Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Manchester Bomber was British Citizen, Son of Libyan Refugee Parents

Wounded concertgoers at the entrance to Manchester arena

The original report has now been confirmed by multiple sources.

The story below claims that the 22-year-old bomber was born in Britain to Libyan parents.

He was one of four children.

A younger daughter and son apparently recently returned to Libya with their parents, leaving the two eldest sons in Manchester. The bomber, Salman Abedi, died at the scene. His brother has reportedly been arrested.

If this report is accurate, the family was somewhat "westernized." The suicide bomber's sister, has two still live Facebook pages with various pictures of her in "model" of "fashion" poses. Her profile picture features a chic Muslima in a hijab sipping coffee next to a bottle of expensive perfume. There are also many references to Allah, as well as the information that she used to work at at a Manchester mosque.

From the Telegraph
The suicide bomber who killed 22 people and injured dozens more at the Manchester Arena has been named as 22-year-old Salman Abedi, according to US officials. 
Born in Manchester in 1994, the second youngest of four children his parents were Libyan refugees who came to the UK to escape the Gaddafi regime. 
His mother, Samia Tabbal, 50, and father, Ramadan Abedi, a security officer, were both born in Libya but appear to have emigrated to London before moving to the Fallowfield area of south Manchester where they have lived for at least ten years. 
After giving birth to two sons, they had son Hashem Abedi, now 20, and daughter Jomana, 18. 
Jomana, who has two Facebook profiles, attended Whalley Range High School before apparently working at Didsbury Mosque in 2013. 
Although born in Manchester, she states online that she is from Tripoli and has many Libyan connections. Her profile also makes reference to wearing a hijab. 
Abedi grew up in the Whalley Range area, just yards from the local girl's high school, which hit the headlines in 2015 when twins and grade A pupils, Zahra and Salma Halane, who were both aspiring medical students, left their homes and moved to Isil controlled Syria. 
There were unconfirmed reports in Manchester that the whole family apart from the two elder sons recently returned to Libya.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Cardinal Designate Omella Hosted Symposium on Accompaniment - "Populism must be dismantled"

Archbishop Juan Jose Omella and Pope Francis

Archbishop of Barcelona, Juan Jose Omella, one of the five new cardinals-to-be, chosen yesterday by Pope Francis, recently hosted a symposium on "accompaniment." Omella defined it as "being open to new horizons, proposals and ways to explore."

Omella also declared: "Populism must be dismantled." 

From the Spanish journal, Alpha y Omega, March 28, 2017 (cleaned up Google translation):
Cañizares and Omella: "Populism must be dismantled"
A meeting in Barcelona organized by the Council of European Episcopal Conferences on the accompaniment of young people, encouraged "transparency, truth and solidarity."
The theme of the symposium that began in Barcelona on Tuesday is the accompaniment of young people. The meeting, organized by the Council of European Episcopal Conferences (CCEE), has as its context a Europe that seems to show weakness, threatened by a populism that wants to divide it and that can seduce so many young people. This theme had a special weight on the first day.
...The Cardinal Archbishop of Valencia and Vice-President of the Spanish Episcopal Conference, Antonio Cañizares, and the host, the Archbishop of Barcelona, ​​Juan Jose Omella, in a brief meeting with the press before starting the symposium, referred to the need to "dismantle the untruths of populism," in the words of Cañizares. Omella added that it is necessary to dismantle the atmosphere of lies and corruption in society, that is, to bet on "transparency, truth and solidarity and to dismantle populisms"...
...Omella said in his presentation that the Church is facing the challenge of accompaniment, which is nothing more than "being able to help extract the best from each of those we accompany, helping them to discover the mystery of which they are bearers, and initiate them in the art of discernment concerning the will of God." He made three proposals: to walk in a sincere dialogue, "which implies being open to new horizons, proposals and ways to explore, as well as the search for good practices"; that dialogue leads to concrete proposals; and that it takes place under the guidance of the Holy Spirit...
At the congress, a message from Pope Francis was delivered through the Vatican Secretary of State, Pietro Parolin, in which he encouraged reflection on the challenges of evangelization and the accompaniment of young people, such that they can "be convinced carriers of the joy of the Gospel to all environments."

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Not a Parody: Trump, Tillerson and Ross do the Saudi Sword Dance

Donald Trump's first trip abroad yielded some astonishing pictures and videos today, among them, a video showing Trump and some of his cabinet members participating in (not just observing) a traditional "Ardha" (war) sword dance.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross are seen happily/grimly clutching swords while linking arms with the dancers. As far as one can tell, Trump doesn't link arms but spends a few seconds bouncing and jiving to the music with a goofy expression. You can't see it in the video but at one point he does hold a sword, pointing it downward.

Steve Bannon stands around, looking uncomfortable.

The outdoor pavilion appears to be filled almost exclusively with men, most of them robed. The regal Melania Trump and an unidentified (to me) American woman seem to be the only two females in the crowd. Both have their heads uncovered.

