. I can almost picture her hanging around coffee hours at parish halls in Alberta with her Moleskine notebook, frantically scribbling "the alpha male dressed in black I've nicknamed 'Reverend Dave'; as he moves about the tribal group the others seem cowed into submission, as if he demands respect".

McDonald reminds me of anthropologist Napoleon Chagnon, who spent almost thirty years among the primitive Yanomamo tribe in the Amazon basin. In 1968 he turned his research into a book, Yanomamo - the Fierce People, which has become a sacred text in undergraduate anthropology classes ever since.

Chagnon writes about the Yanomamo:
The Yanomamo are thinly scattered over a vast and verdant forest, living in small villages that are separated by many miles of unoccupied land. They have no writing, but they have a rich and complex language. Their clothing is more decorative than protective. Well-dressed men sport nothing more than a few cotton strings around their wrists, ankles and waists. They tie the foreskins of their penises to the waist-string. Women dress about the same. Much of their daily life revolves around gardening, hunting, gathering wild foods, collecting firewood, fetching water, visiting with each other, gossiping, and making the few material possessions they own: baskets, hammocks, bows, arrows and colorful pigments with which they paint their bodies.
Here's Marci McDonald on those primitive Christians:
Waving their bright flags on the lawns of the Parliament Buildings, extolling the country’s Christian roots to a compelling soft-rock beat, they might seem to offer a refreshing recipe for morality and national pride, but their agenda—while outwardly inclusive and multi-racial — is ultimately exclusionary
When she's not treating her subjects like lab animals, McDonald makes some of the most outrageous statements ever to cross an editor's desk. Like this:
Already, their alumni have landed top jobs in the public service, MPs’ offices and the PMO, prompting one official from the National House of Prayer to boast in an unguarded moment, “If the media knew how many Christians there are in the government, they’d go crazy.”
Christians? In the Federal Government? How did this happen? Certainly not during the administrations of Roman Catholic Prime Ministers Jean Chretien and Paul Martin. Is McDonald suggesting that being a Christian should somehow prohibit one from seeking a career in the civil service?

Then there's the strange case of Stockwell Day. McDonald tells us that
To social conservatives like Stockwell Day, who became the leading cheerleader for its island rival Taiwan, the mainland republic of Mao represented a twofold cause for concern: like the former Soviet Union, it was officially godless, and it had viciously persecuted Christians. That strategy left Canada at a marked disadvantage as China became a global powerhouse that controlled America’s financial fate in the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown.
Day must not have much in the way of faith, for in the very next sentence she tells us
When free-trade treaties with the U.S. proved no bulwark against congressional Buy America bills, a parade of Conservative heavyweights, led by Day — by then Harper’s minister of international trade — began shuttling to Beijing in search of new markets. In 2009 alone, seven ministerial missions visited China, almost as many as in all of the previous four years.
I could go on line by line, but I'll close with the most outrageous thing McDonald has written in this execrable piece of so-called analysis:
In their idealized Christian nation, non-believers — atheists, non-Christians and even Christian secularists — have no place, and those in violation of biblical law, notably homosexuals and adulterers, would merit severe punishment and the sort of shunning that once characterized a society where suspected witches were burned. Theirs is a dark and dangerous vision, one that brooks no dissent and requires the dismantling of key democratic institutions. A preview is on display south of the border, where decades of religious-right triumphs have left a nation bitterly splintered along lines of faith and ideology, trapped in the hysteria of overcharged rhetoric and resentment.
Excuse me? If Harper has his way, we're only a short step away from "dismantling key democratic institutions" and burning homosexuals and adulterers at the stake? Seriously? What, no gratuitous reference to Hitler and the Gestapo?

I know a lot of devout Christians who would be appalled at this characterization of their faith. Marci McDonald should be ashamed of herself, and the Toronto Star should be embarassed to have published this nonsense. I suppose there's an upside to this, though - if the left is as clueless about their Conservative opponents as Marci McDonald is, it should be an easy romp to victory in the next election for Stephen Harper, evil genius.

