Friday, March 16, 2007


From: Al-Qaeda mastermind says he beheaded U.S. reporter(Katherine Shrader, Associated Press, March 15th, 2007)

Suspected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed to the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl and was central to 30 other attacks and plots in the United States and worldwide that killed thousands of victims, said a revised transcript released Thursday by the U.S. military.

“I decapitated with my blessed right hand the head of the American Jew, Daniel Pearl, in the city of Karachi, Pakistan,” Mr. Mohammed is quoted as saying in a transcript of a military hearing at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, released by the Pentagon.[...]

Sealing a legacy of historical notoriety, Mr. Mohammed portrayed himself as al-Qaeda's most ambitious operational planner in a confession to a U.S. military tribunal that said he planned and supported a series of terrorist attacks, topped by 9/11. The gruesome attacks range from the suicide hijackings of Sept. 11, 2001 — which killed nearly 3,000 — to a 2002 shooting on an island off Kuwait that killed a U.S. Marine, according to an account released by the Pentagon.

Many plots, including a previously undisclosed plan to kill several former U.S. presidents, were never carried out or were foiled by international counter-terrorism authorities.

“I was responsible for the 9/11 operation from A to Z,” Mr. Mohammed said in a statement read on Saturday during a Combatant Status Review Tribunal at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Mr. Mohammed's confession was read by a member of the U.S. military who is serving as his personal representative.[...]

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, questioned the legality of the closed-door sessions and whether the confession was actually the result of torture.

“We won't know that unless there is an independent hearing,” he said. “We need to know if this purported confession would be enough to convict him at a fair trial or would it have to be suppressed as the fruit of torture?”

In listing the 28 attacks he planned and another three he supported, Mr. Mohammed said he tried to kill international leaders including Pope John Paul II, President Bill Clinton and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.

He said he planned the 2002 bombing of a Kenya beach resort frequented by Israelis and the failed missile attack on an Israeli passenger jet after it took off from Mombasa, Kenya.

He also said he was responsible for the bombing of a nightclub in Bali, Indonesia. In 2002, 202 people were killed when two nightclubs there were bombed.

Other plots he said he was responsible for included planned attacks against the Sears Tower in Chicago, the Empire State Building and New York Stock Exchange in New York, the Panama Canal, and Big Ben and Heathrow Airport in London – none of which happened.

What word is missing from this lengthy account of the outrages of this despicable creature? Give up? This may help.

If the mainstream media and the tranzi human rights brigade been around at Nuremburg, surely they would have challenged every verdict on procedural grounds and only described the defendants using ambiguous phrases like “senior German Government official” or “suspected Jewish resettlement mastermind”.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007


From: Is your baby playing with its toes yet? If not the government wants to know why (Lucy Ward, The Guardian, March 14th, 2007)

Babies will be assessed on their gurgling, babbling and toe-playing abilities when they are a few months old under a legally enforced national curriculum for children from birth to five published by the government yesterday.

Every nursery, childminder and reception class in Britain will have to monitor children's progress towards a set of 69 government-set "early learning goals", recording them against more than 500 development milestones as they go.

At five, each child will be assessed against 13 scales based on the learning goals and their score, called an early years profile, must be passed to the Department for Education and Skills.

When children enter compulsory schooling, they should be able to read simple sentences using a phonics-based approach, count reliably up to 10 and sing simple songs from memory, as well as respecting others' beliefs and learning to share and take turns.

We can’t shake this horrific vision of a whole generation of British five-year olds being trained in secret to drop whatever they are doing the second the Government inspector arrives and start all playing with their toes while belting out a lusty rendition of You’ll Never Walk Alone.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Beyond Stones & Bones (Newsweek, March 13th, 2007)

Now the contentious part. In 2001, a team digging in Chad unearthed what it claimed was the oldest fossil of an ancestor of humans but not chimps. If so, it must have lived after the two lineages split. Trouble was, Sahelanthropus tchadensis (nicknamed Toumai, the local word for "child") lived close to 7 million years ago. The genetic data, pointing to a human-chimp split at least 1 million years later, suggest that Toumai is not the ur-hominid—the first creature ancestral only to human and not our chimp cousins—after all.

If Toumai is not our ancestor, what is he doing with such a humanlike face and teeth, which look like those of species 5 million years his junior? "A 7 million-year-old hominid should be just starting to look like a hominid, not have a trait you see so much later in the fossil record," says paleoanthropologist Bernard Wood of George Washington University. Even if he is not our ancestor, Toumai is valuable because he undermines the "begat" model of human evolution—that Toumai begat Australopithecus who begat Homo habilis who begat Homo erectus who begat Homo sapiens. That model assumes that each biological innovation, whether bipedality or a large brain or any other, evolved only once and stuck.

Instead, evolution played Mr. Potato Head, putting different combinations of features on ancient hominids then letting them vanish until a later species evolved them. "Similar traits evolved more than once, which means you can't use them as gold-plated evidence that one fossil is descended from another or that having an advanced trait means a fossil was a direct ancestor of modern humans," says Wood. "Lots of branches in the human family tree don't make it to the surface."


From: The great unread: DBC Pierre, Harry Potter ... oh yes, and David Blunkett (Paul Lewis and John Ezard, The Guardian, March 13th, 2007)

It's the literary club no author wants to belong to, but boasts the likes of Salman Rushdie, Bill Clinton, Paulo Coelho and Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A survey out today of the books Britons own but do not finish shows a surprising lack of appetite for many of the nation's most popular titles.

The bestselling book that topped the poll, DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little, has been lauded the world over - ironically, for its explosive denouement. But 35% of respondents who bought or borrowed the Man Booker-winning satire about a Texan schoolboy in a death row reality TV show failed to get to the end.

And while few can dispute the crazed popularity of JK Rowling's books amid the under 16s, the survey of 4,000 adults found 32% were not particularly fussed about the fourth in the series. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire beat James Joyce's 1912 novel Ulysses - running to more than 1,000 notoriously laborious pages - into second place.

Confession being good for the soul, you are invited to reveal a well-known book you only finished half of at most, but which you saw no harm in talking about as if you had finished it. For us, Lord of the Rings.

Sunday, March 11, 2007


From: Bishop demands 'better theology' of sex (Michael Valpy, Globe and Mail, March 8th, 2007)

The Christian church has a deeply flawed understanding of sex that has led to morally groundless objections to masturbation, birth control, abortion and homosexuality, says a leading Canadian Anglican bishop.

In particular, the church has been wrong for centuries on the notion that sex exists only for the purpose of procreation, Right Rev. Michael Ingham, bishop of the Greater Vancouver Diocese of New Westminster, told a conference in Ottawa last night.

"Christianity as a religion stands in need of a better theology of sexuality," he said, "a better understanding of the complex role sexuality plays in our human nature and of the purposes of God in creating us as sexual beings."

He said the church has misunderstood references to homosexuality in the Bible, wasted energy in persecuting individuals who have argued for a new understanding of sexuality, and failed to comprehend how much the Bible and church doctrines have been shaped through the lens of male experience.

Bishop Ingham's call for a new theology of sex will be felt as a shock throughout the 77-million member Anglican Communion, Christianity's third largest denomination.

If so, they must be an easily shocked lot because this little play is into its umpteenth revival, although each time the houses are emptier.

A keen-eyed modern Rip Van Winkle awakening from a slumber of several decades might perceive a certain dislocate between the rhetoric and the action that attends many public issues in the West. For example, he might notice how many environmental activists are forever claiming to ground their terrifying predictions in science while at the same time declaring the scientific debate to be over and shouting down any further inquiry. He might wonder why many religious folks in the West, characterized widely as slaves to intolerant, absolute dogmas that brook no dissent, are getting their hands dirty trying to distinguish between Muslims who threaten them and Muslims who don’t, while many secularists proclaiming tolerance and freedom can’t wait for the glorious day Islamic culture and faith are completely eradicated. And he might notice that certain church leaders whose dawn-to-dusk calling seems to lie in preaching or defending sexual amorality are forever accusing their opponents of being fixated by sex.

Theological libertines like Ingham love to drop phrases like “the complex role sexuality plays in our human nature”, when they mean the exact opposite. What they mean is that it is complex only for those who believe in restraint and objective morality and suffer all manner of warping complexes and hang-ups as a consequence. Their sub-text is that, when the sexual apocalypse arrives, we will understand that sex stands in glorious isolation from the rest of our material, psychological and spiritual lives and none of us will give a hoot what we or anyone else does. We will go wherever the itch leads us because that’s the Divine Will. When that happens, there will be no further need to talk about it, but until then, do they and his cheerleaders ever seem to have a lot to say.


