Saturday, December 31, 2011

A visitor

Photograph by Allan Murphy

A bird of unrecognized species appeared on the ledge just outside the window. He had a large seed in his beak, which it didn't look like he could swallow, but he probably knew what he was doing. The cat, Cosette, spotted him and went crazy as cats do in the presence of birds. Cosette tried to attack and knocked her head on the window glass, the bird regally ignoring her.

The ancient Romans, clever as they were at engineering, war, and law, attached great importance to divination through birds (among other things). Type of bird; pattern, height, and direction of flight; where the bird would alight to rest; pitch of the bird's call -- the augur, or reader of omens, would take them all into account. Despite the odd skeptic like Lucretius and Cicero, Romans were ridiculously superstitious.

But it's understandable to me that they would find birds to be significant as signs. Birds seem to have an importance that exceeds their size. Especially when there is something unusual about them, like our visitor.

After the bird had strutted around for a bit and left for parts unknown, my wife went online to identify him. It turned out to be a tufted titmouse, described as follows:

A little gray bird with an echoing voice, the Tufted Titmouse is common in eastern deciduous forests and a frequent visitor to feeders. The large black eyes, small, round bill, and brushy crest gives these birds a quiet but eager expression that matches the way they flit through canopies, hang from twig-ends, and drop in to bird feeders. When a titmouse finds a large seed, you’ll see it carry the prize to a perch and crack it with sharp whacks of its stout bill.

Let's take our little avian as a good omen for all of us in 2012.

A happy new year to you.


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Post-Euroland: We'll stop your money from leaving, and while we're at it, we'll stop you

European go home!

"UK prepares emergency measures for euro collapse to prevent an influx of people and money," reports the Daily Mail.
Ministers are considering draconian plans to prevent a flood of money and people heading to Britain from Europe if the ailing single currency collapses.
Welcome -- er, no, you're not welcome if you're well off -- to the United Kingdom in the run-up to the euro's code blue. Her majesty's strange, hybrid Marxist-corporate state happily ushers in so many Third World, especially Muslim, immigrants that no one knows how many are in the country; they qualify for no end of government benefits. But if the prosperous have eyes to re-settle themselves or their wealth, it's "stop in the name of the law!"
Some countries are expected to ground all flights and effectively seal their borders to prevent the flight of people and money. British officials are said to be considering contingency plans to seal the UK’s borders in a worst-case scenario – although any attempt to prevent the free movement of people is illegal under EU law.
U.K. permanent economic refugees enlisted
to turn back temporary economic refugees.

Britain isn't the only country drawing up contingency plans to thwart refugees from the euro.
Other EU countries are also drawing up contingency plans. Earlier this month reports in Portugal said the country’s borders would be temporarily sealed if the country drops out of the single currency. Strict limits would be imposed on cash withdrawals and euro notes would be stamped with an escudo mark until the new currency was printed and distributed.
The EU currency union, installed with great fanfare celebrating Europe as one big happy family (and the undeclared but widely understood purpose of ensuring that Germany's economic success would never again give it undue power and influence), looks like this on its deathbed. The free movement of peoples within the Union ends in borders being defended against immigrants from other EU states. The politicians desperately implore Germany to save the one-currency folly. As irony goes, it doesn't get more delicious than this.


Monday, December 26, 2011

A few good Muslim warriors


Defense department agrees to allow
Muslim cadets to wear hijabs
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) announced today that the Department of Defense will begin allowing Muslim and Sikh students who wear an Islamic head scarf (hijab) or a turban to participate in the Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (JROTC). ...

In October, the Washington-based Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization wrote to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta after a 14-year-old Muslim student at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, Tenn., was forced to transfer out of a JROTC class when her commanding officers told her she could not wear hijab while marching in the September homecoming parade. CAIR requested constitutionally-protected religious accommodations for the girl and for future Muslim JROTC participants.
The DoD has also released artistic renderings of a new officers' dress uniform designed to "stimulate the morale of U.S. Muslim soldiers by recalling their gallantry against the armies of Richard the Lion Heart in the Crusades," said another press release from Allahu Akbar, the newsletter of the American Muslim Military League, the official spokesperson organization for Army Muslim affairs.

"Diversity is our strength," said the League in a statement. "Our struggle is your struggle."


Saturday, December 24, 2011

A deep but dazzling darkness


Dear night! this world's defeat;
The stop to busy fools; care's check and curb;
The day of Spirits; my soul's calm retreat
               Which none disturb!
     Christ's progress, and his prayer time;
     The hours to which high Heaven doth chime.

          God's silent, searching flight:
When my Lord's head is filled with dew, and all
His locks are wet with the clear drops of night;
               His still, soft call;
     His knocking time; the soul's dumb watch,
     When Spirits their fair kindred catch.

