Thursday, December 30, 2010

Drop that nutritional supplement or we'll shoot!

Milk thistle: Hate crime in progress

Remember those childhood puzzles that presented you with a drawing and asked, "How many things can you find wrong in this picture?"

Europe to ban hundreds of herbal remedies, says The Independent.
Hundreds of herbal medicinal products will be banned from sale in Britain next year under what campaigners say is a "discriminatory and disproportionate" European law. With four months to go before the EU-wide ban is implemented, thousands of patients face the loss of herbal remedies that have been used in the UK for decades.

From 1 May 2011, traditional herbal medicinal products must be licensed or prescribed by a registered herbal practitioner to comply with an EU directive passed in 2004. The directive was introduced in response to rising concern over adverse effects caused by herbal medicines.
 I can't promise to find all of them, but here are some things wrong with this picture.


1. This isn't an act of the British medical bureaucracy, but British people will be denied the use of herbal supplements because their unelected masters in the European Union say so. Technically the U.K. isn't even a member of the EU, but what's that to the international government elite? For reasons that have never been clear to me, the U.K. seems bound to follow every EU ruling anyway.

2. The government parasite class, as it does so often, is creating more regulation to solve a non-problem. As the story says, these herbal products have been used for decades -- which means, I think, sold as dietary supplements for decades. Many have been used in folk medicine for centuries. They are legal in the United States, which itself suffers from Regulation Fever. But starting soon, they will be guilty until "proven" innocent in the EU and its British satellite state.

3. Using one of lazy journalists' cliché phrases, the writer talks of "rising concern" over herbal supplements (not "medicines" -- no one except a newspaper reporter calls a supplement a medicine). Rising where? How high? We are told that "the UK Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) has issued more than a dozen safety alerts in the past two years, including one over aristolochia, a banned toxic plant derivative which caused kidney failure in two women."


I get catalogs in the mail from supplement merchants and read the Life Extension Foundation's magazine, so I am at least familiar with the names of most supplements, including herbs. (Brits, by the way, pronounce the "h" while Yanks don't; 'erbs sounds like east London or "Cockney" pronunciation to the English, low class, so it probably won't be long before the BBC insists its announcers say 'erbs lest they sound elitist.)  Never have I run across aristolochia supplements. A Google search turns up information about the genus Aristolochia -- "evergreen and deciduous woody vines and herbaceous perennials." I find loads of sites with descriptions of it, some including warnings. No herbal supplement company is selling Aristolochia for what ails ya.


4. It is a fallacy that there are clearly delineated "safe" and "unsafe" substances. Fully approved medicines are bad for some people, and quite a few have side effects that are real downers. A doctor told me once that occasionally aspirin proves dangerous. According to this site, "The Journal of the American Medical Association reports studies showing 2,000 deaths occur due to unnecessary surgery, 7,000 deaths are due to medication errors in hospital, 20,000 deaths are due to general hospital error, 80,000 deaths are due to hospital induced infections and 106,000 deaths are due to in-patient adverse drug reactions." 

Okay, is a tort lawyers' site, and they should have given a citation for the AMA data and also said what time span the data cover. Still, there's no doubt that checking into the hospital is one of the riskier things you can do, and that "real" pharmacological drugs, patented and all that, sometimes kill people even when administered according to accepted protocols. I work in the field of risk reduction and can tell you risk is part of life; all you can do is mitigate it, not eliminate it. As substances go, the overwhelming majority of herbs seem pretty benign.
According to the Alliance for Natural Health (ANH), which represents herbal practitioners, not a single product used in traditional Chinese medicine or ayurvedic medicine has been licensed. In Europe, around 200 products from 27 plant species have been licensed but there are 300 plant species in use in the UK alone. 

The ANH estimates the cost of obtaining a licence at between £80,000 and £120,000 per herb. They say this is affordable for single herbal products with big markets, such as echinacea, a remedy for colds and flu, but will drive small producers of medicines containing multiple herbs out of business.
 4. Here, at least, the story gets it right. If you have to obtain a license costing £80,000 to £120,000 per herb to have the right to sell it, that obviously is the kiss of death for any company except a member of Big Pharma. They're only going to shell out for licenses to sell hot stuff like resveratrol. If there's a herbal remedy for something that only a small percentage of the population suffers from, or a herb that 60 Minutes hasn't done a segment on, it will go out of circulation regardless of whatever virtues it may possess. For our own protection.
Under EU law, statutorily regulated herbal practitioners will be permitted to continue prescribing unlicensed products. But the Coalition Government and the previous Labour administration have delayed plans to introduce a statutory herbal practitioner register.
 5. So EU law is designed to uphold a closed shop of healers, a guild of the anointed. You can be sure these proud few will sell unlicensed herbal supplements, at eye-watering prices with a nice rake-off for themselves. Thralls of the EU won't be able to buy quality supplements from a reputable source like at a discount. 

There'll be a new Board of Herbologists determining who is fit to dispense the unlicensed products of nature -- those very ones that are too dangerous for the masses to choose for themselves. Naturally, the Board will be careful not to approve too many practitioners, which could lead to competition.


This isn't to say the herbal supplement business couldn't be upgraded. Most products are not independently assayed to insure that they have the ingredients at the dosage claimed on the label (although some manufacturers have third-party quality control). A government agency spot checking the truth of the labeling could perform a valuable service, at relatively little cost. It wouldn't have to regulate anything, either, just publish its testing results.

Probably some of the thousands of herbal products on the market, while not dangerous, aren't very effective. I'd make a rough guess -- and it's only a guess -- that a third of them are useless. The trouble is, we don't know which third. Well-designed and executed large-scale, double-blind, placebo-controlled research projects on non-patentable substances are expensive and don't have a big payoff. (Actually, the citations in Life Extension magazine reveal an amazing number of studies on supplements, but they are published in obscure journals that even medical doctors, let alone the public, are unaware of.)

