Thursday, 17 December 2009

Strato Shield and Geoengineering: hurrah!

There's an episode of "The Simpsons", where invasive lizards are found to be an effective predator of pigeons in Springfield (S10:3, "Bart The Mother").  Principal Skinner and Lisa have the following conversation:

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

DESK WARC... "Four sides to every story" on global warming

Which are you: DEnier, SKeptic, WArmer or Calamatist?
This is a great summary of the four main views on global warming, from the International Herald Tribune today (in the New York Times, pdf here).
Me, having been buffeted hither and thither by the evidence, I find myself somewhere between the Skeptic and the Warmer.   That is, there’s warming (nearly everyone agrees on that),  it’s faster in recent decades than for thousands of years (most agree on that), there’s evidence of connection with CO2 emissions (most agree on that) and man has contributed to that CO2 emission (most agree on that, though the argument is to what extent that’s had an impact more than the natural sources of CO2 or other drivers of climate exchange, such as solar causes).

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

When I'm 57 to 85...

Click on the above to enlarge, also see here. 
All my mates turning or turned 60 this year, and some over that true milestone, no longer just joking about the "big three-oh" or the "big five-oh", but real live appreciation of one's mortality.  Just came across this rather sobering table on the Herald Tribune's site.

"Difficult to deny global warming"

My mate Peter Sherwood weighs in on the climate debate, in yesterday’s South China Morning Post.  Must say it’s refreshing to see a letter on a subject other than the most parochial, plastic bags levies or schools’ language policies.  And I think Peter’s got the balance about right, in particular that even if there’s dispute about the extent of global warming and who or what’s responsible, there’s benefit in taking the mitigating mesasures anyway.  For a contrast to what the US has done, or we in Australia, there’s the story of Denmark , which took the 1973 oil shock seriously and weaned itself off a full diet of oil, to one that’s now 20% wind and will be non-fossil by 2035 (hey, that's not so far away....).  

Dubai Expatriates

Heatstruck economy
Numbers of my mates are now in Dubai, some there for many years, some just going.   Given the meltdown of Dubai World, what's life like there for the expat?  

Monday, 14 December 2009

Kidney transplants and post-Ramadan birth weights

Just been reading “Super Freakonomics”, the sequel, which has been much lambasted for being more pop than economics and truth be told, if the first “Freakonomics” was a bit of porridge then the sequel's been watered down to pretty thin gruel.
But it’s got a couple of interesting points:

Friday, 11 December 2009

Oh dear, it's those Swiss Minarets again...

But they, the MSM, won't let it go, and keep on keeping on, with the International Herald Tribune coming in predictably with a 10 to one ratio of articles critical of the ban, vs those looking at what it means.
So, another one fired off to the editors...


Terrorist Organisations List

Updated list here .  79% of all currently active organisations and 98% of religiously-based ones are Islamic.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

"Right idea on bubble busting"

They ran my letter on 5 Dec in the South China Morning Post, as follows (only removed one word, "basilisk" a word I liked, rather...).

"Invisible minarets"

The minarets vote just won't go away.  One day there's a pro-ban article (eg Ross Douthat yesterday ) and next day there's anti-ban one, such as Peter Stamm's today .  It's good that it gets publicity, for the more it does, the more the baleful doctrines of Islam get publicity.  And the more publicity there is for the symbolism of the minarets to Islam.
“The minarets are our bayonets, the domes our helmets, the mosques our barracks and the faithful our army.”
---  Ziya Gökalp, a 1912 poem, quoted by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in 1997 (Erdoğan was then mayor of a small town; today he is, of course, Turkish Prime Minister and pushing a resurgent Islamist line for Turkey, as well as pushing for the accession of Turkey into the EU, which would, in my view, be a major tragedy for Europe and its values).

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

"Europe's minaret moment"

Ross Douhat's piece in today's International Herald Tribune makes some points that not long ago would not have passed muster in the likes of a liberal paper such as the IHT.  Perhaps they're being mugged by reality and maybe they're reading the blogs....  
The article is here .
My comments to the Trib....

"The price of being born Muslim"

An article by Dr Tariq Ahmad, a doctor at a Boston hospital, in the International Herald Tribune, 5 Dec, here.

My letter to IHT....

Monday, 7 December 2009

Our "Grandfatherland"...

Like: when can we have democracy in Hong Kong, as you promised.... wahhh...

Michael Chugani is a local columnist here in Hong Kong that I have a lot of time for.  Here he introduces the nickname Hongkongers have for Peking (aka "Beijing"):  阿爺.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Those minarets again....

The leaning minaret of Mossul
Andrew Bostom points out that minarets have traditionally been more about projecting power, including military power, than they are about religion.  Indeed, even the conservative Saudis think so.  The current Turkish prime minister did indeed say, way back in February 1998 when he was a mayor:
"The mosques are our barracks, the domes are our helmets, the minarets are our swords, and the faithful are our army."
This is quoted in the venerable and left-of-centre New York Times , so it must be true...

Friday, 4 December 2009

"First cast out the beam..."

Re the Swiss Minarets ban:
Matthew 7.5
King John’s Bible
Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.
Basic English
You false one, first take out the bit of wood from your eye, then will you see clearly to take out the grain of dust from your brother's eye.
As helpfully explained at bible.cc: “Some sins are as motes, while others are as beams; some as a gnat, others as a camel.”  There’s one monster camel wandering round here, while many remain fixated on the gnat of the minaret ban….

Graphs for "Bubble trouble"

Click to enlarge (ref the article immediately below):

Bubble trouble?

