Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Apologies, but as there are about a hundred hours of real work to be completed in the next seventy-two, posting here will be light for a few days. Very, very light. Indeed, barely noticeable. Back this weekend.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


From: 'God' mistakenly bleeped out of in-flight showings of 'The Queen' (CBC, January 25th, 2007)

So much for God and country, at least during some in-flight showings of the Oscar-nominated movie "The Queen."

All mentions of God are bleeped out of a version of the film distributed to Delta and some other airlines. Jeff Klein, president of Jaguar Distribution, the Studio City, Calif., company that supplied the movie to the airlines earlier this month, said it was a mistake, committed by an overzealous and inexperienced employee who had been told to edit out all profanities and blasphemies.

"A reference to God is not taboo in any culture that I know of," Klein said.

Oh, we can think of one where it is.

(Catch this classic line: “Robert Acton, a Whitby resident and contractor, asked councillors to consider the interests of their constituents and not the "moral majority" lobbying to uphold the prayer tradition.”)


From: Welcome to the new climate (Martin Mittelstaedt, The Globe and Mail, January 27th, 2007)

Here in Canada, where only a year ago the environment was a blip on the radar screens of pollsters, the issue has suddenly emerged as the most important one facing the country, according to polling conducted for The Globe and Mail and CTV.

As first reported Friday, the environment was cited as the top issue by 26 per cent of respondents in polling conducted in mid-January, supplanting the perennial favourite, health care, now the No. 2 issue, at 18 per cent. The shift amounts to the equivalent of a public-opinion earthquake — last May the environment was on the minds of a mere 3 per cent of Canadians.

What is more, Canadians feel so passionately about the topic that they say they don't want half-measures. The Globe's polling has found support for an array of tough actions against global warming: 56 per cent even say they would support rationing the amount of fossil fuels an individual can use each year...

But the effect is also being felt on the street. When Canadians look out the window these days, they say they're seeing global warming. An overwhelming 78 per cent of respondents to the Globe poll, nearly four out of five people, say they've personally noticed climate change. The same number fear it is going to harm future generations. And nearly as many — 73 per cent — say the warming is due to human activity and isn't a natural phenomenon.

More than half of respondents told the pollsters that Canadians would support banning electrical-generation plants that use coal, placing carbon taxes on industries, rationing or setting limits on the amount of fossil fuels consumers can use in any one year, and forcing consumers to switch to fuels that produce lower carbon emissions. Nearly half want to slow down or reduce the development of tar sands in Alberta. About one in three wants significantly higher prices for gasoline and home-heating fuel.

The views are backed by personal commitments. More than nine out of every 10 people say they're willing to make sacrifices, with 55 per cent saying they'd accept major ones and 38 per cent minor ones in the fight against global warming. Only 5 per cent say they won't do anything.

Clear majorities also say they would be willing to pay more for fuel-efficient cars, reduce the amount they fly, cut the amount they drive in half, and have the economy grow at “a significantly slower rate” to help clean up the environment.

Then there are the cases where, having thrown away the guidance of tradition, we figure we might as well toss out common sense too.

More: Who's still cool on global warming? (Toronto Star, January 28th, 2007)


From: Unhappy Meals (Michael Pollen, International Herald Tribune, January 28th, 2007)

The story of how the most basic questions about what to eat ever got so complicated reveals a great deal about the institutional imperatives of the food industry, nutritional science and — ahem — journalism, three parties that stand to gain much from widespread confusion surrounding what is, after all, the most elemental question an omnivore confronts. Humans deciding what to eat without expert help — something they have been doing with notable success since coming down out of the trees — is seriously unprofitable if you're a food company, distinctly risky if you're a nutritionist and just plain boring if you're a newspaper editor or journalist. (Or, for that matter, an eater. Who wants to hear, yet again, "Eat more fruits and vegetables"?) And so, like a large gray fog, a great Conspiracy of Confusion has gathered around the simplest questions of nutrition — much to the advantage of everybody involved. Except perhaps the ostensible beneficiary of all this nutritional expertise and advice: us, and our health and happiness as eaters.

This is a very long, but very interesting essay on how neurotically confused we can become about life’s simplest and most straightforward matters when we throw out the wisdom and authority of tradition and replace it with fealty to the scientific rationalism of the expert.

Saturday, January 27, 2007


From: US answer to global warming: smoke and giant space mirrors(David Adam, The Guardian, January 27th, 2007)

The US government wants the world's scientists to develop technology to block sunlight as a last-ditch way to halt global warming, the Guardian has learned. It says research into techniques such as giant mirrors in space or reflective dust pumped into the atmosphere would be "important insurance" against rising emissions, and has lobbied for such a strategy to be recommended by a major UN report on climate change, the first part of which will be published on Friday...

The US response, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, says the idea of interfering with sunlight should be included in the summary for policymakers, the prominent chapter at the front of each IPCC report. It says: "Modifying solar radiance may be an important strategy if mitigation of emissions fails. Doing the R&D to estimate the consequences of applying such a strategy is important insurance that should be taken out. This is a very important possibility that should be considered."

Scientists have previously estimated that reflecting less than 1% of sunlight back into space could compensate for the warming generated by all greenhouse gases emitted since the industrial revolution. Possible techniques include putting a giant screen into orbit, thousands of tiny, shiny balloons, or microscopic sulphate droplets pumped into the high atmosphere to mimic the cooling effects of a volcanic eruption. The IPCC draft said such ideas were "speculative, uncosted and with potential unknown side-effects".

This is just tooo...delicious. Imagine you are a greying environmentalist who has spent decades musing about biological Armageddon with the sandals and fruit juice crowd. From youthful rebel you have matured into learned sage and now are perhaps a mightily-respected academic or consultant. You have read hundreds of turgid tomes on the looming destruction unrestrained growth will wreck, and written a few yourself. You have spent thousands of hours in seminars and conferences with the like-minded, debating how you, the intellectually anointed, can save Mother Earth by convincing everybody to “fundamentally change their way of thinking”. Your initial pragmatic concern over specific ecological threats has long ago morphed into a comprehensive secular version of The Fall that leads you to lash out indiscriminately against cows, cars, perfumes, plastics, airplanes, prepared food, smokestacks and just about everything else people want in order to squeeze a little enjoyment and comfort out of life. But you know comfort and enjoyment must go, along with freedom, because otherwise we’ll all soon fry/freeze. You have mastered using a veneer of brow-furrowed concern to hide your delight in each item of worrisome news and your growing excitement about the day the dark forces of American capitalism will be overthrown and you will be called by the powers that be to help them outlaw, plan, regulate, restrict and undo us all back to the 18th century.

You’re almost there. The battle against the Bush-led forces of reaction and selfish madness has been tough in recent years, but the tide has turned and the smell of victory is in the air. The IPCC and the UN (the only sane voices on climate, as on everything else) are about to release the definitive work on climate change. (How could so many volumes be wrong?) It will take all doubt and all questions off the table. Even big business is wavering. The enemy is squirming and circling his wagons, while you sharpen your arrows for the final kill that will vindicate your entire life’s work and earn you a well-deserved prominent place in the progressive Pantheon.

And then the U.S. Government throws some brilliant nerdy crew-cut from Texas into the spotlight to tell everybody there is no problem--all we have to do is put lots of his special balloons and droplets into space and the problem is solved. “Can do!”



A dark disease or harmless fun? (Lesley Garner, The Telegraph, January 26th, 2007)

Nobody denies the destructive power of alcohol and gambling. Professionals make good livings treating those ravaged by them and fiscally addicted governments spend a smidgeon of their huge profits on flashy TV ads warning of what they might do to us. But we still seem to hold firmly to the quaint belief that pornography is a harmless pastime with no consequences to ourselves or families. The link above is to a pretty good collection of accounts from men, women and professionals of their experiences with the “innocent” indulgence.

Friday, January 26, 2007


From: The green goodbye Nancy J. White, Toronto Star, January 26th, 2007)

Imagine a gently sloping hill covered with fallen leaves, green ferns and bright wildflowers, the branches of sturdy oaks and maples arching overhead. Birds chirp in the trees. Squirrels and chipmunks scamper on the ground.

Now imagine yourself buried underneath.

No proud shiny headstone engraved "Beloved." No manicured, fertilized grass. Just your body decomposing inside your biodegradable shroud, your tissues feeding the tree roots and who knows what else.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. You can now be politically correct when you're six feet under.

It's known as a green or natural burial, a way of combining an eco-friendly interment with land conservation. Make your burial a statement of values by helping create a forest, says Mike Salisbury, one of the founders of the Natural Burial Coop, a group in southern Ontario. "If you're buried where roots grow through your bones, you're doing what you're supposed to do –– give back in the end."...

"What could be more beautiful than to become a part of nature, that a molecule from your body ends up in a berry that a bird eats," says Woodsen. "It's completing the circle of life."