Anglicans: "go forth but don't multiply"

The General Synod of the Anglican Church in Australia is urging Christians to have fewer children, according to this story in the Sydney Morning Herald:
The Anglican Church wants Australians to have fewer children and has urged the federal government to scrap the baby bonus and cut immigration levels.

The General Synod of the Anglican Church has issued a warning that current rates of population growth are unsustainable and potentially out of step with church doctrine - including the eighth commandment "thou shall not steal", Fairfax newspapers say.

In a significant intervention, the Anglican Public Affairs Commission has also warned concerned Christians that remaining silent "is little different from supporting further overpopulation and ecological degradation".

Mark Steyn comments at The Corner:
The bone-crushingly stupid leadership of the Anglican Church says go forth but don't multiply. The future belongs to those who do, and the future is already here.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The ecology of the death penalty

An article in the always fascinating Annals of Improbable Research entitled The Ancient and Modern Ecology of Execution, nicely illustrates how much the wacky fringe of the environmental movement has invaded our collective psyche. In it, Simcha Lev-Yadun of the University of Haifa casts an ecologist's eye on the history of capital punishment.

The ancient Hebrews, it seems, used stoning to execute criminals because of the "almost treeless environment of Judea and Samaria".

In ancient Rome, deforestation apparently forced the Romans to recycle:
Still, in the semi-arid Mediterranean, the Romans, who suffered from the consequences of severe deforestation, conserved good quality timber by the practice of crucifixion. They used wooden crosses repeatedly, and even forced the condemned people to carry the horizontal beam. An alternative tree-based method that saved the trees used in execution was to bend two trees till they were close and tie them with ropes so the ropes prevented them from straightening up. The condemned person was tied to the trees (an arm and a leg to each tree), the ropes holding the trees were cut. The end was quick, and again there was no waste of timber.
In the 18th century, the French were naturally at the cutting edge of green execution technology:
In then-wooded Medieval Europe, people were executed for centuries by the auto-de-fe, i.e. burnt alive on the stake. This spectacular procedure was carried on till the increasing depletion of the forests was recognized. Thus, in the 18th century, a new method, much friendlier to the environment, emerged: the guillotine. Taking into account the large number of people executed using the guillotine during the French Revolution, the continued use of the auto-de-fe would probably have depleted the remaining forests of Western Europe.
Not to mention the fact that executing all those criminals must have reduced France's carbon footprint considerably. I'm sure Al Gore would have approved had he been around.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Will Toronto stand up to anti-Israel hate?

So asks "gay rights advocate" Martin Gladstone in this editorial in today's National Post:
Toronto is witnessing a moment of political clarity: There is growing agreement, across the political landscape, that the activist group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (QUAIA) should be banned from our annual gay Pride Parade.

While the issue will be resolved locally, it is of national significance: No Canadian group should be permitted to hijack a publicly subsidized cultural event to spread hate. Torontonians, and the visitors to the city who come to attend Pride weekend, seek to celebrate our gay community. QUAIA, on the other hand, acts as a mouthpiece and apologist for those who seek Israel's violent destruction.

QUAIA's supporters have all sorts of tortured explanations for why attacking Israel is consistent with the struggle for gay rights. (Catch-all terms such as "liberation" and "solidarity" come up a lot.) Yet there is no ignoring the fact that Israel is a global gay-rights leader -- a place where gays march at their own gay pride events and serve openly in the military. Meanwhile, groups such as QUAIA remain silent and ignorant about the horrific and cruel treatment of gays in Gaza, Egypt, Iran and the wider Arab and Muslim world -- not to mention Sub-Saharan Africa. Such hypocrisy makes nonsense of the idea that demonizing Israel has anything to do with gay rights.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

If global warming is a religion, then Al Gore must be Pope Leo X

Last week's news that Al Gore has purchased an $8 875 000 seaside mansion in Montecito California stirred a memory of one of those venal Renaissance pontiffs who allegedly said after his election "since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it". The Pope in question was Leo X (1475 - 1521), and the parallels with Pope Al of the Church of Global Warming are striking.