Letter to South China Morning Post:
I agree with Tom Holland (“Bubble muddle ”, Dec 04): keep the government out of bubble-busting.
The IMF has cast its fierce and basilisk eye on our equity and property markets and determined that they are developing bubble-like tendencies.  It then proposes “remedies”.  Quite why the IMF should have any credibility after the fiascos of its interventions in South America in the eighties and the Asian Financial crisis of the nineties, is beyond me.  Countries did best which did the opposite of the IMF credit-tightening prescriptions in those crises.  In the Hong Kong property market, counter-cyclical attempts at control by the government have been shown time and again to lag so badly that they exacerbate downturns and magnify upturns.
Memo to Chief Executive Tsang: listen to the wise advice of Mr Holland, not that of the pointy-heads at the IMF!


Full text below as may not be available online:

By: Tom Holland, Dec 04.

The International Monetary Fund is worried about Hong Kong.
Yesterday it warned that "strong capital inflows and the resultant large liquidity overhang in the financial system could potentially lead to rapid credit growth, fuelling asset markets and creating macroeconomic volatility". In other words, its analysts believe bubbles are developing in Hong Kong's stock and property markets.
The fund is so concerned it called on the government to adopt "countercyclical regulatory action to mitigate the asset price cycle".
In plain English, that means it thinks the government should act now to pop the bubbles before they form. It even suggested five possible policy measures officials could employ.
The IMF's stance is hardly likely to win it many friends among Hong Kong's people, who tend to be rather more sanguine about the idea of stock and property bubbles. If anything, most rather relish the prospect as an exciting opportunity to make lots of money.
Cheung Kong (SEHK: 0001) executive director Justin Chiu neatly summed up the prevailing attitude a couple of weeks ago. "I don't really mind a bubble as long as it doesn't burst," he told a real estate conference. "If I drink champagne, I don't like to drink flat champagne." The government, he implied, should butt out and let market forces take their course.
Our increasingly interventionist officials are unlikely to heed his advice. Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen and others have vowed action to deflate any emerging bubbles. No doubt the government is already studying the IMF's policy proposals.
For the property market, the fund suggests requiring banks to hold more capital against their mortgage books to cool off the home loan market. Alternatively, regulators could force banks to increase their loan loss provisions during the upward leg of the cycle in order to curb their lending.
The government could also cut the permitted loan-to-value ratio on mortgages, or tighten lending procedures and standards. And, finally, it could step up land sales to increase the supply of flats coming onto the market.
If there were a bubble, it is unlikely any of these measures would have more than a marginal impact. Hong Kong banks already hold more than enough capital, so increasing ratios would have little effect. And considering that default rates remained below 2 per cent even in the depths of the property market crash 10 years ago, provisions already look adequate.
Lowering the minimum loan-to-value ratio from an already conservative 70 per cent wouldn't achieve much either. At around 64 per cent, the average ratio is well below the minimum anyway. Meanwhile, bank credit procedures are already considered fairly tight.
Finally, increasing land sales might work in the long run. But given the extensive lead time on new developments, it wouldn't do much to let the air out of a bubble in the short term.
The truth is, however, that there are no bubbles, either in the stock or property markets. The equity market has risen strongly over recent months, but as the first chart shows, the price to book valuation for the Hang Seng Index is bang in line with its long-term average and far below the bubble levels that developed in 1999 and 2007.
True, price-to-earnings ratios may look a little elevated right now, but given expected earnings growth of 20 per cent or more next year and the low cost of capital, analysts believe current valuations are fully justified.
Nor is there any sign of a bubble in property. Prices have risen this year, but as the second chart shows, affordability looks reasonable by historical standards. Certainly, it is way below the heights reached in the 1997 bubble. What's more, with some 50,000 flats sitting empty, there is no obvious shortage of supply.
And as the third chart illustrates, there is no evidence of a bubble-like rise in transaction volumes. The number of property deals has actually been declining for the last few months - just like the number of mortgage approvals - as buyers have baulked at the higher prices.
So although as the IMF says there is plenty of liquidity around, we needn't worry too much. Even if stock and property markets gain by another 20 per cent next year, it will be a long time before we have to begin taking its bubble warning seriously. And even then, there won't be much Hong Kong can do about it.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Extreme action in Hong Kong

We went out on the water for a sail and to see these Extreme 40' cats racing in HK harbour, on the 20th Nov.  They were a fine sight against the stunning backdrop of Hong Kong's skyline, but the course was short and we were the only spectators (apart from the press boat), so there's going to be a ways to go before it's a true spectator sport in Hong Kong.  Mind, we do have a good waterfront for it, and with the right promotion, it could take off.  The organisers did bill this first race series as a "getting-to-know-you, Hong Kong" event, mainly for the media, with next year to be more fully promoted.  With the coming of the Louis Vuitton Cup to Hong Kong next year, 2010 could be a good year for our harbour....  Our only downside is that the government has seen fit to decide to build a superhighway and tunnel right under the Royal HK Yacht Club in Causeway Bay, which is going to cause massive havoc with the facility and moving of many boats, mess on the very harbourfront it's hoping to promote;  sigh...)

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

"A vote for Intolerance"?

A response to the Dhimmi International Herald Tribune, which can always be counted on to take the easy, cozy, comfortable, sleep-at-the-wheel view of the spread of Islamic sharia...
Letter below.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Greenland ice melt: Waterworld? Not....

