Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Have Siberian judges stopped beating their wives?

The Telegraph reports on some of the uses the United Kingdom's lottery fund has found for the money raised by the National Lottery:
In February, it emerged that it had spent £130,000 sending truants to training sessions at Bolton Wanderers Football Club.

The fund also handed £206,000 to two Nottingham groups to take teenagers motorcycling and fishing to improve school attendance. Last year, it said it would spend £397,379 on domestic violence awareness training for judges in Siberia.
This year, the paper says, "As water restrictions bite in homes across parts of Britain, lottery fund chiefs have prompted anger by awarding £4,000 to residents of an illegal 'eco-warrior' campsite to allow them their own supply. The activists built 10 huts without planning permission but have won approval from the Big Lottery Fund for money to dig their own borehole."

The meeting of the lottery board is now in session. The chair recognises Sir Hugh Flax-Mountebank.

Thank you, Mr Chairman. May I begin by commending this committee on the flexibility and, if I may say so, daring of its previous grants. I am well aware that certain members of the public have spoken irresponsibly of them, and one of our national broadsheet newspapers has published an accurate but unfair article. If they only realised how we are impelled by duty to represent all interests, not discriminating in favour of citizens and their short-sighted concerns!

I rise today, Mr Chairman, to request that this committee consider a modest grant, something on the order of £450,000, to convert our local cathedral, St Egganham's, into a mosque and Islamic teaching centre. You have all noted, I am sure, that services at this relic of the barbaric Christian fundamentalist middle ages are all but unattended except during the weekly "Have a Go at Learning Sharia Law!" event. Yes, I know that some of us have a sentimental, if misguided, attachment to St Egganham's — why, I myself attended [cough, cough] er, winter holiday service there some years ago — but we must change with the times and reckon with our new multi-cultural Britain!

I am advised by an old and established Turkish consulting firm (which, in its early days, had a hand in converting St Sophia in Istanbul) that we could add two minarets at a very reasonable £125,000 per, and the very latest in automated electronic muezzin call-to-prayer equipment for a scant 50,000 quid. The remainder of the funds would be used to upgrade the facilities — I expect, incidentally, that the 12th century holy water font would fetch a right little profit in the antiques market and
could be the foundation of a maintenance trust fund, know a chap on Bond Street who expressed an interest just the other day.

As you consider this proposal, my friends and colleagues, I urge you to remember your duty on behalf of cool, diverse, multi-cultural Britannia. Do not be dissuaded by fear of complaints by the xenophobic, Islamophobic, racist, elitist public. The intelligentsia of this country stand 100 per cent behind you.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Dead line: electronic communication with the afterlife

Messages from those who have passed through the gate of death were formerly almost the exclusive province of mediums. But technology is changing the modern world at dizzying speed, and no surprise that it's even being used to try to connect with the spirits of the departed -- a development that was envisioned by Thomas A. Edison.

Personal computers and noise-reduction software have contributed to a burst of interest in electronic voice phenomena (EVP), a means by which disembodied spirits, presumably the surviving personalities of people who have died, are said to leave voice impressions on tape. The field has even expanded to include visual recordings (hence the whole field is now often called Instrumental Transcommunication, or ITC).

Rhythm method

Psychical researchers -- many of them amateurs, in the good original sense of the word, meaning someone who does something for the love of it rather than as a job -- are excited about EVP because it gets around the traditional problems associated with mediumship.

Mediums are not a pure conduit between this world and the next. Their "reception" may be good or less good; furthermore, they seem to filter messages through their own knowledge, assumptions and personalities. So what you hear from a medium may be partly the thoughts of a spirit, partly the interpretation of the medium.

Another, and more serious, drawback to mediumship leads even many believers in the paranormal to question whether their utterances are actually sourced in the dead. Doubt is raised by the possible confounding factor of telepathy. Suppose you are a sitter at a seance and the medium tells you that she is in touch with your brother, who passed on several years ago. Speaking through the medium, your "brother" mentions some names and facts you recognize, and even alludes to some secret that only you and your brother shared.

Is that proof that you are in touch with your brother's spirit? Not if you accept telepathy, which is the most firmly established of all psychic phenomena. The medium could simply be picking up the information from your own mind. Some disbelievers in post-mortem survival, even those who sign off on other kinds of paranormal events, scoff at the idea of talking with the "dead" for that reason.

EVP has several potential advantages over mediumship for serious psychical research. Analyzing voices of putatively non-human origin recorded on tape adds an element of objectivity. No skeptic, as far as I know, has ever claimed that a tape recorder reads minds or imagines that it is hearing something that isn't there.

Ghost trails

Of course, people listening to recordings of alleged voices from the beyond can imagine they're hearing things. The voices obtained through EVP are not very clear in raw form. They seem to need a source of noise that they can use to shape sound that resembles a human voice; EVP experimenters usually supply this in the form of "white noise" or some other kind of aural medium. So the communications are usually immersed in a sonic gunk that makes them hard to discern. In addition, the voices caught on tape don't resemble human speech in pitch or rhythm.

Enter computer software. Researchers tidy up the voices through noise reduction, speed manipulation and by boosting certain frequencies (EVP speech is said to be deficient in the higher frequencies compared with living persons' speech). Why are the recorded EVP voices so peculiar? No one has a definitive answer, but the consensus is that spirits do not have material vocal apparatus -- since they don't have bodies -- and therefore they can't talk. They can only create "talk" audible to us through imitating voices, a process akin to us trying to fly using artificial bird wings.

Naturally, EVP has its critics too, both inside and outside the psychical research community. Since EVP was first publicized by Konstantin Raudive and David Ellis in 1971, it has been claimed that the radio receivers tuned between stations to provide white noise were actually picking up faint radio broadcasts. Second -- a perfectly reasonable prima facie objection --it's claimed that the so-called voices on the recording medium are imaginary. Listeners hear a lot of random sound and mentally convert some of it into voices. It's well established in psychology that the human mind abhors random stimuli and converts them into recognizable patterns, the basis for Rorschach ink-blot tests and the reason why we've all had the experience of mistakenly "hearing" the phone ring above the noise of a shower.