Circle of life? It sounds to us more like reincarnation for the downwardly mobile. Granted this is a sensitive issue and leeway must be made for personal eccentricities, not to mention outright weirdness, but what is simply unbearable is the thought of spending a seniority trapped at dinners with intense Boomers who insist on sharing every detail of their heroic decision to disappear without a trace for the sake of the biosphere, all the while daring you through pointed stares to admit you are selfish enough to be partial to a modest little memorial in hope of a few visits from the family. I imagine there would be about as much profit in arguing with them as there would be in trying to make them see another side of George W. Bush, but it would be fun to just smile back in feigned respect while turning up that special CD you’ve been saving for the occasion:

And if you come, when all the flowers are dying
And I am dead, as dead I well may be
You'll come and find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an "Ave" there for me.

And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.


From: Poms whinge so hard that beer ad is pulled (Bernard Lagan, The Times, January 26th, 2007)

The whingeing Pom is no more. A group of complaining Englishmen who live in Australia succeeded yesterday in their long campaign to outlaw advertising that depicted Englishmen as whingers.

The Advertising Standards Bureau ruled that the Englishmen were right to be offended by an advertisement for beer that negatively stereotyped and demeaned English people.

The radio advertisement for Tooheys brewery and its New Supercold beer employed a group of Englishmen to sing the tune of Land of Hope and Glory using various synonyms for whinge, including whine, moan, slag and complain.

The advertisement ended with a voiceover saying: “Introducing Tooheys New Supercold, served so cold it’s a Pom’’s worst nightmare.” The bureau ruled that negative words in the advertisement detracted from what it said was the otherwise playful nature of the word Pom. Instead, Pom had been given “a derogatory and almost hostile meaning”, Mark Jeanes, the acting chief of the bureau, said. The advert has been withdrawn.

"Uh, Bruce, what is it that gets you so riled about the English?"

"Bloody whingers, every one. Sheilas all stuck up, red and blotchy shahrk biscuits on the beach, beer’s warm piss, and they eyn’t even off the plyne before thy start hittin’ you with their bleedin’ eyrony.” Send the dags back, I sye."

"Well, look, have you heard about the latest DNA research that shows we’re very closely related to them."

"Are you fair dinkum?"

"Yes, you may think we’re completely different, but we’re all related to the Mitochondrial Eve."

"And who's she when she’s in town?"

Our common mother from Africa–the woman we’re all descended from.

"Got around a bit did she? I’ve ‘eard that about those African doxies."

"Well, anyway, the point is we’re all one big genetic family and a lot more similar than we think, so we shouldn’t be trashing the English all the time like that. They're like our cousins."

"They’re whingers too, at least on me mum’s side. I reckon its in the genes."

"Um, Bruce, I think you are missing the point, which is it’s just not right to be so prejudiced when we have so much in common. We share over 99% of our DNA with them. They are almost identical to us."

"Look myte, maybe I’m not the full quid about your fancy Dee-en-ay, but I’ve got me own scientific wye of figuring things out and I sye you’re tellin’ me a porky. Poms are as different from Aussies as chalk and cheese. And I can prove it."

"Really? Scientific, you say? I’m all ears. Just where was this “scientific” research you are relying on conducted?"

"The Ashes."


Nullarbor trove solves megafauna murder mystery
(Leigh Dayton, The Australian, January 25th, 2007)

Scientists now claim it was not climate change but Aborigines who were to blame for killing off the giant kangaroos, birds and marsupial lions that once roamed the country.

Scientists led by paleontologist Gavin Prideaux reported overnight in the journal Nature that the new-found fossils disproved claims that climate change triggered the extinction of the "megafauna" about 46,000 years ago.

"There's no way you can twist the evidence to say that climate change was responsible," said Dr Prideaux, Rio Tinto Research Fellow at the Western Australian Museum in Perth, of the demise of 90 per cent of the continent's big beasts.

That leaves only one suspect: Homo sapiens.

Researchers such as Tim Flannery have long supported the "blitzkrieg" hypothesis proposed by US geoscientist Paul Martin that when people first arrived in a new land they hunted their prey to extinction. Others suggested that Aboriginal people not only hunted megafauna, they fired the landscape, changing the ecosystem and stressing the animals to breaking point. Among the missing are claw-footed kangaroos, Sthenurines, that weighed in at 300kg, the enormous 100kg Genyornis, the heaviest bird ever known, and the leopard-sized marsupial lion, Thylacoleo carnifex. Dr Prideaux and his colleagues reported details of their paleontological, ecological and geochemical analysis of 400,000-800,000-year-old remains unearthed in the Thylacoleo Caves of southeastern Australia.

According to Dr Prideaux, the site is a "Rosetta stone" of complete skeletons, many, like the marsupial lion, previously known only in fragments.

The site also shed light on climate conditions prior to the arrival of people, 40,000-60,000 years ago.

The team claimed they had conclusive evidence that before people arrived, animals survived climate swings.

"They were coping very well, thank you very much," said team member Bert Roberts, a dating expert at NSW's University of Wollongong.

There are several reasons why free citizens should maintain a healthy scepticism about the torrents of scientific “discoveries” that descend on us daily. Most of it is as inaccessible to the layman as the Bible was to medieval Catholic peasants, and the scientific establishment seems more than happy to sow(:-))general doubt in our intellectual self-confidence and to convince us they and only they hold the key to timeless Truth, even about ourselves. But an equally important reason is how the very nature of scientific inquiry leads its practitioners to believe they are untouched by the human limitations and prejudices that colour our understanding of the world around us. Their attraction to the politically popular and correct seems so palpable at times that one wonders whether our greatest modern self-delusion is that politics follows science rather than the other way around.

For several generations now, received wisdom in progressive circles has been that aboriginal man lived in harmony with his natural surroundings and was fully integrated into the circle of life around him. The seasons came and went, but the interdependence of life and that old-time pagan wisdom ensured a timeless balance that was quickly re-established when anything got even slightly out of hand. It was only when Western man showed up with his destructive toys seeking God, glory and gold that things went out of biological whack–especially when he introduced that new-fangled private property. Aboriginal political leaders have dined out repeatedly at well-set tables with the high and mighty on this improbable story, and it has undergirded a lot of destructive policies that have contributed to corruption and unspeakable pathologies in native communities, but it has to be understood as a corrective reaction to previous myths grounded in contempt, racism and marginalization that were even more destructive.

Now, on the basis of one fossil-trove discovery, aboriginal man may have lost his ecological innocence and moral free pass. The new thinking seems to be that before he arrived, all manner of wild beasties lived in self-regulating harmony and took their ice ages Then comes aboriginal man, fresh from parts unknown, who celebrates his arrival by a wanton, irrational spree of burning, killing and Lord knows what else. Selfish beyond words and caring nothing for the natural cycles of his new home, he turns into a one-species swath of destruction. Soon, no more leopard-sized marsupial lions. The horror! No wonder he got the boot from East Africa.

Given the rapidly growing nihilist, anti-human ethos of the modern environmental movement and the sorry history of our relations with aboriginal peoples, we think we’ll hold with the first myth for the time being.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


From: Infected by affluenza (Oliver James, The Guardian, January 24th, 2007)

Let's stop the pretending: Blatcherism has been an inexcusable missed opportunity to take Britain in a completely different direction (towards Denmark rather than America) and it has significantly contributed to our spiralling rate of mental illness.

I have discovered that citizens of English-speaking nations are twice as likely to suffer mental illness as ones from mainland western Europe.

Specifically, my analysis reveals that over a 12-month period nearly one-quarter (23%) of English speakers suffered, compared with 11.5% of mainland western Europeans.

What explains such a massive difference? It is extremely unlikely to be genes - English-speakers largely come from the same gene pool as Europeans. Indeed, the World Health Organisation study of mental illness in 15 nations, on which my analysis is based, strongly implies that genes play little or no part in explaining national differences in mental illness, and that among developed nations economic inequality is highly significant.

The US is by some margin the most mentally ill nation, with 26.4% having suffered in those 12 months. This is six times the prevalence of Shanghai or Nigeria, a huge discrepancy. Again, genes do not explain it - studies show that when Nigerians move to America, within a few generations they develop American prevalences.

It is selfish capitalism which largely explains the greater prevalence among English-speaking nations. By this I mean a form of political economy that has four core characteristics: judging a business's success almost exclusively by share price; privatisation of public utilities; minimal regulation of business, suppression of unions and very low taxation for the rich, resulting in massive economic inequality; the ideology that consumption and market forces can meet human needs of almost every kind. America is the apotheosis of selfish capitalism, Denmark of the unselfish variety.

So that’s what’s the matter with Kansas. Share prices go up 10% and Joe six-pack loses his marbles. But Mr. James, Denmark? Gloomy, grey Denmark, where even the Foreign Ministry can’t get too enthusiastic? Please, if you must rail against the terrors of American capitalism, can’t you at least tempt us with Paris?


From: Scientists raise white flags after 3-year battle with unmovable sloth (CBC, January 25th, 2007)

Scientists in the eastern German city of Jena said Wednesday they have finally given up after three years of failed attempts to entice a sloth into budging as part of an experiment in animal movement.

The sloth, named Mats, was remanded to a zoo after consistently refusing to climb up and then back down a pole, as part of an experiment conducted by scientists at the University of Jena's Institute of Systematic Zoology and Evolutionary Biology.