Article from the BBC on 12th November I heard on BBC Radio international (675 AM in Hong Kong) said that they ice sheet was melting at an accelerating pace and if it all melted, it would raise global sea levels by 7 metres.
I thought this was strange from two angles: first, the common sense angle.  It just didn’t sound right to me.  Second, I had just seen a video of an expert from the National  Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration quoted on a greenie website.  Asked what would happen if all the ice caps in the world – Greenland, the Arctic, Antarctica and all the glaciers –  were to melt, he said that the world oceans would increase by about 6 metres.  So, how could the melting of Greenland alone add seven metres just by itself.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Hail dank animals -- Freud-u Akbar

Still looking for that elusive “motive” as to why Nidal Malik Hasan, a pious Muslim who taught classes on the Koran's message to kill infidels, who talked with a radical cleric, who  wanted Sharia to take priority over the US Constitution, who was "Muslim first and American second"... still wondering why he mass murdered at Fort Hood, Texas.  Here’s a clue: I find that his name is an anagram of “hail dank animals”.  But please don’t jump to conclusion about hails of bullets on those "dank animals", the unbelievers; we’re still looking, looking, looking, for that elusive motive, and that, after all, is just a clue….   Another anagram: “mania kinda shall"?  Mania kinda shall lead to deaths?   I dunno; but don’t, don’t jump to conclusions.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Who is the most gullible... ooops, I mean green

Four countries: Brazil, China, the UK and the US.

In what order did they recently answer "yes" to the question: "Would you buy a socially responsible brand, even if it cost more?"

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

"Everyone knows Islam is a religion of peace"

Here’s another thing I don’t get.  Why do the MSM tie themselves up in Manhattan-sized pretzels trying to find reasons for Hasan’s murderous mayhem that are other than the most obvious one?  Do they really, truly, believe that his religion had nothing to do with it?  And if so, how could that be?  And if they think that it does have something to do with it, but they won’t say so, why’s that?  Is it squeamishness? Or fear?  Or their bosses telling them they should not contemplate the thought?  And if that’s the case, then why are their bosses saying that?  Is it that they fear the loss of the Islamic advertising dollar?  Or that they are scared?  Or that their bosses, the owners of the media have Islamic investment?  Or that they are scared?  If it’s “political correctness”, why are they all so politically correct, when the blogosphere is not so?  Do they fear being ostracized by their colleagues?  Their friends?  Do they think they’d better not report the religious angle because it could "lead to more hate"?
I just don’t get it.
So they go on “looking for motive”.  They’ve road tested various possibilities, including that he was let down by his superiors for not having been counseled himself, that he was sneered at because of his “middle-eastern appearance”, or that he was upset about his deployment to Afghanistan.  In short, it’s everyone’s fault but his.
The policos, meantime, have jumped to conclusions that Obama warned everyone not to do.  They have jumped to the conclusion that it had nothing to do with religion: Janet Napolitano (“This was an individual who does not, obviously, represent the Muslim faith."”) and Sen Lindsey Graham, “At the end of the day this is not about his religion — the fact that this man was a Muslim,” Senator Graham said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
In March 07, the “Half-Hour   News  Hour” sent up this failure to face reality.  A nice skit, spot on for today.  In fact, it’s hardly a send-up, given what’s happening now in refusal to face the simple fact that this fellow killed in the name of Islam….  The “terrorism expert” nearly says “don’t jump to conclusions”… (vide: Pres Obama)

Downfall of the Gang of Four, Beijing October 1976

BBC Radio runs a program called "Witness", in which listeners are asked to give an account of an historic event they witnessed.  This week, of course, many about the downfall of the Berlin wall, 30th anniversary being today, or hereabouts.  I sent the Beebs something about our witnessing of a huge demonstration in Beijing in October 1976, which accompanied the downfall of the Gang of Four (remember them?).  I sent the note below, and they've responded by saying they are "very interested" in the story and want to ring me later this week.  Standing by....

Monday, 9 November 2009

Heere Motive, come here Motive, here kitty, kitty…. gooood Motive

Napolitano: Looking for Motive: it ain't religion, got that?
“News” that the military is looking for a motive behind Hasan’s killing of 13 people at Fort Hood.
Actually, they’re not looking for a motive, they’re looking for a “motive”.  That is, something that will fool enough of the people, enough of the time, including fooling themselves, that there’s a motive other than the one starting us in the face: Sudden Jihad Syndrome.  An egregious piece in today’s Herald Tribune  test drives several “motives” and does not just downplay a religious one, it does away with it altogether!
“Investigators are still trying to determine Major Hasan’s motives, exploring his job pressures, harassment as a Muslim and his strong opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
Oh, ok then, it does mention religion, but only from the point of view that others were, maybe, perhaps, horrid to him about his religion.  Meantime, Obama says “don’t jump to conclusions”, by which I think he means: "don’t come to the conclusion that’s staring you in the face until we’ve had a chance to tell you what his motives are, and they won’t, they just won’t, have anything to do with religion."
Here’s Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, for example:
"This was an individual who does not, obviously*, represent the Muslim faith."
*["obviously"? "obviously"??  Napolitano obviously knows nothing of the "Muslim faith" to say that]

And Senator Lindsey Graham :
“At the end of the day this is not about his religion — the fact that this man was a Muslim,” Senator Graham said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”
Ignored in the search for our little Kitty, “Motive”, is the real motive:
Hasan proselytized about Islam when he should have been giving a medical presentation, he dressed in Islamic garb before he went on his rampage, he gave away his Korans and property before the killings (indicating premeditation), he shouted “Allahu Akbar” as he killed and harmed his colleagues  -- that is, he told the world, as clearly as he could “I do this for my God, I do this for my Religion.  My religion asks this of me.”
Any chance that the teachings of Islam, the commandments to kill the Kufaar, had anything to do with the shootings?  Naaah.  
One of the best comments on the race-religious harassment "motive":
5. David Thomson: 
Nov 7, 2009 - 3:17 pm
The evolving elite consensus contends that Major Hasan is somehow a victim of our racist society. He must have suffered from low self-esteem because of his Muslim minority status. This is pure crap. Hasan is a fully credentialed psychiatrist and military officer. In other words, he represents the top ten percent regarding formal education and financial earnings. What is the likelihood that he has been severely persecuted because of the color of his skin and religious affiliation—in the year 2009? Let’s be blunt: next to zilch! At the most, Hasan may have overheard a couple of low ranked soldiers describe him as a towel head. A mature adult is expected to blow off such minor irritations, especially if they are a mental health professional. We can pretty well take it for granted that nobody dared call Hasan a “filthy Arab” to his face. That rarely, if ever, occurs in our present era. Thus, what does he have to complain about? Hasan is a guy who pretty well has it made. Numerous Americans would have been thrilled to trade places with him. Are Muslim-Americans supposedly so overly sensitive that any perceived slight offense is enough to set them off to commit mass murder? Good heavens, give me a break.
Update:  In the International Herald Tribune article I hold in my hand (The International Herald Tribune is the Global Edition of the New York Times), the quote is as above, top of the page.  In the online version of this article, via the NYT website, the very paragraph I have quoted above is amended to the one below.  So from this they have removed even the racist/Muslim harassment "motive", and the opposition to the wars "motive".  Hmmm, why would they do that?  The effect is to throw the whole "motive" onto one possibility, the "strains of the profession", the poor dear.  Will this little kitty do?   Seems rather a burden, for such a weak little "motive".   

