Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

totalitarian tidying.

Thursday, February 10th, 2005

So I was calling a friend to see if she knew any Chinese demographers, and she said, “I’m just riffling through my email, and I see that incomplete statistics show there were 200 executions in China — in the two weeks leading up to the Lunar New Year.”

“What!” I said, “What was so special?”

“Oh, I think they just wanted to get it all done before the holidays.”

She also tells me — apropos demography — that Mao thought Malthus was a Capitalist plot.

a rather frightful symmetry

Wednesday, December 15th, 2004

It’s often remarked that to be “pro-life” in the US context correlates quite strongly, among voters, with support for the death penalty. LIfe, it would appear, is sacred from conception until birth.

But there is also a curious symmetry between opponents of the death penalty, and opponents of euthanasia and living wills. For opponents of the death penalty, the danger that an innocent person might be killed far outweighs the benefits of killing the guilty — some of whom even the most determined opponent would agree are no great loss to the world. For opponents of euthanasia, the idea that one innocent granny might get bumped off by her greedy children far outweighs the suffering of all the grannies who might want to die, and whose children also — genuinely — wish them free of suffering.

What’s interesting is how natural it seems to apply consequentialist reasoning to the one case and not the other. Of course different people find different applications more natural. Myself, I am anti-death penalty and pro euthanasia — at least some sorts of euthanasia. Iain Duncan Smith is pro-death penalty, but implacably opposed to the idea of people dying when they want to. I expect the gene for this distinction will be along any moment.

Emmanuel Todd on Israel & the USA

Wednesday, October 6th, 2004

This is an argument both sinister and persuasive. In essence, he says that Israel once attracted the Left because of its egalitarian ideals. Now it is attractive to the right precisely because it seems to have become a militarist, aggressive and deeply stratified society.

It’s hard to dismiss this entirely. There was a piece that Tim Garton Ash wrote almost immediately after 9/11 which said that America had a choice between a liberal and a Likudnik response, and mentioned the unpleasant attraction that the rhetoric, and the methods of the Likud have to a certain kind of Republican. They like the bully. They like the swagger.

The key quote may be this:

The recent general fixation of the United States on Israel does not seem to have much to do with this original religious affinity,a love for the Bible, or with a positive and optimistic identification with the chosen people of Israel. I am convinced that if republican or Catholic France were still at war with Algeria — repressing, interning, and killing Arabs as the state of Israel is doing in Palestine –today’s United States, differentialist, inegalitarian, and wracked by its own bad conscience–would side with this colonial France that had abandoned its universalism. There is nothing more reassuring for those who have given up on justice than to see others behaving unjustly.

But there is a lot of detailed argument, which I will stick below the fold. To understand it, you must know that Todd makes a huge distinction, based partly on traditional family structures, between universalist and hierarchical societies. The Anglo-Saxons, he thinks, are somewhere in the middle. They believe that there are some fully human beings, with equal rights, surrounded by a periphery of others. In an American context, the definition of “fully human” fluctuates; and they are always defined with reference to an outgroup. Thus, Catholics, and later Jews, both of whom were once clearly dangerous aliens, could eventually be assimilated because they were not, i the last analysis, Black. “The hypothesis of a general ebbing of universalism in America would explain the persistence of Jewish anxiety — What if my integration is revoked?”

In this context, would Todd be judged in America as fully human (he is Jewish) or not (he is French)? You decide.


The British press (1)

Friday, April 23rd, 2004

There are, apparently, papers in the USA which refuse to run the Doonesbury strip this week because BD, when he finds his lower left leg blown off, cries ‘ Son of a bitch’. Compare and contrast the Guardian’s op-ed cartoon today.

Tales from the Arabian nights

Tuesday, March 16th, 2004

Though horrendously frightening.

One story doing the rounds in my neighborhood was of a small girl who was abducted on the way back from school. A telephone call was made to her parents informing them that they had 10 days to gather the $10,000 ransom or they would never see her again. The mother fell into hysteria as their financial situation was so bad they had no hope of ever gathering such an amount. The poor father went round to his relatives and friends and managed to raise about $4000. On the 10th day, the kidnappers called and were told that this is all the family could raise. They slammed the phone down and the family were left fearing the worst. A few days later, one of the gang of kidnappers called the girl’s home late in the night and told them where they could find their daughter. He gave an address of a house in an industrial area of Baghdad which is particularly dangerous to walk through at nights. Apparently an argument had broken out between the gang and this man had enough of a conscience to call the family. The father went straight to the police, but they told him they would not come out with him at this late hour (it was about 2am) because they were too scared. The father resorted to calling a few friends and relatives who armed themselves and went to the address given. Upon entering, he found dozens of small children and young women in a large, dark room. He started calling out his daughter’s name and he heard her reply but as if being dragged away. He realised there was a staircase next to the room at the top of which some woman was trying to push his daughter. He got hold of his daughter and left the building, giving the police the entire details. Apparently some 20 families received their loved ones back when the police raided the building the next day. These stories are rife on the streets and provoke much fear, among the rich and poor equally.


Six million degrees of separation

Monday, March 1st, 2004

Transcribing the Benny Morris interview, I stumble over a name. It is “Henry ?Pullen”, a Cambridge historian, under whom he did a PhD. So to Google, where eventually the name of Henry Pelling turns up in the context of a Spectator review of Churchill biographies. It just doesn’t look like the Spectator’s web site; and after a few minutes, I realise that I am in fact on David Irving’s site, where he has reproduced the review because it quoted the judge’s demolition of his character in the Lipstadt trial. ewww.

Very belated technology award

Monday, January 19th, 2004

If there is one piece of technology that has most improved my life in the last year, it is these speakers: actually, I have a slightly less grand set, with only two satellites and not four, but that seems to have been sold out.

what kind of a thing might a meme be?

Friday, January 16th, 2004

How does meaning emerge in the world? How can it? How did it? What new forms might arise?


Hot geek news

Tuesday, January 13th, 2004

The latest developer build of OOo is slithering out: it has, I hope, integrated python scripting, along with a number of bug fixes that I don’ t understand. I have merely downloaded it, and not played with it at all, since I use the experimental version only on the laptop. On the same day a proper manual for OOo/Star Basic (about three years late) has just gone up on Sun’s web site. This is available in an absurd number of human languages. As far as I am concerned, there is only one truly hideous wart left on the program, and that’s the abysmal interface to the find/replace dialogue.

Otherwise, the program now does what a writer needs, and probably enough of what larger and more important markets need to keep thriving. Normal frivolity will be resumed as soon as possible

Natural merit

Wednesday, November 26th, 2003
The women, he said, simply knocked on the door of his hotel room, entered and engaged in sex with him. He said he did not know if they were prostitutes because they never asked for money and he did not pay them.
(from the Houston Chronicle account of Neil Bush’s divorce proceedings.)

Of course, with the younger brother, it’s British Prime Ministers knocking on the door with a wordless, winning smile, waiting to be screwed.