31 December 2006
How old is the Grand Canyon?
European Union hand-wringing
Nor do they speak for the majority of western Europeans, apparently.
Always remember that, in contrast to some of its subject countries and people, the EU is not our friend.
Labels: Western Europe
29 December 2006
Saddam Hussein is dead
If evil is measured by the intentional infliction of unprovoked suffering upon the innocent, then this man was the most evil living (until tonight) person in the world.
His signature atrocity was the Anfal campaign (1986-1989) of genocidal ethnic cleansing against the Kurdish population of northern Iraq, during which 2,000 to 4,000 Kurdish villages were wiped out. Estimates of the death toll range from 50,000 to 182,000. The Anfal campaign included the notorious Halabja chemical-weapon attack, which may have killed as many as 7,000 civilians. All of the victims of the Anfal campaign were Iraqi Kurds, Saddam's own subjects.
Saddam Hussein also launched the Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988, which is estimated to have killed over one million persons; he used chemical weapons against Iran on a massive scale, causing the death of at least 100,000 Iranians by means of these weapons alone.
He invaded Kuwait in 1990, provoking a devastating American response against Iraq and its people. The atrocities of his occupation of Kuwait are remembered in this impressive Kuwaiti museum.
This man probably killed more Muslims than any other individual since Tamerlane.
Then there are the giant shredders into which political prisoners were fed alive, the torture and mutilation of infants in front of their parents to extract information, the depredations of his blood-lusting sons, the rape rooms.....the list of horrors is endless, and nightmarishly unforgettable.
Our Earth is a better and cleaner place tonight, now that this man no longer lives upon it.
Islam dying out in Russia?
Paralleling the Europe-is-doomed-to-Islamization wailings which have become an odd fetish of the right in North America, we also often hear that Russia is heading for a similar fate based on its low ethnic-Russian birthrate and the higher birthrate of its Muslims -- who, after all, already make up about 15% of Russia's total population, compared with less than 4% of that of the EU. I never believed this would really happen in Russia any more than in western Europe, mainly because Russia is culturally tougher, more ruthless, and less infected with political correctness than western Europe is, and the Russians would simply never allow the Muslims to dominate Russia, no matter how brutal the actions they had to take in order to prevent it.
But it turns out that there's another factor at work. According to an authoritative survey carried out by Russia's leading polling agency VTsIOM and the newspaper Izvestiya, the actual number of people who self-identify as Muslims is only 6% of Russia's population, not 15%. The 15% figure usually given is arrived at simply by adding up all the ethnic groups in Russia -- Tatars, Bashkirs, Chechens, etc. -- which are historically Muslim. But today, evidently, the majority of members of those groups no longer self-identify as Muslim.
What this means is that over the course of the last century or so, the majority of the people of Muslim origin in Russia must have abandoned their Islamic belief to the extent that they no longer even call themselves Muslim in a survey -- and in any culture, self-identification is usually the last aspect of a religion to disappear (as one can see from cases such as western Europe, where surveys often show large numbers of people self-identifying as "Christian" or "Catholic" or "Protestant" even though more detailed study shows that many of them do not actually practice their claimed religion or even believe in God). Especially in a culture where apostasy is as taboo as it is in Islam, the ability to acknowledge "I am not a Muslim" is the last step, not the first. So it seems very likely that even many of the remaining 6% have little that is deeply Muslim about them, much like those native Europeans who still claim the name "Christian" even after abandoning the substance.
This means, of course, that the likelihood of Russia ever becoming Islamized is effectively zero, which is good news in itself. The larger point, though, is that the country has achieved a level of apostasy from Islam which is unprecedented. As far as I know, there is no other case in history of a significant population abandoning Islam once they had been converted to it and had lived as Muslims for generations. But if it is possible in Russia, it should be possible elsewhere.
The survey itself is here; other commentaries are at Classical Values (where I originally found it) and Western Resistance. A translation of the Izvestiya article is here; the figures on Muslims are about halfway down, under the heading "Isn't the number the point?" The article itself trumpets the higher-than-expected figures for self-identified Christians, but probably not too much should be made of this; while some degree of religious revival is likely indeed under way in comparison to the active government suppression of traditional religion under Communism, it seems fairly clear that the survey's figures for Christianity reflect traditional self-identification rather than actual practice or belief, much as in Western Europe. As the article itself notes, "in reality, in responding to the question formulated by Izvestiya 'What does religion mean to you personally?' VTsIOM respondents usually answered: 'It is a national tradition, the faith of our forefathers.' At the same time, almost half of the people who called themselves believers admitted that they did not perform any religious rites." Again, of course, the same is likely also true, at least to some degree, of that 6% Muslim remnant.
