Wednesday, November 22, 2006

More on Bond

Here's a story on the same subject as my previous post, this one by Simon Winder, the author of The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey Through The Disturbing World Of James Bond. The Dynamist Blog story I linked to below is taken mostly from his book. I apologize that I've only gotten Scotland's "Sunday Herald" story by the Google cache. They've moved their links, and I haven't bothered to hunt around for the thing.

The original world of Casino Royale

Via Instapundit, here's an eye-opening explanation of the context of Ian Fleming's book, Casino Royale. Now, I've read a few of Fleming's books, and I think I've seen all of the James Bond movies, but I hadn't realized the great differences in the cultural landscape from then 'til today. Sure, the early-mid '60s, in which many of the Sean Connery movies were made, had a lot more class and formality than today, but I always figured that I knew enough about the culture then to understand what I was watching.

But Casino Royale was written in 1952 (if I've read correctly), long before any of the movie adaptations had made it to the big screen. (Actually, Casino Royale was featured as a TV movie on the show "Climax!" in 1954; supposedly a good adaptation. We'll slip past the awful 1967 movie spoof version without comment, which is the only movie my dad has ever walked out of.) So the original settings were much earlier than even the movies.

Great Britain of the early 1950s was a much different place than it was in the high-Cold-War 1960s. They were living in the aftermath of the War, and wartime privations were not entirely gone. The Dynamist blog describes currency and travel restrictions from England to France that were still in place then, making a French casino a quite exotic and unreachable place to the British readers.

Frustratingly, it doesn't explain exactly what those restrictions were, although it says that some remnants of them continued even through the 1970s! I've got to find out what these entailed--legal anachronisms fascinate me.

Incidentally, even the mention of an avacado in the book was exotic back then. Not that people didn't know what they were, but after the war, they simply weren't available. In a different way, it reminds me of an ear-opening experience I had listening to the comedy channel on XM Radio last week. They were playing a clip from "You Bet Your Life," with Groucho Marx. It was the part of the show in which he introduced each of the contestants and asked them about themselves. One lady was of Mexican background, married to a husband of Irish ancestry. She described all the kinds of Mexican foods she liked to fix for him--tacos, enchiladas, etc. "What's his favorite?," Marx asked. "Steak and potatoes." She said this without laughing.

But the interesting thing was that after she mentioned tacos, enchiladas, and the rest, Marx asked her, "Could you tell me, what is a taco?" And she went on to describe the concept. Now, whether Marx already knew and was just setting up the next joke is beside the point--what's amazing is that the audience wasn't expected to know what a taco was! Could you imagine that today?

I remember in the early 1980s, my family occasionally fixing tacos or taco salad at home. No hispanics in our part of the state back then, either. So it had certainly become part of the general culture 20-25 years after this show was on.

Another assassination in Lebanon

A Lebanese Christian leader was assassinated in Lebanon this week, probably by the Syrians, again. At least, everybody figures it's the Syrians. As far as "why?", there is interesting discussion at Sandmonkey's blog. Scroll down to the input by reader "Vox" on the Lebanese parliamentary rules. I don't follow the whole thing (the alliances in the government seem contradictory to me, but that could be just me, or it could be the complexity of Lebanese politics), but the gist seems to be that if 1/3 of the ministers leave the government, whether by resigning or dying, the government falls. According to this reader, if the Syrians get only one more minister killed, the government will be dismissed.

Farther down the discussion, reader "tommy" suggests that if that happens, with Syria managing a coup to bring themselves back in to run Lebanon, then Israel should wait patiently as the Syrian army crosses into Lebanon...and then launch an all-out offensive against Syria proper. Boy, wouldn't I love to see that happen!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Home fusion generator

Check out this story about a high school senior who has become only the 18th amateur ever to create nuclear fusion. (link via Drudge) Impressive stuff. I liked the quote from his mother:

Thiago's mom, Natalice Olson, initially was leery of the project [...] "Originally, he wanted to build a hyperbolic chamber," she said, adding that she promptly said no. But, when he came asking about the nuclear fusion machine, she relented.

I like her ability to set limits with her son. A hyperbolic chamber? Not on your life! Nuclear fusion? Well, OK.

I'm only kidding--I agree that with the good supervision he was getting, this can be done safely. It's not nuclear fission, mind you! I think it's hilarious that the normal activity of kids' begging their parents to let them do things (stay up late, buy a video game, go to a friend's party) in this family gets turned around into high-energy physics projects.

