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EDIT: Linket til deres film virker ikke, så her er den fra en anden server.


Some interesting comments over at Pharyngula

In the comments to this post on Pharyngula, there are some interesting questions and statements I feel like commenting on.

First one from Mike (the Mad Biologist, perhaps? EDIT: Nope. This is another Mike)

What world do you guys live in where openly expressed contempt is an effective tool of persuasion?

The world in which Henrik Ibsen, Georg Brandes, Jeppe Aakær et al broke the power of the Danish clergy in the first half of the 20th century by repeatedly and openly denigrating, insulting, ridiculing, and smearing Christianity. The world in which ridicule and insults broke the power of the patriarchy in '68.

Yes, sometimes atheists go overboard and become strident and overbearing. And that's more than a little pathetic to watch. But ridicule and contempt as political weapons should not be underestemated, nor should they be shelved because they are 'bad taste.' The truth, no matter how unpleasant it may seem, can never be objectionable or tasteless. And the truth of the matter is that fruitcake fundy religion is fully worthy of our contempt.

A bit later on, Dark Matter writes that

The nonoverlapping magisteria idea is a *politically naive* concept. There will be no
"respectful observance of areas of expertise", there will be only *incremental surrender*
to theocrats if one is foolish enough to think the theoctats will stay in their "backyard".

Anyone who believes this is fooling himself (or engaging in willful blindness) if they think the theocrats do not want to be the dominant influence of the political, *scientific* and cultural life of the US....what do you think that "culture war" stuff is about?

Truer words are rarely heard, so they in themselves bear repeating.

En regibemærkning: Jeg har efterhånden hørt en del folk sige at det aldrig vil gå så galt i Danmark som det er gået i USA, for så vidt gælder religion. Til dem vil jeg blot pege på udtalelser som denne:
Vi kunne begynde at overveje vores egen hellighed. Vi burde have forståelse for, at der er folk, der har en religion, og som har følt sig krænket i denne sag, mener han. Derfor er det ikke så enkelt med en demonstrativ gentagelse af provokationen, som David Trads lægger op til
af Seidenfaden (her). Eller det aldeles urimelige påstyr der kom ud af Foghs lidt tamme kommentar om at religion i et civiliseret land selvfølgeligt ikke har nogen plads i den politiske debat. Eller hvad med denne udsendelse? Den slags jubelidioti forventer jeg normalt at finde i Folk og Kirke, ikke i P1Debat!

You know it's a good article...

... when the subtitle is something like
By caving in to fanatics over the Danish cartoons, the West has shown that it is not only gutless but brainless.

Over at Salon.com, Doug Marlette has published a nice little rant on the 'cartoon controversy.' (Teach the controversy, perhaps?)

The fact that Salon is opposed to the appeasement practiced by so many of those who claim to be intellectuals should not be surprising. The fact that it is speaks volumes about way the rest of the left-of-centre media have handled the entire affair.

Why does it keep surprising the Left that it can't win elections, when it continually allows the Right to be right (bad pun, I know) on these kinds of issues? Why the mealy-mouthedness? After all, Islamic fascism is just as big a problem as Christian fascism.

Personally, I think it's a knee-jerk reaction: Christian fascists hate Islamic fascists (although that happy state of affairs only lasts until a juicy democratically-minded secularist enters their sights, then they're more than ready to set aside their differences just long enough to rip off your head and piss down your neck), so 'the enemy of my enemy must be my friend,' right? Wrong.

Why should we allow the fact that we will be joined in our condemnation by the less than savory Christian bigots to deter us from attacking the less than savory Islamic bigots? We shouldn't. It's bad policy. It's ideologically indefencible. It's gonna keep costing us influence.

The Right can and will keep scoring cheap points on this kind of issues as long as the Left allows knee-jerk reactions to dominate our attitude towards Islam.

An aside: The terms 'Right' and 'Left' which I have applied throughout the post are actually mislabelings. While they provide convenient rethorical handles, and while the issue of how to best democratizise Islam has, regrettably, polarized along those lines, this is not a Left/Right-issue. It's a fascism/anti-fascism issue. You can be opposed to both Ann 'Banshee Wail' Coulter and Pat(wa) Robertson without having to defend fascist Moslims like Abu Laban and Abdul Wahid Pedersen.