A Scottish researcher, Alexander MacRae, reported in the Journal of the Society for Psychical Research (October 2005 -- sorry, no link available) on an experiment he designed and carried out in the hope of ruling out both these objections. The technical details are too much to go into for a blog posting, but I'll try to cover the highlights.

MacRae took his recording equipment to a specially designed room lent to him for the purpose by the Institute of Noetic Sciences in Petaluma, California. The room is doubly "screened": impervious to sound waves from outside it and to electromagnetic waves, such as radio waves. Thus, anything recorded during the experiment could not come from outside the room -- or, at least, outside the room in the physical dimension. MacRae was the only person in the chamber, and he spoke not a word during the recording. There were no other sound sources such as ticking clocks or creaking chairs.

The bidimensional field defining the three coordinates of a 'pseudo-gaussian plane'

Apparent voices were indeed recorded. Following the recording session, the sounds were transmitted to a computer as sound files and optimized for clarity: subjected to noise reduction, filtered digitally to emphasize the higher frequencies, bringing all the sound samples up to a standard volume level, and slowing the samples down. All these techniques are designed to overcome a poor signal-to-noise ratio or iron out the sonic oddities typically heard in EVP voices.

The conditions of the recording ruled out the possibility that what was being recorded were stray sounds or radio-frequency transmissions. Next, MacRae set out to determine experimentally whether the recorded "voices" were actually saying recognizable words or were just noise that listeners fashioned into words in their own minds.

The utterances were sent as .wav sound files via e-mail to seven participants, located in different countries, who had no contact with each other. They were asked to listen to them and choose one group of words -- the group that MacRae believed he heard -- out of five groups. The four made-up, or decoy, groups were carefully chosen to have the same number of words, phonemes, rhythm, and stresses as the "real" group.

In the multiple choice test, every one of the seven participants chose the correct alternative more often than not, and in most cases by a wide margin. By constructing a grid with the particpants on the vertical scale and the 10 utterances on the horizontal scale, with notations for either correct or incorrect choices at the intersections, it was possible to calculate the mathematical odds of this particular pattern occurring by chance.

"The odds against this pattern of concurrence among participants being obtained purely by chance are 5 to the 55th power, or about 277 billion, billion, billion, billion to one," MacRae writes. "The results, therefore, tend to indicate that the sounds were an aid to comprehension, that they had a physical, real-world validity, rather than just being subjective, as some would aver." (Calculating the odds of results being down to chance is not black magic; it's a standard practice whose methodology is well established in statistics and experimental scientific research.)

Light contours

As a further check, the listening panel was sent another five-option test, but this time the sound was just random noise. The "rules of the game" were exactly as before: the participants believed that they were choosing the one correct speech sample.

"The results were slow in coming, and the participants were very apologetic," MacRae writes. "Each one explained that they had tried and tried and they felt that they were letting me down, or showing signs of age, but nobody could make speech out of random noise, in spite of the personal 'pressure' and the expectation of being able to do so."

No single experiment clinches anything -- replication is essential to the scientific method -- but this one certainly suggests that the "sound leakage" and "imposing imaginary patterns" arguments against EVP can't explain every instance.

MacRae's experiment was not designed to prove anything about what makes EVP recordings. Spirits of people who've passed from earthly life? That's a whole different question, and one not likely to be settled soon beyond dispute. For now, those who conduct or are familiar with EVP recordings will have to decide that for themselves.

The American Association of Electronic Voice Phenomena will hold its 2006 conference, "Life After Death: The Evidence" June 8-10 in Atlanta. Alexander MacRae will be among the speakers.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Da Versity Code

All political correctness, Allah the time.

Are you ready for this? (Tip of the hat to Michelle Malkin.)
In a recent federal decision that got surprisingly little press, even from conservative talk radio, California's 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it's OK to put public-school kids through Muslim role-playing exercises, including:

Reciting aloud Muslim prayers that begin with "In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful . . . ."

Memorizing the Muslim profession of faith: "Allah is the only true God and Muhammad is his messenger."

Chanting "Praise be to Allah" in response to teacher prompts.

Professing as "true" the Muslim belief that "The Holy Quran is God's word."

Giving up candy and TV to demonstrate Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Designing prayer rugs, taking an Arabic name and essentially "becoming a Muslim" for two full weeks.

I'm getting tired of asking this: has our country gone stark staring bloody flipping crazy?

This ruling isn't, you understand, about a purely hypothetical case, which no court would review. It's about an actual part of "California's world history curriculum," according to the story in Investors Business Daily. The child abusers running The Loony State's school system are actually forcing the kids to go through this indoctrination.

Can you imagine if the poor little nippers were put through two weeks of "role playing" as Catholic priests, offering communion and lighting candles in front of statues of Mary? The ACLU would be all over them like a cheap suit. Actually, they'd offer a free (law)suit to the first Muslim plaintiff who picked up the phone.

What next? Teach about immigration by making the kids tunnel under a fence and forge Social Security cards? Warn about the dangers of drugs by giving them needles and having them do up for a couple of weeks? Study dental hygiene by encouraging them to dress as their favorite tooth?

We need a Devil's Island to send incorrigible educational bureaucrats to, where they could no longer prey on society.

The star-spangled banner

You'll notice a new banner above, which I think is more in keeping with the spirit of the site. It was created by Westgate Necromantic Web Design Service, which I am pleased to endorse. Their rates are extremely reasonable and Daniel, the designer-in-chief, was patient with my many requests for tweaking.

Should you find any of my postings less than inspired, which I fear you can plan on, the banner will offer you a visual reward anyway for stopping by.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Speak now or lose your country

The Senate is on its way to passing a bill that will turn the United States into a part of Latin America. Once that's done, it can't be undone.

Randall Parker has a good summary of the deception and treachery involved in what's about to go down.

If you want our country's historical and cultural character to be dissolved in Third World immigration at mind-boggling levels, that's your right. If you don't want it to happen, you'd better start raising hell.