          Were all my loud, evil days
Calm and unhaunted as is thy dark Tent,
Whose peace but by some Angel's wing or voice
               Is seldom rent;
     Then I in Heaven all the long year
     Would keep, and never wander here.

          But living where the sun
Doth all things wake, and where all mix and tire
Themselves and others, I consent and run
               To every mire,
     And by this world's ill-guiding light,
     Err more than I can do by night.

          There is in God (some say)
A deep, but dazzling darkness; as men here
Say it is late and dusky, because they
               See not all clear;
     O for that night! where I in him
     Might live invisible and dim.

— Henry Vaughan (1621-1695), The Night

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Everything but cash is trash?


James Kostohryz, described as a "proprietary investor/trader," is interviewed at Seeking Alpha on his investment recommendations for 2012. Are you ready for this? His advice is ... go to 100 percent cash. Yes, 100 percent. No stocks or bonds.

One of the first commenters says, "This is the most contrarian article one has encountered." It may be the most contrarian article of investment advice two have encountered, me being the second.

Almost all advisers and financial planners recommend keeping some cash equivalents (money market funds, TIPS, etc.) in a portfolio as a cushion and to take advantage of unexpected opportunities. However, it takes a brave man to advocate selling out of every position. (In response to some of the scoffing comments, he clarifies that he's not saying 100 percent cash forever, just until the financial permacrisis affecting almost every Western nation, as well as some non-Western ones, is resolved or cools off.)

Some of his points:
By studiously avoiding bear markets, investors will be more financially and emotionally equipped to purchase stocks when the herd is selling, valuations are cheap and long-term expected returns are optimal.

... A successful investment strategy for most individuals must place a primary emphasis on avoiding bear markets. This implies being willing to take profits during bull markets and leaving potentially illusory gains “on the table.”


At present time, economic and financial risks are at historic dimensions. I believe that cash is by far the best investment at this time on a reward/risk basis. High cash positions will enable investors to avoid huge risks and potentially take advantage of enormous opportunities in 2012.


... Some might argue that the value of the USD [U.S. dollar] could fall relative to the value of other assets. The overwhelming risks are just the opposite. The world is on the verge of experiencing a severe bout of asset price deflation. The prices of everything from stocks, to real estate to commodities are poised to collapse relative to the value of the USD.

Many people believe that holding cash can only result in a deterioration of wealth. This is false. Holding cash in a time of asset price deflation will make you wealthy. Your net worth will rise when measured in units of productive wealth generating assets.
Kostohryz's recommendation is a useful counterweight to what he correctly perceives as the financial industry's self-serving propaganda in favor of trading or at least being fully invested. Most people do not think of simply holding dollars as a kind of investment, but it is not unreasonable to recognize cash as an asset class, with its own advantages and disadvantages.

It is smart to hold a substantial amount of your potential investment money in reserve to lower the volatility of your overall portfolio and somewhat dull the pain of severe market sell-offs. And you want to have a reserve to deploy when good investments get cheaper.

But I can't go along with his thesis in its extreme form. Here's why:

1. Diversification is the first principle of wise investing. A single position, even if it is cash, is not diversified.

2. If the market fizzles badly, having no open positions will seem like brilliance in retrospect. But as of now, it's no more than betting on a particular future, a turn of the wheel. Sure, there are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about the world financial picture, but markets aren't rational. They can go up (or down) for no obvious reason and contrary to what common sense would dictate. Today's markets -- unfortunately -- are also heavily influenced by government and central bank interventions.

Finally, lots of corporations are doing very well, even if we, mere citizens or employees, are not. Investment money will still flow to them, and their stockholders will benefit. It's nothing to celebrate that many people who work hard but can't afford to buy equities scrape by while stock owners, especially those with large positions, reap the profits. But in the context of investment strategy, don't confuse across-the-board financial and social health with investment returns.

3. The invisible tax, inflation, gnaws away at cash. Kostohryz believes that deflation is more likely than inflation, which will make cash more valuable. Hell, I don't know, but I think the opposite is more likely and cash will lose at least some value. I don't favor betting the farm on a money loser, even if the losses could be small.

For all that, Kostohryz makes a case worth pondering, and many of his commenters -- as usual at Seeking Alpha and unlike those at, for example, Zero Hedge -- sound sane and can even write decently.


Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Slurred speech

How to dress your daughter like a pop star.

"Editor ousted over racial slur against Rhianna," the Associated Press tells us.
The editor of a Dutch fashion magazine has been fired after using a racial slur referring to Barbados-born Rihanna that set off a social media furor and prompted an outraged response from the singer.

