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?”


From: The great university cheating scandal (MacLeans, February 12th, 2007)

Experts say the reasons for cheating among today's students extend from on-campus competition, to more fluid notions around what is unethical, to a cultural generation gap between students and professors. "In this knowledge-worker age, it's now increasingly tied to doing well in school so you can get into better grad schools so you can get better jobs -- so the pressure to do well is really high," says Stephen Covey, author of The Speed of Trust. "There's strong data that within companies the No. 1 reason for ethical violations is the pressure to meet expectations, sometimes unrealistic expectations." The same, he says, holds true for school. Over the last two decades, too, North American universities have seen their mandates shift from institutions of learning, remote from the more quotidian aims of finding work and putting food on the table, to the necessary condition for entree into the corporate world. "I think there's a lot of students these days who have bought into the message that you come to university for a credential -- to get a better job, to make more money," says Christensen Hughes. As Covey says, students "get the degree, not the education."

Some students who admit to misconduct often believe their professors are complicit in their cheating. Among engineering students, says Christensen Hughes, "there was a sense that they were expected to take more courses than other students, typically, so they felt justified -- they needed to find shortcuts." She adds: "They also said that they assumed that faculty knew that. So in a sense they felt there was collusion or, 'Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, we all know what's going on, we all know what it takes to survive this program.' "

McCabe sees something else at work in the trend. "Younger people joining the workforce feel much more at ease making their own rules -- deciding what rules they can ignore, what rules they should apply and what way they can apply them," he says. In a small but not insignificant number of the students surveyed, McCabe finds some who see cheating as a valuable skill in itself. "I'll have students who will say, 'I'm just acquiring a skill that will serve me well in the real world,' " says McCabe. "They see it as training in a sense -- they're learning how to beat the system."

Cheating at university is hardly a new development, but surely a culture of widespread, openly-admitted cheating is. Faced with a generation that has been taught to equate “wrong” with “wrong for me”, how could this problem be tackled other than through increased surveillance, invasion of privacy and police work? Is honesty not just another one of those platonist ideals that have caused us so much unnecessary grief? Would they respond to reasoned arguments on how we evolved an aversion to cheating because it conferred survival benefits?

Thursday, February 22, 2007


From: Chimpanzees 'hunt using spears' (BBC, February 22nd, 2007)

Chimpanzees in Senegal have been observed making and using wooden spears to hunt other primates, according to a study in the journal Current Biology.

Researchers documented 22 cases of chimps fashioning tools to jab at smaller primates sheltering in cavities of hollow branches or tree trunks.

The report's authors, Jill Pruetz and Paco Bertolani, said the finding could have implications for human evolution.

Chimps had not been previously observed hunting other animals with tools.

From: Jane Goodall Institute

At first, the Gombe chimps fled whenever they saw Jane. But she persisted, watching from a distance with binoculars, and gradually the chimps allowed her closer. One day in October 1960 she saw chimps David Graybeard and Goliath strip leaves off twigs to fashion tools for fishing termites from a nest. Scientists thought humans were the only species to make tools, but here was evidence to the contrary. On hearing of Jane's observation, her mentor Louis Leakey said: "Now we must redefine tool, redefine man, or accept chimpanzees as humans."

Also in her first year at Gombe, Jane observed chimps hunting and eating bushpigs and other animals, disproving theories that chimpanzees were primarily vegetarians and fruit eaters who only occasionally supplemented their diet with insects and small rodents.


From: Eco-pilgrims gather to 'heed the Goracle' (Anthony Reinhart, Globe and Mail, February 22nd, 2007)

They came in their hundreds to hear him speak, and even those left standing outside the crowded hall would not be deterred from lingering in the proximity of the Baptist prophet from Tennessee.

It wasn't any old-time religion that drew these believers to Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto, but a concept they feel is every bit as crucial to humanity -- global warming -- that made them want to get close to Al Gore, the impassioned former U.S. vice-president, as he delivered his now famous Inconvenient Truth about climate change.

Like many a bygone leader who happened along at a key moment in history, Mr. Gore -- who has been sounding the environmental warning bell for years -- has suddenly inspired the kind of faith and fervour in others that he insists will be needed to overcome such a monumental problem.

"From my perspective, it is a form of religion," said Bruce Crofts, 69, as he held a banner aloft for the East Toronto Climate Action Group amid a lively prelecture crowd outside the old hall. [...]

Across the driveway in front of the hall, a large banner exhorted the crowd to "Heed the Goracle." Belonging to a fledgling group called ecoSanity, it was still there hours later, as Mr. Gore enjoyed a reception at the adjacent Simcoe Hall and the dispersing crowd voiced its praise.

"He's the prime minister we need in Canada," said Reid MacWilliam, who has been re-examining his entire life to make it more environmentally responsible.

Many attendees said that the speech closely mimicked the documentary An Inconvenient Truth, but they seemed pleased to listen to it again.

"You can't hear that message enough," said Shawn Omstead, attending with his daughter Meredith. "When we watched the movie, the next day we went and replaced all the light bulbs in the house . . . you see the movie and it sticks with you for a bit and then it fades."

"It was not our intention to have a religious approach," ecoSanity group founder Glenn MacIntosh said, "but it was our understanding that it was that kind of movement that people were craving; that kind of spiritual connection in their gut."

Perhaps the most quaint thing about us climate change sceptics is that we still believe we’re engaged in a scientific debate.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


From: Finding God at 30,000 feet (Larry McCloskey, National Post, February 21st, 2007)

I didn't expect spiritual uplift from the magazine -- just the usual fluff. Yet there in front of me was an extraordinary article written by the Canadian intellectual Northrop Frye just before his death in 1991. Frye astounded the world with his dispassionate and erudite academic writing for half a century. But this was Frye raw, naked, utterly unlike his former public self.

The article described how Frye came to grips with the death of his beloved wife of many years. He began by mentioning the fact that, in 1936, before his academic life began, the author was ordained a United Church minister.

Yet he admitted that during his entire life he had never had faith. Even as the author of the monumental The Great Code: the Bible and Literature, Frye hadn't believed in God. It seems that, for most of his life, he was content to consider all matters of faith as academic.

Yet after his wife died, Frye could no longer sustain an academic distance from his own life. Though he had a masterpiece on the Bible to his credit, on the question of God he now felt the need to go deeper. So he put his giant intellectual motor to work.

What he could not accept was that his wife of a lifetime -- what she had meant to him, the essence of her -- could be reduced to simply a collection of cells that had once lived and were now dead. And since this belief was his strongest impulse, it followed that he must believe that she continued to live in some way. And if this latter belief was really stronger than his former academic belief, he reasoned that this was faith, perhaps not in the accepted pure sense of the word, but what he saw as a negative faith--a default faith.

