Monday, June 30, 2008

Euro bank chairman predicts U.S. "financial meltdown"

The chairman of Fortis, a major Dutch-Belgian bank, has predicted a "complete collapse" of the U.S. financial markets within weeks.
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As translated from the news article in Dutch by Jesse's Café Américain:
Fortis expects a complete collapse of the US financial markets within a few weeks. That explains, according to Fortis, the series of actions by the bank of last Thursday to raise €8 billion. "We have been saved just in time. The situation in the US is much worse than we had thought", says Fortis chairman Maurice Lippens. Fortis expects bankruptcies amongst 6000 American banks which have a small coverage currently. But also with Citigroup, General Motors, a complete meltdown in the US is beginning."
As Jesse notes, Fortis may have its own reasons for this, er, fortissimo prediction. No one commenting on economics is ever purely disinterested and objective. Still, holy cow! That the board chairman of a big bank would make such an extreme statement for public consumption suggests how far into the danger zone the U.S. economy may have strayed.

Interestingly, today's Wall Street Journal carries an article about Fortis's casting the net for billions of Euros of new capital, but says nothing about the "financial meltdown" statement. A quick check of MarketWatch.com and TheStreet.com finds not a breath of it. What happens in Amsterdam, stays in Amsterdam?

Fear clearly grips the hearts of institutional investors, as shown by last week's market carnage. God alone, other than those involved, knows what is being said behind closed doors at the Fed and in bank boardrooms. With the housing collapse, an oncoming credit collapse, $140 oil, and the unstoppable financial suction pump of Iraq, it would be surprising if there isn't an extra helping of suppressed panic on many plates this morning.

Would you like a taste of pure nausea? Let's call again on financial newsletter writer (yes, he has his own vested interest) Jim Willie:
The stage is set for the next two to four months for a broader banking system deterioration, most likely the bankrupt collapse of a few big banks, and a good chance of lost control of portions of the credit derivative complex. A big broad powerful liquidation sequence is coming soon for the biggest of bloated money center and investment banks. They have tried in vain to sell most of their overpriced mortgage bonds and related financial securities. They cannot find truly stupid parties anymore to buy them. …

Goldman Sachs on Thursday downgraded Citigroup with a short stock recommendation. Why would they do that? They put Citi on their ‘Americas Conviction Sell’ list, which just has to evoke laughter for its name. They expect another gigantic bond loss to be admitted by Citi, more cash to be raised as they sell capital and undermine stock equity value, and even more dividend cuts. Up to May, the total amount of cash they raised by selling off capital to foreign entities was a robust $42 billion, thus undermining US control of the biggest US bank. …

The smart guys out there have figured out the helpless and desperate situation that the USFed finds itself. It cannot raise rates, since that would harm the stock market, further cripple the mortgage and housing markets, and worsen the rapidly advancing USEconomic recession. Sure, it needs to raise rates in order to defend the USDollar, but the US$ is not defensible. It has been totally ruined by three decades of mismanagement, corruption, pork projects, sacred war budgets, socialist programs like Medicare, and reckless creation of bubbles in serial fashion.
I am in no position to know the ratio of truth to hot air in the above, but he is by no means the only commentator in the non-Establishment or "alternative" financial media who is talking like this. It seems like only common sense to get very defensive with your investments — precious metals, commodities, companies with a good secure dividend, perhaps a few strong currencies if you can find any. While the Senile Media are babbling on about the electoral contest between the False Messiah and the Masked Crackpot, the economy is probably far more important at the moment. If you haven't started performing your own due diligence, what are you waiting for?

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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Garamantians

Above the Nasamonians, towards the south, in the district where the wild beasts abound, dwell the Garamantians, who avoid all society or intercourse with their fellow-men, have no weapons of war, and do not know how to defend themselves.

— Herodotus, The Persian Wars, Book IV.174

Even the BBC headlined this story "Harman pushes discrimination plan."
Equality minister Harriet Harman has set out plans to allow firms to discriminate in favour of female and ethnic minority job candidates. She said firms should be able to choose a woman over a man of equal ability if they wanted to - or vice versa. … Allowing positive discrimination would help organisations such as the police better reflect the communities they serve by recruiting more female and ethnic minority officers, said Ms Harman.
For the moment, you are still free in Britain to make consumer choices like what brand of breakfast cereal to consume. If you are very wealthy you can still be treated by a doctor in private practice, but most people will have their lives prolonged, or not, by a dysfunctional National Health Service. Otherwise, almost every detail of your life will be guided by regulations or "recommendations" of the State — nowadays, not even a British one, but the European Union.

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In Scotland, your employer is "encouraged" to monitor your weight.
Workers will type in their weight every morning – using Government-provided software – allowing occupational health staff to spot significant weight gain and offer early help, under the scheme unveiled by ministers.
If you are a grocery wholesalers, you can be banned from selling (or even giving away) a consignment of 5,000 kiwi fruits because they are one millimeter too small to meet EU regulations.

Your every twitch in public places will be recorded on CCTV cameras.

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Citizens in the modern West — especially if their ancestors were foolish enough to be Anglo-Saxon or Celtic — seem to me more and more to resemble the Garamantians of the fifth century B.C. in Libya that Herodotus wrote about.

Their brains have been undeveloped by education whose standards are set abysmally low so no stupid child can fail, and atrophied by sex- and celebrity-obsessed media, so they have no social life worthy of the name because they have nothing to talk about. They have no weapons because that's not nice, and anyway, there are no enemies, just friends who don't understand them yet.