Eva Hoeke, editor of "Jackie," and the magazine's publisher said in a joint statement on Facebook that Hoeke's use of a racial slur — "although without malicious intentions" — was cause for her departure after eight years on the job.
Hoeke said she was unaware the word was so loaded because "you hear it all the time on radio and TV." It was used in an article on how to dress your daughter like a pop star.
What was the "racial slur" that led the editor to be sacrificed to appease the anti-racism industry? It was something so terrible that the AP dares not even mention it.

Curious, I did a Google search. Rolling Stone, that pillar of the anti-Establishment Establishment, is a little more forthcoming.
In a brief item that was apparently meant as humorous praise, the magazine Jackie called Rihanna "the ultimate ni**abitch," saying, "She has street cred, she has a ghetto ass and she has a golden throat."
As a footnote to the end of civilization, this will do. It is now ("apparently") humorous praise to describe an entertainer as "the ultimate ni**abitch" who has "a ghetto ass."

Rolling Stone, too, has its sensitivities, unable to spell out "ni**abitch," but it has no qualms about printing Rihanna's rejoinder:
"I hope you can read English, because your magazine is a poor representation of human rights!" Rihanna tweeted in response. "You put two words together, with the intent of abasement, that made no sense . . . Well, with all respect, on behalf of my race, here are my two words for you . . . FUCK YOU!!!"
Rolling Stone adds that "Jackie's publisher says the magazine will invite Rihanna to comment on the incident in its next issue."


Sunday, December 18, 2011

Everyday parapsychology

Hark this. Despite a lifelong interest in psychical research (now, more "respectably," called parapsychology), I am one of the least psychic people I have known. Some shadowed intuition must exist that draws me to that side of the mind that operates according to different laws from the ordinary physical world, that can cancel time and space, occasionally split the difference between the living and what we call the dead.

I can think of a very few times in my life that might -- might -- have been psychic experiences. One occurred just the other day. This blog isn't about me, so I will ask your indulgence if I convey a personal anecdote; the subject is precognition, or clairvoyance, or synchronicity, or coincidence: what you will.

It's simple, really. Just so jolly unlikely.


A tune popped into my mind. There is nothing unusual about that. It happens often, probably to everyone who responds to music. It was the song, "(I Can't Give You) Anything But Love," an old standard.

I learned it in recordings during my childhood, but have rarely heard it since. Even as part of the so-called Great American Songbook, it isn't much favored by vocalists who specialize in that school today. Actually, compared with so many songs of the era of its creation, it strikes me as less than inspired musically and lyrically corny.

No explanation comes to mind as to why the tune presented itself to me. Of course, that is often the case with songs that you find yourself thinking of and hearing in your head.


The next day, driving to work, I reached for one of the compact discs in the stack that I carry with me to divert myself from the commuting tedium, and popped it in the car's player. The CD was The Jimmy Bruno Trio: Live at Birdland II, a jazz album featuring the fine guitarist.

I was driving along, digging the music without paying that much attention to it, when I realized with a start that Jimmy Bruno and his combo had launched into a swinging version of ... yes.

I'm about certain that I grabbed the disc, along with several others, out of the several thousand in my collection after the song presented itself to me in my consciousness. It's possible that I knew the song was on the album, although I don't remember the album well enough to recall its specific contents. It's possible that I unconsciously saw the title on the album cover when I pulled a few CDs from the shelves that morning. But in either case, selecting the CD and hearing the song on it  followed hearing it in my mind.


C.D. Broad, the Cambridge philosophy professor and twice president of the Society for Psychical Research, wrote:
If paranormal cognition and paranormal causation are facts, then it is quite likely that they are not confined to those very rare occasions on which they either manifest themselves sporadically in a spectacular way, or those very special conditions in which their presence can be experimentally established. They may well be continually operating in the background of our normal lives. Our understandings of, and our misunderstandings with, our fellow men; our general emotional mood on certain occasions; the ideas which suddenly arise in our minds without any obvious introspectable cause; our unaccountable immediate emotional reactions toward certain persons; ... and so on; all these may be in part determined by paranormal cognition and paranormal causal influences.
Similarly, H.H. Price, a professor of logic at Oxford and president of the Aristotelian Society, had this to say:
It is a plausible guess that many of our everyday thoughts and emotions are telepathic in origin, but are not recognised to be so because they are so much distorted and mixed with other mental contents in crossing the threshold of consciousness.
Telepathy doesn't seem to have been a factor here, barring the unlikely possibility that another person happened to be thinking of the song and I was "tuned in" for some reason. But the same principle might well apply to precognition, or whatever. I can't give you anything but wonder, and that's the thing I've plenty of.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Good luck, British Freedom Party. Write when you get work.


I was initially favorably impressed with what I read about the British Freedom Party at Lawrence Auster's View From the Right. I sent Lawrence Auster a comment, which he did not publish:
This is a heartening development, and there have been few enough of those lately.