From: The Brain on the Stand (Jeffrey Rosen, New York Times, March 11th, 2007)

“To a neuroscientist, you are your brain; nothing causes your behavior other than the operations of your brain,” Greene says. “If that’s right, it radically changes the way we think about the law. The official line in the law is all that matters is whether you’re rational, but you can have someone who is totally rational but whose strings are being pulled by something beyond his control.” In other words, even someone who has the illusion of making a free and rational choice between soup and salad may be deluding himself, since the choice of salad over soup is ultimately predestined by forces hard-wired in his brain. Greene insists that this insight means that the criminal-justice system should abandon the idea of retribution —the idea that bad people should be punished because they have freely chosen to act immorally —which has been the focus of American criminal law since the 1970s, when rehabilitation went out of fashion. Instead, Greene says, the law should focus on deterring future harms. In some cases, he supposes, this might mean lighter punishments. “If it’s really true that we don’t get any prevention bang from our punishment buck when we punish that person, then it’s not worth punishing that person,” he says. (On the other hand, Carter Snead, the Notre Dame scholar, maintains that capital defendants who are not considered fully blameworthy under current rules could be executed more readily under a system that focused on preventing future harms.)

Others agree with Greene and Cohen that the legal system should be radically refocused on deterrence rather than on retribution. Since the celebrated M’Naughten case in 1843, involving a paranoid British assassin, English and American courts have recognized an insanity defense only for those who are unable to appreciate the difference between right and wrong. (This is consistent with the idea that only rational people can be held criminally responsible for their actions.) According to some neuroscientists, that rule makes no sense in light of recent brain-imaging studies. “You can have a horrendously damaged brain where someone knows the difference between right and wrong but nonetheless can’t control their behavior,” says Robert Sapolsky, a neurobiologist at Stanford. “At that point, you’re dealing with a broken machine, and concepts like punishment and evil and sin become utterly irrelevant. Does that mean the person should be dumped back on the street? Absolutely not. You have a car with the brakes not working, and it shouldn’t be allowed to be near anyone it can hurt.”

Even as these debates continue, some skeptics contend that both the hopes and fears attached to neurolaw are overblown. “There’s nothing new about the neuroscience ideas of responsibility; it’s just another material, causal explanation of human behavior,” says Stephen J. Morse, professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania. “How is this different than the Chicago school of sociology,” which tried to explain human behavior in terms of environment and social structures? “How is it different from genetic explanations or psychological explanations? The only thing different about neuroscience is that we have prettier pictures and it appears more scientific.”

Morse insists that “brains do not commit crimes; people commit crimes” — a conclusion he suggests has been ignored by advocates who, “infected and inflamed by stunning advances in our understanding of the brain . . . all too often make moral and legal claims that the new neuroscience . . . cannot sustain.” He calls this “brain overclaim syndrome” and cites as an example the neuroscience briefs filed in the Supreme Court case Roper v. Simmons to question the juvenile death penalty. “What did the neuroscience add?” he asks. If adolescent brains caused all adolescent behavior, “we would expect the rates of homicide to be the same for 16- and 17-year-olds everywhere in the world — their brains are alike — but in fact, the homicide rates of Danish and Finnish youths are very different than American youths.” Morse agrees that our brains bring about our behavior —— “I’m a thoroughgoing materialist, who believes that all mental and behavioral activity is the causal product of physical events in the brain” —but he disagrees that the law should excuse certain kinds of criminal conduct as a result. “It’s a total non sequitur,” he says. “So what if there’s biological causation? Causation can’t be an excuse for someone who believes that responsibility is possible. Since all behavior is caused, this would mean all behavior has to be excused.” Morse cites the case of Charles Whitman, a man who, in 1966, killed his wife and his mother, then climbed up a tower at the University of Texas and shot and killed 13 more people before being shot by police officers. Whitman was discovered after an autopsy to have a tumor that was putting pressure on his amygdala. “Even if his amygdala made him more angry and volatile, since when are anger and volatility excusing conditions?” Morse asks. “Some people are angry because they had bad mommies and daddies and others because their amygdalas are mucked up. The question is: When should anger be an excusing condition?”

Still, Morse concedes that there are circumstances under which new discoveries from neuroscience could challenge the legal system at its core. “Suppose neuroscience could reveal that reason actually plays no role in determining human behavior,” he suggests tantalizingly. “Suppose I could show you that your intentions and your reasons for your actions are post hoc rationalizations that somehow your brain generates to explain to you what your brain has already done” without your conscious participation. If neuroscience could reveal us to be automatons in this respect, Morse is prepared to agree with Greene and Cohen that criminal law would have to abandon its current ideas about responsibility and seek other ways of protecting society.

Fortunately, there is no shortage of historical precedents to guide and inspire us.

Although ambiguous about where this all leads, Professor Morse is correct that there is nothing particularly original here. Each new wave of determinist thinking tends to arrive with a splash and claim the idea that our behaviours are influenced by genes, brains, nature, nurture, the stars, the climate or whatever is brand new and a counterpoint to a supposed universal historical belief that humans are independent actors in full control of their lives and equally capable of choosing from an infinite number of possible actions. In fact, the opposite is the case. Almost nobody believes that or ever did. Free will, moral agency and individual responsibility are gifts of monotheism, which holds we have the capacity to rise above our largely determined natures, but not without struggle and not unaided. That belief is the historical exception to the rule and the grounding of the most prosperous, culturally rich and successful civilization in history.

Determinism is the default belief in human history. It defines paganism, which explains why aboriginal peoples and so many African communities cannot break out of endless cycles of poverty and pathology. It defined much of Asia until Asians consciously and expressly rejected their traditions to adopt Western ways. Since about fifty years after the Enlightenment, it has largely defined secularism. Not unlike medieval astrologers, Marx, Freud, Darwin and a host of minor others all argued man is in the grip of forces of which he is unaware and which absolved him of responsibility for his actions and fate. Their popularity was instant and widespread, demonstrating what every lawyer knows–that people will go to the most extreme lengths to find exculpatory explanations for their actions, no matter how heinous or injurious. It is the man who genuinely admits responsibility that is the rare exception.

Neuroscience appears to be the current exciting cutting edge of determinism, which unfortunately means we will once again probably spend decades watching judges grapple with the implications of considering defendants and witnesses as mindless automatons in the controlling grip of independent cerebral forces only judges and neuroscientists can escape. One can only hope this latest attack on free will and ultimate individual responsibility, the plinth of Western civilization, does limited damage before the inevitable reaction sets in. At an intellectual level, the reaction will come when our learned scientific sages finally admit that, while their theories work great on chimps and slugs, there are too many aspects of human nature and human behaviour that simply cannot be explained by them. At a popular level, it will occur when a collective revulsion wells up from within at the gut realization that the idea we cannot control our destinies and are not responsible for our choices means there is no particular reason to move forward in life or even go on living.

Even soccer hooligans know that.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


From: Gerald Own Gerald Owen, National Post, March 8th, 2007)

Anna Nicole Smith's body lies amouldering in her Bahamian grave, but her media presence will go marching on, decelerating slowly. My favourite moment in her life-after-death so far was an interview by Larry King of Barbara Walters (the occasion for which I have forgotten), in which he asked her to explain the enormous attention being paid to Ms. Smith. Ms. Walters said she wasn't following the story and fittingly asked him to explain it himself, since he had been covering it for days on end, with little interruption. Mr. King said he didn't understand it, as if he were just an unpiloted boat being swept along by a tidal wave of popular demand and ratings (possibly, he is). But Ms. Walters defended the attention to the misfortunes of Britney Spears, on the questionable ground that she has talent, unkindly contrasting her to the newly departed soul of Ms. Smith.

There is a good case to be made that this has been the purest instance yet of celebrity culture, because it is so hard to say who Ms. Smith was. She was a kind of Platonic ideal of the phenomenon pointed out in 1961 by the historian Daniel Boorstin in his brilliant book The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America: "The celebrity is a person who is known for well-knownness."

She does not lend herself to any of the customary front-end-loaded descriptions: "Bahamas-based reality TV actress Anna Nicole Smith," "Texas born former fried-chicken waitress?," "former Playboy model?" or "litigant and alleged gold digger Anna Nicole Smith" -- none of these is adequate to her. Reporting on her death, the New York Times made a brave attempt in its lead sentence, and refrained from front-end-loading: "Miami, Feb. 8 -- Anna Nicole Smith, a former Playboy centerfold, actress and television personality who was famous, above all, for being famous" -- the usual restatement of Professor Boorstin's wise saying -- "but also for being sporadically rich and chronically litigious."

Let's see now. Beauty? Nope. Talent? Nope. Achievement? Nope? Inspiration? Nope. Tragedy? Nope.

Can anyone offer an explanation for this? We can’t even craft a good theory of decline out of it.


From: A French intellectual--in the worst sense of the term (Robert Fulford, National Post, March 10th, 2007)

Jean Baudrillard, who died on Tuesday in Paris at the age of 77, was a French intellectual in the most sinister meaning of that term.

He was intoxicated by hastily concocted theories and drunk on incomprehensible explanations of world affairs. He could make any subject more obscure just by briefly visiting it. Many of his readers eventually discovered that his work, some 50 books in all, usually wasn't about what it claimed to be about. His real concern was always Baudrillard and the passionate drama of his daydreams.

His way of thinking involved intense snobbery on his part and great tolerance on the reader's. To the public and his students he said, in effect: "You poor fools are deluded by all your ideals, your dreams, your accomplishments. You think that's reality? It's a fraud, all of it. I know better."