By the way, President George Bush participated in a sword dance in Saudi Arabia. So did Prince Charles. As everyone knows, Middle-Eastern Arabs are notoriously racist. Perhaps this is why President Obama was never invited to participate. Or maybe they just didn't respect him. But that didn't stop Obama from bowing.

An earlier video features Mr. and Mrs. Trump emerging from the plane and greeting the King and his entourage - with Trump not bowing and his wife wearing pants with uncovered hair.

There are three ways to look at all of this. One is of free and civilized people holding their heads high while extending the hand of friendship to (sorry to say it) semi-barbarous exotics (I'm talking about the Trumps not Tillerson and Ross, obviously). 

It sounds silly, but that plane entrance reminded me of the scene in C.S. Lewis's The Horse and His Boy, where the free kings and queens of Narnia, Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy stride confidently up the main thoroughfare of Tashbaan, the capital city of the cruel, quasi-Muslim Calormenes.

Okay, that more than sounds silly. But still.

The second way to look at it is naive and awkward westerners pretending to be best buddies with primitives in order to score political points at home, aid an alliance, negotiate a favorable oil deal or whatever.

In Saudi Arabia, they do not only use swords for dancing.

The third way to look at it is that it's necessary realpolitik. We're all grownups here, right? And the Iranians will get the message.

Here is a short video of the dance, featuring Trump at the beginning and Tillerson/Ross at the end, as well as a video of the Trumps emerging from that plane.

For good measure I've also included a clip from Lawrence of Arabia - "So long as the Arabs fight tribe against tribe, so long will they be a little people, a silly people, greedy, barbarous and cruel..." That's half-right, of course, though I'm not sure the tribe vs. tribe thing was the main problem.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Chris Cornell - You Know My Name

About all I know about Chris Cornell is his name. And the fact that he was in Soundgarden, a band that I never really got into.

And the fact that he composed and sang one of the best James Bond themes ever, "You Know My Name."

Here's the music video, as well as the neat opening of Casino Royale.

And I don't know how he died. But I do know that fifty-two is too young.

Requiescat in pace.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Trump to Give Speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia

The AFP Tweet reads, "Trump to Give Speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia: White House."

Here's a blurb from the Independent:
Donald Trump will give a speech on combatting radical Islam to a group of Muslim leaders in Saudi Arabia during his first trip abroad as US President. 
Mr Trump will speak to around 50 Muslim leaders and will take part in opening a centre there which is dedicated to promote moderate Islam, said national security adviser H R McMaster. 
The President will “will deliver an inspiring but direct speech on the need to confront radical ideology and the president’s hopes for a peaceful vision of Islam to dominate across the world,” Mr McMaster said. 
“The speech is intended to unite the broader Muslim world against common enemies of all civilization and to demonstrate America’s commitment to our Muslim partners,” Mr McMaster added. 
Saudi Arabia will be the first country Mr Trump will visit since his Inauguration.
This Trump voter (and, I assume, millions of others) just cringed.

Ah, yes, opening up a "center" devoted to "moderate Islam" in, all of all places, Saudi Arabia.

Isn't that the country where if you mispronounce "Muhammad," they kill your whole family?

I exaggerate, but not by much.

The wags on Twitter had a field day:
People always ask me about Islam, It's fantastic. Let me tell you about Islam. I do very well with Islam. No one loves Islam more than me 
BELIEVE ME. We're going to have so many Islam you are going to get sick of Islam. The Islam just got 10 feet higher. I have the best Islam 
I love Muslims, there great. Brillant I know some Islams, great people. Some of my best friends are Islams. Very smart great people. 
The Ottoman Empire, that was huge believe me. Bigger than you can imagine. I gotta tell you I'm very surprised it ended the way it did 
My kids loved Aladdin, a tremendous film. Arab girls are hot. And my hotels in the Middle East are doing well. I love Islam. Just love it.
And so on.

The crisis continues.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

On Cormac McCarthy

Cormac McCarthey: He took the tortilla from the Gorgon and ate it.

Two days ago, I was harshly critical of the movie The Road (2009), based on the 2006 novel of the same name by Cormac McCarthy. I didn't mention McCarthy in the blog text, but he did come up in the blog comments. While good movies can be made from bad books, and bad movies can be made from good books, I think it's fair to say that McCarthy casts a long shadow over the movie, for better or worse. I think it's for worse.

Cormac McCarthy is not a very good writer.

It was the critic B.R. Myers who most famously called out McCarthy in "A Reader's Manifesto," a 2001 Atlantic Monthly article, which then became a book. Myers named McCarthy as one of five novelists including Annie Proulx, Don DeLillo, Paul Auster and David Guterson who represented the "growing pretentiousness in American literary prose." Or, as Myers would also put it, "some of the most acclaimed contemporary prose is the product of mediocre writers availing themselves of trendy stylistic gimmicks."