The policies look to have been carefully crafted, not just in matter but in expression. I don’t agree that Britain’s immigration problems are about “space, not race” – they’re about both – but presenting the immigration question as an economic and cultural issue might keep Weston out of prison in the U.K.’s multi-cultural theocracy.

“Freedom” is a much better word to use in their name than National or Defence – no disrespect meant to the BNP or EDL, but shadings like that matter if they’re going to appeal to a middle class constituency. It’s too bad the O in “FREEDOM” looks like the Pepsi-Cola logo, but the Web site is otherwise well designed. They were smart not to have Union Jacks and dragons all over the place, images which many people associate with skinheads and hooligans.

Paul Weston comes across in the interview as reasonable, intellectual, maybe a little too formal. But when you consider the kinds of attacks he’ll be subjected to, that’s not a bad starting point. With experience he’ll probably loosen up and become more forceful.
Mmmm, now I'm not so sure.

True, some of the positions in what the party rather pretentiously calls its Manifesto are strong and unhedged, for instance: "There will be only one law in Britain, British law. There will be no toleration of alternative law systems such as Sharia Law." And: "The British Freedom Party will return democracy to Britain by: 1. Withdrawing from the European Union. 2. Devolving decision-making power down to the lowest practicable level. 3. Abolishing restrictions on free speech."

But the more you look into Weston's positions, the less sturdy they seem. Just when absolute candor and steadiness are called for, he starts doing the shimmy.

In an interview with Weston published at Gates of Vienna, his nerves get the better of him. He wants to oppose what he continually calls "political correctness" -- itself a wimpy term for anti-white discrimination and population replacement -- but still be respectable: impossible in present-day Britain.

PW:We’re getting our name out into the mainstream media. We had a piece in The Independent on us. It wasn’t very friendly of course, but it still gets your name out there. People are gradually starting to hear about us, so it’s not bad.

Spoken like a corporate brand manager, not a leader the Resistance can rally around.

ES:I guess one complaint might be that there are just a lot of these parties out there. So, how is British Freedom different from say UKIP, the Conservatives, the BNP, etc.?
PW:Well, let’s start with the BNP. The BNP are still ethno-nationalists. The world has moved on. I don’t think they’re going to get anywhere with that sort of attitude. England, Britain is as it is; you are never going to turn it back to 1950. You can of course say ‘alright, we are going to be a multiracial country but we don’t have to be a multi-cultural country.’ And, of course you can’t have both of those; that’s a recipe for a disaster. Multiracial and British culture; that can work. So that’s the difference between us and the BNP.

It sounds like the same old assimilationist rubbish that hasn't worked and can't work. Immigrants from anywhere in the world and any race are fine as long as they adopt "British culture"? What British culture is left to assimilate to in places like London, where half the population is from Timbuktu and Pakistan?

With a sprinkling of immigrants from anywhere it doesn't matter that much if they don't assimilate into what is a foreign culture to them; when you have instead mass immigration, you get colonies. Colonies don't assimilate. And that isn't being insulting to colonists, it's just recognizing human nature. Colonies of Americans in Mexico and Panama don't become Mexicans and Panamanians.

I seem to remember years ago writing a blog post poking fun at an official scheme to make immigrants take some kind of test of "Britishness." ("Which of the following is meant by 'Queen'? A. A football club. B. A seventies rock band. C. A traditional British dessert. D. A flamboyant homosexual. Choose three.")

PW:We want to counteract the spread of fundamentalist Islam. We want to stop immigration for a period of years. We want to repair the damage done to the education system. Tackle crime. And we want to promote British values and culture, and introduce a US style first amendment guaranteeing Free Speech.

Ah, yes. Britain needs moderate Muslims, extremists not so much. The politician's favorite crutch, Tough on crime. 
I think for a five year period you have to say ‘listen, there is no immigration into this country.’ And the reason for that is we are in such a terrible state over here. We don’t know how many people come in a year; how many people leave a year; how many people are illegal immigrants; how many people are genuine [foreign] students. So, we need a period of time to really sort out exactly who’s here, and who shouldn’t be here.
Paul, old chap, your politicians and bureaucracy have had 30 years to sort out how many people arrive every year, how many illegal immigrants, who are the genuine students. You don't need a time out for that; you need the motivation to do it. A five-year moratorium won't make the ruling multi-cultural theocracy do something it has never wanted to do.

It's too late for mushy "we need to have a conversation" talk. You and many of your fellow British know perfectly well who shouldn't be there. Your oppressors believe they don't need to bother having a conversation with you.

