Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Sharia-controlled zones

July 28, 2011

The UK’s Freedom Association is getting excited about the attempt by Islamic activists to claim sovereignty over parts of the country. This is being done by putting up flyposters declaring that a part of town is a “Sharia-controlled zone.”

It is amusing that of all the actions taken by groups such as Islam4UK, it is the challenge to local government’s authority that is being taken seriously by politicians. They don’t like it when people take charge of their own communities. Waltham Forest Council Leader, Cllr Chris Robbins, said:

“As soon as we heard about these posters we worked over the weekend to take them all down.” He continued “since then we have been going through our CCTV images and working with the police to try to identify the culprits. Our policy is to use the full extent of our powers to prosecute any offenders.”

Anyone expecting me to criticise Islam in this posting will be disappointed. It is true that if or when a previously Western liberal democracy whose leaders spouted secularist moral relativism becomes a truly Sharia country, I may not like the extent to which people are not allowed to live as they wish in private. But when it comes to people deciding that the state is not their friend, just a hugely expensive nuisance, attempts to provide a “bottom-up” order will occur.

Could I live in a Sharia-controlled zone? Probably easily enough. I’m not an atheist, or gay. I could give up drinking alcohol, though I would probably insist that Christian services be allowed to use Communion wine. I don’t normally smoke or do drugs, I’m quite happy not to gamble, or wear a tie. Growing a beard would take time and I’d miss Match of the Day.

I would however, get a lot of fun watching how the multicultis would cope. Those politically correct, invariably white middle-class, secularist atheists and gay rights activists alike, who think reading about the history of the Eastern Roman Empire is somehow racist or “unhelpful to the project.” Who think it’s wrong for an Afrikaner to say “kaffir” but insist that when the word is used in Arabic, it’s not a term of abuse. Who think saying “Peace be Upon Him” after the Prophet’s name is enough to indicate proper respect of Islam.

The most absurd piece of multiculralist propaganda I recently heard was the claim that the Prophet himself was not a man of war. What an insult to one of the most brilliant military commanders of all history! The expansion of territory controlled by Islamic law in the 7th and 8th centuries is nothing less than remarkable. Most of it was done by conquest but on paper the armies of the Prophet should never have won.

One of the crucial advantages was faith. I’m not an expert on how far this explains the conquest of the Arabian peninsula, the near East, Egypt, North Africa, Spain and Aquitaine (or Gothia as it was still known).

But when taking on the technologically superior Eastern Roman Empire, it helped that the soldiers of Islam offered lower taxes, less oppression from religious intolerance and a more business-friendly view of society than the Byzantines. For Jews and non-Orthodox Christians, submitting to the rule of the Rashidun Caliphate was a clear improvement.

If the campaigners for Sharia law in the UK were to effectively drive out the existing local government control, so that instead of paying Council Tax, Business Rates and the various charges that Councils levy, they paid something like the kharaj and the jizya, might non-Muslims move into such enclaves, especially if crime was effectively controlled?

Waltham Council certainly doesn’t want to find out.

Do we know what we don’t know?

June 15, 2011

There’s an interesting exposition of the reason why claims of alien (extra-terrestrial) contact with this planet is extremely unlikely.

I most agree with it: the distances, the length of time it would take technology to develop that would make interstellar travel possible, the sheer luck that would be needed to stumble upon another civilization.

In fact I would go further, I think there’s a chance civilizations discover something like limited control of anti-matter, which it only takes a single nutter to detonate, taking out an entire solar system. We call them “supernovas.” We assume they’re all natural phenomena. If the technology to travel between stars is as powerful but takes longer than the development of a self-extermination bomb, the latter will be developed first by a death cult (easier to make an UNCONTROLLED explosion than a controlled one). Therefore no two interstellar civilizations will ever meet. The upside of this is that this will always be fiction.

But that’s where I have to draw the line.