They are too naive to defend themselves against human predators. They are helpless against their own rulers who tell them that all the restrictions they live under are for their own good and exist to make everybody equal, except those unprotected classes who don't deserve equality because they're natural born oppressors.

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We don't know anything more about the Garamantians than what Herodotus tells us, and he is famously not to be trusted as a historical source (although I think he made a sincere effort to tell fact from fiction, but had to rely a lot on hearsay). There is one thing we do know about the Garamantians, however.

They no longer exist.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Detroit puts tailfins on its art museum

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It's an un-themed, de-contextualized thing.
You wouldn't understand.


I'm a little late with this, but it's about art, and we all know art is timeless.

The Detroit Institute of Arts has made the "visitor experience more interactive" and "re-contextualized" its artworks on display. Translation from arts manager jargon: the museum has been dumbed down to draw more bodies through the turnstiles.

Though ultimately a renovation of necessity, the new design shakes up the standard art-going experience, allowing visitors to forge a more personal connection with the works. "We've re-contextualized the works of art so they relate directly to the human experience," [gallery director] Beal said. "We're not trying to teach people art history." … The galleries, now easily accessible from what Beal calls a "main street" running through the institute, display themes to which visitors can relate, such as dining, travel and the cycles of life.
Excuse me? This wally doesn't think art relates to the human experience unless he and his mob of downshifting curators turns the "context" into a theme park? Well, he's apparently got his finger on the pulse of our times. The Washington Post, that great Voice of the People, is down with the new coolness.
DON'T MISS . . . several new interactive elements, such as a "virtual" dining room set up in a space surrounded by 18th-century European serving pieces and featuring a five-minute video simulating a lavish three-course meal. (No elbows on the virtual table, please.) . . . For the younger set, kid-friendly opportunities include "Please Touch" labels on various pieces, such as ivory and glass beads in the African collection, and "Eye Spy" panels that challenge tykes to find specific pieces of art in the gallery.
Why waste space on actual art when virtual reality is so much more fun? It's stupid to hang old paintings — I assume the museum still has a few of those — when you could put them on video monitors attached to computers, so the kids of all ages could re-pixelize the images to their hearts' content. How about big loudspeakers in each gallery to pound out hip-hop and disco? That's something Detroiters can relate to!

And, in fact, they did.

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Connoisseurs at the opening reception for the
newly themed Detroit Institute of Arts.


Here's The Detroit News on the museum's re-opening gala:

Bodhisattva is a 1,600-year-old Afghan bust who lives at the Detroit Institute of Arts.

And on this Saturday night, she's got a clear view from her balcony above Prentis Court of the flashing lights on the DJ booth below and dozens of Detroit swells waiting to be tattooed by the cable-TV "Miami Ink" artist, Chris Nunez. Playing at the moment is the disco crowd pleaser, "Le Freak."

It's all a bit un-museum-like. Frankly? Bodhisattva looks appalled. If so, however, she's the only one.

Uh, not quite.
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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

For discriminating tastes

Take 35 Acts, 52 statutory instruments, 32 codes of practice and 16 EC directives — 116 pieces in all covering 4,000 pages — put them together, and what have you got? Britain's anti-discrimination legislation.
If laid end to end, the Equality and Human Rights Commission points out, that would be the length of ten football pitches or height of 243 double-decker buses. It would take about two-and-a-half days and two nights to read all the documents. … There are three different definitions of direct discrimination and four of indirect discrimination.
For the British citizen who doesn't want to fall afoul of the law but is feeling a bit pushed for time, help is at hand.

This week Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, will unveil ministers’ plans for a single Equality Bill, bringing together all the legislation on discrimination of the past 35 years — pay, race, disability — and also age and gender orientation. It is not just a tidying-up Bill. It is hoped that it will create a culture where discrimination on grounds of age, along with disability, religion or sexual orientation, are all on a par with race or sex discrimination.
I can't wait to find out if it will still be legal to get married in the United Kingdom. After all, that is the most discriminatory act of all. In choosing one person for a spouse, you are rejecting the entire universe of members of either sex, not to mention species. Can't get more discriminatory than that! And what excuse can you offer when you are brought before the scowling, bewigged figure looming above you at the bench?

"You are charged with an offence under the Combined Nondiscrimination Act of 2008, which reads, in its entirety, 'On no account will anyone discriminate against any other person, group, or entity on any basis whatever.' How do you plead?"
A spokesman for the commission said: “This is not just about ‘fixing’ minorities. This is about releasing new talent and opening up the job market in previously untapped areas.

“In two years,” she added, “just 20 per cent of the workforce will be made up of white, able-bodied men in full-time work. We must unlock the diverse talent that will be our future workforce. Modern legislation has a valuable role to play in setting the standard, making safe the principles of fairness and decent behaviour for employer to employee.” A new Act, the commission hopes, will move from prohibition (“you must not”) to permission (“you may”) and to positive encouragement (“you should”).

If you don't understand what is meant by "positive encouragement" … you should.

