Wednesday 14 November 2012

Pumpkin chutney. (Really. Actual chutney. Not a figure of speech.)

I know what you're thinking: this intermittent political ranting is all very well, but how do I go about making a truly superb condiment? Well, this is your lucky day. Here is my family's pumpkin chutney recipe. It is excellent.

Firstly, for those of you who don't know how to make chutney, it's easy. Whereas jam requires a certain carefulness with the order in which things go into the pot and with judging exactly the right point to take the stuff off the heat just before it crystalizes, chutney just involves chucking everything into a big pot and boiling it down until it looks like chutney. There are no doubt some more detailed instructions elsewhere on the Web, but it really is simple stuff.


a 2.5 lb pumpkin (that's weighed whole, with the stem and seeds)
1 lb peeled tomatoes (tinned are fine)
1.5 lb onions
2 oz sultanas
0.75 lb dark brown sugar
0.75 lb caster sugar
2 tsp ground ginger or about 1 inch of root ginger
2 tsp black pepper or black peppercorns
2 tsp allspice berries
2 cloves garlic
1.25 pints cider vinegar

Obviously, you can adjust the amounts for a different size of pumpkin using the wonder of arithmetic. The amounts of spices are of course to taste. I think I typically put in quite a bit more ginger than the recipe calls for, but I couldn't tell you how much, exactly.


Peel the pumpkin and remove the seeds and the stringy crap around the seeds. Chop the pulp in to a good mixture of small and large chunks. The end result should be a lot like a mango chutney, with some nice big slices of chewy preserved fruit in it.

Slice the onions.

You can use fresh tomatoes and go to the bother of peeling them if you like, but, really, life's too short. I've used fresh and used tinned and there is absolutely zero difference to the end result.

I put the ginger, garlic, black peppercorns, and allspice berries into a chopping device and whizz them all up together into a sort of paste. Or you can just grind the pepper and allspice and chop the garlic and ginger. The allspice berries can even go in whole, if you like.

Now, put the whole lot into a decent pan with a nice thick bottom and boil it down over a high heat, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon to make sure it doesn't stick. It can take over an hour — watch the mixture as it gets thicker: it's ready when you scrape the bottom of the pan and it takes a moment for the mixture to gloop back in, affording you a brief view of metal.

When it's ready, take it off the heat and pour it into sterile jars. Since this is chutney, don't use jam jars with metal lids, as the vinegar will corrode the metal. Kilner jars are best, and a dishwasher is the best way to sterilise them. If you're using a ladle to get the chutney into the jars, make sure the ladle is sterilised too. Seal the jars.

Leave for at least one month before eating, but that's only if you're desperate. This stuff only gets better with age; I was eating some of the 2009 batch the other day, and it's lovely.

This is a really good chutney. Enjoy it.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

The complicity of the BBC.

If you sell refurbished dishwashers but claim they're brand new, or if you charge six hundred quid for plumbing jobs which should cost more like eighty, the BBC will send round a crack squad of investigative journalists and industry experts to entrap you into conning someone in front of a phalanx of hidden cameras. They will then broadcast your name and the name and address of your company and any other company you may have ever been associated with, and they will publicly accuse you of a crime or at the very least immorality.

If, on the other hand, all you're doing is raping kids for forty years, apparently the massed ranks of the BBC's award-winning broadcasters will shrug regretfully and say, "It'd be our word against his. How could we possibly prove it?"

Wednesday 19 September 2012

The haves and the have-nots.

If I were in the US, I'd be voting for Romney. I don't think he's a great candidate — the Republicans are shit at picking candidates — but I think he's better than the alternative. And I know quite a few other Republican supporters. And I'm getting sick to death of the deranged characterisation of us offered day in day out by the Left. I needn't give examples; you've all seen it. Some of you have probably done it. The reasoning seems to be that anyone who wants to cut government spending hates poor people, because cutting spending means cutting benefits and benefits are the only way the poor can survive. Romney wants to cut government spending so that he and his friends in big business can keep all the money for themselves and stop the poor getting their grubby hands on it. You know, the usual lefty smear.

