25 December 2011

Merry Christmas To All

As we do most years, if it occurs to me, all of us here at the Secret Blog wish all who stumble across us a merry day gathered around the ol'pagan symbol with family and friends.

29 October 2011

21 October 2011

Dead Moammar

The death of Qaddafi is a good thing, and I'll even concede that publicizing pictures of his corpse is a good thing. But I am getting a little sick of seeing Dead Moammar popping up an on every link a I click.

You Gotta Love This

Amazon.com: America's Flag Company FF2X3NCAN1 2-Foot by 3-Foot Nylon Canada Flag: Home & Garden

04 October 2011

That's Funny, She Doesn't Look Jewish

(c) 2011, Associated Press.

Are you saying incomes in the middle have not fallen?

Yes, that's what I'm saying. (I'm also saying that this understates the case because it ignores the value of noncash employment benefits (wich were 29% of total compensation in 2004 and 30.5% in 2011) and government transfers (which have increased by about 12% of personal income (from 6% of average income to 18%) from 1967 to 2011.)

03 October 2011

O tempora o mores

I have no desire to pick on Bryan Appleyard, with whom I agree more than I disagree (particularly once he's translated from the orginal English), but this rare post on his blog deserves some comment.

I'm always amused by the cry of "O tempora o mores" immediately followed by blaming conservatives. The idea that 2011 is, historically, a particularly difficult time to be living in England, or anywhere in the West is obvious nonsense. It's particularly odd in the course of a touching story of nobility in true hardship; a father who, with his son's blood fresh upon him, quells a riot. It also strikes me as odd that, for Appleyard, original sin now seems to be bankers lending money with insufficient collateral.

17 September 2011

Did You Know Paul McCartney Was In A Band Before Wings?

If liking "Silly Love Songs" is wrong, I don't want to be right.

16 September 2011

We've Got A Little Theme Going Here

Toronto strippers among 'most intellectual' (Tom Godrey, QMI Agency, 9/14/2011)
Toronto has some of the "most intellectual" strippers in Canada.

On any given night, about 50% of the city's exotic dancers on the job are fresh-faced college or university students who are shedding their clothes to earn degrees, industry officials say.

A ban on imported foreign dancers in 2006 forced Toronto-area strip club owners to recruit elsewhere, and they now have hundreds of students from top colleges and universities taking to the stage after classes to earn tuition money.
So we won't take their crazies, and they won't take our hot girls! girls! girls!

10 September 2011

Must ... Resist ... Temptation

Canadians with mental illnesses denied U.S. entry (Sarah Bridge, CBC News, 9/9/11)
Data entered into national police database accessible to American authorities: WikiLeaks

More than a dozen Canadians have told the Psychiatric Patient Advocate Office in Toronto within the past year that they were blocked from entering the United States after their records of mental illness were shared with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

18 August 2011

The Middle Management Perspective ... Of God

And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses sat to judge the people: and the people stood by Moses from the morning unto the evening. And when Moses' father in law saw all that he did to the people, he said, What is this thing that thou doest to the people? why sittest thou thyself alone, and all the people stand by thee from morning unto even? And Moses said unto his father in law, Because the people come unto me to inquire of God: When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.

And Moses' father in law said unto him, The thing that thou doest is not good. Thou wilt surely wear away, both thou, and this people that is with thee: for this thing is too heavy for thee; thou art not able to perform it thyself alone. Hearken now unto my voice, I will give thee counsel, and God shall be with thee: Be thou for the people to God-ward, that thou mayest bring the causes unto God: And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do. Moreover thou shalt provide out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them, to be rulers of thousands, and rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens: And let them judge the people at all seasons: and it shall be, that every great matter they shall bring unto thee, but every small matter they shall judge: so shall it be easier for thyself, and they shall bear the burden with thee. If thou shalt do this thing, and God command thee so, then thou shalt be able to endure, and all this people shall also go to their place in peace. (Exodus, 18:13-23)

10 August 2011

Crowdsourcing the Coveted Secret Blog Endorsement.