Myer's critical approach was not subtle or complicated. It was largely to simply take well-known passages from these authors and point out how bad or silly their writing was. The emperor had no clothes.

Here he is on a passage from McCarthy's The Crossing (1994):
He ate the last of the eggs and wiped the plate with the tortilla and ate the tortilla and drank the last of the coffee and wiped his mouth and looked up and thanked her. 
...In McCarthy's sentence the unpunctuated flow of words bears no relation to the slow, methodical nature of what is being described. And why repeat tortilla? When Hemingway wrote "small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers" ("In Another Country," 1927), he was, as David Lodge points out in The Art of Fiction (1992), creating two sharp images in the simplest way he could. The repetition of wind, in subtly different senses, heightens the immediacy of the referent while echoing other reminders of Milan's windiness in the fall. McCarthy's second tortilla, in contrast, is there, like the syntax, to draw attention to the writer himself. For all the sentence tells us, it might as well be this: "He ate the last of the eggs. He wiped the plate with the tortilla and ate it. He drank the last of the coffee and wiped his mouth. He looked up and thanked her." Had McCarthy written that, the critics would have taken him to task for his "workmanlike" prose. But the first version is no more informative or pleasing to the ear than the second, which can at least be read aloud in a natural fashion. (McCarthy is famously averse to public readings.) All the original does is say, "I express myself differently from you, therefore I am a Writer."
And here is Myers discussing a well-known passage from All the Pretty Horses (1992):
As a fan of movie westerns, I refuse to quibble with the myth that a wild landscape can bestow epic significance on the lives of its inhabitants. But novels tolerate epic language only in moderation. To record with the same somber majesty every aspect of a cowboy's life, from a knife fight to his lunchtime burrito, is to create what can only be described as kitsch. Here we learn that out west even a hangover is something special. 
[They] walked off in separate directions through the chaparral to stand spraddlelegged clutching their knees and vomiting. The browsing horses jerked their heads up. It was no sound they'd ever heard before. In the gray twilight those retchings seemed to echo like the calls of some rude provisional species loosed upon that waste. Something imperfect and malformed lodged in the heart of being. A thing smirking deep in the eyes of grace itself like a gorgon in an autumn pool. 
It is a rare passage that can make you look up, wherever you may be, and wonder if you are being subjected to a diabolically thorough Candid Camera prank. I can just go along with the idea that horses might mistake human retching for the call of wild animals. But "wild animals" isn't epic enough: McCarthy must blow smoke about some rude provisional species, as if your average quadruped had impeccable table manners and a pension plan. Then he switches from the horses' perspective to the narrator's, though just what something imperfect and malformed refers to is unclear. The last half sentence only deepens the confusion. Is the thing smirking deep in the eyes of grace the same thing that is lodged in the heart of being? And what is a gorgon doing in a pool? Or is it peering into it? And why an autumn pool? I doubt if McCarthy can explain any of this; he probably just likes the way it sounds. 
No novelist with a sense of the ridiculous would write such nonsense. Although his characters sometimes rib one another, McCarthy is among the most humorless writers in American history.
In fact, Myers's thought McCarthy's bizarre "hangover" passage was so emblematic of his theme that the working title for "A Reader's Manifesto" was The Gorgon in the Pool.

Since the publication of Manifesto, the stars of the other four writers have arguably dimmed, as Myers predicted they would, but McCarthy's star has only grown brighter. These days, McCarthy dislike appears to be a minority opinion. But that opinion is nevertheless held strongly. If you want a few laughs, check out the Selections from One-Star Amazon Reviews of Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian. Clips from the reviews for that violent book are arranged in poetic wave form:
The characters are not really sympathetic 
He is obviously a sick man psychologically. 
all about violence and no plot what so ever. 
if I was a trained geologist I might like it better. 
too many words that are not in standard dictionary 
I guess people think he is cool because he writes so violent. 
This one guy peed on some clay stuff to create a bomb like thing 
murder, slaughter, killing, massacre, beating, stabbing, shooting, scalping 
It consists of a series of almost unconnected scenes of unspeakable violence. 
Esoteric words, eccentric expressions, pedantic philosophizing, arcane symbolism 
I have to believe that he must be embarrassed to have this book back on the market. 
A bunch of guys ride around Mexico killing everyone they come across for no particular reason 
If you’re a fan of babies, quotation marks, and native americans, then avoid this book like the plague.
Now, I know all popular books have their share of one-star reviews. But still. In this case I think they are appropriate. One pro-McCarthy partisan actually had the chutzpa to write, "McCarthy’s use of language is razor-sharp and spare." Actually, I think that's true of those review clips.

I said, "McCarthy dislike," but what about McCarthy hate? In a piece written in 2007, "Cormac McCarthy: Owning My Hate," Levi Asher explains why he feels the way he does about the author's prose. And feels is the operative word here. Many anti-McCarthy people are so insecure about their unpopular view that they've stopped trying to argue for the objective truth of the matter - that McCarthy is a bad writer - but rather are content merely to try to explain their own subjective opinion.