Some of the money the spent on supplements is wasted. Some is worth every brass farthing and more. Why shouldn't people experiment and judge for themselves, instead of being subject to a class of official witch testers choosing what they can try and who can supply it?


Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The rope

The capitalists will sell us the rope
with which we will hang them.
-- Vladimir Lenin

Terrorist plots, sponsored by affiliates of The Religion That Must Not Be Named, have graduated from summer stock in the Middle East to a worldwide stage. Every Western nation is now struggling to come to terms with the promise of deliberate attacks on civilians; see here, here, and here. Tomorrow's news will bring another crop of such stories.

Yes, yes, for the umpteenth time: most Muslims are not terrorists. I am sure that many Muslims, both in their traditional homelands and (probably somewhat less) in their immigrant beachheads in the West, disapprove of the nutters who pursue jihad by blowing themselves and assorted bystanders into fragments. Right, we've got  that straight. It doesn't mean that Muslim colonists want anything less than Muslim domination of their adopted lands. They just prefer that it be done gradually, through population increase.

Why do Western countries roll over and offer their bellies to this insurgency (while making a big show of "security")? It's often said, and I agree, that the Left welcomes any force that will help bring down its hated capitalism.

Well, I'm capitalist-friendly -- it's a rum system, but slightly better than any other economic system I have ever heard of. But there's a dark side to it: business can't think beyond immediate profit. Faced with hispanic border jumpers or Muslim triumphalists, it knows only one response, like an animal that acts purely by instinct: Yay, a new market!
In the ballroom of an upscale hotel a short train ride from New York, advertisers, food industry executives and market researchers mingled — the men in dark suits, the women in headscarves and Western dress. Chocolates made according to Islamic dietary laws were placed at each table.

The setting was the American Muslim Consumer Conference, which aimed to promote Muslims as a new market segment for US companies. While corporations have long catered to Muslim communities in Europe, businesses have only tentatively started to follow suit in the US— and they are doing so at a time of intensified anti-Muslim feeling that companies worry could hurt them, too. American Muslims seeking more acknowledgment in the marketplace argue that businesses have more to gain than lose by reaching out to the community.
 Sell. Sell. Sell.

Sell your country. Your freedom. Your civilization. 

Enjoy your profits while you can, dhimmis.


Sunday, December 26, 2010

On first looking into Fagles's Homer


For those who haven't been keeping score, the late Robert Fagles's translations of Homer's Iliad and Odyssey have been the most popular editions of both since they were published in the 1990s.

This is the third Odyssey translation I've read. I don't remember the first, by Robert Fitzgerald, very well; it must be 30 years since he introduced me to the epic poem. Much more recently, my standard has been Richmond Lattimore (quoted underneath the banner above right). Of course, many others have tried to re-create Homer for readers of English in their time -- I'd had no idea how many till I checked it out. See the remarkable list here. Many, including the famous versions by Alexander Pope, have been literary re-tellings rather than close translations, and I'm not such a purist as to condemn them for that reason.


Fagles, like most modern translators, doesn't try for a strict hexameter, the bardic six-accents-per-line formula of the ancient Greek. He writes, in his postscript: "I would like to hold a middle ground, here between [Homer's] spacious hexameter line -- his 'ear, ear for the sea-surge,' as Pound once heard it -- and a tighter line more native to English verse. ... Working from a five- or six-beat line while leaning more to six, I expand at times to seven beats -- to convey the reach of a simile or the vehemence of a storm at sea or a long-drawn-out conclusion to a story -- or I contract at times to three, to give a point in speech or action sharper stress."


My impression is that Fagles wants to tell the Odyssey story in contemporary language while staying true to the spirit of the original. If -- no one is too sure -- the poem was originally recited before being written by Homer or someone else, it would not have been intended for a literary or intellectual audience. We can assume that its themes, however heroic or archetypal, were expressed in language that everyone could grasp. Fagles wants to communicate as directly as possible with his readers, but no more than Pope did, albeit Pope wrote for an aristocratic public who would have felt at home in his fine-spun eloquence.


Fagles's verse doesn't particularly try for grandeur, but it has dignity and goes down smoothly. Only occasionally, with phrases such as "we'll have a pot-luck" and "catch my drift," does he seem to me to overstep the line between informal speech and slang. 

When it comes to different interpretations of Homer, comparisons are odious. I expect most of the translations linked to above cast some light on the earliest masterpieces of Western civilization. Anybody who has what it takes to read a very long narrative poem in ancient Greek and try to recast it has my respect.


That said, I still think Lattimore did something astounding: produced a modern English Iliad and Odyssey in the six-stress-line meter, with a poetic sensibility, while staying as faithful as possible to the original. For anyone getting acquainted with Homer for the first time, Fagles can be recommended as probably the most accessible. But after reading Fagles, I want to return to Lattimore. 

And I don't mean that as a snide put-down of Fagles's achievement. It's a tribute to the inspiration offered by both.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Washington Post on "Monitoring America"


While it's rare for me to offer a bouquet to the Washington Post, the left-leaning daily does occasionally serve a useful purpose. For one example, I refer you to yesterday's front-page article headlined "Monitoring America." Even better was an earlier piece in the same series, "A hidden world, growing beyond control."

Only the Kingfish of the mainstream media can devote the resources needed to get an overview of a complicated story like this; the paper says its reporting is based on almost 100 interviews and a thousand documents.

The gist of the stories is how the national security state has grown since 9/11 and increasingly involves state and local police taking the federal coin, sometimes returning the favor with surveillance information — which remains in databases even if no terrorist intent is found. And the Post also cites examples of police departments using their "anti-terrorism" kit for their own purposes.
Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.

