Thursday 31 January 2013

Mark Lynas sees the light

Just quickly noting environmental activist Mark Lynas' appearance on BBC's Hard Talk, in which he talked of his conversion: from fierce critic of GM foods, to supporter of them, based on the agreed science.
Of course the anti-GM mob are not taking this lying down.
A selection of links:
Mark Lynus' mea culpa on his own website.
And, for balance....
Critics of his mea culpa, with internal links to other reports:
Earth Island Journal
GM Watch

Interesting too, how when it's someone deemed to be "of the right", the support for GM food is simply dismissed.  When it's an old-time leftie, who was once against GM, when he recants, the mediascape is all over it.

He's also changed his mind on Nuclear, too, which he now supports.  Yay!

Wednesday 30 January 2013

Pollution in China

The main square, Tianamen, Central Beijing

The China Central TV building.  SCMP

Reports today that two-thirds of China is suffering pollution levels up to 20-times the recommended maxima.
Meantime, in Hong Kong, Christine Loh, the new Environment Secretary steps up with some practical steps.  [pdf].
I texted a mate who lives in Beijing.  Here's what he said....
Mate, I have simply blocked out thinking about pollution in Beijing for 26 odd years. But, have not been able to for the last 3 odd weeks. On some days it has been so bad that one could simply not go out. I walked the dog for half an hour one day an immediately got ganmao [flu]. That's how bad it has been. The government is under pressure about it and so they should be instead of lurching around harrassing their neighbours they should clean up at home

Monday 28 January 2013

Critic speaking the language of denial

My letter posted in South China Morning Post, Jan 26th...
Critic speaking the language of denial
Vaughan Rapatahana wonders why there is a fixation with "proficiency in English" ("Why this fixation with English?" January 21).
He is "flummoxed" by the assumption, which he claims is "without one iota of evidence, one shred of logic, or one scintilla of statistic [sic]". Well, here is some evidence: 80 to 90 per cent of scientific papers are in English, according toScience magazine, up from 60 per cent in the 1980s. Do we wish our students to cut themselves off from the growing majority of scientific knowledge accessible only in English? The students at the University of Hong Kong and Chinese University certainly don't think so, as studies in those universities indicate the importance their students place on knowledge of English - sufficient to learn from those papers.
In trade, English is pre- eminent to an even greater degree. Do we wish to close ourselves off from a main source of our income?
Of course , it's not a matter of knowing only English. It's a matter of being bilingual or multilingual in today's world and one of those languages must be English. There is adequate "evidence, logic and statistics" available to prove this by a simple internet search.
To deny it would be to deny Hong Kong one of its critical advantages and consign us to a backwater.
Peter Forsythe, Discovery Bay

Related: "How language shapes the mind", SCMP, 5 June 2011

Jefferson's Quran

This is old, but so well worth reading, from the inimitable, the late, Christopher Hitchens.

And from the surviving Hitchens frère, Peter, in Istambul, on the growing repression in the heart of "Eurabia".  Also an old piece, but also well worth a read or re-read, as Brussels continues to flirt with the idea of allowing into a weakened Union, an Islamically resurgent Turkey.

(Cleaning out my old papers....)

Friday 25 January 2013

The Taliban of Timbuktu

This article by Karima Bennoune is interesting.
BEFORE the recent French intervention in Mali began, 412,000 people had already left their homes in the country’s north, fleeing torture, summary executions, recruitment of child soldiers and sexual violence against women at the hands of fundamentalist militants. Late last year, in Algeria and southern Mali, I interviewed dozens of Malians from the north, including many who had recently fled. Their testimonies confirmed the horrors that radical Islamists, self-proclaimed warriors of God, have inflicted on their communities.
First, the fundamentalists banned music in a country with one of the richest musical traditions in the world. Last July, they stoned an unmarried couple for adultery. The woman, a mother of two, had been buried up to her waist in a hole before a group of men pelted her to death with rocks. And in October the Islamist occupiers began compiling lists of unmarried mothers.

Even holy places are not safe. These self-styled “defenders of the faith” demolished the tombs of local Sufi saints in the fabled city of Timbuktu. The armed groups also reportedly destroyed many churches in the north, where displaced members of the small Christian minority told me they had previously felt entirely accepted. Such Qaeda-style tactics, and the religious extremism that demands them, are completely alien to the mainstream of Malian Islam, which is known for its tradition of tolerance. [end/clip]

What's interesting here is that the people perpetrating these horrors are described variously as "radical Islamists", "fundamentalists", "self-styled 'defenders of the faith'", using "Qaeda-style tactics and ... religious extremism...", and so on.

