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Religion and morality

As regular readers here will probably be aware, I am an atheist who is sympathetic to Christianity.  I regard the Bible as a great source of wisdom and I endeavour to apply its precepts in my life.  I do that because every time I do the Christian thing I get a reward.  Christian teachings work for me even though I don't accept the metaphysical attachments of such teaching.  Christians would probably say that Christian teachings work for me because God is looking after me but in my view Christian teachings simply embody correct assumptions about human nature and how to behave socially in a constructive way.

So I happily read a lot that is written by Christians.  Not being a Leftist, the happiness of others does not diminish my happiness.  The happiness of others makes me happy and I rejoice in the inspiration and comfort that Christianity and prayer gives to its adherents. I am moved by faith even though I have none.  It helps people.

So I am well aware of the common Christian claim that Christianity is what keeps America civilized:  Without Christianity, behaviour would deteriorate and become "red in tooth and claw".  I don't think that claim is wholly true though anybody who has attended an evangelical church will be aware that some people who have lived a foolish and destructive life testify that Christian conversion has turned their life around.  I do think that happens.

But I don't think there is a NEED for Christianity for a society to be civilized.  Razib Khan looks at the evidence for that claim below but I would like to add something to what he says.  I would like to point to the evidence from Australia.  Australia's church attendance rates are among the lowest in the world and in continuing decline. And most of those who do go to church are elderly.  So is life in Australia nasty brutish and short?

Far from it.  Australia seems to me more civilized than the USA.  The constant American scrabble for money, for a start, has only the faintest echo here.  Some decades back, when a million dollars really bought you something, Australia had, proportionately, the world's highest number of half-millionaires.  Once they got to have half a million dollars, many Australians gave up work and just went golfing.  Leisure has a much higher priority in Australia.  And I don't need to mention that gun deaths in Australia are the tiniest fraction of the American figure. Life in Australia is much safer than in the USA.

So Australia is a very relaxed place where most people are pleasant and friendly to one another.  American visitors often remark on how friendly Australians are. And you don't have to press "1" for English, either.

I could go on to analyse why Australia is better off than the USA but that is a big essay in itself so let me simply point out that standards of behaviour are at least no worse than in the USA despite our negligible rate of churchgoing.

 Most Australians do believe in the existence of a creator but they are very doubtful about whether the churches know anything about him. For historical reasons many Australians do have a nominal religious identity.  In the days when you had to put down your religion on forms, my late father would always put himself down as "C of E" (to my mother's amusement), but in all the time I knew him he never once set foot in a church.  And he was a real gentleman too, despite his lowly occupation (lumberjack).

So most Australians are aware of the Ten Commandments and have some respect for them, but they don't regard them as binding. Far more influential are Australia's own five secular commandments. I discuss them here

I reproduce Razib's comments on religion and morality below"


Probably the biggest blind spot on the cultural Right in the United States is the “family values” Uber Alles stance. As documented over 15 years ago in The Nurture Assumption shared family environment, basically your parents’ non-genetic influence, is relatively minor in affecting behavioral life outcomes (this is not to say that the issues aren’t subtle, but a simple projection from family home to individual outcomes is not viable).

But there’s another major confusion when it comes to the religious Right in particular, and that concerns the origins of morality and ethics. Most people are probably aware of the Josh Duggar fiasco at this point. If you aren’t, Google it. There isn’t much to say that hasn’t been said, but this post from his father-in-law has been raising eyebrows:

"…It is a mercy of God that he restrains the evil of mankind otherwise we would have destroyed ourselves long ago. Many times it is simply lack of opportunity or fear of consequences that keep us from falling into grievous sin even though our fallen hearts would love to indulge the flesh. We should not be shocked that this occurred in the Duggar’s home, we should rather be thankful to God if we have been spared such, and pray that he would keep us and our children from falling."

This attitude is entirely unsurprising to me, I’ve heard it many times from evangelical Christians. The theory is that without religion, and particularly their religion, they would be “a rapin’ and murderin’”. Why? Because that’s what people do without God. Believe it or not, I have never believed in God, nor have I raped and murdered (or molested). Nor do I think that raping and murdering would be enjoyable. Nor do I think that the evangelical Christians who proudly declaim that without their savior they would rape or murder with abandon would actually rape or murder.

This idea that without religion there is no morality is very widespread in the subculture, to the point of being an implicit background assumption that informs reactions to many events in concert with the idea of original sin and fundamental human depravity (thank you St. Augustine and John Calvin!). I have a socially liberal friend from an evangelical background, who is still somewhat associated with that movement, who confided in me that to did look forward to debauchery in a post-Christian life on some occasions. I had to convince him that even if he was not religious life was not likely to change much for him in the sex department unless he shifted his standards somewhat. Without God all things are not possible, believe it or not.

The fundamental misunderstanding here is actually one of intellectual history. Many evangelical Protestants in particular envisage the world before the revelation of God to Abraham, but sometime after the Fall, as a Hobbesian one of “all-against-all.” This is not limited to evangelical Christians. Many Muslims also conceive of the pre-Islamic jahiliyya in Arabia as one of pagan darkness and debauchery. The root misunderstanding is conceiving of morality and ethics as a historical human invention, as opposed to formalizations of deep cognitive intuitions and social-cultural adaptations.