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Up to a point

If I lived in Canada, I could be summoned before a so-called Human Rights Commission and charged with a hate crime for writing on this blog that allowing members of the world's largest intolerant group to immigrate to my country is a bad idea. At best, I would be forced to spend thousands of dollars to defend myself from expressing a political idea; at worst, I would be convicted by the commission — not a court with even such protections as the Canadian legal system allows — and have to pay more thousands of dollars to my accusers. The Toronto Star, which bills itself as Canada's largest daily newspaper, yesterday published an opinion column by Haroon Siddiqui that explains why I and writers like me should be put in the dock for failing to observe a "reasonable limit" on free speech.
Only genuine misunderstanding or deliberate distortion can explain the media's mostly one-sided discourse on the case of Maclean's before the federal, as well as the Ontario and British Columbia, human rights commissions. The group that filed the complaint against the magazine argued that a series of articles, especially a 4,800-word piece portraying Muslims as a menace to the West, may have constituted hate speech.
The now-famous article was, of course, the excerpt from Mark Steyn's book America Alone. Agree or disagree that Islam is a menace to the West, that is a matter of political opinion, and actually pretty mild compared with what many say or privately think. Steyn, like that other halfway house of anti-jihad inspiration, Melanie Phillips, can't even find it in himself to suggest that the West would save itself from a spot of bother by calling time out on Muslim immigration. Much less has he (or I, or any blogger I read) recommended harming a single hair on the head of any Muslim outside of a war zone or by the due process of law.

Nonetheless, Canada and Siddiqui maintain that saying Islam — which has as its heart an absolute loyalty to shari'a law over any other manmade law — is a threat to a supposedly free and pluralistic country may be "hate speech." If you need any evidence that Islam cannot accept criticism, cannot understand the give-and-take of an open society, there is Exhibit A.

Canada has followed a different path on free speech than the United States, where there are no anti-hate laws because the U.S. Bill of Rights says "Congress shall make no laws ... abridging freedom of speech or of the press. The Canadian Charter of Rights, too, guarantees "freedom of the press," but it places "reasonable limits" on it. That's why the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the anti-hate provisions of both the Criminal Code and human rights statutes. What constitutes hate is up to the commissions and, ultimately, the courts to decide.

That's exactly what gives some of us the chills. The definition of "hate speech" is what these commissions decide it is … after the fact. (The U.S. Constitution also prohibits ex post facto laws.) As for the courts, they don't seem to be in the checks-and-balances business. Of 15 "hate crime" judgments, 15 have been upheld. By Siddiqui's circular reasoning, the "anti-hate" laws are right because the Supreme Court of Canada says they're right.

Barbara Hall, chair of the Ontario commission, makes the … point: "Freedom of expression is not the only right in the Charter. There is a full set of rights accorded to all members of our society, including freedom from discrimination ... If you want to stand up and defend the right to freedom of expression, then you must be willing to do the same for the right to freedom from discrimination."
In this warped mindscape, questioning the political implications of someone's beliefs is "discrimination." Canada has freedom of expression — "Up to a point, Lord Copper," as the fawning editor in Evelyn Waugh's Scoop invariably says to his fearsome publisher when he means "no."

Ms. Hall, you are not fit to pronounce on freedom of expression, nor to judge anyone's use of it. I dare you to step across the border and sue me for discrimination. Or hate speech. Or not bowing low enough.

UPDATE 6/24: Writing the above post in haste (posthaste, ha ha!), I was not as clear as I would like to have been. The Canadian "hate speech" laws are not strictly ex post facto, having existed before the alleged offenses. But the effect is almost the same, since their application turns on a tribunal's or court's interpretation. Unlike laws against actions, which can be fairly specific, laws against speech or writing must by their nature be vague and ambiguous because they are about the effect on the "victim," which can be no more than a feeling. So the tribunal or court is weighing intangibles, which can easily be decided on political grounds.

UPDATE 6/25: Another province of the Islamic Republic of Canadastan heard from. This time it's a column in The Ottawa Citizen, to remind us again that "free speech has limits."
Faced with such content, a group of Muslim law students did what most citizens of a democratic society would do. … They demanded a response and Maclean's editors refused to publish one. Since Maclean's does not subscribe to a press council, they then did what a number of other communities, including the aboriginal, black, Jewish, and gay and lesbian communities have already done.
Namely, called for a NuStalinist show trial of Macleans and Steyn. I don't know what a Canadian press council is, although it sounds like something I'd steer well clear of, but it might be of interest to this columnist to know that a publication like Macleans is a private enterprise (or what passes for one in Canada), which no one is forced to read, and which is under no obligation to publish a response from anyone who happens to disagree with something it prints. That's what publications with different viewpoints — freedom of the press, if the Canadian Human Rights Commission and its running dogs will forgive the expression — are for.

Here's something I hadn't run across before: "The definition of 'hatred' applied by the tribunal was formulated by the Supreme Court of Canada in a 1990 case: a feeling of deep ill-will that allows for no redeeming quality in the targeted group." So if I write in Canada that Islam is deeply incompatible with Western society, and a politico-religious system with an inordinate number of members who dismember members of other faiths, but there are some quite beautiful arabesque tiles from the 14th century and splendid calligraphic versions of the Qu'ran from the same period, I cannot be brought up on charges? I'd offer myself as a test case, but I prefer on balance to enjoy such protections as the United States still grudgingly provides its citizens.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Future schlock

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This architect-as-rock-star lark has gone too far.

In 50 years, we've moved from the buttoned-down, "less is more and even less is even more" school of building design, through the wink-nudge postmodernist period to arrive at the "too much isn't enough" school. These architect wallahs and their misguided clients are in a bidding war for the most bizarro concept.

