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November 2007
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December 2007

A Vile Ingenuity

Further to this, Mona Charen ponders the nature of the enemy.

The next to last assassination attempt on Benazir Bhutto came... when a man in the crowd got the former prime minister’s attention. He was holding a one-year-old baby - Bhutto said later she thought it was a girl - and tried to hand the child across the sea of bodies. Bhutto said, “He kept trying to hand it to people to hand to me. I’m a mother. I love babies. But the [street lights] had already gone out and I was worried about the baby getting dropped or hurt.” So she turned away and ducked into her armoured vehicle. Just then, the baby’s body, rigged with explosives, detonated.

That is the nature of the enemy. Thursday morning brought news that another bomber has succeeded in killing Bhutto. Early reports suggest that this time the terrorists relied on a suicide bomber and a gunman. Al-Qaida was quick off the mark. “We terminated the most precious American asset which vowed to defeat [the] mujahedeen,” said commander and spokesman Mustafa Abu al-Yazid in a phone interview with Adnkronos International. Whether al-Qaida really did the killing or opportunistically claimed credit is unclear. But there is no doubt that Bhutto represented a modernising movement within the Islamic world and was accordingly seen as a threat by the seventh century zealots who rig babies with explosives.

A vile ingenuity not without precedent

So Very Tired (2)

In a previous post regarding the strangely airless Liberal Conspiracy blog, we saw how the obligation to substantiate political claims with logic and evidence induced fatigue in contributor Zohra Moosa. Ms Moosa told us she was “tired” and “distracted” by defending her assumptions and wished instead to “actualize” her beliefs, unhindered by ethical challenges or reference to harsh realities:

What I need is a safer space where I don’t lose so much energy justifying why social and environmental justice are worth spending a lot of society’s money on.

Another item, by Guardian contributor and Fabian Society mouthpiece Sunder Katwala, is noteworthy insofar as it too makes assumptions that are grand, fairly commonplace and oddly unanalysed. Mr Katwala has written at length about “equality” and “social justice”, which appear to be regarded as synonymous, though neither term is defined in any satisfactory sense. In his Liberal Conspiracy piece, titled How Do We Get a Fairer Society?, Katwala argues,

In Britain today, where we are born and who our parents are still matters far too much in determining our opportunities and outcomes in life. And so our own choices, talents and aspirations count for too little. The vision of a free and fair society would be one which extends to us all the autonomy to author our own life stories... This ‘fight against fate’ - breaking the cycle of disadvantage to make life chances more equal - could provide the lodestar to guide future action and campaigns for equality.

If one strips away the tendentious phrasing, questions soon begin to occur, most obviously regarding “who our parents are” and why it so often matters. Does the “fight against fate”, so conceived, acknowledge the role of parental agency – specifically, the efforts made by many parents, not least by working class parents, to optimise their children’s “choices, talents and aspirations”? How do Katwala’s assumptions of “social justice” and “equality” - as ill-defined yet unassailable virtues - relate to the foresight, care and sacrifice which some parents demonstrate, often heroically, and which others, alas, do not?

If what parents do for their children “matters far too much”, would Katwala prefer the efforts of conscientious parents to be thwarted in the interests of “equality” and “social justice”? In Mr Katwala’s ideal, corrected, society, would the role of parenting in the outcome of a child’s prospects be rendered trivial, perhaps irrelevant? And, if so, is that really for the greater good? Unfortunately, such questions hang in the air, unanswered. Katwala is, however, keen to “deepen” this egalitarian agenda “within and beyond the education system.” To which end, he lists four points to “narrow the gaps in life chances” - all of which sideline parental responsibility and presuppose even greater interference by the state:

1. Ending child poverty.
2. Get family policy right.
3. Target increased resources on disadvantage.
4. Start a rational debate about the impact of private education.

Some readers may, of course, wonder why it is we have a “family policy” to “get right”, and others may have views on the role played by parents’ values and decisions in their children escaping poverty. Most will note that Katwala, like Ms Moosa, is keen to spend even more of “society’s money” on those deemed “disadvantaged”. But Katwala’s fourth point is perhaps the most telling. Note that Mr Katwala is far more interested in the (implicitly negative) “impact” of private education on those who don’t experience it. Much less concern is expressed for the rather more obvious, and much more negative, impact of state education - specifically the Socialist ideal of comprehensive education – which is, after all, where the “disadvantaged” tend to be schooled.

Meeting the Martians

Here’s a little something for fans of the outlandish and uncanny. BBC4’s documentary series on British science fiction, The Martians and Us, can now be viewed online. Part one, Apes to Aliens, takes evolution as its theme and traces a brief and entertaining history, from H.G. Wells’ anonymous time traveller to John Wyndham’s unearthly schoolchildren. The three-part series covers the obvious and the obscure, the inspired and the unhinged, and teases out what has often made British science fiction different from, and darker than, its American cousin.

Here’s a taste.

Online Videos by

Part 2, Trouble in Paradise, and part 3, The End of the World as We Know It, are also online. Well worth watching. (h/t, The Thin Man.) Related: The original 1960 trailer for Village of the Damned. And here’s George Sanders having trouble keeping secrets.   

Friday Ephemera

Uniqlo Grid. Play on the grid. Go quietly insane. (h/t, Coudal.) // The worst fight scene in film history. // Originals versus remakes. Spartans, spooks, body snatchers. // Airplane prangs. // Cowscapes. (h/t, 1+1=3) // Supervillains of the Old West. // Jack Kirby on gods and monsters. // Could Thor kick Superman’s ass? Kryptonian do-gooder versus bombastic Viking with magic hammer. // Chris O’Shea’s X-ray torch. Video. // Via Norm, the hidden genitals of the NHS. // The 1907 Breguet-Richet gyroplane. (h/t, Things.) // Project Echo. // Apollo 17 panorama. (1972) // Biodegradable cutlery. Made from potatoes. // Dawkins, Dennett, Harris and Hitchens. // Michael Weiss on Ibn Warraq. // Norman Geras on John Pilger. // Julie Burchill on Tesco. // Aaiii!! It’s the Zionist earthquake machine. According to Hamas. // A map of this week’s earthquakes. Most not caused by Jews. // A map of the Lost island. // Virtual Lego. // Modelling the brain may take some time. // Arthur Benjamin and his feats of mental calculation. // Scared of Santa. He knows if you’ve been naughty. // A festive ensemble. // And, via The Thin Man, it’s Big Joe Turner.

Incidentally, TypePad now has a new, and more zealous, spam filter. If anyone has problems posting comments let me know by email. I may have to train the software not to bite everything that approaches. Bad dog.

Dialogue (2)

A few weeks ago, I wrote,

The “dialogue” [Tariq] Ramadan forever alludes to, somewhat vaguely, is by implication a dialogue on strictly Islamic terms – which is to say, on terms that are censorious, often circular and profoundly unrealistic. In this, Ramadan is far from alone. I’ve lost count of how many people seem to imagine that it’s somehow possible to challenge jihadist ideology and related horrors without mentioning Muhammad’s rather central role in the origination, sanctioning and perpetuation of those horrors, and without offending an apparently endless menu of other ‘sensitivities’.

Robert Spencer - he of superhuman patience – also wonders why a debate in good faith is so hard to find.

It remains true that Islamic spokesmen, while denigrating and dismissing my work, have never actually refuted it… And this is a much larger issue than simply who will or will not debate me, because it highlights the fact that peaceful Muslims have never formulated an Islamic response to the jihadists’ claim to represent pure and true Islam - and as long as they do not and apparently cannot do so, the jihadists will continue to hold the intellectual initiative within Islamic communities worldwide. “Moderate” Muslim spokesmen such as those above have not just not answered me; they’ve done nothing to seize that intellectual initiative and blunt the force of jihadist recruitment among Muslims.


Further to recent comments on the curious overlap of ecological hysteria and authoritarian urges, here’s another example. Via Kate, from Local Transport Today:

Transport policy-makers should start preparing now for a dramatic reduction in motorised travel that will be brought about by carbon rationing, one of the country's leading environmental thinkers told LTT this week. “Just start reading the runes because what's going to happen is the demand for road, rail and air travel is going to start falling away just as soon as we have rationing,” says Mayer Hillman in an interview with the magazine.

Hillman, senior fellow emeritus at the Policy Studies Institute, says carbon rationing is the only way to ensure that the world avoids the worst effects of climate change. And he says that the problems caused by burning fossil fuels are so serious that governments might have to implement rationing against the will of the people. “When the chips are down I think democracy is a less important goal than is the protection of the planet from the death of life, the end of life on it,” he says. “This has got to be imposed on people whether they like it or not.”

Hillman’s anticipated Tyranny That Cares™ will, reassuringly, also apply to its author, as reported in a glowing Guardian profile from 2002:

He and [wife] Heidi have an old Citroën 16 in which they've driven 150 miles so far this year. Yet still he exceeds the carbon ration he expects to be allocated, and says that they ought to consider sharing their family home with others because, despite its solar panels and low heating levels, it now accommodates only the two of them.

According to his own publicity material, Mayer Hillman is a “thorn in the side of the political establishment” and is noted for his willingness to “speak truth to power.” Mr Hillman’s stated areas of expertise include “walking and cycling”.


Speeding Bullet

The HTV-3X hypersonic Scramjet could travel from New York to Tokyo in two hours. “If it works.”

The world's fastest jet, the Air Force’s SR-71 Blackbird spy plane, set a speed record of Mach 3.3 in 1990 when it flew from Los Angeles to Washington, D.C., in just over an hour. That’s about the limit for jet engines; the fastest fighter planes barely crack Mach 1.6. Scramjets, on the other hand, can theoretically fly as fast as Mach 15 — nearly 10,000 mph.

More. And. Also. Plus.