See, I could do the same trick with Obama supporters — you must all be antisemitic Weather Underground supporters, right? — but that would be absurd and insane. Party politics is about coalition and compromise; that's its whole point and its advantage. You don't vote for one man because you agree with every single thought in his head; you vote for the representative of a party because, on balance, you like enough of their platform a bit more than you like the other guys' platform. It doesn't even matter what the candidate's real secret thoughts are, because their power is based on our support and our support is based on their professed opinions, not their secret ones. Obama listened to a ranting Jew-hater for years and claims he never really noticed. Aye, right. But plenty of Jews, despite their serious misgivings about the man, will grit their teeth and vote Obama in the next election, because they think lots of other issues are more important than how he feels about them. And it's not like he's got the power to start a gulag or anything. I'm with Byron: "I have simplified my politics into an utter detestation of all existing governments." But I do detest some slightly less than others. Voting is about choosing the lesser of two evils — or two stupids, more like.

I'm not against the welfare state, and neither are the Republicans, as you can easily see by observing whether the welfare state has been destroyed by any previous Republican government; they just disagree with the Democrats about how big it should be. And, if you want to pay benefits, I have to ask, with what? According to the Congressional Budget Office, the US economy will collapse in 2027 if it stays on its present course — that's based on Obama's figures, not his enemies'. When that happens, no-one gets any benefits at all, no matter how needy or deserving they may be. If you've got a baby or toddler just now, by the time they entered the workforce, there would be no welfare state left. One Democrat friend of mine said that a Mitt Romney presidency would take America to a state like the "early middle ages". History's largest economy collapsing in ruins sounds to me quite a lot like the 5th Century.

Obama and the Democrats show no sign of even thinking about avoiding that. They want to keep increasing government spending while funding it through borrowing and quantitative easing. This is why the US's credit rating was downgraded, and why that should worry anyone who lives there. The practice of founding the Dollar on having the Federal Reserve buy bonds from the Treasury using money founded on the fact that the Treasury can keep selling bonds has been a joke for years — I know people were taking the piss out of it in the Sixties, and probably earlier. But it didn't matter, because it was a silly accounting trick being performed by the world's largest and most reliable economy, and everyone knew the US was always good for the money. What the downgrade shows is that the world is ceasing to believe that the US is good for the money, and the reason for that change is that the current government haven't even come up with a plan that might not work — they simply have no plan, and have resisted attempts to push them into making one. Again, my friend says that Romney is "out of touch". Obama apparently hasn't got around to learning from the mistakes of the Weimar Republic yet.

If you want lots of big government spending, you've got a choice between the people who will spend so much over the next couple of years that no government will be spending anything in fifteen years' time and the people who will spend less now in an attempt to ensure that spending remains possible long-term. If you're in your eighties and selfish, that's an easy one: take everything you can get right now. Otherwise, which plan do you think screws the poor harder?

Now, I'm not convinced that the Republicans can avoid the impending cliff-edge — they have a pronounced tendency to talk about small government when they're not in government and then start spending like sailors on shore leave the moment they get in — and yes, I certainly think Bush's spending levels are partly to blame for the current mess. So this election is a choice between the people who will definitely crash the economy and the people who will probably crash the economy.

Like I said, lesser of two stupids.

Tuesday 18 September 2012

The death of the Republic.

The death of the Republic. Exhibit A. First Amendment dead.

Just for the record, this is what it looked like for a man who made a film that made the Obama Administration uncomfortable:

At the end of the day, a written constitution only works if the people who swear to uphold it don't catch on that they have the option of trashing it instead — at which point it ceases to be worth the paper it's written on.

Ah, well. It was nice while it lasted. 236 years is a hell of a good run for a non-dynastic non-dictatorship.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Whinge, whinge, whinge. Me, me, me.

Imagine, if you will, the following film.

It's a Second World War film. It starts with our "hero" Ken realising that his best friend Peter is being held prisoner by the Nazis. "Woe is me!" says Ken, a lot. "My best friend Peter is in the clutches of the evil Nazis! Alas! Alas! I shall alternate between crying and sulking for the duration of this film!" He then alternates between crying and sulking and telling us why he's crying and sulking for most of the film. We hear reports of the War raging elsewhere, while Ken listens to these reports while moping around and whining. Then he cries about how he misses Peter.