Resisting Islamism in France
A mosque in Berlin
Quote for the day
28 December 2006
How to distinguish the hero from the villain
The tree of technology
Religious persecution in the US
There is real religious persecution and intolerance in the US. Here's what it looks like.
Quote for the day
(Found via War of the Waves)
24 December 2006
Iran and the Basij mentality
Life, death, and other stuff
I really enjoyed your posting in regards to the Prez's Council of Bioethics and their bleatings to keep us at death's door. If I may put in my two cents, this reminds me of the pseudo 'debate' about abortions. When social conservative leadership calls for a ban on abortion all they're really doing is banning it from poor people, and perhaps those in the middle class located in the geographic center of the Country. Go ahead and ban it - the middle class living within 3-400 miles of the Mexican or Canadian borders will merely drive a few hours and take 3 and 4 day 'vacations' and 'sight seeing tours' to clinics there for the procedure. Places like Vancouver and Baja will make a mint, just like the old towns that allowed quickie and/or no-fault marriages/divorces did in the last century. The upper middle class will fly to the Bahamas or Jamaica for their 3-day weekend 'at the beach'. The lower upper class will hot foot it to 'spas' in Britain or Switzerland; and the upper upper class will do what they've always done - had the procedure in their own carefully guarded estates or the oh-so-private offices of VERY well paid society physicians. Practically speaking, the anti-abortionists are simply out to control poor and working class women, (quite similar to the control that upper class women tried to exert on poor and working class men in the Victorian era with their endless caterwauling against pornography and drink).
Not much I can add to this except to note that the defeat of aging isn't going to take the form of some one discrete, miraculous breakthrough that can be banned without affecting "normal" medical technology, the way abortion could be (in principle). Instead, there will be incremental (though increasingly rapid) breakthroughs in many areas. It will be impossible for the Kasses of the world to draw a clear line between the technology which ends up staving off aging permanently and that which simply continues to keep people healthier as they age.
And even if it were possible to isolate life-extension technology and ban it, we know now that banning anything for which there is strong, widespread demand will just push it into the underground economy where it can't be regulated and criminal elements get involved (and get rich). This happened with alcohol during Prohibition, it's happening with drugs and prostitution right now, and it would indeed probably happen with abortion if that were banned.
The same economic factors make a mockery of attempts to control medical research. All that social conservatives do is guarantee that such developments will take place elsewhere, most likely in Europe or the Pacific Rim. To think that there isn't a medical university, research center, or pharmaceutical company that wouldn't leap at a shot at developing/discovering serious life extension or the curing of a major affliction, with all the attendant wealth, prestige and fame just leaves me laughing with incredulity. It's going to happen, the only question is when/where.
This is very true. I call it the Lysenko syndrome. A government's endorsement of anti-scientific nonsense cannot stop the progress of science -- it can only cause its own country to fall behind. Note how the Bush administration's restrictions on stem-cell research in the US have not stopped the research, they've just driven a lot of it overseas.
Now, having said that, life extension brings up two interesting points to me. The first is the promotion of change within science and scholarship. I confess to being pretty cynical about scientific revolutions as portrayed in the popular press and organs of that community. We are generally taught that scientific advancements take place when one or more people come up with a new idea that challenges an old one. They test it, and if it tests our correctly, it is then accepted and all the followers of the old theory change their minds to conform to the new. While I'm sure this does occur, particularly in dramatic cases, (no one sane was going to doubt Einstein's theory after Hiroshima blew up), I think another process may account for much more - new theories replace old ones when the people who believe in the old theories die off. For whatever reason, young people tend to be the ones who challenge the status quo and come up with alternative (and sometimes) better explanations for it, while the old stick with what they learned when they were young and advance no farther (I constantly hope to be an exception to this, at least when it comes to scholarship and science, if not culture and politics). The old fight the young tooth and nail, depriving them of tenure, starving their research for funding, etc. But because their theories are correct, (or at least better than that of the oldsters), they gain more and more adherents amongst their own contemporaries and as they slowly climb the educational/ corporate ladder they are able to impose their new views on the profession as a whole, (and as the old dudes die off, thus presenting opportunities for advancement to the young). One can also see this in the evolution of government, the military, and business. I've no doubt that if life extension had occurred 100 years ago we'd be dealing with a Joint Chiefs of Staff who still believed in battleships, horse cavalry, and the uselessness of airplanes, etc.
So, if you have life extension, will it create a class of immovable old farts with tenure, seniority, positioning, etc., who stand in the way of any advancement in their fields? If so, how will it be handled? And think of politics - old prejudices might not die out. One can see signs with the whole gay marriage thing - young people raised on TV and other media with gay stars and personalities seem much more comfortable with gay marriage and civil rights than some, (but not all), of my contemporaries, having grown up when it was considered something between a sickness and a crime. It'll be curious to see how it plays out.