"Major Hasan’s motives are still being investigated. But those who work day in and day out treating the psychological wounds of the country’s warriors say Thursday’s rampage has put a spotlight on the strains of their profession and of the patients they treat."

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Rudd's "U-turn"

(c) SCMP

Letter in today's South China Morning Pos, from yours truly...
Greg Barns ("Rudd's U-turn on refugees a mixed message to Asia", October 27) laces his piece on refugees with pejoratives: Australia is a "closed Anglo-European society", "inhumane and xenophobic" and, for good measure, "a selfish, xenophobic European outpost in Asia". In Barns' view, taking any account of public opinion is to be dismissed as "pandering" and "populist".
Australia is not a closed Anglo-European society at all, but open, vibrant, multicultural and tolerant. To suggest there is some kind of "mixed message to Asia" is to ignore the large number of Asian migrants from China, Vietnam and Southeast Asia (China is the third-largest source of Australians born overseas).
If Australians are concerned about Afghans, Iraqis and Iranians seeking entry to Australia, their concern is clearly not because they are non-Anglo-European, as Barns suggests. It is because the Australian public has the common sense to note that they come from Muslim societies; and that the lessons in Europe are that such immigrants have not - unlike those from Asia - assimilated or even integrated well into their host societies.
In Britain and Europe, around 30 per cent of all Muslims, in poll after poll, express support for sharia law with its draconian punishments of women, homosexuals, non-Muslims, adulterers and social drinkers. What is there to suggest Muslim attitudes in Australia would be any different? It is not intolerant, selfish or xenophobic to be concerned about that, as most Australians clearly are.
Note: the only bit cut out of my original, was the rather politically correct bit I included, quoting the Australian government:
As the Australian government says [*]: 
“Since 1945, around 6.9 million people have come to Australia as new settlers. Their contribution to Australian society, culture and prosperity has been an important factor in shaping our nation”.
[*] http://www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/04fifty.htm

"Don't jump to conclusions"

I hear on BBC this morning that Obama has urged people "not to jump to conclusions" about the motivation of Major Hasan who killed 13 people in a killing spree at the Texan army base yesterday.  That "don't jump to conclusions" seems to be a code, used whenever the killing is done by a Muslim.  I can't imagine the same would be said were the killer Christian, Buddhist or Atheist.  It means: don't assume that his religion had anything to do with it (for Islam's a "religion of peace", doncha know).
But what happens if/when we find that the motivation was indeed to do with his religion.   That he couldn't stand to see a Muslim country "attacked" by "Crusaders"?  What conclusion will we then be urged not to jump to?
Update: it seems the Major shouted "Alahu Akbar" before he started shooting.  I wonder: he has made the connection between his religion and the shooting.  The connection between his "God" being "Great" and the fact that the infidels had to be shot.  He made that connection.  What conclusion are we not allowed to come to now?  That Islam had something to do with it?  What tosh!
Update 2:  the blogosphere is spinning, of course, with the two opposing views of this: from the pro-Jihadis and fellow travelling apologists for Islam, vs the anti-Jihadis and critics of Islam.  The former saying that this has nothing to do with religion, or, Obama-speak "don't jump to conclusions", which is a veiled way of saying, don't come to the conclusion that your common sense tells you -- "who do you believe, me or your lying eyes?".  The latter pointing to the fact that Hasan gave away Korans on the day of the massacre, wore Islamic garb and shouted "Allahu Akbar" throughout, to make the link to his religion crystal clear.  The two groups have mirror-image problems.  The pro-islamists are bumping up against reality and common sense when they say that the killings have "nothing to do with religion", but they do have a gullible audience that "wants to believe", wants to believe that the killings are just random craziness, nothing to do with Islam, wants to believe that Islam indeed is a religion of peace.   The anti-islamists have all the common sense and facts on their side (the fellow was doing this in the name, explicitly, of Allah, for God's sake!), but they have an audience unwilling to listen, and who thinks that to acknowledge the fact of the connection to Islam would be "Islamphobic", "bigoted", or, sillier, "racist".  There is a massive global cognitive dissonance on the issue of Islam and violence.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Talking dogs