Not pounds of cucumbers or plates of homemade spaghetti were appetizing enough to make Mats move.

"Mats obviously wanted absolutely nothing to do with furthering science," said Axel Burchardt, a university spokesman.

The Revolution begins.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007


We actually don't celebrate it at our house, but you can't get through our front door on Wine Bottle Day.


From: Yorkshire clan linked to Africa(BBC, January 24th, 2007)

People of African origin have lived in Britain for centuries, according to genetic evidence.

A Leicester University study found that seven men with a rare Yorkshire surname carry a genetic signature previously found only in people of African origin.

The men seem to have shared a common ancestor in the 18th Century, but the African DNA lineage they carry may have reached Britain centuries earlier...

Turi King and Leicester colleague Mark Jobling then commissioned a genealogist to fit the men into a family tree to see how they were related and find clues about where exactly their unusual Y haplogroup came from.

"He could only get them into two trees, one which dates back to 1788 and the other to 1789. He couldn't go back any further. So it's likely they join up in the early 18th Century," said Turi King....

"Some of the Africans who arrived in Britain through the slave trade rose quite high up in society, and we know they married with the rest of the population," said Ms King.

"It could be either of these two routes," she said. Even if the two family trees link up in the 18th Century, haplogroup A1 could have reached Britain long before that.

"But my guess is that, because many slaves came from West Africa, it could have been through that route," Ms King told BBC News.

She added that the study showed that Britain has always been composed of a mosaic of different people.

Professor Jobling echoed this view: "This study shows that what it means to be British is complicated and always has been," he said.

Tell us about it.

What in the world is going on here? It’s one thing for these guys to have their innocent fun surmising wildly about who went where when over huge swaths of paleolithic time we can’t fathom, but are people really paying them to do scientific research on genetic “migratory routes” to England in the 18th century? Do they honestly think we need them to tell us blacks have been in England for a long time? Have they ever read Shakespeare or been to an art gallery? We can hardly wait for them to report DNA studies suggest there was some intermingling with the French as early as 1066.

They really do see themselves as the fount and arbiters of all knowledge, don’t they?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


From: France's Royal stirs Quebec sovereignty debate (National Post, January 23rd, 2007)

Jean Charest, Stephane Dion and Stephen Harper all told a leading candidate in the French presidential election to not interfere with Canadian affairs -- especially the issue of Quebec independence.

Segolene Royal, the French Socialist Party candidate, indicated support for the sovereignty movement after she met briefly yesterday with Parti Quebecois leader Andre Boisclair, who is visiting France.

Asked where she stands on the question of Quebec's independence from Canada, Ms. Royal replied she favours "the sovereignty and liberty" of Quebec.

Mr. Boisclair was delighted with the endorsement. "I think the French have understood our message and are even sympathetic," he said.

Mr. Charest, the Quebec Premier, suggested Ms. Royal ought to butt out.

These occasional “Quebec Libre” interjections from French politicians are heaven for many Quebecers, who get to indulge in their two favourite pastimes – terrifying English-Canadians and telling the insufferable French to stuff it - both at the same time.

Update: French presidential candidate backtracks on support for Quebec sovereignty

That will teach her to mess with that famous Canadian soft power.


From: Losing the game: After 14 years of Gary Bettman, the NHL is still hitting a wall in the U.S. (Mark Spector, National Post, January 23rd, 2007)

It was still a 24-team league 14 seasons ago, when Gary Bettman first became commissioner of the National Hockey League.

It was February, 1993, and expansion teams in Anaheim and Florida would begin play next season. Within a few years, Winnipeg and Quebec City had left for Phoenix and Colorado, Atlanta and Nashville were awarded franchises, and expansion to Minnesota and Columbus rounded out the league at an even 30 clubs. Bettman's American Dream was almost complete.

All that was left to satiate the new commissioner -- who had apprenticed under the wildly successful National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern -- was the Great American TV Contract, a cornerstone to any major sports league's financial success. The problem?

Stern was peddling basketball, which is played and understood across the United States. Bettman's wares were a much tougher sell, both in person and on television, where the puck still moves too fast for American sports fans who somehow never have trouble with a line drive or a 100-m.p.h. fastball.

Come to think of it, they don’t have much trouble with a 1-0 pitchers’ duel in the World Series either.


From: Why you think you're wonderful (Brian Bethune, MacLeans, January 29th, 2007)

There really isn't anything the human brain can't do, and that's aside from all that marvel-of-the-universe, super-computer stuff, like the ability to paint the Mona Lisa, or send a rocket to the moon or write Hamlet. No, the truly great stuff your brain does for you, is to protect you from reality. Your mind loves you like a mother should: it convinces you that what you can do well (balloon animals, say) is important and what you're hopeless at (parallel parking, perhaps) is trivial; that you're better-looking and smarter than most and destined to stay that way forever.

Good thing too, as English psychologist Cordelia Fine explains in A Mind of its Own, her lighthearted tour through recent research. The category of people who come closest to objective truth about themselves (as measured by outsiders) are the clinically depressed...

Fine divides up the tricks played by our loving organ into various categories. The so-called vain brain, for instance, is so preening that research has shown it finds the very letters of your name more attractive than other letters. It obscures the statistical improbability of near-universal ideas about the self (almost 100 per cent of subjects rate themselves as better than average on any ordinary task like driving a car -- a mathematically impossible outcome). Under the emotional brain, Fine cites tests that show how gut instinct makes many decisions that we think are reasoned. It's only after we've opted for one side of the question that our cognitive faculties -- in a manner so smooth we don't notice which came first -- provide the rationale....

It all adds up, Fine sombrely concludes, to a vulnerable brain. It's both disconcerting and bracing to learn all the ways our minds distort reality. But it's all in the cause of giving you a reason to get up in the morning, says the aptly named "terror management theory." Concocted by a dour psychologist named Tom Pyszczynski, that concept argues that the brain's tricks are a vital defence against any "awareness that we humans are merely transient animals groping to survive in a meaningless universe, destined only to decay and die."

Cheery folks. Perhaps we’ll just ask how the same brain that tells me such fairy tales about myself can be so dependably accurate in what it says about you, and then we'll let you develop your own migraines.

Monday, January 22, 2007


From: What a song and dance (Emma Brockes, The Guardian, January 20th, 2007)

Emma Brockes spent her early life pretending to enjoy the music her contemporaries approved of, while secretly indulging her passion for the likes of Oklahoma! And then she thought, where's the shame? Musicals hold the key to more or less everything

"It's funny. When people don't like metal or jazz or pop or classical music, or when they don't like westerns or sci-fi movies, they are content, generally, to confine their dislike to avoiding them. When people don't like musicals, they feel a need not only to tell you about it, but to convince you of why you shouldn't like them either. Musicals, so their reasoning goes, are for people who are too thick for opera and too square for pop music. They are for people from the sticks, who twice yearly put on evening dress and migrate en masse to the major capitals of the world where they enjoy themselves by watching things they have seen before at twice the price they paid last time. They are for the sorts of people who, even though their coach will be waiting outside the theatre after the show, still take their umbrellas."

Don’t worry, I promise not to link you to anything from The Sound of Music.

Last month, Think of England posted on Desert Islands Discs, which led to an interesting discussion on musical tastes. Perhaps it was just me, but I sensed a vague discomfort with any mention of songs from musicals. As I am as big a fan as Ms Brockes, it awakened my longstanding puzzlement as to why musicals seem to be the only genre that one is supposed to be both embarrassed to admit liking and embarrassed to hear someone else admit liking them. It seems all other types can be loved proudly or hated defiantly, but musicals are like an old-fashioned family secret, to be listened to alone and only after dark with the curtains closed.

Pondering this enigma in the past few weeks, it dawned on me that the reasons so many “bright” people disdain musicals are similar to why they disdain America, and that the anti-musical animus parallels political and social anti-Americanism quite closely. After all, musicals are pretty much an American invention and they are definitely an American specialty. Like Americans, they are associated with a general spirit of light and literal optimism, technical brilliance and a “can-do” mastery of presentation, which offends sophisticated, gloomy continentals who seem to equate profundity with sombre backdrops and deep and haunted lives that end in suicide. Confusing optimism with naivite , they assume that the veneer of light-heartedness is all there is. Wrong. American optimism is a conviction, not a disability, and both they and their music are no strangers to the darker side of life.

And just what is wrong with artistic expressions of hope and optimism? Only a professional curmudgeon could fight off an involuntary ear-to-ear grin at this piece from Hello Dolly, here sung well, but indifferently danced, in an amateur production. (You should see what a Broadway choreographer can do with it.). Broadway sunshine combined with unsurpassed talent can turn a dark scene from the classics into pure hum-along charm. It can take a big pile of silliness and combine it with raw talent to to craft wistful nostalgia. It can deal with sensitive issues of racial etiquette while forcing our spirits into the stratosphere and filling our heads with a melody it takes days to shake. Sometimes, unparalleled musical, lyrical and artistic excellence can all come together to create even an animated masterpiece.