Strange as it seems, in the 1970s much of the Western world was ready to embrace him. He and Jacques Derrida were among the most prominent members of the platoon of French imperialist intellectuals who landed on the shores of North America and conquered a whole continent.

They set up base camps on elite college campuses and soon began enlisting local recruits for their army of postmodernists, post-structuralists, post-Marxists and full-time professional obscurantists. They became an all-consuming vogue. Soon it was impossible to get through Yale without encountering them, and by the early 1990s their thoughts had penetrated Western Canada, where you could hear professors talking the ugly and mostly incomprehensible language of critical theory while students struggled pathetically to keep up. In some circles, those who didn't imitate the French stars were considered eccentric.

What is it about North American (and Australian) life that makes generation after generation of progressives, artists and intellectuals defer so slavishly to the putative superiority of European culture and thought? From early twentieth century American expats in Paris to Swedes like Myrdal and Bergman to existentialists like Sartre and de Beauvoir to artistic weirdos like Dali to radical darlings of the sixties like Marcuse through to the cerebral pathologies of French deconstructionalists, our intellectual history is marked by a repeated self-abnegating embrace of European philosophical fads we hold to far beyond their sell-by dates.

The themes are always the same: America is rough, unlettered, materialist, exploitative and (let’s face it) stupid. By contrast, Europe is learned, wise, subtle, sharing, reflective and aesthetically rich. Their toilets may not work, they may be self-immolating demographically, their economies may be in reverse, there may be riots in their streets and they may even be going through one of their periodic internecine slaughters, but my goodness, these people know how to live!

Certainly we want our children to tap into the formative richness of European cultures. There is an admittedly limited return from cathedral tours of Wyoming and Ontario or post-doctoral work on the social philosophy of Daniel Boone. But almost all of that cultural treasure-trove long pre-dates the twentieth century and has been renounced repeatedly and comprehensively by European elites for generations, sometimes with words, sometimes with guns. Yet still they come with their gobbledegook celebrating despair and decline and still we welcome them speechlessly with feigned deferential awe, secretly praying it’s all a bad dream our children will grow out of someday.

Thursday, March 8, 2007


From: Song of the Week #45 (Mark Steyn, SteynOnline, February 26th, 2007)

What do these five songs have in common?

“The Way You Look Tonight”, “Thanks For The Memory”, “Over The Rainbow”, “When You Wish Upon A Star” and “White Christmas”.

Answer: They were all Academy Award-winning songs from the Best Song Oscar’s first decade.

And what do these five songs have in common?

“When You Believe”, “You’ll Be In My Heart”, “Into The West”, “Al Otro Lado del Rio” and “It’s Hard Out Here For A Pimp”.

Answer: They were all Academy Award-winning songs from the last decade.

We’ll spare you the curmudgeon’s obligatory rant on the putridness of modern music and simply ask whether anyone can think of a song from film or Broadway from, say, the last twenty years that he or she thinks is likely to endure in the repertoire of popular, memorable favourites.


From: Canada told not to use term 'visible minorities' (Steven Edwards, National Post, March 8th, 2007)

Canada's use of the term "visible minorities" to identify people it considers susceptible to racial discrimination came under fire at the United Nations yesterday --for being racist.

In a report on Ottawa's efforts to eliminate racial discrimination in Canada, the world body's anti-racism watchdog said the words might contravene an international treaty aimed at combatting racism.

Members of the Geneva-based Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination also questioned other terms used by the federal government, among them "ethnocultural communities."[...]

"The committee is concerned that the use of the term may not be in accordance with the aims and objectives of the Convention," the report says.

It adds that Canada should "reflect further on the implications of the use of the term," but offers no suggestions about what words would be acceptable.


Wednesday, March 7, 2007

SWINGING FOR KYOTO (Via Robert Duquette)

From: Love-making gets green light from adult stores (Misty Harris, CanWest News Service, March 6th, 2007)

For those who like to make love to the soundtrack of the global warming documentary An Inconvenient Truth, Greenpeace has released a list of strategies for "getting it on for the good of the planet," suggesting "you can be a bomb in bed without nuking the planet." TreeHugger, an online magazine edited by Ontario's Michael Graham Richard, has just published a guide on "how to green your sex life." The famed adult store Good Vibrations announced last week they would no longer sell sex toys containing phthalates, controversial chemical plasticizers believed by some to be hazardous to humans and the environment alike.

And throughout Canada and the U.S., people who want to pleasure the planet can now buy everything from bamboo bed sheets to organic lubricant and "eco-undies."

"Green living is getting sexy," says Jacob Gordon, author of's recent green guide for the bedroom.

"Even a year ago, people wouldn't have been nearly as receptive to this kind of thing. ... But, as the importance of living green gains traction in our culture, people are willing to take things like that a lot more seriously."

Most environmentalists will agree the mainstream success of the Al Gore vehicle An Inconvenient Truth has helped give climate change the pop-culture sheen it's currently enjoying. Indeed, global warming is a cause to which everyone from Diesel apparel to Vanity Fair magazine and Starbucks are pinning their marketing efforts.

And if shopping to save the planet is trendy, having sex to clear your conscience is at the cutting edge.

It is appalling to see the depths of depravity to which the left will stoop to hijack the global agenda. We only hope intellectual conservatism in the West is resilient enough to convince people to ignore these perverts and persuade them instead to get it on more to support the war on terror.


From: In the name of all fathers (Neil Tweedie, The Telegraph, March 7th, 2007)

Latest off the "how rubbish a parent are you?" production line is a report from the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute for Education in London, conducted for the Equal Opportunities Commission. It has some disturbing things to say about dads.

Apparently, children at the age of three are more likely to suffer from "developmental problems" such as hyperactivity if their fathers took no time off at birth, or had no access to flexible working at that time.

Now, that's pretty amazing, isn't it? Because baby Ben didn't see much of his dad during his first days tucked up in bed with mum, he will end up bouncing off the ceiling three years later. It must be true because the statistics show it to be so.

But there's another amazing finding: children who enjoy forms of "formal child care" such as nursery and nannying from nine months are likely to be better behaved by the age of three than other children.

"Other" in this case includes children raised by stay-at-home mothers, grandparents or fathers with working wives. So, packing Ben off to the local crèche could be the best thing you could do for him. Now, you might have spotted something a little odd here.

In one section, the report says Ben is more likely to suffer by three years of age if his dad was not around for the first few weeks of life and wasn't given any flexitime at work. But another section says Ben is more likely to incur developmental problems by three if he stays at home with dad, rather than attending a nursery.

Professor Shirley Dex, one of the authors of the report, which got lots of media coverage, explained: "We found a statistical correlation. We don't have all the answers. They may not, for example, be the same kinds of parent." So, what does the research, trumpeted by the EOC, a central component of the busybody industry, really tell us?

Prof Dex answered with a giggle: "It doesn't tell you the whole answer - it tells you to look further. There's more work to be done."

Great! So a big report is published saying dads are good for you and bad for you, but that's all right because it'll keep the experts at the Centre for Longitudinal Studies in work for another couple of years at least.

And that's really the point: surveys and reports and endless statistics never, ever tell you the truth about the family because there is no central truth about the family.

A witty riposte, but rot nonetheless. There may be no rigid universal laws about the family, but there are certainly central truths. Any good teacher can spot the parents of academically, psychologically and socially promising young children at fifty paces. The mother is completely committed emotionally from dawn to dusk, whether she works or not, knows everything that is going on and demands high standards of achievement and behaviour. The father is committed financially and emotionally to mom and the kids in that order and backs up mom 95% of the time, only occasionally running interference for the child to temper mom’s intensity. The child takes his parents completely for granted and is blissfully unaware of any personal needs of his parents or any dysfunctions in the family other than his own. He is almost never alone. The rest is detail.

It isn’t that we don’t know this or are lacking evidence of it. We are surrounded by evidence of it. It’s that so many modern parents resent the discipline and outward focus it implies and have successfully hijacked the social sciences to free them from them or slough them all off on the other parent.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007


From: Muted jubilation over $20M golden jubilee (Peter Goodspeed, National Post, March 6th, 2007)

Fifty years ago today the Gold Coast became Ghana and Africa changed forever. Kwame Nkrumah, a former school teacher who became the prophet of Pan-African liberation, transformed the continent the night he hoisted Ghana's new flag -- red, yellow and green with a large black star -- at independence celebrations in Accra's Old Polo Grounds.

"From now on, there is a new African in the world, and that new African is ready to fight his own battle and show that after all, the black man is capable of managing his own affairs," Mr. Nkrumah declared that night in 1957.

"We are going to see that we create our own African personality and identity," he vowed. "We again re-dedicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipate other countries in Africa; for our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent."[...]

Ghana, which produced up to 10% of the world's gold when it won its independence, used to have a gross domestic product per person that was equal to that of South Korea.

Now, South Korea has per capita GDP of US$24,200 while Ghana's is only about $2,600.

Tens of thousands of people in Accra today still don't have running water and the capital continues to be plagued by recurring power failures.

Within a year of coming to power, Mr. Nkrumah had passed laws allowing him to jail his political opponents for up to five years without a trial. By the time Ghana was seven, he had created a one-party state and declared himself President-for-Life.