Incidentally, my wife and I had a similar discussion, and the upshot is that she won't let me operate a particle accelerator in the basement. :( (Yes, seriously.)

Anyway, I was confused by the reference to a "hyperbolic chamber." I'm a physicist, and I did some research in particle physics before getting into astrophysics, but I didn't know of this equipment. What's so risky about a hyperbola-shaped chamber? So I googled it. What do I come up with? This article from America's Finest News Source, The Onion.

OAK RIDGE, TN—After six grueling years of Herculean research, scientists at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory pronounced EHC-1 Alpha, the new hyperbolic chamber, "an unquestionably, undeniably, fantastically revolutionary milestone in the history of science, mankind, and the universe, all of which it will undoubtedly change forever."

(Note the double meaning of hyperbolic, here.)

Huh. Was the kid pulling one over on his mom, to let him do something he really wanted to to begin with? Does she know this thing is a joke?

Is this whole story a joke? Well, it's in the Detroit Free Press, not the Onion, and they've got a picture of the kid, so they're not just taking some wire story. Weird. Anyway, best of luck to Thiago Olson and his fusion chamber!

UPDATE: A couple of friends and my wife have all suggested the "hyperbolic chamber" mentioned in the story was probably actually a "hyperbaric chamber"--a high-pressure chamber. That makes sense, then. And the reporter's spell-checker might have "corrected" the word.

Still, I think it would have been pretty funny if the guy had pleaded with his mom for a hyperbolic chamber as a way to get her to relent on the nuclear fusion!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Jihad of the Eyes

I've forgotten where I found the link to this Moslem discussion board, but I poked around it a little and found an interesting thread: The Jihad of the Eyes during hot Summer months. ("Jihad" there is used in the general sense of "struggle," rather than in the more specific sense of "struggle to kill the infidels.")

The gist of this discussion is on the trials of being Moslem in a non-Moslem country, in which other people go around wearing less clothing, especially during the summer. Mohammed had apparently told them to keep their eyes lowered if they saw a woman showing too much, so they wouldn't be tempted. Well, in general, that's not outrageous advice, although the boundaries of how much is too much is something we're going to disagree upon.

The funny thing is the story by whom I gather is a young lady, "Ebony" (I'm figuring a she, based on her self-description as "Anti Mushy Sis"), who shares this personal anecdote:

27-05-05, 07:34 PM

Watch out for the Arrow!

Oh, what a beautiful day: Twenty-two degrees Celsius; a clear sky; the sun passionately declaring its warmth to the land below. I put on my cap and decide to go out for a walk. Moments later, I come across two scantily dressed girls, enjoying the wonderful weather. Nervously, I look down towards the cement sidewalk and walk past them. I look up, only to encounter a couple, roller blading towards me in the most fashionable, spandex exercise gear.

I fidget with my cap using it to shield myself from obscenity and continue walking. With my head down and cap covering my view, it was bound to happen some time: I walk into a lamppost and hit my head! As I lay on the sidewalk recovering from the accident, I hear a male voice asking me, Are you alright? As I open my eyes to figure out what is going on, I see a bare-chested man, jogging in position, offering his hand to help me get up. Subhan-Allah, what a day! I get up, run home, go to my room, and close my door. How am I expected to survive in such a filthy environment? Am I supposed to isolate myself from the society to escape such temptations?

No. Obviously, with every trial and difficulty Allah always provides us practical defensive tools. Keep in mind, though, that the command to control our eyes is not just a fatwa of some conservative scholar From the East. It is explicitly expressed in the words of Allah and the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

First of all, I don't get her averting her gaze from members of her own sex. Without meaning to imply anything here, surely she doesn't regard this as a problem of temptation. (I reckon maybe it's still a shock to her--I certainly wouldn't want to go for a walk and have to weave through crowds of fully-naked men, but she's talking about people with (some) clothing on.)

This sounds like a parody at first. But she goes on to provide a helpful list of advice to keep yourself from temptation:


3. Always walk with your gaze lowered. But make sure not to bump into a hydro post! Lowering the gaze does not mean that you cannot have any eye contact as you walk or during a conversation. It means that you keep your eyes under control.

4. Take the Right Seat! In a public place (e.g. café), choose a seat that minimizes your view-frame and avoid mixed-crowds. It is precisely about such comfortable gazing at the attractive features of the passers-by that the Prophet (pbuh) advised 'Ali ibn Abi Talib: "Ali, do not let a second look follow the first. The first look is allowed to you but not the second.''(Ahmad, Abu Dawud, at-Tirmidhi.)