Broadly, I agree with Peter Turchin that the origin of modern organized religions has its ultimate roots in the social and institutional needs of pan-ethnic imperial systems during the Axial Age. The synthesis of a supernatural Weltanschauung with the nascent enterprise of philosophy and the older intuitions of tribalism allowed for the emergence of the multi-textured phenomenon which we now term organized religion. Religion co-opted and promoted morality, but it did not invent it. The Israelites put in their Lord God’s mouth their own morality that was existent before his invention! Prior to the development of organized religion it seems likely that the connection between supernatural agency and morality was more tenuous and conditional (and even then, the angry and jealous petulant Yahweh of the Hebrew Bible has plenty of glimmers of the amoral gods of yore).



That is why even with the diminishing of organized religion in the modern West there has not been a correlated rise in crimes such as murder. The connection between ethical monotheism and ethics is not nearly as necessary as the religious would have you believe. The chart at the top does not prove at all that irreligion leads to decrease in crime (on the contrary, there is modest evidence that religious involvement results in mild prosocial tendencies when you control for confounds). But, it does show starkly that over the last 25 years in the United States there has been a simultaneous decrease in violent crime, and, a massive wave of secularization. This contradicts a model which proposes that religion and ethical behavior are necessarily and deterministically associated.

So no, in the case of Josh Duggar it isn’t a matter of “there, but for the grace of God, go I.” I’ll let others psychoanalyze his behavior, but it isn’t a normal human impulse which has to be constrained by the teachings of religion. If religion has to teach you not to molest your sisters you’ve got a problem, son! And it has nothing to do with your soul.

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Shorten stunt on homosexual marriage

The Irish vote was largely fueled by disgust at their perverted Catholic priests.  Priestly perversion has so antagonized once Holy Ireland that people leapt at the chance to defy priestly teaching.

Australians, however have never been majority Catholic nor were Australian priests treated like Gods, as they were in Ireland.  So it should not be assumed that Australian voters would do as the Irish did.

Public opinion polls do show majority support for homosexual marriage in Australia but the recent British election shows that the polls can get it badly wrong on sensitive questions.

 Personally, as a libertarian, I think government should get out of the marriage business altogether and leave it to the churches and the freedom of contract. Alabama has just enacted that so it is not hard


Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has confirmed Labor will move a bill to legalise same-sex marriage next week.

The move follows an announcement by the Greens that their Marriage Equality Bill would be brought on for debate in the Senate on June 18 with a view to vote on November 12.

In a statement, Mr Shorten said the time had come for Parliament to debate marriage equality and that he found it unacceptable current laws excluded some individuals.

The bill will come before the House of Representatives on Monday.

"I know this private members bill will not have the universal support of my colleagues," Mr Shorten said.  "It will challenge the deeply held personal beliefs of MPs and senators on both sides of politics.

"This is why Labor members have the freedom to vote their conscience, a freedom Tony Abbott is currently denying his party."

Even with a conscience vote in the Labor Party, Mr Shorten does not have the numbers to pass his bill.

Rather he is using it to urge the Prime Minister to grant a conscience vote to his MPs, something the Coalition already appears to be edging towards.

In recent days, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull described Australia as the "odd one out" on same-sex marriage among Commonwealth nations including the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada.

Renewed debate in Australia has been triggered by Ireland's vote in favour of marriage equality in a referendum at the weekend.

"The world isn't waiting for Tony Abbott and our Parliament shouldn't have to," Mr Shorten said.  "I know there are Coalition MPs who'd support marriage equality if Tony Abbott granted them a free vote."

Liberal senator Arthur Sinodinos said the Coalition had been waiting to see how the Labor Party would move on the matter. "I know some of my colleagues, like Warren Entsch and others, want to raise the issue and have talked about having game plans on this," he said.  "So we'll wait until next week, but certainly I would support a conscience vote on this."

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Differences Between Left and Right

What Dennis Prager says below is right but he fails to look more deeply.  He fails to ask WHY Leftists claim man is basically good.  And the answer is plain enough.  Leftists don't like the world they live in so want to change it.  And a claim about human goodness is very helpful in that cause.  It undermines conservative caution.  And it is conservative caution that stands in the way of them getting their perverse way.

If Leftists really believed in human goodness, would they slaughter the vast numbers of people that they do when they achieve untrammelled power (e.g. in the French revolution, the Soviet horror, Mao's China etc).  Clearly, they  have utter contempt for other people

Equally clearly, therefore, it is pointless to argue with Leftists about human nature. Their claim is a convenient pose, nothing more.  It makes them look good and undermines caution about the likely outcomes of their crazy schemes.  They are not going to abandon that in a hurry.  Their arguments do need to be refuted for the sake of the uncommitted middle but nothing will persuade them


Most Americans hold either liberal or conservative positions on most matters. In many instances, however, they would be hard pressed to explain their position or the position they oppose.

But if you can't explain both sides, how do you know you're right?

At the very least, you need to understand both the liberal and conservative positions in order to effectively understand your own.

I grew up in a liberal world -- New York, Jewish and Ivy League graduate school. I was an 8-year-old when President Dwight Eisenhower ran for re-election against the Democratic nominee, Adlai Stevenson. I knew nothing about politics and had little interest in the subject. But I well recall knowing -- knowing, not merely believing -- that Democrats were "for the little guy" and Republicans were "for the rich guys."

I voted Democrat through Jimmy Carter's election in 1976. He was the last Democrat for whom I voted.