The slander, of course, is that is all there is. Not at all. The lightness is often just the mise-en-scene and counterpoint for the exploration of darker, more contemplative themes. Want no-holds-barred political protest? Biting, surreal social satire? How about a bittersweet reflection on life’s poignancy or a near-sacred ode to its eternal riddles? Broadway has churned out endless numbers of odes to happy-ending love, but also hauntingly beautiful expressions of the painful, doomed version. In one short song, a musical can convey more about the allure of decadence or the beauty of evil than a thousand philosophical tracts.

And then there are moments that just simply defy categorization.

I could go on and on and try to prove to any lingering doubters among you that musicals do indeed say everything there is to be said about life, but I’m just too darned caught up in the music, and it’s almost show time. Oh and, sorry, but I’m just having far too much fun to be held to my promise. So, Harry, this one’s for you.


Here and here is an uncommonly honest and pointed self-critique from the left that paints a stark picture of how morally and intellectually at sea they were about Iraq and how beholden they now are to the mob. The first part will be of particular interest to those who believe brainwashing kids is a religious specialty.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


As promised, herewith some thoughts on Childhood, Abuse and Religion from Richard Dawkins's The God Delusion:

The chapter comes after three hundred pages in which Dawkins believes he destroys summarily and wittily any argument for faith or any benefit from it, and so by this time the reader is invited to assume that all religious parents are unbalanced to begin with and that any religious teaching or authority is oppressive. There is matter and biology, and that is pretty much it. From these self-evident truths, Dawkins argues that the teaching of religious observance of any nature to children is abusive ipso facto. He never actually proposes that religious parents should have their children removed from them–he is much too English for that–but that conclusion is unavoidable. Instead, he uses sneering contempt, of which he is a master, to instil general visceral anger at religious parents and an inchoate sense that their children merit our protection as much as they would if they were being starved, and obviously much more than the children of non-religious parents. Presumably to avoid being forced to do something nasty to the local Ladies’ Church Auxiliary, he is prepared to grandfather general public acceptance of religious belief, but only for a generation or two.

The arguments Dawkins uses are familiar to anyone used to popular secular attacks on religion and they hinge on certain unstated assumptions that really make any reply at this level impossible. The first is that people believe because they have been either persuaded by some intellectual logical fallacy or had the faith beaten into them as children and were too stupid or uneducated to escape. Not only is he oblivious to the fact he represents but a tiny sliver of humanity past and present, he shows no understanding of other bases of religion and no evidence of having read, let alone pondered, accounts of conversions from non-belief. According to his logic, the young should be much more religious than the elderly. The second is that all religions (and by extension all cults) are equally erroneous because there is no material way to validate or disprove or dictinguish any of them through objective evidence. The third is that a material explanation for a phenomenon, even a hypothetical one, overrules rather than complements a religious one. And the fourth is that eternal truth just happens to correspond to the tenets of today’s scientific establishment, which cannot be doubted, except by scientists

Dawkins seems to be under the impression that he needs to tell everybody that religion can be a powerful and destructive force. One after another, he hands down horror tales everybody who watches cable television already knows all about--sexual abuse by the Church (about which he is rather sanguine), female circumcision, Ted Haggard’s Hell Houses, victims of oppressive convents, etc. but protests to him about cherry-picking or exaggerations would be useless. As he defined faith as a seamless web that offends Truth equally many chapters ago, the time has long passed for introducing objections based upon historical accuracy, causal connections or really any notions of critical judgment.

Dawkins opens with an account of the notorious case of Edgardo Mortara, about which he is so tormented that he neglects to mention its inconvenient conclusion. But he adds a new rationalist twist to the tale. Not only is he, like most Catholics, appalled by the Church’s kidnaping by a few sprinkles of water, he is equally impatient with the Jewish community for risking their children by employing Catholic servants so they can observe the Sabbath and with Edgardo’s parents for not converting (again, just sprinkles) to get him back. Give him credit, his bile is never sectarian. At this point, one starts to becomes thankful for finally realizing there is no point in arguing with the man, who is clearly lost in a rationalist enchanted kingdom.

It is more than a little amusing to watch Dawkins try and square his missionary zeal with politically correct tolerance of diversity, which he does by trying to apply weird subtlety to a history he obviously has no sense of whatsoever. The result can be hilarious and shows him at his most foolish. Here he is on why 21st century modern liberals have every right to be impatiently with the sacrifice of Inca virgins:

Humphrey’s point–and mine–is that, regardless of whether she was a willing victim or not, there is strong reason to suppose that she would not have been willing if she had been in full possession of the facts. For example, suppose she had known that the sun is really a ball of hydrogen, hotter than a million degrees Kelvin, converting itself into helium by nuclear fusion, and that it originally formed from a disc of gas out of which the rest of the solar system, including Earth, also condensed. Presumably then, she would not have worshipped it as a god, and this would have altered her perspective on being sacrificed to propitiate it.

The Inca priests cannot be blamed for their ignorance, and it could be thought harsh to judge them stupid and puffed up. But they can be blamed for foisting their beliefs on a child too young to decide whether to worship the sun or not.

And foisting beliefs on young children is something Dawkins would never, ever do.

It is when he discusses the Amish that one begins to understand Dawkins’s agenda transcends religion and that he really has bigger fish to fry. Clearly disapproving of the 1972 case that allowed the Amish to teach their own children (and completely ignoring the explosion in home-schooling since then), Dawkins weighs in with uncommon bitterness against America’s most respected traditional sect and reveals his problem isn’t at all with what they believe; it’s that they think and live differently than he:

“There is something breathtakingly condescending, as well as inhumane, about the sacrificing of anyone, especially children, on the altar of “diversity” and the preserving a variety of religious traditions. The rest of us are happy with our cars and computers, our vaccines and antibiotics. But you quaint little people with your bonnets and breeches, your horse buggies, your archaic dialect and your earth-closet privies, you enrich our lives. Of course you must be allowed to trap your children with you in your seventeenth-century time warp, otherwise something would be lost to us: a part of the wonderful diversity of human culture. A small part of me can see something in this. But the larger part is made to feel very queasy indeed.

After several hundred pages of these sickening, feigned last-second efforts to temper his totalitarianism with some sort of English version of intellectual fair-play, one almost yearns for a good, honest continental rationalist to propose we send them all to re-education camps.

By this time it is clear that Dawkins is really too far removed from any religious sensibility to reasonably hold the visceral revulsion towards it that he claims, or even to understand it. He is more like a rabid and possessed temperance activist living in an alcohol-free building. (In fact, he betrays his remote naivite by concluding the chapter with a quixotic call for all children to be compelled to master the King James Bible on literary grounds.) Not a fresh voice at all, he is just the latest and loudest embodiment of self-righteousness on the march, and an heir to all those cardinals, Jacobins, commissars and Gauleiters who convinced themselves they were repositories of an absolute truth they were born to "share" with everybody in the world. Like they, Dawkins will restrict himself to persuasion only on the easily persuaded--tougher cases demands tougher measures. He is really an advocate for a compulsory materialist universalism more than a critic of anything, and it matters little to him what the details of what anyone believes are, or whether those beliefs stem from religion, culture, tradition or whatever. If they don’t share his, that’s enough for him.

Friday, January 19, 2007


From: French intelligentsia contemplate the meaning of Bond (Elaine Sciolino, International Herald Tribune, January 19th, 2007)

For three days this week, French and foreign researchers came together in a conference sponsored in part by the National Library of France and the University of Versailles to dissect and psychoanalyze, criticize and lionize Ian Fleming's debonair creation.

Titled "James Bond (2)007: Cultural History and Aesthetic Stakes of a Saga," the conference —— France's first scholarly colloquium on James Bond —— was aimed at developing a "socioanthropology of the Bondian universe."

"James Bond is a fascinating cultural phenomenon who transcends nationality and politics," said Vincent Chenille, a historian at the National Library who helped organize the conference, which ended Thursday. "He's very human. His faults are identifiable."

Hubert Bonin, an economic historian from Bordeaux, who spoke on "the anguish of capitalist conspiracy and overpowering," had a different explanation. "In France we have the myth of the savior, the Bonaparte, the de Gaulle," he said. "Here, we're always searching for the providential hero. James Bond is a very reassuring figure for France."

The conference was a breakthrough in French scholarly circles....

"This conference is a revolutionary act," said Luc Shankland, a lecturer on media and cultural studies at Sorbonne University who is writing his doctoral dissertation on Bond and British cultural identity. "To put this artifact of popular culture in a setting like the highbrow National Library is a kind of provocation. It's been a taboo in intellectual circles to say you like James Bond."

You think you’re quite something, eh, messieurs? Well, the world is passing you by. Have you not heard about globalization? Any third world intelligentsia today could come up with a socioanthropology of the Bondian universe before lunch. Like your wine and your army, you are slipping badly. If you hold out any hope of retaining French world leadership in distilling high-falutin’ drivel and abstract polysyllabic gibberish out of thin air, you will have to remember la gloire de la patrie and set your sights much, much higher. Why don’t you give this one a try?


From: Pardon sought for last U.K. witch (Sue Leeman, Toronto Star, January 19th, 2007)

Mary Martin is 72 now, but still remembers the pain of being labelled "witch-spawn" and "evil eye" by classmates because her grandmother was one of the last people jailed in Britain over witchcraft charges.