The Secret Blog's endorsed candidate for the 2012 presidential election will be the Republican nominee, but who should be the Republican nominee?

The obvious answer would seem to be Romney. He is, in some ways, the anti-Obama and, as the frontrunner, could move to the nomination with a minimum of fuss, plus he could credibly move to the center in the general election. But there are very substantial reasons not to want Romney, the most substantial being that it's always a mistake to pick the candidate who would best deal with the current crisis. The trick of picking presidents -- and the reason democracy works better than other systems -- is to pick the right person to deal with the completely unforeseen crisis that will be occupying us four years from now. Plus, having put time, effort and his own money into his complete failure of an attempt to elect Republicans to the state legislature in Massachusetts, Romney quit on the Commonwealth. That leaves me cold when it comes to supporting him now.

Pawlenty is the next obvious candidate, but he's one of the those obvious candidates that has no real chance of winning. Everyone's second choice, he's not anyone's first choice.

The radical conservative in my is attracted to Bachman, but the moderates and liberals in this country are too bigoted to vote for her. Of all the current candidates, she's the most likely to be Ronald Reagan come again, and the most likely to be Obama come again.

So who should the moderate and reasonable radical conservative nutjob endorse?

16 July 2011

The Calf-Path (Sam Walter Foss)

One day, through the primeval wood,
A calf walked home, as good calves should;

But made a trail all bent askew,
A crooked trail as all calves do.
Since then three hundred years have fled,
And, I infer, the calf is dead.
But still he left behind his trail,
And thereby hangs my moral tale.
The trail was taken up next day,
By a lone dog that passed that way.
And then a wise bell-wether sheep,
Pursued the trail o'er vale and steep;
And drew the flock behind him too,
As good bell-wethers always do.
And from that day, o'er hill and glade.
Through those old woods a path was made.

And many men wound in and out,
And dodged, and turned, and bent about;
And uttered words of righteous wrath,
Because 'twas such a crooked path.
But still they followed - do not laugh -
The first migrations of that calf.
And through this winding wood-way stalked,
Because he wobbled when he walked.

This forest path became a lane,
that bent, and turned, and turned again.
This crooked lane became a road,
Where many a poor horse with his load,
Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
And traveled some three miles in one.
And thus a century and a half,
They trod the footsteps of that calf.

The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
The road became a village street;
And this, before men were aware,
A city's crowded thoroughfare;
And soon the central street was this,
Of a renowned metropolis;
And men two centuries and a half,
Trod in the footsteps of that calf.

Each day a hundred thousand rout,
Followed the zigzag calf about;
And o'er his crooked journey went,
The traffic of a continent.
A Hundred thousand men were led,
By one calf near three centuries dead.
They followed still his crooked way,
And lost one hundred years a day;
For thus such reverence is lent,
To well established precedent.

A moral lesson this might teach,
Were I ordained and called to preach;
For men are prone to go it blind,
Along the calf-paths of the mind;
And work away from sun to sun,
To do what other men have done.
They follow in the beaten track,
And out and in, and forth and back,
And still their devious course pursue,
To keep the path that others do.
They keep the path a sacred groove,
Along which all their lives they move.
But how the wise old wood gods laugh,
Who saw the first primeval calf!
Ah! many things this tale might teach -
But I am not ordained to preach.

07 July 2011

Karl Marx Had It Backwards

The international denunciations accompanying the news that a man in Dublin obliquely suggested the possibility of sexual congress to a feminist in an elevator have ineluctably reminded me of the following:

(10 points to anyone who guesses which Marx quote I have in mind.)

God Is Cruel

Now He's making me agree with Richard Dawkins.

28 June 2011

No Jews Need Apply?

I'm starting the exciting and rewarding process of searching for a job, so I'm reading lots of academic help-wanted ads.

While reading an ad for one particular school, I came across this language:
Women, Aboriginal peoples, members of visible minorities, and people with disabilities are especially encouraged to apply and to voluntarily self identify as a member of a designated group as part of their application.
I'm not usually touchy about these things (when it comes to jobs, I'm the anti-Marx; I wouldn't accept a job that won't take someone like me), but it immediately occurred to me that I'm being excluded. But there must a long list of non-visible minorities (heck, they might even be trying to keep out the mentally ill, although the disability language indicates otherwise). Let's list all the people who don't get preferential treatment.

26 June 2011

The Passive We

The heart of academia is the peer review process, and the heart of the peer review process is peer review. We read one another's papers to try to make sure that published articles quack like a paper. And since the gatekeepers are peer reviewers, we all try to have peers review our papers before they are submitted to a journal, on the same theory as the lottery number picker I once saw on sale -- a ping pong ball bubbler just like the lottery has.

I like reviewing, and I'm pretty good at it, so I get asked to read friends' and colleagues' papers more often than the average academic. One thing I do for friends that we are advised against doing in real reviewing is throw in some copy editing. Academics, by and large, aren't great stylists but a better written paper is more likely, all other things equal, to get published than a poorly written paper.

We all have some odd writing habits (foreigners are absolutely convinced that it's ungrammatical to start a sentence with "Because"), but mostly the people I review accept my advice. There are two exceptions. I cannot convince anyone to: refer to themselves in the first person singular in single-authored papers; or to stop assigning agency to the paper (as in "This paper conclusively proves..."). So papers that I know a friend of mine wrote all on his own keep saying that "we" did this and "we" argue that. Then, in the next paragraph, "we" stop doing anything and the paper itself gets up off the table and conducts research.

I'm not sure how to explain this reluctance to take personal responsibility for a paper that the author hopes to publish and take credit for. Does it seem too egotistical to write that "due to the nested nature of the data, I used hierarchical linear modeling?" Why write that "we used" or "this paper uses?"

Management research and writing is almost always performed alone. Since peer review is double blind (the reviewers don't know the identity of the author and the author doesn't know the reviewers) the flow of credibility is from work to author, not the other way round. As a result, this blog post is puzzled that we write this way.

20 June 2011

Goodl Ol'Canada

Apparently, Bill Ayers can't get across the border into Canada to give a speech and absolutely not, under any circumstances, to blow up buildings and kill innocent poeple in terror attacks.

So three cheers for Canada.

17 June 2011


I've now read The Possessed by Elif Batuman, in part because Brit recommended it and in part because she complained about exactly the objection to the Kindle that most annoys me: I don't use a Kindle because I love books. (Not only is this a category mistake (the book is not the physical object) but it is usually said with unearned smug moral superiority.)

I quite liked the book and think you will too, and thus I recommend it. But I do want to quibble with one thing Brit said, which is that The Possessed is a memoir. It is quite clear to me that this is not a memoir, but a novel.

It is true that, if it is a novel, it is a novel about a character named Elif Batuman, who shares at least some important characteristics with her author. Generally, I find authors showing up in their own books to be anathema -- one of the few things Kingsley Amis and I have in common is our reaction to the appearence of the Martin Amis character in Money; both of us immediately threw the book across the room. Perhaps because the novel takes the form of a memoir, this trick is less objectionable than it might otherwise be.

Once I began to suspect that The Possessed is a novel, it quickly became obvious. In fact, the first part of the book is taken up with meditations on a Russion writer who, Elif continually finds, writes autobiography that is actually fictional. The author wasn't or couldn't have been various places he writes about, and certain stories don't seem to have happened quite as presented. In other words, the first part of the book is a quite obvious justification for authors presenting fiction as fact, even as to their own lives.

Elif is, in fact, an untrustworthy narrator of her own life. The untrustworthy narrator, as literary device, shows up throughout the book, at least once explicitly ("a Romanian girl who briefly studied unreliable narrators before dropping out."). Elif lives through story after story, and person after person, who can't quite be believed and who is shown eventually to be unreliable: among others, a landlord who hides the only working bathroom and refrigerator; a student who makes up a fatal illness for a security guard; Isaak Babel's daughters.) There are facts here that could be Googled, the death of a Balkan Arch-Bishop for example, but I have resolutely declined to do so. truth is irrelevant to the story.

Indeed, the irrelevence of truth seems to be the point of the novel. Elif (the character) is made to question her devotion to literature. If she had it to do over, would she still study literature. She could, instead, study radical Islam, which really matters. Elif decides that "[i]f I could start over today, I would choose literature again. If the answers exist in the world or in the universe, I still think that's where we're going to find them." It's possible for someone who is not a character in a novel to reach that conclusion, but from a real person such an answer is self-refuting.

12 June 2011

Life In Northampton

The artist, needless to say, misunderstands her own art.

31 May 2011


Words by PG Wodehouse, music by Jerome Kern, performed by Billy Murray.

True Things We Never Say

1. Earth's natural resources are unlimited and munificent (okay, that one's been said, but can't be said enough);

2. Books are not sacred. They are physical objects without inherent meaning and do not embody the ideas expressed within themselves. If you need to get rid of a bunch of books, you could do worse than a bonfire.

3. In a literate society, teaching children is unskilled labor.

29 May 2011

24 May 2011

It's The Birthing Pool That Makes It Perfect

Parents keep child's gender secret (Jayme Poisson, parentcentral.ca, 5/21/11)
Witterick and her husband, David Stocker, are raising a genderless baby.... While there’s nothing ambiguous about Storm’s genitalia, they aren’t telling anyone whether their third child is a boy or a girl.

The only people who know are Storm’s brothers, Jazz, 5, and Kio, 2, a close family friend and the two midwives who helped deliver the baby in a birthing pool at their Toronto home on New Year’s Day.

Getting To The Heart Of The Matter.

Cardiology salaries high, but not high enough, cardiologists say (Shelley Wood, theheart.org, 4/28/11)
New York, NY - Cardiologists—especially males—are among some of the highest-paid physicians in the US, but most believe they are inadequately reimbursed for what they do.

22 May 2011

We Can't Choose Our Fellow Travelers,

But do we really have to pretend that the War Powers Act is constitutional, or that we care, even to poke fun at President Obama? Obama might be a hypocrite, but he's the best type of hypocrite: one who does what I want while scorning me.

Spam And Sausage

The new blog won't accept comments on posts more than two weeks old without moderation, and so I periodically get pulled back into the past by comment spam. This is less annoying than I would have expected, because I get to explore my archives serendipitously. Today I was taken back to this post, of which I had no memory whatsoever.

Shortly thereafter, I followed a thread from Think of England to The Dabbler to Nigeness to this comment thread, which led me in turn to sausage blogging (which is not, as the internet cognescenti might expect, euphemistic). No doubt the sausage bloggers look as the politics/isn't life a funny old thing bloggers and wonder how they can go on and on about that stuff.

19 April 2011

I'd Be Perfectly Happy If Those Damn Kids Would Just Get Off My Lawn.

Happiness is U-shaped ... which explains why the middle-aged are grumpy (Stephen Adams, The Telegraph, 4/19/11)
Happiness follows a U-shaped curve during a person's lifetime, according to research showing that middle-aged people are the unhappiest.

Satisfaction with life starts to drop as early as a person's late 20s and does not begin to recover until well past 50, says Bert van Landeghem, an economist at Maastricht University in Belgium.

10 April 2011


I just watched Inception and my only real thought on it is this: its claim to being a great movie depends entirely on the interpretation that, at the end of the movie, Cobb is still dreaming. If he's in the real world, the movie is a fairly straight forward thriller with nothing interesting to say.

04 April 2011

5 Tons Of Bacon A Week

For all the "America is an idea" exceptionalism around here, this is who we are. And damn proud.

03 April 2011

What's A Blog For, If Not Pet Peeves

Hit and Run at Reason.com points us to a new report on cancer rates in the US:
Trend analysis showed that overall cancer incidence rates for all racial and ethnic groups combined decreased by 0.8% per year during the most recent period, 2003–2007 (Table 1); a statistically significant decrease of 0.6% per year was noted in women, whereas a non-statistically significant decrease of 0.8% per year was noted in men that was influenced by a recent (2005–2007) non-statistically significant increase in prostate cancer incidence. Incidence for prostate and breast cancers, two of the most frequently diagnosed cancers, showed possible changing trends. Cancer of the prostate showed a non-statistically significant annual increase of 3.0% in 2005–2007, after a statistically significant decrease in 2001–2005. The trend analysis of breast cancer in women showed a decrease from 1999 until 2007. However, inspection of the annual breast cancer incidence rates during this period (data not shown) revealed that, after a sharp decrease in rates in 2002–2003, the lower rates subsequently remained stable.
As we've discussed before, the point of statistics is to tell us whether two groups of measurements, which appear to be different, really are different. It looks like more men got prostate cancer last year -- the rate last year is higher than the rate the year before -- but is that a real difference, or is it just chance. We assume that it's chance unless the likelihood of getting these results randomly (given that there really is no difference) is less than 5%.

If the difference is not "statistically significant" then what we're saying is that the difference is, as far as we can tell, effectively zero. There is no difference, except for random chance. So, if the difference is effectively zero, THEN THE FACT THAT THE RATES WERE NOMINALLY DIFFERENT IS COMPLETELY IRRELEVANT. Nothing is more clearly indicative of someone trying to use statistics to lie to you then telling you the direction of a non-significant change.

22 March 2011

Cole Porter Is The Cat's Pajamas.

Before and after, have anyone else's songs been as notable for witty lyrics.

The problem seems to be that witty is almost unsingable.

20 March 2011

16 March 2011

My Doctor's Name Is Croke

Community: Newhall Memorial names Dr. Richard S. Frankenstein as interim chief medical officer

"It's pronounced Franken-STEEN," announced long-time administrator, Frau Blucher.

13 March 2011

12 March 2011


As luck would have it, I'm teaching online this semester and have two students in Japan (both are fine), so I've been paying more than usually close attention to the reporting of the earthquake and tsunami. Although I'm all for American parochialism, I have to say I found the following annoying:
Taking Head: We now have reports of a fire at a Japanese nuclear power plant. Japanese tv reports that .... Now I'm told we have correspondent Stan Dintok at the Pentagon. Stan, earlier the Pentagon announced that all American servicemen in Japan have been accounted for. Any update on that?

Stan: Yes, the Pentagon has now confirmed that it earlier announce that all American servicemen and women in Japan have been accounted for.

TH: Good news. Now, turning to Hawaii...
Speaking of Hawaii, the absolutely silliest thing I saw during the coverage was on Fox News, where they showed some random webcam from Kauai next to a countdown clock supposedly ticking down the seconds until the tsunami arrived. I'm not sure exactly which was worse: the faux precision of the countdown clock, or watching some random picture of Kauai with no idea of how far it was from the water or how high up it was. Anyway, when the clock ticked down to zero and absolutely nothing happened, the anchors seemed disappointed.

But the oddest thing I noted yesterday was this sentence from the White House's statement on the earthquake and tsunami: "The friendship and alliance between our two nations is unshakeable, and only strengthens our resolve to stand with the people of Japan as they overcome this tragedy." I can't decide for the life of me whether the pun is intentional. On the one hand, it's hard to believe that it wasn't intentional or, at least, that it was unnoticed, but on the other it seems like an odd time for wordplay.

07 March 2011

04 March 2011

I Blame George Bush

Egypt's top archaeologist warns of looting (Hamza Hendawi, March 4, 2011)
Egypt's top archaeologist, Zahi Hawass, warned that the country's antiquity sites were being looted by criminals amid the country's political upheaval as he announced he would no longer serve in his ministerial post in the government.
Presumably, it's all about the oil.

14 February 2011

More Uncanny Valley

Although clearly still in the uncanny valley, we can see that they are starting to crawl up the other side.

O'Brian v. Weir: It's A Master & Commander-athon.

Inspired by The Dabbler, I've decided to rescue (and rewrite for clarity) my review of Master and Commander:

The following contains spoilers for both the movie and the novels. If you wish to avoid the spoilers, my movie review in a nutshell is: Go See It. The movie succeeds brilliantly on its own terms and is respectful of O'Brian. It is, however, Weir's movie, not O'Brian's movie.

Starting with the movie as a movie, Weir has created a masterpiece. Though mostly scrubbed of gore, the scenes of 19th century war are convincing. Almost as good are the scenes of Surprise rounding the Horn. In this, and in showing the crowding of almost 200 souls aboard a small frigate, the movie succeeds in outdoing O'Brian. Though the movie is not at all a slavish adaptation of the O'Brian novel of the same name (the plot is taken from the tenth book and major parts of three other books find their way into the movie), O'Brian's major themes are sounded and a number of lines and sights are thrown in for no other reason than to please those who have read the series.

Weir's riskiest choice succeeds brilliantly. Rather than "opening up" the novel, Weir closes in on the Surprise and her crew. This is as non-commercial a choice as could be made. Rather than introducing a Hollywood romance, making the entire war depend upon catching the Acheron, or introducing the 19th century equivalent of a red timer ticking down to zero, Weir tosses out source material that might broaden the movie's appeal. O'Brian's The Far Side Of The World includes an adulterous love triangle, a mad gunner, his triple murder of the adulterous couple and (perhaps surprisingly on an 19th century man-of-war) an abortionist, and his subsequent suicide. In the book as in the actual 19th century, there were women on board English navy ships, both the wives of the warrant officers and even among the seamen. Rather than make one of these women the source of friction between Jack and Stephen, Weir (figuratively) tosses them overboard and focuses claustrophobically on the Surprise, the seamen and her Captain. This focus brings the audience to the final battle as a part of the crew.

Weir's real triumph is the choreography and filming of the battle scenes, which are done as well as any I've ever seen. Filming a general melee of three hundred men fighting for their lives with one-shot pistols, swords, pikes and knives in a confined space, Weir manages to present three or four themes in such a way that the viewer always can follow the action and tell what is happening to whom. At the same time, the audience feels the confusion and violence that the characters are feeling.

This triumph allows Weir to return to themes he has dealt with before, as early as Gallipoli, when he presented the insanity of World War I trench warfare as seen by Australian troops. This link comes through most clearly during the speech Jack Aubrey gives (most uncharacteristically) before the Surprise surprises the Acheron. Jack says that the Surprise is England and family and that the men will fight bravely for country and family, which of course they do. The Australians, on the other hand, were fighting and dying in an "European" war and, although they fought bravely, were fighting in the end only for each other.

Weir presents the deaths in Gallipoli as tragic and odd, where the deaths on the Surprise are presented as worthy and treated seriously but not as tragedy. This comes through in the choice of the identifiable characters who die on the Acheron; Nagle, Allen and Calamy. Nagle and Allen are not sympathetic characters. Calamy we are not allowed to know, though we are meant to like and admire him. His death (which is Weir's invention, not O'Brian's) is presented as coming during an opportunity he greatly desired and is the most bitterly regretted death in the movie. Soon after, the Surprise moves on and so do we.

In an interview about Gallipoli, Weir once said the following:

Our first approach was to tell the whole story from enlistment in 1914 through to the evacuation of Gallipoli at the end of 1915, but we were not getting at what this thing was, the burning center that had made Gallipoli a legend. I could never find the answers in any books and it certainly wasn't evolving in any of our drafts, so we put the legend to one side and simply made up a story about two young men, really got to know them, where they came from, what happened to them along the way, spent more time getting to the battle and less time on the battlefield.
The draft fell into place. By approaching the subject obliquely, I think we had come as close to touching the source of the myth as we could. I think there's a Chinese proverb - it's not the arriving at one's destination but the journey that matters. Gallipoli is about two young men on the road to adventure, how they crossed continents and great oceans, climbed the pyramids and walked through the ancient sands of Egypt, and the deserts of the outback, to their appointment with destiny at Gallipoli.

The end of the film is really all about that appointment and how they coped with it. I don't think we could have sat down in the early stages and got this - it took years of talking, writing, arguing, to finally get back to something incredibly simple.

The similarities with Master & Commander are clear. The differences are those between a younger man and an older man looking at life. Weir, at least in the context of the Napoleonic Wars, would betray his friend for his country. The theme from O'Brian's novel that comes through most strongly in the film is the conflict between the high Tory Aubrey and the liberal Maturin. Jack believes in the higher discipline; that men must be led both in order to accomplish anything worthwhile and for their own happiness. Stephen rejects this idea of man as a yoked beast. Stephen believes that power corrupts, and that's a shame for the powerful. The resolution of this dispute is perhaps the most disappointing part of the movie. Although Jack's idea of discipline wins out in the end, it does so only because he gives up the pursuit of the Acheron to save his friend's life. I think we are meant to see the need to blend the two philosophies in order to succeed (Jack and Stephen complete each other, blah, blah, blah), but we don't, because the Acheron reappears as a deus ex machina, with no connection to Jack's supposed sacrifice.

But perhaps this is the message, after all. The movie is almost entirely free of post-modern irony (the only exception, in which Jack wonders at this "modern age we're living in", is one of the movie's few clunkers). This earnestness leads to the movie's greatest surprise. Weir's movie is significantly more Christian -- at least, more explicitly Christian -- than O'Brian's novel. We are hit over the head with this at the end, with perhaps the only non-ironic, earnest Christian service I've ever seen in a major motion picture. Weir might think that Jack, as a Christian hero, is rewarded for his works, but actually he was rewarded out of grace.

12 February 2011

Yay!!! A Military Coup

Does this welcoming adulation from the west for what seems to be a run-of-the-mill military coup in Egypt not strike anyone else as odd? Isn't this more or less obviously the change-of-figurehead we worried about in the previous post?

Remember the Honduran "coup," where the removal of the president from office was blessed by the legislature, the Supreme Court and the Honduran constitution, but which was widely condemned as a military coup (by, among others, President Obama and Harry Eagar) because the military actually performed the removal, and sent him out of the country rather than to jail or internal exile?

06 February 2011

Live From Tahrir Square

My college roommate was born in the US and lives in London, but his parents were Egyptian and he still has family in Egypt. On February 2, he flew to Cairo to join the demonstrations. Today he flew back to London. Here is his email from Tahrir Square. He makes one invaluable point that we don't see enough in the media: a dictator is a person, but a dictatorship is an institution. Getting rid of Mubarak would be historic but is not, in and of itself, democracy. If the institutions of dictatorship sacrifice Mubarak to save themselves, nothing permanent has been gained.

Three exhilarating days in Cairo but tomorrow I have to go home to my other life.

It feels like years of history have been written in a super short period. Certainly, a country that had been stuck in a multi-decade statis has been thrust through a time warp where massive and unpredictable changes are coming fast and furious.

Just 12 days ago we weren't sure if the rumors of 90,000 possible attendees at the first demonstration would turn out to be true. I was wondering if they were throwing a big party that nobody would turn up for, again.

Then we had a massive turnout - and then over and over again until the regime's first then-shocker of a concession: the full cabinet dismissal. Then the formerly powerful (and highly feared and loathed) Minister of Interior Habib Adly gets a travel ban and has his personal assets frozen. Boom.