There is some truth to this -- Einstein himself rejected quantum physics, for example, though it is now accepted. But I think competition would tend to defeat such an entrenchment of conservatism. A military which clung to outmoded technology would quickly be disabused when it had to fight an enemy who was not thus handicapped, for example.
More to the point is the question of why people seem to become less open to new ideas with age. Remember, life extension is not about keeping people old for longer -- it's about keeping them young for longer. Already, youthful attitudes and behavior seem to persist much later in life than they used to, now that people in their forties (that is, past the end of the average life expectancy of any century before the twentieth) are still biologically vigorous and energetic.
Finally, there is empirical evidence that life extension does not lead to conservatism and stagnation. The second half of the twentieth century saw the most dramatic increase of human life expectancy in history. It was also a time of huge and accelerating innovation in science, technology, and culture.
Finally, I would attempt to address your questioning with Chell regarding those unwilling to have their life extended. I don't find this hard to believe at all. You are quite correct in your statements about the continuing advance of science and opportunity in the far future. But not all of us appreciate all changes. Some, if not all, prefer a certain lifestyle and if that can't be maintained, then they have little to hold them to this life. There is an alienation that can take place - perhaps it is overpopulation and overcrowding, the destruction of familiar and beloved surroundings, a perception of increasing regimentation, authoritarianism, lack of privacy, etc. There are many fine things going on right now, (this Internet with all of its communication and educational possibilities, for instance), but there are also things some of us might find fault with. As I stated earlier, I firmly believe in the strong possibility of our lives being extended greatly beyond what we currently expect, and have thought about what that might mean to me. I will not bore you with a list of my private pet peeves, prejudices, irritations and fears, I can only say that I'm not sure I'd necessarily be comfortable in a future society, if some current trends and projections play out over the next century. I might well be as out of place and antagonized as a 19th century Midwest farmer would be in our current situation. That's not to say that everyone will/should feel that way; but I think more than a couple will.
This is an understandable viewpoint, and one which I don't really have space to address here, though I hope you will read some of what Ray Kurzweil has to say about the potential of things like nanotechnology and virtual reality. I believe the medium-term future will vastly increase not only the resources available to the typical individual, but also his control over the terms and nature of his existence. As I said before, we should not assume that the world of the future will look or function just like the world of the present except that people will stop dying. Immortality is only the beginning.
23 December 2006
These are chimpanzees, not monkeys
It's good for you
Funny how practically every religion on Earth treats abstaining from it as a virtue.
22 December 2006
I heard a rumor
What have you done to her?
I heard a rumor
What have you done to her?
Veiled behind screens
Kept as your baby machine
While you conquer more orifices
Of boys, goats, and things
Ripped-out sheep's eyes
No forks or knives
They said I'd be impressed
At your primitive best
One shudders to imagine what the political-correctness police in present-day Britain would think of this.
America's Pim Fortuyn?
This article must be read with the understanding that it was written by a conservative. But the analogy is interesting. Giuliani, like Fortuyn, is strongly committed to the defense of his country and its culture, while clearly recognizing that that culture which must be defended is far broader than just those aspects of it which conservatives find palatable.
First, I've never much cared for rap music, considering it unimaginative, nihilistic, and obscenity-laced. But here it's being used to call out, not cops or petty rivals or "bitches and hos", but global Islamic imperialism, a message with a far higher level of awareness behind it -- and one which has apparently gotten them accused of "Islamophobia" and even racism, despite the fact that the band itself is racially mixed. And there is a clear patriotic theme ("My forefathers fought and died for this here") which we don't commonly associate with this genre of music.
I've mentioned before that I've known people who were quite far to the left politically who nevertheless were very clear and tough-minded about the Islamic threat, despite all the right-wingers' stereotyping. Like that, this may be another sign that America's varied subcultures are gradually coming to a shared recognition of the existence and nature of the common enemy, whatever other differences they retain.
Second, the "Letter from Rich Ward" should be read by anyone who hopes to make money in the music industry. Anyone who follows the business at all knows that there are a lot of stories like this out there. Yes, some singers do become wealthy, but they are a vanishingly small percentage even out of those who have talent and find an audience. Too many are pushed into signing bad contracts, or deal with parties who go out business at a crucial moment, or are simply cheated -- for one reason or another the money just doesn't materialize.