Bad news for freedom, the UK’s AV referendum

April 3, 2011

On Thursday May 5th 2011, a tiny number of people will vote to make a badly understood change to the UK’s electoral system. It seems likely (unless there’s a change in public awareness), that the Alernative Voting system will replace the current system of ticking a box for one’s preferred candidate.

The date of the referendum coincides with local elections in some parts of England, but not London. It does coincide with elections to the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland assemblies so turnout will be high in areas where nationalist and extremist votes are voting anyway, but low in those areas where fewer extremists live.

As usual with referendums, there is no minimum threshold for the result to be valid. If 50,000 people, all of them rabid fanantics for election reform, happen to vote while 45,950,000 stay at home, then we will see a very bad electoral system introduced.

Three reasons for voting “No” to AV, although a different change could be better

1) It is important to realise that the referendum is NOT about “should we change the UK election system to something fairer”. If that were the case, then I would expect the result to be “Yes” and I’d probably support it.

If the referendum question passes, AV will be introduced and any discussion of other, better, voting systems is over. Once we have AV, it is very unlikely that any agreement can ever be secured to have a referendum on scrapping it. It’s like demolishing St Paul’s Cathedral to build a rubbish landfill site. Not something one can reverse easily. Any reform that is as crucial as changing the electoral system should have the same standard of approval as, say a vote by a building society to become a high street bank: 75% of members have to approve.

It is simply crazy to have a fundamental issue of how democracy works in the UK decided by what is likely to be less than one in ten people.

2) Complexity

Most of the people I know who will be voting for the AV change do not strike me as really having examined how it is supposed to work: they support AV for tribal reasons, being members or at least staunch supporters of the Liberal Democrat party. That alone alarms me, as it means that the risk of an unintended negative consequence of AV is almost certain to be overlooked by its supporters. They tend to assume that any opposition to AV is the same as opposition to the Liberal Democrats having a chance of power in the UK parliament.

For what it’s worth, I’m happier that the Lib Dems are in the government coalition than if they were not. So my opposition to AV has nothing to do with my opinion of local government, the environment, European Union, same-sex marriages, drug policy etc.

In my parliamentary constituency of Hampstead and Kilburn, the Liberal Democrats were the first placed party, according to BBC projections of the 2005 general election to the new boundary, with Labour second and the Conservatives third.

Under the AV system, we would have had to vote for our first and second preferences based on that (as it turned out faulty) analysis. So a supporter of the Green party who wanted the non-Conservative candidate to win would have put Green 1st and Liberal Democrat 2nd. A UKIP voter who wanted Labour out would have put UKIP 1st and Liberal Democrat 2nd.

In fact, the analysis was based on what I predicted would be a false reading of the local election results in the London Borough of Brent, where wards with high Lib Dem support were pushed into the Hampstead constituency. I know the areas concerned well and knew that lots of Conservative voters had been voting Lib Dem to get Labour out. Given the chance of voting for a Conservative in a first past the post parliamentary election, they could vote Conservative.

The actual result was a Labour victory and the Conservatives coming second, 42 votes behind.

Under AV, total confusion would have occurred. Unlike the French election system, where there is a second round of voting two weeks later between the top two candidates if neither passed 50%, we wouldn’t have known that the Lib Dems were eliminated before the Conservatives. So the Green and UKIP second preferences would ALL have been wasted. But any Communists or Nazis who happened to prefer Labour or Conservatives would have got a second vote that mattered.

I can see no basis for supporting a second preference when I don’t know who has a chance of winning.

Another problem is the number of people who are likely to be confused and tick two boxes (as they are told to do in local elections for multi-member constituencies). We should be making it LESS complicated, not more.

3) Pandering to the extremists

If the people who vote for the most extremist political parties with the smallest support have their second preferences counted first, they have twice as much influence as the people who vote for the larger more moderate parties.

