30 October 2005

Teaching 'Intelligent Design' as Science is a Cunning Design

The American Council of Civil Liberties (ACLU) (http://www.aclu.org/) of Pennyslvania, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and Pepper Hamilton LLP [who- or whatever that is] have filed a suit on behalf of 11 parents from the Dover area in Pennsylvania against a decision of the Dover Area School Board to require science teachers to present 'Intelligent Design' as an alternative to the theory of evolution.

Intelligent Design is an important pillar and weapon of the tsumani of religious fundamentalism currently swamping America and even Australia [to mix 3 metaphors].

According to a definition put forward by the ACLU, Intelligent Design is "an assertion that an intelligent, supernatural entity has intervened in the history of life".

Basically, Intelligent Design represents a line of defence to which creationists can fall back, and from which they can mount a counterattack on the Theory of Evolution. It is a less extreme position than Creationism, and is thereby able to slip under the radar of our disbelief. Particularly for those who want to be Christians, who want to join their friends at Hillsong Christian rock concerts, who want to get with the Naughties and tune in, turn on and sing "Hallelujah!", but, being types who are honest with themselves, ("God is dead" and all that), find it hard to get over the Theory of Evolution. Enter Intelligent Design.

According to ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak, "Intelligent Design is a Trojan Horse for bringing religious Creationism back into public school science classes".

To sum up, Intelligent Design is Creationism repackaged to make it more palatable to a more sophisticated audience.

Back to the lawsuit. The lawsuit challenges a controversial decision made in October 2004 by the Dover Area School Board to require biology teachers to present "intelligent design" as an alternative to the scientific theory of evolution.

The 11 parents say that "presenting 'intelligent design' in public school science classrooms violates their religious liberty by promoting particular religious beliefs to their children under the guise of science education".

"Teaching students about religion\'s role in world history and culture is proper, but disguising a particular religious belief as science is not," said ACLU of Pennsylvania Legal Director Witold Walczak.

The lawsuit argues that such an assertion is inherently a religious argument that falls outside the realm of science.

At the time of the October vote, district science teachers opposed the policy and three school board members have since quit in protest of the decision.

The school district policy mandates that Dover public schools treat "intelligent design" as a bona fide scientific theory competing with the scientific theory of evolution in order to develop a balanced science curriculum.

At least one of the plaintiffs is a moderate Christian. "As a parent and a person of faith, I want to share my religious beliefs with my own children", said Dover resident Bryan Rehm, a high school physics teacher. "But as a teacher, it would be a great disservice and fallacy to teach students that a perfectly valid faith constitutes scientific knowledge".

Correctamundo. It's not science. It's religion. So why teach it as science?

At first it seemed to me that there is nothing wrong with putting forward the main competitor to the Theory of Evolution for examination by the students.

I think the key words may be "require" and "teach".

There are 70 million other fora in which to put forward Intelligent Design for the indoctrination (sorry, "education" is the word I believe we use) of children, including school Religion/Scripture/Religious Development/whatever classes, Confirmation courses, Sunday School, the dinner table, and so on. I would not object to my child's biology teacher presenting Intelligent Design as a competing theory at their own discretion.

The issue, I believe, is this: there is something sinister when the State requires the compulsory teaching as science of a religious belief. I have no personal knowledge of the State dictating religious or quasi-religious beliefs as science since Stalin, and that was a bizarre atavism not seen since the time of Galileo.

Why is this happening? It is happening because God is dead. Christianity needs to overcome this obstacle. It has done it many times before: always sneaking back through the back door. The Reformation is a case in point. One faction of Christianity even faced the death of God front, excised him from their theology altogether and remarketed themselves - we know this offshoot as Communism.

When I was but a wee lad of 5 years old, a rather naughty friend of 6 came up to me in the playground and said: "There is no Santa Claus. Santa Claus is really just your father. In the middle of the night he gets up, leaves presents, drinks the Scotch, eats the cake, hides the carrots, and goes back to bed."

"Shhh!" I hissed, looking around nervously. "Don't say that! Santa might hear you and you'll get nbo presents this Christamas."

But I knew in my heart of hearts that he was right, it simply made too much sense. There was no going back. Only a convoluted exercise in doublethink could save my belief. Santa Claus was dead.

In the same way, the Theory of Evolution was a rather severe blow to our belief. Most Christians deal with this by simply compartmentalising their mind: doublethink. But this is only a temporary solution. Christianity really needs to meet this challenge. It needs to hold itself together, and one faction has come to believe that the best way to achieve this is to appease both the Creationists and the Doublethinkers. Hence Intelligent Design.

The Intelligent Designers can achieve 2 things by having their idea taught as science: First, they can partially jam the transmission of Evolution simply by demanding some of its airtime (an idea cunningly sold as being "in the interests of impartiality"). And second, they can use the key idea of judo - turn the weight of your opponent back against him -, hijacking the considerable gravitas of science, as represented by your child's biology teacher, to advocate what is, in essence, Creationism.

Never mind that Science is subverted, compromised, bastardised along the way. In fact, so much the better. Christianity has never really liked Science anyway. Christianity is at bottom only interested in promoting, increasing, reproducing itself. This is why it is still alive afer 2000 years. It has stopped at nothing, including massacres and gruesome sadistic executions, to stay in poewr. Because at or near its very core is the selfish meme, a meme that has made Christianity one of the most successful memetic complexes, or viruses, ever.

Possibly the very existence of Chritianity is at stake - at least Christianity feels this way. Expect a long and very dirty struggle.

Patrick Henry

PS: Here is an interesting discussion about who will win the Intelligent Design (ID) argument. Not who is right, just who will win, go here http://www.techcentralstation.com/100705C.html, here http://www.techcentralstation.com/101105F.html, and here http://www.techcentralstation.com/101105C.html.





29 October 2005

Genealogy of the Concept of the 'Will to Power'

In the first place, I put for a general inclination of all mankind a perpetual and restless desire of power after power, that ceaseth only in death.

- Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch.11

It seems that Nietzsche was not the first to hit upon the concept of the will to power.

On Death

Now I am about to take my last voyage, a great leap in the dark.

- Last words of Thomas Hobbes

I wish death were a voyage, a leap in the dark. The promise of more adventures, hidden knowledge revealed, like Leif Ericcson sailing off into the west...

I fear however that death is far more mundane than that. I fear it is simply the ceasing to function of a biological system, a rather boring full stop.

Four basic tasks of government

At school, one of my better Commerce teachers (sadly I can't remember which one) told me that:

The three (official) basic tasks of government are:
  • to ensure external defense,
  • to maintain internal order,
  • to operate an honest currency.
Plus a 4th (unofficial) one:
  • to stay in power.

Liberal Democracy, the 2nd Amendment, and You

Just because Mao Zedong was a very bad apple, does not mean that every idea he thought and every word he uttered was false.

Specifically, and famously, he said one really important thing:

Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.

This is an axiom of politics.

Just look at Mao's career... applying this idea didn't hurt it one little bit.

Even our own beloved enlighed Monarch - long may She reign - is, at bottom, the descendant of a thug who was simply bigger and badder than the other boys in his village, could buy or simply take a sword, had sufficient charisma to lead a few lesser thugs, and sufficient smarts to run a protection racket.

So how on Earth did we end up with our liberal semi-democracy?

Let's examine the origins of democracy.

I once read somewhere [I wish I could credit the author of this idea] that the Greeks invented democracy not out of thin air, but because of a shift in the conduct of warfare.

[Purists please contain yourselves - what follows is a gross simplification.]

Athens had previously been an aristocracy, a kind of broad oligarchy. An aristocrat was a large farmer, from a long line of large farmers, who could afford a suit of armour for himself or his sons. Now, a late mediaevel Italian suit of armour hurt the hip pocket nerve rather like a Ferrari does today [credit the source!]. So if you can and do own a Ferrari, you basically meet the major qualification for being an aristocrat and thus being politically enfranchised.