To contact your Senators to express your displeasure at their plan to deluge the United States with tens of millions of immigrants in the next 20 years, you can find the web sites of each U.S. Senator in this list. Similarly, you can find contact information for your U.S. Representative here. Numbers USA makes it easy to send faxes to Congress.

Over to you.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Extraterrestrials for immigration

Economists are the witch doctors of modern societies — no, I mis-speak; witch doctors were often successful at evicting evil spirits, and they were not known for selling out their tribes. Lots of our economists seem like aliens who have no contact with human beings — no, I mis-speak; according to UFO enthusiasts, extraterrestrials go through quite a spot of bother to probe any of us invited into their spacecraft.

Would you have an example of a suspected extraterrestrial economist? I refer you to Lawrence Kudlow, a talking empty head of CNBC fame, who fakes the case — no, I mis-speak; meant to say, makes the case — for borders, open 24 hours, no waiting. Or, as he blithely asks, "Fence or no fence, what's all the fuss about?"
President Bush, in his excellent speech from the Oval Office this week, signaled acceptance of fencing as part of his plan to deal with the hot-button issue of illegal immigration, and the Senate has complied with an 83-16 vote to construct a 370-mile fence along the Mexican border. History has shown that immigrants in search of freedom and prosperity will climb over, tunnel under, or circumvent any fence. But if fencing helps pass a broad-based reform bill, so be it.
History has also shown that burglars looking for property to nick will break and enter houses, although it is rumored that, all else being equal, they have a sentimental fondness for the house with no fence, alarm system, or owner who cares about whether the burglar is inside or outside. Such an owner is most likely to be an economist.

Economics, you see, tells its practitioner that he must throw open the gates.

The anti-immigration crowd also gets it wrong when it points out that the Senate compromise bill would increase the number of immigrant workers in the U.S. by roughly 61 million over the next two decades. This Heritage Foundation analysis has the fear-mongerers predicting a Mexican takeover of the United States . But we need these workers. Due to the demographic shift being caused by the baby boomers, the ratio of working-age persons in the U.S. to retirees aged 65 and over will drop like a stone from the current 4.7:1 ratio to 3.5:1 by 2030, and 2.6:1 by 2040. With the Social Security and Medicare trust funds going bankrupt, how will we manage with so few workers per retiree?
I'm no economist — thank you, God — but may I point out that Kudlow and those of his ilk never mention that almost all these imported worker bees are going to be toiling at the lowest levels of the job market, which is not exactly a prescription for bounteous Social Security and Medicare tax revenues. Nor that they will not arrive alone when they take up the brown man's burden and save the United States from its geriatric apocalypse: we will also be importing their wives, their large families, and assorted relatives, who will disgorge anchor babies, who automatically become American citizens, so that this chain-migration bonanza will carry on even unto the third, fourth, and fifth generation. Nor that for every Hecho en Mexico replacement worker, several of their relatives will be a net drain on the social welfare system, what with the tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breed free in taxpayer-supported hospitals.

No, I mis-speak: here I go, getting swallowed up in Larry Kudlow's extraterrestrial point of view. You will note that in his column, there is not one word to suggest that he has the slightest conception of what mass immigration actually looks like and feels like down on the ground, how it affects neighborhoods and your way of life. Kudlow knows nothing about the about gangs your kids will face if you're not in his tax bracket and can't afford to send them to a private school. Nor about graffiti and cars on front lawns and loud parties and congested highways and amigos waving Mexican flags in your face.

How would any of those things swim into his ken? Those are earthling concerns.

To Kudlow, the immigration issue is a purely abstract question of numbers, dollars, and employees.
When he ventures out of his New York luxury digs, he's reading the latest number of The Economist on the way to JFK Airport, oblivious to the immigrant neighborhood blight outside the tinted windows. At his destination, he is whisked to the Ritz-Carlton and the ivy-clad campus where he explains why those "hotheaded conservative populists" who object to pledging allegiance to the United States of Mexico and the corruption for which it stands are so thoughtlessly stopping the Gross National Product from going into hyper-drive.

Had he ever clapped eyes on a parking lot full of illegals standing around, smoking, examining their lottery tickets, and waiting for that pick-up truck that may or may not appear; or had he driven — no, I mis-speak: I mean been driven — through the seedy barrios of east Los Angeles, there is no, er, earthly way he could write, "They would in effect become a much-needed churchgoing blue-collar middle class." The view looks a lot better from the Mother Ship in econocentric orbit.

How could any supposedly serious pundit write, as Kudlow does, "I just don’t see what all the fuss is about"? No, I mis-speak: in this, at least, he tells the truth.

Update May 21: Lawrence Auster has some comments of his own about Larry Kudlow's what's-not-to-like? routine.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Melanie Phillips's Londonistan

Marchers shout for the destruction of a lawfully constituted, democratic country: Israel. They chant, "Zionism, terrorism" and "We are all Hezbollah." The local population is passive, mute, even sympathetic.

One of the world's most radical Islamist organizations, Hizb ut-Tahrir, which is banned in many countries -- including Muslim countries -- where it is considered a major threat, has its headquarters here and conducts activities on many university campuses. Hizb ut-Tahrir agitates for the revival of the Muslim caliphate, abolished at the end of the Ottoman Empire, and proclaims that Muslims may live only in a Muslim state governed by Sharia law.

Islamist demagogues call for murder and insurrection. Omar Bakri Mohammed claims the political leader of the country where he lives is "a legitimate target; if anyone gets the opportunity to assassinate him, I don't think they should save it. It is our Islamic duty and we will celebrate his death." Not only does he continue living freely in the country whose downfall he urges, but he, his wife, and their children are supported by that country's social welfare payments. "Islam allows me to take the benefit the system offers," he says.

A new Muslim center with room for 10,000 worshipers opens here. Among those leading prayers at its opening is Sheikh Abd Al-Rahman al-Sudais, who has called for violence against Christians, Hindus, and Americans. He has called Jews "calf-worshipers, propher-murderers, prophecy-deniers ... the scum of the human race whom Allah cursed and turned into apes and pigs. ... These are the Jews, a continuous lineage of meanness, cunning, obstinacy, tyranny, licentiousness, evil, and corruption."