At some point, Winston Churchill himself intervenes. He authorises a mission to send a crack team of commandos into Berlin itself to rescue Peter. "Yes, it's dangerous," he says; "yes, it's counterproductive to the greater war effort; yes, there are thousands of POWs and we're only rescuing one of them; yes, dozens of these brave men will probably die on the mission. But, by God, it'll be worth it if it'll stop Ken whining." You see, most of the people of Britain look up to Ken because he won a fight once, and it is therefore absolutely vital for the war effort that Ken be induced to stop his self-involved whining, because then the entire country will get better at fighting for some reason.

So, this dangerous mission goes ahead. "Aha!" you might well think. "At last, some on-sceen action!" Don't be so silly. We're not going to watch the dangerous and exciting rescue mission; we're going to watch Ken moping and whining while other people go on the rescue mission. When they get back, they tell Ken about it, but not in any detail.

Anyway, at least Peter's back. Oh, hang on: he's got nasty psychological damage from being tortured by the evil Nazis, so — did you see it coming? — Ken does some more sulking and whining. A lot more.

Now, you might well be thinking that it would be a bad idea for me to pitch this idea to a major Hollywood studio, on the grounds that it is clearly the worst film ever and no-one in their right mind would waste time making it. And you would be dead wrong, because change the names and the setting and what you have there is a synopsis of the huge international bestseller Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins, and not only are Lionsgate already planning it, but they think it's so good they're going to make it a two-parter. There probably isn't enough room in just one film for all the whining.

For the record, I loved the first two Hunger Games books: great stories — so great, in fact, that their greatness outweighed the shamefully shoddy writing. But the third book is all shoddiness, no greatness. Suzanne Collins had some great ideas and insights about reality TV. War and revolution, not so much. In fact, when she tries to write about full-scale war, she still ends up writing about TV programs, which is a large part of the problem. That, and did I mention her protagonist's relentless whining?

When the third film is released, I shall be eagerly looking out for fans moaning about how the bastard filmmakers have wrecked the book. That I would take as a good sign. But, if it's faithful to the book... well, see above.

Friday 24 August 2012

Intent matters.

Much discussion of abortion in the news at the moment, especially — as ever — in the US. Prompted by that, Professor Geras says this, not so much about abortion itself but about the logic behind a certain kind of moral argument. I'll quote the whole thing, as he was terribly succinct:

If my mother hadn't married my father I wouldn't exist. Even if she had married him, I wouldn't exist if they'd not been able to be together during those days in late 1942 when I was conceived - for example, if one of them had taken a holiday then, unaccompanied by the other, in Port Elizabeth or Cape Town. Does this mean it would have been wrong on my mother's or father's part to have married someone else? Evidently not. Would it have been wrong of either of them to go on that holiday? Nonsense.

I raise these profound and unsetlling questions apropos a post at Comment is Free. In explaining why she thinks it would have been better if her mother had aborted her, Lynn Beisner refers to anti-abortion arguments deploying the claim that someone or other alive today wouldn't be had abortion been legal and/or had their mothers chosen to terminate the pregnancy of which they were the issue.

But since there are many things a mother might quite legitimately - legally and morally - have done which would have led to the non-existence of her present children, the circumstance that abortion would have had this sorry effect cannot by itself establish that abortion is wrong, however dismaying the thought of their own non-existence may be for those children.

It strikes me that there's something missing from Norm's analysis here, and that is intent. There is a difference between unintended side-effects and the whole deliberate point of one's actions — an uncontroversial difference recognised in the laws of every jurisdiction on the planet. For instance, let's run with Norm's example of the consequences of taking a holiday.

On the twenty-second of February 2010, the Real IRA exploded a car-bomb a few yards from where I usually park my car at the time I would usually have been walking to my car. As luck would have it, I was working from home that night, so wasn't anywhere near it. But what if one of my colleagues had been on holiday that night? I might have had to be in the office in order to cover their absence, and so I probably would have been near that blast. So there is a very real and plausible chain of events whereby one man goes on holiday and another man, as a result, is killed.

Would the police prosecute my colleague for going on holiday? Would anyone sane regard his holiday-taking as tantamount to murder? No, of course not.

Because intent matters.

There is a hypothetically potential person who does not exist because of that time in 2004 when my wife and I didn't have sex because we were too tired from staying up till the small hours painting the living room. There are of course billions of these hypothetical potential people who have ended up nonexistent — many more of them than actual people. Just as there are people out there who have fallen terribly ill or got their dream job or been in a traffic accident or met their spouse because of chains of events that can be traced back to that time you or I did something inoccuous and trivial. But we don't think about those chains of events because it would drive us all mad, and because intent matters.