The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. It is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain.
For example:
On a recent night in Memphis, a patrol car rolled slowly through a parking lot in a run-down section of town. The military-grade infrared camera on its hood moved robotically from left to right, snapping digital images of one license plate after another and analyzing each almost instantly. Suddenly, a red light flashed on the car's screen along with the word "warrant." 

"Got a live one! Let's do it," an officer called out.
 One result of this national security web, the paper says, is that the FBI "is building a vast repository controlled by people who work in a top-secret vault on the fourth floor of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building in Washington. This one stores the profiles of tens of thousands of Americans and legal residents who are not accused of any crime. What they have done is appear to be acting suspiciously to a town sheriff, a traffic cop or even a neighbor."

The story seems reasonably fair-minded in acknowledging that this high-tech information technology can help both crime fighting and counter-terrorism. But it also suggests that finely focused tracking of anyone who comes to the attention of the law for any reason is a few steps too far. I agree.

We're still a long way from Soviet-style surveillance, but there is something creepy about so many state resources going into watching all of us with no need for tiresome old-fashioned stuff like search warrants.


Nevertheless, the Post being the Post, it interprets facts it has so responsibly and diligently uncovered with its typical slant.

For instance, it Views With Alarm what some security consultants are telling local cops.
Ramon Montijo has taught classes on terrorism and Islam to law enforcement officers all over the country. … 
What he tells them is always the same, he said: Most Muslims in the United States want to impose sharia law here."They want to make this world Islamic. The Islamic flag will fly over the White House - not on my watch!" he said. "My job is to wake up the public, and first, the first responders."
To the Post's reporters, this is such obvious insanity that they don't even feel any need to refute it. But is it really so far off the mark? The Daily Mail reports, "Around a third of young British Muslims favour killing in the name of Islam, according to a survey revealed by the WikiLeaks' publication of U.S. diplomatic cables.

"A survey of 600 Muslim students at 30 universities throughout Britain found that 32 per cent of Muslim respondents believed killing in the name of religion is justified."

The Post says, "With so many local agencies around the country being asked to help catch terrorists, it often falls to sheriffs or state troopers to try to understand the world of terrorism. They aren't FBI agents, who have years of on-the-job and classroom training." My God, they're not federal employees! The Post, as the paper of record for Washington bureaucrats, is upset. But at least the non-FBI agents haven't all been subjected to the "Wahabbi Lobby." 

But the biggest problem with the Post story is that, while it offers valuable insight into the over-reaching security state, its ideology can't admit that the Orwellian approach is almost inevitable as long as Muslim immigration restriction is out of bounds.

Most Muslim immigrants aren't terrorists, but the terrorist threat is Muslim through and through. We willingly let potential jihadists settle in the United States, then spend gazonga dollars and billions of man-hours trying to keep an eye on them. It's barking mad. But as long as non-discrimination remains the sacred principle of official policy, we'll keep inviting trouble, tie ourselves in knots and clamp down on everyone.

The borderline police state establishment described by the Post is inevitable as long as we lack any strategic focus. But it's impossible to have a strategy when you have to pretend that the enemy is a tactic rather than a worldwide system that combines religion and politics.

Jeffrey Imm wrote in a 2007 article in Counterterrorism Blog:
In effect, American policy and debate remains focused on tactical issues, without a clear agreement on the enemy, or the strategy to fight the enemy, in the world war.
This unwillingness to face the identity of the enemy is the source of our failures in foreign policy, our failures in national security, and our divisions at home. With an ambiguously defined "war on terror", the US media, politicians, and other citizens can define the war and the enemy with whatever political filter that they choose, and they do. This ambiguity is what empowers the Washington Post and the New York Times to give editorial coverage to Jihadist organization representatives.
By refusing to define who and what we should stop at the borders, we consign ourselves to monitoring them once they are here. And that refusal means we have to monitor America, all the time, everywhere.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Faux amis

My high school French teacher coined an expression, faux amis (false friends) for French words that seem to be the same as English ones, but actually mean something different. One example I can think of at the moment is sensible. The French word is more or less equivalent to English "sensitive," not sensible.

This isn't a posting about language, though. It's about genuine conservatism versus (in Lawrence Auster's phrase) "right liberalism." In other words, about conservatism's faux amis.


Take this piece in Canada Free Press, a puzzling title since it seems to have nothing much to do with Canada and is mostly about American politics. Its stance is generally "right liberal." Doug Bronson writes:
Let me quickly state that I advocate immigration. It is a part of the fabric which makes up our country, and always has been. In the same breath, though, I do not condone illegal immigration…at all. It is what it is, illegal, and should be stopped, actually years ago. …

Why can’t we, the American people, create a group to financially aid our friends and neighbors living in our border states in their plight of securing the border? This “group” to be privately funded by us, the United States citizen, in essence putting our money where our mouth is! As we’ve seen all too clearly, our D.C. politicians refuse to act with any type of real solution.

This money raised, to be used expressly for the security of the border. No exceptions, if so, funding stopped immediately. Set this up where the money is to be fully accountable and have a “commission” formed, by us, to oversee the expenditures. If a state accepts our aid, it can only do so if matching funds provided by the state are set up…penny for penny! This would be literally controlling our own destiny.
Doug pleads, "I’m asking you all for your own ideas, solutions, and opinions in regards to this … please respond."

Very well, Doug. My opinion is that you need to go to your room and play with your toys until you are ready to interact with the grown-ups on immigration issues.


You've fumbled at the kick-off. To state, without qualification, that you "advocate immigration" (other than the illegal kind) shows that you have no idea of the consequences of mass population replacement. You belong to the "America is an idea" or "proposition nation" camp. When you "advocate immigration" you are supporting replacement of a specifically American culture and traditions with a balkanized, multi-cultural state. If the indigenous population becomes a minority nationwide, which would apparently be dandy with you, the United States will no longer be a country with a coherent set of values that can support compromise political solutions when interest groups compete. 