Guy de Maupassant is said to have lunched every day in the Eiffel Tower's restaurant because it was the only place in the city where he wouldn't have to look at the tower. Whoever gave planning permission for the structure pictured above obviously feels that a century hence Chicagoans will thrill to it as Parisians do to the Eiffel Tower today. (Do they really? Or is it just tourists who love it because it reassures them that, yes, they really are in Paris?)

Anyway, the thing in the picture will be the second-tallest building in the world (for a year or two, probably) when completed in 2011. (Tip of the hat to Ephemeral Isle.)

Londoners have nicknamed one of the city's wilder new skyscrapers "the Gherkin." Any guesses as to what Chicagoans will call their modest new addition to the skyline? "La Baguette"? "The Screw You Building"? "The Joint"? "The Twister"? Maybe they could paint candy stripes on it so it could be known as "The Peppermint Twist Building." We are Chicago, City of Broad Shoulders, and We Will Never Be Understated!

Once, unthinkable eons ago — a hundred years — there was something called classicism in architecture. The reigning idea was that a building should express a continuity with the past of Western civilization, and that it should not unduly call attention to itself, in the way that a gentleman does not raise his voice. That was then, this is now, when the only continuity our architects of ego-eyed vision know how to express is with the future as imagined in video games, and their only tone is a shout. Maybe one day not far off, when the historic record has vanished from human minds and exists only as bytes in obscure computer files, Chicagoans will love their by-then world's 25th-tallest building.

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Monday, June 16, 2008

On cats, evolution, and Darwinism

Lawrence Auster has taken the trouble to discuss Darwinism in relation to some of the cat behaviors I wondered about in the last posting — see that and the comments following. It's of course a complicated and highly charged subject, but insofar as I've arrived at tentative views, here they are.

First, you have to distinguish between evolution and Darwin's theory of the mechanism by which he believed evolution operates, natural selection. Evolution — the idea that species change over vast periods of time, and new species come into being — seems to me virtually unarguable. The fossil record and the evidence from physiology are as conclusive as anything in science can be.

Darwin's theory of natural selection claims that evolution is explained by random mutations that have survival value and therefore tend to be incorporated in succeeding generations. The standard idea of natural selection allows for no goal, meaning, or transcendent influence in the process. It's supposed to be just a mechanism based on chance.

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With the necessary hedge that I have no scientific qualifications in this area, I will say that it's at least a reasonable theory that mutations and the resulting survival traits might account for some evolution within species. It's quite a leap from that to evolution of new species — and the introduction of consciousness with all its sequels.

Many scientists who wouldn't dream of denying evolution are skeptical about natural selection as a total explanation. Rupert Sheldrake, who has his own (controversial) theory that he calls morphic resonance, says:
Most biologists take it for granted that living organisms are nothing but complex machines, governed only by the known laws of physics and chemistry. I myself used to share this point of view. But over a period of several years I came to see that such an assumption is difficult to justify. For when so little is actually understood, there is an open possibility that at least some of the phenomena of life depends on laws or factors as yet unrecognized by the physical sciences.
In the abstract of his overview of scientific objections to natural selection, Jerry Bergman writes:
Using evolutionary criteria, the hierarchy found is the reverse of that expected by evolution theory; animals lower on the evolutionary scale were found to reproduce in greater numbers, and were as a whole more resistant to variations in the environment. Individual survival after birth tends to be mostly the result of chance; in most cases natural selection eliminates only the sick and the deformed. Environmental variations which cause evolution-temperature, the population of other animals, and the surrounding plant life, all of which have been fairly stable for eons-can result in only very limited degree and types of changes. The natural selection hypothesis also involves circular reasoning; an extant species survived because it was fit, and must be fit because it obviously has survived. The commonality of overdesign, or the existence of complex mechanisms that do not effect survival, but may add much to the quality of life, also creates a severe problem for the natural selection theory.

But a further issue, which Lawrence Auster with his usual eloquence alludes to, is that there is a realm which science, by its nature, simply cannot explain on any materialistic or "accidental" basis. I don't want to put words in his mouth, so let me emphasize that what follows is my interpretation, not his.

Consciousness, and the phenomena associated with it — aesthetic appreciation and emotions, for instance — is not a kind of matter, and no amount of mutations combined with environmental factors can explain it. What survival value does consciousness have? A rock survives far longer than the consciousness of any sentient being's lifetime. Consciousness has its source and purpose in something of a different order than matter.

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Now we are beyond what science or pure reason can comprehend. For some people, that is the end of the discussion and it makes no sense to even talk about it any further. For those who aren't satisfied with stopping there, they need not.

There is another tradition, not in opposition to science but just on a different level, that goes back (as far as we know) in Western thought at least to Pythagoras, through Plato, Aquinas, the medieval mystics, and even into the modern era in out-of-the-mainstream writers like Henri Bergson and Aldous Huxley — not to mention psychical researchers — that suggests that the material world is only the husk of a greater Reality that can't be perceived by the senses. The Indian tradition going back to the Upanishads that underlies Hinduism says much the same, and the concept can be found in one way or another in most of the world's religions.

I believe intuitively that this is true, and that everything in the material world is only a manifestation of a non-physical, and ultimately spiritual, reality. And that applies to evolution. Evolution of forms is only part of the story, and the less important part. Evolution of consciousness is even more significant, because it is through consciousness that life, in the form of mankind, can finally begin to apprehend its purpose.