At the height of the Second World War, medium Helen Duncan was convicted under an 18th century anti-witchcraft law and jailed for nine months by authorities who accused her of compromising Britain's safety.

Now, more than 50 years after Duncan's death, Martin is campaigning to secure her a pardon.

"I was only 11 years old when the name-calling started," said Martin, who lives near Edinburgh, Scotland. "People said, `Your grandmother was a witch.' "

"But she was simply a woman with a gift and she never endangered anybody."

In the 1940s, Duncan was a well-known medium and her clients reportedly included Winston Churchill and King George VI.

But she ran into trouble after reportedly having told the parents of a missing sailor that their son had gone down on the HMS Barham, a ship whose 1941 loss had not been reported immediately to the public in hopes of keeping morale high.

Though it was much later, military authorities grew jittery as the war went on, particularly fearing that plans for the D-Day landings of Allied forces in northern France could be compromised. They accused Duncan of endangering public safety.

Modern types who shake their head in disgusted amazement that anyone could believe somebody was a witch aren’t asking the right question, which is how could anyone believe she was a witch. But let us allow that the British High Command’s worry that Ms. Duncan was learning war secrets from the dead was absurd. Shouldn’t her pardon for witchcraft be replaced by a conviction for fraud?

Thursday, January 18, 2007


From: Critics angry over Ont. casino smoking shelters (CTV, January 17th, 2007)

Critics are chastising the Ontario government's decision to allow smoking rooms to be built inside provincially owned casinos but not bars and restaurants.

The casino plan quietly received the green light as revenues plummet because of the tough, new no-smoking law.

The Smoke Free Ontario Act, which became law last June, prohibits bars and restaurants from providing its patrons with smoking rooms.

Province-owned casinos in Niagara Falls and Windsor have been building such shelters for gamblers who like to smoke.

The ruling Liberal government says it is not being hypocritical, despite cries of using a legal loophole.

Health Promotion Minister Jim Watson says casinos can build smoking shelters because their primary business is gambling, not serving alcohol and food.

A good indication of the moral corruption that attends progressive statism is the frequency and degree to which government exempts itself from laws and strictures it imposes on the general population. Everybody loves a good scandal, but our outrage over corrupt lawbreakers is rarely matched by outrage over corrupt lawmakers. We rend our garments over predictable, individual cheaters like bribe-takers and civil servants that spend $200 for lunch, and then shrug off the special lawful privileges of our rulers.

The classic example is the old hard currency shops reserved for high officials and party members in communist regimes, which Westerners routinely trotted out as shocking and morally reprehensible and something they would never, ever abide. Their equanimity over equally outrageous special treatment for the high and mighty at home gives the lie to that. In Canada, every politician who hopes for re-election pledges undying fealty to universal health care, yet parliamentarians, senior political advisors and senior civil servants (and their families) have no-wait access to a first-class, state-of-the-art military hospital in Ottawa. Workers on Parliament Hill enjoy none of the employment and human rights protections imposed on private enployers, not even longstanding ones relating to severance and notice that even conservatives now believe have existed since time immemorial. The tax man is the only creditor lawfully permitted to collect a debt before he establishes any liability for it.

Yet over and over they tell us it is for our own good that they not be bound by what they fetter the rest of us with. And over and over again, we buy it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I need some help from any scientific sages that visit here.

One of my favourite Darwinian myths is the Great Trek out of Africa, which holds that homo sapiens originated in East Africa and then “burst out” (cf. Ernst Mayer) for reasons unknown and started trekking to the four corners of the globe. Now, granted myth is not a synonym for error, but my layman’s impression is that, for a gang that is always prattling on about the importance of objective evidence, they hold to this truly fantastic tale on the flimsiest of probative historical records and in the face of some pretty profound questions about how and why. Nobody seems to know how it happened and there appears to be little fossil evidence of a mass population spread. In other words, they seem to be shooting blind. I suspect their firm belief has more to do with Paley than Darwin in the sense that they have no other cogent explanation and can’t conceive of any alternative–just as a watch needs a watchmaker, so a dispersed species needs a voyage. Yet presumably this is being passed on to students and the general population as if it were as irrefutable as germ theory.

This week I have been trying to track two stories here and here that appear to encapsulate the two competing versions. One states that tens of thousands of years ago man emerged from East Africa and started spreading hither and yon while retaining his species “purity”. The other seems to suggest the same geographical origin, but that the whole thing is complicated by the fact that we mated with some of the foxier Neanderthals who were already hitch-hiking the globe. The period we are talking about seems to cover upwards of fifty thousand years. Colour me confused, but am I right in concluding that the evidence for both versions consists of (count ‘em) one skull? Are we really just two skulls ahead of Genecis?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


From: It's clear that cloudy juice is healthier for you(Celia Hall, The Telegraph, January 15th, 2007)

Cloudy apple juice is four times healthier than clear apple juice, scientists say today.

Not just healthier, mind you. Four times healthier.


From: Scientists to move ‘Doomsday Clock’ hands (Reuters, January 12th, 2007) (Via Brothersjudd)

The keepers of the “Doomsday Clock” plan to move its hands forward Wednesday to reflect what they call worsening nuclear and climate threats to the world.

The symbolic clock, maintained by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, currently is set at seven minutes to midnight, with midnight marking global catastrophe.

The group did not explicitly say in which direction the hands would move. But in a news release previewing an event next Wednesday, they said the change was based on “worsening nuclear, climate threats” to the world...

When it was created by the magazine’s staff in 1947, it was initially set at seven minutes to midnight and has moved 17 times since then.

Seven minutes to midnight! If they would just settle down and drink in the wisdom of Duckian friend Oroborous, a.k.a. Michael Herdegen, they would know that it isn't even twenty to one in the morning yet.

How, why and when did progressive politics became marked by medieval gloom and the conviction the end of the world is nigh? It certainly wasn’t always thus. Reading old socialist tracts and novels like Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, one marvels at the passionate belief that man’s compassion, labour and ingenuity could and soon would build a New Jerusalem in which a well-fed, fulfilled people would banish want and oppression. It was dangerous and ultimately murderous rot, of course, but it is not hard to see how the dream captured the fervent loyalty of so many, particularly the young.

Today, the left (and the scientific establishment) resembles more the old-style hopeless old conservative toadies who saw hell in a handcart in the slightest social change. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse seem to swirl around them and, as I discovered last year when I tried to help my son inject less alarmist perspectives on climate change into his school debate, they become mighty upset and disoriented by encouraging news. They seem to hold as self-evident that one unspeakable horror after another is on the horizon unless we–-well, it’s always very vague what exactly it is we are supposed to do but it seems yelling at Americans and flushing less frequently are key.

And we wonder why today’s youth has a hard time getting excited about the prospects of career and family.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

"SWING YOUR PARTNER BY THE..." UH, IMAM? (Via M. Ali Choudhury)

We haven’t seen it yet, but as Diversely We Sail has flexible research standards, we’ll take this opportunity to recommend you try out the new CBC sitcom, Little Mosque on the Prairie, the first episode of which aired last week and which you can link to from here. Apparently it is pretty good and is getting quite a few inter-denominational laughs. From all accounts it is a quintessentially Canadian take on how religious and ethnic conflicts are never so intractable they can’t be resolved by a little humourous cultural deconstruction and a shared understanding that fighting is for less enlightened folk in faraway places. This is the CBC, so be prepared for the bad guys to be right-wing talk show hosts and anal-retentive customs officials, but Canadian bad guys always seem to raise badness to new levels of innocent charm and we’re told the digs go both ways. We normally aren’t big on multi-cultural treacle around here, but anything that helps undercut the widespread bigotry that lumps some pretty fine Canadians with frothing bomb throwers gets our nod.


From: The underachievers: Flirting with disaster (Alexandra Shimo, Globe and Mail, January 13th, 2007)

But it would be unfair to say that today's underachievers are simply spoiled. Many are just unsure where to turn in a culture and economy where nothing seems certain. That's the story of James, 27, in Toronto. His mother is a journalist and his father is a lawyer, but he is having trouble finding his own way.

Since he graduated with honours from Concordia University two years ago, ”nothing has really happened,” he says. He moved home while his parents spent the fall in India. Four months later, he moved out to live with two friends. He describes his career so far as ”glorified data entry” and ”glorified scanning.” He found his first job menial and dull, and the atmosphere so oppressive that he developed irritable bowel syndrome, which ceased as soon as he quit.

No one doubts that James is bright. His friends would tease him when he blurted out random medical knowledge absorbed by osmosis in his dull days handling legal documents from drug companies. Everyone knows he could do more with his life. Why he has refused his parents' attempts to help, including the names of useful contacts, is beyond them —— and him.

”It's quite stupid,” he admits over coffee, then pauses. ”I definitely fear putting myself out there. . . . My girlfriend tells me to get my shit together, but if anyone else says it, I find it really patronizing.”

In the past, his parents tried to push him. ”I'm an only child, so their parental ego is at stake as well. They used to try and take a more active role in correcting my behaviour, but it never really worked.”