Third, it shows how technology is beginning to provide an answer. As CDs (among other products) become easier and cheaper to produce even with good quality, and as the internet makes it possible for practically anyone to become a retailer, the role of the middleman and distributor is becoming less and less necessary. A band which sells its own music directly may still not get rich, but at least it won't be cheated out of what money its work does produce. And there is no further need to start by convincing some corporation that what you are doing will find an audience -- you just put it in front of the public and find out for yourself.
Labels: Music and video
Offended by Paris (no, not Hilton)
21 December 2006
Rudy the Red-State Nightmare
Keith Ellison and the Koran
On the one hand, imagine if a Congessman during the Cold War had wanted to be sworn in using a copy of Das Kapital, which seems roughly equivalent to using a Koran in our present situation. Wouldn't that have raised eyebrows?
On the other hand, the principle of no religious test for public office needs to be strictly upheld. If Bibles can be used to swear in public officials (something which seems dubious to me in view of the Establishment Clause, but I'm no expert), then I can see no grounds for prohibiting an official from using the Koran, or Das Kapital, or Mein Kampf, or whatever text he decides best embodies his most deeply-held beliefs.
But the voters should note his choice, and remember.
Angry rappers against the Islamists
Getting your mistletoe in a twist
20 December 2006
19 December 2006
The day we fight back
What if, as has been repeatedly stated by Islamic spokesmen in their media and their capitols and their mosques, Islam has neither the interest in nor the capacity for assimilation?
What if Islam continues, as it has for many centuries, to be implacably hostile to the West?
Now, with the advent of the rising birthrate and violence emerging from the various Muslim ghettos in all the major and most of the minor cities, Europe is starting to re-examine their "Muslim problem" in search of a solution. And Europe, right up to the war now on simmer in the Balkans, has a distressing habit of coming up with solutions that are all too final.
It is clear that what will happen to Islam across the world should terrorist attacks continue and increase will be the arrival at the tipping point where the West decides, in a way that no internal political opposition can curtail, to expel Islam and Muslims from the infected nations and the world itself by any means necessary.
Either could be right, but if both are wrong the next level of discipline is typically expulsion. And by "expulsion" I do not mean that Islam will simply be sent to its room.
A second series of attacks on America at the level of 9/11 or greater will not bring out more B-52s. They are already out. A second series will bring out the one arm of America's war machine that has rarely been asked about, written about, or even mentioned in passing since September, 2001; the ballistic missile submarines.
Under the right circumstances, human beings are capable of anything.
I have no doubt that, if we feel for any reason threatened enough, we will indeed come to the day when the unthinkable becomes a series of orders yielding a set of trajectories that end millions of lives in less than an instant.
Read the entire essay. If you are a Muslim, you definitely need to read this.
Found via Atlas Shrugs.
Related thoughts of my own here.
Would you ride in an airplane designed and built without any reference to objective knowledge of aerodynamics, which had never been tested to determine objectively whether it could actually fly?
If you were sick, would you take a medicine which had never been tested to determine whether it actually did any good or was even safe?
If you were at work and you smelled smoke, heard the fire alarm go off, and saw people running for the exits, but a co-worker told you he "just knew" there couldn't really be a fire, would you take his word for it and stay put?
If you rented a car for a long drive across the desert, and noticed that the gas gauge was hovering near "E", but the rental agency guy told you he was sure it actually had a full tank despite this evidence, would you take his word for it and confidently set off into the wasteland?
So why do some people accept beliefs unsupported by evidence -- and indeed contradicted by all the available evidence -- as the final word on the origin of our species, or on the rightness or wrongness of human behavior?
How to find your girlfriend in the dark
Climate change watch
17 December 2006
Ten things to like about Oregon
2) Otherwise-insufferable Multnomah county commissioners' pioneering gay-marriage initiative
3) Only state whose tallest building is pink (bet you thought that would be California)
4) 3,399,999 people who aren’t Teh Deb
5) No sales tax
6) Cheaper than California, with milder weather than most places that are cheaper than California
7) Large Slavic immigrant population gives Portland unusual cultural mix (I hear Russian almost as much as Spanish on the bus)
8) Home of Powell's, America’s biggest independent bookstore
9) Home of Video Madness, America’s biggest and weirdest video-rental place — must be seen to be believed
10) Small but stalwart contingent of gerbils right in Teh Deb's backyard
Labels: Lighter side
16 December 2006
The best tank ever built
15 December 2006
There's snow on the ground outside. Not a lot. Not enough to make cars slip sideways into the gutter and glide gracefully through intersections into exquisite, ballet-like collisions despite the most desperate pressure on their brake pedals. Just enough to crunch a bit when you walk on it.
The storm taught me an important lesson: I need a more powerful flashlight. Trying to read by the one I have, or by the flickering light of a couple of candles, would have earned me nothing but eyestrain and a monster headache. Not even my most beloved Russian grammar tomes could tempt me under such conditions. Thursday night left me defenseless before the full effect of this citywide mini-disaster: terminal boredom.