Deposed in a coup in 1966,Mr. Nkrumah died in exile in 1972.

Ghana meanwhile stumbled through a series of coups and failed to have a peaceful, legal change of government until 2000.

While Africa has wallowed in conflict and deprivation for decades, Ghana has continually stumbled and failed to prosper.

The country, rich in resources of gold, timber, palm oil, coca, industrial diamonds and bauxite, enjoys twice the per capita income of the poorest countries of West Africa. Yet a third of the population lives on less that US$1- a-day and the economy is heavily dependent on international financial and technical assistance.

We wouldn’t want to spoil a good party and goodness knows these people deserve one, but wouldn’t two minutes of silence be more appropriate? Yet the beat goes on.


From: Birds don't mess with the cowbird mafia (Randolph E. Schmid, Globe and Mail, March 6th, 2007)

People have long wondered how cowbirds can get away with leaving their eggs in the nests of other species, who then raise the baby cowbirds. Why don't the hosts just toss the strange eggs out?

Now researchers seem to have an answer -- if the host birds reject the strange eggs, the cowbirds come back and trash the place.


Canada has most positive image worldwide: Survey
(Associated Press, March 6th, 2007)

Israel, Iran and the United States were the countries with the most negative image in a globe-spanning survey of attitudes toward 12 major nations. Canada and Japan came out best in the poll, released Tuesday.

The survey for the British Broadcasting Corp.'s World Service asked more than 28,000 people to rate 12 countries –– Britain, Canada, China, France, India, Iran, Israel, Japan, North Korea, Russia, the United States and Venezuela –– as having a positive or negative influence on the world.

Israel was viewed negatively by 56 per cent of respondents and positively by 17 per cent; for Iran, the figures were 54 per cent and 18 per cent. The United States had the third-highest negative ranking, with 51 per cent citing it as a bad influence and 30 per cent as a good one. Next was North Korea, which was viewed negatively by 48 per cent and positively by 19 per cent.

Canada had the most positive rating in the survey, with 54 per cent viewing it positively and 14 per cent negatively. It was followed by Japan and France.

This is a wonderful compliment, but we suspect that whatever the question was, most of the respondents heard: “Who do you fear least?”


From: Ursine numbers up, but rescue continues (Don Martin, National Post, March 6th, 2007)

Their status ranges from a "vulnerable" to "endangered" and could be declared "threatened" if the U.S. decides the polar bear is collateral damage of climate change.

Nobody talks about "overpopulated" when discussing the bears' outlook.

Yet despite the Canadian government 's $150-million commitment last week to fund 44 International Polar Year research projects, a key question is not up for detailed scientific assessment: If the polar bear is the 650-kilogram canary in the climate change coal mine, why are its numbers INCREASING?

The latest government survey of polar bears roaming the vast Arctic expanses of northern Quebec, Labrador and southern Baffin Island show the population of polar bears has jumped to 2,100 animals from around 800 in the mid-1980s.

As recently as three years ago, a less official count placed the number at 1,400.

The Inuit have always insisted the bears' demise was greatly exaggerated by scientists doing projections based on fly-over counts, but their input was usually dismissed as the ramblings of self-interested hunters.

As Nunavut government biologist Mitch Taylor observed in a front-page story in the Nunatsiaq News last month, "the Inuit were right. There aren't just a few more bears. There are a hell of a lot more bears."

The only thing that enrages an environmental activist more than denying global warming is suggesting to him that it might be good news. Although, to be fair, some of we social conservatives are starting to fret about the moral implications.


From: Hello Presidente? This is the Presidente (National Post, March 6th, 2007)

Castro: I see that you do not let go of the books. When do you sleep?

Chavez: I sleep a little in the early morning. I sleep some. I study a lot. That is one of the responsibilities of every revolutionary. We follow your example. I am now reading -

Castro: [Interrupting] Yes. You have been reading for a long while. You have great talent to keep it all in, to remember everything. The only thing you sometimes forget is figures.

Chavez: I forget numbers but not that much.

Castro: However, you have them all bookmarked and never miss one. It is not easy to keep up with you.

Chavez: Do you know how many hectares of corn are needed to produce one million barrels of ethanol?

Castro: To do what?

Chavez: To produce one million barrels of ethanol?

Castro: Ethanol. I believe you told me about that the other day. Somewhere around 20 million hectares.

Chavez:[Laughing] Just like that.

Castro: Go ahead, remind me.

Chavez: Indeed, 20 million. You are the one with an exceptional mind, not me.

Castro: Twenty million. Well, of course. The idea of using food to produce fuel is tragic, is dramatic. No one is sure how high the price of food will rise when soy is being used for fuel, with the need there is in the world to produce eggs, milk, to produce meat. It is a tragedy. One of many today. I am happy to know that you have taken up the flag to save the species because... there are new problems, very difficult problems and therefore tosee someone become a great preacher of the cause, a champion of the cause, an advocate of the life of the species. For that, I congratulate you. Continue fighting [words inaudible] to educate the people so they can understand.


Monday, March 5, 2007


From: English, Irish, Scots: They’re All One, Genes Suggest (Nicholas Wade, New York Times, March 5th, 2007)

Britain and Ireland are so thoroughly divided in their histories that there is no single word to refer to the inhabitants of both islands. Historians teach that they are mostly descended from different peoples: the Irish from the Celts, and the English from the Anglo-Saxons who invaded from northern Europe and drove the Celts to the country’’s western and northern fringes.

But geneticists who have tested DNA throughout the British Isles are edging toward a different conclusion. Many are struck by the overall genetic similarities, leading some to claim that both Britain and Ireland have been inhabited for thousands of years by a single people that have remained in the majority, with only minor additions from later invaders like Celts, Romans, Angles , Saxons, Vikings and Normans.

The implication that the Irish, English, Scottish and Welsh have a great deal in common with each other, at least from the geneticist’s point of view, seems likely to please no one.

Wow, even more irrefutable evidence of how altruism and kindness are found in proportion to genetic affinity.

Read the whole article for the most all-encompassing revision of British history since this.


From: An ode to a hatted cat (Chris Knight, National Post, March 5th, 2007)

In 1954, Life published a screed
That was based on the thesis, "Why Johnny Can't Read."
Its author, John Henry, called primers too prim,
Lacking interest and humour and vigour and vim.
And how best to combat books so antiseptic?
With poems tetramerous and anapestic!
The leading narrator of four-metre voice
Was Theodore Geisel, a.k.a. "Doktor Zoice."
(American speakers found German abstruse
And so they had always pronounced it as Seuss.)
On a dare he composed a brief tale, quite absurd,
With a vocab of just over 200 words.
It follows a young boy and his sister Sally
As a puss in a stovepipe bounds in from the alley
And causes much mayhem and brings them dismay
While their mother is out of the house for the day.
But all's well that ends well; Cat cleans up his mess
And is gone before mother gets back. (Did you guess?)
On a morning in March, 50 years back at that,
His opus was published: The Cat in the Hat.
(And authors said, "Why didn't we think of that?")
For the yarn was so simple, so cheeky yet fun
That for legions of boomers it ranked No. 1.
(And I'd argue to this day it's not been outdone.)
The result was a wave of ecstatic reviews
As The Cat in the Hat spread like wonderful news.
"The moppets' Milton!" That was Newsweek's opinion
As Cat made its way to some far-flung dominions.
It has since been translated to Hebrew, Chinese,
Dutch, Latin, Italian, Braille and Portuguese.
And the places it's gone! There's a sequel, you know
In which 26 more cats help clean up some snow.
The Cat's been on a stamp, and on TV revealed.
There's a bronze of him in Seuss's hometown, Springfield.
(There was even a movie; that's best left concealed.)
And though Seuss himself died 16 long years ago
The Cat in the Hat still makes young readers glow
With its fish and its kites and its things and its snow.
But the only sad note, and I wish it weren't so,
Is that never another such doctor we'll know.

Today we honour the memory of the man who singlehandedly destroyed the concept of plot in literature for young children.


From: The secret? Conspiracy theories sell (Dave Mcginn, National Post, March 5th, 2007)

The hidden knowledge revealed in The Secret, a hugely popular self-help DVD, hardly seems to live up to the drama promised by the video's title.

Over the course of the documentary, a series of authors and motivational speakers explain "the law of attraction," which boils down to this: Think positively and positive things will happen to you.

That may not seem like a secret to anyone with a dose of common sense or any familiarity with several decades' worth of self-help literature, from the Master Key System to The Power of Positive Thinking.

But that has not stopped The Secret from selling more than 1.5 million copies, more than half of them in January, according to The New York Times.

It did not stop the book based on the DVD from becoming the top-seller on this week. Nor did it stop Oprah from devoting a two-hour special to The Secret.

If the secret of the movie is a well-known piece of pop psychology, why is The Secret so popular? Its phenomenal success says as much about the power of conspiracy in marketing as it does about people's endless desire to achieve health, wealth and happiness.

The DVD begins with a shot of a man in a tunic stealing away with a papyrus as a voice-over promises that an ancient secret, hidden from most of mankind, is about to be revealed. It is a secret that "they" have suppressed throughout the centuries because of its power, a secret known to Beethoven, Lincoln, Einstein and 19th-century robber barons.[...]