America is the product of a Constitution devised by people who were white, English, and Scotch-Irish. Zulus, Aztecs, Cambodians could not and did not create that Constitution and the rule of law and respect for private property which our founders quite correctly understood as the key to individual liberty. The descendants of the founders shaped the country's success for nearly two centuries afterward. To believe that it can survive in anything but name as a worldwide crash pad for Third World cast-offs and parasites is pathetically naive.


You, probably thinking you are brave by speaking out against illegal immigration, are actually supporting open borders as long as the population replacement is legal. The open borders schemers love people like you: hey, they say, we agree illegal immigration is bad! Let's legalize them all! No problem then!

Do you not understand that "legal" and "illegal" are technicalities that can be changed with a vote and a stroke of the pen? It is a sad sign of how we have become so dominated by lawyers as to imagine that anything is okay as long as it's legal.

By the way, Doug, you are mistaken that immigration "is a part of the fabric which makes up our country, and always has been." If you are thinking of the original Europeans who came to North America as colonists, you are confusing immigrants with settlers. The original European settlers built colonies and eventually a nation through their own efforts. They didn't arrive so they could squeeze benefit from an already existing country because it was richer than where they came from.


Even if you mean other kinds of immigrants, you are still mistaken. Other than some Irish, there weren't many immigrants before the War Between the States. The first Big Immigration came from roughly the 1880s until World War I, and except for Chinese on the West Coast were almost entirely Europeans who wanted to assimilate to the American way of life and values. Even so, they brought quite a few social problems like crime and disease with them that took several generations to get under control. Some brought Marxist sympathies.

Following World War I, the U.S. Congress quite intelligently voted to call a halt to most immigration, particularly of non-Europeans. (So much for "always has been.") That lasted until 1965, when Teddy Kennedy, boiling with Irish resentment against the English and Scottish upper class, helped push through the law that opened the gates for the second Big Immigration, favoring non-Europeans. It was the beginning of the chaos we are now experiencing.


Look, you want to start some "group" to help at the border, fine. The federal government will oppose you, and will probably find some way to charge you with a crime, but be my guest. Even if you are successful, it won't matter — not as long as population replacement advances through legal means.

Your heart is probably in the right place, but you need to use your head too. Stop being a sucker for the open borders lobby. Thank you.


Friday, December 17, 2010

A new scene in security theater


Police will now randomly search the bags of every third person at Washington, D.C. Metro stations, using explosives detection equipment and bomb-sniffing dogs.

Since one of the Metro stations is at Reagan National Airport, passengers can now look forward to having their luggage inspected not only before their flight, but after it.
If people refuse, they will be barred from entering the rail station or boarding a bus with the item, [Transit Police Chief] Taborn said. The inspections will be conducted "indefinitely," he said. …

The inspections over the far-flung transit network, which has 86 rail stations and 12,000 bus stops, will be conducted by several dozen officers at most. Metro's trains and buses carry more than 1.2 million passengers every weekday, and officials acknowledge the limitations of the plan. "This is just another method to sort of throw the bad guy off" by using the threat of a search to discourage bringing a bomb into the transit network, Taborn said. "We're not going to clog up the Metro system." 
Yup, 12 Metro functionaries with badges — not even real police, let alone counter-terrorism specialists — dividing their time among 86 stations and 12,000 bus stops are sure going to "throw the bad guy off." This is not only security theater, it's the Theater of the Absurd.


As usual, the only ones who will be inconvenienced and treated like potential criminals will be ordinary people commuting to their jobs and tourists visiting the shrines of America's former freedom. It's also safe to predict that the "random" searches will be especially sensitive to the feelings of certain riders. Hey, if you're a Metro uniform, why take a chance on getting in trouble with CAIR? When there are so many grandmothers walking with canes and pinstripe-suited executives whose belongings you can search?

Terrorists are at war with us, but we can't admit it is part of a war. They represent one faction of a politico-religious ideology, Islam, which we dare not name in connection with terrorism. Every day, we welcome dozens or, for all I know, hundreds of Muslims into the country as immigrants. We go out of our way to avoid giving any special attention to the group whose adherents have been behind almost all recent terrorist plots.


Instead, we tighten the screws on everyone else. What next? Police roadblocks on highways leading to Washington? Guns drawn, open-the-trunk-and-step-out-of-the-car? Don't be silly, you say. Well, think back to not so long ago, 10 years. What if someone had suggested then that transit guards search the bags of one out of three passengers at a Metro station or bus stop? Don't be silly, you'd have said.

We are rapidly spiraling into something new in history: the Politically Correct Police State, where the law burrows into the lives of everyone except Those Who Must Not Be Offended. (Britain points the way. According to Simon Black, "one report from the BBC in 2009 showed that an average of 1,500 petitions are submitted - every day - to conduct surveillance on UK citizens.")

Anti-terrorism itself is becoming a variety of low-grade terrorism, more pervasive than the traditional sort, chipping away at our liberty through uniformed bullying of the kind we once associated with Latin American juntas.

Update later December 17

Commenter David writes, "Are they also going to station officers every 50 feet or so along the whole line of track?"

Yes, quite. A large portion of the Washington Metro is above ground. Any modestly bright terrorist would plant explosives along the tracks, where even in the D.C. metropolitan area there are a few places on the route that are hidden from ordinary view.

David's comment points out the fallacy (one of many) in our concept of security. We cannot, because of political correctness, get past the idea of looking for weapons rather than dangerous people. We have to pretend that anyone and everyone is equally likely to be a terrorist.