(c) New Yorker


I mentioned  my auntie’s (RIP) conviction that there was some kind of weird rule in the universe: you don’t hear about something for ages, you may not even know about it, then you hear about it all over the place.
Another one today!  Just this morning talking to my son as to whether dogs could speak.  I asked him to discuss the issue with our Weimaraner, to see if dogs really could speak but simply didn’t;  whether they spoke, but only in doggie language; or if they didn’t speak at all cause they couldn’t.  In the course of his investigations into the issue, he looked up “speak” in the dictionary and it seems that speaking involves “words”, which would seem to rule out dogs. Then our Weimaraner pointed out that it depends on what you mean by “words”. 
Then this afternoon, as if on my auntie’s cue from heaven, the following quote from Joe (Burnaby, BC), in the “Leopard Behind you”:
“ Dogs can talk. One only has to understand the vocabulary.”
This all in the search for an article on facial expressions and how they can affect your mood (instead of the mood affecting your facial expression).  The idea being that just in the act of smiling you may feel happier.  Though one hesitates to wander round with a face contorted into a rictus, in the attempt to elevate one’s mood.  Found it here  by Olivia Judson, who goes on to say that one’s moods may be different depening on which language you’re speaking.  And certainly speaking Italian does raise the spirit, wot, with all it’s uninhibited arm waving.  She has a follow up here.
Ms Judson mentions German.  Reminds me of the pom on our little yacht crossing the Atlantic a few years ago.  He said that the war was all a big misunderstanding based on the sound of German.  They hadn’t been declaring war, just asking the Brits over for a beer….
Son contemplates our Weimaraner talking and people being amazed.  Son says he’d say  “well, yeah, he can talk, but his grammar’s shocking…”.  (Recalling the old Larsen cartoon with a dog mowing the lawn, but not in really straight lines; guest comments in amazement “my goodness, you dog can mow the lawn!”  “Yes,” says the dog’s owner, “but look at what a dreadful job he does…”)

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

China's researchers kick butt

South China Morning Post
Interesting article in today's South China Morning Post.   Seems our motherland is kicking butt in the scientific arena.  Note the areas that they're publishing most in, all of them industries of the future:  "...atomic energy, space science, high-energy physics, biology, computer science and information technology"... where they "... have reached or are close to a recognisable international level of achievement."

Monday, 2 November 2009

It's a ill wind....

... and who does it blow good for here?  Interesting article in today's International Herald Tribune, about China's role in the manufacture of wind turbines for a wind farm in Texas.
It's always going to be hard keeping the manufacturing jobs in the US, given that the average manufacturing wage in China is $US 100 per month , about 3% of the US average.  But is that all bad?  Remember China's Minister of Commerce, our mate Bo Xilai, pointing out some time back that in a pair of Nikes, retailing in the US for around  $US 300, China's factories making the shoes only got a few dollars.  Most of the money went to the front end (research, development and design) and the back end (marketing, sales and profit), all of which were in the US.  Could the same be so for wind energy?  And what do the Green Inc critics of the detail suggest should be done?  Protectionism?  Check out North Korea to see where that leads....

Chinese role in wind farm creates anger
By Tom Zeller Jr Nov 01 2009
News last week of the first major influx of Chinese capital and wind turbine manufacturing expertise into the renewable energy market in the United States—a600-megawatt wind farm planned for the plains of west Texas—had many readers of the Green Inc. blog in a state of agitation.
‘‘I don’t understand why China is exporting wind energy to the U.S.,’’ wrote Mark from New York City.
Read on…

"The high price of patriotism"

As an ex foreign-affairie, I found the following report of ex FCO officer, Derek Pasquill's travails, fascinating and disturbing.
Derek Pasquill was a Foreign and Commonwealth Office man to his core. He was born to a diplomat father and service wife, weaned in its embassies, trained in its boarding schools and polished by its fine minds until he was ready to represent liberal Britain to a hostile world. The FCO was the only institution he really knew, and he took its benevolence for granted. His mother was German and his parents did not want to spend their days at drinks parties with cliquey expats who would not treat the overwhelming majority of their compatriots as their social equals, let alone foreigners. They toured his father's postings instead. When he was on holiday from his English boarding schools, they took him to the Roman ruins at Baalbek in Lebanon and the palaces of Ctesiphon, Iraq. Pasquill had an isolated but privileged childhood and he looks back on it with gratitude. His whole life had been leading him towards a career in the diplomatic service. It was his natural home.
Today, the FCO views him as the most devastating whistleblower in its recent history....

More...(link to mag).  (or, PDF here .) 

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Argumentum ad consequentiam

Richard Dawkins in The Greatest Show on Earth, describes a “common fallacy called argumentum ad consequentiam – X is true (or false) because of how much I like (or dislike) its consequences” (ibid p 402).  That would about sum up the fallacy in the folks over at loonwatch, who argue that death for apostasy in Islam does not exist, despite the canonical and factual evidence for it.  The don’t want it to exist – for then how could Islam be the “Religion of peace and tolerance”? -- so it doesn’t exist. 
The censored my 800-word post (I posted it here instead), so I posted a little post, for they say that’s all they can bear.  This was published and  elicited a response from “Danios”,  but again he censored my response, so again, I’ve posted it below.
Is this important, or is it just an obscure argument on religious theory?  Well, it’s about whether or not there’s penalty for apostasy in Islam, up to and including the death penalty.   So yes, it’s important, if you consider the 1.2 billion Muslims, many of whom may fear death if they leave that baleful ideology.  People can and do get killed for leaving it .   There’s Rifqa Bary who has fled her home in fear of her pious Muslim parents, as she’d left Islam for Christianity.

If you’re new to this issue, then no doubt you’re going to find that the thought any punishment at all for thinking for oneself is shocking.  That one could be put to death for changing one’s religion is beyond shocking; it’s truly barbaric.  Of course, the apologists will say that Christianity had centuries to reform itself, so you have to give Islam a chance (give pious a chance).  But hey, folks, it’s been 1400 years already!  And these days things happen rather faster than they used to in the dark ages – in the non-Islamic world, at least…
Anyway, the exchange is below, only the first two of which were published by “Danios”.  Am I guilty of the argumentum ad consequentiam fallacy?  You judge.  Every time I check myself on it, I just have to raise my head from the keyboard and note that there are still eight countries that have the death penalty for apostasy, Iran as recently as 2008: Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Qatar, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan and Mauritania.  In many other Islamic countries apostasy is punishable or actively discourage.  Read on…
Peter Forsythe Says: 
October 29th, 2009 at 10:00 pm
Egypt’s Grand Mufti, Ali Gomaa, confirms that there is punishment for apostasy, as does the Islamic Research Centre of al-Azhar University, supporting him: there is punishment “in this life” for apostasy.
Article in Gulf News  July 07.

