Auto Added by WPeMatico

Books I am reading now


Utopia is Creepy, and other provocations, by Nicholas Carr

A series of excellent blog posts of essay quality by the former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review. If you feel as I do that most of what passes as novel and revolutionary in Silicon Valley is twaddle, and is heading us into a totalitarian state, this is your book. Internet 2.0 – remember that? If yes, you now know it meant nothing. If no, you cannot remember Internet 2.0, it illustrates the importance of not paying much attention to buzzwords out of the Bay area. Carr was the guy who first saw contributors to Facebook as “digital sharecroppers”, where the only person to reap the economic value of everyone working for free was Mark Zuckerberg. It is a better book than I have described here.


The Sympathizer, by Viet Thanh Nguyen 

This book deservedly won the Pulitzer prize. Here we have found a true son of the English language in this Vietnamese emigré. A biting satire about a South Vietnamese secret police officer of cultivated tastes who reports to his bosses in the North, after the escape from Vietnam to California. Droll, ironic, high-spirited, and scathing, though it never ceases to be funny. Quite an accomplishment.

Russia at War (1941-1945) by Alexander Werth

Alexander Werth was a British journalist of German-Russian origin. I recall Professor Vogel praising it back in 1968 at McGill, and I finally came across a copy. It fulfills every expectation of history and good reportage. The book contains many first hand accounts of what he saw, or was allowed to see, of the Russian front. Though Werth was a left-wing journalist, you will not be led astray by his hopes for the Soviet Union, or by what he recounts. That the Russians raped their way through Germany at the end of the war will become better understood if you read this dreadful account.

The Evolution of Beauty: How Darwin’s forgotten theory of mate choice shapes the animal world, and us, by Richard O. Prum

Everyone acts as if Darwin had devised only one theory of evolution when in fact he devised two: natural and sexual selection. I cannot tell you much about it yet, but if it turns out to be half as good as Geoffrey Miller’s The Mating Mind of 2001 or Jared Diamond’s Why is Sex Fun?  of 1998, the book will be important. My theory of sexual selection is that Darwin found that natural selection could not explain the speed or directedness of human evolution: why we got so smart, so fast, and bravely set out to explain how that could have come about by mutual choice of each sex for certain characteristics in the other. My brief glimpses into Prum’s book assures me that he disposes quickly of some contemporary rubbish about sexuality.

Behave: The Biology of Humans at our Best and Worst, by Robert Sapolsky

Too soon to tell, but it looks to be a powerful work of a wide-ranging intellect and great writing style.

Evolution is rapid and happening now: everyone take a valium



Chris D. Thomas is an English biologist. His book, “Inheritors of the Earth: How Nature is Thriving in an Age of Extinction”, takes a line wholly contrary to that of eco-catastrophists. His argument is particularly effective because he adopts the orthodox view that humans are causing significant global warming. It makes no difference to your appreciation of this book whether you may be a skeptic of or a believer in anthropogenic global warming.

His argument is simple and based in plenty of observations. Animals and plants adapt by moving. Humans assist that movement greatly. Animals and plants hybridize, interbreed, form new variants, new species, new ways of living. This adaptation is happening right now, all over the world. For every species we have wiped out – usually predators and prey larger than us – we have assisted the creation of many more new species and hybrids. This is what nature does, and we humans are powerfully assisting those processes.

Thomas believes that we are living through the most rapid period of evolution since the aftermath of the extinction of the dinosaurs 66 million years ago. “We are living through a period of  the rapid formation of new populations, races and species” (at p.197)

He justly derides most efforts of humans to stop “invasive” species. He says there is no reason to believe that species should stay frozen in place where they were when Europeans “discovered” them in the 17 and 18 hundreds.

What applies to plants and animals, applies to us humans. As we spread across the world, we separated into different races, bred with Neanderthals and Denisovans, and became more different from each other, not less.  (Your genetic make-up is most likely to be about 2.5% Neanderthal if you have not recently been African).

“This separation into many different species could have been our destiny, had it not been for the torrent of human movement around the world that we have seen in recent times, the consequence of which is that the world’s human genes are ending up back in one big Pangean melting pot.”