The American nation did not always elevate stupidity to an official policy. During World War II, the government knew that Germany and Japan would try to land saboteurs here. (Germany actually succeeded in putting a few agents ashore early in the war, although they were quickly arrested, and some of them were hanged, back in the days when it was understood that we faced an existential threat.)

Despite that awareness, we didn't search every American who got on a plane or rode a streetcar. We reckoned that some people were more dangerous than others, and acted accordingly. With the wisdom of hindsight, we now know that many perfectly loyal Japanese Americans were interned, but who knows how many disloyal Japanese were prevented from acting? Not many, probably. Some, probably.

Now we harass everyone so that we don't offend the few, including the portion of them who will launch further terror strikes, unsuccessful and successful.


Wednesday, December 15, 2010



Hello, what's this? A feature film about ... Hypatia of Alexandria! A historical figure no one except classicists have heard of. You can't say the producers of Agora were playing it safe.

Hypatia was a rare example of a woman philosopher, scientist, and teacher who was respected in a man's world. But the time in which she lived was unsettled and dangerous: the Roman Empire in the West was crumbling and pagan religion, even science itself, was suspect to the Christianity that had become the new orthodoxy.

Although she was an important figure in her day, not much direct evidence about her has survived. Most of what we know, or believe, about her was written long after she passed from the scene. Probably most of her own letters and other writing were suppressed by the Christian church.


The movie tries hard to show us the cultural and religious background of Alexandria in the late 4th century, since without them neither the glory nor the tragedy of Hypatia would be comprehensible. But historical eras, except maybe for the 18th and 19th centuries, are tough for the cinema to re-create realistically.

It's not so much the settings and costumes that are the snag -- given a decent budget (which the makers of Agora seem to have enjoyed), designers can do wonders. Agora's sets, both interior and exterior, are a satisfying imaginative visualization, sometimes downright dazzling. (The DVD includes "making of" extras showing the set design, planning and construction, the costume design, the music scoring -- not particularly unusual, but emotionally effective -- and other impressive work that went on behind the scenes.) Modern computerized effects have added a new dimension to realistic depiction of the past.


But showing how people and places looked is only half the job, and maybe the easier part. "The past is another country, they do things differently there" -- and not only that, they think differently. Their mental world is not ours. That's one reason why, except for a few "spectacles" such as '50s movies like Knights of the Round Table, there have been few set in the Middle Ages. We can identify with their politics and wars to some degree, but the theocentric side of medieval life, the role of faith, is incomprehensible to most of today's moviegoers. The same could be said of the religion of Serapis, apparently the dominant god in pre-Christian Alexandria. One of the most imposing buildings in the movie is the Serapeum, where the great Library of Alexandria was housed at the time.


It's not surprising that Agora presents Hypatia mainly as an astronomer or cosmological theoretician, obsessed with solving the contradictions she finds in the systems of Ptolemy and Aristarchus. The director and co-scriptwriter, Alejandro Amenabar, can't relate to pagan thought, or he believes the audience can't. So the poignancy of the waning of the classical world in which Hypatia was at home is almost entirely missing. She is characterized as an academic, or at best a researcher, not the keeper of an ancient flame.

In a speech given in 1915, Mangasar Magurditch Mangasarian described "The Martyrdom of Hypatia (or the Death of the Classical World)," romanticized and apparently with an anti-Christian bias, but worth reading for its color:
Theodosius was at the time, of which we will now speak, the Christian ruler of the Empire. In reply to a request by the Archbishop of Alexandria, he sent a sentence of destruction against the ancient religion of Egypt. Both the Pagans and the Christians had assembled in the public square to hear the reading of the Emperor's letter, and when the Christians learned that they may destroy the gods of the Pagans, a wild shout of joy rent the air.
The disappointed Pagans, on the other hand, realizing the danger of their position, silently slipped into their homes through dark alleys and hidden passage-ways. Yet they did not stand aside and see the temples of their gods razed to the ground without first offering a desperate resistance. Under the leadership of a zealot, Olympus, the Pagans fell upon the Christians, maddened with the cry in their ears of their leader, "Let us die with our gods!"
Then came the turn of the Christians. Theophilius, the Archbishop of Alexandria, with a cross in his hand, and followed by his monks, marched upon the temple of Serapis, and proceeded to pull its pillars down. When they came to strike at the colossal statue of the god, for centuries worshiped as a deity, even the Christians turned pale with superstitious awe, and held their breath. A soldier armed with a heavy axe, was hesitating to strike the first blow. Will the god tolerate the insult? Will he not crash the roof upon the heads of the sacrilegious vandals?
But the soldier struck the thundering blow right in the cheeks of Serapis, who offered no remonstrance whatever. The sun shone as usual, and the laws of nature maintained their even pace. Encouraged by this indifference of the god to defend himself, the Christian rabble rushed upon the statue, and pulling Serapis off his seat, dragged him in pieces through the streets of Alexandria that the Pagans might behold the disgrace into which their great god had fallen.
Thousands of Pagans, seeing how helpless their gods were to avenge this insult, deserted Paganism and joined the Christians. As soon as the ground of the temple was sufficiently cleared, a church was erected on the ancient site. The Alexandrian library was the next point of attack. Its shelves were soon cleared, and you and I, and twenty centuries, were most lamentably deprived of the intellectual treasures which our Greek and Roman forefathers had bequeathed unto us.
Amenabar is hard on the Alexandrian Christians too, presenting them as raving fanatics. Same with the Jews. And Greek civilization, which would still have been strong in Alexandria centuries after Cleopatra's line ended -- things changed far more slowly in the ancient world than we are used to -- obviously means nothing to him.

