Tuesday, August 30, 2005

No IDea

Fisking gloves on, it's time to destroy some creationist bollocks. I know, I know, that doesn't show the respect that a fellow human deserves, but dude, respect has to be earned. I won't comment on this post stylistically. Some of our more easily led fellows believe it was well written. If it is, I'd hate to see "badly written mess".

The post, with my comments, follows.

Indisputably, in the realm of biology, evolution is the “establishment”

Along with the likes of gravity, Newton's laws of motion, the standard model of particle physics, the theory of relativity etc etc. Why are these the "establishment"? Each has a simply enormous body of evidence to support it. Each fits the facts better than any other explanation that has been posited, and makes predictions that are borne out by observation. None is true. Science doesn't do truth. You need religion for that. But they are the explanations that are winning, if you like. Our best approximations to how things actually are.

—and the fact that it isn’t available for target practice ought to make us all suspicious.

When I say that evolution is not true, I mean it. Everything in science is contingent, replaceable. There is no dogma. Yes, of course, some treat science as though it dealt in truths and as though it included irrefutable truths. But it does not. Anyone can take a potshot at evolution. However, we demand evidence. We demand that you don't simply posit a negative ("evolution doesn't explain X, so ID must be right") but supply positives ("ID explains this and this and this, which evolution cannot"). Proposed flaws in one theory do not support another. They do not for any theory in science. Each must come with its own evidence. IDers tend to argue by insisting that evolution and ID are binary opposites. They are not. At best, ID is one explanation from a range. If evolution were wrong, it would not make ID right.

I object to evolution at a number of levels

I said I wouldn't cavil over this guy's style, but let's face it, a man who doesn't even know to write "on a number of levels" is not quite the excellent writer his supporters make him out to be.

and find myself unsure of where to aim first, but this point seems as good a place as any.

Kof. "This point seems as good as any." If only the antievolutionists were literate! They'd be so much more fun to talk to.

In a culture as cynical and doubt-ridden as postmodern America, when a societal mainstay goes unchallenged there must be a catch, a caveat. Caveat being: Evolution is a crutch for far too many worldviews to go down without a fight.

Well yes, okay. Evolution is a "crutch" for modern biology. Let's get rid of that nonsense, shall we?

He didn't mean that? Well, what did he mean? What "worldviews" is it a mainstay of then? I mean, I am an "evolutionist". I consider it to be correct (with the caveat I gave about science's never being "true") but it's almost entirely irrelevant to my "worldview". I believe I am descended from a monkey, yes (well, of course, I still am a monkey, as are we all), but it's of no import to my thoughts on any other score.

And, understandably, the fight is rigged.

Well yes, it is. Here's how: science does not permit supernatural explanations of natural phenomena. It's the rules, dude. It's what science is. We aren't hiding anything. God has no place in science.

The increasing vociferousness of Darwinists these days argue the theory’s untouchable status.

Man, that's not even English! He means to say that "Darwinists" these days argue vociferously that the theory is untouchable. Or something. No, dude, we argue vociferously that you may not substitute religion for it. Not in a science class.

If you suggest that evolution might be off the mark, wonder aloud if it’s really science, you’ll be favored with an ugly stare and called religious bigot.

You will if you argue that without giving a shred of evidence. If you wonder aloud whether evolution is science, we'll wonder whether you have the faintest idea what science actually is. Evolution is science in excelsis. It's a brilliant project of science: a synthesis of two great ideas, a fertile ground for thought (and conflict -- there is a huge amount of fighting over the details), an explanation of the proliferation of life we see around us that has no rival (this is why it is "unchallengeable"! Simply because it is unchallenged, not that it couldn't be. It saw off its (plainly wrong) rivals, which simply could not explain the facts.

This is a fairly convenient arrangement for dyed-in-the-wool evolvers, but ultimately it’s a trick that boomerangs on its owners. People start asking questions.

Sorry, what argument? You are saying that it will boomerang on "evolvers" if they suggest you are a religious bigot (I prefer clown, if that's okay) if you "wonder aloud whether evolution is science"? How will that "boomerang" on me? I'll have egg on my face when I find out that science is not about making a hypothesis and then seeing whether observations match it? Yes, won't I?

And what is science then? Is it the weighing of ideas without reference to the observed world? I'm afraid not. That would at best be philosophy. Or religion.

For example: Where are the knock-out demonstrations of Darwinist supremacy?

Erm. Hello? Try "why do whales have no legs?" Or "what are all those funny bone things in the ground and how come they don't look like the bones of anything alive today?" Or maybe "why are there no human skeletons alongside the dinosaurs' bones?" Or "why do giraffes have the same number of neck vertebrae as I do?" Or "why did the 'designer' not make rabbits who could digest their food first time round?"

Shouldn’t they be paraded through the public eye in light of recent challenges from the (bigoted, narrow-minded, moronic) Intelligent Design movement?

You need to have a word to the people who run your press and TV, mate. Did they not carry the story of Flores Man? Did you just not grasp why that made the news?

Where are the big guns?

Frankly, the "challenges" to evolution are barely worth getting heated about. They're laughable. Geniuses such as Behe say things like "you couldn't evolve a flagellum". A scientist shows him precisely how you could and he scuttles off like a whipped dog, only to pop up a month later with something else he doesn't think you could evolve. What doesn't happen is Behe's saying "fuck yes, you showed how you evolve a flagellum, so you're right and I'm wrong". He says "you're wrong because of this" and then when he is shown to have erred, he finds another "this". And this is the best of it. Most of the "challenge" comes from your common and garden bigot, who simply says "I know evolution must be wrong because Goddidit". They don't find evolution a satisfactory answer because it doesn't fit their creed. We must accommodate that? Well, we try. We explain to the fools that they can still have their god, so long as they accept that he created us by means of evolution. Actually, it was very clever of him. It's a wonderful mechanism, which has served to populate this planet with descendants of the first lifeform (or few lifeforms -- unlike IDers we don't make pronouncements that we can't substantiate, and we simply don't know what it was or how many of it there was), and has weathered catastrophe, feast and famine, and is still here, in enormous variety. It's a wonder.

In reality, the stock responses to I.D. are sneers and caricature. As the late Steven Jay Gould wrote, re: the Kansas Board of Education controversy: "They still call it Kansas, but I don’t think we’re in the real world anymore…Why get excited over this latest episode in the long, sad history of American anti-intellectualism?"

The irony is almost painful. This slam on Gould appears in a piece that is entirely anti-intellectual, attacking evolution without foundation, without any evidence, without even a decent attempt at coherence.

And, as if sensing my need for a current example, the people over at Wickipedia have helpfully provided this entry—a phenomenon at which both sides may laugh over, but hardly for the same reasons. If I were an honest Darwinist, this would make me a little queasy; if I’m arguing from a position of strength, why am I shooting rubber band bullets instead of flexing intellectual muscle?

Get over yourself. IDers insist that they are not pushing creationism because they do not say the "designer" is God. We all know it is but they pretend it isn't because if they keep God out of it, they hope to push their nonsense into science classes. So we ask them, if it's not your god, what is it? We can't say, they say. Just a designer of some type. Could be anything. Okay, we say, what characteristics does it have? Can't say, they say. It could have any characteristics, we don't know. So some wag has provided them with a candidate.

When we talk about "intellectual muscle", perhaps we should focus on the many thousands of articles in scientific journals about evolutionary processes, on the countless books, on the vigorous debate on evolution that has shaped modern biology? The bottom line is, science doesn't need to "flex its muscle" in the public arena, because it doesn't mistake empty posturing for actually having anything "intellectual" to say.

When juvenile rhetoric passes as “defense” for a “scientific” movement, cultural weather-watchers may wonder if the ship is going down.

Perhaps those weather-watchers might like to consider the enormous scientific literature on evolution? Or, if that's too difficult, perhaps they could look at other articles on Wikipedia? Or are you deciding that one spoof of creationist charlatanry is sufficient for you to conclude that the entire edifice of science is bankrupt?

In reality, the reasons for sinking have been present for awhile...

So they were present but the ship was not sinking? Dude, learn to use a metaphor!

Biological evolution fails as a science because it relies, ironically, on ex nihilo realities. In the beginning, says the Darwinist, was a morass of unstable chemicals suspended in a volatile soup.

As I noted in this clown's comments, this is a fundamental error the unlettered creationist makes. "Darwinists" do not believe that evolution relies on "ex nihilo realities" (one presumes that he means to say that it relies on abiogenesis). Darwin himself believed that God created life. It was immaterial to his theory where the life came from (and still is). The theory of evolution accounts for how a wide variety of lifeforms could have arisen from one or a few forms. It does not have anything to say about where the one or a few lifeforms might have come from.

Still, perhaps someone should point out to our friend that he is a morass of unstable chemicals himself. We all are. What do you think we are made of? Sugar and spice? Snails and puppy-dog tails? I know, it would be nice to believe we had some substance different from the world around us, but we do not. We are made of horrid chemicals just like everything else is.

But wait!—last time I checked, carbon had no self-generative properties!

You didn't check hard enough. If you had, you would have noted that we do not only consist of carbon.

“Oh, you silly,” says the patient biology teacher, “That problem is explained because we evolutionists posit a Big Bang.”

Sorry, what the fuck? The problem that you invented (of abiogenesis) is explained by a Big Bang?

No, it isn't. You have the problem with abiogenesis, not evolution. It simply isn't bothered where life came from. Check it out: evolution = the origin of species; abiogenesis = the origin of life from nonliving material. Can we not keep that clear? Dude, if you're going to flex your "intellectual muscle", perhaps you should get straight what exactly you're flexing it at?

As it happens, most evolutionists would consider a Big Bang a sound explanation of how things are. It fits the facts (not entirely well, so that many are dissatisfied with it). But to attack evolution on the grounds that it requires a Big Bang (which, I repeat once more, it does not) is, what did Gould call it, well, I call it, dumbarse anti-intellectualism. You are simply attacking all of science because it doesn't say what you want.

And what you want it to say is Goddidit. The lumping together of the origins of the universe, the origins of life and the origins of the species is driven by creationists' need to attack any and all explanations that do not include God. Well, that's okay. You are welcome to accept whatever explanation you like of the world and the things in it. You are free to believe whatever you want.

But you can't teach it to kids in a science class.

And you will hear our mocking laughter if you insist that the three are interconnected. For us, they are not. They are perfectly discrete areas of science. None depends on either of the other two. If you were more cluey about the actual science, and not so keen on simply disparaging what you don't understand, you'd know that.

Ooh. Well, that explains that.

As I write this, I feel slightly embarrassed, as if I’m picking on the fat kid or engaged in voyeurism, looking in on someone’s childhood fantasy.

“Mother!” said Tommy, from inside his crayons and construction paper, “Mother, the world began with a Big Bang!” Tommy’s mother smiled, patted him on the head, and returned to her knitting.

And yet you do not offer any evidence for your view. You do not say "this is how the universe would be distinctive if God made it". But we do. We say "if there was a Big Bang, it would have been so hot that you could still distinguish the warmth in space". And we sent up a satellite, to measure that warmth, if it existed. Had it not been there, the theory of the Big Bang would have collapsed. Had it not been within the (very narrow) range that the theory predicted, the theory would have been abandoned.

When we send up a satellite to check out your "theory", what are we looking for?

We found the background radiation by the way. It's real. It's in every part of space, just as we predicted. If there wasn't a Big Bang, your boy must have made the universe so it looked as though there was.

A Big Bang. At it’s most rudimentary level, evolution is simple, dogged materialism

Yes. We call that "science".

Could a god have created the world? No, definitely not.

We don't say definitely not. We say, if he did, it's not part of science to say so. If you want to be, show how the universe would be different if he had.

Here's the problem creationists really do face with science. We'll give you a fair go. If your "theory" can explain our universe better than ours, believe you me, we'll take yours. But you won't risk your god. Make a prediction by which your god stands or falls. We made one for the Big Bang. It stood the test. Make one for your god.

Of course, you cannot. Your belief in your god has nothing to do with science, and that's okay.

Could a Big Bang have done it? Well, of course. This bias, favoring the seen over the unseen, is inexplicable and laughable, as well as the modern trend. To say it’s “objective” or “scientific” is pure charade.

Well no. It's what actually distinguishes it as "objective" and "scientific"! Science doesn't pretend not to make that distinction. It offers explanations for what is seen, and has nothing to say about what is "unseen". Read Gould on the magisteria of science and religion. Actually, read. If you were better informed, you wouldn't write this nonsense.

In any case, the reason the Big Bang is "favoured" over Goddidit is simply that the Big Bang made predictions about what we would find if we looked, and we found it. Goddidit has made no predictions. We don't know what's distinctive about our universe that goes to show God made it. We just have your word for it. Science relies on replicability. We must be able to repeat your results (in principle if not in practice). But when all you have to offer is your opinion, how can I replicate that?

But evolution has other problems.

Someone should point out to this guy that we haven't yet presented one problem.

Foremost on my list is the way we learn of this pristine and mythic reality—via human minds.


Because of course that wasn't how we learned of Goddidit.

If evolutionary theory is true, and we’ve gradually gathered ourselves piecemeal from the rubbage heap of cosmic accident and brutal chance, then the human mind is the last place we could hope to learn of it.

Erm. Why?

A patch-made mind is hardly safe in the kitchen, much less for pronouncing life's origins. To assert otherwise is to say, in effect, “Thanks to the efforts of these fools, we have arrived at the foolproof system.”

Erm. Well, look at it like this. The sea is definitely a fool. It has no intelligence whatsoever (don't start, you know it doesn't!). But it carves coastlines. It has made our world look the way it does.

How did something so foolish make such a beautiful thing as Lamorna Cove?

In a post full of the worst kind of illiterate nonsense, this is perhaps the worst. He is suggesting that the human mind could not discern evolution because it evolved through the action of chance. Well, it sounds good, doesn't it? Let's not bother the poor fool with insistence that he should say why!

In other words, the answer impinges upon itself. While depending on the viability of scientific brains, evolution debunks the reliability of the human mind—leaving majority vote as the only truth-arbitrator.

Erm. Can all those who claim this guy can write please present their arses for the kicking they so thoroughly deserve? If your children wrote stuff like this, you'd send them to bed without their supper.

Pure democracy, especially among trend-conscious scientists, is a chancy road to reason.

Is it? Is saying "this is how I think things are; I prove it with this and this evidence; you can see for yourself" a bad way to reason? Is it better to say "I know better than you; I cannot prove it, nor will I try, but I know better"? Perhaps you're right, but our way built computers, cars, airplanes and the wonders of our world; and has provided a route to understanding the world that surrounds us. Yours would have tied us to our villages, lost in ignorance, dead before we were forty. You probably need to be as close to forty as I am to feel the pain of that!

In this sense, Darwin was at his most appealing when he was the only Darwinist, and still had the chance of being a mad genius (thus transcending his genus).

Pure ignorance. This guy presumes to discuss evolution but doesn't know even that it was discovered by Wallace contemporaneously with Darwin.

But my diatribe goes on. (And note that I have yet to scratch the surface of the argument from Intelligent Design, a system that is sophisticated, cogent—and viciously maligned at every opportunity.)

I note that you don't even present the "argument" from intelligent design, a system that is far from sophisticated, consisting as it does of saying "it looks designed so it must be". I can see why you'd think it's "cogent". You have no idea what evolution is, what the evidence for it is or what meaning it would have for your worldview. Most of the parts of science you have slammed in this post are not even part of the theory of evolution and are wholly irrelevant to it.

I’m puzzled by the perplexing lack of sincerity shown by evolutionists everywhere


who evidently don’t consider their discovery suitable for passionate implementation.

I did implement it! I have three kids. What more could I do? I passed on my genes, they were shuffled and dealt, and will continue in their new form into the next generation. With luck -- and it takes luck (remember that blind chance thing?) -- they will be fitted to the environment they find themselves in, and will have kids of their own. In perpetuity, hopefully.

Or not. Because, like most evolutionists, I suspect, I don't place any personal stake in evolution. I realise that it has moulded me and everyone round me, but I don't worry about whether my genes will be fit for the future. That's for them to worry about, not me.

Consider: A true revolutionary begins by complaining about the fly in his soup, and ends by confronting the world because her people have no soup. But so few Darwinists get past the fly.

Erm. What was the soup again? This guy should be barred from metaphors until he learns to write in plain English.

They shrug off the chains of damning morality

Oh, I see. Morality. But what does morality do with the origin of species? Perhaps he could have explained a bit more carefully.

Of course, I do know what he means. He thinks that if I can explain my origin by natural means, I do not have a purpose. And if I do not have a purpose, I cannot have a morality.

As well as being a dunce in science, this guy is bottom of the class in philosophy.

Perhaps he does not mean that. Perhaps he means that in a purely mechanical universe, there cannot be a morality. It's true that it's difficult to trade in absolutes without an Absolute to refer to, but morality is not necessarily a question of absolutes, and even if it is, they do not necessarily need to be the dictates of an Absolute. Perhaps we are moral because it helps us survive?

—and then content themselves with snug materialism and occasional consensual sex.

Is there something wrong with occasional consensual sex?

Such efforts are half-hearted.

Mrs Z might well concur. But because I've now procreated, perhaps I could be forgiven for it? After all, evolution doesn't require that you be any good at sex, only that you do it successfully.

Where are the hordes of pragmatic dictators, flaunting our ethics and mores at will?

Kof. One thing this world is not short of is pragmatic dictators.

Where are the megalomaniac playboys, assembling harems by brute force and parading them down the city streets? Such efforts in the direction of self-interest, while utterly justifiable, are bafflingly covert when they do occur.

Are they? Have you studied nature? It's fucking grim out there. Red in tooth and claw. Darwin marvelled at how vicious it was. Many have questioned how a loving God could have created a natural world that is so gruesome. It's all gore.

Google "digger wasp". Do it before you have your tea though.

If that doesn't convince you that the natural world is not "moral", what will?

What? Oh, I see. You forgot that the theory of evolution concerns all of the natural world, not just human beings?

Where are the books? The Case for Rape? Pillage for a Better You?

Check out a biology textbook. Clearly, you're not aware that rape, pillage, slavery, murder are all features of the natural world.

Do you know, they eat one another? Animals! They eat other animals. It's cruel, don't you think?

But nature is cruel. That's because it is shaped by chance, not by a moral absolute.

And where are the apologists who will champion such behavior, and stir up hedonists and sadists and racists and atheists for the betterment of our race?

Man, way to parade your ignorance. When you're done with digger wasps and carnivores, google eugenics.

Numerous parishioners are evolutionist-revolutionists to the extent that they can live irresponsibly and pursue self-deification.

But evolution does not give advice on how to live. It simply suggests that if you are fitted to your environment, you will survive long enough to reproduce, and if you are not, you will not. That is all it's about.

The rest is the invention of men. Not a lot to do with science.

But do you truly not know that most animals "live irresponsibly" (well, all of them really; there aren't that many lions with a sense of responsibility -- it doesn't actually mean anything to anything but a human being)?

Few, however, make the nihilistic connections screaming to be made.

Well, knock yourself out. You don't have to believe that if you were not created by God, you need not believe in anything. How limited your thought is!

It's a conclusion, and it's probably part of most people's means of living, to be honest. Do we avoid the bad because of our beliefs? No, we mostly avoid it because of a pragmatic concern for the consequences. That's if we avoid it at all. I'm not sure where the saintly types who "live responsibly" are hiding, but they're mostly avoiding the places I frequent, which are jampacked with citizens climbing over one another to get to the top, or out from under, or whatever it is they imagine they're doing.

Ultimately, I'm a nihilist. I don't believe in anything fundamentally. Except I do! How is that possible? Surely, I should implode into my core.

Well, one need only think how unpleasant implosion would be to realise why even the hardcore nihilists among us generally adopt a shroud of beliefs and bullshit to make life liveable.

This is all very perplexing, but ultimately, because the evolutionist’s demands are too modest, we must question their legitimacy.

Erm. We demand you don't preach in science class. Do you think we should be asking for you to exterminated to prove how serious we are? Would it be sufficient to demand your whipping?

It’s like claiming one holds the Pope for ransom, and then demanding a mere two million for his return.

No, it isn't.

The situation begins to look like a farce, and one suspects that evolution is merely a prop, an expedient apologia for the more self-centered impulses of our race. It’s all too convenient.

It would be if we used it as an excuse for those things. Which we don't. The theory of evolution helps explain why we are self-centred (Goddidit doesn't even begin to -- it simply says we were born "sinful"; it's not too clear on why).

To sum up: Evolution is an easy target because of it’s ludicrous backstory

When Darwin hypothesised that species had originated in evolution, he gave as its "backstory" that God had created one or a few lifeforms. I'll leave it to you to decide how "ludicrous" that is. It's of no account to the theory of evolution.

the insincere demands made by its adherents

The only demand that they make is that religious beliefs not be taught in a science class.

and its childishly insecure efforts at self-defense (“Intelligent design? Ha! No one believes that.”)

Hmmm. Anyone would think that the entire field of biology did not have evolution as its bedrock, with an enormous literature on the subject. You would also think that ID actually did meet a "challenge" in scientific terms. It doesn't. There is no spirited self-defence because there is a very weak attack. A visit to the Talk Origins archive though would suffice to demonstrate to the openminded that ID has no leg to stand on. Otherwise, try the Panda's Thumb. Those guys occasionally shred a creationist if they have time. Address in the links at the right.

Other comments could be made, say, about the tinkering with timelines that evolutionists have found so addictive.

Erm. Care to provide some?

Every few years we learn that the earth is a few thousand millennia older than we previously knew

LOL. It's a complaint against science that it becomes more accurate? We should say as a matter of dogma that the world is X years old if we want to be taken seriously? Yeah whatever, dude.

the idea apparently being that infinite tedium makes infinite complexity more tenable.

Well, certainly a world that is four billion years old is a more likely scene for the evolution of complexity than one that is only a few thousand years old. It was hardly tedious though. Life changed continuously. You could find that amazing, were you not such a fuckwit.

However, these comments have been in numerous other places, and by numerous other people more qualified scientifically.

Well, no. Generally they've been made by people whose grasp of science is on a par with yours.

I’ll close my harangue with a word on Intelligent Design, which is not inherently Christian

Kof. It isn't? And yet you were thoroughly upset by the idea that it might concern the spaghetti monster!

and which is, incidentally, a carefully-developed theory.

Erm. Actually, no it's not. It consists of easily shot down mathematics and nitpicking about evolution. It doesn't actually amount to a "theory". Because you know no more about it than "God designed life; we know it because it looks designed", you aren't able to show how it was "carefully developed".

ID deals with the same ex nihilo dilemma that evolution attempts to blur, but with a notable difference: ID confronts the issue in the open.

You fucking what? The "dilemma", let me remind anyone who has bothered reading this, is that life arose from an organic soup (not even anything to do with evolution). How does ID "confront" this "issue"? It says God did it. Way confrontational!

It does not say how he did it. It does not explain how you can tell he did it. It doesn't even show what difference it makes to evolution whether he did it or did not. It simply says "a designer made life".

Resources, widely available, but generally unmentioned:

Oh boy, do they get mentioned! Most of this shit has been so heavily fisked that even the clowns who wrote it don't talk about it around anyone but the rubes.

Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution – Michael J. Behe

In which Behe concludes that you could not evolve a mousetrap. I urge anyone interested to google up the spanking Behe got on that score. Sorry, I don't have the URL to hand but it's legendary. I myself fisked one of his articles a few months ago. Behe's the poster boy of ID because he has a biochemistry degree. But guess what? He doesn't research ID at his university, nor does he teach it. Why not? Is he being suppressed by the authorities? No, he is not. He knows it's not science and he'd be laughed out of class by anyone who's done year ten biology. His best hope is to get ID into schools, so that his students will be clueless.

Evolution: A Theory in Crisis – Michael Denton

Evolution is supported by millions -- literally millions -- of pieces of evidence. It is accepted by practically all biologists, not without question, but because the evidence is compelling. It is not under attack from scientists because it is so well attested. Is that a crisis? Look, I had a few ants in my office last summer. They were barely even irritating. If you can describe that as Zen's basement room: an office in crisis, then evolution is in crisis.

Darwin on Trial - Philip E. Johnson

Johnson is a dyed-in-the-wool creationist. He thinks Behe is a Satanist, to give you a clue.

Icons of Evolution: Science of Myth? – Jonathan Wells
The Design Revolution – William A. Dembski

Dembski is the big boy of ID. He provides the mathematical basis for it. He does this by writing down a big number, multiplying it by a squintillion and then writing "evolution is this likely, see?" He generally scuttles off into his corner when it's pointed out to him that he pulled the big number from his arse and that it doesn't actually match anything that can be observed.

Doubts About Darwin: A History of Intelligent Design – Thomas Woodward

Cunt. Okay, that's not a reasoned discussion, but neither's Woodward's book.

As well, numerous articles are available; try a keyword search for “Intelligent Design” on the ATLA database, or similar engines featuring scholarly journals.

And note that there are no articles in peer-reviewed journals, which should tell you all that you need to know.

Sigh. You know, it's an uncomfortable fact for Christians that we evolved and God did not in fact create us in his image, or if he did, he took the long way round. But it's not a disproof of God, nor is it intended to be. Yes, it does make it more difficult to believe that the purpose of your life is to please God but, let's face it, that was a scarcely tenable belief to begin with .(I have never been comfortable with the notion of a God that loves me but gives me seventy years of wonderful life and an eternity potentially of pain, without hope of remission and without furnishing me with the sense to do the right thing.) But it's what it is. We all learn through our lives to abandon beliefs that are shown to us to be wrong. I know Granddad was Santa Claus and that there is no Tooth Fairy. In a broader sense, I have adapted other beliefs to the world, as it's become clearer (or less clear to me). Sometimes it was painful. But lying to myself would have been more painful. I sometimes wonder, does Mike Behe have difficulty sleeping? He knows that evolution is a fact. He knows that ID is bollocks. The cognitive dissonance must be killing him.

Friday, August 26, 2005

A gallon of Christian child's blood with that bagel, please

"If . . . the Protocols are genuine (which can never be proven conclusively), it might cause some of us to keep a wary eye on world affairs. We neither support nor deny its message."

A weird thing to say, but Wal-Mart said it.

Frankly, I think the world has more to worry about in being dominated by Wal-Mart than it does from the Jews, but it's no surprise that greedy corporate bastids would be willing to point the finger at a scapegoat, if they can find one. God forbid the peasants should figure out who really is driving this planet into oblivion.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

More ID

Who the fuck would design us with the balls on the outside? Proof if any were needed that God is a chick with a malicious sense of humour.

Evangelical physics

The Onion needs to take care not to pass tips to the Unintelligent Design crowd. Anyway, this is hardly wacky enough. I'm sure I read somewhere that Jesus permeates the entire universe and is personally holding the quarks together. God help us if he decides he needs a rest.


If God is such a great designer, how come rabbits have to eat shit? Does he have something against bunnies?

Madam, your baby has no brain but a wonderful soul

The consistently brilliant PZ Myers tackles abortion. Find me an antiabortionist who is this humane, this life-affirming and I will give them an audience, but otherwise, the screeching nutters who think that there's a god that wants anencephalic foetuses to be born get shown the door with my boot in their arse.

Monday, August 22, 2005


This is a beautiful story, the kind of thing that you wish you could have made up. The baddies get their comeuppance and the poor prosper. It's like a liberal fable.

In a few days, England will take on Australia at cricket. I will be wildly excited (yes, it can happen even when you're watching cricket) because this is the great rivalry in the sport, and my nation can finally prove itself the best. Do I feel a dissonance in cheering another country against the one that is my home? Not really. It's just sport. As it happens, I always take a side when I watch any sport. I can't enjoy a game without rooting for someone. I think that is why I cheer England.

It can't be any particular love for the country. Although I'm happy to be English -- it has major advantages that we take for granted -- I don't feel proud of it. How silly. I didn't choose it and I didn't make it.