Specifically, if a British Nationalist Party candidate gets 1,000 votes, but the gap between both Labour and the Conservatives reaching 50% is, say 900 votes, then both Labour and Conservatives have an interest in capturing the BNP vote. This is unlikely to be by offering anything nice. The same obviously applies to socialist or communist fringe groups.

By contrast, in 2002 the French Presidential election unexpectedly threw up a Republican centre-right versus National Font extreme-right run-off. Because the French voters DID NOT HAVE AV, they had two weeks to decide if they preferred “the crook” to “the fascist”. With AV, all Socialist voters who didn’t realise that their support would be needed to keep out Jean-Marie Le Pen would have abstained, so a National Front victory could have been realised.

What change should we consider?

I don’t favour party list systems (like the system used in the European Parliament elections in the UK) because they reduce the connection between the elected politicians and their voters. To succeed, a politician will want to be higher up the party list, which means grovelling to the leader and ignoring local voter concerns.

However, a party list system would mean that if we prefer to back a label then we get a parliament that reflects the aggregate preferences of more people than AV does. If we have to have this, then a D’Hondt method of allocating seats might make sense.

Another option would be to have a second preference, but not cast at the same time (and in ignorance of the choices available). This system, sometimes called “runoff voting”, is used in France where a candidate fails to get 50% support in the first round, as mentioned previously. It is sometimes described as a system where one votes with one’s heart in the first round and with one’s head (or wallet) in the second.

A third option, which I oppose for some of the reasons I oppose AV, is the Single Transferable Vote. It can be VERY complicated to count. If we want a proportional representation system, this is the one that delivers proportionality.

Consequences for freedom

The pandering to extremism that the AV system would likely produce, coupled with the outrage when an election “goes wrong” (millions of people discovering that their second choices were wasted) does not create a climate for pro-freedom policies to get enacted. Scapegoating, already a feature of British politics with attacks on immigrants, bankers, or people who went to public school. Any change to the voting system that is confusing to many voters and which encourages nasty populism is not one I can support.

I know that most people who support AV would not do so if they were convinced that the negative effects I’ve outlined above were true. I hope I’m wrong, or that I don’t get the opportunity to remind readers that I was right. We shall see.

Smallville, China

January 3, 2010

A spectacular, if botched demolition in Liuzhou, caught my attention on several grounds. First the awesome image here of what was briefly a leaning tower to make that of Pisa look stable.

But two other thoughts occurred. First, this is no clearing of slums, or destruction of an ancient residential quarter. I’d guess the building being demolished was no more than 20-25 years old. I find this a telling incident in the development of China as a leading industrial country.

Destroying a recent structure to put up something more useful is not something one does when money is tight, or investment prospects are uncertain. It may be a case of Parkinson’s Law concerning new buildings, but I suspect not.

The second is that this story is a reminder that outside the tourist destinations and familiar names of Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, perhaps Nanjing and Guangzhou, there is a huge country. Here’s a list of Chinese cities with a population estimated at over 2.5 million inhabitants:

[taken from Wing Chan “Misconceptions and Complexities in the Study of China’s Cities: Definitions, Statistics, and Implications,” July/August 2007 issue of Eurasian Geography and Economics, which was cited here.

Shanghai 13.46 million
Beijing 9.88 million
Guangzhou 7.55 million
Wuhan 6.79 million
Tianjin 6.76 million
Shenzhen 6.48 million
Chongqing 6.17 million
Shenyang 4.6 million
Chengdu 3.96 million
Dongguan 3.87 million
Xi’an 3.76 million
Nanjing 3.51 million
Harbin 3.46 million
Dalian 2.87 million
Changchun 2.75 million
Qingdao 2.72 million
Kunming 2.64 million
Jinan 2.64 million
Taiyuan 2.54 million
Zhengzhou 2.5 million

To put this in context, here’s the equivalent table for the European Union [adapted from national data here].

London 7.56 million
Berlin 3.43 million
Madrid 3.21 million
Rome 2.73 million
Paris 2.20 million

Anyone wondering how long China will pretend to pay lip service to Western political correctness may do well to ponder where current demographic and economic trends are taking us.