Asher doesn't cherry-pick his bad McCarthy passages but rather chooses the opening sequence of The Road (2006):
When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark 
...He watched the boy and he looked out through the tress toward the road. This was not a safe place. They could be seen from the road now it was day. The boy turned in his blankets. Then he opened his eyes. Hi, Papa, he said. 
I'm right here. 
I know.
There's another monster and his pool, again (this is me talking now, not Asher). I'd almost peg McCarthy as an OD&D fan.

I think the above passage is horrid, but to save words I won't explain why. I think the pretentiousness and silliness of it, complete with its humorlessness, faux ponderous tone and grammatical foibles practically croaks out its mediocrity, like a rude beast emoting in a cave. Anyway, Asher nailed it in his piece, which I highly recommend.

But I will quote one passage. Asher claims that he tried to read The Road and, thus, give McCarthy a fresh start. But
[t]he fresh start didn't pan out. The crimes against the English language committed in the first eight pages of this book are so deplorable that I could not reach the double digit page numbers at all. I also feel offended -- yes, offended -- by the mean, miserable view of humanity this book shoves in my face. But my dislike for this book seems to transcend any mental or aesthetic considerations, because as I suffered through these first few pages I felt my body physically rejecting this book like a badly transplanted organ. I would look down at my hands and discover that the book was closed. I'd open it, struggle through a few sentences more, and then look down and discover it closed again. Reading The Road felt like swimming in a pool of thick hard mud, and I tried and I tried but I could not get past page eight.
For the fun of it, I decided to rewrite the above passage in full Cormac McCarthy style:
The man wanted to begin anew but time flowed along as it does and there was no new beginning nor was there an end. The man was reading a book and he imagined that some criminal had bent over the first eight pages and vomited. I am offended and it is mean and it is a miserable view of humanity the man thought in the endarkening light though he could not look away. Above the grey smoke the hatred of the man hung like a grisping cloud while beneath it there were considerations that the man framed with words like mental or aesthetic and he suffered still and his body rejected the book like a badly transplanted organ. He would look down dimly at his coarsish hands and see that the book was closed. Then he would open the book again and close it again and open the book again and close it again until there was no light left to open and close it and he couldn't look down any more. He dreamed that he was swimming in a dark pool of thick hard mud and the pendulum at the heart of the world had stopped over page eight of that accoladed tome. But the mans hatred continued to burn like a glowing ember soundlessly imperched upon his ever beating heart.    
The boy came into the room and turned on the light. Hi, Papa, he said. 
What happened. 
I think you fell asleep on the couch while smoking do you know where the remote control is.
Now, I know you might be thinking how clever I must think I am. But the point is that I am not particularly clever. It's actually remarkably easy to write a McCarthy parody (even I can do it). But the thing is, unlike, say, a Hemingway parody, where the author's stylistics quirks are exaggerated or used to describe a non-Hemingwayish activity like decorating a Christmas tree or whatever, there is really very little difference between a Cormac McCarthy parody and, well, the real McCarthy.

He takes the worst parts of Hemingway, Faulkner and Brett Easton Ellis and combines them. The very worst parts. And he combines them in an unpleasant way.

Cormac McCarthy is not a very good writer.

And I mean that as an objective statement, not merely a description of my own subjective opinion.

You are, of course, free to have another opinion. As I said once on a different subject, though in a similar context, if you disagree with me on this, that doesn't make you a bad person. I hope we can laugh together over a beer sometime...at how wrong you were on the issue.

Crossposted at Save Versus All Wands.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

On The Road

This apocalypse shouldn't have been televised

I posted this quasi-review on my gaming blog Save Versus All Wands, yesterday. But I'm going to crosspost it on Mahound's Paradise as I think it has relevance to the sorts of issues that are often discussed here - those regarding the culture of life (vs. the culture of death), among others.

I've already been involved in a fair amount of back and forth on this in the Save Versus All Wands comments and on Google+ and Facebook, and it is already clear that I hold a distinctly minority opinion. I sort of expected that, but what's interesting to me is how disagreement about The Road in particular and Cormac McCarthy in general seems to be completely independent of typical "ideological" lines. People who I usually agree with on gaming and/or politics or religion hold radically different opinions on this one. I suppose that's refreshing but it's also slightly annoying, at least in so far as I feel that almost everyone else in the world is wrong (and I'm right - howling into the wind or the nuclear winter clouds or whatever).

To take one example, I implicitly argue below that the movie is sort of anti-life (because it's a bit creepy about suicide). But one pro-life commenter claimed that the film is about as pro-life as any film could be.

I do think that people seem to read into the movie what they wish (I do not exempt myself from that). And this is perhaps due to the somewhat abstract nature of the setting and story. In the comments section on the first blog, one commenter praised the film for its "hope." But another praised it for its unflinching and unromanticized view of a post-apocalyptic world (I took that as saying that there isn't a lot of hope).

