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)

Thursday, January 31, 2013

When quotas collide

It's been amusing to watch the antics in Massachusetts as Governor Deval Patrick (a Democrat) announced his decision regarding the appointment of an interim replacement for outgoing Senator John Kerry who has been appointed Secretary of State. His decision to appoint his former Chief of Staff William Cowan, who is black, isn't sitting well with retired Congressman Barney Frank, who is gay. Frank is "troubled" that his gayness didn't trump Cowan's blackness:
Former Rep. Barney Frank said he wishes consideration of being LGBT would have been weighed more heavily as a diversity factor in the decision to appoint an interim U.S. senator from Massachusetts.
In a brief interview with the Washington Blade on Wednesday, Frank said he didn’t want to discuss his personal feelings about Gov. Deval Patrick (D-Mass.) passing him over for the role in favor of former chief of staff William “Mo” Cowan, but noted he was “eager to get in and work on the issues.”
“But let me tell you, there was one thing that sort of troubled me in the discussion about it — nobody was particularly quoted; they attributed something to governor’s office and others — was that the governor would want to appoint someone who’s either a minority or a woman,” Frank added. “And what troubled me is the question of LGBT people was just kind of swept out. I’ve never asked for any appointment based on me being gay, but when they begin talk about the importance of diversity and leave us out, that troubles me.”
While Cowan’s appointment was hailed a milestone for diversity in terms of race because he’s black, Frank said the lack of attention to being LGBT as a diversity factor suggests those involved with the decision were unaware of President Obama’s inaugural address in which he mentioned the 1969 Stonewall riots in the same line as other iconic civil rights moments.
That's the problem when you see everything through the lens of identity. When you primarily identify yourself as a member of a "community" (typically an oppressed minority) rather than strictly as a citizen, then all politics is identity politics. Important decisions like the appointment of a US Senator are based on quotas rather than merit, and eventually there are so many competing identity groups clamouring for recognition and state support that it becomes impossible to satisfy anyone. Electoral districts are gerrymandered to ensure that legislatures reflect the "diversity" of the electorate. Private corporations are pressured to ensure that their management is suitably "diverse". TV and movie scripts are adjusted to make sure that all identity groups are suitably and positively represented.

Patrick must have agonized over this decision, since he's a rising star in the Democratic Party and has to show his true liberal colours to the faithful. Surely there is a disabled black autistic lesbian living somewhere in Massachusetts who would have made an outstanding Senator?

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  Joe Cocker sings  I Put A Spell On You:

Lego crusaders

It's getting harder to take Islam seriously as a world religion when our Muslim brothers and sisters take outrage at the most ridiculous things. We're not talking about cartoons of the prophet here; now it's Lego toys. According to the Christian Science Monitor, Turkish Muslims living in Austria are upset that the Lego company is marketing a Star Wars-themed Lego kit containing a model of Jabba the Hut's Palace that they say looks like the Mosque of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul (which, by the way, was originally a Byzantine Christian basilica):
The problem, apparently, is that the Jabba the Hut Lego palace looks like a mosque. And not just any mosque, but Istanbul’s great Hagia Sophia, and another mosque in Beirut, Jami al-Kabir.
Dr. Melissa G√ľnes, General Secretary of the Turkish Cultural Community, confirmed that Lego had been contacted with an official complaint and that an Austrian toy store had removed the offending Lego sets, according to the Austrian Times.
A statement in German on the Turkish Cultural Community's website reportedly states that "It is apparent that, for the figure of the repulsive bad guy Jabba and the whole scenery, racial prejudices and hidden suggestions against Orientals and Asians were used as deceitful and criminal personalities (slaveholders, leaders of criminal organizations, terrorists, criminals, murderers, human sacrifice)."
A spokesperson for the Lego corporation responded:
“The Lego Star Wars product Jabba´s Palace does not reflect any actually existing buildings, people, or the mentioned mosque,” she said. “The Lego mini-figures are all modelled on characters from the movie."
“We regret that the product has caused the members of the Turkish cultural community to come to a wrong interpretation, but point out that when designing the product only the fictional content of the Star Wars saga were referred to.”
Just as a point of comparison, there is a Lego theme park in Britain near Windsor Castle that has for years featured Lego replicas of London's St. Paul's Cathedral and the Cathedral of Sacre Coeur in Paris, shown below:

At Legoland in Denmark, there is a model of Vienna's St Stephen's Cathedral:

and in Germany's Legoland theme park there is a model of Berlin's Cathedral:

To my knowledge, there have been no complaints from outraged Christians at Lego replicas of these real, actual holy sites but Muslim outrage about a fictional building from a Star Wars movie is prompting world-wide uncritical media attention. You can draw your own conclusions.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Global Warming 1661

From Samuel Pepys' diary - London, January 21 1661:
It is strange what weather we have had all this winter; no cold at all, but the ways are dusty and the flyes fly up and down, and the rosebushes are full of leaves; such a time of the year as never was known in this world before here.
No word in the diary if Pepys was moved to buy carbon credits as a result.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection: Shotgun Blues, by the Blues Brothers Band, featuring Dan Akroyd and the late John Belushi. The Blues Brothers 1978 album Briefcase Full of Blues was the very first blues album I ever bought, and I credit it (and the 1980 Blues Brothers movie soundtrack) with sparking my lifelong interest in blues music.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Two can play this game - let's boycott native businesses

So, native activists are threatening to shut down major rail lines and busy highways in Canada if their vague and confusing demands aren't met. It's time, then, that non-native Canadians stop spending money at native-run businesses.
First Nations leaders and Idle No More activists have promised only peaceful protests on their national day of action Wednesday, but once the snow melts and warmer weather sets in, key highways — including the main road to Alberta’s Fort McMurray, a major oil production hub — could be blocked for days, weeks or even months, prompting what one chief called “chaos.”
OK - let's get serious about this. Canadians who are fed up should stop patronizing native-run businesses. Stop buying cigarettes and cheap gas from businesses in Akwesasne when you cross the US border at Cornwall, Ontario. Stop spending money at Casino Rama in Orillia. Down in my neck of the woods, where natives routinely blockade Hwy 401 and the main CN Rail line from Montreal to Toronto where it crosses the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory, we can start by boycotting the many native businesses associated with the reserve. Here's a list for those of you who live in the Belleville/Napanee area.

Natives can't have it both ways - they can't claim to be a quasi-sovereign nation within a nation, above the law and  holding the rest of the country to ransom at regular intervals, while still expecting the hostages to cheerfully patronize their businesses. Let's call their bluff.

Life in the Ivory Tower: "U of T is holding an orgy, and you're invited!"

I'm glad to know that it's not all book learnin' down there at the University of Toronto; parents can rest assured that they sent their kids off to the big city not just to get an expensive world-class education but some hands on practical experience too. 

The university's Sexual Education Centre is kicking off  "Sexual Awareness Week" next Monday with a good old-fashioned orgy :
“U of T is holding an orgy, and you’re invited! You just need your student ID” one Reddit user posted in a University of Waterloo forum.
“Our executive director made it very clear that this is not an orgy, we’re not funding an orgy,” says external education and outreach co-ordinator Dylan Tower, 22, as he sits inside the sixth-floor office of SEC. “People are allowed to have sex on premise … there is not any type of ‘You should be having sex when you’re here.’ It’s very much, come and enjoy the space, there’s no prodding or pushing in that direction.”
The event begins in the daytime, and organizers are asking students to keep their clothes on until 7 p.m., when the “party becomes clothing-optional so you can get naked with all your new friends.”
SEC is an affiliated levy group of the University of Toronto Students Union. Undergraduate students pay 25 cents a term for the services, and can opt out if they choose.
The group’s mission is to foster a sex-positive attitude in the greater U of T area, by offering information, programming, safer-sex supplies, and peer counselling in a welcoming environment. Their sexual awareness week includes a discussion on sex positivity, an interactive sex toy demonstration and an afternoon of pornography. The first event is the party at Oasis: the organization rented the club and lowered the price to $5 a person. (Admission for couples is normally $80.)
Tower said it is a safe and cheaper way to introduce curious students to the sex club scene in Toronto. The group plans to provide a “myriad of safer-sex supplies” so “everyone can be as safe as possible” and volunteers will circulate to “make sure everyone is respectful and having the best experience Oasis has to offer,” he posted online, addressing concerns.
Sounds like fun! You'll be interested to know that the club consists of  "four stories of easy-to-clean surfaces, with sanitizing wipes, baskets of condoms, and lots of places to mingle, including the back of a hippie van and a heated pool."

In the old days when I was in school, we had to make do with bars and cheap draught beer. Kids these days   have no idea how we suffered.

Monday, January 07, 2013

Gay Republicans gaining influence in the GOP?