2009 and all that…

January 1, 2010

Every year since 1997, I have compiled a list of 100 New Year’s resolutions, spread over such areas as my debt vs savings, reminders to keep in touch with various family members, an income target, commitments on fitness, reading, study, hobbies and travel. It’s about as personal a document as I ever produce so don’t expect me to broadcast it. I look at it roughly once a month, to keep some track of how I’m doing.

Originally, I started with 56 things I wanted to do in 1995, then a few more got added in ’96, before I found myself with a list of 97 items in 1997, at which point I thought of rounding it up.

I don’t have an easy way of getting a list of all the things I did do, and some are repeated each year, but it now stands at 218, though only nine were successes in 2009.

Off the top of my head, I can think of a few definite things I wouldn’t have done without the list: flying to New York in Concorde, visiting a new country each year (Greece, Ireland, Egypt, the Netherlands, and I’m not counting years where I went to several others [e.g. Italy, the Vatican, the Czech Republic since it split from Slovakia]) and taking part in the Hastings Christmas Chess Tournament (where I won a prize).

I might never have enrolled on my MBA course in 2008 (I’d been toying with the idea for many years), would not have moved when I did in 2003 or bought a camera last May.

On the other hand, I have only once exceeded my income target, in 2003, which I hope reflects the high bar I set myself… For better or for worse, my strategic direction for the year is set with my resolutions.

Perhaps it’s me, but yesterday I found myself asking “where does the idea of New Year’s resolutions come from?” Is it modern, like Mother’s Day in France or turkey for Christmas lunch? Is it ancient, like the seven-day week?

Wikipedia was surprisingly vague on this topic, and most of the claims of antiquity are not well documented (astrologers claiming a Babylonian origin [link in French] are not entirely without an interest in talking up that culture).

The reason I doubt the ancient world as being the original source of the NY resolution custom, is that it seems too modern a preoccupation to think about “must write to mother more often” or “must go to the gym more often.”

There were Jubilee Years announced roughly four times a century by the Popes since 1300AD, which included releasing people from their debts and making pilgrimages, but the NY resolutions seem more personal, more of a form of self-development.

Fortunately, Fugitive Ink had some leads, after I’d suggested that diarists would provide a good starting point:

Possibly, though, I’d start the research slightly earlier than you would – amongst the puritan diarists of the mid-17th century, both in England and the American colonies. They were, after all, great makes of ‘resolutions’ and no slouches when it came to making self-improving promises to God.

When I first started thinking about this, I worried that such pious folk might find the secular New Year insufficiently significant to be worth much in the way of resolutions. But then I had a swift glance at Ralph Josselin’s diary. (He was an Essex clergyman, 1616-83, of broadly puritan inclination, although remaining in Anglican orders.) Look at this, from 1653:

Admittedly, this isn’t exactly a ‘resolution’ per se (despite the odd fact that the word ‘resolution’ occurs in the next sentence), and Josselin is always asking God to do things like that, but all the same, Josselin is evidently using the occasion to ask God to give him ‘a new holy heart’, which in some sense comes rather close to the ‘make me a better person’ end of the contemporary NYR scale, if not the ‘lose a stone’ end of it.

It strikes me therefore that there is no obvious answer to my question, but that the habit of making commitments for the coming year (whether praying for help in achieving them or not) is a reflection of the emergence of a belief in the possible redemption of Man on Earth.

If it did date from Babylonian times, and if it really had persisted through the ages, I wonder if it could be considered one of the most enduring expressions of individual self-development?

Creationist victory on Facebook?

October 31, 2009

UPDATE: WordPress has been crashing on Firefox for some time, with not just mine but lots of other WordPress blogs too.

So far, no one at WordPress seems to care enough about this to let me know why it happens or how to fix it. The result is that the post below crashed in the middle of posting, so it didn’t appear two weeks ago as planned. I apologise for this.