I feel like I should add more to the text to make a better case, but realistically, I'm not sure that would help convince anyone. For the sheer masochism of it, I'll probably write a separate post on how Cormac McCarthy is completely overrated. One of the foremost defenders of that position is B.R. Myers, a Green Party, vegan, animal rights guy. Life is interesting and diverse.


Last night, too tired to read or write, I watched the post-apocalyptic film The Road, for the first time.

I couldn't believe how how horrible it was.

The movie is cliched, pretentious, virtually plotless, disgusting, depressing, boring, silly and uninterested in any sort of realism or explanation whatsoever beyond the "stark realism" of, gee, isn't nuclear winter (or whatever it is) rough.

That's quite a profound insight.

There are no names in the movie. There is only Man, Boy, Woman, Old Man, Veteran, Motherly Woman and so on (we know this from the end titles). The post-apocalyptic wherever is so rough that people don't even have names.

Also, even though virtually everyone is dead and there's nothing but old stuff everywhere, there are no shoes nor ammunition to be found. The radiation got it, too, I guess.

Why did the man and his son wait so long (at least as long as the age of the boy - ten years, perhaps) to set out from interior wherever to coastal wherever? Or are they just really slow?

Since all vegetation appears to be dead, and there are no animals or even insects, how did the man and the boy survive for so long?

A few other people seem to have survived for that long through practicing cannibalism, but in order to eat live people, those live people would have had to survive long enough for other people to then eat them. How did they survive for that long? 

Why are the man and his son surprised when they get to the sea and it is not blue? Since everything is gray due to the perpetual cloud clover, what did they expect, Club Med?

Why, dying of starvation but having come across a hidden shelter filled with an almost limitless supply of food, do the man and his son flee after thinking they just might have heard a barking dog?

Now, I suppose some of these questions might have had answers, but the movie makes no attempt to provide them. Such questions and answers are unimportant, the movie makers seem to be saying.

Or, rather, the only answer to these and other questions is that things in this story do not really happen for reasons, nor do people think or behave rationally. Instead, things happen or people think and behave in ways solely calculated to advance the movie's tone. The tone is everything. I got the tone after thirty seconds. But the movie makers wanted to make sure I continued to get it for two hours. Good and hard.

Man and Boy survived for ten years because the movie would have been less compelling if it had been about Man and Infant.

Actually, I think it might have been more interesting and less cliched.

"I love you, son."


The Road is also a deeply immoral movie. Yes, movies can be immoral when they convey immoral messages. Here are a few of them:
When calamities happen, it's a common, rational and even proper reaction for human beings to kill themselves. 
When trying to survive, the most important thing is knowing when to kill yourself. 
If someone you love - your wife, perhaps - wishes to kill herself, do not attempt to stop her. Let her walk away alone into the dark woods.  
When getting ready to make a final stand against bad guys, don't use your gun against them. Rather, point your pistol at your son's head. 
Don't ever try to save kidnapped people from being eaten by cannibals. Put the lock back on the door and run away. 
If you shoot a man (perhaps an innocent man), run away as his wife weeps over his burning corpse. 
If you're one of the last men on earth, don't be kind to strangers, under any circumstances, even if they're old defenseless men who look like Robert Duvall. 
And if you do have second thoughts about the propriety of, say, stripping a man naked in the freezing cold and taking all his belongings, make it up to him by leaving his clothes in a pile, miles away (where it's unclear if he will ever find them), topped with a small can of fruit. Do not include a can opener. 
If you love someone who has died - in this case, your wife - show that love by throwing your wedding ring and her picture into a river. 
And so on. 
Teach these things to your son.
Oh, I know, the movie isn't saying that people should behave this way. It's just showing you how two people - Man and Boy - did behave, because, you know, apocalypse.

Live is tough and then you shoot your son.

As an antidote to this awful film, read any Golden Age or even New Wave science fiction story about people trying to survive an apocalyptic event. True, the heroes of these stories are not always moral paragons (which, of course, in and of itself is fine), and the moral messages are often odd - consider, for example, the creepy pro-incest banter in Heinlein's Farnham's Freehold - but at least these are stories with interesting characters and plots, and the authors try to model actual behavior, or at least interesting behavior.

I recommend Fritz Leiber's short story, A Pail of Air.

Compared to The Road, Thomas Disch's hopeless The Genocides is a joyous walk in a beautiful park.

If you're flipping around on Netflix and encounter The Road, don't do it.

You want a bleak tail of people trying to survive a grueling trek through gray and rainy woods? Watch The Barkley Marathons.

Crossposted at Save Versus All Wands.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Can Le Pen Win? Yes. Will She Win? No.

On the eve of the French presidential election, an average of polls puts Emmanuel Macron ahead of Marine Le Pen, 61% to 39%. That's a massive gap.