Yet outside of popular culture, conspiracy theories are increasingly entering the mainstream. Experts say that although theories of one variety or another can be traced back hundreds of years, this latest resurgence can be traced to Sept. 11, 2001.

"9/11 saw an explosion of conspiracy theories and put the conspiracy theory firmly back in the media's eye," said Mark Barber, author of Urban Legends Uncovered.

"The world is an uncertain place right now and we are living in times of fear, paranoia and anxiety," added Mr. Barber, who is at work on a book investigating conspiracy theories. "It is this combination that feeds our quest for the truth and to make sense of something that seems completely senseless."

The average North American has never been healthier, wealthier, better-cared for and better-protected. So why do so many of us simply nod our heads in dull agreement when some soi-disant sage tells us the world is particularly uncertain these days and we live in times of “fear, paranoia and anxiety”?

Sunday, March 4, 2007


Darwin’s God
(Robin Marantz Henig, New York Times, March 4th, 2007)

This is a pretty comprehensive account of current evolutionary theories on the origin of religion.


From: Canada named a culprit in China's brain drain (Lena Sin, Vancouver Province, March 4th, 2007)

The Chinese government has raised an alert about a severe brain drain and has listed Canada among the top recipients of its exported talent.

But as much as the talent war is raising fears in China, it has been a cause for hope in British Columbia.

A report by the Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing says China suffers the world's most severe brain drain. Since 2002, more than 100,000 students have gone abroad to study annually, with only 20 to 30 per cent returning to China, the state-run newspaper China Daily reports.

The study lamented that China was losing its foreign-trained professionals to Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and Australia and urged them to return home.[...]

"Why does it happen?" asks Kenny Zhang, a senior research analyst for the Asia Pacific Foundation.

"It's because the world we are living in now is knowledge-based, high-tech-based, which requires, more and more, a high skill level from the labour force. Every country has a demand for these workers."

Zhang says while businessmen are drawn to China, professionals such as engineers are sought-after everywhere, and many are attracted to Vancouver's laid-back lifestyle.

This is welcome news for the B.C. government, which recently warned of a "demographic time bomb" characterized by an acute labour shortage as baby boomers sail off into retirement.

It’s gratifying to know the Anglosphere is blessed with a steady stream of over-achieving immigrants to temper our imminent demographic crises, but how can we be so thick as to believe the cream of China is coming because of our laid-back lifestyles?


From: How Christianity builds democracy (Jennifer Green, The Ottawa Citizen, March 3rd, 2007)

Christianity is catching on in China like never before, and for reasons that would surprise the secular West: It's a great way to build a democracy.

For the past 25 years, Christianity has been realigning worldwide, shifting south toward Africa, Asia and Latin America, away from western Europe.

Relatively few Chinese are Christian, but with its enormous population of 1.3 billion, even a small percentage has a huge global repercussion. It already has the world's fourth-largest Christian population.

The China Daily, controlled by the Communist government, recently reported on its front page that 31.4 per cent of the country considers itself religious, astonishing in a dictatorship in which religion is strictly controlled and was banned outright only 40 years ago.

A poll done by professors at a Shanghai university indicated 300 million Chinese regard themselves as religious. Of these, about 40 million are Christian, far higher than the 2005 official estimate of 16 million.

But even those numbers may be low. Since a great many Chinese attend underground Christian churches, estimates usually range between 50 million and 100 million, with some as high as 130 million.[...]

Most significant is Christianity's spread among urban middle classes and intellectuals who believe the faith can contribute to China's economic and social modernization.

In 2002, a Chinese scholar told a delegation of Americans in Beijing that he and his colleagues had studied every aspect of western civilization to discover why it is so pre-eminent. The scholars looked at politics, economics and military power, but they finally came to one conclusion: "The heart of your culture is your religion, Christianity," the scholar said. "That is why the West has been so powerful. We don't have any doubt about that."

David Aikman, a former Time correspondent in Beijing and author of Jesus in Beijing, was in that delegation, and he still remembers the astonishment of the Americans, most of them Christian ministers. The last thing they had expected in Communist China was a socio-political assessment of Christianity, and a positive one at that.

No doubt the last thing they wanted either.

And that's not the worst of it. Perhaps we should send Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens over to have a word with these folks.


From: 'No reward' for non-nuclear Libya(BBC, March 3rd, 2007)

Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi has said his country has not been given adequate compensation for its decision to renounce nuclear weapons in 2003.

Speaking to the BBC, Colonel Gaddafi said the failure by the West to reward Libya meant Iran and North Korea were reluctant to follow Tripoli's lead. [...]

Speaking to BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins, Col Gaddafi said this meant the West had lost bargaining power with countries like Iran and North Korea.

"This should be a model to be followed, but Libya is disappointed because the promises given by America and Britain were not fulfilled," he said.

"And therefore those countries said 'we are not going to follow Libya's example because Libya abolished its programme without any compensation'."

Some years ago I was in Greece discussing international politics with a group of young modern progressive types who were very aggrieved about the raw deal Greece was getting from the West and particularly the United States. They were angry about support for Turkey, angry about Macedonia, angry about American bases and angry about a lot of other things. Trying to convey to them as politely as possible that Greek sensibilities might not always be the number one strategic consideration in Western foreign ministries, I slowly became aware that they were nursing a huge sense of past Greek sacrifices for the rest of us for which they were owed big time. In their eyes, Greece’s membership in NATO and the consequent millions of dollars in civil and military aid she received was not a noble commitment the West made to keep Greece free, but a huge sacrifice Greeks made to improve the American strategic position vis-a-vis the Soviets. When, they wanted to know, was payback time?

Clearly this sentiment is driving much diplomacy today as the West ever more desperately seeks ways to bribe countries like Iran and North Korea not to blow us all up. In Britain, the perennial debate on the special relationship focuses on what the UK “gets out of it”. Africa is always at the door with a beggar’s bowl. Does the end of history imply the world will be one big welfare project with the American taxpayer paying everybody else to stay friendly, free and democratic?


From: Why we are closer to cousins from our mother's side (Roger Highfield, The Telegraph, February 28th, 2007)

Evolution by natural selection has shaped us to mistrust paternity, say researchers, and their findings confirm a prediction by evolutionary scientists that we tend to be kinder – altruistic – to the children of our mother's sister than those of our father's brother.

Evolutionary biologists say that the more likely we are to have genes in common with our kin, the more likely we are to put ourselves out for them.

One would expect us, therefore, to be equally helpful to all our cousins, since they are equally genetically related to us. However, reality is less straightforward because a small but significant fraction of men throughout history have brought up another man's child, often not even realising their wife has been unfaithful.

Therefore, we are related to our father's brother's children with two uncertain links and to our mother's brother's children and to our father's sister's children with one uncertain link.

In contrast, there is no uncertainty whatsoever in our genetic relatedness to our mother's sister's children.

Today, in Proceedings of the Royal Society: Biological Sciences, Joonghwan Jeon and Prof David Buss of the University of Texas at Austin publish the first evidence that we treat our cousins differently based on this evolutionary logic.

A favourite sport of many secularists is to pin believers to the wall and demand they fess up as to whether they believe this or that miracle from scripture actually happened. “Do you think Jonah was really swallowed by a whale? Well, do ‘ya?!” Any answer other than an unqualified yes leads to charges of cherry-picking or hypocrisy and a lecture in formal logic that “proves” every other belief is thereby undermined. It is an attack on “comfy” religion designed to demonize all believers as scriptural literalists and it completely misapprehends faith by analogising it to scientific inquiry.

But what of comfy Darwinism? It’s easy enough to march through life with a vague belief life evolved from simpler forms through unguided natural selection, but how could anyone other than a thoroughly indoctrinated fundamentalist believe nonsense like this? We are more likely to loan money to our maternal cousins because we (or our genes) are worried great-great-grandad might have been cuckolded? It is a derivation of William Hamilton’s theory of inclusive fitness, popularized by Richard Dawkins, which holds that our degree or altruism or kindness towards an individual increases with the proportion of the genes we share with them. As the late Australian philosopher David Stove (an atheist) showed, the proposition is madness on the face of it, completely unsupported by evidence and is refuted before our eyes daily just about every where we look.

Stove also showed that a pure belief in Darwinism, and especially in the modern synthesis popularized by Dawkins, et. al. requires belief in a whole series of derivative propositions that describe a world Lewis Carroll might have invented. But unlike religion, scientific materialism offers limited openings for distinguishing between myths and hard facts.

Thursday, March 1, 2007


From: College students think they're so special (MSNBC, February 27th, 2007)

Today’s college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors, according to a comprehensive new study by five psychologists who worry that the trend could be harmful to personal relationships and American society.

“We need to stop endlessly repeating ‘You’re special’ and having children repeat that back,” said the study’s lead author, Professor Jean Twenge of San Diego State University. “Kids are self-centered enough already.”[...]

Narcissism can have benefits, said study co-author W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia, suggesting it could be useful in meeting new people "or auditioning on 'American Idol'. "

“Unfortunately, narcissism can also have very negative consequences for society, including the breakdown of close relationships with others,” he said.