Where are we? A terrorist-supporting lunatic state in the Middle East? No. We are in Britain, and its capital London, which Melanie Phillips says in her just-published book Londonistan "has become a major global center of Islamist extremism -- the economic and spiritual hub of a production and distribution network for the most radicalized form of Islamic thinking, which not only pumps out an unremitting ideology of hatred for the West but actively recruits soldiers and raises funds for the worldwide terrorist jihad."

On July 7, 2005, three individuals on London Underground trains and another on a bus detonated themselves and killed more than 50 people going about their daily lives. "As the gruesome task began of collecting the body parts from the wrecked trains and bus, and as the wounded emerged dazed and weeping from the underground tunnels, a shocked Britain had to confront the terrible fact that the appalling phenomenon of suicide bombing had arrived on British soil," Phillips says. And, as it soon became known, the suicide bombers were British Muslims.

The evidence had been there for anyone willing to see it for years. Britain had welcomed and even supported extremist Islamic organizations. "Radicals such as Abu Qatada, Omar Bakri Mohammed, Abu Hamza and Mohammed al-Massari were allowed to preach incitement to violence, raise money and recruit members for the jihad," Phillips says. "An astonishing procession of UK-based terrorists turned out to have been responsible for attacks upon America, Israel and many other countries."

Neither the British government nor most of the British people have shown any concern over the encroachment of radical Islamism into British public life. "The Labour mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has embraced and defended Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the prominent Islamist cleric who says it is a duty for Muslims to turn themselves into human bombs in Israel and Iraq," Phillips says. "Meanwhile George Galloway, the supporter of Saddam Hussein, was elected to the British Parliament as the leader of a new political party that brings together the far left and radical Islamism -- the first such party in Europe. Yet there has been no groundswell to get rid of the popular Livingstone as London's mayor, nor has the Labour party disowned him; while Galloway is regarded as, at worst, a minor irritant or a pantomime villain."

Even after 9/11 and 7/7, the country is in deep denial about the danger from many of the Muslims and Muslim organizations in its midst. The media and intelligentsia are obsessed with avoiding any taint of "Islamophobia," a thought crime, trying to suppress any criticism of Islam and portraying anyone who talks about Islamist aggression as a bigot.

Most of the facts about the penetration of radical Islam into Britain have been published before -- although, assembled in a single source as they are in Londonistan, they have far greater impact than when discussed individually -- but Phillips has set for herself the goal of describing not just the outrages themselves, but the social and political conditions that have allowed them to thrive.

"Britain is currently locked into such a spiral of decadence, self-loathing and sentimentality that it is incapable of seeing that it is setting itself up for cultural immolation," she says.

Phillips, a London newspaper columnist and author of several previous books, is well known in the U.K. for her scathing criticisms of what she sees as her country's descent into crackpot multi-culturalism, left-wingers' contempt for its own history and traditions, and the debasement of its educational system. In Londonistan, she argues that the British have permitted their country to become a terrorist Petri dish through a combination of pathological trends.

Human rights legislation that the U.K. has signed onto is so skewed in favor of "asylum seekers," however bogus, that it effectively prevents the nation from defending itself. The British security establishment is dominated by mental habits acquired in fighting the last terrorist war, against the IRA, which was at heart a political conflict -- it never passed through the brain of even the most rabid IRA operative to establish Catholicism as the one and only religion in the U.K. The British take pride in being reasonable people, are famously given to compromise, and nowadays strongly secularist; the idea of anyone blowing themselves and others up for a religion is incomprehensible to most of them.

As a result, the British establishment can't unhook itself from the idea that Islamic radicals are motivated by economic and political goals, rather than absolutist religious doctrines that can never be satisfied until the country -- and the whole world, for that matter -- lives under the rule of the Crescent. British leaders are mesmerized by the fantasy that the solution is to endlessly show more tolerance and acceptance. Six months before the London bombings, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Ian Blair, said, "There is nothing wrong with being an Islamic fundamentalist" and "Bridges will be built [between the police and the Muslim community]."

"The strategy," Phillips says, "is to win over the majority of British Muslims; so the police are bending over backwards to show sympathy for them and respect for their religion. In Nottingham, the police handed out green ribbons after the London bombings to express solidarity with Muslims, who, according to the chief constable, were on the receiving end of Islamophobic attacks. And guidelines for the Bedfordshire force say that when officers raid Muslim homes they should remove their shoes, not use dogs and not mount predawn raids because at that hour people might be 'spiritually busy.'"

Phillips cites the alliance between the British left and radical Islam (based, as far as the left is concerned, on the belief that anyone opposed to Western values and the United States is on their side) and the pathetic determination of the Church of England to abandon its own beliefs and traditions while rationalizing every kind of political and social radicalism. The Church is dominated by appeasers who see Islamic terrorism as "resistance" to supposed crimes by Israel and the United States. (Her chapter on the Church of England is titled, "On Their Knees Before Terror.")

Dislike of Jews and Israel is now widespread and socially acceptable in the U.K., Phillips says. It's fashionable to support Palestinians and excuse their terrorist tactics as morally equivalent to Israel's defending its citizens and its very existence. These attitudes numb the country against feeling any outrage at even the wildest and most paranoid anti-Semitic slurs by Muslim clerics.

A popular culture that has been degraded by the welfare state into self-centered apathy and indoctrinated by left-wing media like the BBC into rejecting any pride in traditional British values has also, she says, created a vacuum into which Islamism can easily flow, appealing to alienated young Muslims who've never been given any reason to identify with Britain.

Phillips makes a strong case, marshalling facts and documenting them. She writes fluently, other than overusing the somewhat obscure word "trope" (Merriam-Webster's: "a word or expression used in a figurative sense; figure of speech"). Londonistan is a compelling read; it should make a lot of people, especially British, uncomfortable and motivate them to change the mental climate that has turned Britain and its capital into a sinkhole of violent politico-religious ideology.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Don't trust this president on immigration

El Presidente Jorge W. Bush-Gonzales, facing what to him is an inexplicable reluctance on the part of a majority of gringos to create the Estados Unidos del Norte y Mexico, is going the electronic pulpit route. The betting is that in his televised address Monday evening he will stoop to offering open borders opponents a sweetener for his amnesty plan, probably a promise to send some National Guard soldiers to "enforce" the border.