* * *

Weston and members of his party have their hearts in the right place. But they're trying to square the circle. They want to accommodate themselves to a system that is essentially tyrannical while pretending to be part of a mainstream that is about anything but freedom. As they say over there, "Best of British luck to you."


Monday, December 12, 2011

Brother, can you spare $7.7 trillion?


You think the widely publicized $700 million bailout for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) was a big deal? Hah. It turns out the U.S. Federal Reserve secretly gave banks a payday loan. Payday for the banks.

The Fed dealt out, apparently, a total of $7.7 trillion.

Such generosity enabled the banks to earn $13 billion. Not just U.S. banks. You, taxpayer, helped save "too big to fail" banks such as Royal Bank of Scotland (you gave them the dosh on which they made $1.2 billion), Barclay's ($641 million), and Credit Suisse (a paltry $284 million). Thanks, suckers.

Congress didn't know about it. Even a Federal Reserve governor didn't know the full extent of it.

Bloomberg reports:
The Federal Reserve and the big banks fought for more than two years to keep details of the largest bailout in U.S. history a secret. Now, the rest of the world can see what it was missing.

The Fed didn’t tell anyone which banks were in trouble so deep they required a combined $1.2 trillion on Dec. 5, 2008, their single neediest day. Bankers didn’t mention that they took tens of billions of dollars in emergency loans at the same time they were assuring investors their firms were healthy. And no one calculated until now that banks reaped an estimated $13 billion of income by taking advantage of the Fed’s below-market rates ... .
Did someone say it's time to shut down the Fed? Well, if not, I just did. A central bank may be a good idea in theory, but it has become one more unelected institution with power over us, like  federal and state bureaucracies. It's an oligarchy of crony capitalists responsible only to each other. It didn't prevent the 1930s depression, and it didn't prevent the second depression that we're enjoying now. 


Monday, December 05, 2011

The multi-cultural theocracy


I'm going to leave this posting on the front lines for a few days because I think it's about one of those potentially game-changing moments when subsurface issues and feelings appear dramatically in the open. 

The posting was a product of some labor on my part, revised several times to try to convey the right tone. There is a little picture and a big picture in Emma West's story. The little picture is that she acted boorishly, and could legitimately be charged with disturbing the peace -- but no more than countless young people spilling into the streets all up and down the U.K. when the pubs close, making noise and mischief. I gather they are rarely collared by the police.

The big picture is that she was driven to do what she did, driven mad in a sense, by a government that is her enemy, who hates what she is and stands for, and wants to nullify her race and social class through population replacement. According to latest reports, she is in jail and her child taken away ... something that we can be confident would never happen in Britain to a black, a Muslim, or probably even to an upper-class Labourite white person.

Comments, please!

At the current count, 11,126,279 people have watched a video called "My Tram Experience" on YouTube. It is "horrible," according to the headline for Jenny McCartney's column in The Telegraph. McCartney writes:
The viral video “My Tram Experience” – of a white woman engaging in a racist rant on a crowded Croydon tram, a scene already viewed by millions – is deeply uncomfortable to watch. The woman, her face snarled in hatred, has an impassive little blond boy on her knee, whose expression never once changes as his mother escalates her invective against “black people” and “Polish” whose presence has resulted in her estimation that “my Britain is f--- all now”.
(Croydon, incidentally, is the south London suburb that was trashed by rioters a few months ago.)

McCartney again:
Whatever else these snapshots of fury indicate, I don’t think it is that Britain is an especially racist country. The ranters draw glances of unease, and in two of the three cases white fellow-passengers attempt to silence them. But what the videos do indicate, in the women concerned, is a deep and toxic well of pent-up rage. Buried in their rambling rhetoric is a sense that whatever “my Britain” is has disappeared, that their very Englishness is threatened, and that foreigners are to blame. At the same time, their verbal attacks – inarticulate and indiscriminate – point to a cultural degradation that has nothing whatsoever to do with foreigners.
Here, FYI, is the video in question:

The woman, Emma West, has been arrested -- excuse me, "remanded in custody" (that must be a lot more pleasant than being arrested) -- for "racially aggravated harassment." She has been subjected to death threats. She is reportedly being subjected to psychiatric evaluation.


The incident, as recorded on the video (we don't know what happened before her explosion), is ugly. I can't stand people venting their anger and obsessions in public places, especially enclosed spaces like a tram car where there's no immediate way to leave. West's language is vulgar and some of the blacks and immigrants around her she lashes out at are doubtless decent people who haven't earned her insults.

We can agree that the woman expressed her feelings inappropriately.

But she had no appropriate way to express them. The U.K.'s rulers and their media order-takers have seen to that.


Emma West may lack the education or verbal skills to articulate what she's upset about, but that doesn't mean she's stupid. She understands the daily reality she lives in, which is modern Britain, a multi-cultural theocracy in which "diversity" is the state religion, enforced by the complete power of the State, including its subservient media and its educational establishment. It's a society whose elite deliberately  practice population replacement -- particularly, replacement of the white working class.