We do think about those chains of events where a person sets out to do a thing for a reason and they achieve their aim. The man who plants the bomb is responsible for the damage and death it causes. The reason for this moral culpability is not mere convenience; we're not just assigning blame in cases we can comprehend and ignoring the ones we can't. No, the reason is that what concerns us social primates is the psyches of those among us. People whose actions cause the death of innocents because they kill innocents deliberately are dangerous, and we understandably don't want them around. People whose actions cause the death of innocents because they book a holiday without realising that as a result someone else will end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, not so much.

I hardly think it's a controversial statement to say that the whole point of having an abortion is to ensure that a person does not come to exist. The decision of whether or not to abort is all about the existence of that potential person and nothing else. The decision of whether to go on holiday is not.

A scientific debate.

As you may already know, the climatologist Michael Mann is suing Mark Steyn. Not much comment on that is required beyond the observation already made by quite a few people that the last time someone tried to sue Mark Steyn, he not only beat them but changed Canadian law. But hey, Mann can spend his money on whatever he wants. (Although, come to think of it, Mann's position is that the rest of us should be banned from spending our money on whatever we want, so maybe not.)

But anyway. Mann posted this on Facebook earlier today:

People have been asking for my reaction to the recent response by the National Review. Here is a statement from my lawyer John B. Williams of Cozen O'Connor:

The response of the National Review is telling with respect to the issues it did not address. It did not address, or even acknowledge, the fact that Dr. Mann’s research has been extensively reviewed by a number of independent parties, including the National Science Foundation, with never a suggestion of any fraud or research misconduct. It did not address, or even acknowledge, the fact that Dr. Mann’s conclusions have been replicated by no fewer than twelve independent studies. It did not deny the fact that it was aware that Dr. Mann has been repeatedly exonerated of any fraudulent conduct. It did not deny the fact that it knew its allegations of fraud were false. Rather, the National Review’s defense seems to be that it did not really mean what it said last month when it accused Dr. Mann of fraud. Beyond this, the response is little more than an invective filled personal attack on Dr. Mann. And further, this attack is coupled with the transparent threat that the National Review intends to undertake burdensome and abusive litigation tactics should Dr. Mann have the temerity to attempt to defend himself in court.

We intend to file a lawsuit.

In response, I commented thus:

"And further, this attack is coupled with the transparent threat that the National Review intends to undertake burdensome and abusive litigation tactics should Dr. Mann have the temerity to attempt to defend himself in court."

Surely the "burdensome and abusive litigation tactics" amount to National Review having the temerity to defend THEMselves in court. You want to take them to court, sure, go ahead, but it's a bit rich to complain that if you do they intend to use lawyers to practice law against you. That's kind of the idea.

I haven't paid a huge amount of attention to Mann before, but I had read elsewhere that he seems to spend a surprising amount of time deleting comments from Facebook. I was not prepared either for his sheer dedication to that cause or his level of hypersensitivity.

I mean, I wasn't even saying anything about the science, or whether I agree or disagree with his claims. I said that, if he wants to sue National Review, he should. And within ten minutes, Mann had not only deleted my comment but blocked me from making any further comments on his Facebook page (not that I was going to, but hey). Which certainly explains why his page is crawling with sycophants. For a man who claims to have no problem with debate, he does like to surround himself with praise to the exclusion of all else.

What Mann and his colleagues don't seem to understand is that this sort of behaviour simply makes more people distrust them. Their attitude to the slightest disagreement with or criticism of them is to disappear it — as was shown so clearly in their leaked emails. The more people see that attitude in action, the less we feel inclined to trust them, either to reach a proper scientific conclusion or to dictate ruinously expensive international government policy to us.

What an insecure little man.

Saturday 23 June 2012

A thought on the occasion of Queen Elizabeth shaking the hand of Martin McGuinness.

Some people have quite rightly observed that the Queen has been nice to some right odious bastards in her time, even inviting some appalling tyrannical shits round to her place to celebrate that Jubilee the other day.

For better or worse, there's a world of difference between international and internal politics. Heads of state are like in-laws: obliged by their position to meet each other and smile about it no matter how they may feel about it. Their subjects are more like neighbours: they can pick and choose which ones to socialise with, and report the psychotic ones to the police.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Harm and priorities.

I saw the criminologist David Wilson on TV this morning, debating the issue of whether prisoners should be allowed to vote. He thinks that the vast majority of them should.

He said a couple of things that I'd like to pick apart here.

Firstly, he was at pains to remind everyone as often as he could that he is a member and supporter of the Labour Party. Honestly, he slipped it into the conversation more than the average Labour leader ever does. And by "slipped" I mean "pummelled". There's a reason I mention this, and I'll come back to it shortly.

Second, he mentioned that a lot of people currently in prison are there for essentially "harmless" crimes, and the example he gave of this was drug use.

Let's ignore the extreme disingenuousness of this argument. Let's ignore the fact that Professor Wilson wants the vote given to all but thirty-five prisoners in the UK, so his bringing up the example of those prisoners who are "harmless" is a red herring, a way of dodging the question he is really being asked, which is to provide a reason why all the decidedly non-harmless burglars and home invaders and muggers and rapists and child abusers who he knows full well are in prison should be allowed a say in the way we run our country. Let's ignore the fact that most drug users who commit no more crime than merely using drugs are these days generally fined or cautioned or even just ignored by the police, not imprisoned; the ones in prison are, for the most part, the ones who support their habit by dealing or stealing. Let's even ignore the fact that junkies' lack of damn-giving about anything but the next hit tends to make them act antisocially, so "merely" using drugs might involve such activities as (and here I'll take examples directly from my own personal experience) having a shit on my stairway because you can't be bothered going anywhere else, leaving dirty used syringes lying on my stairway because it doesn't occur to you to dispose of them safely, or standing outside my front door with your trousers round your knees injecting heroin into your penis because it doesn't occur to you that my desire not to see this when I open my door is any more important than your desire to get smack into your bloodstream. I didn't have kids at the time. If I had, they'd have seen all that. I did have a girlfriend, and she, reasonably enough, found it upsetting and threatening. My neighbours in the same close had kids, and they had to deal with the same shit. It's not fucking harmless.

Yeah, let's ignore all that. (And yes, I realise this is a rhetorical device and I'm not ignoring any of it at all. Sue me.) Let's look at the huge bloody great logical hole in Professor Wilson's reasoning.

Now, I admit that I could be wrong about this, but I don't think I'm exactly taking a wild stab in the dark when I presume that a fifty-five-year-old keen Labour supporter was in favour of economic sanctions against Apartheid South Africa. I certainly was. That being the case, here's what Professor Wilson believes:

If you went to your local greengrocer's in 1985 and bought an orange, thereby giving money to the murderous Apartheid regime in South Africa directly responsible for the trampling of the human rights of millions of innocent people, you were doing harm. This activity was so harmful that the Labour Party actively campaigned for the Government of the day to ban it.

If you go to your local drug-dealer and buy some heroin, thereby giving money to the murderous drug cartels directly responsible for (to pick just two of oh-so-many examples) the appallingly high murder rates in Mexico and Colombia, what you are doing is — Professor Wilson's word — harmless.

I may be cynical, but even I would expect a position taken by "Britain's leading criminologist" to have a bit more thought put into it than that.

Friday 15 June 2012

My meandering argument in favour of legalising same-sex marriage, as if anyone cares.

In 2005, Megan McArdle wrote this:

My only request is that people try to be a leeetle more humble about their ability to imagine the subtle results of big policy changes. The argument that gay marriage will not change the institution of marriage because you can't imagine it changing your personal reaction is pretty arrogant. It imagines, first of all, that your behavior is a guide for the behavior of everyone else in society, when in fact, as you may have noticed, all sorts of different people react to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different ways, which is why we have to have elections and stuff. And second, the unwavering belief that the only reason that marriage, always and everywhere, is a male-female institution (I exclude rare ritual behaviors), is just some sort of bizarre historical coincidence, and that you know better, needs examining. If you think you know why marriage is male-female, and why that's either outdated because of all the ways in which reproduction has lately changed, or was a bad reason to start with, then you are in a good place to advocate reform. If you think that marriage is just that way because our ancestors were all a bunch of repressed bastards with dark Freudian complexes that made them homophobic bigots, I'm a little leery of letting you muck around with it.