++++++
Peter, thank you for keeping your post short and to the point. Unfortunately every single word and letter in your comment is incorrect, despite how knowledgeable you thought of yourself when you posted it.
First: Ali Gomaa is not the head of Al-Azhar. Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi is the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and holds the highest position of authority there. Please click here to see that clearly. Tantawi’s view on apostasy is that “peaceful apostasy” is not to be punished. It is only to be punished if it is coupled with seditious acts against the state.
Second: as for the Islamic Research Department of Al-Azhar, here is their view on the matter:
“The Islamic Research Department of Al-Azhar University has called the penalty for apostasy as null and void and has said that the ways of repentance are open for the whole life…So an apostate can repent over his mistake anytime during his life and there would be no fixed period for it.” (source: Al-Alamul Islami, Rabita Alam al-Islami, Aug. 23rd, 2002)
Third: You are incorrect about Ali Gomaa. His view is that apostasy is only to be punished if the apostate poses a seditious threat to the state. Initially, his comments against the punishment for apostasy were included in the Washington Post. After that, Gulf News published an article saying that he was misquoted, which you duly included in your comment. Unfortunately, in your haste, you did not come to know that a third article was then published in the Middle East Times in which Ali Gomaa said that it was in fact the Gulf News which misquoted him. In the Middle East Times article, Ali Gomaa says: “Some members of the press and the public understood this statement as a retraction of my position that Islam affords freedom of belief. I have always maintained the legitimacy of this freedom and I continue to do so.” So the top two Imams of Sunni Islam reject the death penalty for apostasy.
Three strikes, Peter. You’re out.
Do you realize now why I didn’t approve your huge misinformed post before? It would have taken me too long to point out all your numerous mistakes.
Tell me: did you enjoy having your ass handed to you?
-Danios.
++++
LOOOL
Btilliant work Danios! I had a good chuckle at your response to Peter, you truly showed him up, i bet he is licking his wounds somewhere, and hasn’t had time to assess if he “enjoyed having his ass handed back”…Oh beautiful…… ROTFL
EDIT by Danios: Thanks for your comment. I snipped some of your post simply because I didn’t want to extend the debate. Hope you don’t mind and can trust me on this. Thanks.
My response, not published by Danios:
Danios,
Thanks for your response.
First, I did not say that Ali Gomaa was the head of al-Azhar. I said he was Grand Mufti. 
Second, Ali Gomaa’s comments are hardly unqualified and ringing condemnations of penalty for apostasy, given that he calls it a “grave sin” (heavily punishable under Islamic law), and that apostates should be punished if they “endangered society”.  (Who’s to decide that?).  [1]
The same article notes that:
“In many Muslim societies, there is a long-held view – not necessarily supported by scripture - that the punishment for apostasy is death.”
Not necessarily” means it is debatable.
Third, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, Sayyid Tantawi’s comments on apostasy [2] are that apostasy should not be punished only if it does not “pose a threat” or “belittle Islam”.  “Belittling” of Islam is a loophole one could drive a truck through.
For example, Hossam Bahgat said: “Even though it is not a criminal offense in Egypt, [apostates] get detained under emergency laws or are put on trial for contempt of religion if they wish to convert.” [1]
Fourth, re the Islamic Research Centre (IRC) of al-Azhar, you quote (with no reference) a representative as saying, in 2002, that the penalty for apostasy is “null and void”.  However, five years later, Mustafa Al Chaka a senior official of the IRC said:  "He [Gomaa] cannot deny punishment in this life for the apostate." (Gulf News, July 24 2007 [3]).  Is Mustafa Al Chaka an “Islamophobe”?
[A]   Your conclusion: “So the top two Imams of Sunni Islam reject the death penalty for apostasy.”
[B]  A disinterested conclusion: “Two of the top Imams of Sunni Islam make contradictory and qualified statements about the punishment for apostasy; if a legalist were looking for cause for capital punishment for apostasy, they would find comfort in those statements.”
References:

Friday, 30 October 2009

The go-go Militia

An old colleague sent me this link to a 360 degree view of the recent 60th Anniversary parade in Peking.  Takes a while to load, but it’s worth it.  How did they do that?
Reminded me to post the vid of the Women’s Militia: marching in pink mini-skirts, white leather go-go boots and AK47s slung to the bosoms….
A few years back, the Mayor of Dalian in Shenyang province decreed that the traffic cop-ettes should all be comely, 5’8”, and clad in leather mini-skirts with leather thigh-high boots.  Oh, lovely un-PC China!

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

The Road to Krak

Seems Syria is well worth visiting.  Not only for Palmyra, below, but also for the World Heritage site of the Crusader castle, The Krak des Chevaliers (French for "Fortress of Knights"; Arabic: Qala'at Al-Hosn) near Homs in Syria.  Paul Theroux described it as the dream castle of childhood fantasies.   T.E. Lawrence called it "the finest castle in the world", “perhaps the best preserved and most wholly admirable castle in the world”.  And one gets to study the Crusades to boot!  Apparently it has some of the best preserved Crusader art in the world.