The study asserts that narcissists “are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors.”

For years we’ve all swallowed the leftist lie that Hitler was warped by a cold father who whipped him regularly. A soon-to-be-released study shows that the real problem was that Mrs. Schicklgruber wouldn’t stop telling him how special he was.


From: Study: 1 in 4 U.S. women infected with HPV Lindsey Tanner, Globe and Mail, March 1st, 2007)

One in four U.S. women ages 14 to 59 is infected with the sexually transmitted virus that in some forms can cause cervical cancer, according to the first broad national estimate.[...]

Dr. Dunne said HPV prevalence is thought to be high in men as well, but none were studied

An estimated 11,150 U.S. women will be diagnosed this year with cervical cancer, and about 3,670 will die from it. Numbers are much higher worldwide, especially in developing countries where Pap tests to detect cervical cancer are not routine.

The new vaccine, Merck's Gardasil, was approved last June for girls and women aged 9 to 26. It protects against two HPV strains believed responsible for about 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases, and two other strains that cause 90 per cent of genital wart cases.

Other vaccines are in the works to protect against other HPV strains, Dr. Collins said.

Women aged 20 to 24 had the highest overall HPV prevalence in the study, 44.8 per cent. Prevalence increased each year from ages 14 to 24, then dropped off gradually, confirming that young, sexually active women face the greatest risk of infection.

The study underscores the need for young women to get vaccinated, and to get routine Pap tests, said Dr. Howard Jones, a gynecologic cancer specialist at Vanderbilt University.

Dr. Richard Haupt, medical affairs director in Merck's vaccine division, said the study “reinforces the idea that Gardasil would have great benefit” for young women.

As we do with AIDS in Africa, it seems our approach to serious diseases caused by sexual behaviour is to fight them by any means other than trying to change behaviour. This is not really very surprising as it has been clear for a long time that modern Western men and women will go to the most extreme lengths to deny any authority, whether moral, legal, scientific or otherwise, that would compromise their absolute sexual freedom or suggest a public interest in their sexual practices. As we suspect the most at-risk here are the poor and vulnerable, undoubtedly much of the more-favoured segment of the population feels the consequences are well worth the price.


From: Daniel Dennett Hunts the Snark (David B Hart, First Things, January, 2007)

Generally speaking, Dennett’s method in all his books is too often reminiscent of the forensic technique employed by the Snark, in the Barrister’s dream, to defend a pig charged with abandoning its sty: The Snark admits the desertion but then immediately claims this as proof of the pig’s alibi (for the creature was obviously absent from the scene of the crime at the time of its commission). And past experience perhaps caused me to approach his most recent book with rather low expectations. Even so, I was entirely unprepared for how bad an argument his latest book advances-so bad, in fact, that the truly fascinating question it raises is how so many otherwise intelligent persons could have mistaken it for a coherent or serious philosophical proposition.

The catalogue of complaints that might be brought against Breaking the Spell is large, though no doubt many of them are trivial. The most irksome of the book’s defects are Dennett’s gratingly precious rhetorical tactics, such as his inept and transparent attempt, on the book’s first page, to make his American readers feel like credulous provincials for not having adopted the European’s lofty disdain for religion. Or his use of the term brights to designate atheists and secularists of his stripe (which reminds one of nothing so much as the sort of names packs of popular teenage girls dream up for themselves in high school, but which also-in its favor-is so resplendently asinine a habit of speech that it has the enchanting effect of suggesting precisely the opposite of what Dennett intends).

There are also the embarrassing moments of self-delusion, as when Dennett, the merry "Darwinian fundamentalist," claims that atheists-unlike persons of faith-welcome the ceaseless objective examination of their convictions, or that philosophers are as a rule open to all ideas (which accords with no sane person’s experience of either class of individuals). And then there is his silly tendency to feign mental decrepitude when it serves his purposes, as when he pretends that the concept of God possesses too many variations for him to keep track of, or as when he acts scandalized by the revelation that academic theology sometimes lapses into a technical jargon full of obscure Greek terms like apophatic and ontic. And there are the historical errors, such as his ludicrous assertion that the early Christians regarded apostasy as a capital offense.

The prose is rebarbative, moreover, and the book is unpleasantly shapeless: It labors to begin and then tediously meanders to an inconclusive conclusion. There is, as well, the utter tone-deafness evident in Dennett’s attempts to describe how persons of faith speak or think, or what they have been taught, or how they react to challenges to their convictions. He even invents an antagonist for himself whom he christens Professor Faith, a sort of ventriloquist’s doll that he compels to utter the sort of insipid bromides he imagines typical of the believer’s native idiom.

In fact, Dennett expends a surprising amount of energy debating, cajoling, insulting, quoting, and taking umbrage at nonexistent persons. In the book’s insufferably prolonged overture, he repeatedly tells his imaginary religious readers-in a tenderly hectoring tone, as if talking to small children or idiots-that they will probably not read his book to the end, that they may well think it immoral even to consider doing so, and that they are not courageous enough to entertain the doubts it will induce in them. Actually, there is nothing in the book that could possibly shake anyone’s faith, and the only thing likely to dissuade religious readers from finishing it is its author’s interminable proleptic effort to overcome their reluctance. But Dennett is convinced he is dealing with intransigent oafs, and his frustration at their inexplicably unbroken silence occasionally erupts into fury. "I for one am not in awe of your faith," he fulminates at one juncture. "I am appalled by your arrogance, by your unreasonable certainty that you have all the answers." And this demented apostrophe occurs on the fifty-first page of the book, at which point Dennett still has not commenced his argument in earnest.

This is a lengthy, but wonderful takedown of arguably the most gruesome of the current crop of religion-bashers from the world of the brights, which shows why the reaction of so many religious folks to the attacks of Dawkins, Hitchens, et. al. is not anger and engagement, but mystification.

On the assumption that not all of you will read it through to the end, could anything convey the hubris of the determined secularist missionary better than these few lines from Lewis Carroll:

In one moment I’ve seen what has hitherto been
Enveloped in absolute mystery,
And without extra charge I will give you at large
A lesson in Natural History.


From: No Charles, you can't ban the food of the gods (Bryony Gordon, The Telegraph, March 1st, 2007)

Mmmmmm, McDonald's. The food of the gods. I am drawing on previously unknown reserves of strength and willpower just to stop myself legging it to the nearest franchise. Just imagine: a McChicken sandwich, covered in that special mayonnaise they do - perfect for treating the hangover. Or nine chicken nuggets, with that lovely sweet-and-sour sauce. Or a portion of their large, greasy chips. Mon Dieu! What I'd do for such a meal right now.

People who don't get a buzz from eating McDonald's food are dead inside (even Marco Pierre White has come out in favour of the Big Mac). They're the kind of folk who don't drink because they're scared of losing control, or the sort of man who (and I'm getting specific here), when his new fiancée announces that she loves him, can only respond: "Whatever love means." In short, dull people who need to get out a bit more.

I was wondering why I should care for the opinion of an unelected twit with no experience of real life, but then I realised you could think the same of me, and also that Charles has highlighted a real problem, if not quite the one he had in mind.

McDonald's should not be banned. It shouldn't even be encouraged to sell healthy food. Who goes to the golden arches to eat salad? You go there to eat fat when you're feeling a bit indulgent, but I don't know anybody who eats there more than once a month, and if they did, would it be the fault of McDonald's?

I am not denying there is a problem. It would be difficult to do that when we have children who look like sumo wrestlers and believe cows lay eggs. And I will concede that McDonald's is not without blemishes. It has in the past been accused of cutting down rainforests to raise cattle, it farms land in the third world at the expense of the growth of local food; it is responsible for many things, but not for our children getting fatter and fatter. That's our problem.

Is there any better metaphor for modern anti-Americanism than the protean disdain of the beautiful people for McDonald’s? The putative sins of this corporation are never-ending. It is garish in appearance and deportment, reduces mealtime to a rude, noisy functionality, destroys “traditional” cultures (meaning local restaurants with worse food), is a threat to the environment, exploits its young workers and offers a fare that nauseates every culinary snob and nutritional ideologue in the world.

And still they come.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007


From: What is the most annoying phrase in the English language? (The Telegraph, February 23rd, 2007)

Here are many dozens of contributions (I almost wrote “literally dozens”) from Telegraph readers on the solecisms and popular gobbledegook that raise their blood pressures. Most are indeed abominations, but the more I read the more I cringed at recognizing my habitual reliance on no small number of them. It proves once again how it is nearly impossible to master this rich, vibrant language made for curmudgeons.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


From: China's Premier says democracy up to 100 years away (Scott McDonald , Globe and Mail, February 27th, 2007)

Communist leaders have no plans to allow democracy in the near future because they must focus on economic development before political reform, China's No. 3 leader said in comments published Tuesday.

Democracy will emerge once a “mature socialist system” develops but that might not happen for up to 100 years, Premier Wen Jiabao wrote in an article in the People's Daily, the main Communist Party newspaper.