You see, this was in the days when warfare was conducted by heavy infantry. (A heavy infantryman was called a hoplite.) Therefore the heavy infantry hold the political power. And therefore the heavy infantry try to use their political power to keep the conduct of warfare of on a heavy infantry basis.

Methods of warfare however change. Along comes an outsider who doesn't think within the conventional paradigm. [I used the word 'paradigm'! What a pity the 90s are already over.] Along comes a technological innovation. Along comes someone who's too poor to care about fashion, or is on the brink of annihilation and desperate.

For example, (putting aside current anti-longbow theories), Henry V can in no way compete in knights with the French, so to hell with honour and glory (I never get invited to those fancy parties anyway), bring on the longbowmen!

Times change. Warfare, like everything else, goes through cycles of fashion: heavy cavalry or infantry to mercenaries to citizen armies to mass conscript armies to stratobombers + special forces back to mercenaries and so on. They fight to the death, then one day someone finds himself outmanouvred and strikes a deal that his army can leave freely if they admit defeat and suddenly the art of warfare by dainty manoevre is born. The word fashion however implies something superficial and arbitrary. Military fashion is something fundamental and necessary. It is derived from military reality: a knight has a real advantage over a dismounted swordsman, demonstrable by the death of the swordsman 9 times out of 10; the swordsman has a very real advantage over the pikeman - he deflects the point of the pike with his buckler, slips under it and gets in close with his sword 9 times out of 10; the pikeman has real advantage over the knight, and so on.

There are 2 basic theses that I am aware of. 1) Athens found itself in a world where it could seize the advantage by becoming a seapower. Ships were powered by oarsmen - not slaves, but free albeit poor citizens. 2) Athens was conquered by Sparta who set up a puppet government supported by its own hoplites based on the Acropolis. There was a spontaneous uprising by the ordinary citizenry, who succeded in driving out the occupation force, thus achieving victory where the aristocratic hoplites had been defeated. Whatever the truth (perhaps it was both), Athens suddenly found itself militarily dependent on the great mass of its poorest citizens. Now, are they going to allow the aristocrats to continue to misgovern the place as they heretofore had been? I don't think so. They're going to want to misgovern it for themselves.

Thus, in the late Middle Ages, as societies become more centralised and sophisticated, allowing the Monarch to directly fund his own sources of military power and thus decrease his reliance on those politically and militarily unreliable egotists, and as gunpowder weapons developed making armour less effective, and as impoverished Swiss peasants resort to sharpening long poles and discover that knights can't touch them, one can see the decreasing military importance of knights, the decreasing political power of lords, the reduction of knighthood to a social distinction and the increasing economic and military-therefore-political power of the bourgoisie. In England, for example, you have the gentry and bourgoisie usurping power in the English Civil War.

So you get to the French Revolution, an uprising by the bourgoisie and lower classes. France is surrounded by enemies wishing to crush this example and, vastly outnumbered, responds by conscripting everybody and thus democracy is born. (Yes, yes I know Napoleon was a dictator and the revolution came first. I know all of that. I am talking about broad unconscious collective social forces, not causal networks of traceable chains of specific events.) It ushers in the era of mass conscript armies, industrialised warfare, total war, whatever. You see professional armies in Anglo-Saxon countries where previously no standing army had existed. This era is only just coming to an end now.

The French Revolution also ushered in the era of democracy. (Neither England nor the United States were democracies at that time, democracy being defined as "all adult male subjects/citizens have a vote regardless of whether they own real estate".)

The other great cause of democracy being of course the development of the firearm to a level where it is easy to use, relatively cheap, highly reliable, and conflated with the pike by the invention of the bayonet. (Hence the much-maligned 2nd Amendment.) (The later deveklopment of the assault rifle, the ultimate equaliser, would make possible the political enfranchisement of women and children.)

So what does this have to do with liberal democracy?

While living in Vietnam, I thought a lot about these things and also about how it was that 3rd World countries ("developing countries" is the current euphemism, especially as the collapse of the 2nd (Communist) world made the term obsolete) life was so much worse than in ours. Economic and political unfreedom have very much to do with it. And the people in Vietnam can't do anything about it, as, amongst other things, they are totally disarmed.

One of the shocking conclusions I came to was really simple and quite (in light of the above long essay) obvious: when I returned to Australia I was going to join the Army Reserve [the Australian National Guard].

Because riding on my motorbike through the wet night discussing these very things with Leszek Sobolewski (who deserves full credit as the midwife of this thought) sitting on the back, I realised that our Holy Cow democracy is nothing other than the politically enfranchised-because-armed masses. We are shocked at the selfishness of bloody kings who have people murdered merely (merely!) to preserve their power. But to be a liberal democrat is nothing other than to necessarily ask oneself this question:

Am I prepared to kill (merely!) to preserve my own political power?

And a chill ran over my body and my stomach sank when I faced this dark monstrous existential question and I thought about the miserable Vietnamese too tired to rise up against the Communists and the answer was:

Yes!

Just like a murderous king!

And in fact we only enjoy the lifestyle we do precisely because our many anonymous ancestors to whom we have never felt for a second a single drop of profound gratitude had the courage and selfishness and ruthlessness and cruelty to answer Yes! to this very question. I am not talking about the Somme. I am talking about the English Civil War, the Baron's Revolt, and many wars and battles before and after and especially in between.

And so it follows that I have a duty - not to 'society' or to the nation nor to the State nor Queen and country but to myself - to take up arms in defence of my life and property but above all my political rights.

Effective distance the inverse of strength

Social force is the strongest force, but operates over the shortest distance.

Economic and political forces are weaker, but are effective over longer distances.

Perhaps analogous to the 3 or 4 fundamental forces of natural science.

27 October 2005

Col. David H. 'Hack' Hackworth

The late Col. Hackworth is gone but his website is still running.

This no-nonsense highly-decorated former soldier and veteran of WWI, the Korean War and the Vietnam War told it like he saw it in simple, concise prose.

He spent his career practising and preaching Rommel's maxim: "The best form of welfare for the troops is first-rate training."

Find the archive of his Defending America column here:

http://www.hackworth.com/archive.html

Quote:

"Let's hope [Sam Adams's book War of Numbers: An Intelligence Memoir] will ... cause Congress to disband the CIA (because they [the CIA] did blow [the Vietnam War]) and transfer CIA functions to the Pentagon, State Department and the unemployment line."

- from The CIA: Bury This Evil Empire, 24 May 1994

The Price of Freedom

In discussions with some of my more thoughtful and enlightened Vietnamese friends, they would complain about government control over the media: "not like in Australia", they would say. Being tactful, trying to be objective, actually being objective, wanting to warn them in advance that not all was rosy on the other side so that they weren't disappointed when the "winds of change" finally reached their own country, and in the interest of truth, I always replied: their complaints are true, and we are (still) freer in Australia, but the major threat to press freedom in Australia comes not from the government (which, amazingly, funds 2 other pillars of good journalism: the ABC [government-owned, middle- to high-brow, centrist broadcaster] and SBS [the same, but targeted at immigrants]), but from the concentration of ownership of the media.

Vietnam really shook me out of my complacency regarding how important these things are. I have seen their fragility. Believe me, I am very very freaked out, and you should be too.

I have seen how powerful control of the press is. Control of the press works: it worked on me. The power of the press is not so much in what it 'makes' you believe, but in what information it withholds.

Fairfax (FXJ) is the largest independent media group and one of the few left in Australia. It is of decent quality. Its stable of newspapers, primarily The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age (in Melbourne), and above all (in my opinion, better minds will disagree) the Australian Financial Review are some of the few institutions left keeping the bastards honest.

FXJ has already survived one assault from Kerry Packer. I doubt very much that he has given up his ambition of owning it. I'm sure Rupert Murdoch would be equally delighted to own it too, given the opportunity. By the way, in case you need reminding, as far as media in Australia is concerned, Packer and Murdoch are just about it. If FXJ goes to either of them, you can forget about checks and balances.