Even blind hens can find grain, and even neo-con fascists can (on extremely rare occasions) actually be right. And when they are, it is not just bad tact to attack them, it's bad tactics as well.


An excellent article...

... from the Panda's Thumb.

Specielt er der et enkelt afsnit der meget rammende beskriver den danske situation:

Attacks on science are of concern not just to scientists; they threaten the continued prosperity and security of our entire nation in a world where we increasingly have to compete with other nations that have developed strong science-based technologies in areas that were once unchallenged domains of the United States. If we wish to continue to prosper in this environment we need, first and foremost, a work force that is highly educated in science, and capable of mastering advancing technologies based on continuing advances in science. The United States public education system below the university level has never put a sufficiently high value on science to permit filling this need with US-born individuals alone,

Hvis man erstatter 'United States' med European Union, eller for den sags skyld 'Denmark,' er afsnittet beklageligvis stadigt retvisende. En fysikerjoke siger at 'de der mener de styrer verden læser Wall Street Journal, de der mener de burde styre verden læser Washington Post, og de der faktisk styrer verden læser Nature.

Der er mere end en halv sandhed i den joke. Og så kan snakkehovderne i øvrigt ævle om grafisk brugerfladedesign og elevkompetenceudviklingsmålstyring alt det de ønsker.

And elsewhere in the Union

I'm usually in agreement with Zapatero, but his latest antics are simply indefencible.

It is one thing for the American él Prezidenté to fail to support the freedom and independence of European newspapers against rabid attacks from fascists, and betrayal from the pseudointellectual parts of the 'establishment.' After all, from the point of view of mister Bush, Copenhagen is a long way away, and he doesn't need to (further) offend people in the Middle East. Besides, one gets the impression that he doesn't much care about the freedom of the press anyway.

I can even almost forgive Tony Blair for not wanting to put the British under fire. Britain is, after all (largely due to mister Blair's own tactical and strategic mistakes), far more exposed to vengance from fascists in Iraq than any other European country. I happen to believe that the freedom of the press is more important, but I do realise that I don't have to bear the responsibility for the lives of the British soldiers in Basra - and I acknowledge that my outlook might be different if I did.

But Zapatero has no defence. He's a social democrat. He sould be adamantly opposed to rabid religious fanaticism, whatever its guise. He's a democratically elected leader. He should support the press in their struggle against ayatollah-wanna-bes however that struggle came about. In short, he should have told the madhat Islamists to take a hike, just like he told the Papacy to get it's ugly snout out of internal Spanish affairs.

He isn't. He doesn't. And he didn't.

As such he strikes a shameful contrast to the Slovaki government. In a laudable decision last week, the Slovaki Prime Minister dissolved the parliament and called a general election, rather than ratify a disgusting treaty witht the Papacy. The treaty would have driven a wedge into the Slovaki educational and health-care systems, allowing Catholic anti-choice activists and evolution deniers to virtually cripple reproductive rights and biology education.

OK, the rejection of the Papacy-pact may not be all principle. It was, after all, hardly popular in the Slovaki population - which, unlike its Polish neighbours, has retained a well-honed sense of civil liberties, and resents the omnipresent attempts by the fascist Papacy to encroach upon their private lives - and it was quite possibly in direct violation of the European Charter of Human Rights. So it's entirely possible that what we're seeing here is two European PMs chickening out in different directions. Still, from the look of things, I like Slovaki cowardice better than Spanish cowardice...

Let me end this on a more optimistic note: Zapatero's cowardly policy of appeasement has not gone unnoticed among Spanish intellectuals, and some of them are framing the question in its proper context: Why should somebody's religious feelings grant him moral high ground in a dispute? After all, as a prominent Spaniard said: "There's always someone who'll be offended, no matter how meekly you speak."

It seems that part of Europe at least, is waking up to the fact that granting a priori moral superiority to religious feelings is simply another way of placing the power to censor and control in the hands of the most rabid and insane fascists that our society contains. Let us hope that this is not too little, too late.


My one little quibble with this...

New Liberal
64% , Distribution of Power 76% Distribution of Capital

You believe in a balanced democratic government with a mixed economy.
While not going so far as to be a socialist, you do believe the
government should act to ensure fairness and safeguards in economics.

Your views are the norm in almost all industrialized nations, except America.

My test tracked 2 variables How you compared to other people your age and gender:
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 64% on P Dist
free online datingfree online dating
You scored higher than 65% on E Dist
Link: The Broadscale Political View Test written by AttritionSin on Ok Cupid, home of the 32-Type Dating Test

... being that it calls America an industrialised nation.


A little something from the Mad Biologist...

... for all those who buy into the bullshit notion that outlawing abortions is a humane position.

A long rant over at Telic Thoughts...

... about the origins of Intelligent Design Creationism.

The reason I write about it is that a single paragraph caught my eye:

As I have argued before, design is a concept/explanation that has been around since the Greek philosophers. An astonishing example of such thinking comes from Marcus Cicero (106-43 BC). Cicero would write something that sounds oddly familiar:

Can I but wonder here that anyone can persuade himself that certain solid and individual bodies should be moved by their natural forces and gravitation in such a manner that a world so beautiful adorned should be made by fortuitous concourse. He who believes this possible may as well believe, that if a great quantity of the one and twenty letters, composed of gold or any other matter, were thrown upon the ground, they would fall into such order as legibly to form the ‘Annals of Ennius’. I doubt whether fortune could make a single verse of them.

The remarkable thing about this is not that Cicero subscribed to natural theology. The remarkable thing is that this quote is advanced in support of Intelligent Design Creationism.

For one thing, one would think that with the advent of the theories of Gravity and Classical Mechanics, such a quote would become a liability to Intelligent Design Creationism, proving as it does the vacuity of the full-blown intellectual surrender strategy that is creationism.

For another, it clearly shows the links between Intelligent Design Creationism and bad, old-fasioned fundamentalism. The very links proponents of Intelligent Design Creationism strive so fervently to hide...

En interessant observation om Muhammedtegningerne

De der kan huske hvad der var dagsaktuelle emner i ugerne op til offentliggørelsen af de famøse tegninger af Muhammed har måske undret sig over at det var netop disse der gav anledning til de største protester. Jeg kan i alt fald huske at jeg gjorde mig nogle overvejelser i den retning.

Der var nemlig en anden - og ud fra enhver rimelig standard mere alvorlig - sag fremme i den offentlige debat på det tidspunkt: Louise Frevert (pulje på hvornår hun bliver gået fra DFs folketingsgruppe?) var under heftig beskydning for på sin hjemmeside at have sammenlignet muslimer med kræftceller.

Det rejser et par interessante spørgsmål om Islamisk Trossamfunds prioriteringer, al den stund der ikke længere kan være nogen rimelig tvivl om at Islamisk Trossamfunds løgne, bagvaskelser og antidemokratiske agitation, har været langt den vigtigste grund til at netop tegningerne - frem for hjemmesiden - fik den store opmærksomhed.

Hvorfor brugte Islamisk Trossamfund ikke deres øjensynligt ganske betydelige kræfter på at gøre demokratiet en tjenest og bekæmpe Louise Frevert? Hvorfor valgte Islamisk Trossamfund at gå efter den mindst alvorlige sag? Hvorfor valgte Islamisk Trossamfund at angribe en uangribelig krænkelse, når de kunne have angrebet en forkastelig krænkelse?

Det kunne være almindelig inkompetence, men Islamisk Trossamfund har vadet så meget rundt i spinatbedet i denne sag at jeg ikke kan undgå at få visse mistanker. Det ville jo ikke ligefrem være første gang i verdenshistorien at en fascistisk organisation har udnyttet udenrigspolitiske problemer til indenrigspolitisk vinding...

Det er sædvanligvis værd at lytte...

... når Naser Khader taler (hvad laver et så fornuftigt menneske egentligt hos de Radikale?).


Amusing how...

... creationists shoot themselves in the foot - again and again and again.

Take, for instance, a look at this amusing attempt to rebut Mark Isaak's fine Index to Creationist Claims.

I will not attempt to go through their 'responses,' since that would be both boring and unproductive. If you have a streak of intellectual masochism, you can have a go yourself.

No, what I will call to the attention of the honoured reader is the distribution of their responses. Appearently the creationists feel most comfortable in the Philosophy and Theology section. The 'ethics' subsection is covered fully - bar one outdated point. The 'epistemology' subsection has a smattering of coverage with a curious paucity of coverage in the section devoted to the scientific method.

