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  • Archive for June, 2007

    Lean Times Are a Thing of the Past

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 13th June 2007 (All posts by )

    The incomparable Megan McArdle (who blogs under the name Jane Galt) posted an essay where she discusses a book she read. The book posited a theory about why it is difficult for some people to lose weight, the problem being that they were genetically predisposed to packing it on, and their bodies sent danger signals if the feed bag was removed.

    That was interesting enough, but I found the comments left by her readers to be more revealing. It seems that just about everyone seemed to think that America has the fattest people on Earth.

    This is simply no longer true, and anyone who is interested has known about this for years. It seems that at least 7 European countries boast populations that have higher percentages of obesity than levels found in the United States, according to a news report from 2005. It has gotten so bad in recent years that even the glacially slow European Union bureaucracy has decided to lurch into action.

    One might think that the rest of the European Union, at least, has a population that is slimmer than that found in the United States. Not necessarily. As this essay by Michael Fumento states, some of the data that was gleaned back in 2005 came from surveys where people were asked to gauge their own weight. Since no one who is overweight likes to admit it, it would be prudent to take any claims of how Europeans are oh-so-svelte with a grain of salt.

    Europe has a fat problem, so why the widespread criticism of the American lifestyle and high obesity levels? A report commissioned by the food corporation Kraft might shed some light on this annoying example of cognitive dissonance.

    “…Europeans view obesity as a problem that affects others, but not themselves.”

    There are a few things about the situation that I find very interesting.

    First off, the public perception seems to be that Europe doesn’t have an obesity problem and only the indolent and crass Americans must struggle with their weight. Why this is so puzzles me in light of easily perceived evidence to the contrary, but I have noticed that Europeans tend to try and make themselves feel good by indulging in anti-America bigotry. This appears to be a triumph of European feel-good propaganda.

    While high levels of obesity have been recognized as a health problem in America for at least twenty years, it seems to be a recent revelation in Europe. Perhaps coincidentally, Europe also lags behind the US in economic development. In fact, it appears that Europe is 22 years behind the US since they just reached the level of prosperity we enjoyed way back in 1985.

    Hmmm. 1985. When did the obesity problem in the US first kick in to high gear, anyway?

    One of the fattest countries in Europe is Germany, which enjoys an improving economy. Cyprus also has an obesity problem, and according to the CIA Factbook they enjoy a much higher level of growth than the standard EU rate.

    Is there a correlation between GDP and obesity rates? Maybe. I have never studied economics so I am not qualified to say. But it certainly seems possible to this layman.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Europe, Human Behavior, Society, USA | 16 Comments »

    Disappearing Comments

    Posted by Jonathan on 12th June 2007 (All posts by )

    I have been adding terms to the blog’s anti-spam blacklist recently as more spam comments have begun to penetrate our deflector shields.

    If you post a comment and your comment does not appear, it was probably blocked or deleted by some part of the anti-spam system. Please let me know ASAP if this happens, so that I can rescue your comment if possible and adjust the anti-spam system if necessary.

    Also, you should probably keep a copy in Word or Notepad of any long comments that you write, at least until they appear successfully on the blog.

    Posted in Announcements | 2 Comments »

    Silly movie swordfights

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 11th June 2007 (All posts by )

    John Clements, a professional swordfighter, writes at THEFORCE.NET:

    Moves that Look Cool are usually the Stupidest
    One of the worst clichés of these fan films (and in professional films too, so don’t feel bad) is this ridiculous spinning around action. I’ve lost count of how many times Obi Wan has used this move so far in two films. Stop trying to spin around at every opportunity! I can’t tell you what a phenomenally useless move this overused cliché really is. Against a skilled opponent it’s virtually suicide. The move is ubiquitous in countless sword fights and each time it’s made to look like it has some value, but in reality, it’s about the most inane thing you could possibly do in a real sword fight. You gain nothing from it. No experienced fighter or fencer is going to intentionally turn his back, taking his eyes off his opponent while exposing his whole body in the process, just so he can turn himself around and bring his weapon back predictably from the other side. To what purpose? It’s not going to make you any more deceptive nor any quicker in your strike nor any better defended. It fools no one, adds no real power, and immensely delays your attack.
    …it’s silly and leaves you horrendously vulnerable. I cringe every time I see it in a sword fight scene.