It has a way of life that I enjoy -- some of which I enjoy. Sometimes I have qualms that when things change, that will change and it won't be the same. But somehow, my enjoyment of living in the UK (or Australia, where these arguments about migrants are pursued with much more force) doesn't increase or diminish very much.

Many argue that allowing migrants to settle in your home diminishes your own life or that of your children. The argument boils down to a sadness that your children cannot live the life you led. And yet, most of us strive to give our children "better" lives than we had. We are aiming at different and yet we complain that things don't stay the same. (And I'm prone to it, just as anyone else is. I came to Australia because it was better for my kids, but I miss my home and the good things about it.)

I'm not going to discuss the "contribution" of migrants to a country. It's a sterile road to wander down, far too close to "look, even darkies have something to offer".

The truth is, you take it or leave it. We all take or leave what we want and don't want. And the tectonics of taking it and leaving it make the places we live in what they are. My neighbours might rise at dawn to worship Allah (actually, I wish they would; instead, they rise at ten to worship Jay-Z). In a hundred and fifty years, so might my descendants. My "way of life" could be gone altogether. Is that sad? No! A hundred and fifty years ago, my people's way of life was to live from potato to potato in a bog somewhere outside Sligo.

After all, they are just lines on a map, which divide people who are, all in all, the same under the skin. What makes a person American is not the shared values of a people (what exactly would they be? What values are shared by warmongering breadheads such as Ann Coulter and bleeding hearts such as Mike Moore? Well, of course, there are some. America is remarkably homogenous culturally from what I can see. But at the same time, many of those "values" are simply concomitants of affluence and literacy, and are shared by most other Westerners) but having been born within the lines that delineate the nation (ignoring for the sake of rhetoric those born of US parents in foreign places etc). Get born in Calexico, you're American. Get born in Mexicali, tough shit. Yes, the centuries of takings and leavings that have preceded you will tend to define those places because they tend to define the people in them. But fundamentally all there is between us is a line.

The unfamiliar is frightening (and yet the news receives huge ratings) and change doesn't always seem beneficial before it happens (and despite the bullshit that we are fed by the market-worshippers, it's not always so great afterwards). But we can take it or leave it, just as we always have. My forebears took passage for England and left the bog, took the tolerance and humanism of Liverpool and left the dark religion of rural Sligo. And people will continue to try to leave poverty and take their place in the affluent West, and it will continue to be true that our only bar to that is an insistence that being born in Calexico is an entitlement and being born in Mexicali a damnation, unless we can see that they are just lines on maps and we can take them or leave them just the same, and will be no worse off, and maybe one day better, for doing so.

Give truth a chance

We have our Rosa Parks. We have our woman who says no, I won't go along with it, who stands up to be counted.

A ton of shit is being poured Cindy Sheehan's way, mostly by the open sewers that pass as rightwing media in the states: FoxNews, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter.

To all of them she has a message and I echo it: you want a war, you go and fight it. Get your arse over to Iraq and relieve a soldier who wants to come home.

Face the truth: all that's happening there is young men and women are being blown up so that Dick Cheney's mates can buy new yachts. Not even that. They are dying because a paralysed political leadership didn't think past "Send in the marines".

Our Rosa Parks is not doing it for black rights, she's not doing it only for the soldiers in Iraq. She's doing it for the people of Iran and Syria, who will be next to suffer if we don't say enough: enough of the lies, enough of the bloodshed and chaos, enough war; bring the troops home and keep them there.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

No threat

What the fuck?

The surveillance team following Jean de Menezes didnt' think he was a risk.

So the intelligence officers on the ground thought he was not carrying a bomb, was not acting suspiciously and was not dangerous.

So why was he murdered?

Did some gungho fucker just waste him? Was the shooting even authorised? If it was, why was it?

Why did a death squad murder a man who the intelligence officers on the scene judged not to be a threat? If the surveillance team says that de Menezes posed no threat, there must be murder charges. We cannot let terrorism turn our nations into police states.

Already, there is talk here about increased security: stop-searches, detentions, who knows what else? It's manna from heaven for the racists in the Australian government. They look with glee at UK legislation allowing the government to clamp down on free speech. How long before we're having trials for "UnAustralian activities". They would if they thought they could get away with it.

I have a question for Commissioner Blair. If you're so certain that your policy of shooting to kill is effective terrorism, how come you didn't manage to shoot any of the men involved in either bombing, but did manage to execute a man who committed no crime, had no links to terror, and, it now is revealed, was simply catching his morning train to work?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

In Africa

While we are busily murdering the population of Iraq, and planning to extinguish a few lives in Iran and Syria (watch this space -- Iran is next, Syria to follow once the Yanks have freed up the troops to do it), we have stood by and watched truly indecent regimes murder their people. And done nothing, putting the lie to any wiffle about "bringing freedom" to the world, or being in opposition to despots.

In Sudan, half the country is gleefully murdering the other half, trained and supported by the government, which pretends it is simply an ethnic conflict that it cannot control. Please send us weapons, it says, so that we can fight the bad boys.

The weapons are of course passed on to the militias, which use them to brutalise the people of Darfur. The two populations of Sudan have long clashed over water, which is scarce in a desert country, but fighting is happening even in the well-watered Nilotic regions. Why?

Sudan has oil. The oil is under the control of the elite, which happily murders anyone who tries to claim a share. So long as it does that, we'll not intervene. We're not concerned that the government of Sudan are Islamists. The southern Sudanese look disturbingly pink to us: they want to use the oil revenues for the benefit of the people. Fuck that. We need to use them for the benefit of very rich Americans.

However, Sudan is becoming an important source of oil for China, which has been willing to drill in areas that are suffering turmoil. The Chinese don't care. They are happy to help suppress the natives. They make Americans look like angels. I have no qualms about saying I'd rather live in an American world than a Chinese one. It has nothing to do with their skin colour -- I couldn't care less -- or their "strangeness" to an Anglo-Saxon. None of that. It's their ubercapitalism that scares me. They worship money in a way even Americans can't match. They worship power even more so, and they have been very good at it. They destroyed their nation -- made it into ruins -- and still held on to power. A billion citizens could not muster a revolution strong enough to displace a government that was, in a country blessed with abundant resources, bringing them lives thin on hope and low on material prosperity. (I have no illusions about China under the Reds. I don't think what they pursued was anything like communism. I don't think Marx imagined "work units", pass laws, a secret police culture and the destruction of all enterprise.)

Sooner or later, the Yanks will wake up to what is happening in Africa, and the troops will go into Sudan. The accommodation between the Arab elites and the southern rebels is built on shaky foundations and the genocide in Darfur could quickly become another generalised civil war. We won't want China to be able to take advantage by heavily arming the Arabs and helping them suppress the south with enormous bloodshed (which they did not previously do -- when they were not so oil-hungry -- because of course they do not care much for Islamists, having a large Muslim minority themselves and they do not much care for socialists either; what they like is extremists who will do anything to keep power and will keep the place open for business).

While the Arabs are simply murdering blacks, and the oil is flowing, and the Chinese presence has not become threatening, no one is going to be concerned. But as the oil begins to run out elsewhere (and with the Arabs and Western partners' having lied about how much they have, it will start to run out a lot sooner than most in America realise), minor producers such as Sudan will become more important (even the least observant of our American friends will have noted their government's involvement in Venezuela, where it promoted a coup against the democratically elected government, while uninterested in other South American countries, pulling the plug even on Argentina).

Elsewhere in Africa, a disgusting old tyrant has decided that his nation's biggest problem is that the rural poor, starving because of drought and economic mismanagement, have come to the cities.

So he has evicted them, by forcefully displacing them and dispersing them in the country, with inevitably grim consequences.

Zimbabwe has no oil. Not a drop. It does have some resources, but on a relatively small scale. There, the Chinese have also involved themselves, chasing the dollar. But Americans are not interested in business on a small scale. Most small American businesses tend to be parochial (they have a large home market to service) and most larger businesses follow a model of exploiting foreign resources and exporting higher-value goods, rather than servicing smaller markets (if you visit a market in Africa or India, you'll see many more English than American products). That's not to say Americans do not export low-value goods, just that they tend to do so through local importers or subsidiaries, on a different model from that used by China in places such as Zimbabwe. China tends to export to the Third World through entrepreneurs, who penetrate small markets on a small scale. This is for obvious reasons, which I won't go into here, but is to do with big business's being emergent in China, while small business has existed and thrived for some time.

The key similarity between the Arab rulers of Sudan and Mugabe in Zimbabwe is that neither can exist without our help. You can't shoot peasants with helicopters if you are not sold helicopters. These people cannot build their own. They don't have the technological means, nor the money to build the factories. Mugabe's elections would have been exposed had the South Africans not supported him. He certainly didn't win them. Outside America, most of us feel that votes should be counted, not thrown into rivers or burned. (In America, of course, you feel the best way to have a fair election is to disenfranchise a chunk of the population and then count their votes on machines that are not auditable: a bit like vote black holes. If people like Mugabe introduced electronic voter machines, and if those machines were built by people who openly supported Mugabe, we'd cry foul straight away: it would be obvious that the system was invented so that votes could be "lost".)

Mugabe is an old man now and will probably only have a few more years. But his party will live on. It's to be hoped that their grip on power will slip if Mugabe is replaced by someone a little less megalomaniac, and perhaps a measure of sanity will return to Zimbabwe. But there will be a great deal of suffering, I fear, before that happens.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Call the liars to account

I do not believe in "democracy". It seems to me just another way for the powerful to keep the disempowered from having their share.