Leo X, born Giovanni de Medici, was the son of Lorenzo the Magnificent, ruler of the Florentine Republic. He was made a cardinal at age 14 and was elected Pope in 1513. He is most famous for having been at the helm of the Catholic Church during the rise of Martin Luther and the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. The Catholic Encyclopedia has a vivid description of him:
Leo's personal appearance has been perpetuated for us in Raphael's celebrated picture at the Pitti Gallery in Florence, which represents him with Cardinals Medici and Rossi. He was not a handsome man. His fat, shiny, effeminate countenance with weak eyes protrudes in the picture from under a close-fitting cap. The unwieldy body is supported by thin legs. His movements were sluggish and during ecclesiastical functions his corpulence made him constantly wipe the perspiration from his face and hands, to the distress of the bystanders. But when he laughed or spoke the unpleasant impression vanished. He had an agreeable voice, knew how to express himself with elegance and vivacity, and his manner was easy and gracious. "Let us enjoy the papacy since God has given it to us", he is said to have remarked after his election. The Venetian ambassador who related this of him was not unbiased, nor was he in Rome at the time, nevertheless the phrase illustrates fairly the pope's pleasure-loving nature and the lack of seriousness that characterized him. He paid no attention to the dangers threatening the papacy, and gave himself up unrestrainedly to amusements, that were provided in lavish abundance. He was possessed by an insatiable love of pleasure, that distinctive trait of his family. Music, the theatre, art, and poetry appealed to him as to any pampered worldling. Though temperate himself, he loved to give banquets and expensive entertainments, accompanied by revelry and carousing; and notwithstanding his indolence he had a strong passion for the chase, which he conducted every year on the largest scale. From his youth he was an enthusiastic lover of music and attracted to his court the most distinguished musicians. At table he enjoyed hearing improvisations and though it is hard to believe, in view of his dignity and his artistic tastes, the fact remains that he enjoyed also the flat and absurd jokes of buffoons. Their loose speech and incredible appetites delighted him. In ridicule and caricature he was himself a master. Pageantry, dear to the pleasure-seeking Romans, bull-fights, and the like, were not neglected. Every year he amused himself during the carnival with masques, music, theatrical performances, dances, and races. Even during the troubled years of 1520 he took part in unusually brilliant festivities. Theatrical representations, with agreeable music and graceful dancing, were his favourite diversions. The papal palace became a theatre and the pope did not hesitate to attend such improper plays as the immoral "Calendra" by Bibbiena and Ariosto's indecent "Suppositi". His contemporaries all praised and admired Leo's unfailing good temper, which he never entirely lost even in adversity and trouble. Himself cheerful, he wished to see others cheerful. He was good-natured and liberal and never refused a favour either to his relatives and fellow Florentines, who flooded Rome and seized upon all official positions, or to the numerous other petitioners, artists and poets. His generosity was boundless, nor was his pleasure in giving a pose or desire for vainglory; it came from the heart. He never was ostentatious and attached no importance to ceremonial. He was lavish in works of charity; convents, hospitals, discharged soldiers, poor students, pilgrims, exiles, cripples, the blind, the sick, the unfortunate of every description were generously remembered, and more than 6000 ducats were annually distributed in alms.
Leo X was known for his expensive tastes and bacchanalian lifestyle, which he financed by auctioning off church offices and by the widely condemned practice of selling indulgences whereby sinners could redeem their sins for a fee:
Under such circumstances, it is not surprising that the large treasure left by Julius II was entirely dissipated in two years. In the spring of 1515 the exchequer was empty and Leo never after recovered from his financial embarrassment. Various doubtful and reprehensible methods were resorted to for raising money. He created new offices and dignities, and the most exalted places were put up for sale. Jubilees and indulgences were degraded almost entirely into financial transactions, yet without avail, as the treasury was ruined. The pope's income amounted to between 500,000 and 600,000 ducats. The papal household alone, which Julius II had maintained on 48,000 ducats, now cost double that sum. In all, Leo spent about four and a half million ducats during his pontificate and left a debt amounting to 400,000 ducats. On his unexpected death his creditors faced financial ruin. A lampoon proclaimed that "Leo X had consumed three pontificates; the treasure of Julius II, the revenues of his own reign, and those of his successor."
It was reported that the Pope travelled around Rome "at the head of a lavish parade featuring panthers, jesters, and Hanno, a white elephant." Alexandre Dumas wrote of his reign:
Under his pontificate, Latin Christianity assumed a pagan, Greco-Roman character, which, passing from art into manners, gives to this epoch a strange complexion. Crimes for the moment disappeared, to give place to vices; but to charming vices, vices in good taste, such as those indulged in by Alcibiades and sung by Catullus.
Al Gore, by comparison, was also born into a rich & influential family, the son of a wealthy US Senator, and he lives in a manner that would put a Medici to shame. His mansion in Nashville has the carbon footprint of a small town:
Given that Gore calls the fight against global warming a “moral imperative” in the movie, you might reasonably think that he practices what his movie’s web site preaches. But you’d be wrong.