Then a promise by Mubarak not to run or to allow his son to run. In the old world, this was huge. Then today more former ministers under investigation and a shuffle and dismissal of senior party hacks.

However momentous these gains are - they never would have happened in the previous period of stasis - they are fragile and easily reversible. Even while in disarray, the regime is playing a rope-a-dope strategy with the demonstrators, offering one sacrificial lamb after another in order to preserve itself and peel away their coalition.

It seems likely that they may even throw Mubarak himself under the bus.

Even if they do that, the gains of the past 12 days will remain at risk for as long as the continuing government (interim, transitional, or otherwise) is dominated by people like Omar Suleiman other bloody-handed members of the old regime.

Consolidating Egypt's transition to democracy is not just about removing Mubarak.

The leaders of Tahrir posted six additional demands on their massive eight story banner yesterday: repealing the emergency law, amending the constitution, appointing independent trustees for state-owned media, dissolving the sham parliament, accountability for the violence and death, and accountability for the stolen wealth.

These are smart demands. If implemented, they make back sliding or reprisals by the 'new' post Mubarak regime virtually impossible. Stopping now, with Mubarak still in place or nominal changes in the remaining regime members could well be a recipe for the cold arm of reprisals and maybe even a bloodbath.

I hope the rest of the world keeps watching. These dignified people are fighting to restore their people's freedom and they deserve all our attention.

02 February 2011

Doesn't Fit Anyone's Agenda

While following events in Egypt, I've noticed one story that seems to be entirely overlooked.  One of the most important factors in the success (so far) of the popular uprising has been the neutral role taken by the Army, which has reportedly ruled out using force to put down the people.

I also note that, as this Wikileaks cable notes, "thousands of Egyptian military officers have participated in training and education programs in the United States."

I don't know enough about the situation, or the Egyptian Army, to know what the connection is between these two facts, by it does seem odd that no one is asking this question.

Like Yesterday

Jeffrey Goldberg, a blogger at The Atlantic, is getting some attention in the blogosphere reporting this exchange he had with Elliot Abrams:
I asked Elliott Abrams, formerly of the Bush Administration National Security Council, and now at the Council on Foreign Relations, what he makes of the Israeli longing for Mubarak. He was scathing in his response:
"The Israelis first of all do not believe in the universality of democracy.  They believe what many American "experts" did in, say, 1950--democracy was fine for us and Western Europe, but not for Latins (too much Catholic culture) and Asians (too much Confucianism).

"They see a danger in Mubarak's fall, and they are right: we do not know who will take over now or in a year or two from now.  But this is at bottom a crazy reaction.  What they are afraid of is the Muslim Brotherhood, right?  Mubarak has ruled for THIRTY YEARS and leaves us a Brotherhood that is that powerful?  Isn't that all the proof we need that dictatorship is not the way to fight the Brotherhood?  He crushed the moderate and centrist groups and left the Brothers with an open field.  He is to blame for the Brothers' popularity and strength right now.  The sooner he goes the better."
1950?  Seems to me I heard a lot of "respectable opinion" saying that in 2003, and since.

21 January 2011


The Most Emailed 'New York Times' Article Ever
It’s a week before the biggest day of her life, and Anna Williams is multitasking. While waiting to hear back from the Ivy League colleges she’s hoping to attend, the seventeen-year-old senior at one of Manhattan’s most exclusive private schools is doing research for a paper about organic farming in the West Bank, whipping up a batch of vegan brownies, and, like an increasing number of American teenagers, teaching her dog to use an iPad.

12 January 2011

Just 'Cause It's A Stereotype Doesn't Mean It Ain't True

I find that, as I get older, I like Neil Diamond more and more.

08 January 2011

Google Maps Catches An Airplane In Flight

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Actually, it's surprising this doesn't happen more often.