Obviously, I underwent an intellectual change. And it wasn't easy. Becoming a Republican was emotionally and psychologically like converting to another religion.

In fact, when I first voted Republican I felt as if I had abandoned the Jewish people. To be a Jew meant being a Democrat. It was that simple. It was -- and remains -- that fundamental to many American Jews' identity.

Therefore, it took a lot of thought to undergo this conversion. I had to understand both liberalism and conservatism. Indeed, I have spent a lifetime in a quest to do so.

The fruit of that quest will appear in a series of columns explaining the differences between left and right.

I hope it will benefit conservatives in better understanding why they are conservative, and enable liberals to understand why someone who deeply cares about the "little guy" holds conservative -- or what today are labeled as conservative -- views.

Difference No. 1: Is Man Basically Good?

Left-of-center doctrines hold that people are basically good. On the other side, conservative doctrines hold that man is born morally flawed -- not necessarily born evil, but surely not born good. Yes, we are born innocent -- babies don't commit crimes, after all -- but we are not born good. Whether it is the Christian belief in Original Sin or the Jewish belief that we are all born with a yetzer tov (good inclination) and a yetzer ra (bad inclination) that are in constant conflict, the root value systems of the West never held that we are naturally good.

To those who argue that we all have goodness within us, two responses:

First, no religion or ideology denies that we have goodness within us; the problem is with denying that we have badness within us. Second, it is often very challenging to express that goodness. Human goodness is like gold. It needs to be mined -- and like gold mining, mining for our goodness can be very difficult.

This so important to understanding the left-right divide because so many fundamental left-right differences emanate from this divide.

Perhaps the most obvious one is that conservatives blame those who engage in violent criminal activity for their behavior more than liberals do. Liberals argue that poverty, despair, and hopelessness cause poor people, especially poor blacks -- in which case racism is added to the list -- to riot and commit violent crimes.

Here is President Barack Obama on May 18, 2015:

"In some communities, that sense of unfairness and powerlessness has contributed to dysfunction in those communities. ... Where people don't feel a sense of hope and opportunity, then a lot of times that can fuel crime and that can fuel unrest. We've seen it in places like Baltimore and Ferguson and New York. And it has many causes -- from a basic lack of opportunity to some groups feeling unfairly targeted by their police forces."

So, poor blacks who riot and commit other acts of violence do so largely because they feel neglected and suffer from deprivations.

Since people are basically good, their acts of evil must be explained by factors beyond their control. Their behavior is not really their fault; and when conservatives blame blacks for rioting and other criminal behavior, liberals accuse them of "blaming the victim."

In the conservative view, people who do evil are to be blamed because they made bad choices -- and they did so because they either have little self-control or a dysfunctional conscience. In either case, they are to blame. That's why the vast majority of equally poor people -- black or white -- do not riot or commit violent crimes.

Likewise, many liberals believe that most of the Muslims who engage in terror do so because of the poverty and especially because of the high unemployment rate for young men in the Arab world. Yet, it turns out that most terrorists come from middle class homes. All the 9/11 terrorists came from middle- and upper-class homes. And of course Osama bin Laden was a billionaire.

Material poverty doesn't cause murder, rape or terror. Moral poverty does. That's one of the great divides between left and right. And it largely emanates from their differing views about whether human nature is innately good.

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Der Bettelstudent

I watched last night the 2013 offering from Moerbisch, "Das größte Operettenfestival der Welt am Neusiedler See im österreichischen Burgenland".  I see that Moerbisch have their own ballet company now, as well as their own choir and orchestra -- up with the NY Met. So they obviously deserve the fulsome description of them that I have just given.  It was a performance of the popular Bettelstudent by Carl Millöcker.  It was the first performance at Moerbisch with Dagmar Schellenberger as Intendantin.  She got that job as from 1. September 2012.  She was of course delighted to be so honoured. "Ich freue mich wahnsinnig", she said in her exuberant way when her appointment was announced.

I note that she is described as KS Dagmar Schellenberger. I do know what that stands for:  Kammersängerin -- chamber singer.  I even spelled it right first time.  She is now formally referred to as Frau KS Dagmar Schellenberger.  It is an honorific title given to very distinguished singers of operas or operetta but I am not sure by whom it was awarded.  Dagmar certainly deserves it at any event.  I know that the Austrian culture minister awards the title in Austria so maybe culture ministers in the various German states also award it.  With her many performances throughout the German lands, Schellenberger could have got the title from various sources.  She SHOULD have got it from her native Saxony but as the Bible tells us, "A prophet hath no honour in his own country" (John 4:44) -- so maybe it was left to Austria to do the honours.

The performance had a lot in common with Gilbert & Sullivan.  About the first third of it was quite madcap.  I could have done without the wigs and absurd gowns but that was of course part of the comic impression.  The plot was typical operetta nonsense, complete with with deceptions and misunderstandings.  There was even a purloined letter.  No valuable pocket watches this time though.  So the plot lived up to expectations -- with some good twists towards the end

And the expected romance was also there -- though only in the second half. And the resolution of all difficulties at the end was also the expected operetta ending, but with a twist.  Instead of the lovers getting married, they were already married by that time!

A good show.  I doubt that I will be watching it again, though.  Although it was all well done, there was nothing in particular to bring me back to it.  But you see most movies only once so that is not derogatory.  I also see that the operetta has been performed over 5,000 times since 1882 so maybe I am getting old and grouchy.