Later, at page 213:

“We must contemplate life as a never ending sequence of events, not as a single fixed image of how it looks today. This dynamic perspective of life on Earth allows us to put aside most of our doom-laden rhetric and recognize that the changes that we see around us, including those that have been directly or indirectly engineered by people, are not fundamentally better or worse thanthe ones that went before….We do not need to fix things simply because they are different.”

In a curious way Thomas is saying much the same thing as Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending did in The 10,000 Year Explosion: How Civilization Accelerated Human Evolution”, which was published in 2009. Harpending and Cochran dealt with human evolution exclusively, and asserted that it had to be accelerating as population densities increased.

They wrote:

The explosion is ongoing; Human evolution didn’t stop when anatomically modern humans appeared, or when they expanded out of Africa. It never stopped – and why would it? Evolutionary stasis requires a static environment, whereas behavioral modernity is all about innovation and change. Stability is exactly what we have not had. This should be obvious, but instead the human sciences have labored under the strange idea that evolution stopped 40,000 years ago.” (p.226)

The argument of Chris Thomas is that humans have had, and continue to have, irreversible effects on nature, and that there is no place on earth where our influence has failed to reach. More importantly, there is no “ought to be” in how species move, adapt, die out, hybridize, or prosper. Thomas warns against  the common attitude of many biologists that humans are uniquely responsible for trying to arrest the millions of changes by which plants, animals, and humans adapt to the changes we are working on the planet.

‘No change’ is not an option when we contemplate the future: our choices are all about the direction and speed of future change. (at page 219)

Everyone lies about porn, and everything else too

Study shows:

The popular feminist narrative would have you believe that porn is largely consumed by men, and that depictions of violent — or at least rough — sex would be a primarily male-dominated interest.

This is untrue, states researcher Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, who says that porn featuring violence against women is significantly more popular among women compared to men.

His findings might explain the popularity of the BDSM-heavy “Fifty Shades of Grey” series of novels among female readers.

Speaking to Vox in an interview about how Google data proves that most Americans lie about their sexual preferences, the researcher and author of “Everybody Lies” asserts that more women enjoy the genre compared to male porn watchers — despite common sense and politically correct claims to the contrary.

Going to the Vox article from which this was drawn, we find it gets weirder.

Among other things, Stephens-Davidowitz’s data suggests that there are more gay men in the closet than we think; that many men prefer overweight women to skinny women but are afraid to act on it; that married women are disproportionately worried their husband is gay; that a lot of straight women watch lesbian porn; and that porn featuring violence against women is more popular among women than men.

Everybody Lies, by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, is available from Amazon. Seth Stephens-Davidowitz is a Harvard-trained economist, former Google data scientist, and New York Times writer. The last item should not deter your reading of the book. Big data is answering some questions that no one has an interest in telling the truth about.

Now, if only this kind of material could come to the attention of the Supreme Court, we might start to get some sensible rulings on pornography.

The facts of life


A friend once said about Islam: “I don’t know what it is theologically, or religiously, but at the operational level it is hysteria about the facts of life.” He said this after being in Nigeria for a couple of years, and watching and comparing the behaviour of Muslims, Christians and pagans in a multi-religious society.

The Abrahamic idea of God is of an absolute, and with the Muslims, God is conceived in the most remote, all-powerful version. The Christian version postulates the same degree of power, but it is a vision of the Deity infused with love for His creatures, and a will to abide by His own laws. No such compunctions constrain the power of a willful Allah, who recognizes no laws to bind his immaculate will.

But this is not a sermon on the difference between Christianity, Islam and Judaism.

It is a brief meditation on the difference between all three of them and pagan thought and behaviour. We have the Jews to thank for the idea that the world is fundamentally divided into clean and unclean things. Sexual practices are especially unclean. In the words of the 39 Articles of Religion, number nine:

“And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust of itself hath the nature of sin.”

Concupiscence refers to longing for what God has commanded us not to yearn for.

In case you are in any doubt the  word refers to the desire for any form of sex between people not lawfully married, and until a few years ago it referred especially to homosexual activities.