To give some perspective, in Donald Trump's "upset" win in November, he beat the polls by only 2% in the popular vote. Le Pen will have to beat them by ten times that.

Nothing like that has ever happened in modern French politics. In the last eight presidential elections, the average polling error has been 4%, and the most the polls have ever been off was 8.4%. That was in 2002, when Jacques Chirac beat Marine's father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, 82% to 18%, a victory margin substantially larger then the polls had predicted.

An interesting article at FiveThirtyEight, points out that errors of 20% or more do happen occasionally. When Bernie Sanders upset Hillary Clinton in the Michigan Democratic Primary, he beat the polls by 22%. Interestingly, that's exactly what Le Pen needs to do.

But such examples are extremely rare.

To do that, Le Pen will need a much higher number than predicted of deliberate abstentions - people who did not vote for Le Pen in the first round but refuse to cast a vote for Macron - along with getting an almost unheard of proportion of undecided voters to go her way and/or people doing the opposite of what they told pollsters. That this didn't happen in the first round - if anything, Le Pen slightly underperformed polls and expectations - does not bode well for Le Pen.

By almost all accounts, Le Pen did badly in the final debate, looking weirdly smug against a personable Macron. A last minute "dump" of hacked emails from the Macron campaign, allegedly containing all sorts of negative information - some of which the Macron campaign has declared to be falsified - came too late to matter, and may have even stirred up sympathy for Macron. It's essentially been embargoed by the French media, in any case. And, as of this writing, France is entering a twenty-four hour period in which all discussion and reporting on the election is prohibited by law.

Curiously, the prediction markets still give Le Pen a 15% or so chance of winning, a probability much higher than what her low standing in the polls should justify. The markets seem to know something that we don't, but what that is is unclear. It translates into Le Pen having an outside chance, not no chance but an outside chance - a chance equivalent to rolling a one on a six-sided die.

One in six.

Stranger things have happened.

But usually they don't.

UNBELIEVABLE: Eliud Kipchoge Unofficially Smashes Marathon World Record, Narrowly Missing 2-Hour Barrier, as Part of Nike Breaking2 Project

Eliud Kipchoge relaxes after crossing the finish line

A few minutes ago, 2016 Olympic Marathon Gold Medalist Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, unofficially smashed the marathon world record at a Nike "Breaking2" run on the Formula One race track in Monza, Italy.

Two other runners, Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia and Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea, also competed in and finished the run, though falling many minutes short of Kipchoge's time.

Kipchoge ran 2:00:25, 2 minutes and 32 seconds faster than the official marathon record of 2:02:57, lowering the fastest marathon time by more than 2%.

Percentage-wise, it's the greatest leap in marathon times since Sergei Popov ran a 2:15:17 in 1952, bettering the previous mark of 2:18:04.

However, the time will not count as an "official" world record, as, among other things, it featured a rotating group of pacers, jumping in and out, in "arrowhead" formation in front of the three runners.

Most world-class marathons now feature pacers, but they must start with the other runners.

Nevertheless, Kipchoge's effort was an amazing performance that shocked many observers.

The aim of the Nike Breaking2 project was to apply state-of-the-art scientific analysis to train a small group of elite runners to try to break the 2:00:00 marathon barrier. Among other things, a revolutionary new type of shoe was designed. While the "goal" was to run a sub two-hour marathon, I suspect that very few believed that could actually be achieved or achieved now. Kipchoge came close, staying on two-hour pace for more than half of the race.

While many (including me) were skeptical of the effort at first, Kipchoge's incredible time indicates that it's very possible if not probable that Kipchoge or another runner will soon break the world record in an official race. And the two-hour mark, formally thought of as an almost mythically unachievable mark, now actually seems within reach.

In an interview after the race, Kipchoge was asked how it felt to have put himself only twenty-five seconds away from a sub-two-hour marathon, the 32-year-old Olympic champion graciously turned the question around and said that the world was now only twenty-five seconds away.

Friday, May 5, 2017

The Pope's Racist New Video

Africans have a certain joie de vivre. God bless their little hearts.

This blog previously noted the odd absence or rarity of black people in many of the Pope Videos, as well as the cringeworthy stereotypes - one video features a white family swimming in a nice pool vs. a black family wearing grass skirts and standing in front of a hut (the father is clutching a spear).

The new Pope Video features mostly black people.

Black people fighting each other.

The video condemns the "fratricidal wars" in Africa, and asks Christians in Africa to "give prophetic witness to reconciliation, justice, and peace.”

That Christians anywhere should always bear such witness is obviously a given.

But, believe it or not, the continent of Africa is actually a more peaceful place than it has been at any time in recent history.

The four most horrific wars, in terms of the number of casualties, of the last 50 years were fought in Africa, and that continent also played host to the worst incident of genocide in a generation.