    The more aware you are of the physicality of personal combat (that is, how the human body actually moves and how a weapon actually performs when fighting in earnest), the more dramatic opportunities you have at your creative disposal. The clear reason why Darth Maul looked so darn menacing as a fighter was the simple fact the performer was a real life martial artist, not an actor just faking it (even if it was often clear he was just doing classic kung fu staff moves). His obvious sense of personal space and balance as well as his firm and agile stances made the other actors look amateurish by comparison.

    He concentrates on lightsaber fights, but that stupid spinning move is cropping up in any movie where swords ever make the briefest of appearances. My ‘suspension of disbelief’ comes down crashing down every time it does, making me very aware that I’m watching something made by very silly people. Bah!

    Posted in Film | 17 Comments »

    The Trivialization of Science Teaching

    Posted by David Foster on 10th June 2007 (All posts by )

    A U.K. physics teacher writes about the destruction of his subject by the new government-estabished syllabus.

    (via the excellent Natalie Solent)

    See my related post from 2005, Skipping Science Class.

    SECOND UPDATE: An interesting collision between science and “Theory,” as the latter is practiced in many university humanities departments, can be seen in the episode known as The Sokal Hoax. (More here.)

    Also, these books are relevant to this discussion: Higher Superstition and Fashionable Nonsense.

    FIRST UPDATE: From the Telegraph:

    The curriculum in state schools in England has been stripped of its content and corrupted by political interference, according to a damning report by an influential, independent think-tank…No major subject area has escaped the blight of political interference, according to the report published by Civitas.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Education, Society | 27 Comments »

    Mollusk Mania!

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th June 2007 (All posts by )

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Humor, Photos | Comments Off on Mollusk Mania!

    This Conference Should Send a Clear Message

    Posted by Ginny on 9th June 2007 (All posts by )

    Update (Tuesday, June 12): I e-mailed the Gateway links to my Czechophile son-in-law who is spending the summer in Russia; this may just be an accident of where he is and what newspapers he is reading or it may be that our commentators are right – this just wasn’t news. Nonetheless, I tend to see a certain irony – it isn’t news here because Bush has “no credibility” and it isn’t news there, perhaps because Putin has far too much “credibility.”
    Gateway Pundit transcribes part of Havel’s speech from the Dissident Panel at the Democracy and Security Conference in Prague; the post includes only a paragraph of Havel’s talk but he quickly mentions topics we often return to on this blog: appeasement of those abusing human rights, the bureaucratic response of the EU to such offenses, and the sins of Cuban repression:

    Vaclav Havel (through translater): Let me introduce this now using a specific example- the Cuban example…

    First… they (the EU) decide to invite dissidents to national day celebrations at the embassies. Second… they say we welcome changes but we’d like to be cautious so we’ll exclude dissidents from all of this. And now… I fear that again they are trying an appeasement policy position and I think that this conference should send a clear message to the EU leaders and say that this is not the right way to go.

    Posted in Cuba | Comments Off on This Conference Should Send a Clear Message

    Photography News

    Posted by Jonathan on 9th June 2007 (All posts by )

    Item 1: Microsoft’s new photo-search technology looks like a big deal.


    Item 2: This is great. A guy puts a small digital camera, cleverly modified to take photos at one-minute intervals for 48 hours, on his cat. The cat wanders off and returns with photos of all kinds of things his owner never knew were going on.

    A cat is perfect for this experiment, because it is big enough and has a wide enough range of behavior for its travels to be interesting, yet also small enough that it can be allowed to roam. I assume it’s only a matter of time before people start putting cameras on birds and even smaller animals.

    Posted in Diversions, Photos, Tech, Video | 1 Comment »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Mitch Townsend on 8th June 2007 (All posts by )

    Reductio ad absurdum done right.

    The Upside of Income Inequality

    By Gary S. Becker and Kevin M. Murphy
    From the May/June 2007 Issue of

    For many, the solution to an increase in inequality is to make the tax structure more progressive—raise taxes on high-income households and reduce taxes on low-income households. While this may sound sensible, it is not. Would these same indi­viduals advocate a tax on going to college and a subsidy for dropping out of high school in response to the increased importance of education? We think not. Yet shifting the tax structure has exactly this effect.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Human Behavior, Political Philosophy, Quotations | 14 Comments »

    “Is London’s future Islamic?”

    Posted by Jonathan on 8th June 2007 (All posts by )

    Via Rand Simberg comes this essay by Michael Hodges.

    I can’t tell if the Hodges piece is parody. If not, he reminds me of a leftist anti-Semitic high-school history teacher I had. He too used that “people of the book” line, to knock Christendom for being more hostile to Jews than Islam is and to explain away Muslim mistreatment of Jews.

    In fact the Muslim record, particularly the recent Arab-Muslim record, only looks good in isolated cases or by comparison with the worst abuses of old Christendom. The modern Christian world is astonishingly tolerant by historical standards. Christian institutions have shrunk away from national government while radical Islam seeks to perpetuate Islam’s historical political totalism.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Britain, Christianity, Civil Liberties, Europe, History, Islam, Judaism, Middle East, Political Philosophy, Religion | 4 Comments »

    You Get What You Measure

    Posted by John Jay on 8th June 2007 (All posts by )

    David Foster, in the comments to my previous post, links to this article. Actually, one of the factors that got me to thinking about the problem of bureaucratic failure about 10 years ago was an article in some British medical journal, probably either  the Lancet or  BMJ (I can’t remember which and if anyone knows this article, I’d appreciate the cite), talking about how measuring specific performance factors in the British Hospital system made things less safe because anything that was not on the government performance evaluation was not given any thought or resources, and the government had missed some pretty big and life-threatening issues. If it jogs anyone’s memory, I believe that the author was an Indian practicing in Britain.

    As a small “l” libertarian, I tend to take the same approach to civil society and business regulations that I take to parenting. Laugh if you wish, but I came across an expression of this philosophy when I was 7 or 8 in a children’s book, The Great Ringtail Garbage Caper. It’s a book about a bunch of raccoons who take matters into their own hands and “borrow” a garbage truck to make their own rounds when two new garbage men start cleaning up too efficiently. Pretty libertarian book, now that I come to think of it. It resonated, and I even thirty years later I still recite the line verbatim:

    “Make as few rules as possible, but don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”

    Posted in Human Behavior, Libertarianism, Political Philosophy | 4 Comments »

    “Requirements Kill”

    Posted by Jonathan on 8th June 2007 (All posts by )

    A commenter on the post immediately preceding this one links to his own thoughtful essay on project management. This kind of thing may be old hat for the PM gurus here but it’s meat to me. You might like the essay if you, like me, are interested in the dynamics of managing big technical projects, and particularly if you are interested in how projects fail.

    Posted in Business, Human Behavior, Tech | 1 Comment »

    The March of Folly

    Posted by John Jay on 7th June 2007 (All posts by )

    Derek Lowe recently touched on a topic I’ve been noticing for all of my adult life, and for which I’m only starting to develop a general theory. Bureaucratic and governmental solutions tend to work in the near and medium term, but usually degenerate into a mess that is either worse than the original problem, or that ultimately fails to solve the original problem, usually within a decade.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Human Behavior, Libertarianism | 19 Comments »

    Extreme Fishing

    Posted by Jonathan on 7th June 2007 (All posts by )

    Sensory overload!

    This is for mature audiences only. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Diversions, Humor, Video | 7 Comments »

    On Transatlantic Myths

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 6th June 2007 (All posts by )

    Link via Atlantic Review:

    William Drozdiak writes in his article ‘4 Myths About America-Bashing in Europe’ among other things:

    With the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, Europe supposedly lost its relevance. Not true. In fact, Europe and the United States still act as the twin turbines of the global economy, accounting for 60 percent of all trade and investment flows.