So what to do? Compared to Packer or Murdoch, I am not even a David to their Goliath. I am a gnat.

Lefties and lawyers (and what - two-thirds? - of parliamentarians are lawyers, surprise surprise) believe that laws are the solution. They always want more laws. "There ought to be a law!" "They [it's always the mysterious 'They' who should do something] should suddenly become honest or magically transcend political reality and pass a law". But can it be done, given the nature of Australia's semi-democracy? Is it even desirable to have more laws? Will mere laws even work?

However you, Mr David Gnat, although you may not realise it, actually do have the power in the real world have to do something about it. And you barely have to leave your seat to do it.

Because any shares in Fairfax you control and refuse ever to sell are shares Packer and Murdoch and Ho Chi Minh can never control.

And if everyone does it then...

There are 924 million Fairfax shares outstanding.

There are 7 million taxpayers in Australia.

If my calculations are correct, that's 132 shares per taxpayer.

Today's FXJ closing share price was AU$4.06. That's a grand total of AU$535.92 per taxpayer.

That's a very small amount of money - and that's for the entire company!

Consider this:

1. It's such a small amount of money we don't need to exclude non-taxpayers - we can include pensioners, invalids and the unemployed. So, given, say, 10 million voters, that'd be 92.4 shares or AU$375.14 each.

2. Even if we control just over 10% of the shares, we can prevent a mop-up by a Goliath. [Under Australian law, anyone who buys 90% or more of the shares of a public company can force the holders of the remaining 10% to sell their shares at a "fair" price. They can then take the company private, reducing the amount of outside scrutiny possible.]

3. A Goliath would need about 20-50% of the shares to get real control, so even if we merely get hold of, say, 67% of the shares, we would still prevent Goliath from getting control.

4. If all the Davids work in unison they can get actual control of the company with a mere 33% of the shares.

So ask yourself: would you invest (not spend - you get a resaleable asset that pays dividends and should at least hold its value if not appreciate) a mere $500 to ensure the continued media diversity and freedom? [Disclaimer: I am not certified to give investment advice.]

Do you want a media that is merely a tool in the political-financial machinations of media barons?

If the answer is yes to the former and no to the latter, stop whinging and act today. I just bought 140 shares myself.

"...the working class has been become integrated into capitalist society and is no longer a revolutionary force." [The 'Frankfurt School' of social theory according to Anthony Giddens, The Return of Grand Theory in the Human Sciences - think about it: what are pension funds?]. Shareholder activism is the way of the future. So...put your money where your mouth is and buy 132 Fairfax shares today!

[Full disclosure: The author now owns Fairfax shares.]

26 October 2005

McAleese's Fighting Manual

McAleese's Fighting Manual; Peter McAleese & John Avery; Orion; 1998

This book is exactly what the title says: a fighting manual. If you don't want to read a manual on practical soldiering then avoid this book.

The author Peter McAleese's resume reads like a Who's Who of military organisations:



  • British Paratroops
  • British SAS (where he saw action in Borneo and Yemen, although in which capacity I'm not sure)
  • FNLA (the smallest faction in Angola's civil war, it was backed by the People's Republic of China and Zaire)
  • Rhodesian SAS
  • South African Paratroops
  • COIN (apparently a private military contractor)
  • someone in Columbia (allegedly the British SAS on loan to fight against the leftist rebel group FARC)
  • someone in Moscow, training bodyguards

According to his publisher's website he's now a publican in Birmingham. Wonder if he doubles as as his own bouncer.

Who John Avery is I have no idea. Perhaps he's an Army officer who speaks both Grunt and English.

I doubt very much that McAleese is a dreamer or wannabe. His book is full of some pretty basic and sensible stuff, like digging a little drain under your groin in your hidey-hole when you're on observation duty so you can piss in it without taking your eyes off the horizon.

The Manual is divided into 4 parts:

  • Tactics (e.g. how to set an ambush: where to put your machineguns, where to lay your claymores)
  • Theatres of War: (e.g. jungle, arctic, urban areas)
  • Combat Survival: (e.g. first aid, how to surrender, how to receive a surrender)
  • Marksmanship (e.g. don't let your rifle muzzle point at other people on the firing range, how to choose your pistol)

My edition at least had far too many typos. However although some of them were real shockers, they never interfered with understanding.

If you want a simple straightforward book with clear readable simple blokey prose, this is the book for you.

****1/2 Four-and-a-half stars

Who do you think was the first to use poison gas against Kurdish villages?

If you said Saddam, no lollipop for you. It was the RAF, with the personal approval of Winston Churchill.

Source: The War Nerd, It's Not Nam, But It'll Do (http://www.exile.ru/2004-April-16/war_nerd.html)

A Chip off the Old Bloc

The Frolik Defcection; Josef Frolik; Corgi Books; 1975

This is the story of Josef Frolik, a spy for the Czech Intelligence Service who became disillusioned with Communism and decided to defect.

It traces his career, his "spiritual development" (i.e. his growing awareness of the sordid truth behind the curtain of propaganda about the Communist regime), describes the paranoid and arbitrary but addictive world of the spy, gives a basic insight into the Prague Spring and its supression and aftermath, and describes how one defects - a more difficult undertaking than most realise.

Perhaps most shocking was the number of traitors in Britain trade union officials and Labour MPs, including one on the Defence Committee.

Equally shocking and fascinating was the sleazy intertwining of Czech Communists and Czech Nazi collaborators - often one and the same people.

Frolik writes in crisp clean formal slightly old-fashioned highly readable prose. I read the entire book (214 pages) in one sitting. This is testament to its readability and fascinating content.

In Frolik's own words: "I hope my story will serve to warn the vast majority of complacent, well-meaning and basically honest people in the West that the Soviets will never cease to attempt to achieve their aim of world domination...if the Soviets realise they cannot win from without, by military force, they will try to do so from within, using subversion, corruption, blackmail, bribery; and there are enough fools - and rogues - in the West always prepared to become their tools."

Like most other intelligentsia I have met from Communist or former Communist countries, he is profoundly anti-Communist. (The exceptions are those who benefit financially from currently functioning Communist countries. The rest of the population are like the rest of the population anywhere - they go along with whatever is the current orthodoxy.) His strongly put anti-Communist message may seem no longer relevant to most readers, now that the Evil Empire has been gone for 15 years (the book was published in 1975 - when the Soviet Empire was at its height). After living in Vietnam and speaking to many naive Westerners, I think the lesson needs to be learned anew.

I was slightly disappointed that it took the Prague Spring and Frolik's nationalism and his resultant fall from grace to push him to take the plunge and defect, however I cannot hold that against him: anyone who has ever made a courageous move like that is aware of how much procrastination and thinking and planning must go into it, and to the extent that Frolik is compromised, he is far less compromised than most, including myself.

The climax is of coures Frolik's defection with his wife and son - no simple matter. By now the reader is thoroughly steeped in the world of espionage and appreciates the difficulty, paranoia and risk involved. (As Peter McAleese writes in his Fighting Manual: "Surrendering is a dangerous action...However, the act of taking a prisoner can be equally dangerous...") . It is interesting to learn how the Americans did it (I won't spoil it for you).

The book leaves much omitted - details which could perhaps now be revealed as the fall of the Soviet Union makes their secrecy no longer necessary. Sadly, it appears that Frolik died in 1989, which means he would never have had the joy of seeing the collapse of the hated Soviet Union, although he would surely have had some inkling. Sadly for us, it means that much more that he could have told us is probably lost forever.

****1/2 Four-and-a-half stars

25 October 2005

The Bird Flu and You

According to a Special Report by the brilliant Stratfor (www.stratfor.com for the only news source you need), the Chicken Flu panic is overblown.

Even in the unlikely event that the Chicken Flu turns out to be as bad as the 1918 Flu Pandemic (which massively important event I discovered serendipitously about 5 years ago - why did it never rate a mention at school?), it won't hit us nearly as hard as it did back then.