Jordan Michael Smith at PJ Media asks the question: Are Gay Republican Groups Gaining Momentum? In the wake of their defeat in the last election, many Republicans are musing that the party will have to adopt a more gay-friendly attitude to stay relevant to younger right-wing voters who are increasingly turning away from social conservatism. Smith writes:
Analysts, pollsters, and Republican insiders believe that the GOP will have to formulate more gay-friendly policies in order to attract a younger generation that is familiar and comfortable with homosexuals. “Young people today have never not known gay people,” says Jimmy LaSalvia, executive director of GOProud. While older Americans were taught to see gays as deviant and dangerous, few of their grandchildren feel the same way. “The older folks are quite literally dying off,” he said.
No less a figure than former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has agreed. “It is in every family. … It is in every community,” he said. “The momentum is clearly now in the direction in finding some way to … accommodate and deal with reality. And the reality is going to be that in a number of American states — and it will be more after 2014 — gay relationships will be legal, period.”
What made Gingrich’s acknowledgement remarkable was that he has a record of deep hostility to the gay community. In December, Gingrich told a gay man during a campaign that he should simply vote for President Barack Obama. “The effort to create alternatives to marriage between a man and a woman are perfectly natural pagan behaviors, but they are a fundamental violation of our civilization,” said Gingrich earlier in 2012.
And yet, Log Cabin and similar groups acknowledge that countering the strong social conservative wing of the Republican Party will not be easy. “Certainly it’s a vocal wing, but historically a big tent party,” says Greg Angelo, executive director of the Log Cabin Republicans. “Republicans win when they emphasize the core ideas of the party: low taxes and strong defense, among other things. They lose with traditional social conservatism.” LaSalvia agrees: “Demonizing gays hurts us with everyone; we need to marginalize that small group of bigots that frankly does exist.”
Some social conservatives disagree. Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation counters:
“Regardless of what some might imagine, support for marriage isn’t a relic of the past,” wrote Ryan Anderson of the Heritage Foundation, in National Review. He gave numbers. In some cases, he pointed out, anti-gay marriage initiatives outdid Mitt Romney’s tally. In Washington state, Romney won 43 percent, marriage got 48 percent, for instance. “It suggests that we should redouble our efforts to re-educate a generation of heirs to the sexual revolution’s bitter fruits, who are deeply confused about the nature and social purpose of marriage.”
As I have written before, I strongly disagree with Mr. Anderson that gay marriage will destroy the institution of marriage, but rather will extend the stabilizing and socially beneficial effects of marriage to a segment of society that badly needs it. Gay marriage will make gays more conservative, not make straight conservatives more liberal, and that's a good thing for the conservative movement. The GOP needs to embrace this change or risk becoming permanently irrelevant in US political life. The Conservative Party of Canada has learned that lesson, and society hasn't collapsed; in fact Canada is more politically conservative now than at any time in my memory. American conservatives could learn something from our experience.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Blues for a Saturday Night

Tonight's selection:  Eric Clapton sings Same Old Blues, accompanied by Mark Knopfler on guitar, Phil Collins on drums and Jools Holland on piano.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Green activist apologizes for opposition to GM crops

British environmental activist Mark Lynas gave a lecture to the Oxford Farming Conference on January 3 and made a startling admission - his long-term opposition to the utilization of genetically modified (GM) crops was not only misguided but in fact dangerous:

I want to start with some apologies. For the record, here and upfront, I apologise for having spent several years ripping up GM crops. I am also sorry that I helped to start the anti-GM movement back in the mid 1990s, and that I thereby assisted in demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment.
As an environmentalist, and someone who believes that everyone in this world has a right to a healthy and nutritious diet of their choosing, I could not have chosen a more counter-productive path. I now regret it completely.
So I challenge all of you today to question your beliefs in this area and to see whether they stand up to rational examination. Always ask for evidence, as the campaigning group Sense About Science advises, and make sure you go beyond the self-referential reports of campaigning NGOs. 
But most important of all, farmers should be free to choose what kind of technologies they want to adopt. If you think the old ways are the best, that’s fine. You have that right. 
What you don’t have the right to do is to stand in the way of others who hope and strive for ways of doing things differently, and hopefully better. Farmers who understand the pressures of a growing population and a warming world. Who understand that yields per hectare are the most important environmental metric. And who understand that technology never stops developing, and that even the fridge and the humble potato were new and scary once. 
So my message to the anti-GM lobby, from the ranks of the British aristocrats and celebrity chefs to the US foodies to the peasant groups of India is this. You are entitled to your views. But you must know by now that they are not supported by science. We are coming to a crunch point, and for the sake of both people and the planet, now is the time for you to get out of the way and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably.