Tuesday, July 23, 2013

John, Stuart Mill

It occurs to me, that the reason I have never been able to finish the book, On Liberty, by John Stuart Mill, is that he has a habit, much maligned by authors these days, of putting commas in spots, which, to modern eyes, seem arbitrary or random; added to this, he writes as if he is constantly trying to win the award, for longest sentence possible. While his comma placement, is not, in fact, random; and while his sentences, are often quite well-linked up; these habits of writing, make it almost impossible for the modern reader to follow, what he is saying.

I am reminded of this, by Ilya Somin's recent linking, of "The Contest in America", an essay by Mill written in 1862, about the American Civil War.

One must wonder, if Mill was paid by the comma.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Victims of Communism Day

While I certainly agree with Ilya Somin that the victims of communism need a proper day of remembrance, I must disagree with the choice of May 1st.

As for why the victims of communism ought to be remembered, their staggering number speaks for itself. At the low end we're speaking of tens of millions, and the numbers grow daily even now, over two decades after the fall of the Iron Curtain.

As for why this is a need that is neglected in modern Western society, I challenge anyone with more than a hundred Facebook friends to post a "Lest We Forget the Victims of Communism: 100 Million Dead and Counting" status update on any day of the year. There are very good odds that someone will comment to the effect that 'true communism has never been tried'. This happens with such predictability that it is cliche, and yet it happens.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Kim of North Korea

Geoffrey Pullum has a new post up at Lingua Franca about the form of government in North Korea. The post's title says it all: King Jong-un [1]

Given that Julius Caesar's name became, over centuries, one of the world's most common ways of saying emperor, I can't help but wonder if people one day might refer to a hereditary head of state as a kim.

After all, who now thinks of quisling as referring to a Norwegian politician?[2]

[1] Which I always want to correct to Kim Jong Ier, but anyway.

[2] Answer: All of my friends who majored in history, me, and presumably the Norwegians.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Biofuels and Land Use

As quoted by the BBC, Isabelle Maurizi, the project manager of the European Biodiesel Board, said as a justification of a minimum 5% biofuel content in European transport fuels:
"If there was no biodiesel farmers would just make their land idle - no food, no feed!"
1) If animal farmers exert a high enough demand for animal feed, the fields will not go idle.

2) In no way can "We don't want this farmland to go to nature!" be considered an environmentalist slogan.

Monday, December 24, 2012


Personally, I like proselytization. I'm very much in the Penn Jillette school of atheists as far as that goes. If you sincerely believe I will suffer for all eternity if you don't convince me to put my trust in Jesus, you're kind of a dick if you don't at least make the attempt.[1]

That being said, as someone who has been handed religious literature from strangers on the street several times over the past few weeks, allow me to offer some free advice on the etiquette of proselytizing to nonbelievers. I don't mean to sound as if I am the height of politeness and good manners, but perhaps some words from someone who is at the receiving end of proselytization on a regular basis might help you, dear proselytizers, to avoid unpleasant and awkward experiences in the future.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

If You Don't Vote, Don't Worry

I don't hold with the idea that you have to vote or shut up about politics forever.
First, I've met enough of the vote-or-shut-up people over the years to know that a significant number will break their own rule. Hands up - how many people voted in the last municipal election? I thought so. Guaranteed that it won't stop the vote-or-shut-up people from talking about municipal politics if it gets sufficiently interesting, despite nobody ever going to vote in municipal elections.[1]

Second, simply speaking your mind with honesty is participating in the democratic process, cliche as it may sound. If you go and vote you have the weight of one vote. If you engage in conversation - even simple griping - you potentially move several votes or even the politicians' own opinions. Yes, the chance may be slight, but so is the chance that your vote will be the deciding vote.

Yes, continuing to support the institutions of democracy is important, and I encourage people to vote on that basis. But if for one reason or another you decide to give it a miss this time around, then by all means feel free to continue ranting about whoever's in power. 

Rest assured that I will continue to listen to - or, more likely, to ignore - your views about politics whether you vote or not.

[1] I've voted in every federal and provincial election since I was 18. Can't recall ever being bothered to research municipal politicans, and I refuse to go and vote if I'm going to vote blindly.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Protherian Conspiracies

Donald Prothero, on the subject of why gas prices are so high in California:
How did this happen? Who is really behind it?
As usual, the public and even the media are blaming the wrong people, with crazy conspiracy theories abounding.
Mr. Prothero goes on to point out, correctly, that politicians have little ability to affect short-term oil- and gas-prices. This point needs to be made regularly and often, particularly around election time. 
Unfortunately, that is all the skepticism Mr. Prothero has to provide in his blog post.