This is mainly due to improved diet and general health, and to better medicine for treating secondary infections (which apparently killed half the flu victims, rather like AIDS patients don't die directly of AIDS).

So, be alert but not alarmed is the message.

Quote of the Day

It is a general rule of human nature that people despise those who treat them well, and look up to those who make no concessions.

- Thucydides

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thucydides

Very sad, very true.

24 October 2005

WIMP

I heard a cool idea regarding the allocation of income the other day. It comes from Holistic Farming but is universally applicable.

The key concept is WIMP:

  • Wealth creation (basically purchasing assets, i.e. expenses that bring greater income in the future)
  • Inescapable expenses (expenses over which you have no discretion: you have to pay them just to stay in business, e.g. licence fees)
  • Maintenance (expenses over which you have some discretion that you pay out to keep things running)
  • Profit (money you take out of the business and put in your pocket)
So when your business makes sales, you have to decide beforehand how much of your income you will allocate to profit, how much to maintenance, and so on.

I found the idea sensible, easy to understand, and fun to play with.

09 October 2005

Credit Cards

I had the painful but instructive experience of looking through old credit card statements the other day.

WAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!
All those $50+ dinners that seemed so important at the time - where are they now?

I encourage anyone with a credit card to pay it off pronto and then cut the bastard up! That's right, cut it up! I did it at the bank in front of the staff!

It was one of the most liberating experiences of my life. It felt liberating and it was.

Sonny, if you haven't got the cash, you can't afford it.

I know, I know. You want to buy something over the net... You want to buy an expensive dinner for someone... Your friendly neighbourhood government won't let you buy a SIM card without one...

Get a debit card. Use bPay. Just get rid of the freakin' credit card!

I'm promising you, there will be months when you're so busy you can't get to the bank. When you finally do get there the queue's so long you don't get served before you have to go back to the office. The [insert name] website won't be working properly. So you ring [insert name] and wait half an hour on hold before you give up. You will pay that $20 late fee, you will pay that outrageous interest bill that sneaked up on you, and you will shout the entire bar when you've had a few.

Don't fool yourself. If you're thinking of getting one: think twice, then forget it. If you're an unlucky bastard who's already got one: pay it off and cut it up.

A fool and his money are soon parted.

The Nuremberg Trials

When one day Western civilisation is a crumbling ruin, and the hordes are poised to sweep across Europe and North America, intelligent educated people will look back and say "What happened?".

They will identify, I believe, the Nuremberg trials as the turning point.

The Nuremberg trials represent the end of the rule of law.

The Nuremberg trials established the principal that conscience, morality, ethics trump the law.

Thus we, more and more, will start to use our moral compasses, instead of the law as our guides in acting, with all the ramifications that that entails.

In fact, we are obliged to do so. Look what happened to those Nazis when they didn't.

Of course, where law and conscience conflict, we will likely be punished by the state for choosing to follow our consciences. But if we follow the law, we will be despised by our superegos, our family and friends, society at large, and posterity.

It is a 'damned if you do, damned if you don't' situation. Not so good for the poor individual.

For example, you are a journalist who scoops a scandal involving legally protected information. The information could only have come from a civil servant illegally leaking that information. You are bullyed by the police, summonsed by a court, put under oath by force, but your conscience dictates that you can't reveal your source. Post-Nuremberg theology dictates that your conscience, your individual conscience, must determine what comes next.

I would like to think that I would go to jail rather than reveal my source. I would also like to think that you'd make this choice too.

The consequences, of course, wil be lots of well-meaning people casuing chaos.

A bit like the Nazis, really.

Quote of the Day

"The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it."

- Thucydides

08 October 2005

Was Churchill a Nazi?

I do not agree that the dog in a manger has the final right to the manger even though he may have lain there for a very long time. I do not admit that right. I do not admit for instance, that a great wrong has been done to the Red Indians of America or the black people of Australia. I do not admit that a wrong has been done to these people by the fact that a stronger race, a higher-grade race, a more worldly wise race to put it that way, has come in and taken their place.

- Churchill to the Palestine Royal Commission (1937)

Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Winston_Churchill

Mr Mafioso

For all you wimps who change the nappy every second time and do the washing up, here are som entertainingly written practical tips on all those little things that go into being a real man, by Mr Mafioso at askmen.com.

http://www.askmen.com/money/mafioso/index.html

07 October 2005

War Nerd

Want to understand geopolitics and war better?

Check out the War Nerd: http://www.exile.ru/archive/by_author/gary_brecher.html

Quote:

When you've got Saudi boys choosing one-way tickets to the WTC over a lifetime lying by the pool with your imported Swedish girlfriend in Riyadh, you've got a serious ideology to deal with.

- from Southern Thailand: the Long Grind

Quote:

The Americans tried to copy the [Russian armoured personnel carrier, the BMP] and came up with the Bradley IFV, which is like a BMP only about a thousand times more expensive. And it still can't take a hit from an RPG. All it's good for is turning a squad of soldiers into beef stroganoff in about one millisecond. But the Israelis thought for themselves, and they came up with the Merkava, a tank that can fight AND transport infantry under real protection. They were the only army to admit: hey, this isn't WW II. You can't take casualties like those any more, not with everybody glued to their TV moaning every time a few dozen soldiers get splattered. Survivability, that's the biggest thing now. And the Merkava was untouchable.

- from Israelis on Wheels!

Is Uncle Osama Crazy?

Osama bin Laden must be crazy.

His idea, reviving the Caliphate, is a good one. Not "good" in the sense that I would like to see it come to fruition, but as far as platforms for going after the main chance go, it's up there with Communism.

But, and here I have the benefit of hindsight, the strategy was wrong.

He had the base - Afghanistan (apparently this is what al-Qaeda means). He had the men. He had the money. He was all set to go.

But in trying to set off simultaneous uprisings across the Muslim belt (i.e. from Morocco to Mindanao - have you ever noticed this? It truly adds weight to Jared Diamond's thesis in Guns, Germs & Steel (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guns_Germs_and_Steel)) by spectacularly blowing up things in the Western world, he made the classic blunder of breaking the 4th rule of war.

The 4 rules of war, for those who need reminding, are:

1. Don't march on Moscow.
2. Don't go fighting with your land army on the mainland of Asia.
3. Never go in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.

and

4. Don't upset the Yanks.

I formulated the 4th one myself, although General William Tecumseh Sherman (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_William_Tecumseh_Sherman) should probably get the credit.

Now his base has been smashed and a new government set up in Afghanistan. He's on the run and hiding in Pakistan. The Pakistanis probably even know where he is, it's just that Pakistan itself is a powder keg (with nuclear weapons) and nabbing him or knocking him off could just be that spark...

Bin Laden woke up the Yanks by shitting in their nest. They retaliated by pulling his apart. They did what they ought to have done when they intervened in the Russian Civil War towards the end of WWI (bet you didn't know about that, did you?). In the Russian Civil War the US and other European powers intervened half-heartedly - a massive mistake. They should have done it either not at all or with everything they had. This time they went in to win, and they won.

What should he have done?

The clue is in the reason he is alive today (assuming his dialysis machine is still in working order and his is alive). Pakistan, and America are too afraid to knock him off, especially in Pakistan. Why? Because bin Laden has many sympathisers there, including Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's spooks, patrons of the Taliban.

Pakistan is a disaster waiting to happen. (Frankly, splitting from India was a mistake, also because millions died in the accompanying religious violence. They should reunite into a multi-religious democracy.) Pakistan is full of religious nuts, it's on the edge of a political tectonic fault, the ISI is out of control (or perhaps rather in control), its democracy has been 'suspended' by a military coup led by current 'President' Pervez Musharraf (one of my heroes, incidentally, the very model of a modern moderate liberal technocratic benevolent dictator and an admirer of Kemal Ataturk).

So it might come as no surprise that, according to Stratfor (www.stratfor.com), Musharraf told Time that he hopes bin Laden will eventually be captured "somewhere outside Pakistan [b]y some other people".'

How much easier would it have been for bin Laden to quietly take over Pakistan without reaching the necessary threshold of alarm in the West required to get the political will together for a war? Or, if Pakistan's Bombs are too controversial, there are plenty of other small targets. What about Central Asia? Too many Russians? The what about a minor Arab emirate? Ethnic uprisings in Iran? A state in the Sahara? The southern Philippines? There were many possible next steps. Why not quietly put together a patchwork of states until one day everyone wakes up and you've arrived?

Those of us who belong to the 4.5 billion non-Muslims or the 900 million moderate Muslims in the world have reason to be grateful they took the course they did. But the issue hasn't gone away yet. Communism dominated the political landscape of the last third of the 19th century and almost the entire 20th century. This issue could be with us for the rest of our lives.

Car Knowledge for Non-Car-Guys: Changing tires

I am not a car guy. I know nothing about cars. I have never wanted to know anything about cars.

I once knew a guy who could tell the model of a car just from its headlights in his rear vision mirror. I respected, but did not envy him, his talent.

Until I got a flat tire in the Cross City Tunnel.

There I was, trying to figure out how to change a tire in the middle of a f#$%ing tunnel, wishing I'd paid more attention to such mundane matters.

Guys: you need to know something about cars. Just the basics is enough.

As for myself, I'm off to a basic car maintenance course.

And I will start posting car knowledge for people who should know but don't.

How to change a tire

  1. Don't panic. Act cool. If you've got a hot date in your car, don't be embarrassed. It can happen to anyone, anywhere. How coolly you handle the situation is what's important.
  2. Get off the road. Make sure you have enough room to work without getting hit by a truck.
  3. The spare tire is (hopefully) in the boot. Go this weekend to get the pressure checked. My spare tire was nearly as deflated as the flat one.
  4. There is a machine thing called the jack. There is also a long bent metal rod. You need these to jack up the car. Check it's there today.
  5. There should be a spanner. It is a metal rod with a socket pointing at right angles to the length of the rod. My spanner was hard to find - it was in a bag made of the same material as the inside of the boot. Check it's there today.
  6. Go to near the flat tire. Fiddle with the jack with your fingers until you can see how it works. Use your fingers until it nearly reaches from the ground to the car. Put it under the car. Get the stick. Stick it in. Start turning it until the jack is supporting the car but the car's tire is still touching the ground (I learnt that this is important because the tire grips the ground and holds the wheel still while you undo the nuts).
  7. Get the spanner. Start undoing the nuts. Undo is anti-clockwise. Don't worry if they won't undo at first. Try each of them 3 times - it should work. If not use your foot to put weight on the spanner. It's surprisng how hot the nuts are.
  8. Get the spare tire. Put it on the bolts. Fuck the hubcap, you can do it later. Put on the bolts just like you took them off. Make them nice and tight but don't overdo it, just use your foot a little bit at the end.
  9. Chuck all the stuff in the back - you can tidy up later.
  10. Drive off.
Happy driving, fellas!

On Christianity

The deal is this.

There is a God. He is the only thing existing.

So he creates a vast infinitesimally complex mechanical artwork called the Universe.

On one microscopic small part of the Universe, about the size of a speck of dust, called the Earth, he creates some microbes.

Now, he gives these microbes some rules to live their lives by, most of which involve telling God how amazing He is. The deal is that if they obey the rules without a single mistake in their entire lives, they get to go to a place on another plane of existence called Heaven. If they make one single mistake, they go to another plane of existence called Hell where they are tortured and tormented and burnt with fire until the end of time. The catch is, it is practically impossible to never make a mistake. So all these microbes are condemned to eternal torture.

Now, God begins to feel a bit sorry for the microbes, trying their little hearts out with the Mission Impossible he'd set them but still getting the eternal burning and all that. Possibly too he realised that too many microbes, upon realising that they'd flubbed it and there was no way they were going to make it to Heaven anyway, were deciding to fuck His silly rules and have a Good Time before they burnt forever, which meant that not enough microbes were reminding God of how truly awesome He was and His self-esteem was beginning to suffer as a result. Some people say it was just because He had all this unsold real estate in Heaven.

Anyway, whatever the reason, he decided to do something about it. Fortunately for the plot of this story, he produces a Son from up his sleeve. He goes on to impregnate a microbe with this Son. The Son, who looks like her on the outside and Him on the inside, grows up, and gets killed. Then he goes to Hell, gets tortured and burned for 3 days (actually from 3 pm one afternoon to, say, 6am the morning after next).

Now, some people, whom we shall collectively call A, met this guy. And they talked about it to some other people, collectively known as B, who wrote some of it down. Some other people, called C, read these books and summarised and conflated them into some other books. Some people called D read these books, got together and decided which ones were the real thing and which ones weren't. Then they killed anyone who disagreed with them.

Now some guy called E reads these books. Then he looks you up and tells you the New Deal:

If you believe this story, you get a get-out-of-Hell-free card, and you can go to Heaven even if you - as you are absolutely bound to do - make mistakes in fulfilling the rules. Of course, for some unexplained reason you must still try to fulfill these rules. But at least you get the second bite at the cherry. E is probably also going to ask you for some money.

So instead of having to follow a set of impossible-to-follow rules, you now have to believe an impossible-to-believe story, in order to get an ticket with which, instead of going to Hell and burning forever, you go to Heaven and sing forever songs to God telling him what a truly wonderful God he is.

Can you believe that?

He's been a busy busy boy, has our China

Does anyone remember the Solomon Islands?

Remember how it fell apart into something that would be called warlordism if that weren't too glorified a term for it?

It was a bit of a scandal. The Solomon Islands begs Australia to take it over (how many countries beg another to take it over?); Australia says you're on your own. Solomon Islands collapses into chaos.

The Daily Telegraph (a NSW paper generally considered to be a low-brow right-wing plebeian tabloid) as I recall, on page 1 lamented "Where were our intelligence services? Why didn't we see this coming?"

On page 4 of the same edition there was an article lamenting that the Government hadn't listened to ASIS's reports from several months ago that a shipment of arms was about to arrive in the Solomons from China. Yes, you read right, from good old friendly benevolent China.

Oops. Looks like the Tele done a fubar there. Presumably they received a D Notice (government request for voluntary self-censorship) but some wires got crossed and the article made it into the paper and onto the shelves.

(Incidentally, the Daily Telegraph was the newspaper that first outed the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) in 1972.)

So. The Sinofascists are destabilising our neighbours, eh?

I wonder what the Solomons' relationship with Taiwan at that time was like? Was it hot, or was it just getting warmer?

Or was Australia not sucking hard enough when the US Sugar Daddy A wasn't looking?

Or were we just not keeping a close enough eye on things?

What I want to know is, why wasn't the shipment intercepted and the crew fed to the sharks? The only acceptable excuse is that some 30 year old hot-shot (correctly) judged that the ensuing chaso, which only Australia could fix, would allow Australia to strengthen its position in the Solomons.

Whatever it was, the question is, what are we going to do about it? China, I mean. Are we just going to bend over and take this? I hope not. I hope some very dirty deal went on in the background that cost China some big concessions. Maybe they let us off the hook when they caught us bugging their embassy.

I just pray that we didn't do nothing.

Maybe we didn't - look at the Chen affair (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chen_Yonglin). We have 1000 Chinese spies in Australia...

It's a deadly, nasty, dangerous, brutal world out there.

Yours truly

Patrick Henry

06 October 2005

The Lackey Country?

Many of my Lefty friends lament that (according to their perception) Australia is the catamite of the USA.

I am deeply upset to feel myself being pulled towards the conclusion that Australia is not only the catamite of the USA, but, faithless little slut that we are, we have been butterflying with Indonesia and, I suspect, China as well.

Have we no shame?

What about the alleged pro-Jakarta lobby allaegedly revealed by the East Timor Cover Up?

The East Timor Cover Up is not a debacle, but is rather a complex of alleged debacles.

What I can't understand is, how it is that a proud country can have a pro-giant-neighbour lobby within its defence and foreign affairs bureaucracy.

Is this just a Machieavellian realpolitik Kissingeresque pro-Jakarta stance? If so, why would they go to such an extent to tone down internal not-for-public-consumption intelligence reports which stated nothing more than what every Joe Blow in every suburban pub knew: that the "militias" that were engaging in genocide or were about to engage in genocide were backed by the Indonesian military.

You didn't need intelligence officers over there to know that.

OK, if we were pretending that the TNI wasn't backing the "militias", then I could understand if such reports were not made public and the people whose job it is to publicly lie about such things lied about them. There'd be no scandal and all would be well. But to crush a public servant for giving a frank and fearless report to his seniors? To cut off his access to the intelligence database while he was in the field?

So, in the ensuing hoo-haa, the Perfumed Princes appoint an Army lawyer to conduct an investigation and whitewash the whole thing. Except that he decides that the poor little intelligence officer is right and there is a pro-Jakarta lobby lurking in the shadows of the defence establishment. Bzzzzt wrong! You are the weakest link. Goodbye. His career gets trashed too.

My question is: has our defence establishment been penetrated? Is it corrupt? Are there traitors there? Or are they merely specialists who have come to identify with their specialisation and hate to see it look bad, a sort of Stockholm syndrome, in which case there may be nothing more sinister than a case of human, all-too-human? Even the latter case is incompetence that must be dealt with immediately and vigorously.

For more information: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lance_Collins

By the way, is anyone taking bets on how much longer Indonesia can hold together?

Nationmaster website

http://www.nationmaster.com/

This is a really cool website with lots of different statistics about different countries.

I cannot do better than the New York Times' comment: "astounding and easy to use".

Enron scandal: Olson's testimony

Olson was one of the two financial industry guys who tipped off the journalists (including the ravishing Bethany McLean) who broke the Enron scandal. He was apparently or allegedly or really sacked by his broker employers for his "neutral" view of Enron. Enron then apparently or allegedly or really gave 2 big deals to Olson's former employers.

This is his prepared witness testimony to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations regarding the financial collapse of Enron.

It is highly readable: I love his style.

http://energycommerce.house.gov/107/Hearings/02072002hearing485/Olson793.htm

By the way, one other thing that came out of the discussion with the scrumptious Bethany McLean was regarding her other informant, a guy called Chandos. Upon brilliant question by yours truly it turns out that this Chandos was a professional short seller. According to the delectable McLean, short sellers are often very well informed. And although they have a bad reputaion - they are perceived as negative, pessimistic, unpatriotic, unAmerican - and although there are regular attempts to ban short selling (it is in fact banned in Australia) - the Enron story shows that short-sellers have an important role to play. I would add that their role is rather like carrion scavengers: they are a distasteful but very necessary part of the ecosystem.

According to the more cynical Randy Bentwick (genghisappreciation.blogspot.com), short-sellers they not only have an interest in finding companies that are not as crash-hot as everyone thinks they are, but they have a financial incentive to make sure everyone finds out about it ASAP; one of the best ways of achieveing this being of course to tip off a financial journalist looking to make her name, such as the charming McLean.

Italian coma victim says heard everything

This is scary.

"By Phil StewartROME (Reuters) - An Italian man who spent two years supposedly unconscious in a deep coma, written off by doctors as nearly-dead, awoke saying he heard and understood everything happening around him during the long ordeal, his family said."

Source: http://www.swissinfo.org/sen/swissinfo.html?siteSect=143&sid=6140636&cKey=1128526532000&ticker=true

Quote of the Day

The superman...Who has organised the chaos of his passion, given style to his character, and become creative. Aware of life's terrors, he affirms life without resentment.

- Nietzsche

05 October 2005

Defence Forces just say no

This is from the Defence Forces' careers website (http://www.defencejobs.gov.au/careers_explorer/AddInfo23.html):

What is the ADF's policy on Illicit (Illegal) Drug Use (Smoking Marijuana, Intravenous Drug Use, Heroin, Crack, Ecstacy, Cocaine etc)?

Candidates seeking appointment or enlistment to any part of the ADF will have their application automatically rejected if:

a. they admit to ongoing habitual drug involvement,

b. they have been found guilty in a Court of Law, or otherwise convicted, of drug involvement,
c. they are found to have an addiction to habitual drug involvement; or

d. they admit to, or there is evidence of, a conviction for the use of or possession of an illegal drug, or of trafficking in any restricted or prohibited drug.

It is not quite accurate, possibly not quite candid. It turns out that they will reject you if you have ever in your whole life taken any drug, with the possible except of the tiniest smidgin of experimentation, like one puff of an oregano joint.

Why don't they just say so?

It seems to me to be a bad, short-sighted policy because, as far as I am aware, they have no means of testing whether you used drugs 10 years ago. This means you can just lie, and anecdotal evidence suggests that many, even most, applicants do.

This means that the Army is full of people whose drug history is outside the control of the Army. (I didn't lie on my application because I made the classic blunder of assuming that the Army was as clever as I am. I thought it was an issue of controlling risk, not eliminating it.)

It also means that your relationship with the Army begins with a lie... not a positive beginning. "If it's bad news, we don't want to know it." Not something I would want in an organisation I ran.

This however sends a welcome message to shirkers: Just take some drugs. (Hell, why not? The damage to your health is almost certainly going to be less than that caused by going to war.) Or don't take drugs but tell them you did.

Why do they do this?

One reason (the only plausible reason) that was suggested to me was that the long-term effects of drug use are not known. This is a good argument. Psychological factors are vital. For example, it is known that a military force will lose 10% of its men in the first few hours of combat through no other reason than psychological trauma (see The Face of Battle).

But it smacks of sophistry. For example, assuming that the long term effects of caffeine, alcohol and tobacco are known, we can say that drug use in general has acceptable long-term risks.

My suspicion is that the real reason is that the policy is set by people who have never experimented with drugs and are afraid of people who have. They are intimidated by people who simply have greater knowledge and experience. Alternatively, they still believe the propaganda they were told when they were little boys and girls (e.g. smoking marijuana will turn you into a crazy nigger who runs around at night howling and raping white women).

To be fair, it is simply possible that the architects of the policy think that people with the moral courage to break social norms and try drugs may be, or are, too morally courageous to make good soldiers. Good warriors perhaps, but not good soldiers. However, I find this hard to swallow for the following reason: Experimenting with drugs is the social norm. I know myself that it was easy to experiment with drugs because everyone was doing it, and I would not describe myself or anyone I knew who ever tried drugs was particularly morally courageous.

(Anyway, I don't know about your army but I want morally courageous people in my army. People who would rather die than not say things like "I really think you should stop shooting those peasants, not because it's intrinsically wrong but because it might have long term negative repercussions".

Even if they're right, if the army has any dirty jobs that need doing, I'm sure it could find the people to do them, the presence of some morally courageous people in the ranks notwithstanding.)

In conclusion, this short-sighted policy, which is probably based more on prejudice than on statistics, excludes half the population from serving in their armed forces. It is an unreasonable and unnecessary deprivation of civil rights, it is unenforceable, and it encourages dishonesty. It should be removed ASAP.

Army rejects former drug users

It is not yet official, but the Australian Army is about to reject my appeal against my rejection on the grounds of prior drug use.

Drugs not being the ones they give you at the hospital.

While I don't know if the policy is unjustified in general, or justified in general but not in my case, (or, to be fair, justified in my case), I feel that it is short-sighted.

For starters, it appears that acording to ABS statistics, 40% of the population are excluded by this policy.

Let's make a bet: in the event of war, the Armed Forces will suddenly change their policy.

Let's make a second bet: In the event of war I will receive in the mail either a conscription notice, a letter from the Army suggesting that it is my patriotic duty to volunteer, or a white feather.