The Biology section, which forms by far the bulk of Isaak's index, has a mere 15 replies (by my guesstimate the section covers more than 150 criticisms of creationism). Paleontology is even more thinly covered, with only 7 responses to (again my guestimate) about 100 points. The rest of the index is untouched.

In fairness to the creationists, this may simply reflect a tendency to start from the top (although the paucity of coverage of the scientific method is telling even then), but for the rest of us, it serves as a humorous commentary on the nature and goals of the creationist movement.

Of Hatters and Nutters

This post by PZ Myers (at Pharyngula) is definitely going on my Links list.

Good Market, Bad Market

Whenever I hear a politician or other talking head extoll the virtues of the free market, I privately run though a little checklist. Certainly, the marketplace can be a very effective way to run sectors - if they are suited to being run by the market. If they are not so suited, privatisation can be a very grave (not to mention costly) mistake. My private little checklist of absolute minimum requirements goes like this:

Money Moves The World
One often overlooked requirement for successful privatisation is that it must actually be profitable to run the service being privatised. This is surprisingly often forgotten or ignored, with the predictable result that private companies go cherry-picking among the services privatised.

The most prominent example is private health insurances. If the insurance companies are expected to insure everyone against everything, then the insurances will either be hideously and prohibitively expensive or clearly not profitable. Thus the usual result when health insurance is privatised is that companies pick the healthiest patients and then screw the rest of the public over.

Multiple Suppliers
The market has to be big enough (and profitable enough) that every consumer has access to more than one supplier. This really ought to be a no-brainer, given that the entire logic behind the marketplace is that competition makes strong, but you'd be surprised how often politicians and free-market enthusiasts forget this little fact.

If the market cannot be covered by multiple providers in such a way that every consumer is covered by at least two providers, all you achieve is to replace the publicly owned (non-profit) monopoly with a privately owned (for-profit) monopoly.

Direct Contact
There must be direct contact between the provider and the end-user. The reasoning behind this requirement is somewhat more involved, so bear with me for a while.

The 'invisible hand' of the marketplace is, I believe, very much a statistical phenomenon.

The rationale behind the 'invisible hand' is that the customers know what they want better than the government. So if you have two companies producing widgits (A and B), and if company A is better than company B, then the consumers will prefer company A over company B.

Say that there is a 75 % chance that any given customer chooses company A and a 25 % chance that he chooses company B. Then company A gets 75 % of the market, while company B gets 25 % of the market, right?

Yes and no. On average, that is true, but in general, you get a binominal (or, in the case of multiple companies, a multinominal) distribution. This is a well-behaved distribution that has been studied extensively. If we have a x companies (A_1 through A_x) and there is a probability of p_1 through p_x (the sum of these probabilities must of course equal one) that the consumer will chose company A_i. Then company A_i will - on average - get p_i * 100 % of the market. But - and this is the crucial point - the width of the distribution (relative to the average market share) is sqrt((1-p_i)/(N*p_i)).

Now that we're done with the math, let's look at what our results actually say.

Basically they say that the larger the number of consumers, the narrower the distribution will be. So if there are - say - five million consumers, then company A from our example will most assuredly end up with 75 % of the market. But what if the consumers buy widgits through five thousand wholesalers? Then it's the wholesalers who enter the distribution as the number of customers. That's not catastrophic, the distribution will still be fairly narrow, and the market will behave properly.

But what about the situation in which the public outsources services, such as road building and maintainence, or train services? In that case you have only one effective customer, and the with of the distribution blows up in your face. The 'invisible hand' becomes a drunken sailor on a random walk.

Long story, short point. The market only works properly if the consumers have direct contact with the suppliers.

Market Manipulation
Even with the above three criteria fulfilled, it is vitally important to consider whether the market can be easily manipulated by suppliers. While the risk of cartels is ever-present on the marketplace, there are many ways short of outright cartels to manipulate markets and over-bill consumers.

One of the starkest illustrations of market manipulation in recent years is the California Energy Crisis, in which the deregulation of the Californian energy market set the stage for corporations to drive electricity prices sky-high. The basic problem with the deregulation effort was that consumers paid the spot-market price. This meant that suppliers could shut down part of their generating capacity to drive prices up.