Pagans, by contrast, have never been told about sin, particularly the sins of the flesh. How can there even be sins of the flesh? For a pagan a sin of the flesh is an impossibility. Why would the body’s making mucus or bile be a matter of sin? The body has its needs and there’s an end to it. If you need sex, you get it. Man, boy, woman, girl: it is a matter of taste, occasion and society, but not of sin.

When the Japanese westernized in the latter part of the 19th century, they thought that they needed to adopt all of the Western penal codes. So they had to invent – I am serious –  a term for “homosexuality” because they had until then no separate term for the practice. It was just all undifferentiated sex to them, before their contact with legal systems founded in Abrahamic faith.

So when I read in the paper about a gay orgy in the Vatican being interrupted by police, I cannot help feeling that religions founded on a distrust of the body get themselves into huge and unnecessary trouble.

Blame it on St Augustine. I am with Pelagius. 

That is, while I accept the need for prevenient grace,  I do not think we are fundamentally engaged in sin for lusting and being subject to sexual desire, any more than when our bodies produce blood, mucus, sperm or bile.  Lust should be thought of as appropriate or inappropriate, as the case may be, but not as something that separates us from God more than, say, picking our noses or excreting.  Augustine never got over his original Manichaeism. But I am off-topic.

Gay orgies at the Vatican are nothing new. Nor is revulsion at the hypocrisy of a formally celibate priesthood behaving badly. A married priesthood would solve a number of problems. But more important would be a change of doctrine as regards the status of lust as the road to sin.

Now I can go to David Warren and find out why I am wrong. I shall be checking the Catholic blogs today for comments on the situation.

“In China, you cannot criticize the government, but you can criticize Darwin”

Said a Chinese paleontologist:

“In China you cannot criticize the government, but you can criticize Darwin. In the United States, you can criticize the government, but you cannot criticize Darwin.”

One of the books pushed aside by Whittaker Chambers’ Witness has been “Darwin’s Doubt”, by Stephen C. Meyer, which I have now resumed. I confess that, the more I read into Darwin and Darwinism, and I read a lot about Darwinism, it is evident that:

  • He published two entirely distinct theories of evolution, natural selection and sexual selection.
  • He published “The Descent of Man, or Selection in Relation to Sex” thirteen years after “The Origin of Species”.
  • Accordingly, natural selection is not a complete theory of evolution. A complete theory explains all the facts in its purview. The Origin of Species does not pretend to do so.
  • The fact that Darwin published two distinct theories means that he did not consider that natural selection is a complete theory of evolution. (This is to his credit as a serious scientist).
  • It follows that, if two theories of evolution have been promulgated by the greatest biologist of the 19th century, there may be more mechanisms or explanations for evolution.

The longer you look into the question, as a lawyer examining evidence, the more you are compelled to conclude that the case for the origin of species in naturalistic or purely materialist theories is unproven. The Darwinian case is plausible; it is not proven. Nor can such a thing ever be proven. It can be argued, and argued persuasively, but it is beyond human capacity to prove,

Natural selection cannot be a “fact” in the sense in which that philosophical illiterate Richard Dawkins speaks. It is and will always remain a theory, more or less – I would argue less – plausibly demonstrated. Evolution may be an observed fact, but whether it occurs through natural selection exclusively or by other causes is, as Darwin attested,  an answered question. It occurs by at last two forces: natural and sexual. Whether there is a third or fourth cause of evolution has not been established, but in principle it cannot be ruled out.

And we get this far merely by noting that Darwin promoted at last two theories of the causes of evolution of species.

When will people take account of this obvious fact? If two theories were promulgated by Darwin maybe

a) natural selection was thought insufficient by the Master himself;

b) maybe a third or fourth explanation is equally available

We can get this far without any discussion of intelligent design whatever.

Now you may be ready for this movie.

In the United States, you can criticize the government, but you cannot criticize Darwin. I recall Francis Bacon saying that if he had the ability, he would burn all of Aristotle. I understand now why he wanted to do so. It was not Aristotle, it was the position that the Church had put him in. And Darwin has been similarly quasi-deified by a materialist establishment.


Elon Musk on artificial intelligence

Forty years ago I argued that the idea that we would travel through space in ships (mechanical canisters) to find extra-terrestrial intelligence was one of the dumbest ideas ever, and that it would seem to future humans to have been incredibly culture-bound mechanistic idea. I suggested that the way we would first start to experience aliens was through computers.

Well, dear readers, Elon Musk agrees with me.

The business magnate, who was being interviewed by Mohammad Abdulla Alergawi, the Minister of Cabinet Affairs and the Future for the UAE, told the slightly perplexed crowd: “One of the most troubling questions is artificial intelligence. I don’t mean narrow A.I  – deep artificial intelligence, where you can have AI which is much smarter than the smartest human on earth. This is a dangerous situation.”

He also warned world governments: “Pay close attention to the development of artificial intelligence.

“Make sure researchers don’t get carried away – scientists get so engrossed in their work they don’t realise what they are doing.”

When asked if he thought A.I was a good or a bad thing Musk said: “I think it is both.

“One way to think of it is imagine you were very confident we were going to be visited by super intelligent aliens in 10 years or 20 years at the most.

 “Digital super intelligence will be like an alien.”

They are getting smarter

Wolves in Banff National Park have been reported to have approached a park employee and chased him a short distance as he roared off on a snowmobile.


“The snow-making equipment is loud, the ski-doo is loud, so the fact that they didn’t seem to be deterred by that is a concern,” he told Postmedia.

“It could have been curious behaviour, it could have just been an instinctual response to follow something that was moving away, or it could have been more aggressive than that — we don’t know.”

The pack has been involved in several incidents this year that have worried parks officials.

In June two wolves from the pack, including the alpha female, were killed by wildlife officials after they boldly approached campers at the Tunnel Mountain and Two Jack Lake campgrounds.”

Considering that the death penalty is imposed for even approaching humans, they are bold indeed. There are times when I think that the death penalty should be imposed on certain classes of criminal for the same  reason. But that would involve a decision that some anthropoids walking on two legs are not really human, and we will not go there today, if ever.

And on a more serious note, those who feed wolves are condemning innocent creatures to death. Do not do it.

Bacon and eggs



The basis of any proper breakfast is fats and sugars, with additions of protein and caffeine. Fruits may supply your sugars if you are that way inclined, but  for me, sugar in my coffee serves as well. As for fats, the most obvious source is bacon, which has the added virtue of being a pleasure denied to observant Jews and Muslims. Thus you can enjoy a sense of sinning against political correctness as you chow down on your morning strips of bacon. Bonus!

Unfortunately, the cause of bacon has suffered in recent decades because of the cholesterol scam, in which our health was supposed to have been menaced by animal fats per se, rather than by excessive meat consumption coupled with smoking and inactivity.

Smoking and inactivity will kill you younger than almost any combination of ingested substances: it may even be more deadly in combination than breathing asbestos.

By this time we should be aware that the original cholesterol study was as factually sound as global warming studies are today. Countries whose mortality rates and causes of death that did not conform to the preconceived outcome were excluded. The people measured were survivors of World War 2, many of whom had gone through the war and the Depression. Then they reached post-war prosperity and were dying young of heart attacks. They smoked like chimneys, as people did in those days. On the basis of this pseudo science, where association is causation, a fifty-year-long campaign by the vegetable oil industry was launched, the effect of which is still with us.The American Heart Institute, which lobbies for the cholesterol boogey-man, is funded by the vegetable oil producers.

We are still convinced that animal fats are dangerous to health, even when they are not.

The cholesterol narrative ( a polite word for mularkey) had to be modified, and by now it has been abandoned, even if your physician still clings to it. The story of good and bad cholesterols fighting it out for dominance in your blood stream is  attractive; it allows doctors to bully you into diets for which your body may not well adapted. The Mediterranean diet may well work for people of Mediterranean descent. It does not work for me. A diet rich in meats is appropriate for people who live in countries where the cold requires fires and insulation for many months of the year. A diet without cheap carbohydrates is required for any aboriginal culture that knew only meat, fruit and berries until the coming of the white man. Look at the obesity in Pacific Islanders or Canadian aboriginals, and you can see a problem that a diet normal for some humans is inappropriate for peoples unaccustomed to starches and alcohol. Both drugs and diets vary in their effectiveness according to our biochemical inheritance, which has been shaped by what we have eaten for millennia.