In short, they are a bunch of extremist nutters. And nothing to do with peaceable Islam.  Which is tolerant.

But the fact is that it's these very religious nutters that are acting in complete accordance with the clear and unequivocal doctrines of Islam.  Yes, they are fundamentalist; but no, they are not extreme, not in terms of Islam.  They are simply carrying out its tenets.  Those secular and tolerant Malians are only so to the extent they don't follow the tenets of Islam.

Here's the evidence, from the standard manual of Islamic Jurisprudence, the Umdat al-Salik, authorised by the oldest and most authoritative university in Islam, Al-Azhar in Cairo.

Taking just a few items in the first para above, et. seq, and with references to the Umdat al Salik:

r40.1(1): "Allah Mighty and Majestic sent me [Muhammad] as a guidance and mercy to believers and commanded me to do away with musical instruments, flutes, strings, crucifixes..."
..."Song makes hypocrisy grow in the heart as water does to herbage." (r40.1(3))
Adultery, punishment for:
o12.2: "If the offender is someone with the capacity to remain chaste, then he or she is stoned to death."
Theft, punishment for:
o14.1: "A person's right hand is amputated, whether he is a Muslim, a non-Muslim subject to the Islamic state, or someone who has left Islam..." [there's a lot more about what happens after the first theft, the amount that needs to be stolen to be subject to amputation, and so on]
So, in short, these so called "radicals" are radical only to the extent that classic, doctrinal, standard, by-the-book Islam is radical. They are following its strictures, is all.  While all those secular and tolerant Malians are not good Muslims to the extent that they don't follow the strictures of clear Islamic doctrine.
Anyone interested in following Islam has to have not only the Trinity -- the Koran, the Hadith and the Sirah (the authoritative life of Muhammad) -- but also a copy of the Umdat al-Salik (The "Reliance of the Traveller").  It's the best reference guide to what is and what is not part of Sharia -- the Sharia that the good secular folk of Mali are so keen to avoid. (Just as we in the west should be resisting, rather than allowing Sharia courts, as the UK does, in the naive belief that it's a tolerant thing to do).
But it makes no sense to pretend that Sharia is not part of "moderate Islam", for it simply is an inalienable part of Islam.  And it's draconian. Barbaric, if you will. 

Tuesday 22 January 2013

Our old fantasies about radical Islam

Most things that we read in the popular media about radical Islam are fantasies. They are promulgated in the mistaken belief that such dogmas will appease terrorists, or at least direct their ire elsewhere. But given the recent news — murdering in Algeria, war in Mali, the Syrian mess, and Libyan chaos — let us reexamine some of these more common heresies. Such a review is especially timely, given that Mr. Brennan believed that jihad is largely a personal quest for spiritual perfection;Mr. Kerry believed that Bashar Assad was a potentially moderating reformer; and Mr. Hagel believed that Iran was not worthy of sanctions, Hezbollah was not deserving of ostracism, and Israel is equally culpable for the Middle East mess.
A good read... More here.

Hong Kong: home prices through the roof

Hong Kong is first in a lot of good ways, things we residents can be proud of: high income, lack of corruption, low taxes, often voted "freest economy in the world" (this last being debatable; though when I was Australia-based and investigating business in Asia on behalf of Australian companies, I did find Hong Kong to be by far the most business-friendly in Asia, with easy company registration (one day), a business-friendly and uncorrupt bureaucracy, low taxes....). Another one: the lowest murder rates in the world.  In short, a safe yet vibrant city.
And there are the downsides: the awful pollution, and housing prices.  Tom Holland in the South China Morning Post today posts a chart showing just that, above. (at the bottom of this story).

Bo Xilai, marriage broker

Bo Xilai.  Photo AP, courtesy South China Morning Post
I count my meeting with the now infamous Bo Xilai, back in Dalian in 1995, as the reason I am now married to Mrs Tours.  (here for more of that story; and, related).
So I've followed his up-rising and down-falling with more than casual interest.
Now the ever interesting Tom Holland in the South China Morning Post reports on the publication of two books on the Bo story: "Bo Xilai story reads like a violent mafia blood feud". (you may have to register to read it).
Clip below the fold...

Friday 18 January 2013

"My Travel Wish List": Paul Theroux

WE travel for pleasure, for a door-slamming sense of “I’m outta here,” for a change of air, for edification, for the big vulgar boast of being distant, for the possibility of being transformed, for the voyeuristic romance of gawping at the exotic; and sometimes we travel because we have been banished. I was banished once, and it fortified me.
The rest....