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"Women's spaces"

If you Google "women's space" you will find examples from all sorts of times and places of feminists demanding such spaces.  They want man-free zones, where they can escape from the "patriarchy"

Such demands are more evidence of how egocentric radical feminists and Leftists generally are.  If any other demographic category made such demands, that would be roundly condemned as segregation, apartheid, discrimination etc.  "Segregation is good if we do it but bad if anybody else does it" is the implicit message.

It is not however an explicit message. My son reports that when he was recently on the campus of the University of Queensland -- of which he and I are both graduates -- he was approached by some young women who were handing out small gifts to anyone who signed a petition demanding a women's space on that campus.

He agreed to sign their petition, saying, "I think any group should have the right to exclude people they don't like".  This utterance was greeted with horror, his signature was rejected and he did not get his gift.  He was describing plainly what they wanted but they could not admit that -- in the best traditions of Leftist denialism.  They no doubt thought of themselves as enemies of "discrimination".

And we can see how deeply entrenched the hypocrisy and dishonesty is when we reflect that feminists have a long history of opposing men's spaces.  For over a hundred years all Australian towns had a men's space -- the public bar of a local hotel.  Women were not allowed there.  There was a separate "Ladies' lounge" where women drank.

Feminists have completely destroyed that.  Women are now allowed in all bars, sometimes by force of law.  I remember the process  well. The big watering hole for UQ students was always "The Regatta", a large and imposing hotel on the way back into town from the university.  And it too once denied women admittance to its public bar.  So what did feminists do?  They barged in anyway and chained themselves to various objects to make it difficult to remove them. They did so until the rule excluding them was abandoned.

And the efforts of women to have the membership of various gentlemen's clubs "opened up" are well known. Most such clubs have succumbed.  That men might enjoy a place where they are free from women is not considered. But a place where women are free from men is just fine, righteous even.

So how does this ethical black hole arise?  It arises from the general lack of principles among Leftists.  Leftists are sub-clinical psychopaths.  In pursuit of their hates, Leftists can turn around and march in opposite directions at the drop of a hat.

The classic example of that was the wharfies (dockers,  longshoremen) during WWII.  Nazism and Communism were always sibling rivals and outside Germany, dock workers were systematically Communist sympathizers.  Not a few were actual members of the local Communist party.  So when Hitler and Stalin jointly invaded the long-suffering Poles, dock workers did all they could to hinder the war effort against the Nazi/Soviet alliance.  But when Hitler turned on his ally and invaded Russia, the dock workers, particularly in America, suddenly ceased their obstruction of the war effort. It was their hate that guided them, not any high principle.  Stalin hated "the rich" and so did they -- so they were consistent only in supporting him.

But be that as it may, what is clearly going on among the radical feminists is an inability to empathize -- an ability to see everything only in the light of what they want.  They have no principles and no honour or ethics of any kind.  What they want defines righteous and nothing else matters.  They are moral imbeciles.  Their hate and anger is so strong that it blinds them to all else, even to basic decency and fairness.

Why do some women get that way?  In the universities these days they are taught that.  Barely articulate cries of feminist rage pass as education these days.  In the society at large, however, feminism can be a temporary refuge from a bad experiece -- a relationship breakup usually.  Such a refuge is usually abandoned after a time -- for a man.  Lifelong feminism however can result from some physical difference -- abnormal hormone levels usually -- but it is more likely to be a convenient way to express the woman's Leftism, her hatred of the society about her generally.

It is sick

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Fledermaus

I originally wrote these notes in late March just as an aide memoire to myself.  I had just watched (twice) the 1984 Covent Garden performance of Strauss's Die Fledermaus and wanted to note my impressions of it before I forgot them. But maybe there are enough fans of the show for these notes to be worth circulating. The time-travel to 1984  was made possible by a DVD.


Hermann Prey and Kiri te Kanawa pictured in the finale

The Royal Opera House at Covent Garden is everything you expect of an Opera House -- a large and ornate building  that gives the impression of a no-expenses-spared project.  I was pleased to see the the stage curtains featured prominently the Royal cipher (EIIR).

The opera itself was brilliant entertainment, with lots of laughs in it, particularly in Act 3.  It was almost as madcap as Gilbert & Sullivan (NOTHING can be as madcap as Trial by Jury).  It well deserves the innumerable performances that have been done of it.

Perhaps because of my interest in languages, the scene that amused me most was when the husband and the jailer were introduced as Frenchmen and they had to pretend to speak French to one-another even though they knew just about as much French as I do, which is very little. They managed a few common but totally unconnected French words and even threw in a bit of Italian.

I can get by in reading French to some extent because I have a general knowledge of European languages but I have never studied it.  I recently translated some Afrikaans, though.  So that may explain why I was so amused by the scene.  I couldn't watch it right through the second time around because it was so funny.  I am like that with Mr Bean too.  He is so unbearably funny that I have to switch off the recording half way through and watch the second half another day.  Do Leftists have a sense of humour that strong?  I can't imagine it.

Quoting excerpts from earlier operettas in a new operetta seems to be rather commonly done.  Nobody seems bothered about plagiarism.   So when Prey burst into a good rendition of Flotter Geist (from Zigeuner Baron) during the party entertainment segment it was simply appreciated as a good performance.  I imagine he has sung the whole of that part on occasions.