For now, China must focus on “sustained rapid growth of productive forces ... to finally secure fairness and social justice that lies within the essence of socialism,” Mr. Wen wrote.

The Premier said the country is “still far from advancing out of the primary stage of socialism. We must adhere to the party's basic guidelines of the primary stage of socialism for 100 years.”

Mr. Wen said China would develop its own democratic policies and that a socialist system was not contradictory to those policies.

“A highly developed democracy and a complete legal system are inherent requirements of the socialist system and important symbols of a mature socialist system,” Mr. Wen said.

It is a bit of a conservative trope that socialism was defeated with the fall of the Soviet Union and that the superiority of liberal democracies is now acknowledged by nearly everybody. This may prove to be naive in that it underestimates the resolve and ability of the left to re-invent itself and its rhetoric. Although almost nobody touts state ownership and direction of the economy anymore, there seems to be a growing belief in the progressive world that democracy, while highly desirable in theory, is at odds with other more urgent objectives like social justice, human rights, ecological balance and even growth. Leftist ideologues used to argue that marxist states were in fact more democratic than Western ones. Today, in the groupspeak of the left, democracy has replaced the withering away of the state as the apocalyptic dream autocrats promise is just around the corner to those they are crushing beneath their heels.


From: Scholars, clergymen deride Jesus documentary (Marshall Thompson, Globe and Mail, February 27th, 2007)

Archeologists and clergymen in the Holy Land have derided assertions in a new documentary produced by the Oscar-winning director James Cameron that contradict major Christian tenets.

The Lost Tomb of Christ argues that 10 ancient ossuaries –– small caskets used to store bones –– discovered in a suburb of Jerusalem in 1980 may have contained the bones of Jesus and his family, according to a press release issued by the U.S. Discovery Channel.[...]

Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem who was interviewed in the documentary, said the film's hypothesis holds little weight.

“I don't think that Christians are going to buy into this,” Mr. Pfann said. “But skeptics, in general, would like to see something that pokes holes into the story that so many people hold dear.”

Which leads us to wonder whether, if religion has been implanted in our genes by evolution, the same must be true about scepticism.


From: Parents defend son's speech on boredom (Melissa Leong, National Post, February 26th, 2007)

The parents of an 11-year-old Mississauga student are charging that school officials violated their son's right to freedom of speech after the boy was prohibited from reading aloud a dissertation about classroom boredom.

Frank and Donna Trimboli say they were upset when their youngest son, Gianmarco, returned home from St. Sebastian Catholic School about two weeks ago with news that his speech was "unacceptable and derogatory." The teacher and principal asked him to produce another for his Grade 6 class, Mr. Trimboli said.

"I was really upset. You're taking my son's voice out of his mouth," he said last night.

What a great slogan for a return to sanity in the classroom.


From: Charest backs 'no hijab' ruling in soccer (Graeme Hamilton, National Post, February 27th, 2007)

Quebec Premier Jean Charest yesterday supported a soccer referee's decision to order an 11-year-old player to remove her hijab, likening the incident to a game in his youth when he and his teammates were told to tuck in their jerseys.

"I see that as the application of a regulation by a sports federation that wants, for the practice of its sport, to see to it that all players can perform properly," Mr. Charest told reporters during a campaign stop yesterday. Debate over the "reasonable accommodation" of religious minorities in Quebec society has become an issue in the province.

On Sunday, Asmahan (Azzy) Mansour of an Ottawa girls team, the Nepean Hotspurs, was told to remove her hijab, the Islamic headscarf, when a referee judged that it presented a danger to her or her fellow players. Her coach protested and pulled his team from the indoor tournament in the Montreal suburb of Laval -- a move that four other Ottawa teams imitated in solidarity.

Asmahan wore her hijab during games on Saturday without incident and has never had a problem playing in her home province.

However, the Quebec Soccer Federation yesterday stood behind the referee's decision, saying the rules of the international governing body of soccer, FIFA, prohibit all jewellery and headgear.

"FIFA rules state that they are not going to let players play if they are going to put themselves or other players at risk," said Valmie Ouellet, the federation's technical director. Ms. Ouellet said the hijab could endanger the person wearing it: "If it becomes untucked and the player is running on a breakaway, for example, and another player pulls on it, I would imagine it would be quite a jar to the neck and head of the player wearing the headgear."

Of course, soccer has always been very concerned about this danger. We should probably ban the kippah too on the basis that the fellow wearing it might get hurt when somebody tries to knock it off.

Update: Just to show that nothing is ever simple about this kind of thing, it appears the referee who banned her from wearing her hijab was a Muslim.

Sunday, February 25, 2007


From: Circumcision helps prevent HIV infection, studies confirm (CBC, February 23rd, 2007)

Adult male circumcision reduces the risk of HIV infection from heterosexual intercourse by up to 60 per cent, three trials suggested.

Early results of the trials conducted in Kenya, Uganda and South Africa were so positive that the studies were ended early to give all of the men participating a chance to get circumcized.

Full data from the trial appears in Saturday's issue of The Lancet.
"This is an extraordinary development," said Dr. Kevin de Cock, director of the World Health Organization's AIDS department. "Circumcision is the most potent intervention in HIV prevention that has been described."

Boy, that first-order evidence sure does have a knack of doing a one-eighty on you.

Hey, Skipper, whose idea was this crazy nonsense in the first place?


From: Row over family values splits Cabinet (Gaby Hinsliff and Ned Temko, The Observer, February 25, 2007)

A leading minister is to rally to the defence of single parents amid a growing cabinet split over whether the government should champion marriage. Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, will warn that family policy should not be based on 'the prejudices of yesterday's generation' or hung up over whether parents are married or not, but focused on what children need.

His words will be seen as a sharp change of direction from the line championed by the Work and Pensions Secretary, John Hutton, backed by Number 10, arguing that two parents may be better than one for children and that the benefits system at present discriminates against marriage.

Johnson will tell a conference on Tuesday: 'Family policy must be bias-free - to express it in a more Clintonesque manner, "It's the parenting, stupid". Not all children from married couples fare well, and other family structures are not irretrievably doomed to fail.'

His intervention comes as figures close to Gordon Brown criticised Downing Street for not responding more quickly or coherently to David Cameron's promises of tax breaks for married couples or to his argument that absent fathers are to blame for gun and gang culture. The government had failed to show a lead and stand up for lone parents and cohabitees, said sources in the Chancellor's camp: 'It almost smacks of "well, maybe we should be looking at some of these things", but on what possible planet would we be looking at [tax breaks]?'

The issue is incendiary because it strikes at the heart of politicians' private lives. Tony Blair, famed for one of the strongest marriages in politics, is said to be concerned that the Conservative leader's argument has resonance, while other colleagues fear the demonisation of single parents and cohabitees. Brown's wife, Sarah, was raised by her mother for some years after her parents divorced and the couple are close to author J K Rowling, who has campaigned on behalf of lone parents.

Of course. It’s not about whether your parents are married. It’s not about whether you see your dad or even know who he is. It’s not about whether you go to daycare or anybody is home for you after school. It’s not about whether your mom has a new boyfriend. It’s not about whether anybody is telling you what you can and cannot do. It’s not about being punished if you do something wrong. In fact, it’s not about anything concrete at all.

It’s about a special magical thing called "parenting".


From: Argentina's Soccer Gangs Test Limits of Public Tolerance(Monte Reel, Washington Post, February 24th, 2007)

Even by the standards of Argentina, where people like to joke that soccer is less a pastime than a pathology, a recent surge of fan violence has been exceptional.

In the past two weeks, local stadiums have erupted in mass fights -- some of them all-out brawls injuring dozens of fans -- an average of every other day.

Politicians are vowing reforms, and most fans and league officials are blaming the violence on organized hooligan groups known as barrabravas, which are increasingly labeled as out-of-control mafias eroding the integrity of the sport.

On Tuesday afternoon, as police fired rubber bullets into a crowd to separate warring fans in a Buenos Aires suburb, a congressional committee was grilling the president of River Plate, one of South America's most famous soccer clubs, about the violence that has resulted in the closure of its 65,000-seat stadium for five games.

Among the incidents in question was a gun-and-knife fight Feb. 11 among members of a River Plate hooligan gang that sent picnicking families fleeing the stadium.[...]

According to local security officials, the gangs -- which began in Argentina in the 1950s -- have begun exporting their methods. Javier Alberto Castrilli, an official with Argentina's Interior Ministry who is in charge of soccer security, said the barrabravas' influence has spread in the past five years across South America and into Mexico.

"Here in South America, in countries where five years ago you'd never be able to imagine that so much soccer-related violence could exist . . . organization among barrabravas has reached very highly developed levels," Castrilli, a former World Cup referee, said in an interview Tuesday. "Groups abroad are copying the chants, the songs and even the flags that got their start here in Argentina."

We are delighted to be absolved of the outrageous slander that we are anti-European.