Apprehend, not comprehend, because the awareness is not acquired through reason or even emotion, but through a higher faculty of consciousness that when developed allows us to reconnect with our source in God.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Six questions about cats

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Trying to analyze the fascination of cats is probably hopeless. You get it or you don't. Why should they be so much more intriguing than other animals? Maybe they aren't — maybe all creatures are fascinating if you get to know them. There's that blonde Englishwoman, quite a dish in her prime, who has spent her life relating to orangutans and such. I don't get that, but maybe she thinks my preference for cats is hopelessly bourgeois and unadventurous.

Could it be the complex and contradictory nature of cats that is compelling? They are extremely loyal to the people they live with, but can seem distant, self-contained. They're soft, seemingly gentle, but ruthless killers. You think they're sound asleep, well lost to the world, then in a second they're as alert as a Secret Service agent. Seen from the front, they look so serious; from the side, they seem to be smiling.

Surely cats are among the most beautiful of animals (except for those hairless or spider-legged monsters bred by mad scientist "cat fanciers"). So graceful, so … flexible: it's amazing to see them sprawled on the floor, front paws in one direction, back paws in the opposite, apparently perfectly comfortable. What must it feel like to be able to scratch your ear with your "foot"?

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Cats are lunar, yin, inward. They know things, and remind me of Walter Pater's famous description of the Mona Lisa (which painting, incidentally, was obscure until his purple Victorian prose caught the art world's imagination and eventually trickled down to the masses):
She is older than the rocks among which she sits; like the vampire, she has been dead many times, and learned the secrets of the grave; and has been a diver in deep seas, and keeps their fallen day about her; and trafficked for strange webs with Eastern merchants; and, as Leda, was the mother of Helen of Troy, and, as Saint Anne, the mother of Mary; and all this has been to her but as the sound of lyres and flutes, and lives only in the delicacy with which it has moulded the changing lineaments, and tinged the eyelids and the hands. The fancy of a perpetual life, sweeping together ten thousand experiences, is an old one; and modern philosophy has conceived the idea of humanity as wrought upon by, and summing up in itself, all modes of thought and life. Certainly Lady Lisa might stand as the embodiment of the old fancy, the symbol of the modern idea.
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Above all, cats are mysterious. I would not change that for anything. But let me put a few questions on the table, in the hope that you who are more knowledgeable or wiser than I can shed some light:

Why do cats purr?
It seems like the answer should be obvious, but it isn't. This strangely comforting sound and vibration has no obvious survival value.

Why do they raise and lower their front paws alternately when they first climb in your lap?

Why do they like the taste of fish? In a state of nature, cats — who avoid water — would rarely have the opportunity for a fish dinner.

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How can a kitten make you believe, despite all your experience, that goodness and innocence are more real than their opposites and will ultimately prevail?

What is a cat looking at as she follows an invisible object in the air with her eyes? Are cats more psychic than most people? Do they see spirits?

Why do cats so enjoy having their cheeks rubbed?

Answers, or even speculations, please.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2008

From the heartland of stupidity to the border of insanity

Adolescent rebellion in nominal grown-ups is called libertarianism. I don't know much about libertarianism's leading institutions, but I gather that one of them is the Ludwig von Mises Institute (Motto: "Advancing the scholarship of liberty in the tradition of the Austrian school").

To judge from Mad King Ludwig's web site, libertarians start with a healthy skepticism about government and twist it into a loathing of all external limitations on being as whatever as you wanna be. You don't know it yet, but human freedom died a couple of centuries ago when the government started carrying the mail.

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Here from the Mises site is commentary by Jim Fedako about his family trip: "From the Heartland to the Border." I'd rather watch videos of his kids making faces and pretending to shoot each other at the Alamo than read his cut-rate philosophy, but since the Most Holy and Apostolic Church of Liberalism seems to have inspired a Libertarian Reformation in some quarters, it may be worth a brief look.
One of my daughters asked, "Why did the state make it illegal to ride in the trailer?" Questions like these always give me pause. There is the party line: "Well, state officials feel that riding in the trailer can be dangerous. They are only protecting us." But, wait. Since not all states ban such travel, the party line is not valid — it never is.

The true response is this: "The state officials ban activities because they can. Regardless of the reason, regardless of their belief in an individual's ability to act in his or her best interest, they ban it because they can. Plain and simple."

No, state officials didn't chuckle with glee and think to themselves: "We'll fix all those free spirits who want to ride in a towed trailer! We're going to make it illegal because we can!" They felt that riding in a trailer can be dangerous.

Whether the risk of riding in a trailer is actually greater than the normal risk of being a passenger in any vehicle on the road might be debatable. Perhaps the State Highway Department or the National Highway Transportation Safety Authority should have conducted a series of tests using anthropomorphic dummies to obtain statistically significant data — except that such tests would have to be elaborate and expensive, and Jim Fedako would be expected to cough up tax money to support the testing, which I don't think he would approve of.

But the factual, or if you prefer, probability question is a whole different level of discourse from what animates Fedako. He just gripes because someone in authority — ay yi yi! Authority! — has seen fit to tell him he can't put his daughter in the trailer.

After a section called "Division of the Consumer" which makes no sense, he carries on:
… every public school that we encountered was the best-looking building in sight, surrounded by the greenest grass. This is the result of the false belief that government spending drives improvements and leads to positive results, and the belief that tax dollars spent by public schools benefit children and society, both locally and throughout the nation — as if impoverishing the nation for new bricks and green grass will bring about utopia.

In reality, these expensive, well-kept edifices are simply the tokens that government provides for confiscated income and indoctrinated children. Not a fair trade in my eyes.