The Road to Palmyra

Palmyra's Temple of Bel, SCMP, 28 Oct
On our recent boat trip in the Cyclades, some fellow yachties joined us for drinks.  They were from Syria and our ever-curious boat-mates asked them about tourism there.  They said there were plenty of interesting spots to visit in Syria, mentioning Palmyra as one: "the desert oasis where caravans met in ancient times bringing silk from the mainland and spices from India to Europe."
We had just had a mention of Palmyra, when in our rubber dinghy, ladies worried about it's turning turtle and I assured them that it could not: that had been established in the murder case of Mac and Muff Graham on the pacific island of Palmyra in 1974, a story excitingly told in "And the Sea Will Tell", by Vince Bugliosi (who also prosecuted the Manson family and wrote about it in "Helter Skelter").  Part of the defense relied on the claim that a rubber dinghy had turned over in the lagoon, drowning Mac and Muff.  Bugliosi and the prosecution proved that it would not.  Prosecution was secured.
A short time after assuring our crew-mates of the stability of the dinghy, I proved it wouldn't tip over, but that it was still be possible to fall out of it, as I did when removing the engine, falling into the water and destroying iPhone no. 5....
Then today in the South China Morning Post, as feature about Damascus and Palmyra, whence the quote above and the news that
"Pottering amongst the ruins is American film director Francis Ford Coppola, enchanted by the story of Zenobia, the third century Palmyran queen of legendary beauty, bravery and intelligence.*   Coppola insists  he is in holiday, not scouting for locations.  But it is hard to find a more dramatic setting:  Palmyra boast nine-metre Corinthian stone pillars, multi-sotry funerary towers, sensational sunrises....".  Article in pdf here . (Link to the post here , but needs login)
This proves yet again my old auntie's observation: that you don't hear about something, then all of a sudden you hear about it all over the shop.  I hadn't thought, or spoken of Palmyra since reading Bugliosi's book twenty years ago, then three times in a week.  Our auntie was also right about something else: speaking in the sixties, she said "the climate is changing".  We kids used to say "auntie, the weather's changing maybe, but the climate doesn't change".  How wrong we were.  It's always changing, it turns out, but if warmer or colder, if man-made or not, that's the question.  There, I've said it.

*Note to Mr Coppola: Catherine Zeta-Jones for Queen Zenobia...

Rifqa Bary: on Apostasy and the pusillanimous censors at Loonwatch

Comment on my post below from Eastview (27 Oct):

Meeker, excellent comment you attempted to post over at LoonWatch. Their not publishing it is fully in keeping with what appears to be their policy of censorship of intelligent and rationally argued dissenting opinions. Most of the comments on LoonWatch stories are of the cheerleading kind, almost certainly from fellow Muslims. What dissenting views they do post seem to be ones that are selected according to whether they satisfy a "see how idiotic these guys are?" criterion. Your original response certainly did not fit into that category, and I think they now regret posting it, not fully realizing what they had done. Obviously they are now taking steps to limit the effects of this camel nose so rudely appearing under the tent.
LoonWatch engages in censored advocacy "journalism" and provide an example of what the Fourth Estate would become if these guys are ever allowed to have their way with the First Amendment.
+++
My answer:
Thanks for your comment Eastview. Yes, they do engage in censorship by "having the last word". The did the same in the case of the debate on apostasy between Spencer and prof Bassiouni , in which they posted only the prof's final comments, and not the later response by Spencer, which any fair-minded reader would conclude won the argument...

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Merda taurorum animas conturbit (*)

Some correspondence at Loonwatch ended with them not posting a reply of mine to a very long article (twenty pages printed out, 10,000 plus words) of a blogger by the name of Danios on the Fathima Rifqa Bary apostasy case.  

The original article is here.  Virtually all the comments were in praise of Danios’ take on the issue, which in essence is that Ms Bary (a Muslim convert to Christianity) should be returned to her pious Muslim parents for there is no danger of her being killed for apostasy, since there is no case for that punishment under Islam, at least on the reading of “reform-minded Muslims”.  My first post was published October 23rd 12:16pm: it’s towards the bottom of the link above.  Danios commented on my post, and I in turn addressed his points in the post below, which Danios did not publish:

My response to Danios’ comments, NOT published:
Danios,
Thanks for your reply and advice.  I thought I had read your article carefully, but you’re right, I did miss the bit about the 1958 fatwa of al-Azhar university opposing the death penalty for apostates.  So I printed out your article (20 pages!) and had a more thorough look at it.  The link to the fatwa you mentioned doesn’t go to that reference, so I found it separately.  (BTW, one could argue that a 1958 fatwa is abrogated by a 1991 certification of the “Reliance of the Traveller” [the Classic Manual of Islamic jurisprudence, which is certified by al-Azhar university] in which death for apostasy is mandated, but let’s not worry about that).  The reference I found was this:
“To Shaykh Tantawi [Grand Imam of al-Azhar], a Muslim who renounced his faith or turned apostate should be left alone as long as he does not pose a threat or belittle Islam” [my emphasis].
The first bit of the qualification “as long as he does not pose a threat…” goes to the point you made repeatedly, that the call for death to apostates in the Hadith needs to be “contextualized” to include sedition/treason (that is also an arguable proposition, but let’s not worry about that either, for now).  But what about that bit I bolded “belittle Islam”?  There’s a loophole one could drive a truck through.  Let’s say you leave Islam and state that you have done so because you found it misogynist or homophobic or…whatever,  that could land you in pretty deep water, I would have thought.  And there's always going to be a reason one left Islam, which if expressed would amount to "belittling", at least in the minds of many Muslims.  [*]

And therein lies the problem with the thesis you have set out above [linked article]: loopholes galore, for “loonies” and for dhimmis alike.  It may be that there are “reform-minded Muslims” who “contextualize” the Koran and reliable hadith to eliminate capital punishment for apostasy.  But equally there are many – indeed many more – on the conservative side of this question who do not “contextualize” death for apostasy and who support it robustly.  That’s not me saying that:  that’s the many Muslim scholars respected in Islam who say that.  To name just a few:  Sayyid Baul Ala Maudidi, Afzal ur-Rahman, Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi,  Al-Razi.   These are all respected, mainstream, credible, Islamic voices who say apostasy is punishable by death.  So when you say “Islamophobes insist that apostates must be killed” [emphasis in the original] are you saying these worthy Islamic scholars are “Islamophobic”?