[Is she really saying to face the wall when you're in a public place?!! Come on!]

[There follow a few reasonable suggestions about keeping friends of good character, and so on. Nothing wrong there.]

7. Avoid visiting malls and parks alone. Always try to go out with a family member or a good friend, whose company may help you avert your eyes from the objectionable billboards and inappropriately clothed people. In summer, step out only when you have to.

[Lock yourself indoors throughout the summer, unless you've really got a good reason to leave your house? Yikes!]

8. Surf or Watch TV when others are around. The temptation to sneak a look at dirty pictures is heightened when you're alone in your room watching TV or surfing the internet. Shaytan's primary target is always a lonely person! Try to avoid late night TV and internet surfing.

[OK, late night TV can be pretty raunchy in Europe--when I was in Holland recently, I joked that I found the BBC and CNN refreshingly nudity-free at 11:00 PM. Is England that bad? I assume she lives in England. But don't watch TV alone at any time of the day?!]

14. If you are able and responsible then get married for the sake of Allah. It may be one of the most effective, yet challenging, defense mechanisms against such temptations.

[I actually agree that being married is the responsible thing to do in life, but this comes across as advice to do it not for love, but to keep yourself from being tempted. ...hmmm, you can write your own joke here...]

This sounds almost like a parody, but she seems sincere.

And another thing...

Speaking of nursey rhymes, will she force these parents to sing the politically-correct versions? I've read reports lately of some school in England changing "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep" to "Baa, Baa, Rainbow Sheep," to avoid the racial overtones!

Maybe it really is April Fool's Day, and I forgot to flip my calendar...

Who is Beverley Hughes?

Heh, heh...I don't usually laugh at Nazi references, but this is pretty funny. After posting that last item, on Britain's "Children's Minister," Beverley Hughes, proposing to establish government control over how parents teach their kids nursery rhymes and brush their teeth, I searched the web in a little panic to find out if this was a spoof. An old April 1st article that Stuttaford stumbled across out of season?

Nope. I found Iain Dale commenting on the same story from a different newspaper. So who is this Beverley Hughes, and what else has she committed? I Googled her and found a Wikipedia entry. Here's where the fun begins.

Here is the link to "Beverley Hughes" in Wikipedia:

And here is the page to which you are directed:


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

(Redirected from Beverley Hughes)

Lebensborn (Source of Life, in German) was a child welfare and relocation program initiated by Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler to aid the racial heredity of the Third Reich. The program was implemented in Germany and some parts of occupied Europe. After World War II it was widely reported that the objective of the program was to establish housings where the Nazi regime would breed, through copulation, racially pure humans to create a strong race of Aryans.


The purpose of the program was to provide incentives to encourage Germans, especially SS members, to have more children.
On September 13, 1936, Himmler wrote the following to members of SS:

The organization "Lebensborn e.V." serves the SS leaders in the selection and adoption of qualified children. The organization "Lebensborn e.V." is under my personal direction, is part of the race and settlement central bureau of the SS, and has the following obligations:

(1) aid for racially and biologically-hereditarily valuable families

(2) the accommodation of racially and biologically-hereditarily valuable mothers in appropriate homes, etc.

(3) care of the children of such families

(4) care of the mothers

It is the honorable duty of all leaders of the central bureau to become members of the organization "Lebensborn e.V.".

Somebody's done a prompt job with this hack. Not that of calling it a Nazi-like proposal, mind you...just utterly totalitarian...oh, what's the difference?

This is in England?!

England. The country from whom we won our independence, over the issue of an intrusive and overbearing government. You know, I had been happily surprised a few years ago when I first visited Independence Hall, to hear that our colonial forefathers had actually been used to governing themselves pretty much. And when King George III started taking away their freedom, they demanded their rights as Englishmen. England was considered a pretty free country for its time, back then, and they were fed up with being made second-class citizens.

It makes all of those discussions of Constitutional rights that reach back to the Magna Carta and the Act of 1689 (or whatever--I can't remember the latter too well) make more sense. We weren't spawned by France or Spain, for instance.

And now, out of that same country...there's this:

Mrs Hughes condemned the way governments before 1997 thought they had no role in the upbringing of children, which it 'regarded as the entirely private arrangements families make.'

Want to know where she's going with this? She's Britain's "Children's Minister," and here's some detail on the plan:

Parents could be forced to go to special classes to learn to sing their children nursery rhymes, a minister said.
Those who fail to read stories or sing to their youngsters threaten their children's future and the state must put them right, Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said.