In the wake of the movie winning an Oscar last month, the Tennessee Center for Policy Research reported that Gore’s Nashville mansion consumed more than 20 times the electricity than the national average. Last August, the Gore mansion burned more than twice the electricity in a single month as the average American family uses in an entire year. Gore’s heated pool house alone uses more than $500 in electricity every month.
Gore's new house in Montecito is on a similar Roman scale:
Gore spent $8,875,000 for the ocean-view villa on 1.5 acres with – get this – a swimming pool, spa with fountains, and – we like this part a lot – six fireplaces to go along with its five bedrooms and nine bathrooms. We wonder if Gore’s toilets of choice, the kind you must flush more than once to clear the bowl, are featured in those nine bathrooms.
Gore also owns a 4 000 sq ft house in Arlington Virginia and another home in Carthage, Tennessee. He frequently rents private jets to travel around the world, and keeps a 100 ft houseboat moored at a marina in Tennessee. At his daughter's 2007 Beverly Hills wedding, guests dined on endangered Chilean sea bass.

How does Gore finance this extravagant existence? Partly by selling indulgences in the form of carbon offsets, which are described below by an organization which markets them:
People around the globe often have this quirky feeling whenever global warming is mentioned. While everybody wants to help, it seems that people don't really know how. Changing your lifestyle and reducing your carbon footprint is a good start, but there are times when you really need to travel by air to fulfill your professional and personal commitments such as company visits to branches, regular visits to relatives or maybe holding performances at different venues if you are an artist.

These activities increases you travel footprint. You may have acquired some sort of guilt feeling that in way you may have contributed to the worsening condition of the Earth. A plane ride domestically releases per person over 1,700 pounds of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Anyway, you can breathe easier because we have companies that would help you offset the hazards you may have caused the environment and they are called carbon offset providers. Simply calculate the amount of carbon dioxide you have polluted into the atmosphere and for a corresponding volume of emissions, a set fee is collected by these providers.

Money is then channeled to eco-friendly projects in your behalf. These projects are designed to give zero greenhouse gas emissions, others reduces carbon dioxide presence in the air.
Gore buys indulgences for his own carbon emissions from a company that he co-owns, so he is in a sense paying himself for his own carbon sins:
Gore has described the lifestyle he and his wife Tipper live as “carbon neutral,” meaning he tries to offset any energy usage, including plane flights and car trips, by “purchasing verifiable reductions in CO2 elsewhere.” But it turns out he pays for his extra-large carbon footprint through Generation Investment Management, a London-based company with offices in Washington, D.C., for which he serves as chairman. The company was established to take financial advantage of new technologies and solutions related to combating “global warming,”
If Al Gore is sighted parading through Washington on a white elephant, we'll know for sure that history has repeated itself. Perhaps a Reformation is at hand.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Post #536: in which I respond to a Danish troll