"Raised on Hatred"

The redoubtable Ayaan Hirsi Ali, on jew hatred, in today's International Herald Tribune:
EGYPT’S newly elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was caught on tape about three years ago urging his followers to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists. Not long after, the then-leader of the Muslim Brotherhood described Zionists as “bloodsuckers who attack the Palestinians,” “warmongers” and “descendants of apes and pigs.”
These remarks are disgusting, but they are neither shocking nor new. 
The rest..
Meantime, Roger Cohen, usually a stern critic of Israel, finally gets around to pointing the finger where it should be: to Hamas and its odious ideology: in "The blight of return".

Thursday 17 January 2013

China-Japan: War?

Could the skirmishes over the Dioyu Islands --  the Senkakus to the Japanese -- lead to a new Sino-Japanese war?
Hugh White, an old mate from my days in the Office of National Assessments in the early 80s, says "Yes".  His article was in the Sydney Morning Herald of 26 December 2012: "Caught in a bind that threatens an Asian war that nobody wants”. [WebArchive version]
Trefor Moss, today in the South China Morning Post,  says "No", in his "High-stakes stand-off between Japan and China won't come to war". [pdf]
I'm inclined to find Moss' argument more persuasive.  That is, we won't see war between the second and third largest economies in the world. [If pressed for time, the last three paras of Moss' piece have the nub of his argument]
Though I would think that, wouldn't I, living here in Hong Kong, part of the Motherland.  Living here, we have a huge stake in the outcome being "no" to war.
So, it's fingers crossed, really.
One thing that makes me lean to Moss' argument, is the pragmatism of the Chinese leadership.  My wife Jing, herself born in Beijing and living there during the benighted days of the Cultural Revolution and the Gang of Four, visits the mainland regularly on business and finds the people in leadership to be comprehensively well-educated, usually involving a stint abroad, and are laser focussed on economic development.  War would rather put paid to that....
The Moss article is behind a registration wall, so I copy it below the fold, with thanks to the South China Morning Post.  [it's here, if you're registered]

Monday 14 January 2013

"Criticising Islam considered a national security threat"

WASHINGTON – As tensions continue to surge over the expansion of Shariah law both in the Middle East and in Europe, a new speech rights case has emerged in Spain where an ex-Muslim Christian convert is threatened with deportation for speaking out against Islam.
Imran Farasat, who was interviewed by WND, is a Pakistani Christian who converted from Islam in 2004, after, he said, “I realized that what I was following for 26 years of my life is not a religion but in reality is a political dictatorship which persecutes and teaches to persecute through the orders and teachings of a self-proclaimed prophet (Muhammad).”
After his conversion to Christianity, he began to speak out against Islam. He told WND, “Muslims are involved everywhere in terrorism. Christians are being persecuted in Islamic countries to the maximum level of torture and suffering and Islam is trying to invade the Western world and kill our values. Who will stop this all?”
Read more here

Sunday 13 January 2013

"The great aid mystery" (aka The great aid wank...)

Travelling the length of Africa last year, I saw the silliness and waste of so much western aid to the continent.  On the road, I read "The Lords of Poverty" by Graham Hancock, which only stoked the outrage.
I said something about the issue here and here.
An article in The Spectator, "The great aid mystery", of 5th January, in this new year of 2013, re-rakes this ground and is well worth a read. 
 A companion piece asks why there should be an arbitrary goal of 0.7% of GNP "rink-fenced" for aid, which is counter-productive to its responsible deployment, in "Greening's challenge".

Eco silliness

Sure, climate change is real, but are these the ways to stop it?  Wind farms and biofuels?

Wind power is coming under increasing fire from both right and left: for being inefficient to despoiling landscape.  They work only around 20-30% of the time, and when not working an alternative needs to kick in, which means you can't get rid of traditional power plants by planting wind turbines.  And of course many people, left and right, find them ugly.  In "Wind farms vs wildlife", Oxford lecturer in biological and human sciences Clive Hambler points out that they only last half as long as previously thought, making them even less economic than they are now (and as of now, the only way they can be installed is with government subsidies and tax breaks).
More: Hambler shows the devastation to birdlife from the proliferation of wind towers.  I'd always thought this danger to birds was a bit of a furphy, but he quotes various studies proving the devastation: about one bird per turbine per day, and twice as many bats. Wind-nuts have played this down, in pursuit of a fantasy.