It's worth reading the whole piece. It is the single greatest explanation of political conservatism I've ever read. But, even with that high a bar, it should be a matter of deep embarrassment to our society as a whole that, in seven years of intense debate on this matter, almost no-one has managed to say anything remotely as interesting or cogent about gay marriage. Instead, we have the anti side flailing around with some truly woeful religion-based shite and the pro side simply accusing anyone who disagrees with them of hating gay people.

So, some points.

Firstly, it has become an article of (ha!) faith of late, especially amongst libertarians, atheists, and anyone who supports gay marriage, that traditional marriage is purely a religious matter in which the state and the non-religious should have no interest. But no, marriage is not in fact a religious institution taken over by the state; it is the other way around. Anyone who claims that it is purely or originally a religious institution is ignorant of the facts.

Secondly, the introduction of same-sex marriage is not a minor bit of insignificant tinkering; it is a huge bloody great revolutionary change to one of the most fundamental foundations of our civilisation. That alone doesn't mean it shouldn't happen. We have made lots of huge bloody great revolutionary changes to fundamental foundations of our civilisation over the centuries, many of them for the better. But it does mean that those people who are claiming that this proposal is no big deal are either dishonest or stupid. And you have to wonder: if it's so tiny and insignificant, why are they fighting so hard for it?

Of course the introduction of gay marriage will have some bad effects on society. I challenge anyone to name a major piece of legislation that doesn't — especially social-engineering legislation. Again, that alone is not a reason to oppose it: lots of things which had some bad effects on society were still overall Good Things, such as allowing women to work. What it does mean is that — just as with all other major legislative changes — anyone who simply denies flat-out that any bad effects on society are even conceivable is an ignorant arrogant unimaginative unrealistic twonk who should be ignored on all fronts at all times.

Yes, allowing gay people to marry each other will affect straight marriages. Anyone who doubts this should look at what happened to Hollywood musicals. In the 1950s, they were still the most popular thing Hollywood did, with all the studios churning out sure-fire hit after sure-fire hit, secure in the knowledge that everyone would flock to see them. Now, Hollywood makes one musical every couple of years and it's considered a novelty item. What changed? The perception — not even the fact, just the mere perception — that musical theatre is dominated by gay men. Straight men in their millions stopped watching musicals, not because of any objection to the tunes or the stories or the dancing or anything like that, but because of a popular perception that musicals were popular with gay men. This isn't to say that that's reasonable behaviour, that that's a good reason to stop watching musicals. It isn't. It is merely a demonstration that yes, populations do change their behaviour en masse because of what small groups of people do. We are not isolated individuals; we are part of something. If you tinker with it, we are all changed. Again, when someone expresses bafflement at the very idea that this might happen, that doesn't tell you anything about how likely it is to happen; it just tells you that that person is arrogant and unimaginative. And probably a twonk.

And no, this is nothing to do with equal rights. The "right to marry the person you're in love with" so often invoked by the pro side does not exist: just ask anyone in love with their sibling. All of us have the right to marry a person of the opposite sex, above the age of sixteen with their parents' permission or eighteen without, who isn't an immediate relative, who isn't already married to someone else, and who fulfills various other conditions. It is certainly true that this right is a hell of a lot more use to straight people than gay, but having the same right as everyone else but having no use for it is not at all the same thing as having fewer rights than everyone else. I have the right to start my own newspaper. I have absolutey no desire to do so. That doesn't mean I'm being censored.

Quite apart from the facts, there is a pragmatic problem with defining the demand for same-sex marriage in terms of equal rights. It opens the door for anyone else who wants to redefine marriage — and there are plenty of groups who would like to. Discrimination isn't a bad thing; we should discriminate. In this case, we should discriminate in favour of gay people; we should legalise same-sex marriage because we have decided that it is overall right and good to create this new right for gay people, because they deserve it. Doing it that way leaves us ideologically able to deny the creation of new rights to other groups should we so wish. But framing the debate in terms of equal rights makes that impossible. If we insist that there is a basic human right to marry whoever the hell you like and that all we are doing is making sure that that right is legally available for everyone, we leave ourselves no grounds on which to deny future demands for further redefinition of marriage. You might or might not be able to think of any groups around right now whose demands you might wish to deny, depending on how you feel about polygamy (NAMBLA would be a straw man, since what they want to do is banned by more laws than just the marriage ones). But people are opportunistic and nasty people even more so, so I'm confident that any convenient legislative opportunity left wide open will quickly be exploited by bastards of one sort or another. I'd prefer not to watch that happen when it could so easily be nipped in the bud right now. Just be honest about this:

What gay activists are demanding here is not to be granted the same rights that everyone else already has but to have a new right created especially for them. Again, this is not an argument against the creation of that right; it's an argument for honesty.