Another amusing reference was in Act 3 when the drunken jail warder asked the conductor to play the music for a Radames aria from "Aida" so he could sing it.  He made a hash of it of course but the conductor was the omnipresent Placido Domingo, who has sung the part of Radames on many occasions, so we had the odd and amusing sight of the conductor singing along to help out a singer with a song.  Very creative!

And a  big surprise was the appearance in the party entertainment  segment of every woman's favourite soulful singer -- "Sharl" Aznavour -- playing, what else, Charles Aznavour. To get him along in a cameo role was undoubtedly a bit of a coup for the production.  You don't have to understand a word Aznavour sings to get the soulfulness.  He is a mobile evocation of tragedy. He is not my cup of tea at all but he is undoubtedly a supreme master of his genre.

And the dancing was surprisingly good too.  The dancing in operas and operettas can be pretty basic.  I have an example in mind -- from Britain -- but will not be so unkind as to record it.  So when the ballet company floated into the party entertainment scene it was a real pleasure

The chief male dancer impressed me.  It is of course routine for male dancers to lift the ballerina above their heads at some stage, though few have been as good at it as Nureyev.  He would lift the lady up with two hands and then hold her there briefy with one hand -- a great feat of strength.  And the dancer on this occasion was even better.  He exited holding the ballerina above his head -- with his grip on just one of her ankles. Just holding her there would be pretty good, let alone walking off with her like that.  Update:  On further viewing he seems to have a hand on his lady's bottom too.  But it is still quite a feat.

And where did the director get the "two old ladies" segment?  It seemed straight out of vaudeville.  Does vaudeville still exist somewhere in England?  Maybe in the clubs.  It was very amusing.

And I was rather pleased at how un-Islamic the show was.  It featured a huge amount of alcoholic imbibing and not a little of  amusing drunkenness.  Towards the end the whole proceedings were said to be a celebration of Champagne!  I think I too would blow myself up if I were a Muslim.  Though I was in fact teetotal until my late 20s.  I was very skinny in my youth and I used to wonder what I could eat or drink to put on a bit of weight.  In my late 20s I found the answer: beer!

Speaking of 21st century concerns, I was pleased at how good the ethnic stereotyping was in the casting. Ethnic stereotypes are absolutely verboten these days but they have been something of an interest of mine. I have even written academic articles on the subject (here and  here). So I was pleased to see that the Italian music master could not have been more Southern Italian in appearance and manners:  A Neapolitanian, I would have thought. But he was in fact Welsh-born Dennis O'Neill.  Maybe his dark eyes and heavy eyebrows helped. And I was initially a bit critical of "Dr Falke" looking so English -- but I note now that he is introduced as "from London" -- so the casting director and I obviously thought similarly.  And Hermann Prey looked as German as he is.

The performance as a whole was a distinguished one indeed.  Getting Kiri te Kanawa as leading lady was a coup and she was at her very good best.  She both sang and acted admirably.  Though  in the acclaimed czardas scene it seemed a bit  strange to me to have a half-Maori lady proclaiming her passionate love of her Hungarian homeland!  I guess my interest in ethnic matters betrayed me there. And Hermann Prey as the husband was in his element. His expression when his wife was expounding his sins in Act 3 was very well and amusingly done.

So what did I not like about the production?  I LOATHED the "trouser role", where the Prince was played by a bald-headed woman.  The role was originally written that way but I am obviously not alone in my response to it --  as quite a lot of productions have put a man into the role.  And couldn't they at least have put some hair on her?  A bald-headed woman is a tragedy. The lady sang well enough but looking at her was a pain.

I suppose the producer at Covent Garden was being true to the text in casting that role but I wish he had been true to the text throughout. He clearly couldn't decide whether to produce the show in German or English.  It was mostly in German but also substantially in English.  Because I have a degree of age-related hearing loss, I understood the German better -- because it had subtitles -- while  the English did not.  The English bits were mainly to get laughs  -- which succeeded -- but why not be done with it and produce the whole thing in English? Kiri te Kanawa is of course a native English speaker and I can't imagine that the other singers would have had any difficulty.

Many patrons of the arts are elderly and reduced hearing is a normal part of aging so all recordings of operas and operettas should be fully subtitled, just as all live performances should include supertext.

And whatever limitations the show had were all more than made up for by Strauss's wonderful music.  The profundity of J.S. Bach is my musical home but you would have to be a sad soul indeed not to hear the joy that is in the music of Johann Strauss II. Unlike some others I have seen recently, I will be viewing this show again.

Anybody interested can watch the whole thing online here -- with subtitles.

UPDATE from late May, 2015:  I have just watched the show again and am even more grouchy about the trouser role this time.  I can see absolutely no artistic merit in having a bald woman in that role. Major performances of operetta usually have quite masculine-looking men in  important male roles.  I looked aside for most of the time when she was in focus.  Opera directors have substantial interpretive leeway so it seems a pity that this folly was continued.  Though maybe  he would have risked the wrath of feminists if he had changed it.

Why did Strauss specify a woman for that role?  There were frequent tensions between Austria and Russia around the turn of the century -- tensions that eventually gave us a world war.  So maybe casting a bald woman as a Russian prince was meant to be derisive, a derisive comment on Russians.  If so, it seems regrettable that a now obsolete political statement has been continued.