But I do believe in some of the elements of democracy. I believe that if citizens are truly permitted to take part, they can use power wisely. (I do not believe voting once every four years is "taking part" though; however, where there are consultative procedures that have a genuine interest in consensual outcomes -- and they do exist, albeit generally as things to ignore rather than implement -- I support that.) I believe that power, wealth and opportunity should be distributed equally, and it is sometimes possible to be seduced into thinking that our democracies can make that happen -- if the will is there. I believe that the constraint of law, albeit law made by the powerful, is useful because it protects citizens from the arbitrariness of governments, and from the wilfulness of others. I believe that if you lead, you must be willing to be held to account. Indeed, I strongly believe that that is the only condition on which anyone should be allowed to have power in our world. You have it by our consent, and you must show that you use it for us.

I have no hope of Tony Blair being held to account for the illegal invasion of Iraq, which we, the people, opposed fiercely. (I marched with two million people -- two million! In a nation that doesn't bother much with political debate and is not renowned for the scale of its demonstrations, so apathetic are its citizens -- to say no to the war.) I have no hope he will ever pay any kind of price for the lives that he is responsible for ending and the chaos and destruction he ordered in a land that had done nothing to us, to people who had never harmed us and never would. I have no hope that this despicable liar, a disgrace to our nation, a war criminal, a man without honour, who destroyed the Labour ethos and seduced the party's supporters with the carrot of power at any cost, who has sold the country out to big business, allowed the continued disempowerment of the working class and the continued destruction of the unions that once protected it, will ever have his day of reckoning.

But I am still heartened to see that some of the bereaved parents, whose sons were lost in Blair's dirty war, are fighting for justice.

I doubt we'll see him impeached -- although he deserves it and legally he could have it -- but I'd like to see him on the stand, if not in the dock.

The guilty try to cover their tracks

Not only did the police murder an innocent, lie about him repeatedly, try to cover up the murder and insist that they will do it again if they feel it's necessary, but they tried to prevent anyone from finding out the truth.

Fight for our "values"?

What fucking values?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005


I realise to my shock that I have seven of the records nominated for the Mercury Prize. Usually, I'd do well to have a couple. Or any at all, actually. There are some great albums though, and you can't usually say that. (Not all the seven I own are great. Not all of them are good.)

I would have thought the Magic Numbers will win: beardy sunshine rock with close harmonies are just the sort of thing that judging panels like. I like it too and so will anyone who grieves for the Mamas and Papas. I'm not kidding. They're even fat. That's taking a tribute too far in my books.

To win the Mercury, you have to be a Brit (Antony, although a denizen of New York, was born in Blighty). You don't have to be any good, as previous winners have proved. Periodically, music awards aim for credibility by nominating fashionable stuff rather than the obvious. (Who can forget the years the Brits gave the Best Female award to Annie Lennox, despite her not having released any records!) The only big name is Coldplay, whose new album is not very good.

Who would I like to see win? I couldn't care less. An award doesn't make your album any better and all the bands whose albums I have are hyped enough not to disappear without it.

A season in Queensland

Football is, as Mrs Zen will testify with a grimace, one of Dr Zen's passions. There is no tradition of it in my family: my father despises the game and I didn't, as a consequence, stand on the terraces with him as a boy. Not that that would have been a straightforward proposition, even had he loved the game as I do now. We lived at the far western end of Cornwall, seventy plus miles from Plymouth, home of the nearest league football team. And, as anyone familiar with Corns knows, there's nowhere more despised in Cornwall than Plymouth, where England begins. There's no way I could have supported Plymouth.

So my team is Leeds United, whose recent history is a splendid concoction of tragedy and comedy, hopes raised and destroyed, dreams of triumph kindled and shattered. They are a more modest proposition than the talented outfit of a few years back that came close to challenging at the top. Astonishing debts -- the product of the work of "businessmen" who could not be trusted with a school tuckshop -- almost overwhelmed the club. The fine young players who we had hoped would lead us to glory at home and in Europe were sold off, not so much to raise money but because we could not afford to keep paying the incredible wages our chairman had thrown at them like scraps to hogs. (Actually, not scraps. They would have been happy with scraps but he threw them roast dinners, feasts, banquets!)

In Kevin Blackwell, Leeds have a manager who seems to have the right idea. He has recruited mostly English players from the lower divisions, for low or no fees, and is paying them sensible wages. Leeds have not signed too many players on the verge of retirement looking for a payday, which is often the route poor managers take to try to lift clubs out of the second division but saddles them with useless nontriers who think their lack of effort and success is everyone else's fault. Whether Blackwell would have done if it was a possibility at Leeds, I don't know, but it wasn't, and he hasn't (Steve Stone notwithstanding). Players such as Harding and Derry are potentially very useful, Blake is of proven quality at the second level and his other signings look astute (Hulse and Healy are probably not good enough for the Premiership but both have scored plenty in the Championship). However (there is always a "however" with Leeds), their form is already unconvincing. They look to lack spark (they certainly lack goals) and the midfield is probably more workmanlike than creative. I have high hopes though. If Eirik Bakke stays fit, and forges a good partnership with Derry (which looks on the cards), once we have a fixed forward line that is firing, I think Leeds will be competitive. You win in football by getting the defence right, and Blackwell has constructed a back four that will not often be mugged by Championship strikers, aided by a couple of useful goalkeepers in Sullivan and Bennett. Hope rises once again! That is why I love football. You cannot despair for long. There is always hope.

In the Premiership, the big story remains Chelsea -- hated rivals of Leeds but, unless Abramovich is assassinated or jailed, out of our league these days. Mourinho continues to spend large on quality players. I'm not sure Essien and Wright-Phillips will improve their squad a great deal but they aren't bad to have around. With Crespo back from Italy and keen to prove himself, it would be a brave man who tipped anyone else. There are question marks about Mourinho's tactics: in key games he ran out of ideas when under the pump, particularly against Liverpool in the Big Cup. But to be fair the strengths of Chelsea -- their immaculate defence, their running in midfield and the sheer quality of their players -- far outweigh the small weaknesses Mourinho has shown.

This is particularly true when one looks at the main opposition. Arsenal are probably going to have one of those seasons. Vieira may have been a fading power, but a midfield of Fabregas and Gilberto Silva is going to have to work hard not to make it seem that there's a huge gap. Hleb is interesting but I fear he will be a sideshow. It's rare for a player who runs with the ball to succeed in England. What seemed easy in France or Germany, say, suddenly becomes difficult in the Premiership. This is partly because the player has moved from being the star of the show at his French or German club to being just one of many talents at the Premiership team (or, even if he ought to have star treatment in England, he doesn't get it). There's a long list of players of astonishing talent who didn't make it in England but went on to be worldbeaters elsewhere. (How can Jon Dahl Tomasson, for instance, have been so dismal for Newcastle? And Darko Kovacevic! He must have sent his brother to Sheffield.) I wonder whether Reyes will be another like that. He is clearly enormously talented but he has moved from being the local hero at Sevilla to being just another player at Arsenal.

Manchester United -- our hated rivals -- don't look strong enough either. Keane is a fading force in midfield and they don't have another strong central player. Scholes is overrated and English teams have learned what continental sides worked out on one viewing: don't give him space and he's useless. European sides mark him out of the game. Smith is a keen runner but he isn't creative enough to make a top-flight midfielder. ManUre have talent wide so we could see a return to the tactics that first won titles for Ferguson when he used Kanchelskis and Giggs to terrorise defences: bang it out wide at every opportunity. He was happy enough to sell Beckham because Beckham won't take a player on. With Ronaldo, Rooney and Park, he has tricky players who are more than willing to do that. Still, I feel a determined side that presses and doesn't sit back and let ManUre attack will get a result against them.

Liverpool are shit and are likely to stay that way. I still don't know how on earth they won the Big Cup. More often than not played off the pitch in Europe, somehow they hung in there and won games they should have lost. (The games against Chelsea in the Big Cup are good examples. They defended throughout, showed no ambition and no sign of aggressive intent. They "scored" from a hopeful punt up the pitch. Chelsea's frailty on the night gave them the win, I think -- particularly shown in Chelsea's lack of threat towards the end of the season as their wide players were injured or lost form.)

The rest can be discounted. Wigan, Sunderland and West Ham are so poor I'd be surprised if they didn't all return to the second division. Their best hope is West Brom, who were dire last season and with Bryan Robson in charge are not likely to be any better this. Pompey and Fulham might give them a challenge for the bottom three. Blackburn might also struggle. Villa, Spurs, Charlton, Everton, Newcastle (the current providers of most of the division's comedy), Bolton, Man City, Birmingham and Middlesbrough will finish in a ruck most likely: they are almost indistinguishable in terms of quality and prospects.