”The situation affects our relationship. They try not to say anything and it makes things tense. But if they came out and said something, then we definitely wouldn't be able to spend time together.”

Oh, you’re good, James. You’re very, very good. Not for you the angry young man railing at the perfidies of capitalism, privilege and religion, and demanding a perfect world by tomorrow--or else. No, your parents closed that off pretty well, didn’t they? With Dad setting precedents on gay marriage and Mom busy finishing her twelve-part series on the terrors of climate change, what's left for a lazy young alienated rebel today? Nothing, it seems, but playing the therapeutic card wistfully and trying to make us feel guilty we haven’t all quit our day jobs to make a lifelong vocation out of trying to unravel the elusive, multi-layered mystery that is you.

Articles on feckless youth, even good ones like this one, tend to invite immediate indignant challenges. Young advocates weigh in with economic complaints that betray their impression previous generations all bought BMW’s at age sixteen. Couch sages point out that youth has always mystified and maddened their elders and so, whatever the problem is, there is no point in second-guessing our modern ways or thinking we’ve made any mistakes–it’s all going to work out just fine. My favourites are those greying middle-agers anxious to show they haven’t lost the Woodstock spirit, who insist that, while modern youth may appear a tad light on the old get-up-and-go, they are the “best-informed” generation in history and, unlike the rest of us greedy philistines, worry terribly about human rights and the environment. But these are all boring objective arguments that miss the truly exciting story–the angst of the misunderstood parasite.

It is astounding how versatile the young have become with psychobabble and how adept many of them are at throwing the “parenting” jargon we replaced grandmother’s wisdom with right back at us. Of course, it wasn’t supposed to work this way. Psychological insight was meant to come as an earth-shattering revelation to troubled souls trapped in Victorian mind sets. Alan Bloom recounted how, as an undergrad in the fifties, he was enthralled by the fresh and dangerous appeal of Freudian thinking and all its derivatives, and what a turn on it was to be lectured about sexual repression with a cute, prim mid-Western co-ed in a crisply ironed white blouse sitting in the next seat. But today’s youth began cuddling up with their parents to watch Dr. Phil at age four and by age twelve their world view was formed, not by Sunday school, but by the lingo of the self-help book, thus giving fodder to the sublime wit of the inestimable Philip Larkin. Sexual repression? Yawn, let’s talk about me.

Note how deftly James combines feigned self-criticism and analysis of his inscutable inner workings (and conveys without actually stating that he feels badly and is working hard on the problem) with not-so-subtle jabs at his clumsy, narrow-minded parents and girlfriend and threats to abandon them. C'mon people, this isn't all in his head, you know. We're talking irritable bowel syndrome here. If they really cared, they’d give him his psychic “space”, by which he means a few more years to learn how to get up in the morning. It takes years to master this gobbledegook and many more years to see through it, but this is the jargon that drives our courts, boardrooms and schools today, and the prizes go to those who know how to use it to manipulate others and justify whatever they do. It would indeed be a negligent parent that didn’t ensure his child excelled at it. But how do you do that while at the same time making them understand it is just voodoo and doesn’t apply at all to their relationship with you, so they had better get a job fast if they know what's good for them?

Friday, January 12, 2007


From: The World will be "done" by the year 2025 (Renéé Delavy,, January 10th, 2007)

You are standing in midst of the Brazilian original forest, look up in the sky, out of a green hell, a yellow snake flies into your face, curls her tail quickly around your neck, looks grinning in your face, snaps forward and tears your eyes out and afterwards swallows you and you are dead as dead can be. Okay, I must admit: The Brazilian forest is the whole planet, the green hell is the USA, the snake is the US-capitalism of globalisation, the grinning is not the one of a snake but of George W. Bush, your eyes are the two sides of human ethics, and the dead body at the end is the species Homo sapiens.

Do you really believe, that there is just one politician, CEO, Nobel- price holder or philosopher, able to prevent our world from being "done" as a result of self-destruction? Naivety has its price, too. Just note the following: The World of Homo sapiens will be "done" by the year 2025, it may well be tumbled, will have come to the end with its Latin - and in any respects you could think of. The planet may be "done" for reasons of economics, ecology, resources and energy, due to a break-down of cultural life, or collapse due to all imaginable stupidities in politics. Nothing, absolutely no measures humans could guess, will prevent the final down-fall of humanity. Why? Think of the snake and than have a look at the following arguments:

Think of England has just treated us to the latest ravings of Harold Pinter, one of England’s coterie of angry old men, on the unspeakable evils of Bush-Blair-Hitler. Move over, Mr. Pinter, your time is up. A whole new generation of talented, insane leftists is taking your place and revealing your anti-American rhetoric and poetry to be as tired and dated as your plays. The time for the Ms. Delavys of the world has come and they will not be denied. Don't fight it, it's hopeless. There is really nothing left for you to do but retreat quietly to your bedroom, curl up and die.

This stuff defies analysis and so Diversely We Sail is pleased to announce its first contest. You are invited to share or link us to your favourite short piece of anti-American or anti-Bush bile. Extra points will awarded if the source is American and demonstrates artful pathological self-contempt. Depending on the response, we may consider collecting them into an anthology. If we do, we promise to share royalties, unless you are an American and therefore personally responsible for the total destruction of the biosphere and all life in it. In that case, we will use your share to throw one heck of a party.


From: Defense Dept. warns about Canadian spy coins (MSN, January 11th, 2007)

In a U.S. government warning high on the creepiness scale, the Defense Department cautioned its American contractors over what it described as a new espionage threat: Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters hidden inside.

The government said the mysterious coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.

Hey, give us a break. It takes time to get a grip on this hard power thing.


From: Can the Crocodile Kid bring back the millions to Australia's shores? (Bernard Lagan, The Times, January 10th, 2007)

She is barely eight years old and lost her father, Steve Irwin, the crocodile hunter, only four months ago. But today Bindi Irwin will travel to the United States to seek stardom — amid muted fears that she is being pushed too far, too fast from a childhood already interrupted by tragedy.

Bindi Irwin is to front a new 26-episode show, Bindi, the Jungle Girl, that is to be shown on the Discovery Kids channel.

Australian tourism chiefs, for whom her father was a golden asset, have picked up on Bindi’s emerging fame and have given her top billing in events in Los Angeles and New York for G’Day USA Week, a promotion aimed at bolstering tourism to Australia. She is also scheduled to appear with leading talk-show hosts including David Letterman and Ellen DeGeneres, give a speech to the National Press Club in Washington and perform on stage with the internationally known Australian child entertainers the Wiggles.

Outwardly, she goes with the backing of most Australians, who were moved by the brave eulogy she delivered at her father’s memorial service. Child psychologists who posed questions about her ability to fill her father’s shoes — her stated ambition — were met with public words of reassurance from her mother, Terri, and Irwin’s manager, John Stainton, both of whom emphasised that the course was Bindi’s choice. In an editorial yesterday, though, the Melbourne Age newspaper bluntly put the questions about Irwin Inc that many Australians harbour but few are prepared to ask.

“Clearly studios can see the same talent in her that made her father a household name — the next generation. But a fitness video, a cooking video, an appearance with The Wiggles — is it too much, too soon?” said The Age. “Her affinity with nature, like her father’s, is well documented and those who support her have always said this is the life Bindi wants for herself. Can she understand it? From here, the public is part of her life. So before we make a heroine out of this little girl, as we made a hero of her father, let’s look at her tiny shoulders and wonder how they could support such a burden.”

Stainton defended Bindi’s busy schedule yesterday, saying that she would not have to do anything she did not want. “My criterion is, if Bindi doesn’t want to do it that day, if she wants to go to the zoo or the beach, then that’s what we’re doing. That is the priority; it is what she wants to do.”

And we all know how eight year olds that get to do exactly what they want as the world cheers them on become such pleasant, happy and solid adults. There is nothing particularly new about celebrity children, but at least Disney assured us Annette Funicello would be forced to do her homework every night.

What is interesting here is how the concerns about this madness are “muted”, presumably a euphemism for the fact that nobody knows how to articulate them with any confidence. One might think that a precocious eight year old girl determined to follow in the footsteps of a possessed father who was killed for his recklessness might benefit from some strict hands-on parenting, if not a few years locked in a convent. And why is it assumed the problem is that the little darling is being pushed too far? She presents on television as one who is having a ball and just can’t wait to stick her head into a croc’s mouth or cuddle up to a cobra on The Discovery Channel. She isn’t being pushed too far, she is being abandoned.

Bindi is an expression of the sea-change in our perceptions of children and child-raising that have arisen since the sixties and seventies. Whereas before children were by and large seen as adorable but selfish blobs to be molded by love, guidance and discipline, now more and more we hold they are born without original sin with an innate potential to fulfill their destinies as Olympic champions, award-winning film directors or corporate magnates provided we, the adults in their lives, don’t damage their fragile little psyches by setting boundaries against their wishes, boring them or giving them enfeebling complexes by telling them there really are things that go bump in the night. So frightened have we become of our own children that we retreat more and more from the duties of parenthood, but we aren’t brave enough to acknowledge this, so we call it freedom. Raising them in conscious reaction to carefully cultivated images of strict, loveless Victorian gloom that we keep in the forefront of our minds, whether we suffered them or not, we hide from ourselves the fact that we have no idea what virtues and values we should be trying to impart to them. Which is really not terribly surprising considering there are so few we impose on ourselves anymore.