How limited the existence of the ancients must have been! We feel deprived when forced to do without electricity for a day -- no computer, no proper lighting, in most cases no cooked food, while the stockpile in the refrigerator threatens to warm to blah-ness and ultimately spoil. Yet for thousands of years everyone had to do without electricity all their lives. Pity people such as the Romans after sunset, squinting over their parchments by the dull glow of oil lamps! How many conveniences we take for granted which they could never have imagined! All the more remarkable that they accomplished as much as they did.
14 December 2006
If you try to comment and can't, feel free to e-mail me (belay4365 [at] mypacks.net) with what you want to say and whether you want it posted anonymously or under a name of your choosing, and I'll accommodate you (within reason). I want the feedback on what I write, I really do!
Lights are flickering. Better post this and log out.
Betraying the Russians
The advocates of life
"If someone wants to live forever, and if they can take a pill to do so, so be it. I would not want to though....."
There isn't going to be a miraculous pill that makes people live forever, whose invention will suddenly be announced one day. Between 1900 and 2000 the life expectancy in the developed world rose from around 40 years to almost 80, not by some one dramatic invention, but by a series of technological achievements (antibiotics, vaccines, the discovery and understanding of vitamins, etc.) which tamed most of the problems which had previously killed most people long before they reached their maximum potential life expectancy. Today, pretty much anyone in a rich country who does not smoke, drink excessively, or get overweight has a good chance of living to be 80 -- a lifespan which was very rare for all of history until just a few decades ago.
From the viewpoint of the average person, the more radical innovations of the next twenty years will appear to be just an acceleration of the same process. Aging is now fairly well understood; it's a combination of several different forms of deterioration which start to happen within the body once a certain number of years have passed. No one "pill" could address all of these forms of decay, but there are various possible therapies under consideration which could theoretically slow down, stop, or even reverse each one of them, and some of these are already at the animal-testing stage. As in the past, each new innovation will allow people to stay healthier longer and live longer -- and the longer you live and stay healthy, the more future innovations you will live to see and be able to take advantage of. I am not an expert in the relevant sciences, but the people who have given the most thought to the issue seem to expect that aging, and death by old age, as we have always known them, can be pretty much eliminated from the developed world by around 2025 if we dedicate serious effort to the problem.
I cannot imagine why anyone would not take advantage of whatever technologies were available to improve his own health and life expectancy, but obviously every adult should have the right to refuse therapies he seriously objects to on whatever grounds. There are already people who refuse to allow themselves to be treated with one or another tool of modern medicine, usually for religious reasons; of course they thereby have that much greater risk of dying younger than they need to, but it's their own choice (children of such people, of course, raise thornier issues).
".....not unless a "celestial being".....made it happen."
I'm not sure why achieving the same goal is acceptable if done by supernatural means, but not acceptable if done via technology. If you had an ear infection, would you refuse to take antibiotics to get rid of it but welcome a miraculous cure by a supernatural entity?
More generally, I'm curious -- why would you not want your existence to continue indefinitely? I can't even imagine feeling that way. There will always be new things I want to do and experience, especially as the world continues to grow richer and more complex. And unlike me, you have children. Wouldn't you want to be around to keep knowing them and seeing what they are doing, even centuries from now?
"Probably I should get off m' lazy butt and do some searching and reading, but perhaps you have some ideas. What would happen to the human population if such a pill (just an example, since many things could extend life and comfort) existed? And to the resources we consume?"
You may find this posting and the links in its first paragraph to be of interest.
The underlying assumption behind objections of this type is that as the human life expectancy increases and becomes de facto unlimited, the rest of our technology will stand still and the world of 2025 will look pretty much like the world of today except that people won't die any more. Of course this isn't what's going to happen. The same exponential acceleration of technological progress which is happening in biology and medicine is happening in other fields too. This is a vast subject, but one effect will be to make our use of resources far more efficient. This is already happening. For example, the highly advanced US economy is far more efficient than the backward Chinese economy -- we produce far more wealth per unit of energy and resources consumed (and per unit of pollution released) than China does. Such gains in efficiency will continue and accelerate. Nanotechnology will be critical. Dramatic increases in productivity will mean more wealth available to spend on control of pollution and repair of damage to the environment, even as population and standard of living continue to rise.
