Archive for January, 2007

Russian Gynaecology

Tuesday, January 30th, 2007

Svenska Dagbladet has a review of a book about European demography, Barren States, in which I found the following anecdote:

In Russian, mothers are also young: a woman of 27 is considered too old to give birth vaginally, and encouraged to have an abortion, or at least a caesarian section. When one 27-year-old woman insisted on giving birth vaginally and then complained of the pain, her doctor was outraged: “Of course it hurts!”, he said “It’s meant to hurt. What does a woman of your age expect? You could have been a almost grandmother by now and instead take it into your head to have a baby! What did you do when you were 20? Ran around and had a good time? It wouldn’t have hurt so much then. But you women just want to earn money, earn money, and then you complain that it hurts!”

I’ve heard some startling stories of Russian medicine, and misogyny, over the years but this is in a class of its own. God help the internet if the women who post at unfogged; come across the story: it would be pissing on potassium.

Snake venom salesman

Sunday, January 28th, 2007

Dr Majid Katme (who really exists, and has been at it for years; I have talked to him) is telling Muslim women that they must not get their children vaccinated because some of the products used to make vaccine are haram.

This is of course far more wicked and stupid than the Catholic Church’s stand on gay adoptions and far more likely to harm society in general. This is worse even than the disgraceful Andrew Wakefield, whose precedent is not encouraging here. But Wakefield only opposed one vaccination, and he operated through the media, influencing people, who were or wanted to be, middle class. Their children were probably fairly healthy to begin with, and they could themselves be reached by the same papers which spread Wakefield’s nonsense in the first place.

But the kind of mothers who might listen to the Islamic Medical Association (or the Muslim Council of Britain, on which Katme sits) are not going to be reached by educated opinion. Their children are also going to be poorer, less well-nourished, and living in worse accommodation; and his advice applies to all vaccinations. So his advice, would, if followed, not only make them ill, but lead to them becoming a reservoir of infection for everyone else. This is such a ghastly working out of the standard racist fantasy that it forces me to conclude that there is a God, and he agrees with Richard Dawkins.

Just a thought

Saturday, January 27th, 2007

I watched Easy Rider last night, for the first time in about thirty years, and pretty much completely sober. The soundtrack is still remarkable, but I was surprised to discover at the end, when the rednecks shot Hopper and Fonda, that part of me was cheering for the rednecks. There really wasn’t much to choose between the two sides in terms of arrogance and exploitation. Feeding a couple of whores mescaline in a graveyard is not the behaviour of heroes, though I must once have thought it was.

A reader writes

Friday, January 26th, 2007


The web suggests you provide such details. It does not say whether you are Religious or Irreligious, Conservative, Liberal or Socialist, A Darwinite, Creationist or other. It does not tell us what you majored in.

Alan W.

Actually, there is quite a lot of autobiographical information here, even if the visual jokes only work in Opera.

If you can’t work out which pigeonholes to put me in, that’s fair. I can’t either, for most of your questions. In particular, I have no idea about my own political opinions. I have a strong prejudice against bullying, which drives me towards leftish opinions, and a Machiavellian view of human nature which impels me to conservatism. I am no longer a romantic. When I was, I was some kind of neoconservative.

I am certainly not a creationist either in the narrow sense of supposing the Bible’s cosmology to be true or anything like true, or even in the broader sense of being able to imagine what a Creator might be. On the other hand, it seems to me that original sin is incontrovertible, and that the world is fallen even if there was no Fall.

I accept the fact of evolution as I accept the fact of gravity. I am a sociobiologist in principle, but I think Richard Lewontin is the profoundest living thinker about these matters, and he thinks it’s pernicious rubbish.

I will spend time in empty churches, though I very seldom attend services; I do my best to encourage my Christian friends, some of whom I admire greatly. I find the Bible almost impossible to read, but I love Cranmer’s prayer book. I suspect that the worthwhile meanings of a religious text only reveal themselves through a sort of inner conversation which arises after you have tried to act as if they were true. That is why I suppose both that fundamentalism is radically wrong, since these inner meanings must be different from the outer ones, and in some sense ineradicable, since, if you don’t pay close attention to the text, the conversation will never arise.

I was thrown out of school at sixteen and never went to university at all. My intelligence is reactive, derivative and destructive as befits a journalist.

My speech as well as my life would be more coherent if it were fitted with a backspace key.

Lost ejaculation

Thursday, January 25th, 2007

Somewhere on this blog is a scan from a Biggles book, where the hero is surrounded by “a circle of ejaculating natives” — but actually we have lost rather a useful word. What is now the proper term for sudden emotional speech, without much grammar or sense written down, like the little cries of outrage and delight you can overhear when someone in the room is wandering through youtube?