The country's political muscle wants them gone. White Britons (other than the Marxist cadre) are an obstacle to State control, like the kulaks in Stalin's Russia that Uncle Joe regretfully had to exterminate for their own good. Thanks to some vestigial traces of civil liberties, the U.K. multi-culti commissars can't dispose of indigenous whites as expeditiously as they might prefer to. So they do the next best (from their viewpoint) thing: throw the U.K. wide open to Third World migration, provide the migrants with welfare to live the good life, and make whites foreigners in their own country.

From a gloating "open letter" to Emma West:
So now you’re on remand, charged with a racially aggravated public order offence. No doubt your cause will be championed by the National Front and the EDL. You’ll be a martyr in their eyes when you’re convicted, even if the sentence is little more than a fine. You’ll achieve a degree of fame within a very narrow circle, and notoriety in the wider community. You’ll be reviled, possibly attacked, and you’ll never find work with that kind of offence on your criminal record. Who wants to employ a convicted racist? ...

We have laws against your actions, and laws against your views, precisely because they are unacceptable in a civilised, multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial society. The law sanctions them because they cannot and will not be tolerated in Britain.

This is the Britain you live in, Emma.
Yes, the Britain she lives in that criminalizes opposition to the multi-cultural theocracy. What will it be for Emma: prison, the psychiatric ward, or private vengeance?


According to Spiked-Online, a great many "civilized, multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, multi-racial" Twitterers have been baying for blood.
... Tweeters called on the police to ‘lock her up and throw away the key’ and ‘save her child’. Literally hundreds of people, with no indication that they were joking, tweeted that the woman should be sterilised, deported, punched, kicked and shot. Some suggested she should be shot between the eyes, others that she should be shot in her ovaries. Other Twitterers expressed a preference for hanging her or said she should be ‘put down’ like a dog. Fittingly for Twitch Hunters, there were also demands that she be drowned or burnt at the stake.
Tell me this. If the situation had been reversed, and a black immigrant cursed out all the "white racists" in the tram, would she be under arrest, undergoing psychiatric examination, and charged under Section 4A of the Public Order Act of 1986? I'll bet you a stick of gum the answer is no.


The Telegraph being a "conservative" paper -- by British standards -- Jenny McCartney puts in a token "moderate" take on the theocracy:
We needed to separate the immigration debate from racism, but instead the two became tightly fused. The topic became virtually untouchable, even by the BBC, as its director general, Mark Thompson, recently admitted. Politicians and journalists should have talked openly about the number and nature of immigrants that would be most beneficial to the economy and society without putting an unsustainable strain on public services: but they didn’t, or couldn’t. 
No, they didn't because they couldn't. Standing against the state religion would be a career killer if it didn't land you in the dock on thought crime charges. McCartney now timidly suggests -- long after the fact -- talking about which and how many immigrants "would be most beneficial to the economy and society." That sets out of bounds the possibility that virtually no immigrants were needed, that almost none of them are "beneficial" to society as a whole; it's also a way of sweeping the issue into the realm of theory and abstraction.


Emma West, despite her scarcity of self-control, at least understands what McCartney does not: that debate is irrelevant because the British ruling class couldn't care less what people like West want, and no argument, no letters to the editor or to members of Parliament, will bring the slightest change of course.

West behaved obnoxiously in a public conveyance. She should be fined for breach of the peace. And that's it. The law should have no more to do with her, except (fat chance) to protect her from those who would take her child or her life for not worshiping at the multi-cultural altar. Unless she threatens anyone with violence, her mental equilibrium is no business of the State.

She is braver, or more foolhardy, by a long stroll than "let's have a discussion" types like Jenny McCartney.


A young British man comments on YouTube. If you're American, don't be thrown off by his accent (north of England? Scottish?); he seems to have a natural flair for oratory and a rough eloquence:


Sunday, December 04, 2011

The Kennedys

No admirer of the Kennedy clan, I doubt I would have donated any time to watching the TV mini-series The Kennedys, except that the Kennedy family reportedly managed to cow every major network into refusing to run it. That persuaded me to see the program (now released on DVD and available from Netflix)  just to get back at them. So there.

The technical skills that went into making The Kennedys -- a Canadian production -- are impressive; so much so that this would be something of a modern classic if only ... well, if only the Kennedys were more interesting.


