All The More Reason

All aboard the reason plane
June 29, 2007, 2:11 am
Filed under: Religion, Technology

I’m fascinated by planes. I can remember as a child living by an airport for a few months and happily watching the planes coming in to land one after another. They would fly in so close I could wave to the passengers and at least plausibly imagine that they could see me and wave back. Never did I lose that amazement in watching a plane come into land. It was an awesome expression of grace and power.

The following is a link to a 747 landing in Hong Kong. What would be my first reaction if I were teleported into that plane flying into Hong Kong and asked to land it?


Perhaps after a few quick prayers I might get down to tapping a few odometers and other knick knacks whilst gently pulling side to side on the controls “to get the feel” for the plane. I wouldn’t like our chances of landing the plane in one piece. Let us be clear though, I would like our chances better if I took the 4 seconds to say a quick prayer – even if it were to Pegasus or the Wright Brothers. Interestingly, the pilots in the video don’t seem to be praying at all. Perhaps this is because they’ve had a lot of technical training and understand how a plane works.

This need for prayer in desperate times seems to be deeply innate in how we are made. Even the kernel of the idea found in the previous sentence has been used as an argument for the existence of God! Still, I’m starting to believe that the more and more we can find the clashing of reason and faith in our world and in ourselves the better we can understand ourselves and our environs.



Ian Buruma
June 26, 2007, 6:02 pm
Filed under: Bernard Kouchner, Ian Buruma, Israeli / Palestinian, The Guardian

There is an unwritten rule of argument which states that once X is compared to ‘Hitler’ or ‘the Nazis’, X wins the quarrel by default. It’s a theme that Ian Buruma latches onto in his latest piece for The Guardian, attacking the hackneyed applause-line of Benjamin Netanyahu that ‘this is 1938 and Iran is Germany’: “Revolutionary Islamism is undoubtedly dangerous and bloody.”, admits Buruma, “yet analogies with the Third Reich, though highly effective as a way of denouncing people whose views one disagrees with, are usually false.

Leaving to one side the wisdom of Buruma’s decision to brush away the ‘Islamofascist’ label so readily, this cautioning against false analogy seems fair. A shame, then, that he succeeds in resorting to what I would regard as an equally crass piece of rhetorical laziness. Here, in the same article, is Buruma on Bernard Kouchner:

“Whatever one thinks of Kouchner’s policies, his motives are surely impeccable. The fact that many prominent Jewish intellectuals in Europe and the US – often, like Kouchner, with a leftist past – are sympathetic to the idea of using American armed force to further the cause of human rights and democracy may derive from the same wellspring. Any force is justified to avoid another Shoah, and those who shirk their duty to support such force are regarded as no better than collaborators with evil.”(my italics)

If false analogy with the Third Reich is a highly effective way of ‘denouncing’ people whose views one disagrees with, the parallel – and arguably more sinister – tendency of intellectuals to adorn their Jewish colleagues with this non-existent crutch is an equally effective way of dismissing their arguments. Buruma cites Kouchner’s claim that ‘the murder of his Russian-Jewish grandparents in Auschwitz inspired his humanitarian interventionism’, but that is a far cry from the italicised sentence, which, to the best of my knowledge, has never passed the lips of Kouchner or Wolfowitz (the absence of quotation marks would seem to support this assertion), and is not even a parody of how they might choose to express their feelings on the matter.

Luckily for Buruma, this lapse in taste proves to be attributable to muddle-headedness, rather than anything more unpalatable. How else to explain this directly contradictory caveat:

“Kouchner did not advocate western intervention in Bosnia or Kosovo because of Israel. If concern for Israel played a part in Paul Wolfowitz’s advocacy of war in Iraq, it was probably a minor one. Both men were motivated by common concerns for human rights and democracy, as well as perhaps by geopolitical considerations.

One should give Buruma some credit for accidentally hitting upon this grain of truth even if, by this stage in the article, his forensic style brings to mind a blind hen pecking for corn. The Holocaust is indeed the ‘wellspring’ from which much of the will to face up to, and halt, genocide has derived, but the sentiment of ‘never again’ – tragically trite in the shadow of Bosnia, Rwanda and, now, Darfur – is one that we feel equally keenly, not because of our particular sect, but because of our common concerns and our common humanity’.