None of the characters gives any meaningful account of their beliefs, so all we see of Alexandria is a wrangle among groups in a multi-culti city. Lots of shouting and thrusting of fists in the air and charging one another and knifing and stoning, action without drama because it has no intrinsic significance. The storyline rests on Hypatia's former students turning Christian in various capacities, with enthusiasm and doubts, but their relationships to Hypatia are strictly emotional. This is a film about spiritual and philosophical clash with no spirituality or philosophy.


Agora is under-cast, most of the actors not very good or given nothing in the script to bite into. Other than intermittently, they are dull.

Nothing of the sort can be said about Rachel Weisz as Hypatia, mesmerizing with inward luminosity and intellectual searching. If anyone can bring to life the spirit of Hypatia, she can, and does.


Monday, December 13, 2010

Stockholm syndrome

Sweden, the goody-two-shoes of the Western world, so smugly superior to those who are not blind to the nature of the all-encompassing political/social/religious system of Islam, got its first taste of violent jihad over the weekend. A "youth," as the dhimmi media refer to Muslim criminals, Taimour Abdulwahab, aimed to create carnage in Stockholm's city center.
Abdulwahab tried to set fire to a car bomb packed with gas canisters in a busy shopping street in the Swedish capital on Saturday. The car caught fire and the bomber fled the scene before blowing himself up 15 minutes later, injuring two bystanders. 
 Before his exploit, he left a recording:
"Now the Islamic state has been created. We now exist here in Europe and in Sweden. We are a reality. I don't want to say more about this. Our actions will speak for themselves." He added: "We are not a lie, or imagination. We are real."
Yes, Taimour, you are real. It is the Swedes who are not real, living in a fantasy land of unicorned reindeer. One of the first postings I wrote for this blog, "Sweden's suicide note," quoted a government minister, Jens Orback: "We must be open and tolerant towards Islam and Muslims because when we become a minority, they will be so towards us.” 

Yeah, they'll be open and tolerant toward you, as long as Sweden is a Muslim state run according to Sharia law.

But Swedes, or at least the ruling establishment, don't want to know. They continue to ignore all the evidence while pretending that Islam and liberal secularist democracy can mix with a little more effort toward "integration," a little more give (on the part of Sweden's indigenes) and take (by Muslims).

Sweden has conned much of the rest of the world into believing the story. As Toronto's fatuous Globe and Mail says, in re the suicide bombing, "Explosions that killed a suspected bomber and injured two passersby on a busy shopping street in Stockholm are being investigated as a 'terrorist crime,' sending shock waves through Sweden, which prides itself on its open, peaceful society and had so far been untouched by the post-9/11 attacks."

In the same article:
“We’ve been a sheltered bay in a stormy world,” said Magnus Ranstorp, research director of the Centre for Asymmetric Threat Studies at the Swedish National Defence College. “We have even seen ourselves as a moral guardian for the world. Innocence lost is a good way to describe what has happened now.” 
Sorry, Magnus old boy, you have not been sheltered, you have found an illusory refuge in cowardice. Moral guardian of the world? What self-serving, condescending rubbish. You have bought temporary peace by handing parts of your cities to Muslims, who have made their turf into no-go areas.
Malmø, Sweden. The police now publicly admit what many Scandinavians have known for a long time: They no longer control the situation in the nations's third largest city. It is effectively ruled by violent gangs of Muslim immigrants.
Some of the Muslims have lived in the area of Rosengård, Malmø, for twenty years, and still don't know how to read or write Swedish. Ambulance personnel are attacked by stones or weapons, and refuse to help anybody in the area without police escort. The immigrants also spit at them when they come to help. Recently, an Albanian youth was stabbed by an Arab, and was left bleeding to death on the ground while the ambulance waited for the police to arrive. The police themselves hesitate to enter parts of their own city unless they have several patrols, and need to have guards to watch their cars, otherwise they will be vandalized. "Something drastic has to be done, or much more blood will be spilled" says one of the locals.
The official reaction to the suicide bomber was standard boilerplate. 
At a news conference, Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt urged Swedes not to jump to “premature conclusions” that “create tension which paints pictures that are then difficult to change.”

“Sweden is an open society ... which has stated a wish that people should be able to have different backgrounds, believe in different gods ... and live side by side in our open society.” 
Reinfeldt said that detonating explosives in a crowd was "unacceptable." Taimour, bad form, quite. Not what we mean by "side by side."

I am not so given to Schadenfreude as to take pleasure in seeing Swedish lives endangered by their worship of tolerance for the intolerant. I'd much rather the Swedes would drop their moral preening and get it that an open society need not be a defenseless one. 

Ultimately, there is no solution except separation between the West and Islam until such time as Islam actually is willing to live peacefully with those who have different values.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Streets of London


Have you seen the old man
In the closed-down market
Kicking up the paper,
with his worn out shoes?
In his eyes you see no pride
And held loosely at his side
Yesterday's paper telling yesterday's news.

And have you seen the old man
Outside the seaman's mission
Memory fading with
The medal ribbons that he wears.
In our winter city,
The rain cries a little pity
For one more forgotten hero
And a world that doesn't care.

So how can you tell me you're lonely,
And say for you that the sun don't shine?
Let me take you by the hand and lead you through
the streets of London

I'll show you something to make you change your mind.

— Ralph McTell, "Streets of London"

When Ralph McTell wrote his song in the 1960s, the tragedies of London were still about individuals, because despite decades of socialism and quasi-socialism, it was still a society of individuals. Another 40 years have changed that. Now the tragedy on the streets of London is a tragedy of mobs.

I don't really care that much if Prince Charlie — that's Dhimmi Prince Charlie, not to be confused with Bonnie Prince Charlie, the "King Across the Water" in exile after 1745 — had his limousine window smashed, or the Duchess of Cornwall is crying her heart out at being photographed with her mouth gaping open like a tunnel. Sic semper dhimmitis.