To start with the creditable aspects of the mini-series, Greg Kinnear is JFK to the life. He has it all spot on: the accent, the cadences of speech, the half-conscious gestures, the smooth, not quite human persona that the TV cameras loved. But he gives us more than just a clever imitation. In the domestic scenes, Kinnear conveys without obvious mannerisms the president's constant physical pain; suggests a depth of thought that may or may not have been present in the real JFK, but rewards the viewer and justifies so much screen time. Kinnear deserves other roles worthy of his immense talent.

Just as impressive is Barry Pepper as Bobby, almost as prominent in the script as John. Kinnear and Pepper seem to have coordinated their performances -- not only are they individually convincing, but believable as brothers who were raised in the same nest. It almost goes without saying that Tom Wilkinson dramatizes the Old Man splendidly. Kristin Booth, playing Ethel Kennedy, Bobby's wife, is also good, as are several of the actors in supporting roles (but there are also a few duds, like the player who caricatures the general in Cabinet meetings).


As for Katie Holmes as Jacqueline ... I don't want to be snide. She obviously works hard at the characterization, but that's part of the trouble: you're conscious of her effort, which you wouldn't be with acting of a higher caliber. She can't replicate Jackie's distinctive voice: managing the silkiness all right, but the accent is Park Avenue, not aristocratic Virginia horse country. To give her her due, though, she creates affecting moments now and then.

The scriptwriter faced a no-win situation. If the screenplay had stuck to the private lives of the characters, it would understandably have been derided as high-class soap opera. But including all the famous events of the Kennedy presidency and beyond -- the 1960 campaign, the Bay of Pigs debacle, the Cuban missile standoff, Dallas, Bobby's run for president and his appointment with fate -- flirts with dramatic nullity. We, the audience, either remember the actual events or have seen them on film. Recreating relatively recent historical events only results in wax museum scenes.

As for the family drama, we learn pretty much all there is to know early: Joe Kennedy Senior is shrewd but cold; invests his ambitions in Joe Junior, who is killed in the war; John inherits his father's ambitions but not his respect; John's rise to glory is overshadowed by Joe Senior's authority.What follows is variations on the theme, and not especially effective ones.


Actually, it's hard to see why the remaining Kennedy family would have gone to the bother of trying to suppress this program. It's soft on everyone but Dad, and even he has been steam cleaned. Unless I missed it there is nary a mention that he made the family fortune by bootlegging and cooperation with organized crime during Prohibition; that he was recalled as ambassador to Britain because of his pro-German sympathies (the script implies that he was double-crossed by a vicious Roosevelt). Some of the few compelling scenes take place with the presidential election as background, with Joe and Frank Sinatra conniving with mobster Sam Giancana -- if anyone protested The Kennedys, the Sinatra estate should have; it presents Sinatra (whom Joe patronizingly calls "Francis") as a low-order criminal lackey. But Joe's role in buying his son the election through the Chicago Democratic machine, while alluded to, is played down.

What about all JFK's now-famous dalliances? They, too, are perfunctory. Judith Exner is onscreen for half a minute; another playmate struts and frets her seconds on stage and is gone. Marilyn appears only in seducing Bobby.


Even in eight episodes, there isn't time to peer too closely into all the sordid doings of this riff-raff family elevated to the presidency through money, connections, and a fawning press. Teddy never  appears or is mentioned. Can we hope that someone will make an honest biographical film about that black sheep, the full-time drunk and satyr who co-sponsored the bill that enabled mass Third World immigration? Well, we can hope.


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Intelligence and belief in the paranormal

Orthodox scientists and academics like to imply that people who believe in the paranormal are lightweight thinkers. In a paper in the Handbook for Teaching Introductory Psychology, Wayne S. Messer and Richard A. Griggs of the University of Florida say:
Several researchers have found a relation between paranormal belief and reasoning deficiencies. Alcock and Otis (1980) reported that, compared to skeptics, believers showed a relative lack of ability to evaluate evidence and a tendency to be more dogmatic in their approach to new situations. Blackmore and Troscianko (1985) observed greater shortcomings in probability judgments among believers, including the consistent underestimation of the likelihood of chance events. Wierzbicki (1985) found that believers performed less well on a syllogistic reasoning test ...
The authors of the paper conclude that psychology lectures "can be reworked to provide examples of faulty critical thinking ... . We believe that such efforts would lead to greater skepticism about paranormal claims and to more critical assessments of scientific, consumer and other claims. ... Paraphenomena provide natural subject matter for exercises to develop these skills in the introductory psychology class. By taking this approach, psychology teachers may also help to decrease student belief in paraphenomena."


I don't have access to the publications cited, so I can't comment on the methods used to determine that believers in paranormal phenomena are more dogmatic and unable to properly evaluate evidence, make accurate probability judgments, or perform syllogistic reasoning. Messer and Griggs take it for granted that "critical thinking" equals rejection of the paranormal, and that it is the job of teachers to reduce student belief in it. Dogmatic? Who, them?