Meanwhile, I will be watching football at Suncorp Stadium. My team in the newly formed A-League is the Queensland Roar, who hope to confound the critics, who think they will be cellar dwellers. They probably will at that. The team is mostly young and inexperienced and more canny sides will likely do them. The A-League may or may not be successful. I don't have high hopes. There are only eight teams, so the ties will suffer from being over familiar, as they do in Scotland. Unlike Scotland though, there is a salary cap, so the teams will be much of a muchness. They are regionally based, so there won't be all that much rivalry (and I won't be watching too many away games!). The worst of it is that the standard of football in the old league was dire. The players were not fit enough to do themselves justice and played mostly at walking pace. They attempted technical football that they were not skilled enough to bring off, and showed far too little energy or commitment. (I often felt that a decent trainer could win the league simply by having his players ultra fit and playing a long ball game. A bit of urgency would have gone a long way, I think. It would probably win you games in the A-League too.) The games looked a lot like training games in England and they didn't attract the fans. The Aussie football federation hopes a bit of hoopla will have us streaming in. They don't have a clue. Franchises don't really work in football. It's hard to love a brand new team, especially when you know that a couple of years down the track it might disappear. The Roar (*kof*) are built on the former Queensland Lions (they can't use the Lions name because of the clash with the AFL team, the Brisbane Lions). They won the franchise over the Brisbane Strikers, who deserved their fate, not being any good, not bothering to try to gain fans, and not playing at a decent stadium. The Suncorp Stadium -- Lang Park as was -- is made for football. If filled, it would be an intimidating place to visit. With the small crowds that the A-League is likely to bring in, I would have thought it will be rather less so. No amount of razzle dazzle on FoxSports will hide the truth that the players on display are very ordinary and the football uninspiring. It doesn't help that the players are as unfamiliar as some of the clubs -- I have no idea who any of the Roar side are outside of Chad Gibson, the club captain -- nor does it help that clubs talk about "outreach", that is, playing games in other parts of Queensland. Guys, to succeed as a club, you must serve first and foremost your core fans, the people who will turn up to every game. For the A-League to succeed, teams such as the Roar must build a core.

There will also be a final series. I know that some leagues around the world do this but for my money, it's not the way to settle a sporting title, especially when the league is so small. The bulk of the season seems almost pointless when the action only really starts in the finals. (Look at the NRL, where eight of the sides make it to the finals! More than half the teams are in with a chance of winning after the main season is done. That's just wrong. A team can be fantastic all season, carry all before them and yet, come September, a bad game can finish them while some other bunch, rubbish for much of the year, who scraped into the eight, can win it if they have a good run of form.) Still, Aussies like finals, and they make good TV. A grand final in any code of football is like combining a championship decider and a cup final in one game.

Still, I'm going to support it. I miss football as an integral part of my life. Watching the English footy on Fox is not the same as feeling part of it, having it in the day-to-day. I will take my seat at Lang Park, scream at the useless cunts who are disgracing the orange (!) of the Roar and be part of what's on offer here, paltry though it may be. I might even post match reviews if I can be arsed. Go the Roar innit.


Thanks to Tom.


He did not run. He did not even know they were following him. He did not jump the barrier.

He was not identified because the guy who was supposed to do it was taking a piss. He was executed as a "maybe".

He came towards them when they shouted that they were police.

He was restrained and could not have detonated a bomb, which he was not in any case carrying underneath what was not a thick jacket as the police had earlier lied but a jeans jacket.

He was murdered.

There is no other word for it. The men responsible must be jailed and their superiors sacked. The message has to go out: you can't fuck up when you are holding someone's life in your hands.

But they won't be. The police will continue to pursue a shoot-to-kill policy. They will continue with a policy of "profiling" that endangers anyone who is not quite the right shade.

They hate us because we are racists. And we are willing to prove worthy of that hate, over and over.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Hiroshima mon amour

For a couple of years, I worked as a researcher into nuclear weapons policy. It was incredibly banal. If you don't have to think about the pain, the incinerated bodies, the crying children, the spoiled earth and water, the misery, nuclear war is easy to contemplate. Men who could have turned their intellects to the real problems that beset our world: how to get the food that is plentiful to those who do not have plenty; how to make deserts green; how to share the resources of the world equitably; how to live without oil, instead spent their lives calculating to the nth decimal how many people they could stand to lose and how many they could kill if it came to it, how they could make bombs that could explode with a bigger bang, with smaller bangs but more impact, with smaller bangs for smaller purposes.

They were able to hide the truth in numbers and physics.

This weekend I have read Max Hastings in the Guardian, explaining that we must not be too harsh in judging those who used an atomic bomb because we are not in their shoes, that we must put the bomb in context -- a context that included the strategic bombing of cities, including the incendiary bombing of Tokyo, which killed hundreds of thousands. Terry Sweetman in the Courier-Mail explains that if one Australian life was saved by bombing Hiroshima, it was worth it. Mr Sweetman explains that the Japanese were vilified in the Second World War. Oddly, he doesn't distinguish between combatants and others, but implies that the Japanese were monsters to a man, and deserved what they got. He doesn't say whether he thinks the Japanese have ceased to be monsters who deserve extinguishing.

Today, the US, and it grieves me enormously to learn, the UK, are planning to make smaller, "useable" nukes to "bust bunkers". Not that anyone actually has the aforesaid bunkers. That's besides the point though. Once we are all comfortable with the idea that nukes can be used, we'll be able to use them on tank formations, power stations, Teheran.

But here is the thing: the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima is not forgiveable because of its context. Just because we had already been indulging in terrible crimes against humanity doesn't mean that we could permit ourselves another step. And it is not forgiveable because we convinced ourselves that the Japanese were not the same kind of human as us. They were, and so are the peoples of the places we demonise today. The truth is that if bombing Hiroshima was not a crime, there is no such thing as a crime; if it wasn't wrong, nothing can be wrong.

These are hard times in the world. Men without scruple oppose one another. They have barely even begun to fight and yet they have shown that they will not stop at much. Soon the oil will begin to run out. The fighting could well become much more serious. We will talk about our values, how they must be defended. But what are values if they permit you to kill a hundred thousand and more in an instant?

Friday, August 05, 2005

What they knew

Iran is next.

Iran is ten years away from acquiring nuclear weapons. It is a signatory to the NPT.

Its professed enemy, Israel, has nuclear weapons. It is not a signatory to the NPT.

Iran is not currently occupying anyone else's homeland.

What we heard

Iran is next.

Let's not listen this time.

Thursday, August 04, 2005


One of the few things nearly all can agree on in the West is that the Second World War was just and had to be fought. (It's conveniently forgotten that many did not want to fight it, both here and in the States, and forgotten too that fascism had a fatal attraction for many in the West.)

So it's a useful rhetorical ploy to compare Islamists with Nazis. Call the Islamists "fascists" and their claim to justice is destroyed at a stroke.

But are they? Looking at Browne's article, one can see the case for considering Islamists to be fascists (not a new case, no one can accuse Browne of being a thinker).

"Islamic radicals, like Hitler, cultivate support by nurturing grievances against others."

*kof* Well, who doesn't? George Bush won an election on the basis of American grievance against Iraq. The Tories tried to win one on the basis of yob grievance against foreigners.

But what is the basis for Islamism? Some of it is fuelled by grievance: that the West has interfered in Middle East politics and economy for a long time, and not for the better. Mostly, Islamists believe that the problems of the Middle East would be resolved by a return to the Caliphate, although their Caliphate doesn't necessarily resemble the one that once held sway over much of the Middle East. In truth, that latter would be a vast improvement over the current polities there: it was largely tolerant, rich and peaceful. The notion of the Islamic community made sense, with trade and travel between Muslim centres easy. Of course, "largely" so doesn't mean wholly so, and it's hard to see how the version of Islam that the Qutbistas urge could have constructed the Caliphate. It was never unitary. It was never all Sunni, never all peaceful. Peasants still toiled in the fields. One of the attractions of Islamism to the poor is that it promises to bring into being the Islamic ideal of equality, which would mean a measure of enrichment for many. This is not that far removed from the justification for Western "democracy": it's ugly and unpleasant but we're rich because of it.

"Islamists, like Hitler, scapegoat Jews for their problems and want to destroy them."

Yes, they do. Islamists are antisemites of the most disgusting kind. They hate Jews for being Jews. This should be deplored. However, it's not an outcome of their philosophy per se. Indeed, it is almost inexplicable, given Islamic tolerance for "People of the Book", which was a feature of the Caliphate (not always nor in every place, but in a broad sense).

And that hatred did not begin with the Israeli oppression of Palestinians. It is an expression of an older antisemitism that is rife in the Middle East. Israel is resented as a bastion of "Western values" (licentiousness, frivolity, booze mostly) imposed on what is seen as a core part of the Muslim territory, a part that Muslims fought very hard to wrest from the Crusaders. The resentment is understandable in part, and, like many of the "useful idiots", I deplore Israel's exploitation of the West's sympathy for it to cause a great deal of misery for Palestinians. But Israel exists. It cannot be undone, just as other places, nations exist, and now we have to take what we have and work out how to make it work for all of us. That's not easy, and the route to a solution would, one would have thought, begin with an understanding that all sides have grievances, resentments, needs that must be met. Our blind support for one side has exacerbated the problem.

Jews make good scapegoats though. They did not surrender their identity in their diaspora but clung onto their "Jewishness" in the face of all that was thrown at them (I am not suggesting for a moment this is a bad thing, by the way). They are notable in many places for their expertise and success, partly, I think it's fair to say, because they have a culture that stresses the value of education and that urges thrift and hard work on its people. They have tended to be a recognisable minority: being a recognisable "Other" makes you an easy scapegoat -- in the UK, Asians can be singled out because they are dark, just as blacks were 20 years ago and still are. They have rules and rituals that have led some of them, often times, to dress differently to the locals, and to eat different food. (True today of Muslims in Western countries, of course.) They have tended to maintain community and, sometimes, this has meant excluding outsiders (particularly when the outsiders have been aggressive or unwelcoming to them, it has to be said; and I don't ignore that Jews were often corralled into particular areas of town, forced to look inwards).