The ending was a trifle outside operetta conventions.  Normally at that point all the separated lovers get together and vow marriage.  But on this occasion the leading couple were already married.  Their marriage was however under tension as a result of the machinations of the bat so the ending consisted of the couple reaffirming their married bliss.  Only a touch outside convention!

Before I close off my comments here I am however going to mention something totally wicked -- something that will damn me to Hell for all time:  Sex appeal.  How dare anybody introduce a Hollywood term into a discussion within the world of Austro-Hungarian operetta?

But I am going to do it.  IMHO none of the ladies in this show had sex-appeal.  Kiri te Kanawa has a marvellous warm soprano voice, is a good actress and has pleasant looks -- but IMHO she has NO sex-appeal.  There! I have said it,  I have uttered a great blasphemy.

But I have something of a reputation for political incorrectness. I make something of a point of it, in fact.  So I am unabashed to call something as I see it.

But this was of course an English production of something from deep in old Austria-Hungary.  And when I think of Austrian or South German productions of THEIR operettas, I think of gorgeous ladies such as Zabine Kapfinger, Anja Katharina Wigger, Dagmar Schellenberger and Ute Gfrerer.  Wigger is basically just a slim blonde but, in her 2008 performance at Moerbisch, she just oozes sex-appeal. So I  can imagine a more appealing production of Strauss's wonderful creation.  Maybe I will find one online.




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Fine to be a Muslim in Britain but not a Jehovah's Witness?

Jehovah's Witnessses are strict Bible Christians much like the Puritans of old. They are however so strict about what the Bible says that they are one of the few Christian religions to acknowledge that the cross is an old pagan sex symbol.  It symbolizes a penis entering spread legs.

The words in the original Greek of the Bible which are translated as cross are stauros and xylon, which mean "stake" and "wood" respectively.  No word meaning "cross" is used. Jesus was executed with his hands nailed together over his head. So the cross story is just another pagan accretion like Christmas, Easter and observing the sabbath on a Sunday.

The little boy in the story below was therefore simply reflecting what the Bible says.  It's a sad and strange day in a country formed by strict Bible Christians when the Koran is more acceptable than the Bible.  No criticism of Islam is of course acceptable in Britain



A Jehovah's Witness' seven-year-old son has been taken into care because she damaged him with her 'religious beliefs and practices', a family court judge has ruled.

Judge Clifford Bellamy concluded that the boy had suffered 'emotional harm' from his mother and decided he would be better off with foster parents.

The young boy had been disruptive in school during lessons touching on Christianity, destroying projects and calling bible stories lies, a court heard.

Social services also believed the unnamed little boy was also at the centre of a rift between his parents so will no longer be living with either of them.

Detail of the case has emerged in a written ruling by the judge following a family court hearing in Leicester but Judge Bellamy said no-one involved could be identified.

A member of staff at the youngster's school had told how the boy had said he 'could not be with people who didn't believe in Jehovah', said the judge.

The little boy had cut up materials his class was using in an exercise about the 'Crucifixion story' and had said, 'nobody's telling the true stories about Jehovah', the judge heard.

He had also 'presented as contemptuous, grimacing somewhat theatrically' when speaking about the 'non-Jehovah's Witness Bible'.

'I am satisfied that the fact that (he) has been immersed by his mother in her religious beliefs and practices has been a significant factor in causing that emotional harm.'

The judge said there were also concerns about the boy's relationship with his father.  He said the youngster had spoken of his father being 'really mean to me' and had said: 'I don't love daddy at all.'

Social services staff had also thought the boy was being harmed by 'conflict' between his parents.

Judge Bellamy said he was satisfied that 'change' was required and that the youngster should be placed with experienced foster carers.  He indicated that he would review the case later in the summer.

The boy's mother had not accepted that he had been harmed by 'immersion' in her religion and had denied introducing him to her religion in a bid to alienate him from his father

SOURCE


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"Openness" and Facebook as a personality diagnostic

An academic report has just come out about who posts what on Facebook. The sample is, regrettably, a Mechanical Turk one, so the findings are of unknown generalizability to any population. They may however represent brighter people fairly well.

The finding that caught my eye was "Openness is positively associated with updating about intellectual topics".  We also read that "people who are high in openness tend to be creative, intellectual, and curious".

I should mention at this point that there is a large psychological literature dating back to at least 1950 in which Leftists congratulate themselves for having just such traits.  And, conversely, they claim, but never clearly prove, that conservatives are the opposite of that.  According to conventional wisdom in political psychology, we conservatives are closed-minded and rigid.  From their behavior, I would have thought that that cap fitted Leftists a lot better but I will leave that aside for the moment.  They are certainly not open to evidence and argument on things like global warming.

I have written a great deal on why the conventional psychological  characterization is false, with my most recent shot in that direction here.

The basic fault in the Leftist research on the topic is that there is a great deal of "spin" in how they refer to things.  To take the simplest example, you would think that a desire for order would be a generally good thing.  What scientists do, after all, is search for order in the phenomena of nature.  So what do you do when you find that conservatives are high on a desire for order?  You relabel it as "intolerance of ambiguity".  I kid you not.  Something good instantly becomes something bad. It's typical Leftist "proof" -- proof that proves nothing.  Anyway, my various academic papers shooting down the nonsense are accessible here

So what pleased me was purely something personal.  What I put up on Facebook is precisely what "open" people put up -- posts on scientific and political matters.  I come out as the opposite of what Leftists think a conservative is.