In "Ozone From Biofuel Farms Could Cause Thousands of Deaths a Year", Tom Philpott in the nicely left-of-centre Mother Jones, points out the variety of drawbacks of biofuels: jacking up the price of food, pushing small-scale farmers off land, and contributing to, rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  "Turns out they can also make you sick", says Philpott.  More.

Let's see more nuclear.  400 new nuclear plants world-wide would reduce CO2 emissions to zero! Or, as Mojo says, Thorium nuclear energy could save us all...

Oh, and fracking.  Turns out that the US has reduced its CO2 emissions much more than any country in Europe, or the UK, by shifting from coal to gas-fired power stations.  And that's without a climate policy.

Monday 7 January 2013

"Indonesia Envisions More Religion in Schools"

This is exactly the way to increase tolerance and spur economic development. Not.  Give more instruction in religion (aka, "Islam"), which believes in the suppression of non-Muslims and in Creationism.... News from "moderate Muslim country", Indonesia:
Officials who back the changes say that more religious instruction is needed because a lack of moral development has led to an increase in violence and vandalism among youths, and that could fuel social unrest and corruption in the future.
“Right now many students don’t have character, tolerance for others, empathy for others,” Musliar Kasim, the deputy minister of education, said in an interview in November. He proposed the changes in September. More.

Thursday 3 January 2013

"How to read in 2013"

A while back I was reading The Australian newspaper and was tackled for being "a conservative".  Just for reading that paper. Never mind that below that I also had copies of the Sydney Morning Herald and the Financial Review (both rather of the left), which I had yet to get to.  The very fact that I was reading the Murdoch paper was enough to brand me as a "conservative".  Now, I may or may not be a conservative, but the fact of reading a paper of that side should not be enough proof.  For I think one should read widely on all sides of the divide.
These days I read The Spectator (rightish) and the New Yorker and The Atlantic (both rather leftish).  I read blogs on left (Crooked Timber) and the right (David Thompson). I read the New York Times (leftish), and the Daily Mail and Telegraph (right)
One should read all sides, I reckon.
Ross Douthat of the New York Times takes this a bit further.  Here.

"Fear of GM crops does not stand up to facts"

A corncob genetically-engineered with MON810 by US company
Monsanto in Germany.  Photo AP
Henry Miller and Graham Brookes say the benefits outweigh risks, as experience shows
People everywhere are increasingly vulnerable to the use of what Nobel Prize-winning chemist Irving Langmuir dubbed "pathological science" to justify government regulation or other policies. It is a speciality of self-styled public-interest groups, whose agenda is often not to protect public health or the environment, but rather to oppose the research, products or technology they happen to dislike.
For example, modern techniques of genetic engineering provide the tools to make old plants do spectacular new things. Yet these tools are relentlessly misrepresented to the public.
More than 17 million farmers in roughly three dozen countries worldwide are using genetically modified crop varieties to produce higher yields with fewer inputs and lower environmental impact. Most are designed to resist pests and diseases.
Critics of GM products insist they are untested, unsafe, unregulated and unnecessary. But the facts show otherwise.
After the cultivation of more than a billion hectares of GM crops - and the consumption in North America alone of more than two trillion servings of foods that contain GM ingredients - not a single case of injury to a person or disruption of an ecosystem has been found.
Far from being under-regulated, GM plants have been subjected to expensive and unscientific over-regulation that has limited the commercial success of the crops.
Commercial cultivation of GM crops offers many advantages. Consider, for example, that, because GM crops require less chemical pesticide, fewer farmers and their families risk being poisoned by run-off into waterways and ground water. Furthermore, lower levels of mycotoxins in pest-resistant corn mean fewer birth defects.
No-till farming techniques mean less soil erosion, less run-off of agricultural chemicals, and lower fuel consumption.
GM crops also have significant economic benefits. Higher yields and lower production costs have reduced global commodity prices, resulting in higher farm income.
But GM crops do not benefit only those who grow them. A 2010 study found that fields of insect-resistant GM corn have an "area-wide suppression effect" on insects, benefiting neighbouring fields.
Future generations of GM crops will bring even more benefits - but only if they are allowed to flourish. To that end, consumers must understand that GM crops hold great potential, while posing negligible risks, and governments must adopt regulatory policies that face facts and reject pathological science.
Henry I. Miller is Wesson Fellow in scientific philosophy and public policy at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. Graham Brookes is co-director of the UK-based PG Economics Limited. Copyright: Project Syndicate