His handlers have probably reminded him a half dozen times not to open his speech with, "Saludos, amigos!" He'll force himself to spend five minutes or so talking about border security, with particular reference to the "War on Terror" -- as though that were the main issue -- before he reverts to type and starts banging on about hard-working immigrants who want a better life for their families, doing jobs Americans won't do, etc., etc. What odds will you give me that he won't then introduce a cute 10-year-old Mexican girl with a heart-rending story? Finally, he'll turn on such rhetorical powers as he can command to call for passage of the Senate's amnesty ("guest worker") bill for los illegals.

Don't fall for this crock. The problem with border enforcement has not been a lack of manpower, but a failure of will, back-channel orders to the Border Patrol not to enforce existing laws, "catch-and-release" policies, and various other strategies to ensure that immigration controls fail. Sending a bunch of National Guard units (who, according to one report, will be assigned clerical duties) is a meaningless gesture that will be dropped as soon as an amnesty has passed.

You can be sure that El Presidente will propose no measures that will actually reduce the rewards for border jumpers.

A great deal of speculation is going on in the blogosphere about what drives Bush-Gonzales in his obsession with Mexicanizing the United States. It clearly is not a politically popular move, and a president with an approval rating in the 30s is hardly in a position to continue showing the country a profile in dementia. A lot of the proposed explanations (payoffs, blackmail) sound ridiculous, but still El President's behavior seems inexplicable.

Nevertheless, as with so much in this presidency, the genesis of his attitude seems to reside in his personality. I'm generally opposed to criticizing political figures, including ones I strongly disagree with, in psychological terms; opposition should be on matters of public record. With Bush-Gonzales, though, we have a man who is impervious to any kind of rational argument. His absolute refusal to listen to critics or various shades of opinion has occasionally, and briefly, seemed virtuous -- for instance, when he first proposed that response to Islamic terror should be proactive, not reactive, which called down lightning on his head that he properly ignored. Over the longer course, though, he has alienated even those formerly well disposed toward him (me, for instance) through his closed-shop mind. All of his positions seem instinctive, hard-wired, unconsidered, like animal traits.

Lawrence Auster quotes an interesting letter from a man named Howard Sutherland, who says he knows people who have known Bush personally, in some cases quite well. Sutherland's thoughts are worth reading as a whole, but here's perhaps the money quote:
... Why Mexico? Throughout his life, Bush has been exposed to nice Mexicans. At the lower end, there were probably nice maids and ranch hands who helped out around the place and, in their way, helped raise him. For all I know, the Mexican maids were nicer to him than his mother, who is a formidable woman. At the upper end, there were the elegant, erudite, fun and mind-bogglingly rich Mexican oligarchs with whom his father did business and politics, and whose playboy children would have been some of Bush’s playmates in his partying days. He just likes Mexicans. I think he likes them better than Americans. The Mexican functionaries he meets are a lot more like the people he goes hunting with in Texas (some are the same people) than any of his geek Washington advisers.

Like many people I know in Texas, he is very comfortable with Mexican culture seen through a tex-mex lens. I like it myself, and I am a sworn enemy of the Mexican government. Bush probably has better memories overall of relations with Mexicans throughout his life than he does with Americans. I would bet that while his personal experiences of his fellow Americans have been good and bad, his experiences of Mexicans have been almost all good from his point of view. He won’t see the bad in Mexico; he hasn’t experienced it and, anyway, to criticize Mexico on social or cultural grounds would be racist. Not gonna happen…
I'm obviously not in a position to know how much of this is accurate, but it seems intuitively right. His past has given Bush-Gonzales an idealized view of Mexico and Mexicans. He's experienced the personal generosity and graciousness of Mexico's rich, controlling, European-descended upper classes; he's appreciated the loyalty and (I say without irony) hard work of the Mexican servant class. He's never had occasion to see ordinary Mexico: the narco-terrorist social infrastructure, the corrupt officialdom, the wretched economy.

By the same token, El Presidente has probably had very little interaction with American middle class people. He was raised among the political elite, went to college and graduate school with the sons and daughters of the rich (with a sprinkling of those from an impoverished minority background admitted to the halls of Yale and Harvard via affirmative action). I think he simply has contempt for ordinary people who don't run big corporations or throw money around, and thinks of anybody who opposes the Mexico-United States Anschluss as a racist dummy from flyover country.

I don't care if he thinks he's doing God's will. The voice of the people isn't necessarily the voice of God either, but it's a voice a president of the United States should listen to, and this one won't.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

La Triviata: The Decline and Fall of The Gramophone

"The world's unrivalled authority on classical music since 1923."

That's how the magazine bills itself on the cover. For many years, it was probably true. Back when it was true, though, English understatement would have kept it from making such a boast.

I used to read store copies of The Gramophone every month when I worked in a compact disc/hi-fi retail space in Santa Fe some 15 years ago, and have continued to read it from time to time. Since I discovered to my surprise that I could (often) tell differences among classical music recordings, I've enjoyed reviews. The Gramphone struck me as best-of-breed. Its writers were infinitely more knowledgeable than I was, and a lot of their finer points of interpretation were over my head, but their obvious expertise lent them credibility; even the myopia-inducing small type seemed like an emblem of seriousness and sophistication, and the old-fashioned name suggested sturdy traditionalism.

Since then, the "book" (as publishers illogically call magazines) has gone through a lot of changes. I'm not sure but I think the original company was bought out and it came under new ownership. The design and typography, and some of its regular departments, seemed to undergo a re-think every other issue. Despite some signs of floundering by the management, though, the quality of the reviewing remained high.

More recently it became apparent that the publisher was trying to re-brand The Gramophone into a new, "cool" mode. Well, they had to make some concessions to a new generation of readers, I told myself.