It was an epiphany. If Northrop Frye believed that the concept of negative faith had merit, that was good enough for me.

After a lifetime of guilt for what I had not been able to believe, Frye's revelation was a welcome relief. Negative faith may not be a fulfilling form of faith -- because it means never really knowing the things we long to know, such as the nature of God and the afterlife. But I'll take negative faith with an open mind over the fraudulence of an atheist's claim to knowing what can never be known.

Mock on, Dawkins.


From: Climate protection best choice for business growth, top economist says (Mike De Souza, National Post, February 20th, 2007)

Fighting global warming and working to meet Canada’s Kyoto commitments will not cause an economic collapse, despite the Harper government’s recent assertions, a major economist told a lunchtime business crowd on Monday.

Former World Bank chief economist Sir Nicholas Stern was making his first visit to Canada since last fall, when he published a 700-page report that made international headlines with its warnings that the world could face an economic catastrophe similar to the Great Depression by ignoring the threat of climate change.

"So you have your choice now," Stern said in a speech to the Economic Club of Toronto: "You can be absurd and reject the science; you can be reckless and say we can adapt to whatever happens; or you can be unethical and disregard the future, simply because it’s in the future. That’s entirely up to you."

Decisions, decisions.

More: Stern Warning

Tuesday, February 20, 2007


From: Airbus faces break-up as Franco-German talks fail (David Robertson et. al., The Times, February 20th, 2007)

The crisis at Airbus was triggered on Sunday by shareholders refusing to back a restructuring plan submitted by Louis Gallois, the co-chief executive of EADS and head of Airbus. The plan, which was scheduled to be announced today at Airbus headquarters in Toulouse, called for cost-cutting and improved efficiencies in aircraft production.

The Power 8 plan will entail the outsourcing of factories, the rationalisation of the supply chain and possibly thousands of redundancies. Mr Gallois is also trying to tie work on a new aircraft, the A350, into this new, more efficient production regime. This would mean concentrating A350 work at fewer sites rather than spreading construction across Europe, as happens at present.

However, the German Government has balked at receiving less work on the A350 than the French. The present proposals could leave the Germans with only 10 per cent of A350 work, compared with France’s 35 per cent.

Pressure will be on Mr Gallois to water down Power 8 and assign more A350 work to Germany. This could endanger the UK’s role in the A350, which covers about 20 per cent of the €10 billion (£6.7 billion) project. The Airbus factory at Broughton, North Wales, is scheduled to build the wings of the aircraft. However, sources close to Airbus said last night that the Germans were playing a political game with France. These sources believe that the Germans will agree to Power 8 — and giving France the bulk of A350 work — only if they get all A320 production in return. This would effectively split Airbus, with the smaller aircraft made in Germany and the larger ones in France. A formal divorce between the two countries would then be achieved easily.

French Airbus executives were pinning the blame yesterday on German shareholders for the deadlock over Power 8 restructuring. They said that Angela Merkel, the Chancellor, had used the main German shareholder, DaimlerChrysler, to express her opposition to a reorganisation of Airbus’s production model.

Sources in Paris accused Mrs Merkel of playing politics at the expense of Airbus to win praise among the German electorate.

Which, of course, the French would never do. But what a debacle. Is it any wonder half of Europe wants to deep-six the EU and the other half wants to get rid of the nation-states that compose it?



From: The fantasy that is Kyoto(Don Martin, National Post, February 20th, 2007)

Deep in the bowels of government, they're working on Operation Dusty Shelf. OK, so that's not the actual name of this huge bureaucratic undertaking. More like the code word for its future destination.

When a Liberal-ordered bill forces a Conservative government to plan ways to implement the Kyoto protocol, let's just say this is not a motivational exercise for federal bureaucrats. They know their strategy will be stillborn.

Sources say Environment Minister John Baird regrets his initial dismissive bluster against the Kyoto-enforcing private member's bill, which passed through the Commons last week and now awaits a rubber stamp after being debated in the Liberal- dominated Senate.

But it hasn't dimmed his government's disdain for a bill that gives them 60 days to produce an action plan to deliver on the Kyoto target of cranking down Canadian greenhouse gas emissions to 6% below 1990 levels.

"It's not enforceable, not economical and not even constitutional," fumes a senior official in the Environment Ministry. "But we're working on something to deal with it."

This much is certain. The cost and consequences of Kyoto's implementation will not be sugarcoated by this government. The intention is not to deliver warm and fuzzys on ways to meet our international obligations, but to pour cold water and hard realities on the folly of aggressively trying to meet the 2012 target.[...]

If there's a message Prime Minister Stephen Harper should be preparing amid his sudden greening, it's that Kyoto is a fantasy. That Canada will default on the first round of targets for the Kyoto accord is no longer in doubt.

In the months to come, his government will have to roll out a plan to sell the cost of Kyoto as incredible -- and his alternative as credible.

If the Liberals, New Democrats and Bloc Quebecois cannot stomach a Conservative green scheme that doesn't include Kyoto's 2012 targets, they will be dared to force an election.

Canada is not generally in the forefront of intellectual debate on global issues, but this could be very interesting. Last week the opposition parties foolishly combined to pass a bill compelling Ottawa to meet its Kyoto commitments and to produce a plan within sixty days. Everyone knows the task is impossible, but on this issue we live in a world where rhetoric trumps reality. Last fall, Harper was sagging in the polls over the environment, but a series of high-profile announcements earned him some credibility and he now seems to be standing in good stead for a looming spring election. Harper is obviously looking for a way to force the opposition to tell Canadians exactly what Kyoto would mean to them personally. He is articulate and intelligent himself, and not a man to back away from a principled fight or hide behind mushy platitudes. If you will excuse the cliche, sparks are going to fly.


From: Are cliches the Achilles' heel of our language? (Or do they take one for the team, give 110% and keep us in the loop?)(Robert Fulford, National Post, February 20th, 2007)

Anyone who talks about writing, or writes about talking, makes a point of condemning dead phrases. These denunciations, while effective and sometimes eloquent, change nothing. The enemies of cliches come and go, but cliches persist.

Everyone seems to agree that cliches stifle writing and thinking. In politics they're downright dangerous. Vaclav Havel, hero of the Czech struggle against the Soviets, claims that cliches, by supporting accepted ways of thinking, encourage dictatorships: "The cliche organizes life; it expropriates people's identity; it becomes ruler, defence lawyer, judge and the law."