Whether conservatives generally post mostly that way is of course unknown but could be of interest to study.  When personality scores (based on how people describe themselves) correlate with actual behaviour (as in what you use Facebook for) that does add some confidence that one is studying something real.

Journal abstract below but the whole article is publicly accessible at the same link


The Big Five, self-esteem, and narcissism as predictors of the topics people write about in Facebook status updates

Tara C. Marshall et al.

Abstract

Status updates are one of the most popular features of Facebook, but few studies have examined the traits and motives that influence the topics that people choose to update about. In this study, 555 Facebook users completed measures of the Big Five, self-esteem, narcissism, motives for using Facebook, and frequency of updating about a range of topics.

Results revealed that extraverts more frequently updated about their social activities and everyday life, which was motivated by their use of Facebook to communicate and connect with others.

People high in openness were more likely to update about intellectual topics, consistent with their use of Facebook for sharing information.

Participants who were low in self-esteem were more likely to update about romantic partners, whereas those who were high in conscientiousness were more likely to update about their children.

Narcissists’ use of Facebook for attention-seeking and validation explained their greater likelihood of updating about their accomplishments and their diet and exercise routine. Furthermore, narcissists’ tendency to update about their accomplishments explained the greater number of likes and comments that they reported receiving to their updates.

Personality and Individual Differences, Volume 85, October 2015, Pages 35–40


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Dogs and humans as symbionts -- and the inestimable Razib Khan

I will say something about dogs in a moment but I want to start out saying something about the excellent Razib.  I have been reading his writings off and on for around a decade.  He seems to know all that there is to know about genetics in general and evolutionary genetics in particular.  And if you are as interested in onomastics as I am, you may have been able to infer from his name that Razib is a brown man, a non-Muslim Bangladeshi -- though he comes from a Muslim family.

And that is important.  There are lots of minefields and "no-go" areas in genetics which most researchers sedulously avoid for the sake of a quiet life.  And those roadblocks are entirely the work of Leftists.  Leftists are much more concerned with the political implications of a statement than they are with its truth  They have to be.  Their theories are so shallow and silly that they can all be blown away in short order by the truth.

But Leftists are racists.  They think any non-white race is better than "dead white men" and their living successors.  So non-whites are indulged and allowed to say things which would be forbidden to a white.  The most glaring example of that is the way blacks can use the word "nigger" with impunity but it is a firing offence if a white uses it.  Could there be anything more racist than that?

So Razib is a very valuable person both because of his knowledge and because of his skin color.  Being a "minority" means that he can, with some safety, venture into "sensitive" areas of discussion.  And all that lies behind why I find his writings so interesting.  I think I am getting an account of Razib's field from a largely uncensored source, though I do note that Razib is a bit cautious when writing about IQ.  So you see that I have to be a racist in order to counter racism.  I have to look at race in  order to get behind racist censorship.  So that is why I trust Razib's judgement in areas where he knows a lot more than I do.

Mind you, "minorities" can sometimes get into trouble if they challenge Leftism too frontally.  The work of Bruce Lahn is a prize example.  Lahn is not actually a minority at all.  He is Chinese.  He is really therefore a member of the world's biggest majority.  But he does come from a different culture so would normally be granted some leeway.

But what he discovered was ideologically thermonuclear.  He discovered that there was a brain mutation in central Eurasia about 5,000 years ago which seems to have increased brain efficiency.  It most probably led to an upwards spurt in average IQ.  Evidence in support of that interpretation is that civilization also first arose at around that time and that the genetic feature concerned is very rare in a notoriously low intelligence population: Sub-Saharan Africans, possibly being found in most of Africa at all only as a result of incidental  contacts between Eurasia and Africa.

So the bomb went off.  The evidence for the strikingly low average IQ of Africans has been abundant for decades so Lahn's confirmation of that was really no news at all. But it was UNSPEAKABLE to Leftists.  You can mention it in academic circles among colleagues -- and indeed the American Psychological Association has done just that  -- confirming the big gap between black/white averages.

But such facts must not LEAK OUT to the general public! Leftist myths must be maintained.  And, sadly for Lahn, his work DID attract a lot of interest from a wider public. So Lahn got such a hard time over it all that he has now abandoned that area of research.  Appalling --  but that is what happens in a Left-dominated culture

But on to the topic of dogs:  I will first re-run something I wrote in 2009:

I am rather bemused about how accounts of human evolution leave out dogs. We hear lots about cranial size etc. but such discussions normally leave out our symbionts: dogs.

The relationship between dogs and humans is both ancient and amazingly powerful. How many human households to this day do not include a dog? Not many.

And yet there is a perfectly clear evolutionary reason why that is so. Dogs and humans complement one another. Dogs have the big and sensitive nose, big and sensitive ears and weaponized jaws that we lack. And we have the big brain that can give dogs good direction in the hunting life that comprises most of our evolutionary past. Without dogs we would probably still be tree-dwelling vegetarians. I wonder if modern-day vegetarians are averse to dogs? I wouldn't be surprised. There's a research paper in that.

These days we are long past the stage where we need dogs -- but we still love them. They are our "other half". They made us possible. I believe stories I have heard about a man being upset when his wife left him but being REALLY upset when his dog died. I have shed tears over a dog myself.