For what it’s worth, ONLY WordPress blogs seem to crash, and they do so less frequently on Safari or Internet Explorer than Firefox.

I’ve just voted in a poll on Facebook as to whether I believe in evolution or creation because I was curious to see the results.

With just over 40,000 votes in (a lot more than any market research company is likely to commission) the results were 39.5% in favour of evolution and 60.5% for creation.

Facebook did not previously strike me as the sort of forum where relious zealots were dominant. So either there is a silent majority that rejects Darwin (I’m guessing this is a reaction against school), or the poll is unrepresentative.

Either way it reminds of this comment I left on Brian Micklethwait’s blog:

I caught snippets of a two-part documentary on twins which made the interesting claim that a belief in God is likely to be genetic (identical twins were a lot more likely to agree the existence/non-existence of God than non-identical twins).

If true, this again raises one of my favourite paradoxes, whether Darwinism as a belief system is viable on strictly biological reproductive grounds. I suspect it isn’t.

If it is true that people carrying the God gene are more likely to reproduce (partly because they believe they’ve been told to by God “Go forth and multiply!”), then it stands to reason that over time the number of people carrying the God gene is likely to expand relative to the non-God gene carrying population.

This could curiously result in a paradigm shift where a Darwinian process (evolution) generates a Creationist hegemony.
Posted by Antoine Clarke on 07 October 2009

As for my own opinion, I can find good reasons to doubt both points of views. What is particularly striking at present, is the stridency of some calls to accept as orthodoxy the Darwinian position and the intolerance of any questioning one might make of it.

I don’t think the fossil evidence is sufficient to demonstrate whether evolution is a gradual or an abrupt process. I cannot see how it is possible to logically demonstrate that the Big Bang (if that theory isn’t shown to be wrong, or incomplete by further research) wasn’t something like a switch being thrown. At the very least, there might be a genetic basis for people to be theists or deists. All of which make me ask: why?

What I am certain of, is that evolution, as a scientific theory, is on the way out for practical purpposes. In 50 years I expect fewer people to believe in it than do today. One reason for this is that the creationists reproduce. Another is that some of them have learned to argue from scientific principles. Leading advocates of Darwinism, on the other, have reverted to name-calling and hectoring. Which, if they don’t procreate, suggests they’re not going to win friends and influence people either.

Quote of the day

September 28, 2009

I suppose if one can bury bad news, one can also, conversely, unearth amazing news. Truly, this middanġeard is full of marvels, even now.

Fugitive Ink

The only person I know who would include middanġeard and charmingly forget to include the translation in a blog post. 🙂

“In the long run we’re all dead”

September 21, 2009

It seems that book burning is necessary for the public good.

First there was the embarrassment caused by the Italian translator to Karl Marx’s Das Kapital Volume III (a certain Benito Mussolini, who was NEVER a Socialist, NEVER, NEVER, NEVER…). Clearly the forgeries must be destroyed.

Now it transpires that the very name of the General Theory of Money and Credit (which inspire the policy adopted by the present governments of the U.K. and the U.S.A.) was inspired by National Socialism.

This is a translation of part of John Maynard Keynes’ introduction to the 1936 German edition of his book:

The theory of aggregate production, which is the point of the following book, nevertheless can be much easier adapted to the conditions of a totalitarian state than the theory of production and distribution of a given production put forth under conditions of free competition and a large degree of laissez-faire. This is one of the reasons that justifies the fact that I call my theory a general theory.

Obviously, this should be checked for accuracy.

But I ask myself why none of the authorized biographies of Keynes mention the publication of this book nearly FOUR YEARS into the Third Reich?

I conclude that the deliberately evil claim that the long-term harmful consequences of Keynesian economics don’t matter because “in the long run, we’re all dead,” is no fluke.

Keynes was wrong about inflation and credit, both practically and ethically. I hope he was wrong about Hell too.

I enclose the original German text for interest.