Tuesday, January 9, 2007


It really isn't very smart to get the United States angry.

Monday, January 8, 2007


From: Whither the Scots? (John O' Sullivan, National Post, January 8th, 2007)

There is growing support within Scotland for independence. As well as forecasting that the SNP will be the largest party with about one-third of the total vote, opinion polls show that more Scots favour independence than oppose it. One recent poll registered 52% support for full independence....

As long as the English and Scots saw each other as primarily British, members of the same national community, such things didn't matter. Once devolution emphasized the differences between them, however, the English began to resent these transfers as unfair. Fifty-nine per cent of English voters now support Scottish independence.

In my early days over at Brothersjudd, there was a lot of rage and resentment directed at Canada, and frequently I had to bite my virtual tongue in the face of splenetic posts and comments demanding the Marines finally fulfill the promise of Manifest Destiny, grab the limitless oil and shut the ungrateful whiners up. As leftist Canadians never stop musing darkly how the rapacious Yankee trader may move at any moment if we let our progressive guard down and cease wielding that big stick of soft power, it was all a little surreal for a pro-American Canadian conservative. But I soon learned I could relax. Dependably, by about the fifth comment, somebody would point out that would only result in twenty million more Democratic voters, and then where would they be? Plus they would have to pay for welfare in the Maritimes. And did they really want to import ten million frogs? I mean, c’mon man, press two for French!?

Among Orrin’s favourite maxims is “Any people that thinks of themselves as a nation is one”, which at times seems to translate into over-admiration for any disaffected nationalist with a bomb. What he doesn’t seem to acknowledge is how easy it all is in the modern West, where intellectual establishments seem to have lost any ability to rally for a whole greater than the sum of its parts, argue with inspiration against disaffected nationalism and warn minorities to pipe down if they know what’s good for them. Whether the issue is Scottish devolution, aboriginal self-government, immigration or the “burden” of Iraq, the zeitgeist seems to be driven by a compulsive and neurotic yearning to confess all manner of past sin and exploitation, bar the door and be left alone to enjoy ourselves. Slowly, we are abjuring any connection to or responsibility for “others” in our midst. More and more we even resent their presence, and if the only solution is to shrink the geographical or political limits of the midst, so be it. You don’t have to be a nostalgic imperialist to sense that is the hallmark of a tired, doubting civilization with very limited resiliency.

Not a problem for the Islamists.

Sunday, January 7, 2007


Every Christmas I get to buy the books I want, hand them over to She Who is Perfect and then squeal in feigned surprise when I unwrap them. It is the best part of the holiday and for weeks before I relive the excitement of my childhood and contemplate the read-fest that will follow the turkey. Leading this year’s list were The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins and The Language of God by Francis Collins (Head of the Human Genome Project). I was anticipating two good reads but I was unprepared for how revealing the two are in tandem and what together they demonstrate about the characters and dispositions of the religious and non-religious. There is plenty of hard science in both–actually more with Collins– but the scientific truths they share are filtered through two very different perceptions of what exactly it is they are seeing.

Both men are Big E evolutionists who take their Darwinism neat. They differ profoundly about God, but not at all about natural evolution. Anybody hoping Collins will help him question the reliability of the fossil record, doubt descent from a common ancestor, posit divine meddling in eyes and bacterial flagellum or distinguish micro from macro-evolution will be let down badly. Indeed, Collins is actually aiming as much at literal creationists and IDer’s as at non-believers. He is very troubled by the resistance to natural evolution among the religious, which he rightly sees as particularly Christian (not even Muslims are so hung up) and even particularly American Christian, but he respects it and understands why it persists. In fact, he is so sensitive to the feelings of all these scientific doubters that at times his tone becomes cloying and patronizing, as if he were addressing a tea party of nice elderly creationist ladies and was worried the old dears might faint if he went too far too fast. He has great personal respect for the champions of ID (which in one rare and delicious moment of sarcasm he calls Dawkins’s and Dennett’s love-child) and even for some creationist scientists, but none at all for their science, which he analyses and then deftly destroys using a combination of the latest discoveries in biology and paleontology and the writings of St. Augustine. Talk about a one-two punch!

The two books prove the old saw that atheists look through microscopes and the faithful through telescopes. Collins’s faith has both a scientific and non-scientific source, the scientific being grounded in modern physics. He describes a range of current theories on the origins and development of matter and the cosmos with elegant simplicity and concludes that the anthropic principle compels either belief or wild, completely unsubstantiated conjecture about an infinite number of hidden universes. If there is one sentence that sums it all up for him it is this statement by a noted physicist: “The more I examine the universe and the details of its architecture, the more evidence I find that the universe in some sense must have known we were coming.”

The second source of Collins’s faith is what he terms the universal Moral Law, which he sees followed, however imperfectly, in all faiths and societies except secular ones and which is inexplicable without faith. Here it should be mentioned that, as with C.S. Lewis (his inspiration), Thomas Merton, St Augustine and many other theological trailblazers, Collins’s upbringing was not particularly religious and he passed through a long period of youthful atheism. His faith is that of the convert, not the pushy and insufferably all-knowing kind, but the kind who has no difficulty distinguishing the tenets of faith from the actions of churches, and fundamental moral strictures from religious practices and disciplines born of reverence and tradition. Unlike many doubters who lived through religious childhoods and seem to have consequent lifelong difficulties distinguishing faith from fetters, he understands that belief is not just about submitting to unassailable authority and irrefutable evidence, but equally about choosing on the basis of what yer lyin’ eyes tell you. And unlike many modern materialists, he also knows the Infinite remains largely hidden and that faith bumps up regularly against the empirically unknowable and even logically inconsistent. For example, his belief does not extend to predestination and he knows the world would have evolved very differently if the meteor he believes killed off the dinosaurs hadn’t hit the Yucatan, but his intrigue and doubts about whether there was design in that or not does not cause him to rail petulantly that such a mischievous, illogical god is simply not worth believing in. Collins is a practicing committed Christian, not an airy faculty lounge theist, but he knows how to separate the wheat from the chaff and in a sense carries all the hopes of Pope Benedict’s maxim, Succisa virescit (Pruned, it grows again).

The good news for Dawkins fans is that Dawkins is still very much Dawkins and hasn’t lost any of his ability to take us on thrilling, breathless rides through the mysteries of existence, and to answer each and every one of our questions with total authority. It’s all very simple: there is nothing but the accidental natural world (in fact, there isn’t really much more than biology) and anybody who thinks otherwise is stupid or evil. So contemptuous is he of religion that he won’t even fall back on the popular Darwinist notion that it offered some traditional survival advantage. It was all a big evolutionary mistake, a genetic misfiring not unlike like Downs Syndrome. Nothing, absolutely nothing good is to be said about it, and any bright young agnostic inclined to see it as benign, or who doesn’t think of it at all, had better understand Dawkins is handing out white feathers and expects to see him in the trenches at dawn.

Dawkins’s breezy style and polemic flair hide the fact that this is a grossly simplistic book by a very angry man who knows much more than he understands, and it is heartening to see so many of even his non-believing scientific colleagues disassociate themselves in embarrassment. His depth of understanding of theology is that of a freshman after the first term of Philosophy 101. Here is a good example of Dawkins at his theologically deepest, and also of the faux-politesse that gives a very English aura of reasonableness to the outrageous: “The five ‘proofs’ asserted by Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century don’t prove anything, and are easily–though I hesitate to say so, given his eminence–exposed as vacuous.” From there the roller-coaster thunders down, flattening one vacuous eminence after another.

After taking about two hundred pages to reveal thousands of years of Western thought as a bad joke perpetrated by philosophical underachievers, Dawkins addresses morality and more or less repeats the same muddled, a-historical analyses of his previous writings. He is not without the courage to address tough questions from the enemy, like how to explain Hitler and Stalin, but his responses are so superficial that one suspects he mastered them responding in two sentence quips to questions from young audiences on the university speech circuit. He is honest enough to allow there is nothing rare about believing scientists who he admits “bewilder” him, surely an embarrassing admission from one who earns a living speaking with sage-like authority on the tensions between religion and science.

The end of the book is where it all becomes very nasty. Dawkins takes on the mantle of protector of the children of the world and comes within a hair’s breadth of arguing that religious parents should be prohibited from teaching faith to their children, if they should be allowed to keep them at all. This deserves a separate post and it will soon have it, but if Dawkins were, say, German rather than a ruddy Englishman with a pretty face, he would be revealed for exactly what he is. He is a living, breathing example of how modern secularist thinking can start with wonderful, exciting talk of freedom and liberation and end in much, much darker places.