When I bought the April issue, I wasn't prepared for the changes it's gone through just in the last year or two. It's been turned into, more than anything else, a fan magazine, an outlet for record companies' publicity departments, full of hype — arty, but still hype.

Here are the cover teasers: "The most exciting age ever for string quartets." "THE PACIFICA Chamber music hotshots" (yes, the senseless capitalization exactly like that). "Exclusive interviews." "Rugby hero Brian 'Pitbull' Moore on the links between music and sport."

The editor writes:
Magazines don't usually put string quartets on the cover. It's still a corner of the classical music world that is thought to have an image of unapproachability.
Who says, besides him? Does he even know any classical listeners, or was he recruited from one of the publisher's other books, maybe Race Track Thrills?
Because quartets don't have the volume to bludgeon listeners' senses or the immediate character of a human voice, they are thought to be a hard sell. Perhaps that's because not enough people are selling them hard. As Richard Wigmore's cover story explains, a momentum has been building since the 1960s that is now at full pelt. The string quartet is one of the most exciting areas in music now, no question ... spread the word!
An editor of The Gramophone even 15 years ago would sooner have put his head inside the mouth of a tuba than write like that.

The literate reviewers that I thought would be around forever, like Richard Osborne, Robert Layton, Ivan March, and many others, seem to have vanished from the magazine's pages. Whether they were given the push for being too old, or they just left in disgust at the new editorial policy, I can't say. The current crop of reviewers know what they're on about, but their reviews are shorter and dull compared with those of their predecessors.

But why should The Gramophone's race to the bottom be surprising? It's just one more symptom of the dumbing down of Britain, a country that now thoroughly distrusts anything that can be associated with aristocracy, privilege, or taste, as it obsesses over "diversity" and multi-culturalism and worships celebrity.

All is not lost, though. This posting isn't just to rain on The Gramophone. There remains an alternative, and a very fine one. It's American Record Guide, which turns out six issues a year of excellent classical recording reviews. I've been reading it, too, intermittently for years, and ARG hasn't conceded an inch to cultural decay.

American record guide small
First choice:
American Record Guide
, which now smokes The Gramophone.

ARG has been edited for as long as I can remember by Donald Vroon, and he's thumping good at it. He doesn't allow any stuffiness, pretentiousness, or snobbery in his magazine's pages, and in his own writing shows that he cares most for music's ability to communicate emotionally. He likes old-fashioned romantic interpretations and detests the current fashion for "objective" performances. It doesn't appear, though, that he imposes his own tastes on his reviewers, most of whom are amateur or professional musicians.

I'm no expert, but I sure get the impression that ARG's reviewers know their subject every bit as well as The Gramophone mob. One and all, they're very gifted writers, or get exceptional editing, or both. The reviews have a personal touch without being self-centered, and they're not unduly impressed by Big Name performers. Little-known orchestras, groups, and soloists get a fair shake.

Most issues include an "overview" of the available recordings of a composer or category of music, and the comparisons are fascinating. The overviews include valuable introductions, some of which have been among the best pieces I've ever read about their subjects. I still have the Bruckner overview from 10 or 12 years ago, which gave me more insight into the man and his music than any other source I've run across.

Incredibly, somehow Vroon keeps American Record Guide going with few ads (mostly black-and-white half pages and quarter pages) and no equipment reviews to lure big advertising bucks. I don't see how he makes three cents on the dollar. But it's a class act, and a great read if you're interested in classical recordings.

Integrity still exists.

Site for sore eyes

"Butterfly Mandala" by Ann Stretton

My award for Knockout Web Site of the Week goes to eyebalm, the fine art online boutique of Ann Stretton and Stan Starbuck.

The site's 3-D look, glowing colors, and partial animation are remarkable. Be sure to mouse over the "Home" icon, the buttons underneath it, and the corners — including the @ symbol in the lower left — and see how they change.

The various galleries, for posters, digital imagery, jewelry, and more, display a good deal of fascinating work.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

George W. Bush's borderline personality disorder


The Border Patrol is on the alert. No, not for illegals. For the Minutemen. (Tip of the hat: Michelle Malkin)
According to three documents on the Mexican Secretary of Foreign Relations Web site, the U.S. Border Patrol is to notify the Mexican government as to the location of Minutemen and other civilian border patrol groups when they participate in apprehending illegal immigrants -- and if and when violence is used against border crossers.
You can figure Generalissimo Jorge W. Bush-Gonzales and his ruling junta have passed the word down for the Border Patrol to salute the Mexican flag.

The Bush administration's strategy for the Iraq occupation has been disastrous, but that is a political issue, to be decided at the ballot box. The borders question, however, is of a different order. The President of the United States is actively subverting his country's laws. He is colluding with another nation that has declared war on the United States, and against a group of American citizens.

Bush is a traitor or afflicted with
folie de grandeur or both. Either way, he has gone beyond merely taking an unpopular stand. The country must reject him as the body rejects a disease. He should be impeached and removed from office. The U.S. cannot live with another two and a half years of this.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

O debt, where is thy sting?

Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin have written a book, Empire of Debt: The Rise of an Epic Financial Crisis, to warn that the United States's delusions of grandeur, a national debt so large that it must be financed by selling U.S. Treasury bonds to other countries -- China, they say, lends the U.S. $300 billion per year -- and inflationary funny money are leading us to ruin.

Bonner is president and CEO of Agora Inc. ("one of the world's largest financial newsletter companies") and the "creator" (the book flap says) of the free online letter The Daily Reckoning. The Daily Reckoning's message is much the same as the book's, and it appears to be supported by paid links to other newsletters touting unorthodox money making strategies for building your own private ark against the imminent rain, er, ruin.

(Wiggin is bio'd on the flap as the "editorial director and publisher" of The Daily Reckoning; curiously, although the book's byline is "Bill Bonner and Addison Wiggin," Bonner's name is in larger type, something I have never before seen with an "and" double authorship. We can presumably take it that Bonner was the primary writer, and for the sake of simplicity I'll refer to him as the author.)