That trick worked mainly because the price of electricity goes up sharply when supply is inadequate, but even when that particular trick is impossible, legislature must certainly look out for other, similiar tricks.

The Spice Must Flow
The last criterion on my list is that strategic resources, industries and services should not be privatised, or at least should be subjected to tight regulation.

The oil and armament sectors are two areas that should be either kept in the public domain or subject to heavy regulations. The policing and defence of the country and society should definitely also be a government job. Arguably the entire energy sector should be owned by the public, but one part that should definitely be under public control is the enrichment of uranium for use in power plants.

Railroads and Taxis
So, what does all this mean in practice. In some of the points on my list, I pointed out sectors that should definitely not be privatised, but there are many others. Take, for instance, the difference between railroad services and taxi services.

The former should most definitely remain on public hands - and in all those countries where it has been tried, it has failed more or less spectacularily. Taxis, on the other hand, is a service that we'd never even consider a public job. So what's the difference between railroads and taxis? Let us look at the taxis first.

- Private taxi companies can easily and profitably cover the entire city in which they operate.
- It is not significantly more expensive to run a taxi company that covers an entire city than to run a taxi company that covers half a city.
- There is direct contact between the taxi companies and individual consumers, because the taxis move around on public roads.
- If a taxi company turns down its supply of taxis, prices won't go up enough to compensate the company for the profits lost by docking part of their car fleet.
- The city does not fall apart if the taxis stop moving.

With railroads, on the other hand, it will never be profitable for several companies to construct and maintain their own rails covering the same area.

A way around this would be to let the railroads themselves be run by the public, but let the trains be run by private companies, like taxis on public roads, but there are several constraints imposed by the way the rail works (evasive manouvers, for instance, are impossible), and these constraints mean that traffic must be carefully managed, which cuts out the direct contact between supplier and customer.

Quite apart from these considerations, it is rarely profitable to run commuter railroad services unless they have an effective monopoly, in which case privatisation is simply a way to transfer citizens' money from the citizens' pocketbooks to corporate pocketbooks.

And, lastly, if the rail breaks down, those commuters that depend heavily on it will be left high and dry, with extremely expensive delays as an inevitable result. Thus, if a company neglects maintainence so comprehensively that the system eventually breaks down, the cost to society far exceeds the cost to the company, which may have been palmed off to unsuspecting new shareholders anyway (Enron, anyone?).

Rettidig omhu

Det er overordentligt glædeligt at en række muslimske organisationer i 12-radioavisen i dag tager afstand fra ideen om at opføre en moske i København som 'kompentation' for muhammed-tegningerne.

En ting er at jeg principielt er modstander af nyopførsel af religiøse bygninger - hvis vi skal have en moske i København, så må man rive noget af den overflod af nyopførte (dvs. siden Krigen) kirker, der alligevel står tomme, ned.

Men vigtigst af alt er nok at opførslen af en moske som 'undskyldning' vil betyde en yderligere polarisering af det danske samfund.

Må alle lytte til disse fornuftige og rimelige indvendinger i en tid hvor fornuft og rimelighed er sådan en mangelvare i den religionspolitiske debat.

Mere dobbeltspil fra Islamisk Trossamfund

I agree wholeheartedly...

... with this article, in the Haaretz. Thanks to The Mad Biologist for pointing it out.

An aside: I'm too young to remember the recognition of al Fatah, the Syrian parts of Hizbollah or the ANC as legitimate political players (no other comparison implied). But I see several striking similarities - especially to the Fatah case. Fatah was widely considered a terrorist organisation that had no legitimate politcal wing. Today, Fatah is considered in most of the world to be the most trustworthy and generally legitimate political organisation in the PA.

Blind høne...

Det er jo ikke så underligt at socialdemokraterne bliver ved med at tabe valg, når Søren Espersen udviser større civilcourage end Svend Auken.

Jeg tror ikke over en dørtærskel på at Søren Espersen er i gang med andet end at spinde politisk guld på Islamisk Trossamfunds åndssvage og skadelige eskalering af den aktuelle 'debat' om hvorvidt nyfascistiske gejstlige skal have lov til at sætte grænser for ytringsfriheden.

Men det ændrer jo ikke ved at manden i denne sag faktisk har ret...