If he wanted to make the case that our national obsession with education as the panacea for every problem is mistaken, or based on a false premise (that everyone is equally educable), I'd be in his corner. But what winds him up? The alleged attractiveness of the school buildings! The grass! (I have to wonder: what God-abandoned towns did he drive through if the schools were the best-looking buildings? Schools generally resemble warehouses or starter penitentiaries.)

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When he talks about indoctrination, he's bang on the money. In the absence of any further explanation, though, it's impossible to say what he sees as the indoctrination. Is it the quasi-Marxist mind control that passes for teaching in public schools? Or would he be satisfied
if the schools taught Mad King Ludwig in trade for his "confiscated income"?

There follows a section about campgrounds and swimming pools and the interstate highway, whose point is lost on me, unless it's that he's narked about the government building highways — presumably it would be righteous with him if individuals had gone out there with picks and shovels and built an I-40 — that contribute to swimming pool degeneration.

Then we get to the so-called border (just a line on a map! Can't see it from out there in the Milky Way!) and Fedako really warms to his topic.
Just a handful of years ago, the border in this area was relatively open, and park visitors and village residents could cross at will. That all changed with 9-11 and the fear subsidized by government and prodded by politicians. Now, it is illegal to cross the border.
A word in your ear, Jim: It was always illegal to cross the border just by strolling across without going through Customs. It used to be easier, perhaps. But, no doubt, Jim Fedako thinks anybody should be allowed to go anywhere they like if it will enable them to make money.
The "illegals" we encountered were very friendly, just business folks looking to put food on the table. Regardless, someone under threat of government will react differently than the storekeeper in some situations.
Well, slap me running! So he encounters a handful of "folks" from the other side of their border and they're friendly. Hey, no problem! Mexican invasion? Parts of California indistinguishable from Tijuana? That's just Mexicans who want to make an honest living selling stuffed iguanas to Yanquis. Gang bangers turning parts of the United States into no-go areas? Get over it, they're friendly folks under threat of government. The government is the real nest of terrorists.

The dead hand of over-regulation does press heavily on us. But it's driven some people insane.

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Friday, June 06, 2008

A not quite Obama-free posting

One need not hope in order to undertake.
— William the Silent

I've been avoiding blogging on election news, with the plea that everything that could be said about this sickening contest has been, is being, will be said by other commentators better informed and with a better turn of phrase. My inner prosecutor says cobblers to that, I'm just giving in to despair. And that the worse things get, the greater is the sin in refusing to engage.

I do not have the audacity of hope, not this year. Ironically, at a time when I have never felt happier in my own life, I have never felt more dread when contemplating the future of this republic that I was born into in 1945, when it was
confident and triumphant with most (not all, but most) of its virtue intact. It was a poorer country then, but arguably smarter, and certainly more united.

True, "united" doesn't necessarily mean good: the two biggest adversaries we banged up in the war that ended that year were each pretty united in moral depravity. But the things most Americans did and believed in common were, on the whole, worth preserving — "why we fight," as the phrase of the time went. Today, it seems like we can barely agree among ourselves on what day of the week it is.

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One thing we can't agree on is whether the United States is a good or bad thing. Barack Obama tells us:
I am absolutely certain that generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when we began to provide care for the sick, and good jobs for the jobless. This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow, and our planet began to heal. This was the moment when we ended a war and secured our nation, and restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. This was the moment, this was the time when we came together to remake this great nation so that it may always reflect our very best selves.
It may turn out that a majority of voters believe him. Believe that we have never provided care for the sick, until a new Government Program came along to tax our selfish people into caring. That the powers of nature will reverse their course and a terminally ill planet will begin to sit up and take nourishment because of more Government Programs and Treaties and laws requiring us to turn green. That Mr. Obama can end a disastrous military occupation-cum-social work project faster than would otherwise be possible (or is he talking about ending the so-called "War on Terror"? Like so many of our president-in-waiting's resounding phrases, it's oracular). That our nation needs remaking — into what? An Ameristan of central planning, enforced equality, and "hate crimes" tribunals?

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We have had lots of presidential contests between Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, but never one like this with two utterly hateful candidates. Both want to remake the country they seek to lead … remake it out of existence with open borders and transnational rulers, subject to a North American Union or the United Nations or world opinion ("restored our image"). Both candidates have been very economical with the truth: Mr. McCain pretending to have seen the light on the need to end foreign colonization of the country, then coming out as the apostle of immigration and amnesty for illegals the minute the suckers fell for it; Mr. Obama about his 20-year membership in an anti-white racist church and various other unsavory cronies.

That two such disgraceful men are to be our options for president is a disaster without precedent. Some people say that they don't represent Americans as a whole, that they have been selected by cabals who control the nomination process in both nominal parties, which in reality are a single Republicrat Party whose strings are pulled by lobbyists. But that's a little facile; no manipulators could have maneuvered these dangerous candidates into position if they weren't acceptable to quite a few citizens (who, admittedly, may not know much about what Messrs. McCain and Obama actually represent).

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I'm gripped by fear, because from where I sit it looks to me that we are sliding into the abyss. Two immense forces are coming together to remake — and undo — both this country and the Western world, including its
two Pacific branch offices. Those forces are the New Marxism of political correctness and identity politics demagoguery, and the Muslim drive for a worldwide Caliphate. Either would be formidable on its own; in their present alliance (for each is cynically using the other to help wear down the defenses of traditional Western culture), they may be unstoppable until having destroyed their common enemy, their falling out tears the world to pieces in a final Armageddon.