So is it shared fascism that puts Hitler and bin Laden together, or just selection of an easy target?

"Islamists, like Hitler, decree that the punishment for homosexuality is death."

Well yes, but so do many in this world. The world would be majority fascist were this the marker of fascism. I'm not sure that George Bush wouldn't secretly agree with this -- certainly, he'd believe that eternal punishment awaits the gay.

"Hitler divided the world into Aryans and subhuman non-Aryans"

That's rather a simplification, of course. Aryans were the pinnacle rather than a different sort of thing.

"while Islamists divide the world into Muslims and sub-human infidels."

No, they don't. This comparison is wildly wrong because the Nazis idivided the world by race, something immutable; while Muslims divide it by belief, which is inherently mutable. Islamists do not believe infidels are "inferior" in the way Hitler thought a black was. They believe infidels can become Muslims simply by accepting that there is one God and that Muhammad was his messenger. Their division of the world is not ideological as such. The two sides are interchangeable for them: you can as easily become an infidel (an apostate) as an infidel can become a Muslim. Indeed, they believe many, if not most, Muslims are apostates. (Interestingly, this is precisely what the Wahhabis believed and taught. They claimed that nonWahhabis simply weren't Muslims.)

"Nazis aimed for their Thousand-Year Reich, while Islamists aim for their eternal Caliphate."

Yes, but the Nazis looked forward to a thousand-year Reich -- the keynote of their ideology being futurism: that they would wipe away the mistakes of the past -- while the Islamists look back to the Caliphate -- the keynote of their ideology being antimodernism: that they would wipe away the mistakes of the present.

And how is it different for us to say that we want to "uphold our way of life"? Are we not aiming to make our way of life permanent in the same way? We don't call it a recognisable name but it's the same notion.

"The Nazi party used terror to achieve power, and from London to Amsterdam, Bali to New York, Egypt to Turkey, Islamists are trying to do the same."

The Nazi party stole elections to achieve power (should sound familiar). The Islamists tend to win elections when they contest them because they have enormous popular appeal (which the West ignores), and then have them stolen from them. They do not in any case seek power as such. They seek to influence the powerful. They seek to dissuade the West from imposing itself on the ummah. They were successful in Afghanistan in the eighties and that emboldened them. The Nazis weren't trying to convince anyone of anything. They had broad popular support in Germany. They didn't try to convince Europe to become Nazi; they simply invaded it and forced it to, just as the Romans made Europe Roman. They did use terror but to different ends from the Islamists'.

Other elements of fascism, more important in understanding it, are missing of course. Fascists are corporatists and statists. Hitler worked hand in glove with business interests. Islamists distrust business. They abhor usury and, in theory at least, deplore the acquisition of enormous wealth at the expense of others. Hitler believed too that the individual should serve the state. Islamists hate states. Mistaking the Caliphate, or their notion of it, for a super-nation is easy to do, but it is rather the idea of a commonwealth that attracts them. Islamists believe the individual should serve God, not Mammon or the state. Fascists believed that the individual was of little account in the bigger picture, and you could argue that Islamists believe the same.

But anyone who has been "downsized" to maintain a bottom line, or who hears a government spokesperson talk about "collateral damage" knows that that belief is seductive across the political spectrum.

Send them not home

Brits are fond of parrotting that they have a "proud tradition" of tolerance. Usually about ten seconds before they display a lack of that very quality.

The reptilian David Davis, challenger to become chief loser at Britain's next election, has trotted out the usual bullshit. You generally have to go to the East End or a northern sink estate to hear this nonsense outside a BNP meeting.

It's "make the blacks sing the anthem". It's "their cooking smells". No, it's "they smell". What these people don't grasp is that it makes no difference to them whether their neighbour espouses "British values" (I shudder to think what Davis thinks those might be), so long as the neighbour leaves you in peace to have whatever values you want for yourself. It's when you try to make someone else share your values that a problem arises.

He was topped by Gerald Howarth, the shadow defence secretary -- yes, the man who, were he empowered, would be defending the UK, one shudders -- who suggested that if you don't back the party line, you can fuck off to, well, somewhere else.

"Meanwhile, Mr Davis's colleague, the shadow defence secretary, Gerald Howarth, called on British-born Muslims who did not feel an allegiance to the UK to leave voluntarily."

He wasn't clear on where they should go, given that they are British citizens. Howarth clearly doesn't feel that it's permissible for citizens of a nation to be dissatisfied with the way things are, and to want change.

Hang on! He's a member of the opposition. Doesn't that pretty much define him? By his reasoning, he should be invited to leave if he's not happy with the policies of the government of the day.

"In an interview with the Scotsman, he also said Muslims who saw the war with Iraq as a conflict against Islam were akin to Soviet sympathisers during the cold war."

Well, history shows us that the Soviets were rather more sinned against than sinning, because the Cold War was founded on deception and the creation of anti-Red hysteria (hmmm, perhaps he's onto something).

Personally, I feel that "British values" must include a willingness to debate the issues of the day, or they are nothing. Men like Howarth -- natural born fascists -- love a dogma though. They enjoy having an inflexible party line, a shibboleth they can use to out "traitors" and "foreigners".

Howarth doubtless feels he would be safer if we expelled all the Muslims. He has convinced himself that their war against us is entirely baseless. He probably doesn't think there is anything wrong with our installing and supporting puppet regimes in the Middle East, so that we can profit from their oil -- the bedrock of our economy.

Well, maybe we would be safer at that. A Muslim can't blow up the 8.15 if he can't get into the country. We could ship them all to, well, bugger it, Iraq would do.

The worrying thing is that, I think, secretly the likes of Howarth do fondly imagine that solution. They don't see any problem with it because they conceive of the problem as being that we have among us people who just don't share our "values". Of course, when it comes down to it, Brits are so lacking in shared values that what we have in common would boil down to "we're not Muslim". But that, I rather feel, is the core of Howarth's position.

"Mr Howarth said the majority of Muslims adhered to British values and he described how the union flag had been flown at a meeting he had with Muslims over the weekend."

It's the cricket thing, isn't it? If they fly the flag, they belong. If they feel any fondness for another nation, they're traitors.

This view is of course an entrenchment of the notion that the enemy is the Other. People not from round here. Foreigners. It's not that they don't "share values" -- flying a flag is not a "value" and only a dumb Tory could think it is -- it's that they feel part of something else. No one ever explains what the problem is with that: in the Ottoman empire, it was considered a strength that people brought their own culture to the empire, the skills of home.

Clearly, I could never subscribe to the Howarth line. I'm an expat and I doubt I would share a Tory's idea of "Australian values". I think the Aussie worship of death -- demonstrated on Anzac Day, where they claim that the sacrifice of their youth, who died in someone else's war for reasons they were too stupid to understand, made them a nation -- is risible; their racism abhorrent; their conservatism will in time leave them far behind in terms of competitiveness, and will drive the country into ruin ecologically; their frank intolerance to other cultures, which they describe as "multiculturalism" distasteful; their haircuts unbelievable. I cheer for England in the cricket and always will, no matter how native I turn.

"But the Aldershot MP said that if some Muslims "don't like our way of life, there is a simple remedy - go to another country, get out."

Erm. Or just live how you please? Isn't that what tolerance means? We mark the boundaries with our laws and within them we allow whatever you wish.

Not in Howarth's world. I have no idea what his "way of life" is. I suspect it's something like "pursue wealth and status headlong, fuck everyone else". I don't like that way of life myself. I have gone to another country (for other reasons). They do it here too.

I think what Howarth is saying is, You can be a Muslim if you pretend it means nothing, the way that Christianity means nothing to Christians. You can be a Muslim if you don't feel that gives you a sense of community with other Muslims -- just as the notion of "Christendom", feeble as it was, was shattered by Europe's religious wars. You can be a Muslim if you are called Geoff, Phil or Trevor and not one of those foreign names. You can be a Muslim if it's just a label, like your skin colour.

The thing that the Howarths and Davises of this world never consider is that they don't do a thing to make what they want to see happen. They want "foreign" cultures to be assimilated. They want Muslims to eat bacon sarnies and join us down the pub for a good singsong around the joanna and stop with their silly Allah wills it nonsense. But they don't do a thing to make that "way of life" attractive to outsiders. They don't reach out a hand. They talk about "tolerance" and show none. They stir up the reactionary, dumbarse proles, who would sooner believe that the blacks are taking all their jobs than that people like Davis have created conditions in which there are no jobs for them, black or white. (They resent Asians for having successful small businesses, running cornershops, chippies and discount stores -- the more visible side of their economic activity -- but they do not open up their own businesses, work long hours themselves, make their own fortunes. No one is stopping them; there is no "only Asians are allowed to run newsagents" cabal.) They treat "foreigners" with suspicion and coldness, and then wonder why they don't feel warm to them. They hope somehow that by a sort of cultural diffusion, the "foreigners" will just become "British" (as though that actually was something!).

Ultimately, Mr Howarth never asks himself the key question: why would anyone want to be like him? It doesn't seem much for an immigrant to aspire to: canting hypocrite, despicable toady, racist, arsehole.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Secrets and lies

Our secret services act on "information" from various sources. One is the confessions of detainees. We might feel it's a fair trade. A bit of rough handling for Mohammed and he coughs the plans for future attacks.

But if someone is slicing up your penis and feeding you details of a plot, will you not then, to make them stop the pain, confess to whatever they are suggesting?