04 October 2005

Quote of the Day

'You think Nature is some Disney movie? Nature is a killer. Nature is a bitch. It's feeding time out there 24 hours a day, every step that you take is a gamble with death. If it isn't getting hit with lightning today, it's an earthquake tomorrow or some deer tick carrying Lyme disease. Either way, you're ending up on the wrong end of the food chain.'

- Jeff Melvoin, 'Bolt from the Blue', Northern Exposure, 1994

Business in China

This story has a happy ending, but I'm sure there are millions that don't.

http://www.smh.com.au/news/business/investors-confront-chinese-corruption-and-win/2005/10/03/1128191658544.html

I can think of only a few scenarios in which I would bother doing business in China or anywhere like it:

1. You are seriously well connected, like the son of a cabinet minister or something.
2. You are huge and they can't ignore you and you can afford the massive bribes that could tempt a bigwig.
3. You have the patience of Job and you want to test yourself.
4. Your only reason for living is to do some kind of business in China.
5. You live there and can't get out.

The moral is: think twice, then forget it.

From my experience in Vietnam, (and I feel it is not unrealistic assume that the Chinese are very similar) I draw the following conclusions:

1. Half the people in Vietnam are the nicest, friendliest, most honest, most generous, most honourable people in the world.

2. The other half are the most deceitful, lying, dishonest, cynical, selfish, incompetent people you will ever have the misfortune to meet. They will be nice to you but they will be rude to the waiter. They feel morally obliged to cheat you and rub your face in it. They will even cheat you where it is more profitable to be honest.

3. You are most likely to meet the second category in business. (This by the way makes it very hard for those in the first category to make a living.)

4. This person is likely to be a member of the Communist Party, a state official, or both. Either he joined for corrupt reasons, which illustrates the extent of his cynicism, or he joined and became corrupt, which also illustrates the extent of his cynicism

5. You will be told that when you go to a meeting, it is customary to give a gift (such as a bottle of scotch). I am convinced that government officials put out tenders for projects simply so they can meet with foreign businessmen to receive such gifts. I suggest all foreign businessmen reply that in the West, to give such a gift before the deal is an expression of defiance of Fate, and Fate will punish such insolence by jinxing the deal (rather like when you say "I have never had a car accident"). The cunning Qing knows that we are desparate to do business there, and milks the 'Asian culture' and 'Oriental tradition' for all it's worth. I say milk back.

Consider doing business elsewhere.

Ukraine at a crossroads

As much as I am in love with Yulia "Gas Princess" Tymoshenko (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yulia_Tymoshenko), I feel that we must all rally around Viktor "Mr Dioxin" Yushchenko (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Viktor_Yushchenko) as being the best bet for a Ukraine which is orientated towards the relatively benign European Union, which in turn is its best chance for economic development, political freedom, and national independence.

It appears to me that Mr Dioxin is clearly the only man of sufficient principle to bring stability to Ukraine.

It appears to me that the Gas Princess is clearly fundamentally interested in personal gain, and will bring a culture of sleaze and the instability that goes with it to Ukrainian politics.

Who was it who said "A house divided against itself cannot stand"?

The question is, is Mr Dioxin sufficently Machiavellian in nature and does he have enough raw cunning power to defend himself against a woman who seems to have far more personal force than he does?

For an interesting and concise update omn the situation in Ukraine, see http://www.earlywarning.com/.)

03 October 2005

Quote of the Day

'One person can have a profound effect on another. And two people...well, two people can work miracles. They can change a whole town. They can change the world.'

- Ned, 'Cicely', Northern Exposure, 1992

Source: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Northern_Exposure

Political divisiveness + less talk, more action

This is from the Sydney Morning Herald, a reputable mainstream centrist newspaper not controlled by any media mogul:

Migrants welcome - unless they're from the Middle East
By Joseph Kerr
http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/migrants-welcome--unless-theyre-from-the-middle-east/2005/10/02/1128191606652.html

...

"Since the Howard Government had made it harder for migrants to obtain welfare, stopped emphasising multiculturalism and focused on skilled migrants instead of family reunion, opposition to migration had fallen, even though overall numbers were increasing."

...

Tell you something? John Howard the supposed White Australia philistine has increased immigration, mainly it seems by shutting up and getting on with it.

The Australian people for the last 20 years have been more or less of one mind regarding immigration, but it seemed to me then and seems to me now that Keating managed to create bitter division where really there was none.

Where is Pauline Hanson? It seems now in retrospect that where Keating fanned her flames, Howard took the wind out of her sails, to mix a few metaphors.

Who is (or was) Tran Do?

Was.

For The Economist's obituary of Tran Do (pronounced something like Chen D'oh), follow this link: http://economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=1280571.

The Economist, unlike this blog, is a respectable publication and does not repeat the widely suspected suspicion that he was knocked off by the Communist Party.

Australia's press freedom shame

Australia is 41 out of the 167 countries that made it onto Reporters without Borders' 2004 World press freedom index.

This is a national disgrace.

This put Australia just ahead of Chile, Japan, Namibia, and Uruguay, all on equal 42nd.

It also puts Australia behind Trinidad & Tobago, Bosnia & Herzegovina, the United States, Jamaica, South Africa, Benin, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Hong Kong, Costa Rica, Bulgaria, Israel, and Cape Verde, just to name a few.

Spain and Italy pipped us at the post.

I am disappointed. I sort of expected better of us.

Vietnam highly appreciated by Reporters without Borders

Congratulations to Vietnam for beating the People's Republic of China, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Myanmar, Cuba and North Korea in the Reporters without Borders Worldwide press freedom index for 2004.

Communist Party chief Nong Coi Dung Trau said of this achievement, "You see you crazy stupid Western people? This what we sacrifice 7 million people for! Rightist reactionary Tran Do, traitor to his country and party, wrong when he say we worse than French. This achievement very glorious for glorious honourable Socialist Republic! Vietnam people wiser than western people! Hahahaha!"

Jane Fonda was unavailable for comment.

Now let's set ourselves the high but achievable target for 2005 of overtaking Nepal, Saudi Arabia and maybe, if we really try, even Iran.

The Muddle Machine: Confessions of a Textbook Editor

The Muddle Machine: Confessions of a Textbook Editor

http://www.edutopia.org/magazine/ed1article.php?id=Art_1195&issue=nov_04

is linked to from Paul Graham's essay What You'll Wish You'd Known.

This article exposes the scandal that is the textbook industry in the good ol' US of A.

In a nutshell, textbooks are bland sludge (your own child could have told you that - in fact probably is but you aren't listening).

This is because your Little Johnny's precious education has been hijacked by an extremist group hell-bent on making sure Little Johnny's brain doesn't get past the year 1650 AD.

Concise, highly readable and definitely worth reading.

****1/2 Four-and-a-half stars.

02 October 2005

Paul Graham's essays

Check out the essays of this guy, Paul Graham.

http://www.paulgraham.com/index.html

In particular I recommend How to Start a Startup for anyone thinking of starting a business and What You'll Wish You'd Known, a never-delivered speech to high school graduates that sets out what I wish I'd known when I left high school.

This guy is good.

Quote of the Day

'As you may know, I spent the last three months in Africa. A wondrous, magical place. But as shadows lengthen across the KBHR window, thoughts turn to homecoming. Journey's end. Because in a sense, it's the coming back, the return which gives meaning to the going forth. We really don't know where we've been until we've come back to where we were. Only, where we were may not be as it was because of who we've become. Which is, after all, why we left.'

- Bernard Stevens (Richard Cummings Jr), 'It Happened In Juneau', Northern Exposure, 1992

Word of the Day: Legamoron

In fact, I would argue that many laws are the legal equivalent of oxymorons - legamorons, if you will. A legamoron is any law that could not stand up under widespread enforcement. Laws against marijuana use are a prime example. Rigorous enforcement of these laws on middle-class college campuses would cause a furor.