Parts of Europe, such as the U.K., France, and Netherlands seem doomed to Muslim domination, or if their populations ultimately decide not to go down without a fight, civil war. The United States seems more likely to succumb to a Jacobin regime under the State Religion of Equality (where some "minorities" are more equal than the former majority).

We who are short of hope, but can't accept such a future, must stand against that outcome. In standing against it, we stand for individual liberty, for a country that we can still believe in, for the wisdom that is the best thing our ancestors in Western civilization left us. Oh yes, and for hope.

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Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Immigrating to Manchester? Have your jokes ready

A certified Obama-free posting™ !
No artificial ingredients

All immigrants arriving in Manchester [England] will be asked to accept official new 'Mancunian values' - including 'having a good sense of humour'. Council chiefs have spent more than a year drawing up their list, which also urges new arrivals to be 'friendly', 'passionate' and to take pride in the city.

They are being drawn up as part of a push to maintain and improve Manchester's record of integrating communities from different races and faiths.

Daily Mail, June 4

Mancunian Values Council
Enforcement Division
38, Diversity Lane
Manchester 0K4 BE9

Dear Mr Zwentil

As outlined in your "Celebrate Manchester" packet, which you received along with the keys to your Council Flat and "Claim Your Welfare Benefits Now" handbook on 7th July 2007, you should be aware that immigration to our vibrant multi-cultural catchment area carries with it certain obligations on the part of new citizen units such as yourself.

Council Order 7643, II. sec. 3, as amended, states in part: "Within six months of arrival, each immigrant shall be responsible for performing not less than 45 humour units, with a minumum of 5 humour units in any given week."

As you further know, like all citizen units in our vibrant multi-cultural catchment area, you are under CCTV surveillance 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, unless you can substantiate that you are a violent-jihad-preaching Muslim imam. As you have submitted no such proof that would qualify you for exemption, you continue to be under CCTV surveillance and random humour-analysing road stops.

Our records indicate that in nearly a year of habitation in our vibrant multi-cultural catchment area, you have been clocked at only 28 humour units total. Further, during the weeks when you were in confinement at H.M. Correctional Facility at Oldham, you registered zero humour units, even though your cell was fitted with a 350-channel cable television that provided access to a full complement of 12 dedicated comedy channel units, and a library of Benny Hill DVD units. In addition, your cell was regularly supplied with copies of Gaol Laffs magazine units.

Please be advised that in analysing your behaviour, our Humour Rehabilitation Section has taken into account various ambiguous statements on your part that might be applied to your credit. For instance, when you were reminded on 31st October last of your humour responsibilities, your response was, "Are you serious?" You should be aware that at least one member of the Section suggested that this was, in fact, not only evidence in your favour but worth an additional 7 humour units. The full Section, however, demurred. You have the right to appeal this decision: see Appendix G in your "Celebrate Manchester" packet, p. 455.

It is therefore incumbent upon me, in the furtherance of my duties to the Manchester vibrant multi-cultural catchment area, to call upon you to report to Room 785 at Equality House, 38 Diversity Lane, Manchester 0K4 BE9, at 10.00 a.m. Monday next to meet with your Rehabilitation Officer. Please bring with you a portfolio of humourous remarks and anecdotes, which you believe will be valued at no less than 10 humour units, and which you are prepared to discharge in the following week.

In the best of humour,
Ponty L. Mython
Compliance Officer

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Crass transit

A certified Obama-free posting™ !
No artificial ingredients

When they're not busy hectoring us to celebrate diversity and buy bombers with funds from bake sales so the defense budget can go to the teachers unions, the Liberal Establishment is having apoplexy about automobiles and singing the virtues of mass transit. This is one battle — maybe the only one — the Liberal Establishment has decisively lost. The Environmentally Correct may trade in their Volvo nationalpublicradiostationwagons for Priuses (Prii?), but outside a handful of East Coast mega-cities, only the very poor and oppressed subject themselves to getting around town by bus, trolley, or metro.

In his Web site, Steven Dutch, who teaches geology and other hard sciences at the University of Wisconsin, has posted his short essays on a variety of topics. While I am not impressed with his discussions of religion and the paranormal, most of what he has to say about practical issues related to observable fact is probing and convincingly argued. One of his subjects is, "Why People Don't Use Mass Transit". It's particularly à propos now, because with people getting tied in knots about the price of oil, we will undoubtedly be seeing lots more revival-tent meetings in the media about the glory of mass, public, transportation.

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Aside from the fact that it is impractical for most purposes for most people, mass transit is inordinately expensive. Not just in money, although that's often so (I understand a single ride on the Underground in London, even if you're going only to the next station, costs about US$8), but even more in time. People consciously or unconsciously put a value on their time, and any form of transportation that makes stops where there's no reason for you to stop will inevitably get you to your destination later than if you are in charge, as you are when you drive.

True, some kinds of public transportation, like a subway train, can whiz you across town faster than you can go in your car, both because of higher speeds and not having to stop at traffic lights. But that advantage is usually negated because to get where you want to go, you have to change lines one or more times, with a wait between trains.