From: The Literary Tenor of the Times (Mark Helprin, Claremont Institute, Winter, 2006)

One seldom encounters pure nihilism, for just as anarchists are usually very well-organized, most of what passes for nihilism is a compromise with advocacy. Present literary forms may spurn the individual, emotion, beauty, sacrifice, love, and truth, but they energetically embrace the collective, coldness of feeling, ugliness, self-assertion, contempt, and disbelief. And why? Simply because the acolytes of modernism are terribly and justly afraid. They fear that if they do not display their cynicism they will be taken for fools. They fear that if they commit to and uphold something outside the puppet channels of orthodoxy they will be mocked, that if they are open they will be attacked, that if they appreciate that which is simple and good they will foolishly have overlooked its occult corruptions, that if they stand they will be struck down, that if they love they will lose, and that if they live they will die.

As surely they will. And others of their fears are legitimate as well, so they withdraw from engagement and risk into what they believe is the safety of cynicism and mockery. The sum of their engagement is to show that they are disengaged, and they have built an elaborate edifice, which now casts a shadow over every facet of civilization, for the purpose of representing their cowardice as wisdom. Mainly to protect themselves, they write coldly, cruelly, and as if nothing matters.

But life is short, and things do matter, often more than the human heart can bear. This is an elemental truth that neither temporarily victorious nihilism, nor fashion, nor cowardice can long suppress, which is why the literary tenor of the times cannot and will not last. And which is one reason among many why one must not accept its dictates or write according to its conventions. These must and will fall, for they are subject to constant pressure as generation after generation rises in unprompted affirmation of human nature. And though perhaps none living may see the change, it is an honor to predict and await it.


From: 'We have absolutely no reason to give up' (Graeme Smith, Globe and Mail, February 23rd, 2007)

Exactly one year after Canada took responsibility for Kandahar, many Canadians are expressing deep skepticism about that dream. Canadian troops fought the biggest battles of their generation to protect this dusty city on the other side of the world, losing 45 lives and spending $2.3-billion in Afghanistan so far, and the broad outlines of the country's plight have hardly changed: It remains terribly poor, and plagued by a vicious insurgency. This week, Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion called for Canada to give up the mission in Kandahar by 2009 at the latest, saying the whole approach was flawed.

But a dozen interviews with key players in Kandahar, including the provincial governor and two of President Hamid Karzai's brothers, suggest that the people who are the most intimately involved in building Afghanistan are vastly more optimistic than observers abroad. A positive outlook is a job requirement for many of these people, as they have staked their careers, or their survival, on the effectiveness of foreign intervention.

Their arguments in favour of the Afghan project, however, are also rooted in a broader understanding of the historical context of Canada's struggles in Kandahar, and the significance of the fight for the country's south. They listed the mistakes of 2006, and the dangers of the coming years, and all of them reached the same conclusion: success is possible.[...]

These optimists describe a city slowly emerging from the grip of fear, enjoying unprecedented interest from aid donors and hoping to seize this chance to build a legitimate economy. If all goes well, and that's a major caveat, they say it's possible that the next few years will see Kandahar light up with new sources of electricity, establish new factories, revive its agricultural exports and resume its ancient role as a major trading centre.

While the major battles around Kandahar in 2006 are usually viewed by Canadians as proof that the situation got worse last year, the Afghan leadership views the fighting as a necessary step, a component of success rather than a hallmark of failure.

It is one thing to overstay one’s welcome, but just imagine being a young Afghan full of gratitude and hope for the future and being told by a “progressive” Canadian that the situation is hopeless and that he would be much better off if Canada withdrew in favour of the Taliban while promising to protect him through human rights initiatives at the United Nations.

Saturday, February 24, 2007


From: Worlds apart - poll finds parents out of touch(Julian Glover, The Guardian, February 24th, 2007)

The gulf between parents and risk-taking teenagers is revealed in a unique Guardian/ICM poll which explores the realities of growing up in Britain today.

Teenagers drink, smoke, take more drugs and lose their virginity earlier than many of their parents believe, according to the results of the study. It shows that many parents are in the dark about the way their children cope with pressures that are often very different from those they faced in their own childhood.

Researchers questioned more than 500 11-16-year-olds about their lives - asking them to fill in confidential forms about issues such as alcohol and drug use, sex and the internet. Their parents, who gave permission for the research, gave separate answers about what they believed their children had experienced.

The gap between what teenagers have done and what their parents think they have done is striking. Of children who have tried drugs, 65% of parents think that they have not, or do not know. Of children who smoke, 52% are unaware.

Of children who say that they have looked at pornography online, 60% of their parents think that they have not done so, or did not know either way. The poll shows that 15% of children say that they have talked about sex online. Only 3% say they have met a stranger they encountered on the internet - but of those, only 1% of parents are aware of the meeting.

Most 16-year-olds, and almost half of 15-year-olds who have lost their virginity say they have had unprotected sex - but 83% of their parents think they have not, or do not know. Parents of children who have lost their virginity - 29% of 15-year-olds and 49% of 16-year-olds say they have - often do not know about it. Only half of parents of children who have had sex were aware.

Partly in response to a controversial UNICEF report and presumably partly in response to problems too glaring to ignore, the British press seems to be going through a period of introspective fixation on the issues of marriage, family cohesion and youthful dysfunction. One senses it is all a bit like African poverty in that everybody can easily be stirred to a white-hot heat of concern about the problem, but nobody can come up with much more by way of solutions than anodyne measures like tax breaks, lots of counseling and hounding everybody’s favourite whipping boy, the deadbeat dad. But it’s obviously a field day for sociologists and other members of the helping professions, and we imagine the available grant money is soaring. This study reveals the astounding news that parents don’t always know when their children misbehave, presumably because the kids aren’t telling them. Not like the good old days when delinquent kids gave a running account of their misdeeds to their parents.

One senses the authors of this report and perhaps The Guardian think parental ignorance is a far more serious problem than what the kids are actually doing. Undoubtedly there is some link, but isn’t the sub-text a somewhat dated assumption that they would share the alarm and would or could do anything about it if they did know?


From: Women may have invented weapons (Mark Henderson, The Australian, February 24, 2007

The survival techniques of West African chimpanzees have revealed that the first human weapons may have been developed by women.

The use of spears and axes to hunt and kill is commonly thought to have been pioneered among humanity's ancestors by males, but research has indicated weapons may have been a female invention that compensated for their lesser size and strength.

Anthropologists' observations of chimpanzees in Senegal have revealed they gnaw the ends of sticks to create rudimentary spears, which they use to hunt bushbabies, a small primate.

The findings are the first evidence of the systematic use of weapons in a species other than humans - and they are intriguing because all but one of the chimps using the spears were females or immature males.

This gender imbalance has led scientists to theorise that female chimps pioneered hunting with weapons as the only way in which they could compete with the physically stronger males to add animal protein to their diets. While males can hunt with their bare hands, females need weapons to help them.

"Females have to come up with creative ways at getting at a problem, whereas males have brawn," said Jill Pruetz, of Iowa State University, who led the research.

The findings support a hypothesis that women played an integral part in the development of weapons for hunting, and other kinds of tools. [...]

Dr Pruetz said the findings suggested that chimps, the closest animal relatives of humans, were more similar to humans in behaviour than previously thought.

What a great gig. Note how seamlessly the behaviour of a few modern female chimps translates into a blanket conclusion about arguably the most important event in human pre-history. We don't want to spoil the party, but given all those biologists frantically trying to teach these critters how to talk or type or whatever, isn't mimicking observed human behaviour a more plausible explanation?

Friday, February 23, 2007


Becoming an atheist (Michael O'Shaughnessy, National Post, February 23rd , 2007)

It is difficult to pinpoint the exact moment when I became an atheist. I was raised Catholic, in a devout family environment. My father is Irish by descent -- from the Catholic parts of the island, not the "occupied counties" -- and a Quebecer by birth. My mother is an immigrant from the Philippines. My family not only attended weekly mass and all days of obligation, but also a lay prayer group affiliated with a group called Charismatic Catholics, which is Catholic in theology but borrows liberally from Protestant Pentecostal denominations (including an emphasis on the real presence of the Holy Spirit, lively music, and speaking in glossolalia).[...]

Though all good theoretically came from God, I didn't feel particularly evil now that I was denying his existence. Why did I not cheat on tests, skip class or lie to my parents if there was no God to watch over me and threaten me with punishment? Why did I bother being a good person at all? Though I wrestled with these questions, I never behaved in an amoral way. I concluded that my moral compass was not given to me by God but by my parents. I came to believe that "right" and "wrong" were based around the suffering of other people, and that morality can be summed up very succinctly in the words of Hippocrates: "First, do no harm."

I came to appreciate how the universe operates on its own, without any outside interference, and came to see how humanity evolved through a slow, incremental process over hundreds of millions of years, from the simplest single-celled organism, to the dinosaur, to the ape who carves great cities out of the earth. And eventually, in the midst of all this, I came to the conclusion that while there was nothing directly contradicting the existence of God -- He could possibly be sitting in His divine director's chair watching this all happen-- there was nothing to confirm it, either. So why believe it at all? And so I became an atheist.

It was lonely, at first. Even terrifying. But eventually I realized it meant I was free.

It isn’t hard to understand how he would feel relief at leaving behind the demands of the Church or its clergy, but in what sense can it be a liberating experience to look in the mirror and see “an ape that carves cities out of the earth?”