It might be reasonable to argue that Israel’s fear of an existential threat from Iran is heightened because its people have known the odd existential threat in its time. However, to isolate ‘Jewish intellectuals’- presumably blinded by tears – as being ‘mysteriously trusting’ patsies for imperialism is troubling; particularly so at a time when a wholesale boycott* of Israeli academics threatens to choke off progressive Jewish voices by similarly casuistic reasoning. Were it not for fear of instantly losing the argument by default, I might have said that such a habit of fabricating and ventriloquizing the ‘motives’ of leading Jews brought to mind the tactics of you-know-who.

Michael P

*EDIT- More up to date link to information about the boycott, here. 

What’s in a name?
June 24, 2007, 8:47 pm
Filed under: Interesting Idea of the Week

On aldaily today I found this link to an article about baby names. The piece is filled with interesting developments in how people choose baby names as well as different laws in different countries. Here’s a quote that “shows to go” how far the quest to be different has come.

Academics say there’s been a demonstrable shift in the way people name children. In 1880, Social Security Administration data show that the 10 most popular baby names were given to 41% of boys and 23% of girls. But in 2006, just 9.5% of boys and roughly 8% of girls were given one of the year’s 10 most popular names —

I must say that my experience as a substitute teacher has introduced me to more names than I ever thought were possible. Often times the name will be quite similar to an older name, but with an l or r sprinkled here and there. Of course the more and more everyone tries to be different or special in naming their child the more and more similar it all becomes, non?


How Queer
June 24, 2007, 5:27 pm
Filed under: Religion, Sex, The Pope is Gay, Tony Blair

An unintentionally amusing aside from the Pope features in the Daily Mail’s report on Tony Blair’s recent visit to the Vatican:

Mr Blair, joined by his wife Cherie, presented Benedict with a framed set of three antique pictures of Cardinal Newman, who converted in 1845 after more than 20 years in the Church of England clergy and is now a candidate for sainthood.

Mrs Blair said: “I believe you are very familiar with him and he is on the journey to sainthood.”

To which the Pope responded: “Yes, yes, although it is taking some time – miracles are hard to come by in Britain.”

Well, quite.

How bizarre that Blair, who has not only voted for, but initiated, legislation on stem-cell research, gay rights* and the like should want to convert to a sect that is avowedly opposed to everything that he has argued for over the past ten years. Even more bizarre that the Vatican would consider granting his request. Still, never does any harm to have a bit of talent on the books, does it?

Michael P

*Since it is unlikely that Joseph Ratzinger is going to take out a libel suit against me I think it worth mentioning the story imparted to me by an Italian friend, better versed inVatican gossip than I, to the effect that His Holiness used to be in the habit (if you pardon the pun) of taking holidays with his male private secretary. More unsubstantiated and irresponsible speculation here.


Public Education and Private Funding
June 24, 2007, 2:41 am
Filed under: Education

Here’s an article discussing the potential for companies to have schools named after them.

“No one wants to go to Taco Bell High,” Ellen Dickson, chair of the Ottawa Carleton Assembly of School Councils, told the daily Ottawa Citizen.

Sure. And no one wants to go to a school that lacks plumbing either. Still, this kind of piece is quite high on the eyebrow raising barometer. What if Carlsberg wished to have a school named after them?


Shows to go you
June 24, 2007, 12:13 am
Filed under: Rhetoric

I’m not sure if there’s a term already for homophonic spoonerisms, but I stumbled upon this one today: shows to go you (or ya). Clearly the more common phrase is “goes to show you”. It strikes me as having enormous potential in popularity. The only other one I can think of off the top of my head is “do you for” instead of “do for you”.


On Environmentalism
June 23, 2007, 2:53 am
Filed under: Environment

Global warming seems to be the hot topic in environmentalism. Why do some topics curry favour faster than others? I watched a ripping documentary on the state of the European fisheries last night, and it cited the example of the Newfoundland fisheries. For those who are not aware, the Grand Banks off Newfoundland used to be the home of cod country. In the 1980s with the growth of certain technologies these areas were overfished to the point where, despite there being a moratorium for the last 14 year, the cod has never resurged. If Europe is not careful, it could face a similar fate in the decades to come. And yet this topic, and many others such as the state of fresh water, receive less attention than the current temperature of the earth. Could it really be as simple as the fact that these topics are less sexy and apocalyptic?