It does bother me right down to the ground to see a loutish "protester" tearing the flag from the cenotaph in Whitehall that memorializes the soldiers who went to France in the Great War and never came back.

And to see another pissing on the base of the statue of Winston Churchill, without whom this moron would probably have no freedom to protest anything, because he would be living in Das Englische Reich.


An eyewitness to the madness, Paul Harris, writes in the Mail:
Every symbol of government or establishment became a target. Anything to hand became a missile. I saw wood, metal, paint-bombs and smoke canisters hurled at male and female officers.  Police horses were beaten with sticks and at least one iron bar when a section of fencing was used to repel a line of mounted officers.  One of them suffered a serious neck injury after being trampled when he fell from the saddle. At least two other officers were badly hurt.
I suppose these students (how many actual students? how many just standard issue yobs and hard leftists?) have a right to be upset at their tuition being tripled. Who isn't narked when they have to pay more for something? Most of us have to deal with it — higher health insurance co-pays, $3-a-gallon gas. We gripe; it's healthy. We don't, except for certain inner city residents, go anarchist and tear up our cities. We don't vent our frustration on symbols of those who sacrificed their lives on our behalf.

If these students had gathered quietly to express their feelings, they probably would have attracted sympathy, even from some who were inconvenienced by the demo. But the spoiled children of the welfare state have no concept of balancing the needs of society as a whole with the wishes of the individual. They think everyone is entitled to have their college education paid for by someone else. But Britain, for all its foolishness of many varieties, is at least making an effort to stop spending money it doesn't have and forever digging itself deeper into debt. More than you can say for the U.S. of A.


McTell's old sailor with his fading ribbons in "a world that doesn't care" would still have cared for civilization, even one heedless of him. He had known violence, but his part in it had been violence with an ultimate good purpose, on behalf of his fellow Britons. It is probably as well that his generation is mostly gone now, because they would look at the streets of London, and ask themselves — without self-pity, unlike the whingeing, destructive brats who descended yesterday on Whitehall and the West End — if their heroism had been useless.


Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Misery watch

Carrie Weems-Distill, U.K. Human Services Minister,
poses outside California State Capitol 

California got lethal injection drug from Britain

So Britain decided to put California out of its misery? Perhaps a mercy killing.

In other California news, a pornographic film actor has "spoken out" as a celebrity endorser of condoms. In fact, he's so keen that he wants a law making condoms mandatory in porn productions. "Performers need to be educated," he says.

State Rep. Carlos Maquiladora (D–Hollywood) has responded by introducing a bill to require condom usage in off-color films. It would establish a Condom Review Board, reporting to the State Secretary of Foreign Relations, with 5,000 inspectors and a support staff of 30,000. It would also impose a condom tax of 25%, which would be waived for children of illegal immigrant porn stars.

"We must support California's pornography industry," Rep. Maquiladora said in a news conference at a San Fernando Valley motel. "And one key to that is to protect our performers from the HIV virus, which can raise insurance costs on film companies drastically, encouraging them to outsource their production to low-wage countries in Asia. Loss of this valuable industry would be a severe blow to tax revenues."


Monday, December 06, 2010

WITE flight

A new ETF was launched Friday and I bought shares today. It is the ETF Securities Physical White Metal Basket Shares, ticker WITE. 

In case this sounds like something you'd serve bread in, it's actually an exchange traded fund that owns three metals in physical form: silver, platinum, and palladium. The value of the shares rises and falls with the value of those metals on the open market.

I believe this is a good bet, and my conviction is so strong that I sold my position in Abbott Labs — which, ideally, I would have held — to raise money to buy a significant (for my little portfolio) amount of WITE.

Silver, you may have noticed, is on a tear and will probably continue for some time (with the usual one-step-back, two-steps-forward action), since Western governments seem determined to destroy the value of their currency to cheapen their debts and, supposedly, stimulate their economies.

Platinum and palladium are used for emissions reduction equipment in cars and trucks, a market that is almost bound to increase worldwide regardless of economic conditions.

The ETF's sponsor, ETF Securities, is also the sponsor of SGOL, which I wrote about here. The silver, palladium, and platinum are audited by the same reputable firm that audits the gold in the vaults for SGOL.

A writer at Seeking Alpha makes the case for WITE. (I learned of WITE Saturday from some smart investors at the stock discussion group I attend.)

The usual disclaimers apply. I have no formal qualifications as an investment adviser. I have often been wrong. I make no recommendations, simply suggest investments on which you might want to do your own due diligence. And since I now have a modest position in WITE, I'm "talking my book." Caveat emptor.


Friday, December 03, 2010

A Faceful of Lies, continued

The opening of A Faceful of Lies prompted many responses, most urging that I discontinue the detective novel forthwith. (If you have nothing better to do, you can read the beginning of Chapter I here.) However, it is a slow news day, the usual boring catastrophes, and I can summon up no thoughtful commentary. So my thought-free cyberzone once again runneth over.

Chapter I (continued)

Mrs. Cato (we'd known each other but 10 minutes and were already on a last-name basis) asked, "Can I get you a drink?" As I went through a mental Rolodex of possible answers, she continued:

"I know it's … " She glanced negligently at a wristwatch that was so petite and thin and tastefully unadorned that I knew it had cost at least two grand. "… 10:23 a.m., and besides being morning it's a day of mourning" (I could swear I heard her pronounce the u in her cultured voice) "and it's your office. So, what'll you have?" She glanced around the office. It was a cluttered, loathsome place. I'd never noticed before. "Or maybe I should ask, what do you have?"

Playing for time while trying to figure out what grand monkeyshines were in production, I said, "Let me check." I got up, went to the filing cabinet that held my case records for the last five years, and pulled open the drawer labeled A–Z. Bottles of varied shapes, sizes, and hues were revealed.