How many plots are real? How many are invented to put ever more Moslems in detention?

They invented the WMDs. They invented the scientists who told them that the WMDs were there. We couldn't find out the truth because they kept the alleged scientists away from our journalists and would not share the "evidence" they said they had.

They will not make public the evidence that supports their holding the detainees. They will not even tell the detainees why they are being held, and certainly won't allow anyone who might put that evidence up to scrutiny hear what it is.


There are some who believe that the London bombings were faked, that the young men who are supposed to have been involved were kidnapped by the secret services, murdered and used as patsies. It is rather convenient that their credit cards, birth certificates and so on were found at the scene. It's interesting that eyewitness accounts of the bus bomber don't match the man caught on CCTV.

I doubt that the truth is anything but that four young men, whether directed by others or on their own account, blew up the trains and bus. But the secrecy, the refusal to allow scrutiny, and the many lies that we know we have been told tend to fuel the fire of suspicion. It doesn't help that the official line is that the bombings had nothing to do with Iraq. (I have to confess to laughing out loud when Blair "proved" this by pointing out that we had not invaded Iraq before 9/11. One can only presume he hadn't noticed our meddling in the Middle East or the IDF's tanks shooting up the West Bank.)

Some say that Israel did it. I've been rather surprised, looking around the web, to find out how much of the conspiracy theory out there is plain, common and garden antisemitism, entirely unvarnished. There is, they say, a vast Zionist conspiracy to, erm, rule the world etc.

Now I've no doubt that Zionists are influential in American policy. Too influential. I've no doubt either that the neocons are profoundly influenced by Israel and that Mossad feed intelligence to the West that suits its ends. I've no doubt either that Mossad would happily murder whoever it felt it needed to in pursuit of Israel's "security". (We can be reasonably sure that the Russian secret services faked Chechen terror bombings, so it is not out of the question that Mossad could do it too.)

But a vast Zionist conspiracy? Sorry no. There is a conspiracy, sure enough, but it's your same old, same old greedy bastards want all the money conspiracy. Some of the greedy bastards are Jews, yes, and maybe disproportionately so (testament not to disproportionate greed on the part of Jews but to their having a culture that exalts achievement and prizes education: not for nothing did the Ottoman Sultan, on the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, take them in with glee, asking why the Spanish had been foolish enough to allow such a huge wealth of expertise to leave -- "the Jews know how to do things", he reportedly said). America does not, on the whole, seek to promote Jews to positions of responsibility around the world. Rather, it looks to help greedy bastards. If you're willing to partner American firms in exploiting your people and pilfering your nation's natural resources, you will find your pockets filled with Yankee gold and the CIA happily bumping off your enemies. Ethnicity doesn't come into it.


But anything is possible. There are many unanswered questions about 9/11: why were there no Arab names on the passenger lists? Why was an Israeli counterhijack specialist on one of the planes? Why are some of the alleged hijackers still alive? Why did Ziad Jarrah phone his live-in gf to tell her he loved her, and not to say I'm doing it for Allah or Don't think badly of me, just before the hijacking? Who was Nick Berg? Why did Moussaoui have his password for his email account? Why were both in the same Oklahoma town? Who killed Berg? Why, when attacked by mostly Saudis, did we invade Iraq, which had nothing to do with it? Why hasn't the US done anything to penetrate terrorist cells in Saudi Arabia? Why hasn't it insisted on being allowed ingress to Saudi Arabia to hunt down those involved? Why don't newspapers ask more questions about the Saudis, who are, it should be remembered, themselves Islamists (Wahhabism is a rather extreme form of Sunnism)?

Some of these questions do not have simple answers. (You would think, given the White House's iron certainty and love of soundbites, echoed in Blair's Britain, that there were no grey in the whole affair.) But when there are no answers, the mind gets to work, and the conclusion that what is hidden is foul is quickly reached.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Karawatha; Mansfield

It is early afternoon. The clouds are white, no threat of rain, in a winter-blue sky. I keep my legs moving, one after the other, meditation in movement. If I keep moving, I won't have to think, and if I do think, my thoughts are ordered, decent, not jostling and crowding as they do when I sit at my desk in the basement.

It is ten past one or thereabouts. The scent of eucalypts is not as heady as it would be in the height of summer, but this means it does not smother the earthy aroma of the leaf litter and broken wood that will grow until it fuels a fire that will regenerate the forest. None of the trees is tall or old. Many bear the marks of last year's fire.

It is late July, the depths of winter. I have to take off my sweater. My feet tramp out the kilometres, one in front of the other. It's easy walking, a gravel path, a neatly packed earth track, stretches of builder's sand. I have to take off my sweater; I am bothered by how hot I feel. I have had a virus, on and off for three months. My head is heavy and spins with the rising heat, fuelled by exertion. I am walking fast, not stopping to look.

I have seen a dry sclerophyll forest enough times to know what is in it. I will stop if something catches my eye: a lordly kookaburra, a flash of movement as a lizard rushes to escape my approach, a parrot blazing across the sky. I will stop if I hear something interesting: the call of a cockatoo (perhaps an elusive black one), the noise of something hiding in the long grass, slitherings.

I walk for an hour and a half or maybe two hours. I do not know how far I have gone.


People go to and fro. Mostly they look at the path. I am going to and fro.

There are rosellas in the tree by the park toilets. I am thinking that it is curious that they are here. It is a hazy, overcast day, quite cold, and they seem incongruous. I still think of parrots as being denizens of the tropics, when in truth they are here as a matter of geography rather than climate as such.

The creek is filthy, brown and reeking. All our streets, from here to the river and down the other way into the southside to where precisely I don't know, drain their surface water into the creek.

When there is a storm, if it is big enough, the field floods and becomes a lake. The water looks clean and inviting, but I have never seen anyone swim in the lake or the creek.

I have never seen anything swim in the creek. There are ducks but they walk on the parkland, eating plants, rather than try to find anything living in the water. It's a pity they don't eat mosquitoes. Further downstream, where the creek feeds wetlands, a huge population of birds is supported by it, so it must have life, but this stretch is filthy, home to old paint cans, tyres, shit I wouldn't be surprised. You could pitch a body into the creek, some dark night, and no one would notice or care.

This land does not support so many easily. It is wearing out. We are proud of its natural beauty but not so proud that we do not happily destroy it, cut it down, plough it under, poison it and bury it in our piss, shit and plastic bags.

Zenita is babbling happily as I push the twins along the path. She is waving her hand, pointing, I don't know what at. Naughtyman is sick, slumped in his seat, his throat sore. He wants to be home with his mother. Get over it, I want to tell him. You'll feel like that most of your life, that you would be better off back in the womb than doing what others make you. None of it will be worthwhile. None of it will feel better than just being safe, warm and unbothered.

The sky is entirely clouded over, grey and unfriendly. In England, this would mean drizzle to follow, but here it doesn't. It won't rain today and it won't rain tomorrow. In the summer, it will rain hard through our sweltering nights, but today it will not rain at all.

X & Y; Funeral

What, you wonder, were Coldplay aiming for when they set out to make X & Y? Did they say, Let's just make a solid set that will sound good in a stadium? And three years later they had a crafted, beautifully structured bunch of dull, rawk plodders, all stamped with fluting, high vocals, which cry "I am emotional" (so long as you don't focus too closely on the empty toneless lyrics). You build a picture of the band from it: inoffensive, nice boys, who have never suffered in their lives, who have the stirrings of feeling (the usual middle-class anxieties: I am alienated, I am too pampered, I am unable to feel, I want to do more) but lack the vocabulary, emotional and lexical, to express it in anything beyond mumbling.

It doesn't hurt the ears. It's produced to within an inch of its life, and the chord sequences are lovingly honed. But there's not a tune to be sniffed: each song a muddy swirl of guitar, Martin's voice to the fore. The only riff that makes you sit up and listen is the rather incongruous lift of Computer love's theme on Talk. What were they thinking? Did they think they were paying a homage to Kraftwerk? Did they think they were improving on it? Sadly, Martin's banal musings on how good it is to talk are not a patch on Kraftwerk's arch hymn to internet dating. "You could take a picture of something you see/In the future where will I be/You could climb a ladder up to the sun/Or write a song nobody had sung/Or do something that's never been done". Erm. I defy you to listen and not break into Climb every mountain.

It would be easy to suggest that this is symptomatic of a band that has struggled to make its third album, who have found the fire that impelled them as youngsters has guttered and burns lower. But Coldplay never were particularly fiery. Their music has always tended to the anodyne, Martin's lyrics have always lacked substance. Their popularity was built on hummable riffs and a distinctive voice that sang songs you could sing along with without concerning yourself over much with what they were saying. They were comfortable and there will always be a market for comfort in music. More so than ever in these days, when innovation has all but died in rock, and the new is all too often a retread of an old that was a lot better.

In direct contrast are Arcade Fire, who burn the place down with an album that is incandescent. Each song bursts with invention, and each keeps giving. You think you have got to the bottom of a song and then you hear another nuance. An astonishing range of influences are reflected in Funeral but the sound is entirely distinctive.

It is life-affirming. The songs talk about hope, love and the lack of both. They talk about a world that tries to smother and hurt us, but knows that "guns can't kill what soldiers can't see". Win Butler's striking voice craves attention, forces you to listen, grabs you by the gut and won't let go. My only complaint is that because they had attended a few in the time they were making the album, they called it Funeral. They could equally have called it Life, because it bursts at the seams with it.