The Swedish provinces on youtube

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

Last night I discovered that there are lots of small Swedish towns where people have recorded their lives on youtube. These are places where boredom is the fourth dimension. In Lilla Edet, for example, where I lived for three years, the highlight of someone’s year came when uncle cleaned the outside of a saucepan with a metal file. From Sorsele, there is a film of a small train in a siding. After some seconds, another train approaches the platform and stops. No one gets on or off. The film stops.

Anyone out there speak Finnish?

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

I am transcribing a tape of a gold prospector talking about his adventures in the arctic mountains of Norway. We’re talking in Swedish, but his first language is Finnish. Most of it is sparkling clear, and the sound quality is excellent. But at one stage he says something like Jag hade en drits or perhaps “Jag hade en drätt, så ….

Neither I nor any of my dictionaries recognise either word. In the context, it could either be a piece of mining equipment or a psychological state — a determination or hunch. It is in any case something that leads to action.

Anyone who thinks they can help with this, ask and I will email the relevant passage. It’s a fascinating story, anyway. I might put a link to a bit of the mp3 up here.

UPDATE: played back at 60% speed, repeatedly, it resolves into “Jag hade ändå rätt, så” ie “of course, I was right”, with the å sound almost completely swallowed and the ä pronounced indistinguishably from e. The blurring of those two vowel sounds is something I have to guard against in my own Swedish. It may explain why I was sometimes taken for a Finn.

Orotund and rotund too

Sunday, January 21st, 2007

In case you have wondered what the masterminds behind Bush’s surge actually look like in the flesh, the excellent Belgravia Dispatch has a link to the video of one of them orating. How Kipling would have despised them, and despaired! Who would have thought the road to being one with Niniveh and Tyre went through those cities?

An oddity of Wikipedia

Sunday, January 21st, 2007

Every now and then, when wading through the swamp that is Wikipaedia, one comes on a tussock of firm ground: something clearly written and well-argued, if a little stilted, which does not leave a methanous smell as you pull your boots away. These outcrops of reliability are, of course, the pieces lifted directly from the 1911 Britannica. It seems to me unlikely that most of the contributors to the rest of the encyclopaedia could actually understand these entries; and sometimes you find little moments where the cut and paste monkey has attempted to decorate Britannica with his own thoughts, like the Dublin journalist who got a knowledgeable friend to write a review of a piano recital, and at the end felt he should add something of his own, so wrote that “Mr X was observed to play with equal facility on the black keys as on the white”.

I first noticed this in the Charles Cotton entry, my one and only attempt at contributing to Wikipedia, where I tried to feather the edges of the EB into something that a modern college student could understand without the kind of Edwardian references that garnish the 1911 text.

But today, clicking on from Languagehat on the Schwenkfelders, I bounced from this entry on old Schwenkfeld himself, which seems to have been written by an American student, to this, on one of his patrons, clearly lifted direct from the 1911 EB. Now, the Schwenkfeld entry is pretty good by the standards of wikipedia. But it feels the need to gloss Silesia as “a small province in central Europe”, whereas the old Zinzendorf entry says that “His ancestors belonged to Lower Austria, but had taken the Protestant side in the Reformation struggle, and settled near Nuremberg. His parents belonged to the Pietist circle and the lad had Philipp Jakob Spener for his godfather.” One can practically smell the wreaths of pipe smoke and the masculine farts.

But I like Zinzendorf. His second wife had the middle name Caritas, and his eldest daughter was called Benigna.

I suspect you would not be reading this without him. He founded on his estates a colony for persecuted Moravian Brethren, and was eventually raised to become a bishop in their church. He financed, says the EB, mission journeys to South America and to the slaves of the Caribbean and the Carolinas. I don’t know much about my paternal ancestors, but I do know that they were descended from Moravian missionaries, one of whom was thrown of a plantation in Jamaica in the early 19th century for preaching to the slaves owned by a cousin of my wife’s. So quite possibly they came through the good Baron’s estates at Herrnhut.

Google vs Spam

Thursday, January 18th, 2007

I wonder if anyone has analysed the extent to which spam shapes the internet. In particular, I am thinking about the way that we have to trade off a degree of privacy to get effective protection. Google has excellent spam filters on gmail. My account there gets about fifty spams a day, and perhaps one is missed every two or three days. My daughter reports the same kind of efficiency from her Yahoo mail account. My guess is that part of this efficiency comes because you don’t “mark” something as spam; you “report” it. So, given that any significant spam run will hit hundreds of thousands of gmail users more or less simultaneously, a simple algorithm that says any message reported twenty times is spam will act more quickly than anything more formal, like spamassassin.

The logic of this is that we will tend more and more to give up the idea of personal servers, personal spam filtering, and so on, and huddle in groups to shelter from the giant whirling shitstorm that the public internet becomes.