    Americans invested five times as much money in Germany last year as they did in China, and U.S. firms in total have poured four times as much money into tiny Belgium as they have into India. Europe provides three-quarters of all foreign investment in the United States, creating millions of American jobs.

    Posted in Economics & Finance, Europe | 22 Comments »

    Thanks to Gateway Pundit

    Posted by Ginny on 5th June 2007 (All posts by )

    • Update: Today, Gateway Pundit‘s concludes descriptions of various participants, heroics of Iraq’s Mithul al-Alusi and Garri Kasparov with the understated: “Certainly, Prague is not short on heroes this week.”

    Countering the posts we’ve been doing on Cuba and Venezuela, across the ocean Sharansky, Havel & Aznar organized Democracy and Security: Core Values and Sound Policies.” (In Prague, June 5-6, hosted by Prague Security Studies Institute, Jerusalem-Based Shalem Center’s Adelson Institute For Strategic Studies and Madrid’s Foundation for Social Analysis and Studies.) Gateway Pundit is covering it and includes a moving speech by Lieberman and a rather rousing one by Bush – described by Gateway Pundit as “Bush Rocks the Czernin Palace”. The conference is full of people who have taken great risks and lost much for the cause of democracy and liberty.

    This doesn’t seem to be getting the coverage one would think it should. For instance, dissidents from seventeen countries sat in the front rows for Bush’s speech – these people are, by their presence, interesting. The stories need not really say that Bush met with them privately or that he got a standing ovation – we understand why that is not news.
    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Blogging, Europe, International Affairs, Media | 4 Comments »

    ‘The blogging Mullah’

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 5th June 2007 (All posts by )

    Link via a blog at the website of the German business paper Handelsblatt:

    Update: Tatyana informs me in the comments that one of Abtahi’s post I’m linking to, ‘Freedom of Holding Demonstrations against America’, alludes to an old Soviet joke about being perfectly free in the Soviet Union to protest against America.

    The Ayatollah Ali Mohammad Abtahi, Vice President under former Iranian President Khatami has a blog of his own. According to Handelsblatt he is posting almost daily, his subjects mostly being ‘rumors heard in mosques, indiscretions [uttered] at official receptions and inside stories from the halls of power’. Abtahi still is a welcome guest all over the Arabic world, so he has a lot of such stories on offer. He mostly blogs in Farsi, but some stories are also translated into a quite idiosyncratic English here.

    Abtahi and his former boss Khatami are quite moderate as Iranian Ayatollahs go, although the latter demonstrated this April the limits of his moderation by telling some Israeli journalists to ‘go to hell’. Furthermore, even people reporting for German public TV now and then feel compelled to point out that the Iranian government under Khatami was no less intransigent as far as their nuclear program was concerned as the present one under Ahmadenejad is right now.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Iran | 4 Comments »

    Not Prejudiced At All

    Posted by James R. Rummel on 5th June 2007 (All posts by )

    This news story brings us word of a new robot developed by Japanese researchers. The latest in interactive robotics, the only thing it can do is create expressions when it recognizes various keywords.

    The author of the Reuters article seems to take great delight in pointing out that the robot is programmed to react with fear and disgust when it hears the words “President”, “Bush”, “Iraq” or “war”. Or at least it seems that they are delighted to me. After all, the only word mentioned that brings a positive reaction is “sushi”.

    Since the robot is nothing more than a disembodied head, I can’t help but wonder if the researchers programmed it to react in the most negative way to the words “al Qaeda”, “captive” or “militant”. Something tells me that the robot would just sit there and give you a blank stare if you said anything like that in it’s hearing.

    After all, the researchers wouldn’t be praised as being “brave” or “daring” if they criticized people who actually sawed innocent people’s heads off.