Collins and Dawkins are obviously divided by emotional disposition as much as philosophy. Both claim to stand in awe of the wonders of nature, but for Collins it is a humbling, unsettling awe whereas one easily imagines Dawkins repeating “Wow, cool!” as he flits around an endless cycle of labs, conferences and parties. Dawkins appears to have lived broadly, but Collins has thought deeply and not always happily. Whereas Dawkins casually tosses out sunny encouragement to enjoy our sex lives, Collins recounts his daughter’s brutal rape by a stranger and the searing pain it caused him and her for years. He also tells one of those life-changing inspirational stories about a Nigerian farmer he saved temporarily in a remote and under-equipped clinic, who looked up from his Bible afterwards and told Collins calmly and serenely that he (the farmer) could answer his (Collins’s) doubts about why he was even in Africa–Collins came for him. One can only imagine Dawkins’s patronizing smile at that and hear him dissemble to his fellow brights over a fine dinner: “Given Collins’s cultural dislocation and the incidences of both Christianity and tuberculosis in Nigeria, it is by no means statistically improbable that...”

Two men who believe exactly the same thing about science and the natural world. One loves sadly in awe and doubt, while the other scorns cheerfully with impatient certitude. Perhaps it is within those differences, rather than between the competing claims of theology and science, that we all eventually must choose who we are.

Saturday, January 6, 2007


While chess has always been thought of as a battleground fought over by nerds, the game is enjoying a popular resurgence among young people across North America thanks to the Internet and the fact there's no longer any social stigma about being a nerd.

I can't stand it.


Canada defeated Russia 4-2 in the gold-medal final to win for the first time in Europe since 1997 and continue a golden trend that started in North America in 2005. The Canadian juniors have reeled off 18 consecutive victories and three world titles in a row.

Traffic was uncommonly heavy around noon yesterday, as folks (including The Prime Minister) booked off work early to catch the final of the annual world junior championship, held every year beginning the day after Christmas. The tournament brings together the world’s eight best hockey nations, but only in Canada is it a national passion and only when Canada is the host are games sold out long in advance. These are the best of our young players on the eve of their professional careers and the tournament offers us the sweet spectacle of seeing them play their hearts out solely for love of country before they go off to earn millions playing in half-empty arenas in places like Phoenix, Nashville and Tampa Bay.

Russia used to own this tournament, but for fifteen years Canada has dominated and now leads in gold medals. The USA came within one shootout goal of knocking us off in the semi-final, which would have been a glorious upset few Americans would have heard about. For the umpteenth time we squared off in the final against the fearsome Russians–-skilled, fast, disciplined and mean–-and once again out-skated, out-hit and out-scored them. It does seem to be true even in the pros that, while Europeans often dazzle during the regular season, the Canadian players dig down deep and find something extra in the playoffs. We like to call it Canadian grit.

Anyway, there was much joy at Casa Burnet yesterday and my son and I both felt it called for a celebration, so we went out together to the local arena to watch his friend play hockey.

Friday, January 5, 2007


What would we do without Mark Steyn? He was arguably the one upside to 9/11 and he single-handedly gave Canadians a solitary tenuous link to national self-respect during the Liberal Dark Ages. Not since Paul Johnson has any author so artfully laid bare the concrete reality behind the miasma of abstract platitudes that blinker the West. I will never forget how haunted and enraged I felt when I read him for the first time just days after 9/11 and came across this: “Why do some folks feel the full existential horror of the innocent young secretary incinerated by the photocopy machine, while others see nothing but a vindication of their thesis on Kyoto?”.

This year, America Alone was waiting for me under the tree, and what a ride it is. It is extremely rare to make wit and sarcasm bite through a whole book, but Steyn succeeds. It should be profoundly depressing to read his compelling cases that the West is in terminal social and demographic decline and that there is nothing phobic about Islamophobia, but he is just too funny to allow any gloom to take hold. Is he betting we can laugh our way back to stiffened spines? Would 5th century Rome have held out if the dwindling band of conservative stoics had a Steyn to force them to hoot themselves out of their torpor and into action?

To say the least, his political views are lacking in nuance and there is plenty of room for even hardened conservatives to accuse him of exaggeration, but he is at the top of his game when he skewers the ideological groupspeak of the feckless, self-indulgent Western left. No one–absolutely no one– can make them look as stupid as he does. Here for your morning smile are two excerpts that one might expect would drive some of them to the local monastery in shame, if they were capable of shame that is:

“But what to worry about? Iranian nukes? Nah. that’s just some racket cooked up by the Christian fundamentalist Bush and his Zionist buddies to give Halliburton a pretext to take over the Persian carpet industry. Worrying about nukes is so eighties. “They make me want to throw up...They make me feel sick to my stomach,” wrote the British novelist Martin Amis, who couldn’t stop thinking about them during the Thatcher terror. In the introduction to a collection of short stories, he worried about the Big One and outlined his own plan for coping for a nuclear winter wonderland:

"Suppose I survive. Suppose my eyes aren’t pouring down my face, suppose I am untouched by the hurricane of secondary missiles that all mortar, metal and glass has abruptly become: suppose all this. I shall be obliged (and it’s the last thing I feel like doing) to retrace that long mile home, through the firestorm, the remains of the thousand-miles-an-hour winds, the warped atoms, the groveling dead. Then-God willing, if I still have the strength, and of course if they are still alive–I must find my wife and children and I must kill them.

But the Big One never fell. And instead of killing his wife, Martin Amis had to make do with divorcing her."

* * *
Everyone’s for a free Tibet, but no one’s for freeing Tibet. So Tibet will stay unfree–as unfree now as it was when the first Free Tibet campaigner slapped the very first “FREE TIBET” sticker onto the back of his Edsel. Idealism as inertia is the very hallmark of the movement. Well, not entirely inert: it must be a pain in the neck when you trade in the Volvo for a Subaru and have to bend down and paste on a new “Free Tibet” sticker. For a while, my otherwise not terribly political wife got extremely irritated by the Free Tibet schtick, demanding to know at a pancake breakfast at the local church what precisely some harmless hippy-dippy old neighbor of ours meant by the sticker he’s been proudly displaying decade in, decade out. “But what exactly are you doing to free Tibet?” she insisted. “You’re not doing anything, are you?”

“Give the guy a break,” I said when we got back home. “He’s advertising his moral superiority, not calling for action. If Rumsfeld were to say, ‘Free Tibet? Jiminy, what a swell idea! The Third Infantry Division goes in on Thursday,’ the bumper-sticker crowd would be aghast. They’d have to bend down and peel off the ‘FREE TIBET” stickers and replace them with ‘WAR IS NOT THE ANSWER.’”

Buy the book.

Thursday, January 4, 2007


FROM: We love to watch (Warren Kinsella, National Post, January 4th, 2007)

Newspapers around the planet did likewise, carrying front-page photographs of a noose being placed around Hussein's neck by masked Shia executioners. On the Fox network, the execution footage was broadcast almost as soon as it was available. (Strangely, Fox also offered up side-by-side photographs of Hussein -- one, a file photo marked "ALIVE." Another, showing the Iraqi's neck twisted at a right angle to his torso, described -- redundantly -- as "DEAD.")

Whenever death and violence take place in proximity to digital video recorders, these days, the results inevitably seep onto the Internet. It is unstoppable.

Police reporters are not unfamiliar with this dichotomy. When I was such a reporter at the Calgary Herald and the Ottawa Citizen, for example, the news desk would periodically field outraged calls from subscribers, angry about the publication of a photograph of a bloody car crash. But, whenever we were at the scenes of said car crashes, we would always observe the same phenomenon repeating itself: Every car -- every single one -- slowing down to take a good look at the carnage. Some would even pull over to the roadside to snap a photo or two, while Grandma and the kids cheerfully observed the proceedings.

Does violence possess its own charisma? Is it sick, or wrong, to be attracted to photographs of car crashes, or shadowy video footage of Saddam Hussein's neck being snapped by a hangman's noose? Perhaps; probably. But as police reporters know -- as the builders of Rome's Coliseum knew -- human beings have always been drawn to these images, just as surely as they are often repulsed by what they see when they get there. The Google Video and You Tube statistics don't lie.

If you are like me, and you watched all of the hanging of Saddam Hussein -- uneasy, but also unable to tear one's eyes away -- we share the same narrow moral ground. On the one hand, we are aware that violence does, usually, beget violence. But, on the other hand, we are not unhappy to see a notorious murderer finally receiving crude justice. And grateful that a record exists, however blurry, to prove to us that he did not escape his long overdue descent into Hell.

A year ago I would have bet he never would have been executed. The international law and human rights gang were determined to spin it out forever and had co-mingled the question of his fate with opposition to the war and discrediting the Iraqi government very effectively. When it happened, my reaction was huge relief for the Iraqis and a prayer of thanks that the world hadn’t completely lost any sense of what justice is. But traveling through the blogosphere and seeing so much squirming, moralizing, faux-tristesse and "Although he was certainly a bad man..." personal distancing from the issue, and so little care for the future political and even personal security of Iraqis, I couldn’t help but feel I was in the company of strict Victorians talking about sex and trying to banish or legislate away some of the darker or more ambiguous realities about the human condition. If the fallout from Victorian repression really is one of the causes of the postmodern de-linking of sex and morality with the consequent celebration of anything-goes in the name of freedom and choice, God help us when a new generation overthrows the violence-is-always-wrong ethos that now rules the Western zeitgeist