Well, I thought, if she wants to play the Duchess, I'm going to be the Country Squire. "Seeing as how this is such a solemn occasion, and life is short — uh, sorry — perhaps you will take a glass with me of Côtes de Fort Lee '99," I said. "Hard to find these days, you know, one of the best vintages of the 20th century. Rumor whispers that some of the vintners over in Jersey are holding back a lot of it for their old age. I paid over the odds, I'm afraid, but I'm sure you'll agree it's worth it."

"Quite," she answered. Were we now playing members of the English aristocracy?

I extracted the cork, sending up a prayer to Bacchus that the wine hadn't gone off in its two years of laying down in my file cabinet/wine rack. I'm just a private investigator, a stranger to society, but no one had to tell me that plastic Dixie cups were not on in this kind of situation. I rummaged in an unlabeled file drawer and found two glasses (not wine glasses; this was a working office, not a suite at the Plaza) that were almost entirely translucent. Unlike the windows, I thought, and suppressed a shudder.


After I'd poured us each a generous tot, we clinked glasses. "Let us drink to … " I stopped. To what? To having survived September 11? To having a new client, if she didn't turn out to be a stone loony? She was up to the task. "To detection," she finished.

"Detection," I agreed, as though that was a sacred ideal.

We sipped some more. Although apparently in no hurry, Anne-Lisa Cato was anything but casual. Her gaze was expressionless yet penetrating. Maybe she was weighing me in the balance. Maybe the joke was about up, and in another minute the door would be flung open and several of my best buddies would pop in, shouting and doubled over laughing. But I don't have any best buddies.

Perhaps it was time for me to look Mrs. Cato over in turn and try to get some sense of whom I was dealing with. Looking her over was well worth the effort. I've already mentioned the green eyes, emeralds come to life. Yes, she had gorgeous green eyes. Cracking. Once my eye-gazing lease was up, I checked out the rest of her that she had chosen to display. Skin properly pale as a widow's should be, framed by auburn hair smartly styled. Lips poised for a kiss or a cigarette: slightly puffy and naturally curved down a little on both sides, giving her a continuous hurt-but-bearing-up-bravely aura. The silk blouse hinted of anatomy worth detailed exploration.


I poured her another glass and refilled my own. She had taken her soundings of me and was ready to get on with business. "Thank you, Mr. Pflug … David. New Jersey can be proud of that wine, and you of your connoisseurship. Now, can we talk about finding the person who murdered my husband?"

"Your husband who was killed — murdered — in the North Tower, just before the terror strike."

She let out the briefest of sighs. "As I said, yes. Let's get started. What do I have to do, fill out a form or something?"

It occurred to me that she filled out her form extremely well, without even trying. But I smiled at her joke and said, "No, just answer some questions and put a farthing in the poor box as you leave. It's to the right of the door."

"Good." She was actually beginning to show signs of expression, a slight pleasure in her voice, even a slight relaxation of her body language. I thought, irrelevantly, of the '50s pop song "Teach Me Tonight." The Côtes de Fort Lee '99 had thinned the ice, if not broken it.

"Mr. … uh, David … go on. I'll tell you anything you want to know."


Mrs. Cato? Anne-Lisa? Formality or courage? I had to decide. So I didn't address her by any name at all. "I need to know a lot about your late husband," I said, the "late" making me feel like an obituary writer. "Did he have —"

"Any enemies. Anyone who would benefit from his death. Yes. Yes."

"I see. Well, I'm starting to get the picture. We're making progress already."

She smiled. Smiled! "That didn't take long … David. I had faith you wouldn't stay becalmed in the Horse Latitudes all day."

I returned the smile with interest and reached into the desk drawer to retrieve a note pad. Actually, I have total recall, visual and auditory, but clients feel reassured when I write things down. Unfortunately, along with the note pad I managed to dislodge a dog-eared copy of Seven Steps to Surveillance Excellence, which fell on the floor to the port side of the desk.  She glanced idly at it.

"Oh, wonderful!" she said. "I'm a big fan of Wittgenstein myself."

But it was accompanied by another smile. They were coming thick and fast now.


"All right … " Mrs. Cato? Anne-Lisa? This was getting ridiculous. "Mrs. Cicero, I mean, Mrs. Cato, let's start with a list of your husband's enemies."

"That would be a long list. I don't want you to get writer's cramp this early in the game. You might need that hand for something sooner or later."

"Point taken," I said. Who had wired me up to a car battery and was turning a crank? "And those who benefit from your husband's death?"

"If you wrote out the names on a list, it wouldn't be long enough to make a skirt for a snake. One name. Olympia Fibonacci. That's all."


"And Olympia Fibonacci is … "

"I'll give you the résumé highlights. Mmmm, may I have another glass — thank you. Olympia Fibonacci. Objective: Assume a controlling interest in my husband's wealth. Present position: Executive secretary to my husband. Work history: Seducing gentlemen at steadily increasing levels of responsibility. Education: Paris-on-Hudson Finishing School for Tarts."

I laughed. It was a faux pas. She didn't laugh this time.

"Well, I'll need to know a lot more in good time, of course. But for now, where can Mrs. … Miss … Ms. … Fibonacci be located?"

Anne-Lisa's good humor settled in again. One corner of her lips descended another increment in wry amusement. "That, I am afraid, is for you to find out. You could ask my husband, but he's dead." My face must have registered a little shock, because she added softly, "Sorry, I don't mean to be crude. Just trying to keep the terrible reality at arm's length while I deal with it …

"But I'm serious: I don't know where she lives, or anything, really, about her personal life. Last seen impersonating a fashion victim, looking at jewelry in Tiffany's. The store's not up to her standard, just practice for a trip to Milan and Zurich. Which, I am afraid, will be financed by my husband's estate."

To be continued, maybe.