Those conflicts came into being due to a variety of different causes, and involved a number of different ideologies and motives, including Marxism, anti-colonialism, Islam, ethnic differences and outright bloody non-ideological competition to capture or hold onto government power.
  • 2nd Congo War (1998-2003) - 2.5 to 5.5 million dead
  • Biafra (1967-1970) - 1 to 3 million dead
  • Ethiopian Civil War (1974-1991) - 500,000 to 1.5 million dead
  • Angolan Civil War (1975-2002) - 500,000 dead
  • Rwandan Genocide (1994) - 500,000 to 1 million dead
See, black people are pretty violent.

Almost as violent as white people.

Though the Asians have often given both of them a run.

Thankfully, those African wars are now in the past.

But, as we all know, Africa is currently far from peaceful.

What the Pope did not mention is that the common denominator of most of the current wars, civil wars and terrorist insurgencies in Africa is radical Islam. The growing or ongoing conflicts in North Africa, North-West Africa, Nigeria and Somalia all pit Islamic rebels and terrorists against non-Muslim, mixed religion or more "moderate" Muslim governments. And perhaps the most prominent conflict to not include a large Muslim element - the civil war in South Sudan - grew out of hostilities initiated by Islamic forces.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood and now ISIS in Egypt
  • Al Qaeda and ISIS in Libya, Tunisia and Algeria
  • Al Qaeda, ISIS and Muslim rebels in Mali, Mauritania and the Central African Republic
  • Boko Haram in Nigeria, Northern Cameroon, Niger and Chad
  • Al Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya
If Islamist fighters across Africa were to suddenly throw down their arms and renounce their claims to forcibly impose Sharia (or, a much more likely alternative, were, by some miracle, to be simultaneously defeated), Africa would experience an almost unprecedented era of relative peace.

Would there still be violent conflicts in Africa, as well as the threat of new ones? Of course. Unfortunately, even just victories over evil ideologies - the defeat of the Nazis in WW2 and of Soviet Marxism in the Cold War being among the most famous examples - don't guarantee permanent justice and peace. New evils will always arise.

But standing back from the current conflicts in Africa and merely labeling them all "fratricide" is grossly ignorant at best and racist at worst.

As if they were all caused by arms merchants.

Or, you know, the untamed impulses of those primitive darkies.

Though in that same video, the Pope does claim that Africans also have a certain "joie de vivre."

I'm not making that up.

And here's another thing I'm not making up - the words of then Archbishop Bergoglio, speaking on the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War:
We come to pray for all who have fallen, sons of the homeland who went out to defend their mother, the homeland, and to reclaim what is theirs, that is of the homeland, and it was usurped.
White people often fight good wars, you see. Or, at least, white Argentinians do.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

How Affirmative Action Turned Kendrex White Into a Killer

Yesterday, 21-year-old University of Texas at Austin junior Kendrex White went on a stabbing spree, attacking at least four students, killing one of them.
But yeah me and [deleted] were eating at cilantros truck at a long picnic table. Then at the end of the table some guy comes up in a bandana and stabs the knife into the table and looks all of us in the eye. I thought it was just some theatrical stunt or something tbh..He pulls the knife out without saying anything and turns around to slash some guy in the back of the neck. The slash victim grans the back of his neck and yells (people look at him and I await some "gotcha statement). But then....The attacker walks to another guy and stands him in like the kidney region in his back. Some guy yells run and we all bold to mccombs.
By most accounts White had previously seemed normal and even "nice," although he had appeared a bit stressed or depressed recently. His Twitter account is filled with friendly tweets and jokes. It's true that there are frequent links to gangsta videos and memes, along with many uses of the word "nigga," but I assume this is fairly standard among his peers - most of them are retweets that had obviously been making the rounds. There are also many links to Bible quotes about love.

A pinned tweet, put up last year, is a gangsta GIF - "Nigga be you, fuck to be cool." Underneath, is the last tweet he made, a few hours before the attack. It reads "Yahushua," the preferred name for God among certain Christian/Jewish sects, some of them quasi-black supremacist.

According to his Twitter profile, White was a biology major and pre-med who hoped to become a doctor. He was a member of the Black Health Professionals Organization.

The University of Texas is the US News and World Report 56th ranked school in the country, and according to one source, has the 2nd most competitive undergraduate program in Texas.

White had no business attending UT.

I'm basing that partly on an online Prezi presentation he made as a freshman or sophomore. The presentation was put up on July 9, 2015, the last day of classes for the first Summer course term at UT. It was titled "The controversy of Racism and Police brutality in America."

Before they take it down, I'm going to reprint it here, in full:

The video shows black parents giving their black children "The Talk" about the police

This video was taken down. I have no idea of its original contents.
A few commentators have already pointed to the presentation, with its references to racism, police profiling and the Ferguson riots, to argue that White was being indoctrinated to hate the police or white people, etc. But my purpose is not to argue that. Pretty much all American college students these days are victims of this sort of indoctrination attempt. Many are influenced by it; some see through it; others ignore it or play along to get good grades or whatever. It's simply a fact of contemporary college life.