One of the considerable pleasures of a recent visit to Austria, Slovenia and northern Italy was the presence of cold cuts. It is thought perfectly normal to serve a dinner or snack composed of slices of prosciutto, ham, salamis, and cheeses, with maybe a carved carrot for colour. Pickles and horse radish composed the vegetables. Beer and schnapps supplied the alcohol. For this carnivore, it was heavenly. To find an entire food culture that is not obsessed with eating vegetables was a revelation.

Back to bacon in this country. Fat supplies and carries the flavour. One of the effects of the cholesterol scare was the progressive breeding of pigs to have less fat. The effects on Canadian (and American) pigs has been the breeding of dry, largely flavourless pork. To eat pork in Europe was to be reminded that it can be a delicious, flavourful experience. We eat beef with fat, why not pork?

One of the food movements that bears watching is the restoration of the pig to an honoured place in the pantheon of meat. As you have the power as a consumer to summon forth what you want, try exploring the butcheries of the nation for fatter, more tasty pork. A trivial increase in your food spending can have gigantic effects on what is available to eat. The relative abundance of patés, cheeses, local wines, and local breeds of meat can be affected by what you insist upon at the meat counter.




Matt Ridley on global greening



Matt Ridley’s address to the Global Warming Policy Foundation must be read by people concerned to find a sane view of global warming, climate change, and what the arguments are.

We’re told that it’s impertinent to question “the science” and that we must think as we are told. But arguments from authority are the refuge of priests.

Thomas Henry Huxley put it this way: “The improver of natural knowledge absolutely refuses to acknowledge authority, as such. For him, scepticism is the highest of duties; blind faith the one unpardonable sin.”

What keeps science honest, what stops it from succumbing entirely to confirmation bias, is that it is decentralized, allowing one lab to challenge another.

That’s how truth is arrived at in science, not by scientists challenging their own theories (that’s a myth), but by scientists disputing each other’s theories.

These days there is a legion of well paid climate spin doctors. Their job is to keep the debate binary: either you believe climate change is real and dangerous or you’re a denier who thinks it’s a hoax.

But there’s a third possibility they refuse to acknowledge: that it’s real but not dangerous. That’s what I mean by lukewarming, and I think it is by far the most likely prognosis.

I am not claiming that carbon dioxide is not a greenhouse gas; it is.

I am not saying that its concentration in the atmosphere is not increasing; it is.

I am not saying the main cause of that increase is not the burning of fossil fuels; it is.

I am not saying the climate does not change; it does.

I am not saying that the atmosphere is not warmer today than it was 50 or 100 years ago; it is.

And I am not saying that carbon dioxide emissions are not likely to have caused some (probably more than half) of the warming since 1950.

I agree with the consensus on all these points.

I am not in any sense a “denier”, that unpleasant, modern term of abuse for blasphemers against the climate dogma, though the Guardian and New Scientist never let the facts get in the way of their prejudices on such matters. I am a lukewarmer.

Read the whole speech here.

Lovelock on the robot hypothesis

I once watched my neighbours – the tractors –  at work harvesting hay. Three of them were at work: one baling, one lifting the roundels of hay into a wagon, and one tractor pulling the wagon. As the tractors all had cabs, and the light fell just so, the humans were invisible. Thus it appeared that three giant machines were harvesting hay intelligently, with the assistance of the wagon and the the baler.


Think of that scene when you read James Lovelock’s latest interview in the Guardian. He says, in short:

  • man-caused global warming is rubbish
  • fracking is good, as is nuclear energy
  • and the robots will take over

The time taken for humans to think is about a million times longer than it takes for machines, such is the difference in the speed of our nervous systems. Thus the machines will probably perceive us like we perceive redwood trees: ancient and possibly to be venerated, or else turned into planks, depending on their attitude.

It is an amusing read.