Prof. Dutch writes:
Critics of the automobile point out that in addition to the direct costs of the automobile like fuel, maintenance, and depreciation, there is the cost of highway construction, environmental damage, tax subsidies, defense of oil supplies, and so on – a host of “hidden costs.” …

If traveling by car really does have high indirect costs not shared by public transportation, the case for making all mass transit free is so compelling you really have to wonder why advocates of mass transit don't propose it. Also, since a major cause of urban sprawl and congestion is the middle class moving to the suburbs, the obvious cure is to eliminate the problems that drive the middle class out. Unless there's some master plan to have buses, ambulances and fire trucks all get around on light rail, most of the indirect costs of the automobile will still plague mass transit. We can hope to lessen the dependence on petroleum, and hence ease prices and maybe reduce the defense threat. We might also hope to reduce the costs of road repair, reduce air pollution, and lessen the impact of the automobile.

There's a good reason why people who play the "hidden costs" game never factor in the value of personal time saved — it tips the balance so sharply in favor of existing technology that alternatives simply cannot compete. (Actually, when people say they "cannot" compete, they usually mean they will not compete because they don't think the rewards are great enough. Mass transit can compete against the private auto but it would require subsidies to the hated middle class and suburbs.)

He then goes on to explain why the only way that public transportation could be competitive with the automobile would be for large numbers of people not to own cars, not just not to use them. But for that to happen, the list of requirements is very daunting — particularly because, as he says, almost all of the mass transit preachers would cry foul murder, since lots of money would by definition be spent to benefit "the rich" who are the most attached to their cars.

If anything, Prof. Dutch understates what it would take to convince people to rely on mass transit. I have traveled many times on the subway, trolley, bus, and metro systems in New York, Washington, Boston, and San Francisco, and I'll tell you what: unless the price of gasoline goes to $100 a gallon at the pump, I would still make whatever sacrifice is necessary to drive to and from work rather than commute by mass transit. Public transportation systems are the same everywhere: at rush hours, hideously crowded to the point of being degrading; in between, scarce enough that unless you happen to strike lucky, you wait and wait at the bus stop or in the station. While I may have been paying off negative karma, I still fume and jabber when I think of the hours (probably months in total) of my life I've spent waiting for the bus or metro to show up.

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And there's the humiliating dependence. Yes, with a car you run the risk of an unforeseen traffic jam or the odd battery conk-out, but you are still not totally powerless, because there's usually something you can do to overcome the problem. Try finding an alternative when mass transit isn't working. Years ago in San Francisco I joined the same group of people every weekday morning at the bus stop
nearest to my house at 7:20 a.m. to catch the 7:30 bus that would take me downtown for my work starting time of 8:15. Invariably, about 7:25, the group would stare nervously down the road for any sign of the bus. With each passing minute, the strain became more evident. People would converse or make jokes, but it was obvious that they were covering up tension. Why? Because, as I soon learned, sometimes the bus didn't show up at all.

If the driver of that particular bus called in sick, there was no back-up. It meant waiting for the next scheduled bus, another half hour or so. Fortunately, I lived far enough from downtown and close enough to the beginning of the line that there was room to get on the later bus — although other commuters, further down the line, not only missed the bus they were supposed to get on but found that the next one was already full. In any case, when I got to work half an hour late, no one asked why, since most of the managers drove in and had no idea about the inadequacies of public transportation; I assume they just figured I'd slept late.

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One of the most interesting aspects of Prof. Dutch's argument is when he reports on a dissenting comment that he got. Here is what a reader said:

"people don't ride mass transit because it's costly in time and inconvenient."

Even when this question is asked narrowly by the individual, the question must be: costly in time and inconvenient compared to what? Plus, asking that question without context is meaningless.

There will always a whole range of possible answers to those questions depending on existing context. On top of that, the range of answers to those questions for a society will look DRAMATICALLY different depending on whether you are in a culture that is still committed to the folly of government subsidy and mandate/promotion of mass suburbanization — or whether your culture has learned that the majority of a modern human population should live in dense, mixed-use development patterns because it is the sensible, efficient and equitable way to configure modern society.

That exactly describes the society that mass transit proponents want us to live in: "dense, mixed-use development patterns." That is, people should live exactly the way they show time and again they don't want to, in congested, high-rise urban environments where dwellings and businesses share the street. They may have neighbors on both sides, above, and below them, and no personal space except within the thin walls dividing them from their neighbors, but that's the sensible and efficient and — wait for it — equitable way to live. It isn't fair for some people to surround themselves with space of their own.

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There are basically two kinds of people who think this way: New Yorkers and similar urbanites, who have grown up doing everything en masse, find comfort in having lots of others around doing the same things they are, and can't imagine why anyone should want, or be permitted, private space; and academics, especially teaching assistants and graduate students, who live in crowded apartments and (I'm convinced) envy those who go home to single-family homes on tree-lined streets rather than concrete pillboxes. If they, the Deep Thinkers who know what's best for a "modern human population," have to ride the bus or bicycle to work because (whatever rationale they may proclaim) they can't afford to drive out to the burbs or live there, why should self-centered bourgeois pests be privileged to?

Yes, too many suburbs are sterile and monotonous, although developers seem to be gradually getting the hang of providing some color and variety. And there certainly are too many cars on the road. May I point out, once again, that the United States has added 100 million people in the past 30 years, almost entirely through immigration, and that's the main reason why traffic is so bad? Instead of telling people that they ought to live in more dense environments and ride mass transit, we should be stopping almost all immigration and working to reduce the population. That's not only more practical, but more humane, than telling us to live in the city and stuffing us into buses, when and if they show up at the appointed hour.

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