All that’s “theory”.  Then there’s reality.  Today the following countries have the death penalty for apostasy: Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Qatar, Yemen, Iran, Sudan, Afghanistan and Mauritania.  Iran joined this list as recently as 2008.  That’s eight countries with a population of over 200 million where people can be killed for changing their belief; killed, in short, for thinking freely.

If you were Ms Bary, would you feel sure that your parents, their co-religionists and their Mosque had “contextualized” the teachings on apostasy such that you were in no danger?  Would you be sure when you knew that other young girls had been killed by their families, in the US and in Europe?  No, you could not be sure.  Neither can professor Valerie Hoffman, nor can professor Sherman Jackson, nor can professor Brett Wilson, nor can reporter Michael Kruse.  The best that Kruse can say in his article is that Bary’s parents “don’t have to” kill her [sic], or that we can’t know “absolutely” that she will be killed [sic].  Is that really good enough??  That we don’t know for sure that she’ll be killed for her beliefs, therefore she can go back home?  (and aren't those shockingly irresponsible statements by Kruse?)

On the question of “The Reliance of the Traveller” vs. the “Summa Theologica”, with respect, the comparison is not valid.  The provisions on apostasy are routinely referred to by Muslims in all countries of the world, today.    No Christian, today, in any country, refers to the “Summa Theologica” to justify death for apostasy.  In Judeo-Christian discourse, death for apostasy is just not on the agenda and hasn’t been for centuries.  In Islam death for apostasy is very much an alive issue.  Even your own article recognizes this, in the quote from Sherman Jackson: the issue of apostasy is “the heart of a burning debate among modern Muslims” [emphasis in the original].  Why the “burning issue”, Danios, if you have had “…the Final Word on Islam and Apostasy” [the part-title of Danios' essay]?

If there are many “reform-minded Muslims” who want to do away with a barbaric penalty for thinking for oneself, that’s encouraging.  But they do have a rather long row to hoe, the ground is hard and the hoe blade is bent.  To mix the metaphor, they are playing from a rather poor hand (not their fault!).  After all, if one has to spend so much time “contextualizing” , then one’s job is rather tough.  Those  “ultra-conservatives” and other “classical scholars”, by contrast, need only refer to the words of the “Traveller” or reliable hadith, plain and simple.
Still,  I do wish them well these “reform-minded Muslims”.  They may have a long row to hoe, so they will really have to bend to their work and I wish them luck in that endeavour.  We, the world, needs it.

[*] Postscript (not in the post):
Re Tantawi and the 1958 fatwa allegedly opposing the death penalty for apostasy: “Sayyid Tantawi, Grand Imam of al-Azhar in Cairo since 17 March 1996, is seen as the highest spiritual authority by  most Sunnis worldwide…. his statements are often contradictory and vacillating on issues ranging from female genital mutilation and the wearing of the hijab (the Islamic headscarf for women) to jihad and suicide bombings.”  Tantawi is shown to say sharply different things to Muslim and to non-Muslim audiences.  (Global Jihad, by Patrick Sookhdeo, p 206 et seq, chapter on Taqiyya.).  So the obvious question is: can we trust even that very conditional “opposition” to the death penalty quoted above, which was in a website aimed at non-Muslim audiences?

Danios answers my query on why the above not published; October 27th 3:01 am

Because it was too long and I do not have time to respond to huge posts by people who refuse to read my article in the first place. Keep your post short, raise only one point instead of a series of points, and most importantly please make sure that I haven’t already dealt with your point in my article.
In your last post, there were once again points I had already addressed but which you seem to have missed. I do not have the time to repeat myself, as that will only hamper my ability to post new articles aimed at Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, Bat Ye’or, and Pam Geller.
As I have said in other threads on this site, I have a more rigid policy of moderation than other mods here. The Jihad Watch type crew has a lot of foot-soldiers who can force me to waste my time responding to them, but I don’t care to do that. I want to debate Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes, Bat Ye’or, and Pam Geller directly. So if any of them post rebuttals to my articles, then I will reply in great detail. Quite frankly, I don’t have the time to waste on you.
-Danios.

Couple of points:
(i)  Danios could have just published my post without comment and let the readers decide if what I had to say was too long, too tedious, missed the point, or was simply a tendentious farrago of falsehoods.
(ii)   I don’t see where there are “points I [Danios] had already addressed but which you seem to have missed”.  It would clearly be trespassing on readers’ patience to ask for these to be pointed out to me, but if there are any that jump out at one, I’d be happy to see them…
(iii)  On the site Loonwatch loves to hate, Jihadwatch.org, they allow comments to be published immediately and without editing.  They are only removed if they are against the terms of the site, eg abusive or racist.  Even then, that happens rarely. There are therefore often commentors on the site who argue against Spencer et.al.  I wonder why the folks at loonwatch don’t do that; what do they fear?
(iv)  A kind of BTW: my post above is 820 words; Danios original is 10,720.  OK, so Danios is one of the “motley group of hate-allergic bloggers” who run the site, but still, not to give a respondent 8% of the space to answer?  It’s unlimited space Danios, let the readers decide what they read!
(v)  There are many other errors in the Danios piece, including the false equivalence between the Bible (Deuteronomy) and the Koran -- the old "cherry picking" argument -- and the downplaying of the importance of the Hadith either out of ignorance or disingenuousness.
(vi)  Good luck with your Islamophobe-hunting, Loonwatch!  I am proud of a would-be pejorative when it’s flung by the likes of a site that is scared of publishing opposing views!

Loquendi Libertatum Custodiamus! [let's guard free speech]

(*) Merda taurorum animas conturbit: Bullshit baffles brains