    Posted in Anti-Americanism | 2 Comments »

    Speaking to One Another and Speaking Out

    Posted by Ginny on 4th June 2007 (All posts by )

    A couple of days ago, I quoted Bruce Bawer on engagement. Since then, his words have rolled about in my head. This long spring, I started reconnecting with old gay friends; I’ve been struck by how many of them have become politicized, beset by BDS. In the sixties and seventies they were apolitical – as, most of the time, I was. Occasionally, I’d have a boyfriend who’d talk about politics, but then I’d retreat to my friends whose arguments were over the fictional and aesthetic.

    Bush’s stance on gay marriage may irritate, but, frankly, this is the first White House in which a gay couple stood on the nominating platform with the presidential candidate, when the First Lady when asked if she would allow a gay couple in the White House answered, quite calmly, said she was sure many such couples had stayed there. But I must acknowledge my friends have a point. They feel something they know should be acknowledged: partnership, affection, duty. Besides, marriage has been tattered and torn. Some confuse weddings with marriage, rights with duties, conjugal responsibilities with conjugal visits, buying houses with raising children, keeping the core institution of society strong with being a social “couple.” But, then, so do a lot of heterosexuals.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Europe, Islam | 18 Comments »

    Memo to John Edwards

    Posted by Mitch Townsend on 4th June 2007 (All posts by )

    “But what this global war on terror bumper sticker — political slogan, that’s all it is, all it’s ever been — was intended to do was for George Bush to use it to justify everything he does: the ongoing war in Iraq, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, spying on Americans, torture.” — John Edwards, June 3, 2007

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Politics, Terrorism | 6 Comments »

    Quote of the Day

    Posted by Jonathan on 4th June 2007 (All posts by )

    In turn, very few Cubans left their country for good before 1959. Sure, there were some who emigrated to the United States, but compared to the masses [immigrating] from Europe it was a very small group per capita.
    If you’ve stuck with me thus far, what comes next should be obvious. Simply put, after castro and his bandits took over in 1959, the boats and airplanes changed directions. They began leaving instead of arriving in Cuba. Estimates place the Cuban-American emigration to the United States at over a million. From a population of 6 million in 1959, that’s staggering. This doesn’t count the many Cubans who emigrated elsewhere in Latin America, as well as to Europe and even Australia. A country of immigrants became a country better known for its human export. A country which boasted sugar among its exports now spits out its own flesh and blood.


    Posted in Cuba, History, Latin America, Leftism, Quotations, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

    Venezuela Is an Old Story, But Some Have Not Discerned the Plot

    Posted by Ginny on 3rd June 2007 (All posts by )

    In Black Dogs, a novel that describes the tenuous hold Westerners have on civilization and the nearness of our more primal selves, Ian McEwan sets a dramatic scene in Berlin; Berlin, of course, has been a setting for much real and fictional drama in the twentieth century and may in the twenty-first. In While Europe Slept, Bruce Bawer describes his anger at the parade of Che shirts as he sat in a Berlin Starbucks. He describes his reaction:

    I should have been inured to Che’s ubiquity by now. But it angered me to see his face in Pariser Platz, where his cause had once won a nightmarish, and seemingly irreversible, victoria. Some would ague that his reduction to an image used to sell leisure wear represented a “commodification” of Communism, and therefore a victory for capitalism. But looking at those shirts, I felt no sense of triumph.(129-30)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Book Notes, Human Behavior, Politics | 4 Comments »

    The Vietnam War (eventually) resulted in an American victory

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 2nd June 2007 (All posts by )

    There is a pretty heated discussion about the war in Vietnam, among other things, in the comments of this post by Ginny, so these observations by Jerry Pournelle should contribute some useful context:

    Viet Nam was a US success because a great part of Soviet transport production including trucks and such was built in the USSR, transported at great expense to Viet Nam and destroyed by USAF. When North Viet Nam invaded the South in 1975 they had more armor than the Wehrmacht had at Kursk, and more trucks than Patton ever had in the Red Ball Express. This was all replacements for similar amounts of materiel destroyed in 1973 when the US at a cost of 663 US casualties aided ARVN in repulsing a 150,000 troop invasion — fewer than 40,000 ever got back home — bringing with it more tanks than the Wehrmacht had at Kursk and more trucks than Patton ever had — none of which ever got home.
    Viet Nam helped convert the USSR into Bulgaria with missiles. They neglected their own infrastructure to send materiel to Viet Nam for us to destroy.