I occasionally get unhinged comments from anonymous trolls which I usually just delete, but I got one today from an outraged critic that is just too good not to publish. The reader, who according to my counter hails from Ringsted, Denmark (ISP address 130.226.178.# in case anyone's interested), took exception to my December 6 2009 critique of the Hideous Public Art on display in Copenhagen during last December's climate change summit. He (I'm assuming he's male, since the comment has a certain whiff of testosterone-fuelled indignance) riffs on my blog profile (visible at the top of the sidebar). He posted anonymously, so I'm just going to refer to him as "Lars". Here's Lars' comment in full:
"I am a middle-aged gay libertarian Conservative, living in dignified isolation in rural Eastern Ontario, Canada"

I am a fat, lonely, untraveled, un educated, self loathing gay hick Philistine, whose political understanding of the world was aborted in its infancy.

There i fixed that for you! You're welcome.

I can't let that by without a response, so in the interest of intellectual dialogue about the eternal truths of art, here it goes:

Dear Lars:

I noticed that you cleverly extrapolated from my brief statement about being a middle-aged gay conservative living in rural Canada that I'm a "fat, lonely, un educated [sic], self loathing gay hick Philistine". I'm going to return the favour and hazard a few guesses about your background from the brief clues that you've given me in your comment.

You are presumably annoyed by the fact that I didn't like the sculpture Survival of the Fattest that was on display during the COP 15 conference in your beautiful country (which, despite you accusing me of being untraveled, I have had the pleasure of visiting). I take it that you sympathize with the piece's political message about the "rich world's self-complacent righteousness". I presume, then, that you are in your late twenties or early thirties, spent six or seven years studying for a four-year degree in sociology (or perhaps psychology) at some liberal-arts college, and are still hanging around your parents' basement until you get your shit together and pay off your student loans (or do you even have to pay back student loans over there in the worker's paradise of Scandinavia?). In the meantime, you and Sven and Ingrid have put together an anarcho-latin-punk band and are working as barristas at the Ringsted Starbucks while you are perpetually "between gigs".

You accused me of being "untraveled", and you should know since you yourself bought a Eurail pass and backpacked around Europe when you finally got out of college, hooking up with loose women of questionable hygiene while making fun of American tourists. You were thinking of heading to Nepal on a whim to sample the organic shade-grown fair trade hash but met up with a bisexual performance artist/waitress in Amsterdam and spent a month in a squat with your lips permanently attached to a bong. When you emerged from the haze you had a dose of penicillin-resistant gonorrhea and your Eurail pass was gone, so it was back to mummy and daddy.

You say I'm a "self loathing gay hick", which makes me wonder if you have some issues about your own sexual identity. You are resolutely and flamboyantly straight, but some of your best friends are gay, and there was that one time in college when you and your room-mate Peter got wasted on 'shrooms and, well, one thing led to another. The fact that your mother & father wonder why you've never had a steady girlfriend doesn't mean anything - you're probably just not ready to settle down.

You know, you took that course in "race, gender & class stereotypes in post-colonial Danish literature", but you still seem to harbour some deep-seated animosity towards the "other" - let's take a look at the semiotics of your brief comment. Middle-aged = fat. Rural Canadian = lonely untraveled Philistine hick. Gay = self loathing. Jesus, Lars - get a grip! I think you need to take a night-school course in Marxism and the LGBT Barrista Experience to refresh your left-wing bona fides. Maybe between gigs you can organize a protest against the Danish occupation of Greenland or something - your karma definitely needs adjusting.

Thanks for taking the time to write - I always enjoy intelligent dialogue with my readers. Aside from that, how did you like the sculpture?