Empire of Debt has two main arguments: (1) that the United States has evolved from a republic that used to mind its own business into a worldwide empire that is minding everyone else's business, out of hubris and vanity; and (2) that it is financially rotten to the core. Bonner believes the two ideas are inextricably linked. I don't, and I think he undercuts his case for the second theme by writing a lot of of silly, if clever, cant about the first.

To hear Bonner tell it, the U.S. was chugging along nicely except for an occasional inconvenience like the Civil War until Congress passed an amendment permitting an income tax in 1913. That, he says, let the dogs out. The modest republic quickly took on the role of a power-drunken empire. First up, America's entry into World War I: "[President Woodrow] Wilson longed to get us into it and imagined that he could transform the war -- and the world that came out of it -- in his own image. ... The reasons were just fluff. The real reasons were the same sordid, complex instincts that always lure people to war and ruin."

You can argue, with the sharp vision of hindsight, that helping Britain and France win the '14-'18 war didn't accomplish much, since it failed to prevent the reprise that began in 1939. But who could have known that at the time? Now hear him on the second world war:
Few would argue that World War II was a case of needless intervention, since the U.S. fleet was attacked at Pearl Harbor. Still, had America wanted to stay out of it, she could have done so. Pearl Harbor was attacked because the U.S. Navy posed a threat to Japanese imperial ambitions. If the United States had not displayed imperial ambitions of her own and had no satellite state in the Philippines, she would have presented no danger to the Japanese imperial forces. Nor was there any particular reason to go to war against Germany. Though allied to Japan, there was no question of Germany intervening in the Pacific War.
As a summary of the United States's reasons for engaging in World War II, this is so egregiously ignorant and morally obtuse that it is tempting to think Bonner is just joking, but if so, I don't get the joke. He offers a similar judgment on the Cold War: "During the period of the Cold War -- from 1950 to 1989, including the hot periods in Korea and Vietnam -- the United States spent a total of $5 trillion protecting the free world from the Evil Empire. If it had not spent a dime, the outcome might have been exactly the same -- but we cannot know that." Oh, please.


Bonner's ideas about the U.S. role in global politics are dopey, but in compensation, delivered with style and genuine wit. A sample (about Woodrow Wilson again, whom he holds in utmost contempt): "In the private sphere, a delusional man is soon impoverished, friendless, powerless, and hopeless. All he can do at that point is run for public office: Because in public life, foolish arguments have fewer and less immediate consequences."

In turning to the economic side of his screed, Bonner can be just as acidly humorous. His diatribe against Thomas Friedman, an economics writer for The New York Times, occupies five pages (pp. 261-266, if you want to look it up) and is a classic of invective, worthy of Mencken. I'm reluctant to quote from it, because you really should savor the thing in its entirety, but here's a taste: "You might criticize the man by saying his work is without merit, but, too, that would be flattery. His work has negative merit. Every column subtracts from the sum of human knowledge in the way a broken pipe drains the town's water tower."

Almost every president in the past 80 years gets a share of the blame for the country's financial downfall. He especially puts the boot in Roosevelt, for what Bonner sees as the flim-flam of the New Deal and for prohibiting private citizens from owning gold; Nixon, for removing the gold standard from the dollar, allowing the Treasury to print a Niagara of paper money to finance "imperial" adventures (the "Pax Dollarium") and service the ever-growing national debt; and perhaps most of all, that conservative saint, Reagan:

"Reagan cut nominal tax rates, but government consumed more and more resources. The leech grew. Lower tax rates gave citizens the impression that they had more money to spend. Individually, they did. Collectively, they did not. The program was merely a monumental legerdemain. For every tax-cut dollar that a citizen spent, the federal government had to borrow as much as $1.18 (with interest)."

And when we look at the story today, it's much worse. At last, Bonner starts making considerable sense, and he's far from the only one in the financial press who's seriously worried about year after year of government deficits, a staggering national debt, and an economy that runs on credit. I think he's right that the United States is becoming a country that makes less and less that anyone in the world wants to buy, and that practically all we know how to do anymore is sell things made in places like Indonesia and China to Americans who buy them by borrowing and siphoning funds from their home equity. At some point, the house of (credit) cards has got to fall down.

Earlier generations of Americans took pride in planning and saving for the future. But then, as Bonner says, "people switched their attention from assets to cash flow, from balance sheets to monthly operating statements, from long-term wealth-building to paycheck-to-paycheck financing, from saving to spending, and from 'just in case' to 'just in time.'"

I recommend Empire of Debt as grand entertainment, and the chapters from number 13 on for their observations about our poisoned prosperity. Bonner writes, "The citizens of Squanderville, as Warren Buffett calls the United States, are a happy bunch. They believe happy things; it doesn't bother them that the things they believe are impossible. After 20 years of mostly falling interest rates, mostly falling inflation rates, and mostly rising asset prices (stocks and real estate), people have come to believe that this is the way the world works: Interest rates mostly go down, and house prices mostly go up; it goes on forever."

By borrowing and spending rather than saving and investing, Americans are creating a boom. The trouble is, the boom is elsewhere, for the people who make the things Americans don't and countries that buy our debt. Bonner has a worthwhile point to make: if those countries ever decide to unload all that debt rather than hold it, look out below.

Note to John Wiley & Sons, publisher of Empire of Debt: Hire yourself a copyeditor or two. The repetitiousness, poor syntax, and typos in this book are disgraceful.

UPDATE 11/7/08

Considering that their book was written two or three years before the present financial debacle, you have to give Bonner and Wiggins credit for prescience. What they said then has become conventional wisdom now.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Moussaoui: Living hell

My first reaction on reading that Zacarias Moussaoui had been given a life sentence instead of death was the same as yours probably was. To wit, that justice was not served, that he has earned the Big Ticket and his head should be stuck on a pike at Ground Zero. Moussaoui, one of the 9/11 plotters, continued to express pride in his actions, insulted the surviving families of those murdered, and used his trial to give the finger to the United States.

After due reflection, and while I empathize with everyone who is feeling outraged, I have to conclude (reserving the right to change my mind completely) that the life sentence is, all told, probably for the best.