Before the Enlightenment, the Earth's total human population was always less than five hundred million (at most times, far less than that), with almost all people living lives that were, by our standards, short and squalid. Today the population is more than a dozen times that size, with almost everyone -- even in the Third World -- living longer and healthier lives than most people before the Enlightenment did, with access to technological marvels that even kings a century ago could not have imagined. Because technological progress accelerates exponentially, most of this change took place during the twentieth century. Because it will continue to accelerate exponentially (while population growth slows down), the achievements of the twenty-first century will utterly dwarf even those of the twentieth. It is true that considerable ecological damage has been done to the planet, but some of this is already being repaired, and the rest of it can be -- it's just a matter of having the necessary technology and being wealthy enough that people are willing to divert the money needed to do it. Precisely because we must save the world from threats such as global warming, we can't afford not to push forward with technology and productivity growth as fast as possible.
We will not run out of resources. Technology has steadily broadened the range of what constitutes "resources" (by making use of things which were formerly useless) and has increased the amount of wealth that can be created per unit of input. It will continue to do so. Nanotechnology will eventually enable us to make almost anything out of "sunlight and dirt", as its advocates put it.
"Do you think the human birthrate would decline? If so, do you think it would be due to people choosing not to have children, or because of something else?"
The birth rate in most developed countries is already well below replacement level, a fact which has caused considerable alarm in certain circles. Thus dramatic increases in healthy life expectancy, with accompanying declines in death rates, would actually solve a problem rather than create one. I do expect the birth rate to continue to fall. I suspect that the average woman would be inclined to postpone having children, if she knew she could do so at any time in the future rather than being limited to just the years before the age of 40 or so. People will do what they want, as free individuals, not as mere utensils to serve the needs (reproductive or otherwise) of society. The overall effect of technological progress over the last few centuries has been to increase human freedom by widening the range of available choices, even though the nervous forces of religion and tradition always struggle (ultimately in vain) to limit this broadening of freedom, as people like Kass are still trying to do.
If you read only one book on these issues, read The Singularity Is Near by Ray Kurzweil. It's a big book and a bit technical, but well worth it.
Ultimately Aubrey de Grey said it best. Would widespread use of life-extension technology lead to problems? Obviously it would. Would it lead to any problems as serious as continuing to have a hundred thousand people die every day (the status quo)? No.
13 December 2006
"Baby, we made it.....
The advocates of death
Unusual Czech animation
A belated Russian awakening?
Dmitry Peskov, spokesman for the Russian President Vladimir Putin, insisted that differences with the US and Britain over the approach to Iran were purely tactical. "Strategically we're all on the same track. We may be more concerned about Iran than Britain and the United States," he said. "We are vitally interested about the preservation of the non-proliferation regime because we have Iran on our borders. We would be the last country in this world that would want the existence of nuclear arms in Iran."
This would not be the first case of a Russian regime experiencing a shockingly belated awakening to a threat to the civilized world. Stalin initially allied the Soviet Union with Hitler in order to grab the Baltic states and eastern Poland. Perhaps he also hoped that Nazi Germany and the rest of the West would fight each other to exhaustion, leaving the USSR dominant. All available evidence is that he absolutely refused to consider the possibility that the USSR itself might become a target of Nazi aggression -- right up until the invasion of 22 June 1941.
With Russia in recent years having suffered several Islamist terrorist attacks including the Beslan atrocity, Putin has even less excuse than Stalin did for harboring such illusions. Yet Russia has helped Iran with its nuclear program and is even supplying anti-aircraft defenses which would make an American airstrike against the program far more difficult. A cynical strategy to make money and curry favor with the Islamists, knowing that the US will save the day in the end? Or a genuine repetition of Stalin's self-delusion? Whichever it is, Peskov's comment suggests that a saner view may at last be taking root. The Russian people had better hope so -- for the Islamists have a long list of grievances against their giant infidel neighbor to the north, and the next 22 June might be nuclear.
12 December 2006
More signs of resistance
Horrid flickering ads
There's nothing wrong with having ads on one's website. Most such ads display still pictures, not unlike the ads one sees in an ordinary magazine or newspaper. They are not excessively distracting. If one of them looks like it might interest me, I may even click on it.
Very different is the horrid flickering ad -- the one which displays moving imagery, especially if the movement is rapid or jerky. The irritating effect on the brain is so strong that whenever I see one of these abominations go into its act on my screen, I immediately reflexively try to scroll the site I'm looking at into a position where the HFA is not visible. If this would also move part of the text of the article I'm reading off of the screen, I'll speed-read that part. If a site is infested with several HFAs, unless the article content is extremely interesting, I often just abandon it and go elsewhere -- what's the point of trying to read when a barrage of flashing, flickering distractions makes it practically impossible anyway?