Thirty-five years ago Walter Ong, a great student of language, described the anti-cliche campaign in Rhetoric, Romance, and Technology: "Cliches have for many years now been hunted down mercilessly with a view to total extermination." More recently, Martin Amis expanded that metaphor in his book of essays, The War Against Cliche. Ideally, he claimed all writing opposes cliche, including cliches of the mind and heart. "When I dispraise, I am usually quoting cliches. When I praise, I am usually quoting the opposed qualities of freshness, energy and reverberation of voice."

But if you open a newspaper, or watch the TV news, you're likely to be told that wolves are appearing in sheep's clothing, someone is killing someone else with kindness, fools aren't suffered gladly, X is a poster child for Y, and today's fast-paced society is causing widespread stress.

Meanwhile, some helpful soul will explain (as if it had been discovered recently) that most of an iceberg lies below the water, out of sight, like certain problems. Expressions like these fill the air around us. Just the other night on TV I heard it said that some commentator was a boy crying wolf.[...]

Observant readers can take innocent pleasure in the appearance of attachment-cliches, in which one word serves as the inevitable accessory of another. In newspapers we write about only one kind of hoax, the elaborate hoax. In book reviews (as Tom Payne noted in the London Telegraph) epics are all sprawling, quibbles minor, insights penetrating and roller coasters emotional. Scholarship, if worn, is worn lightly.

Contest time. You are invited to share your examples of modern cliches that thwart intelligent or even intelligible debate on the war on terror and/or climate change. There are no limits, so enter often. There are no prizes either.


From: Von Trapp Children to perform in Ottawa (Allison Hanes, National Post, February 20th, 2007)

They break into song spontaneously, wear lederhosen, play practical jokes and had to convince their parents to let them perform on stage.

There are many parallels between the modern lives of Sofie, Melanie, Amanda and Justin von Trapp and the mostly true story of their ancestors made famous by the 1965 film classic Sound of Music.

But the four chipper home schooled teens from Montana got in to show business by accident when they recorded themselves singing to cheer up their ailing grandfather, Werner von Trapp --called Kurt in the movie.

Now the real-life great-grandchildren of Georg von Trapp, an Austrian naval captain, and Maria, a prospective nun who became stepmother to seven and mother to three, have picked up where their performing relatives left off after fleeing the Nazis for the United States.[...]

Six years on, the von Trapp Children have toured the world, playing sell-out shows in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan the Philippines and Korea.[...]

They include such Sound of Music favourites as So Long, Farewell and Do-Re-Mi in their repertoire

Some days, even the crustiest traditionalist gets in touch with his inner Jacobin.


From: The audacity of Obama (Niall Ferguson, National Post, February 20th, 2007)

Take a look at Obama's arguments for a speedy U.S. withdrawal. Speaking on the Senate floor on Jan. 30, he asserted that "redeployment remains our best leverage to pressure the Iraqi government to achieve ? political settlement between its warring factions." The key is "to give Iraqis their country back," since "no amount of American soldiers can solve the political differences at the heart of somebody else's civil war." He repeated these words when he announced that he was running for the presidency last weekend.

But Obama's claim that an American withdrawal would somehow "pressure the Sunni and Shia to come to the table and find peace" is a fraud. On the contrary, an American withdrawal is much more likely to lead to an escalation of the internecine conflict that is tearing Iraq apart. In a devastating paper for the Brookings Institution, Daniel L. Byman and Kenneth M. Pollack have pointed out that, given the vast potential for violence that exists in the Middle East, we ain't seen nothin' yet.

If the U.S. pulls out, as Obama recommends, Byman and Pollack predict "a humanitarian nightmare" in which we should expect "hundreds of thousands (conceivably even millions) of people to die". There could also be huge economic fallout, with oil prices surging above $100 a barrel as the war spilled over into neighbouring countries.

What is particularly objectionable is that Obama appears to have forgotten Colin Powell's Pottery Barn rule, as famously enunciated on the eve of the invasion of Iraq: "You break it, you own it." Far more than in Sudan, the United States has a burning moral responsibility to prevent Iraq from plunging into a bloodbath. When Obama refers to "someone else's civil w a r," you have to ask how he thinks this civil war got started.

It might be different if there were any informed voices arguing that a withdrawal from Iraq or Afghanistan would result in peace, but of course there are none. It might be different if the left was arguing the old isolationist view that liberating or protecting foreigners is not worth the death of one American soldier, but they aren’t. The only coherent explanation for the rising anti-war ethos is that it is based on a self-contempt so profound that it now views the death of one Iraqi at the hands of the U.S. as more morally offensive than a massive internecine slaughter of which we can all thoroughly wash our hands. We imagine that, in the morally confused universe of the left, this is all made blindingly compelling by the doctrine of self-determination.

Monday, February 19, 2007


From: A people who would rather kill than eat (Robert Fulford, National Post, February 17th, 2007)

Earlier this month, under the guidance of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, representatives of Hamas and Fatahmet in Mecca, agreed to stop shooting each other for now and began the formation of a united government. Hamas insisted that it still doesn't recognize Israel and never will. Abolishing Israel is its only political program. Without it, there would be no reason for Hamas to exist.

Since the Mecca conference, the United States, Israel and the Europeans have said they will "wait and see" how the new government works out. What's to wait? What's to see? The West, having sworn to oppose Hamas until it recognizes Israel and gives up terrorism, is obviously considering the restoration of funds. What they are waiting for is someone who will propose a formula to let this happen without making everyone involved look like Neville Chamberlain. They will find a way.

Meanwhile, the central tragedy of Palestinian life continues to unfold, consistently made worse by Palestinian leaders: About a third of Palestinian children under age five suffer from chronic malnutrition. That's not the result of famine or the indifference of the world. The reason, so far as the record shows, is that Palestinian adults would rather kill than eat and would rather kill than see their children eat.

The strength of Hamas lies in the fact that the rational West is so horrified by this truth that it will go to extreme irrational lengths to deny it.


From: DNA ‘bar-codes' help find new species (Allison Jones, Globe and Mail, February 18th, 2007)

Canadian researchers have co-authored a biodiversity study on DNA “bar-coding” they say will pave the way for cataloguing the world's organisms and lead to the discovery of untold numbers of new species.

With this technology, the study authors envision the creation of a hand-held device that will allow the average person, within minutes, to identify any species of plant or animal life and access biological information about it.

“When we're finished codifying bar codes and creating this reference library for life, any person on the planet will be able to identify any organism,” said co-author Paul Hebert, director of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario at the University of Guelph.

“Any person equipped with a bar-coder can walk through the forest and identify the life around them.”

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed--and gazed--but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

William Wordsworth

Saturday, February 17, 2007


From: Tourism official in Victoria defends ad that promises a "perfect orgasm" (CBC, February 17th, 2007)

Tourism Victoria is defending a new advertising slogan that says "the search for your perfect orgasm is over".

The organization has got about 20 calls and e-mails from people concerned about the phrase. But spokeswoman Melissa McLean says that particular line will only appear in culinary magazines in the United States.[...]

Another version of the ad aimed at gay and lesbian visitors reads: "Time to experience that tingling sensation."

What a humiliating sell-out. In the Canadian editions, they try to lure us with the image of a brisk seaside walk in sensible shoes after a hearty breakfast.


From: Action plan for killer asteroids (Jonathan Fildes , BBC, February 17th, 2007)

A draft UN treaty to determine what would have to be done if a giant asteroid was on a collision course with Earth is to be drawn up this year.

The document would set out global policies including who should be in charge of plans to deflect any object.

It is the brainchild of the Association of Space Explorers, a professional body for astronauts and cosmonauts.

At the moment Nasa is monitoring 127 near earth objects (NEO) that have a possibility of hitting the earth.

The association has asked a group of scientists, lawyers, diplomats and insurance experts to draw up the recommendations.

The group will have their first meeting in Strasbourg in May this year. It is hoped the final document will be presented to the UN in 2009.

"We believe there needs to be a decision process spelled out and adopted by the United Nations," said Dr Russell Schweickart, one of the Apollo 9 astronauts and founder of the Association of Space Explorers.

The threat of an asteroid hitting the Earth is being taken more and more seriously as more and more NEOs are found.

Diversely We Sail was begun in part to chronicle our collective descent into madness, but it is rare to be presented with such double-barrelled evidence at the same time. Does the greater insanity lie in everybody worrying about being hit by asteroids or in thinking the UN is the best body to prevent it?


From: To sell Canada on war, try `hope' but not `liberty' (Allen Woods, Toronto Star, February 17th, 2007)

The Conservative government has been "too American" in its attempts to justify the Afghan war to a skeptical Canadian public, according to an internal report commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

The extensive critique of the Tory communications strategy on the war comes from a series of cross-country focus groups conducted in November 2006 at a cost of almost $76,000.

The study, obtained by the Toronto Star, found that Prime Minister Stephen Harper was "echoing" U.S. President George W. Bush in his attempt to explain why Canadian soldiers are fighting and dying in the country's southern province.[...]

"Participants associated this message with public relations positioning – it was seen as echoing the kind of messaging American officials have made regarding Iraq," wrote the report's authors, the Strategic Counsel public opinion firm.

The report lists "vocabulary/terms/phrases/concepts to reinforce" the message that the government is right about its commitment to the war in Afghanistan. They include "rebuilding," "restoring," "reconstruction," "hope," "opportunity" and "enhancing the lives of women and children."

Words and phrases to avoid include: "freedom, democracy, liberty – in combination this phrase comes across as sounding too American."

Strategic Counsel also advised that the government "avoid developing a line of argumentation too strongly based on values. While the value of human rights is strongly supported, there is a risk of appearing to be imposing Canadian values. Again, this is not seen to be the `Canadian way.'"

Being firmly in support of the war, we’d like to help the government out here, so we suggest: “Canada’s hope is to be given the opportunity to obliterate the thugs trying to rebuild their reign of terror, restore the enslavement of the Afghan people and reconstruct their jihad against the West in order to enhance the lives of Canadian women, children and anything else that walks. But we have no intention of forcing hockey on them.”

Friday, February 16, 2007


From: He Cooks. She Stews. It’s Love. (Katherine Wheelock, New York Times, February 15th, 2007)

“I used to think I was a good cook,” said Ms. Edwards, an editor at the parenting magazine Cookie. “But my husband’s a kitchen bully. He’s so critical, I second-guess myself now.”

If there were a clinical diagnosis for her problem, it might be called beta cook disorder. Even though Ms. Edwards blithely prepared flank steak for dinner parties when she was in college, she is now married to someone who takes charge in the kitchen: an alpha cook.

“I have no problem admitting that I’m an alpha,” said her husband, Matthew Hranek, a photographer. “Yolanda wouldn’t know a corked bottle of wine if you put it in front of her. When we met, she had four days’ worth of dishes in her sink, most of which had what looked like black bean on them. Ever since then, I’ve cooked for her.”

True, life with an alpha cook can mean sitting back and watching while someone else prepares restaurant-quality wild mushroom risotto on a quiet Tuesday night.

But it can also mean putting up with small culinary humiliations and an unending patter of condescending remarks.

When Robin Henry, an interior designer, helps make dinner with her fiancé, Andrew Goldman, a writer, she endures his constant, conspicuous scrutiny.

“I’ll be standing there, sautéing onions, and I can feel him standing over my shoulder, staring down at the pot and gnashing his teeth,” Ms. Henry said. “He’ll say things like, ‘You should really turn that down now.’ ”

Ms. Henry relayed this — along with her feeling that she is expected to greet any meal he might make on an average weeknight with the equivalent of a marching band reception — with affection.

“It’s part of his charm,” she said. Like many betas, she seems to have made peace with her lower status. The only time bitterness crept into her voice was when she talked about the tasks her fiancé assigns her when she plays sous-chef.

“He’s like, ‘Great, yes, come cook with me.’ And then he gives me the take-the-chicken-out-of-the-package-and-rinse-it job,” she said.

Listen up, fellows. It’s not difficult. Beta cook, alpha bathroom cleaner. Got it?


From: The best we can hope for is tolerance (John Gray, The Spectator, February 17th, 2007)

If liberals have given up on toleration in favour of the adjudication of rights, it is probably because history has not turned out as they expected. Most have held to a teleological view of human development, believing that in the long run a society of the sort they wanted would come into being as a by-product of the free expression of ideas. The actual course of events has come as a terrible shock. Even in societies where expression is most free, there is nothing resembling agreement. Religion — which many contemporary liberals have come to see as an evil — has not disappeared, but grown stronger. There has been no movement towards consensus — liberal or otherwise. The idea that the practice of toleration leads to a convergence of values seems more and more like whistling in the dark. This may be the source of the strident, bullying tone many secular liberals adopt when they address religious believers. Their own faith in progress is on the line, and they are afraid of losing their nerve.

The radically plural society we find ourselves in today is not a transitional phase leading to a point, some time in the future, when we will have the same fundamental values. It is the way we can expect to live from now onwards. There may be nothing intrinsically good about this sort of diversity but it is a fact, and teleological liberalism is a poor guide to negotiating the difficulties it brings. Luckily there is another liberal tradition in which the goal of toleration is not agreement, still less truth, but peace. It may sound odd to describe Thomas Hobbes as a liberal, but he had a better grasp of how freedom can be maintained than most of the liberal thinkers who came after him. Hobbes wrote at a time when religious wars were living memories, and understood the destructive potential of faith. Belief may be beyond regulation, but for the sake of public order its expression must be controlled. Here Hobbes agreed with his contemporary Spinoza, an ardent defender of freedom of conscience who never doubted that in the end it must yield to the need for peace.

These early modern thinkers have more to offer than the doctrinaire liberals and secular fundamentalists who make so much noise today. The lesson they teach us, I believe, is that trying to curb differences in belief and lifestyle is a recipe for chronic conflict. While it may seem that social cohesion and the pursuit of peace go together, the insistent demand for integration can be highly divisive. Crowd-pleasing comments by senior politicians that suggest wearing the hijab signals a refusal to join the British mainstream do nothing to create a climate of tolerance. By strengthening Islamist ideologues who claim Muslims are outsiders in Western societies, they speed the process of radicalisation. As things stand, Islamist terror has inflicted much less loss of life and limb in the UK than the IRA did. Unlike the IRA, it may be acquiring a mass base here and in other countries which makes it a more intractable problem. Rather than raking over the ashes of multiculturalism, political leaders should focus on genuine obstacles to peaceful co-existence between Britain’s communities. This means being ready to shut down organisations that preach hate. The closure of the Jameah Islamiyah school, which was raided last year by police as part of an anti-terror operation, seems to have been for educational rather than security reasons. But it should be part of the terms of peaceful co-existence in this country which schools that teach hatred of Jews or Christians, or which make any religious or ethnic group a potential target of violence, should be put out of business. There can be no question of tolerating such institutions, which threaten the very possibility of peace.

One wonders sometimes whether the elusive “moderate Muslim” in the West is hesitant to speak out because of an abiding suspicion the secular establishment is as determined to impose its beliefs on him or her as the Islamists.


From: Global leaders reach climate change agreement(The Guardian, February, 26th, 2007)

Leading world politicians and industrialists have reached a new, non-binding agreement at a meeting in the United States on tackling climate change.

Delegates agreed that developing countries will have to face targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions as well as rich countries.

The non-binding meeting in Washington of the G8+5 Climate Change Dialogue also agreed that a limit should be decided for maximum acceptable carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, the NBC reported. A global market should be formed to cap and trade carbon dioxide emissions, they also said.[...]

Jim Rogers, the chief of Duke Energy, applauded the mandatory cap-and-trade approach, and stressed that if the United States did not act soon to cut greenhouse emissions, fast-developing China and India probably would not participate in any global emissions-cutting program.

The forum's closing statement yesterday said man-made climate change was now "beyond doubt".

From: The new bootleggers: A U.S. climate alliance pushing a 'cap and trade' emissions regime is lined with cartel-creating firms that get money for nothing (Fred L. Smith Jr., Financial Post, February 15th, 2007)

We are all indebted to Professor Bruce Yandle of Clemson University for introducing us to the concept of "Baptists and Bootleggers." His theory's name, first elucidated in 1983, is meant to evoke 19th-century laws banning alcohol sales on Sundays. Baptists supported Sunday-closing laws for moral and religious reasons, while bootleggers were eager to stifle their legal competition. Thus, politicians were able to pose as acting to promote public morality, even while taking contributions from bootleggers.

Something similar seems to be going on here in the Climate Action Partnership of environmental groups and corporations. The environmental pressure groups are the Baptists, providing a moral screen to the bootleggers, in this case the energy and manufacturing companies. The policies laid out in the partnership's "Call for Action" actually stand to benefit the companies at a cost to the economy and consumers. By their actions and in their own words, the partnership's commercial members are fully aware of this.

At the heart of the partnership's plan is the regulatory capping and trading of greenhouse-gas emissions. Cap and trade, as it is known, is often described as market-based, because there is buying and selling involved. This is a misnomer. In fact, cap and trade is an ugly combination of two of the greatest ills to affect the market economy over the past 200 years: cartelization and central planning.

Let us turn to the companies involved in the Climate Action Partnership, beginning with Duke Energy Corp., which formed in May, 2005, when Duke Energy merged with Cinergy. In 2004, 97% of Cinergy's emission reductions came from efficiency improvements in its overwhelmingly coal-fired electric generating stations. Cinergy's investment of US$1.94-million in efficiency upgrades reduced the company's carbon- dioxide emissions by 349,882 tonnes. This works out to a cost of US$1.11 per tonne of CO2 reduced. If CO2-equivalent permits sell for US$15 a ton in 2010 and US$45 a ton in 2025, as estimated by the Energy Information Administration, Cinergy would reap a windfall profit of between 1,263% and 3,990%.

One of the perennial weaknesses of the right is that we tend to accord an integrity and directness of purpose to big business that can be as simplistic as the mirror stereotypes of the left.

In 1980, when everyone in the West was paranoid about energy security and certain the price of oil would rise forever, the Canadian Government enacted a defiantly statist near-expropriation of the oil industry that alienated Western Canada bitterly and which so ruined public finances that the country ultimately came close to calling on the IMF for help. Called the National Energy Programme, it was a highly complex tax-and-grab assumption of industry direction and oil ownership that assumed control over oil exploration and development and mandated a 50% “back-in” for the government in development profits in exchange for public funding for the bulk of exploration costs. Western governments, especially Alberta, and small to medium-sized oil companies howled incessantly in angry protest, but multinationals like Esso and Shell seemed surprisingly calm about it all, and some of their executives even defended it.

Here’s why: in non-provincial lands over which the Federal Government had complete control, particularly the offshore High Arctic, Ottawa granted exploration licenses to the large multinationals, the only companies big enough to bear the huge costs in that forbidding region. Ottawa refunded 90% of exploration costs in exchange for a 50% stake in any consequent development. The civil servant architects of the plan had the simplistic idea that these companies would move as fast as they could and as directly as they could to find and develop recoverable oil.

But that is not the way the oil multinationals work. Its members are in for the long haul and for them, finding inventory and reserves for development in the decades to come is just as important as pumping lots of oil today. Having suffered similar mad schemes from tinpot dictatorships elsewhere in the world, the companies knew it was so market-insensitive and fiscally insane that it simply couldn’t last for very long. From their perspective, they were being offered whopping subsidies in the short term to explore in the most expensive, high-risk, forbidding area in the world. It was in their direct economic interest to take full advantage of the scheme to try and get as accurate a picture of reserves in the whole region. Ottawa wanted oil as fast as possible, but the companies were getting near-free mapping and exploration for a rainy day, and that suited them just fine.

These companies maintained huge offshore drilling platforms that may have had fixed costs of $5-10 million a day to sit inactive versus $20 or $25 million a day to be out drilling. In the latter case, they recovered 90% of the costs within weeks, but nothing in the former. No prizes for guessing what happened. In the words of one senior executive, “We used to drill for oil, but now we are drilling for money.”

In the end, the price of oil fell and there has never been a drop of oil produced from the Canadian High Arctic. The Conservatives won the next election and repealed the whole thing, but not before untold billions of dollars had flowed to the oil companies and federal finances were a complete mess. Another smashing socialist success story. The moral seems to be that, while free markets are to be respected and encouraged, as soon as we hear about subsidies, partnerships with government, joint ventures or, as in this case, artificial markets to solve imaginary problems, we should be as suspicious as leftists about the motives driving the captains of industry.

Thursday, February 15, 2007


From: Day of the dad (Tom Leonard, The telegraph, February 15th, 2007)

Telling children they are clever only discourages them from trying to do anything where they might fail. Children who are told they are "smart" learn to concentrate on appearing smart. They try to avoid difficult challenges for fear of embarrassment and - in the tests - ended up performing much worse than children simply congratulated for "trying hard".

Nothing terrifies a New York parent more than the thought that their carefully laid schooling plans might come unstuck. The study contains some further uncomfortable truths - namely that showering praise on the kids has been a panacea for the uncertainties of modern parenting and that parents who lavish praise on pre-school children are actually subconsciously praising themselves.

Given that an estimated 85 per cent of Americans believe it's important to tell their children they are intelligent - and British parents cannot be far behind - this study has lessons for us all. But particularly for New York moms and pops who tend to tell their children they are a genius for everything short of breathing.

"Positive reinforcement" is more deeply embedded in the city's mindset than even zero tolerance. And there's none of that British reserve and tendency to offset any compliment directed towards one of our offspring by instantly providing one or more drawbacks of the child that the admirer may not have noticed.

The other day we saw a mother telling her little girl how clever she was just for sitting in a buggy. Last weekend, another mum almost expired with admiration after a four-year-old "did a poop" in our lavatory.

He'd just wandered in with our children while we were having drinks at his parents' apartment along the hall, and got taken short. He'd located the appropriate facilities and used them. Not exactly The Famous Five Investigates, but the mum who relayed the joyful news made it sound like a stirring tale of initiative and resourcefulness.

A thrice-yearly ritual at Casa Burnet occurs when She Who is Perfect has to write the report cards for her grade four class. She frequently asks for editing help, not because she needs grammatical or spelling assistance, but because she must master the sophisticated art of conveying to the parents that although their child can’t read or add, or is making life hell for the rest of the class, he or she is nonetheless an exceptionally bright and lovable little scamp with a potential in the stratosphere. The rules are simple. One oblique criticism must be followed by three concrete instances of lavish, unqualified praise. Try it sometime if you think that would be easy. The whole exercise usually concludes with her private explosion of rage at the parents, following which we both burst into hysterical giggles and then give thanks for how brilliant our own son is.


From: Odd mascot is France's gift to Quebec City (Graeme Hamilton, National Post, February 15th, 2007)

In a puzzling goodwill gesture, the French government has crafted a distinctive mascot for next year's 400th anniversary of Quebec City -- a dairy cow with antlers.

The brainchild of a young French graphic designer, the hybrid animal is intended to invoke the famous dairy cattle of Normandy, homeland of Quebec's original settlers, and the wild caribou that roam the Quebec tundra.

It was only when a French delegation led by former prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin arrived in Quebec this week that their hosts pointed out that the antlers atop the cow belonged to a moose, not a caribou. Adjustments will be made so the mascot dubbed the Vachibou (Cowibou) is as anatomically correct as possible.[...]

Mr. Raffarin told a news conference in Quebec City that the Vachibou was intended as a playful wink at France's Quebec cousins. "Our imagination knows no limits," he said

Serge Allen, Quebec City's commissioner for the 400th anniversary celebrations, declined to offer a critique of the mascot, although he did point out that it is odd for a female cow to have a male moose's antlers.

One of the charms of the French is that, just when you think they are a dangerous enemy who deserve to be blasted to High Heaven, they find a brilliant way to make you feel silly you ever took such clueless buffoons so seriously.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007


From: Once the most beloved country in the world, the US is now the most hated(Jan Morris, The Guardian, February 14th, 2007)

But I think it is true that only in our time has the American Idea lost its baraka. A generation or two ago, most of us, wherever we lived, loved the generous self-satisfaction of it, if not in the general, at least in the particular. The GI was not then a sort of goggled monster in padded armour, but a cheerful fellow chatting up the girls and distributing candy not as a matter of policy, but out of plain goodwill - everyone's friendly guy next door. To millions of radio listeners around the world, the Voice of America was a voice of decency, and one could watch the lachrymose patriotic rituals of America - the hand on heart, the misty-eyed salute to the flag - with more affection than irony.

For myself, I responded to them all too sentimentally. Like Walt Whitman before me, I heard America sing! I relished the hackneyed old lyrics - Mine eyes have seen the glory, Thy word our law, Thy paths our chosen way, Oe'r the land of the free and the home of the brave, God bless America, land that I love ... Most of the words were flaccid, many of the tunes were vulgar, but as I heard them I saw always in my mind's eye, as Whitman did, all the glorious space, grandeur and opportunity that was America, Manhattan to LA. Sea, in fact, to shining sea.

In those days we did not think of American evangelists as prophets of political extremism - they seemed more akin to the homely convictions of plantation or village chapel than to the machinations of neocons. We bridled rather at the American assumption that the US of A had been the only true victor of the second world war, but most of us did not very deeply resent the happy swagger of the legend and danced gratefully enough to the American rhythms of the time. We thought it all seemed essentially innocent.

Innocent! Dear God! Half a century, and nobody thinks that now. Far from being the most beloved country on earth, today the US is the most thoroughly detested. The rot really started to set in, in my view, with Abraham Lincoln, one of the most admirable men who ever lived. He it was who saw in American glory the duty of a mission. America, he declared, was the last best hope of earth. The pursuit of happiness was not its national vocation, but the example of democracy. The more like the United States the world became, the better the world would be. No statesman was ever more sincere or kindly in his beliefs, but poor old Abe would be horrified to see how his interpretation of destiny has gone sour.

For the missionary instinct, which impelled Americans into so many noble policies, was to be perverted by power. Pace Lincoln, America was not necessarily the last best hope of mankind, and the knowledge that it has possessed unchallengable powers of interference has distorted its attitude to the world and cruelly damaged its image in return.

OK, that’s it. It’s bad enough that we live in a world where Americans control global geopolitics, drive the world economy and undermine everybody’s popular culture. Until now, the rest of us could at least sniff, pout and rend our garments under the inspiration of a vast array of anti-American politicians, intellectuals, religious fanatics and activists from Europe, Asia, Latin America and even Africa. Those fellows liked their anti-Americanism neat. They knew the place is rotten to the core and always was. How we soared on their poetic imagery: “The Great Satan”, “yellow American imperialist” and even our personal favourite, “rapacious Yankee trader”. It was the one little corner of life we controlled that all the lure and might of America could do nothing about.

But what’s this? “I heard America sing”? Honest Abe is rolling in his grave? GIs distributing candy? Once beloved worldwide like innocent children, but now hated as thugs? There is only one kind of anti-American that talks that way and he/she probably doesn’t follow soccer. Are all our heros selling out for some mess of Yankee pottage like a walk-on role in Michael Moore’s next film or a guest fellowship at Harvard? Are our traditional indigenous versions of anti-Americanism too fragile to withstand the relentless imperialist march of the American version?

Do they have to control everything?


From: How video games became the latest weapon in the Middle East(David Lasserson, The Telegraph, February 14th, 2007)

In one themed room, visitors are faced with two interpretations of the intifada. A Syrian game called The Stone Throwers offers a sort of digital martyrdom, as the player takes the role of a lone Palestinian resistance fighter armed only with rocks against waves of Israeli soldiers.

Next to it is the Israeli game, Intifada. Here the player becomes a single IDF soldier facing stone-throwing demonstrators. In dealing with the demonstration, players must bear in mind the army's public opinion rating, and refrain from using live ammunition. If they cause casualties, the government is voted out of office, and available weaponry is reduced for the next game.


From: Off the couch and on to the coach (Ruth Eglash, Jerusalem Post, February 12th, 2007)

It takes Leora Spitz, life coach and president of the Israel chapter of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), less than 30 minutes to assess that there are some serious issues that need addressing in my life.

Her method is simple: Together we draw a "wheel of life," with each spoke representing one element - money, career, family, friends, environment, health, personal growth, romance and leisure. We define the strong values that I have for my family and friends and we note the "gremlins" or sacrifices I make in other areas.
The wheel is clearly uneven, and on that basis she encourages me to imagine where my life would be if it was more equal.

"If you managed to achieve your career goals and there was a write-up about you in the newspaper, what would it say about you as a person?" she asks me.

The question allows me to dream: a mother of three children under the age of six, working a full-time job, who manages despite that to succeed in her goals…… I really am amazing! Through her encouragement to let loose and fantasize, I feel empowered and free.

After that release, Spitz draws me back in to define some more realistic and concrete goals that might be achievable in the next week or so. "Small steps," she calls them.

My session with Spitz is part of an initiative run last week - International Life Coaching Week - by the ICF in Israel in which free life coaching sessions were offered to the public in an attempt to raise awareness about the profession, which is suddenly booming here. Estimates put at close to 1,000 the number of life coaches already working in Israel and note the more than 20 educational institutions offering courses in the profession - a cross between psychological and sports coaching theories.

"Life coaches focus on what you have already and where you want to go with your life," explains Spitz, who has an MA in organizational psychology from Columbia University and who became ICF's Israel president two weeks ago. "We help people make the most of what they have and to understand for themselves how they work inside."

Can there be any better proof than this of how at sea we have become morally and psychologically and how enslaved we are by psychobabble? What is particularly cute is their concern that we be able to distinguish the “professionals” from the charlatans.

Monday, February 12, 2007


Germany considers banning soccer fans from stadiums (Toronto Star, February 12th, 2007)

Soccer federation and police officials warned clubs Monday of increased security measures to handle fan violence, including the possibility of playing in empty stadiums.

"A situation like Italy can't be tolerated here," said Konrad Freiberg, the head of the national police union.

Hundreds of fans of FC Lokomotive Leipzig attacked 300 police officers after FC Erzgebirge Aue II beat their team 3-0 Saturday in the eastern state of Saxony. Police said 36 officers and six fans were injured, while 21 police vehicles were vandalized.

Federation and soccer officials from Saxony will meet Tuesday to consider canceling all matches in the state next weekend.

Federation president Theo Zwanziger said Germany could follow Italy's lead and order teams with violent fans to play in empty stadiums.

Germany has seen a surge in stadium violence since hosting the largely peaceful World Cup last year. Several of the worst incidents have been instigated by fans of teams from Saxony.

Zwanziger threatened a permanent stop to all soccer matches at stadiums in troubled areas of Saxony.

Continuing our ongoing series on why it seems to take the full force of an organized and prepared state to assure a safe soccer game, we offer the following insight for your consideration: In Europe, soccer hooliganism, like terrorism and riots, is seen as an inevitable release of ingrained social tensions that must be managed and minimized, but basically accepted at minimal levels. In North America, it is viewed as a crime that won’t be tolerated by the police, fans or teams for one minute. Everybody know that. Especially the hooligans.


University challenge (The Guardian, February 9th, 2007)

It was after a trip to see the film Sin City - in which female characters run the gamut from prostitute to stripper - that Laura Woodhouse became a feminist activist. "I went to see the film with four male friends," she says, "and suddenly the misogyny hit me. I looked around and my friends were all loving it and I felt really shocked and alone. That's the first time I've walked out of a film. I got home and typed 'feminism' into a search engine and found the feminist website The F-word. Then I followed the links to feminist blogs and read them into the night."

Shortly afterwards, Woodhouse, 22, became one of the founder members of Sheffield Fems, a feminist group set up at Sheffield University in 2005 and largely made up of students. In its short life, the group has become quite a presence on the feminist circuit, partly due to the remarkable success of its first campaign, which got it coverage in the local press and an invitation on to Woman's Hour.

"At our first meeting, the one thing that we all brought up was the mainstreaming of porn-type images and the Playboy bunny, which we had seen around a lot on children's products in WH Smith, John Lewis and Claire's Accessories. So we decided to go with Playboy as our first campaign," says Woodhouse. The group put together a leaflet and hit Sheffield town centre during the Christmas rush. "We got a lot of positive responses from the public," she says. The group passed these on to the shops' head offices. Within a few weeks, John Lewis and Claire's Accessories had pledged not to order any more Playboy-branded stock. But, says Woodhouse, "WH Smith sent us the same old thing that they send to everyone - that it's a popular product and people are allowed to choose, blah, blah, blah."