Michael Shermer, in an excerpt from his book Why Smart People Believe Weird Things, is at least honest enough to admit that some non-skeptics are "smart." "Weird" is a pretty odd term for a scientist to use, but he tries to clarify weirdness:
  1. a claim unaccepted by most people in that particular field of study,
  2. a claim that is either logically impossible or highly unlikely, and/or
  3. a claim for which the evidence is largely anecdotal and uncorroborated. 
Except for "logically impossible," none of these attributes offers face value evidence that the claims are wrong. They are roundabout ways of saying, "beliefs most people don't believe."


Shermer adds:
“Smart people” suffers from a similar problem in operational definition, but at least here our task is aided by achievement criteria that most would agree, and the research shows, requires a minimum level of intelligence. Graduate degrees (especially the Ph.D.), university positions (especially at recognized and reputable institutions), peer-reviewed publications, and the like, allow us to concur that, while we might quibble over how smart some of these people are, the problem of smart people believing weird things is a genuine one that is quantifiable through measurable data.
We also might quibble over how smart this is as a definition of smart people. Today's educational establishment being what it is, graduate degrees can be awarded in Queer Theory, Feminist Studies, and other politically correct twaddle. Besides, many smart people do not have advanced academic degrees, or any at all.

Still, give the man credit. He admits that lots of those who accept the reality of what he calls "weird" stuff aren't dopes and there is a paradox here given what he would expect.


Shermer offers various tentative explanations of why "smart" people take the paranormal seriously, mostly having to do with what he would probably call mistaken uses of the intellect, such as confirmation bias -- noticing what seems to confirm beliefs, remaining unconscious of what doesn't. To sum it up: " ... Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons."

Shermer is fair-minded as materialist skeptics go, but his is a minority report. The larger number of scientists, engineers, intellectuals, and others who take pride in scoffing at the paranormal are more like Messer and Griggs. Those textbook writers, you will recall, believe psychology students must be inoculated against thinkers who exhibit "reasoning deficiencies," such as these past presidents of the Society for Psychical Research who in many cases also wrote books and articles on psychical research:

❏ Henry Sidgwick, philosophy professor, Cambridge University.
❏ Balfour Stewart, physics professor, University of Manchester.
❏ Arthur Earl of Balfour, later U.K. prime minister, foreign secretary, president of the British Association.
❏ William James, psychology and philosophy professor, Harvard.
❏ Sir William Crookes, discoverer of thallium.
❏ Frederic W.H. Myers, classical scholar, Cambridge University.
❏ Sir Oliver Lodge, fellow of the Royal Society.
❏ Sir William Barrett, physics professor, Dublin University.
❏ Charles Richet, professor of medicine, Nobel Prize winner, 1913.
❏ Gerald Balfour, fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge; chief secretary for Ireland.
❏ Henri Bergson, philosopher, professor at the Sorbonne, Nobel Prize winner, 1927.
❏ Gilbert Murray, professor of Greek, Oxford University.
❏ Lord Reyleigh, professor of experimental physics, Cambridge University; co-discoverer of argon; president of the Royal Society; Nobel Prize winner, 1904.
❏ William McDougall, psychology professor at Harvard and Duke University.
❏ T.W. Mitchell, M.D., editor, British Journal of Medical Psychology.
❏ Camille Flammarion, astronomer, founder and director of Juvisy Observatory.
❏ Hans Driesch, philosophy professor, University of Heidelberg.
❏ C.D. Broad, Knightsbridge Professor of Moral Philosophy, Cambridge University.
❏ H.H. Price, Wykeham Professor of Logic, Oxford University.
❏ R.H. Thouless, psychologist, Cambridge University.
❏ G.N.M. Tyrrell, physicist and mathematician, worked with Marconi on the development of radio.
❏ Gardner Murphy, psychology professor, Harvard.
❏ F.J.M. Stratton, president of the Royal Astronomical Association; professor of astrophysics, Cambridge University; director, Solar Physics Observatory, Cambridge.
❏ G.W. Lambert, U.K. assistant secretary of state.
❏ E.R. Dodds, Regius Professor of Greek, Oxford University.
❏ D.J. West, M.D., psychiatrist.
❏ Sir Alister Hardy, Linacre Professor of Zoology, Oxford University.
❏ W.A.H. Rushton, director of medical studies, Trinity College, Cambridge.

The list is taken from Arthur Koestler's brief study of parapsychology, The Roots of Coincidence. Koestler adds, "If one included the vice-presidents and officers of the Society's Council, the list would become even more formidable (e.g., Sir J.J. Thomson, discoverer of the electron). But even in this sketchy form, it ought to be sufficient to demonstrate that extra-sensory perception research is not a playground for superstitious cranks."