Almost as annoying is a type of ad which I have so far seen only on the website of the British newspaper The Telegraph (on individual articles, not on the main page). Like a snapping turtle lying immobile in wait for the passage of an unwary fish, it sits innocuously at the side of the page -- until you inadvertently pass your cursor over it. Then it suddenly balloons in size, widening out to cover a large part of the screen, including much of the article you are trying to read. Furthermore, the monstrosity often does not retreat from its ill-gotten territorial gains when you move your cursor away from it. Sometimes the only way I can get rid of the blasted thing is to click the "Refresh" button and reload the page -- and then be careful not to let the cursor pass over the ad, or one of its equally-fiendish Doppelgängers elsewhere on the page, again.
This kind of thing raises the same question as spamming: Since the whole purpose of ads is to attract people and make them want to buy what you're offering (or at least read your site), what is the point of using forms of advertising which antagonize everybody at first sight?
*Actually, maybe it has. See Joshua Minton's recollection of a dentist with an even more self-defeating scheme for promoting her religion.
Labels: Lighter side
Quote for the day
Resurrection after death
Drew's "Transhumanism" site has a number of interesting things to say about science and technology; see the "Previous Posts" list to the right.
Found via Existence Is Wonderful.
Milk and genes
11 December 2006
Libertarians and open borders
10 December 2006
Yes, Virginia, there is a.....
A religious New World Order?
Found via Samizdata.
Personally I lost respect for Baha'ism several years ago when a Baha'i told me that it absolutely rejects the reality of evolution. No ideology can make a positive contribution to human progress if it denies the most fundamental and solidly-established fact in all of science.
Polish music video
Brno, Czech Republic
I would be interested in hearing from you about it -- please contact me at belay4365 (at) mypacks.net. I am especially interested in such issues as:
(1) Safety -- how common are robbery and other crimes against Western visitors, are the police trustworthy or are they corrupt
(2) Hygiene -- is the food in restaurants safe, are reasonably-priced hotels clean, and so forth
(3) General attitudes of local people toward Americans -- friendly or hostile
(4) "Unspoiled" character -- is the city relatively free of Western tourists and expats
(5) Cigarettes -- how easy is it to avoid cigarette smoke in restaurants, parks, shops, etc.
(6) Ease of communication -- do most people understand at least one of these languages: English, German, Russian
Any and all information is appreciated. I know there are places on the internet where one can read about such things, but I'm interested in personal experiences.
Labels: Eastern Europe
Anyone still believe the "Atkins diet" nonsense?
09 December 2006
Islamic science fiction
Found via Urban Infidel, a site I intend to keep an eye on -- its emphasis seems to be on Islamic media and Islamist abuse of women. This posting, about a secular French-Algerian scholar's warning about the threat Islam poses to France's secular character, is of particular interest.
Sauce for the gander
Giuliani on the Middle East
Latvian license plates
Ten annoyances I'm heartily sick and tired of
-- The whole "men are from Mars, women are from Venus" thing.
-- Tattoos. YUCK!
-- Piercings. YUCK! YUCK! YUCK!
-- Negativity about women who dress "too revealingly". Bare midriffs, "commando", etc. are totally harmless and help spice up the world.
-- Portland traffic. The "planner class" that runs this city never stops tearing up the streets to accommodate new mass-transit projects, but refusal to do anything to accommodate cars seems to be their official religion.
-- Weird new versions of Christmas carols where the timing of the singing is "off" and doesn't mesh with the music the way it's supposed to.
-- Kids with no respect for adults they don't know, and parents who won't rein them in.
-- Conservatives who hate liberals in general, tar all liberals with the brush of the extreme left, and accuse liberals of being intolerant.
-- Liberals who hate conservatives in general, tar all conservatives with the brush of the extreme right, and accuse conservatives of being intolerant.
Labels: Lighter side
08 December 2006
Jubilation at Gerbil Nation
Playgrounds with sculptures
07 December 2006
Pearl Harbor Day
They soon found out that they had made a deadly mistake.
The war that followed holds important lessons for us today.
May the modern jihadists and the nations which support and direct them suffer the same fate as Germany and Japan in 1945.
06 December 2006
An odd habit
Whatever. Any sign that the country is overcoming its hysterical and histrionic right-vs.-left polarization is welcome.
Pressing home the attack on disease
All non-Muslims are guilty
A note on the term Dar al-Harb which comes up towards the end: Islamic thinking divides the world into Dar al-Islam (the House of Islam) and Dar al-Harb (literally the House of War), the latter meaning all parts of the world which have not yet been subjugated by Islam and are therefore legitimate targets of warfare to expand Islamic dominion. This concept has been present since the beginnings of Islam; it is not a modern innovation.
Found via Religion of Peace.