And, as it happens, I support the creation of this new right. I'm aware that it will have some bad effects, but, at the end of the day, gay people are a central part of our society with no greater tendency to be obnoxious bastards than the rest of us (that's about as high as my praise for humanity gets, I'm afraid), and it simply makes no sense to exclude them from an institution that has proven itself such a valuable cornerstone. I'm aware that, having sung the praises of Megan McArdle's advice, I'm now ignoring it, because I don't know why marriage was made a man-woman-only thing and so I don't have much of an idea of what will go wrong when we change that. But at least I don't claim to know. And whilst raw democracy is overrated, it is still right that our civilisation change based on prevailing social trends. Gay people are no longer social outcasts (unless they want to be). They are accepted. If gay marriage isn't broadly supported now, it will be in a few years. Society has to be allowed to redefine itself, or it's just a prison.

Finally, I'd like to say how wary I am of any activist group determined not only to win but to enforce ideological purity along the way. I've had several online arguments with pro-gay-marriage activists now, and, while some are polite, they have generally reacted to me with fury, naked contempt, and abuse — despite the fact that I always say up-front that I support the introduction of same-sex marriage. The movement contains a sizable contingent who are not willing to accept that I share their goal and support them; they want complete ideological conformity and will attack anyone who disagrees with them about anything.

Now, firstly, this is just plain bad politics. All successful political movements are coalitions of one sort or another. These morons are out canvassing, hurling abuse at people who would vote with them. They're doing their opponents' work for them there, surely.

More importantly, I find this behaviour disturbing. I can't think of a group who have behaved this way in history and who have turned out to be the sort of people you'd want to trust with even a teensy bit of power over anyone else. Authoritarian thought police who wish to crush all dissent are a Bad Thing. And these particular ones are almost certainly about to win their battle, to see their odious zealotry rewarded. If I were part of the gay marriage lobby, right now I'd see getting same-sex marriage legalised as a lesser priority than purging all such dangerous ideologues from the group.

But maybe that's just me.

Saturday 2 June 2012

Shoes and pies.

Someone did the market research that suggested this product was a goer. I'd like to see that.

Wednesday 25 April 2012

Another era.

From the sleeve of A-ha's "Hunting High And Low".

Wednesday 11 April 2012

John Derbyshire.

William Saletan has written an excellent analysis of the John Derbyshire controversy, touching on what anyone who's known me more than ten minutes will have heard me railing against: the single biggest mistake people make when drawing conclusions from statistical data: "average" does not mean "normal".

Derbyshire thinks his data warrant his conclusions. But all his data references include the crucial term “mean” or “average.” They don’t tell you about the person walking toward you. They tell you what you can assess about the probability of danger when the only information you have is color. Look at Derbyshire’s point 10: “where you have nothing to guide you but knowledge of those mean differences … Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally … If accosted by a strange black in the street …” The common premise in all this advice is ignorance. Not ignorance of data, but ignorance about the person you’re facing.

Derbyshire relies on the same assumption in point 12: “[I]n those encounters with strangers that involve cognitive engagement, ceteris paribus the black stranger will be less intelligent than the white.” Ceteris paribus is Latin for “all other things being equal.” It assumes there’s no difference between a black person and a white person except that each has the average IQ test score for her race. In other words, the equation holds, as a matter of probability, only if you fail to notice anything about the person you’ve encountered aside from color.

I do want to comment on this one of Derbyshire's pieces of advice:

(10a) Avoid concentrations of blacks not all known to you personally.