- Arnold Kling, in The Trackable Society
http://www.techcentralstation.com/102102E.html

Book Review: Liddell Hart's History of the Second World War

History of the Second World War
by Sir Basil Liddell Hart

The author

Sir Basil H. Liddell Hart (his surname is "Liddell Hart") was, if memory serves, a guy who went through WWI and came out of it wondering how things could have been done better, without, for example, all the people being sent to inevitable deaths in pointless hopeless assaults against entrenched machine gun positions. Quite possibly he was inspired by other people who also wondered such things such as Australia's General Sir John Monash, the pioneer of combined arms warfare who was famous for innovative ideas such as actually thinking hard about what he was doing and not getting his men killed (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Monash).

Liddell Hart ended up becoming a pioneer of armoured warfare or manoeuvre warfare, writing some books that were ignored in England but read by such figures as the legendary Guderian (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guderian) who thought he'd try out some of Liddell Hart's ideas in the Ardennes forest and the rest is history.

For an excellent discussion of this important military thinker, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liddell_Hart.

The book

This book is awesome. It goes through the entire war in some depth looking at each major front in roughly chronological order. It looks at the politics and strategy as well as the strategy at the front level and goes into tactics at the higher level.

Sometimes it gets a bit tedious because it is full of blow-by-blow accounts of entire fronts for a period. For example, you read about how the Brits chased the Italians across North Africa, Rommel chased the Brits back, and the Brits chased him back again, skirmish by skirmish. This was really rather boring.

However, the good flip side of this was that, in its thoroughness, it covered parts of the war I, due to my Anglo-centric education, was otherwise ignorant of.

For example, I had only had a vague inkling that the Americans had invaded Vichy French North Africa.

There is probably a reason for the silence of my world-class education: none of the "good guys" comes out looking good.

Although I vaguely knew that the Brits were in Norway early on in the war, I never realised that Hitler, that supposed perfidious violator of neutrality left right and centre, did not want to violate Norway's neutrality but feared (correctly) that the British would, and eventually, reluctuantly, gave the order. As it turned out, he made this decision not a moment too soon: Germany and Britain invaded Norway on the same day; the Norwegians were too busy defending against the British to defend against the Germans and then the Germans kicked the Britons' butts out of Norway. They never teach you that in an Australian high school Modern History class!

Also, we learn that when Germany invaded Czechoslovakia, poor didums Poland took advantage of the Czechoslovaks' plight to help herself to a slice of their territory.

The Warsaw Uprising (not the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising you've heard of) also gets a mention, but I'll discuss that in detail another time.

The best bit was Liddell Hart's post mortem of the war in the Epilogue. He was very critical of the Allies before the war, as per conventional wisdom, but he was also very critical of Churchill for insisting on the unconditional surrender of Germany. When the British government was contacted by Germans who wanted to know what peace terms the British would accept if they staged a coup and killed Hitler, the Brits said they would only accept Germany's unconditional surrender. As this was inevitably unacceptable to the patriotic Germans involved, the coup never went ahead and millions of lives [including probably most of the victims of the Holocaust - PH] were unnecessarily lost as a result.

[Think this through: if the British had accepted some sort of deal, they could have eliminated Fascism and left Germany fighting her other enemy Communism in one master stroke. This probably would have been not so hot a result for Poland, but at least the Poles wouldn't have Hitler's holocaustic plan for them to look forward too. It seems likely to me that the Germans would even have made a deal with the Polish nationalists to fight the Soviets and establish an independent Poland after the conclusion of the war. As it was, after much suffering Britain ruined herself crushing Fascism the hard way and left a rampant Soviet Union with half of Europe. - PH]

Liddell Hart was also critical of area bombing, an idea now fashionable, judging that it was immoral and brought no strategic benefit.

He was similarly critical of the dropping of the atomic bombs, which he considered both immoral and unnecessary, as Japan was already asking for peace behind the scenes, requesting only a few token concessions in return for an otherwise unconditional surrender, which token concessions they later got. Liddell Hart says that the bombs were dropped for domestic political reasons - the Manhattan Project had cost an astronomical sum and thus not using the Bomb after such expense may have become a political headache for the Administration.

Another result of not accepting Japan's peace terms earlier was that the Soviet Union had time to declare war on Japan [which they so gallantly did after Hiroshima, and, since they were the "neutral" conveyors of Japan's peace feelers, when they knew Japan was already suing for peace - PH] and wound up with Manchuria [leading to the Communist victory in the Chinese civil war - PH], North Korea [leading to the Korean War, today's geopolitical problems and the endless suffering of the people of northern Korea - PH], and the Kurile Islands [leading to today's dispute between Japan and Russia - PH].

The book is worth buying just for this short Epilogue.

A must read.

**** Four stars.

Selective law enforcement: We are all illegal

This is an awesome article, the author Arnold Kling, in discussing the selective enforcement of immigration laws reviews the important issue of the selective enforcement of laws in general, exposing how the selective enforcement of laws undermines the principle of the rule of law, a key pillar of successful societies.

He returns to what for me is the side issue of the benefits of immigration before ending in a pro-American panegyric (but that's the nature of essays - you have to finish on a grand, meaningful note, or so my English teacher told me.)

A Case for Immigration
http://www.techcentralstation.com/092605A.html

WMD-Related Materials “Readily Available,” Canadian Intelligence Report Warns

A recent Canadian intelligence assessment warns that materials needed to manufacture chemical, biological and radiological weapons “are readily available on the open market,” the National Post reported today (see GSN, July 12).

Source: Nuclear Threat Initiative
http://www.nti.org/d_newswire/issues/2005_9_29.html#B2217250

Why aren't we all terrified?

Diplomacy Online

Can never get enough people together for a game of Diplomacy?

Play it online! http://www.dipbounced.com/

Business Plot

This is a scandal. Why do I not only have no idea about this, but not even an inkling? I have never even heard an oblique reference to this. I came across the Wikipedia article by accident.

The Business Plot or The Plot Against FDR is a historically conjectured conspiracy of moneyed interests intended to strip President Franklin D. Roosevelt of his political power during the early years of the Great Depression. Proponents of the theory point to the year 1933 as the origin of the affair, citing the widespread dismay of U.S. business interests toward President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal program, which proposed sweeping new government intervention and redistributionist policies to combat the Great Depression. In response, these men plotted to overthrow Roosevelt in a fascist military coup.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_Plot

Sapere aude!

Quote of the Day:

Dimidium facti qui coepit habet: sapere aude! - Horace

("He who has begun is half done: dare to know!").

I like both halves of this saying, but I have no idea how they fit together. Perhaps in this way: "The first step is the hardest; I encourage you to take that first step on the path to knowledge!".
"Sapere aude!" was apparently a motto of The Enlightenment, quoted by Immanuel Kant in his What is Enlightenment?

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sapere_aude

Latin lesson for the general populace:

"aude!" means "be bold!, dare!, be brave!"; it is related to "audacious".


"sapere" means "to be wise, to know"; it is related to "Homo sapiens".

For more serious Latin buffs:

"dimidium": "half" - this is new vocab for me.

"qui coepit" - who [rel pronoun] has begun.

I don't understand this: "...facti...habet". "He has" + "done". First, why does "facti" end in "i"? (This contradicts my second point.) Second, this structure, if it is as it appears, using "have" + past participle to indicated the perfect present didn't appear for another 1000(?) years.

Aha! Maybe it means: "He has half of the deed who has begun."

Suggestions more than welcome.

01 October 2005

Welcome

Dear Reader

This blog is dedicated to an eclectic mix of topics that for one reason or another come to my attention.

The grand unifying underlying theme (if any) will become more apparent as I write more and you (if you are polite enough) read more.

I trust this blog will, as far as is humanly practicable, be in line with the two rules I ruthlessly apply to anything I read, and so can only in fairness also apply them to anything I write:

1. It must be readable.
2. It mustn't be boring.

Good luck and have fun!

Your Humble Correspondent