Over the past two years, a new wave of feminist groups has been sweeping across the UK. Like Sheffield Fems, many were formed on campus, although they have since attracted non-students - teenage girls, working mothers, and men as well. Groups such as Mind the Gap in Cardiff, the London Feminist Network and Warwick Anti-Sexist Society (Wass) have been established for a few years now, while Resisters, East Midland Feminists and North West Feminists all started up last autumn.[...]

Perhaps the biggest trigger for this growing movement, though, has been the mainstreaming of the porn and sex industries, and, specifically, the way in which they have begun to aim their products, branding and culture at children and young people, including students.

The reason why so many men find feminism maddeningly confusing is that it often encompasses two distinct and not apparently compatible impulses. The first is to secure for women the rights and freedoms enjoyed by men. The second is to rein in male excess and force them to treat women, children and society-at-large more responsibly. For every Emily Pankhurst chaining herself to a post to gain the suffrage, there seems to be a Carrie Nation right behind terrifying the boys in the tavern with her axe.

These two impulses sometimes exist in tandem (19th century feminists were split over votes for women), but since the late sixties the sexual and social libertarian impulse has been dominant among Western feminists. It will be extremely interesting to see whether we are on the verge of a new wave dedicated to female efforts to impose norms of civility and propriety on men. As the history of both civilization and blogging shows the extreme lengths many men will go to rationalize and defend their right to wallow in the prurient and depraved, we wish them luck.


It's all in the genes (Scott Deveau, Financial Post, February 9th, 2007)

Great entrepreneurs are more likely produced by their genes than by business schools, according to a new CEO survey released by Compas Inc.

While business background, charisma, and innovation are all important attributes, they pale in comparison to a strong personal drive to succeed, according to the survey of CEOs from midsized, entrepreneurial firms.

The CEOs were asked to rank, in order of importance, 13 attributes they felt were important to success in running your own business. The qualities related to the personal charisma, drive, intelligence and innovation.

According to the survey, persistence in the face of difficulty is the most important attribute for entrepreneurs, followed by determination and a passionate belief in what they are doing.

The results don't surprise Steve Farlow, executive director of the Schlegel Centre for Entrepreneurship at Wilfrid Laurier University. He is a strong believer that successful entrepreneurs are born, not made.

Great, so now we’re looking for the aggressive s.o.b. gene. What these folks are presumably saying is that decades of efforts by educational psychologists and business professors to reduce successful entrepreneurship to a technique that can be passed on through a well-taught curriculum have failed miserably and so, being 21st century kind of guys, they conclude it must be “in the genes”. They don’t seem to have even paused to consider how minor little details like successful fathers and/or demanding mothers may have a role in professional achievement, which is strange because everyone sure is quick to blame them for any failures.


U.S. war ally rips Obama's election bid (Sheldon Alberts, National Post, February 12th, 2007)

A leading international ally of George W. Bush said yesterday the election of Democratic Senator Barack Obama as the next American president would mean a "victory for the terrorists" and leave the Middle East in chaos.

In a rare intervention by a foreign leader into U.S. domestic politics, Australian Prime Minister John Howard ridiculed a proposal by Mr. Obama to completely withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq over the next 13 months.

Mr. Howard's unexpected criticism of Mr. Obama -- an underdog candidate to win his party's presidential nomination -- stunned Democrats even as U.S. conservatives joined the attack on the Illinois senator's dovish foreign policy views.

"If I were running al-Qaeda in Iraq, I would put a circle around March, 2008, and pray as many times as possible for a victory, not only for Obama, but also for the Democrats," Mr. Howard told an Australian broadcaster.

Given Howard’s stalwart courage in the war on terror, his faithful support of the United States in the face of constant domestic criticism, his standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the Americans against most of the rest of the world and the brave sacrifice of Australia’s military, this was still an incredibly stupid thing to do.


From: Flexible work rights should be for us all, says minister (Rosemary Bennett, The Times, February 12th, 2007)

Labour is putting itself on a collision course with business today by proposing that all employees should have the right to request part-time work.

All 29 million workers should have a right that is at present granted only to parents with young families, according to the minister in charge of family policy.

Beverley Hughes, the Minister for Children, calls for changes to reflect the growing demand of people to be able to work flexibly. She proposes that all jobs be advertised as possible part-time or flexitime positions, unless there is a sound business case not to.

Her proposals are contained in Politics for a New Generation, a book on Labour’s future agenda with contributions from a host of the Government’s rising stars.

We aren’t even going to ask why the Minister for Children is calling for job benefits for the childless because we’re not sure we want to know. We just hope the Minister for Middle-Aged Men is awake enough to ground her and dock her allowance.


From: Blair sees climate change breakthrough as his grand finale (Larry Elliott, The Guardian, February 12th, 2007)

Tony Blair will hold a mini-summit with the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, in Berlin tomorrow amid growing optimism that he can crown his 10-year premiership with an international breakthrough on climate change in June.

Aware that his influence in domestic policy is dwindling, Mr Blair has decided to focus on four foreign policy issues during his remaining months in power in the belief that he can make progress on the environment, global trade talks, the Middle East peace plan and Africa.

Tragically, the fickle and unimaginative British public may not give him enough time to reform Islam and cure AIDS.

One of the sure signs that a long-serving politician is past his sell-by date is when he announces he will no longer get his hands dirty with the complex muck of petty domestic bickering and will instead take the high road and solve the riddles of peace, harmony and other global problems. (“Al Gore, come on down!”) This is redolent of Canada’s Pierre Trudeau in his last year of power. Having divided the country bitterly over the constitution and so damaged the economy that we were approaching IMF bailout territory, he sensed almost everybody viewed him with an exhausted, visceral contempt and was counting the days until someone–anyone–replaced him. Openly disdaining this parochialism with aristocratic hauteur, he consulted himself in private and set out with much fanfare to jet around the world knocking on the doors of foreign leaders to promote peace through accommodation between East and West and nuclear disarmament. As Reagan, Thatcher and JP11 were just warming up at this time, he ended up marching firmly against history and made an utter fool of himself, although his eternal adorers on the Boomer Canadian left can still be heard sniffing how “at least he tried.”.

There is, however, something quintessentially modern about this kind of conceit. We are surrounded by folks who make total hashes of their personal or professional lives, but who try to convince us, often successfully, that they hold the keys to resolving everybody else’s conflicts, putting all us on the road to good health, bringing our families together, etc. More and more, for some strange reason, we have come to see the everyday mundane challenges we face in our lives as incredibly knotty, but are convinced we could personally make the lion lie down with the lamb if only the stupid people around us would let us.