I used to live in Govanhill on the Southside of Glasgow, in the middle of Glasgow's Asian population, and I have to admit I followed a similar rule: in the street, I would always avoid concentrations of young white men not known to me personally. Young Asian men, on the other hand, were not theatening to me at all, and it would never even have occurred to me to cross the street to avoid a group of them, no matter how large. This is not because I have anything against whites, as I am one, and it's not because I'm especially fond of Asians or of Muslims, both groups containing, like every other group of humans on the planet, large numbers of utter bastards — which is in fact Derbyshire's point 5. And I wouldn't necessarily follow the same rule in other parts of the world — Asian populations in England and Scotland are markedly different, for instance, and you'd have to be a bit strange to feel threatened by a large group of white men hanging around in an East Anglian market town such as Diss. My behaviour was guided simply by my knowledge and experience of Glasgow, a city whose natives are both wonderfully friendly and fucking dangerous. As Frankie Boyle said, "If I had to explain Glasgow to you, I'd say that if I had to pick a city in the world where I could depend on a member of the public to punch a man who was on fire."

Now, it strikes me that I was making, basically, exactly the same judgement as Derbyshire, except, since the group I avoid are white, I won't get much stick for it. Never having lived in the same part of the US as him — or any part of the US, for that matter — I am in no position to judge whether his advice is any practical use. But it does seem clear from his writing that what he's talking about is not his experience of his own life, but extrapolation from statistics, and he does seem rather obsessed with genetics. I don't think Derbyshire would make different judgements in different parts of the world. I don't think he's saying that large groups of black men in his area can be dangerous; he's saying that blacks are dangerous, all the time and everywhere. And that is of course bollocks. Mark Steyn:

He thought that neuroscientists and geneticists’ understanding of race trumped my touching belief in “culture.” I’m not so sure: Why is Haiti Haiti and Barbados Barbados? Why is India India and Pakistan Pakistan? Skin color and biological determinism don’t get you very far on that.

And anyone who's worked in IT will recognise this description of Saletan's:

But it tells you a lot about Derbyshire. It tells you he’s a math nerd who substitutes statistical intelligence for social intelligence. He recommends group calculations instead of taking the trouble to learn about the person standing in front of you.

For what it's worth, this is why I disagree with National Review's decision to sack him. Anyone who's read some Derbyshire will know that the man is not a racist. What he's guilty of here is the obsessive concentration on and extrapolation from easily measurable data and the exclusion of factors that are vaguer and trickier to measure — such as humanity — characteristic of the borderline-Asperger's maths and science nerds we all run into every day. But he was a good writer, and his sometimes overconfident faith in science regularly pissed off National Review's Creationist readers, which was surely a good thing.

He also once wrote this, which I love:

My ideal nursing-home attendant, auto mechanic, or president would be a cheerful, capable, well-motivated person who was thoroughly au courant with the theory of evolution — and indeed with all the most recent advances in astronomy, biochemistry, cosmology, dendrochronology, endochrinology, fluviology, geomorphology, hydrodynamics, ichthyology, jurisprudence, kinesiology, limnology, microbiology, neuropathology, ophthalmology, psychometrics, quantum chromodynamics, rocket science, seismology, trichology, urology, virology, wiretapping, xenodocheionology, yachting, and zoology.

Life, however, often consists of making a choice between unsatisfactory alternatives. Invited to choose between having my kids educated, my car fixed, or my elderly relatives cared for by (a) people of character, spirit, and dedication who believe in pseudoscience, or (b) unionized, time-serving drudges who believe in real science, which would I choose? Invited to choose between a president who is (a) a patriotic family man of character and ability who believes the universe was created on a Friday afternoon in 4,004 B.C. with all biological species instantly represented, or (b) an amoral hedonist and philanderer who “loathes the military” but who believes in the evolution of species via natural selection across hundreds of millions of years, which would I choose? Are you kidding?

Wednesday 14 March 2012

New music.

As regular readers may know (if there are any regular readers left these days, blogging having slacked off so much), I was in a band once. Well, I still am, and we have done a thing.

It's been a hell of a while — the last time we gigged was our tour of Scotland, back in the Autumn of '05 — but new stuff is now very much on the way. The thing what we have just finished (Yes! Finished!) is this here remix of Lamb's Butterfly Effect:

I hope that brings you some enjoyment.

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Wednesday 18 January 2012


The BBC costs billions of quid a year. Apparently, one of the advantages of this expense is that we get world-class news reporting and factual programming, which is nice.

Wikipedia, conversely, is famously free.

Today, Wikipedia has blacked itself out (quite ineptly, it has to be said) as a protest against SOPA. The BBC's news division apparently does not see the irony in publishing this headline:

Without Wikipedia, where can you get your facts?

It does rather lead one to wonder: without Wikipedia, where are the BBC getting their facts?