    As Pournelle also writes in his post, Afghanistan was yet another war of attrition that finished them off. One important reason why the Soviets didn’t realize all that in time was that they lied to each other. If displeasing your superiors with reports about problems is risky, you simply report successes all the time. The West in turn didn’t notice what happened because our spies didn’t get to hear anything but the misinformation Soviet officials were feeding each other. That’s also why the victory in Vietnam didn’t feel like one for decades. While Iraq isn’t Vietnam (it can’t be repeated frequently enough), the example of the long-term success that the Vietnam turned out to be should serve to demonstrate the virtue of patience. Iraq will only turn into a defeat (in the long as well as the short run) in case of a premature troop withdrawal (but that is an issue for another post).

    Posted in History, National Security, Vietnam, War and Peace | 15 Comments »

    Trucks, road damage and road tolls

    Posted by Ralf Goergens on 2nd June 2007 (All posts by )

    Recently I have become interested in the problem of increasing road congestion. This post is just meant to be a kind of general introduction to the issue, and also to demonstrate how damaging the increasing freight transport via trucks can become if the ensuing problems aren’t addressed properly soon. In follow-up posts the main focus will be on the situation in Europe, where complete gridlock will become inevitable if we don’t do something about current developments. I’ll also write about alternative means of transportation and new technological developments in this area. As a layman, I’d also be grateful for feedback from people who have first-hand knowledge of the industry and will incorporate it into my future posts; I’ll also be happy to correct any mistakes I have made with this one. Provided that any specialists are interested in this post post at all, I’ll very likely get quite an earful… :)

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Transportation | 16 Comments »

    Accommodation Versus Innovation

    Posted by Ginny on 2nd June 2007 (All posts by )

    Appleton covers more thoroughly the ground mapped out by Barone; a useful discussion that touches on some of this is John Jay’s post. Advocates of global warming make it increasingly clear their interest is less in solutions than political & cultural revolutions.

    It’s harder to take Al Gore seriously if you reread sections of Wigglesworth’s “Day of Doom” every semester and have some sense of human nature. We love to create a certain frisson of terror at the results of our own evildoing. I’m not sure that is all that bad – we aren’t truly innocent and a real if controllable fear helps reign in our willfulness. Besides, well, it’s human nature. Poe & Hitchcock, artists who strive primarily for effect (Poe’s primary goal), derive their power from recognizing we like to be scared; bogeymen buried in our consciousness want out out every once in a while & we like to feel a little horror of recognition before we pop them back. And we know, without often expressing it or acknowledging the appropriate gratitude we should feel, that life is easier, than it has perhaps ever been: we live in a world in which entertainment is one of our larger budgetary expenses. We feel a little guilt.

    Measuring the Political Temperature, Josie Appleton discusses less the effects of global warming than the context in which it is posed – finding motivations less in tune with science or technology than patterns in our cultural history and human nature. (Arts & Letters links to a Spiked review.) She introduces her argument by noting the patterns of the use of science:

    But there is another way to approach this question, which is to look at the political circumstances in which climatic science is produced, a process that also has its own laws and patterns. It is strange, at a time when the social construction of science is an established idea (Thomas Kuhn’s 1962 book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, in which he describes science’s progress through ‘paradigms’, is on every undergraduate’s reading list) that nobody thinks to look at the social construction of global warming theories. Global warming science is being produced in highly febrile times; and history tells us that the more the political temperature rises, the more science’s view of nature is distorted.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Arts & Letters, Environment | 5 Comments »

    Just Because I Like It

    Posted by David Foster on 2nd June 2007 (All posts by )

    A poem from the early 16th century, by John Skelton.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    Posted in Poetry | Comments Off on Just Because I Like It