The call for state intervention in the minute details of family life followed a series of Labour efforts to reduce anti-social behaviour and improve educational standards by imposing rigorous controls on the lives of the youngest children.
Mrs Hughes has established a national curriculum to set down how babies are taught to speak in childcare from the age of three months.

Her efforts have gone alongside a push by other ministers to determine exactly how parents treat their children down to how they should brush their teeth.
Tony Blair has backed the idea of 'fasbos' - efforts to identify and correct the lives of children who are likely to fail even before they are born - and new laws to compel parents to attend parenting classes are on the way.

This autumn is likely to see an extension of parenting orders that can force parents to attend parenting classes so that they can be used on the say so of local councils against parents.
For the first time, parenting orders are likely to be directed against parents whose children have committed no criminal offence.

This sends chills down my spine. It is absolutely totalitarian in its outlook and approach. I'm sure that Britain remains, on balance, a free and open country. But this is the kind of government control over people's private lives that no free people should tolerate. There should be no debate over the effectiveness of this kind of program, but only an indignant rejection of the intrusion of government into children's upbringing.

I found this from Andrew Stuttaford's post on The Corner. I couldn't tell from his post whether this was a spoof or real. Even reading the whole article in This Is London, I wasn't sure it was real, but none of the commenters were laughing. Has Blair's government gone nuts?

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Was Clementine Wrong?

Via Instapundit, here's a disappointing report in Popular Mechanics that the Clementine lunar orbiter's discovery of large amounts of water ice near the lunar south pole might not be so. A lot of the signal Clementine was picking up seems to be associated also with a particular type of ejecta from young impact craters, not only with water. Cornell's Donald Bruce Campbell, using Puerto Rico's Arecibo radio observatory, found the same signal on the sunny, temperate latitudes of the moon, where no water could exist.

However, he says that it doesn't mean there's no water at the lunar poles. Clementine also picked up excess hydrogen in the polar regions, which could still be consistent with (smaller) amounts of ice mixed into the soil.

The Weekly Standard on US Space Supremacy

Over at the Weekly Standard, Michael Goldfarb writes about the US government's goal of space supremacy. That came out in a press release a few days ago, and I'm sure that the Europeans are shocked and appalled at the idea. I heard the news over the BBC World Service, which didn't scold us in the segment I heard, but the idea of "supremacy" was emphasized by the news reader.

I haven't read Goldfarb yet, but it ought to be interesting. I'll comment on it once I do.

Kerry's Komments

There's always a delight in seeing your opponents squirm, especially from making a dumb comment. But it does seem reasonable to me that Kerry was trying to make another "Bush is stupid" joke, rather than a "soldiers are stupid" one. And the release of this intended text ought to put an end to it: "You know where you end up if you don't study, if you're not smart, if you're intellectually lazy? You end up getting us stuck in a war in Iraq. Just ask President Bush."

Derbyshire and Nordlinger at National Review already thought this was a reasonable interpretation before the text was released, and I agreed with them. I've said enough things in my life that came out really, really wrong, that I am willing to give someone some benefit of the doubt in a situation like this.

Yes, it was also a reasonable interpretation that he meant just what he said, a crack about the supposed lack of smarts in soldiers. A lot on the Left probably hold that opinion, even if they're not saying it. But I'm not going to assume malice in Kerry, just because he's on the other side of the aisle, especially if I'd give a charitable interpretation to someone else.

The shocking thing is that while some conservatives honestly believe Kerry meant it as a slam against soldiers, there have been a few who don't care if it's true or not. In Derbyshire's e-mail, one correspondent quoted his comment that "Something is owed to honesty" and replied, "No, it isn't." Yikes! Now that's dishonorable and condemnable, and I hope there aren't many like that out there. When Derb calls this guy and those like him "liars for Bush," a whole bunch of others assume he meant anybody who disagrees on what Kerry meant is a "liar."

Geez, people! If you can't interpret Derb's easily-understood sentence properly, how can you expect to figure out what Kerry meant?!

I'm getting annoyed at all of the high campaign season dishonesty and rushing to misunderstand anyone who disagrees with you.

UPDATE: Incidentally, Kerry's intended "Bush is dumb" joke is over the line and is a typical left-wing conceit. I think it's ugly to call your opponent (former opponent in this case) "not smart," right out like that. The Left likes to think of themselves as the intellectuals and of conservatives as stupid, and it's an obnoxious bit of arrogance. What's funny in this case is that (as many have pointed out) Bush was a better student at Yale than Kerry was. So who's the butt of Kerry's joke? Himself?