05 December 2006
A restaurant in Sheffield, Britain
04 December 2006
Jews in Berlin
The flying imams
03 December 2006
Suppressing the truth
Iraq mine clearance music video
More on the Litvinenko murder
The Baltic Russians
The nature of this conundrum can be seen by comparing the percentage of ethnic Russians in each country with that of the original dominant ethnic group:
Lithuania: 6% Russian, 83% Lithuanian
Latvia: 30% Russian, 58% Latvian
Estonia: 28% Russian, 65% Estonian
Lithuania, we see, is still overwhelmingly Lithuanian. The situation of its two smaller neighbors is far less clear. The case of Latvia is especially striking since a further 7% of its population consists of ethnic Ukrainians and Belarussians, who are culturally very similar to the Russians. Thus the numerical ratio between the two cultural groups in Latvia is realistically about 3-to-2. Also, the ethnic Russians tend to be concentrated in the capital cities; I have seen Riga, the capital of Latvia, described as "mostly Russian".
In any country, the presence of an ethnic minority perceived as foreign which made up around one-third of the total population would be expected to give rise to tremendous tensions -- all the more so if the country in question is a very small one and the minority group is ethnically linked to a giant neighbor which ruled it for most of its modern history. To an extent, such tensions do indeed exist. Ethnic Latvians and Estonians mostly regard their Russian minorities as a legacy of the long age of unwanted Russian rule, suspect them (with some justice) of not quite accepting the independence of the Baltic states as legitimate or permanent, and worry about the long-term position of their indigenous culture on its own soil. Many of the Russians resent being expected to make any accommodation to the independence of what was, when they originally moved there, part of their own country (if the Cajun area of Louisiana were to suddenly become an independent country, imagine how non-Cajun Americans living there would feel). Estonia and Latvia have both made some degree of assimilation a condition of full citizenship for Russian residents, including learning the native languages -- something the Russians generally consider pointless, since Russian is universally understood in the Baltic states (as, say, English is in Ireland or Wales) and is of much greater international importance than the tiny native languages.
The Baltic states are now members of NATO and the EU, which gives them a strong sense of security against the possibility of future bullying by the Putin regime, but also limits the extent to which they can pressure their ethnic Russians to assimilate. Access to the EU also has tempted some of the Baltic states' most talented people to move to countries where incomes are higher -- a drain which is made up at least partially by further immigration from Russia. (See this article for a little more on the current situation.)
The likelihood of substantial numbers of ethnic Russians emigrating to Russia voluntarily is negligible, at least until Russia's material standard of living catches up with that of the Baltic states -- if that ever happens.
In view of all these factors, it is remarkable that the tensions are not far worse than they are. Both sides seem reconciled to the prospect of the current situation continuing indefinitely -- especially since there is no plausible alternative.
Labels: Eastern Europe
Quote for the day
Something less than total admiration
".....detestable, smug, self-satisfied little turd.....closed-minded, ignorant, fatuous little prat.....foetid little ego.....amorphous slime.....a smear on the face of this planet....."
Come on, Richard. Tell us how you really feel about the guy.
The iron fist in the velvet glove
There are things to dislike in Peters's rhetoric. His disdain for Europeans and their "viciousness" is palpable; it may be that he does not know how violent the history of the rest of the world has been (reading about the Muslim conquest of India would be a good place to start). And his minimization of the Europe-wide onslaught of Muslim thuggery, rape, and intimidation to "burning a couple of cars" is unconscionable. Nevertheless, his core point is solid. Whether European, Muslim, or whatever, we humans are basically chimpanzees with enlarged brains; and like our wild cousins, we are prone to explosions of rage and violence when we feel seriously threatened or under attack. The blood-soaked chronicle of human history bears witness to this again and again. The world has seen countless huge massacres which were reactions to provocations far milder than the behavior the Muslims in Europe have been exhibiting.
In this connection, there is another point I think is significant, though Peters only touches on it momentarily.
The proposition has yet to be empirically tested, but I suspect that we atheists can be among the most vicious chimps around once we recognize that we are being seriously threatened. Think about it logically. I don't believe I'll get an afterlife if I lose this life. I don't believe I'm ever going to be "judged" by some all-powerful supernatural entity. I see no virtue whatsoever in turning the other cheek or "loving" my enemies. If I'm convinced that my life or the lives of people I care about are in danger, I have no such considerations to restrain me from taking whatever action I believe is necessary to survive, no matter how violent or unjust it is.
Most Europeans are either atheists or else so secular in mentality that they might as well be atheists for all practical purposes. Many Americans think that this inevitably dooms them, in some never-clearly-defined way, to spinelessness in the face of the Islamic threat. I am convinced that time will show the very opposite.
02 December 2006
Labels: Music and video