Rather, I want to draw attention to how childlike, crude and simple White's "Prezi" was. Given the date, I assume it was some sort of final presentation for the class. And I assume (though I don't know this) that it earned him a passing grade. He went on to complete his sophomore year and then begin his junior year.

That it was a final presentation for a freshman or sophomore class at a relatively high-ranked college is grotesque. It would have been out of place as a freshman high-school presentation.

My almost six-year-old daughter could almost have put it together. Your young son or daughter could have, too.

And by grotesque, I'm not criticizing White for it - even though we now know he turned into a murderer - but rather I'm referring to his teachers, who condescendingly demanded and expected so little from their Affirmative Action students in the guise of "helping" them.

So, Kendrex White had no business studying at UT, let alone being a pre-med there. I assume that eventually, after wasting three years of his life on the supposed doctor track, he himself realized this. He wasn't going to make it.

But why? Who did this to him? Why did they lead him on and then pull the rug out? Why were other students, white students, perhaps, apparently succeeding when he had failed?

He'd fix that. Someone would pay.

Or so goes one theory. I think it's largely true.

Do not misunderstand. Most of us, experience major disappointments in life, and sometimes we believe, rightly or wrongly, that they were a result of unfairness or injustice towards us. But most of us don't go on murderous stabbing sprees to make up for them. Kendrex White is fully responsible for what he did.

But I think that what he did is an example - an extreme example, of course - of what Affirmative Action does to many black Americans. The title of my post was meant to be provocative. I obviously don't believe that Affirmative Action generally turns black people into mass stabbers. But in this case, it just might have.

And it has nothing to do with the color of anyone's skin per se, but everything to do with an institutionalized system that sets a certain class of people - in this case, people who happen to have certain skin color - up for failure.

Imagine that at every turn, you were given a sort of break, always advanced ahead of where your abilities or attainments would have otherwise placed you. If you noticed that your peers were constantly outperforming you (as they naturally would if you were always put into a competitive category above where you should have been) you are told, implicitly or explicitly, that this is only temporary. Perhaps the standard measurements underestimate you, for one reason or another. Or perhaps there's something else - racism? - that's making you consistently fall short of your peers. Now imagine that you come to a point where you aren't given that break - you finally have to take the tough biology course where they can't just waive you through - or take some sort of standardized test - the MCAT's, perhaps. So, you fail. Not because you're inherently stupid to lazy or anything like that, but because the whole way along people who claimed to be helping you were consistently mismatching you by placing you where you didn't belong, or at least, didn't belong yet.

I think you would be frustrated, perhaps even angry. I certainly would be.

Over forty years ago, the economist Thomas Sowell argued that Affirmative Action caused black students to be consistently mismatched at all levels. Among other things, he looked at the abnormally high dropout rates of blacks at elite schools, including Berkeley. Sowell's point was not that black students were inherently likelier to drop out of school, but that the phenomenon was the natural result of policies that systematically placed them, so too speak, over their heads. Those students who scored 350 on their SAT's were placed in schools that were at the 500 level. Those that scored 500 went to schools at the 650 level, and so on.

Now, of course, the process can continue, sometimes almost indefinitely. A mismatch doesn't always mean failure, and you can often continue to the next stage. But in many cases - though certainly not all - things will catch up. You graduate but then can't cut it in law school. Or you make it through law school but can't cut it at the law firm.

And again remember, not cutting it law school simply means not cutting it at the level of law school you shouldn't have been admitted to in the first place, given your abilities. You might have done just fine, one step down.

Indeed, if they hadn't tried to "help" you, you might have been a successful lawyer from a 20th ranked law school. Instead, you're a failure at Harvard.

Or you could have excelled at community college, and then perhaps have gone on from there. Instead you're a washout at UT.

Affirmative Action has been one of the greatest disasters of modern liberal social engineering, not because it's unfair to whites - although in a sense it is - but because it's unfair and damaging, tragically so, for so many blacks.

To say nothing of how it damages race relations as a whole.

It would be wrong to now call Kendrex White a victim - the victims yesterday were obviously the innocent people he attacked - but let's just say that others who probably went through similar experiences to what he went through, and who didn't convert their frustrations into violence, might have a bit of a claim.

And again, it doesn't have to turn out badly. Read Michelle Obama's turgid and awkward senior thesis at Princeton. It also appears wildly out of place - if a bit better than the work of a child, it's not exactly what one would expect from an Ivy League pre-law student. Michelle Robinson would fail out of a couple law firms before meeting her husband and living happily ever after. And, of course, Barack Obama would partly parlay his Affirmative Action breaks into winning the highest office in the country. So, yeah, sometimes Affirmative action works.

It didn't with Kendrex White.

Kendrex White's teachers, and their fellow Affirmative Action enablers will of course never blame themselves. Who needs to, when you can always blame "racism."

Or Donald Trump.