Not, mind you, because "we have to show we're better than them." Our sensibilities weren't so delicate at the Nuremberg trials, after a war that had cost more than 400,000 American lives and many additional injuries; when the world was still reeling from the shock of what had gone on in the German death camps. A dozen of those found responsible were soon dangling from the end of a rope.

And not on any Portia-like quality-of-mercy grounds ("It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes," etc.).

Instead, the reasons involve both practicality and, yes, the desire for punishment.

A death sentence would involve years of appeals, and during that time, Moussaoui would carry on being a center of attention. His courtroom antics and boasting would be widely reported and he could play the defiant martyr to his heart's content. He might well eventually win an reversal of the sentence, which would look to the jihadists like a victory and another sign of the Great Satan's weakness.

Instead, he will now disappear into the prison system. No more the big mouth celebrity. No reporters hanging on his every word. He will become a nonentity. In a maximum security penitentiary, he will surely have to be isolated from other inmates: even the worst of our worst will not feel the love for this man, and some if given the chance might show him their disesteem in imaginative and quite unpleasant ways.

So let him enjoy his own company year after year. I suppose they will let him have a copy of the Quran, which even he might tire of after the 200th reading or so, and a TV, to watch our decadent culture continuing despite his efforts. (I trust that not even our tender hearted and politically correct federal government will include Al-Jazeera on the channel menu.)

Oh, he will look forward to a Mohammedan heaven, right enough. But at the age of 37, he may need to wait quite a bit for it — who knows, maybe another 40 years. The first few weeks or months might be a bit of a lark, but once the novelty wears off and he gets it that he will be confined in a few small spaces for as long as he stays in this world, with nobody to cook up plots with, no infidels to listen to his harangues, he'll discover that the thrill is gone. With bare bodkin his quietus make? Sorry, the warden looks down on that sort of thing and won't allow it. Hunger strike to relieve the boredom of waiting for the train to Allahland? Sorry again, old boy, but prison management has met that sort of thing before and knows the routine for coping with it.

No, he'll just have to live with his soul, day. After. Day. After. Day. After …

Welcome to hell, Zacarias. Living hell.

Update May 5

Gerard Van der Leun at American Digest makes a powerful case that the life sentence is yet another mini-surrender. My rationale above applies only so long as the conditions specified remain in place. If Zac is permitted to give interviews, publish a book, have conjugal visits by his favorite wife/waif/camel, order takeout from Dean & DeLuca, subscribe to Modern Suicide Bombing, send Happy Ramadan cards to his friends in Saudi Arabia, or act as technical advisor for "9/11: The Musical," then the deal is off. The entire federal subsidy for the Public Broadcasting System and National Public Radio should be redirected into an award fund for Zac's successful assassin, and 100 million duplicate keys to his cell mailed to random addresses in Sicily, Mexico City, and Russia.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The last word on God. Maybe.

Despite my best intentions, posts on spiritual themes have been running a deficit on this site. It's hard to find spiritual topics that lend themselves to the quick-and-short format of a blog. Frankly, it's easier and consumes less of my time-impoverished life to post about politics, where there's always some news to bounce off.

Occasionally, though, I stumble across something on another blog to respond to — and having someone else lead with an argument saves much effort. Robert Speirs, who writes an entertaining blog called Conundrum — the Cosmic Pilgrim, recently offered his "Last word on God": "I don't think anyone who talks about Heaven really knows what it would be like to go there, in the words (approximately) of the old song. I don't think the concept 'God' and the concept 'exist' should be mentioned in the same breath."

In connection with a discussion on another site, he asks, " ... Isn't it true that the concept 'belief' is as undefined and conveniently flexible as the concept 'God'? Isn't it true that one cannot 'disbelieve' any more than one can 'believe' in some concept if that concept is irrational and self-contradictory? So there are not atheists and believers. There are merely wise men and fools."

He then concludes, "Then I realized I didn't want to talk about things that don't make any sense. Well, that simplifies life. Although I still may have to think about exactly why people say they believe or disbelieve in God."

There may be as many reasons why people believe (or disbelieve) in God as there are people; but I'll try to offer one individual's, perhaps a fool's, answer.

Do I know what "Heaven" is like? No. I have read quite a few reports said to be from people who have passed over ("died"), transmitted through mediums, and they are in general agreement that there are different levels of post-mortem existence. None of those levels have anything to do with being issued a pair of wings, a harp and a Cloud-a-Lounger. Depending on the state of one's soul development, the afterlife may include encounters with angel-like beings.

So where does God come in? It seems, from the evidence of psychical research, that you don't meet Him just by dying. (God is not a "Him" or "He"; I'm just using conventional Christian terminology to avoid a digression.) The evidence for God comes from those who have experienced God. When that happens, it's in a very different state of consciousness from the ordinary. It's an opening to a nonmaterial reality.

It isn't irrational to speak of God; it's nonrational. Reason is based on the objects of sense perception, and is rightly used as a tool to judge the truth or falsehood of statements about things that can be seen, heard, or measured. Reason is not a useful guide to what lies outside of sense perception — what can only be apprehended by a different faculty of the mind that remains undeveloped in most of us, most of the time.

In a very literal way, Robert Speirs is right that God doesn't make any sense. He is not an object of sense. He exists outside of Time and Space. You can know Him, if you persist in certain spiritual exercises of which there are many varieties, but not in the way you can know an object or a human or a logical proposition. The knowing is by what might be described as direct intuitive perception.

The last word on God? I doubt very much we have said it here, considering that people have been banging on about God (or the Gods) since at least the 5th century BC. But even if these were the last words anyone ever spoke about God, it wouldn't make any difference. People would still find their way to Him, with or without words. (Possibly, in some cases, more easily without them.) God is.

Monday, May 01, 2006

The day after the day without immigrants


Yesterday brought lessons.

It was rough, very rough. The power of the assembled illegals was made very clear. Tens of thousands of man-hours of work were lost. Any remaining illusions about the survival of our society without imported Third World servant-class labor were shattered.

For American citizens, though, it was a day pretty much like any other.