So what is wrong with that theory?  Razib told me that it had to be wrong because the fossil record showed the domestication of dogs to be relatively recent.  But when people tell me I am wrong, I don't burst into an infantile rage the way Leftists do.  I regard the disagreement as interesting and a warrant for further study. But in this case, my unspoken answer to Razib was that the fossil record is notoriously incomplete so was probably not to be much relied on in this instance. So I simply decided to wait and see what further developments there might be.

And it seems that I was at least partly right.  Six years later we find Razib giving an account of the most recent find of a fossilized canid. And he includes the sentence: "the true story is one of co-evolution between dogs and humans".

So am I crowing?  Not at all.  I suspect that my theory is still more sweeping than Razib would allow.  What I think IS confirmed is that the fossil record is a weak reed to lean on.  We have to look at other evidence as well.  And that is what I think my theory does

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It takes a woman  .... to scratch another woman's eyes out

Feminists prattle on about the "sisterhood"  -- but it just ain't so.  Women can be as destructive to other women as they are supportive to their female friends.

I first became aware of that many years ago when I was married to an exceptionally bright woman.  I was reading an article about Margaret Thatcher that excoriated Margaret from head to toe -- from shoes to hair.  I remarked to my wife what an amazingly savage article it was.  She replied:  "Probably written by another woman".  I checked the byline.  She was right.

Below we have another example of the phenomenon.  Katie Hopkins is actually amusing in her vitriol but she can be quite unfair.  And we see that below.  She is very scathing about a perfectly attractive woman whom she seems to have taken a dislike to
.

Kelly Brook

Katie Hopkins

Katie Hopkins has taken yet another swipe at Kelly Brook.  Writing in her weekly column for The Sun, the Celebrity Big Brother runner-up pointed out that Kelly had been seen 'hobnobbing with the rich, famous and exceptionally thin' in Cannes.

'Given that she is none of those things, I am guessing she is there to give a sense of scale - like using a coin near a small insect,' she added.

This is only the most recent vitriol that Hopkins has unleashed on poor Kelly.

In a New Years 'saints and sinners' roundup in December last year, Katie put the former Big Breakfast host in the latter category of being a 'chubber'.

'I think she does look like a chubber. I get the whole boobs thing - she's got amazing boobs - but the rest of it? No. And there isn't anything between the ears,' she wrote in New magazine. 'If you looked through you could see the other side of her head,' she said. 

Kelly is just the latest celebrity that the acid-tongued Katie has made an enemy of, after attacking everyone from Denise Welch and Danny Dyer to Chloe Madeley. Last week, she used her column to brand Charlotte Church a 'fat, Welsh Russell Brand'.

[The bibulous Welsh singer Charlotte Church has taken part in far-Left demonstrations, as has addled "comedian" Russell Brand -- so the deeply wounding part of that description was, of course, "fat"]

SOURCE

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The wide-ranging influence of genetics

The Left long denied the influence of genetics but now simply ignore it.  The study below is therefore powerful evidence of just how wrong they are.  Hans Eysenck, a considerable student of genetics, once said to me, "It's ALL genetic".  He was of course making a conversational statement to a colleague rather than a precise scientific one but the present study does confirm one sense of what he said:  ALL traits have a substantial genetic component. And the writer below makes the correct and important point that the 50/50 split observed is only an average and that the genetic contribution varies from trait to trait.  So the findings do not overturn the usual finding that IQ is about two thirds genetic

It's a question that dogged scientists for close to a century and Queensland researchers say they have the answer.  When it comes to health, in the age-old battle of nature versus nurture… It's a draw.

University of Queensland research fellow Dr Beben Benyamin worked with scholars at the VU University of Amsterdam to review almost every twin study completed globally in the past 50 years.

After analysing studies of more than 14.5 million twin pairs across 17,804 traits from 2748 publications, they found variation for human traits and diseases was 49 per cent genetic (nature), and 51 per cent due to environmental factors (nurture).

The Queensland Brain Institute researcher said the draw was expected but he was pleased to be able to put a number on the variation and surprised by how similar an influence each aspect had.

"Most of the reviews have been for specific traits, like people are interested in studying one particular disease and review all the twin studies for one disease," he said.  "But this is I think is the first one to review everything about all disease and all twin studies that are available at the moment."

The influence of nature and nurture is actually a complex interplay rather than a simple either/or and is far from equal across all traits and diseases.

The risk for bipolar disorder was about 70 per cent due to genetics and 30 per cent due to environmental factors, Dr Benyamin found.


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Cannes festival film aimed at saving the planet

Saving the planet gives you SUCH a warm feeling!  But it's a feeling bought at the expense of critical thinking.

The idea that something crushed for thousands of years beneath a great weight of glacial ice would remain pristine and unchanged despite such pressure is ludicrous on the face of it -- but that is the assumption underlying the work of the galoot celebrated below. He assumes that air bubbles trapped in glacial ice thousands of years ago have remained unchanged for all that time and that the ice cores used to extract them have also not altered them in any way:  Heroic assumptions.  And a very experienced (40 years studying Arctic ice cores) Arctic glaciologist, the late Zbigniew Jawaworski, questioned those assumptions forcefully

The initial stage of "trapping" air bubbles is also one where much could happen -- as the layers of snow slowly compress into at first firn and then ice.  Much could be lost even at that early stage.

And note this recent comment:

"Sometimes they don’t really KNOW what the evidence means, like in the O18 graphs from the GISP2 and GRIP ice cores that show the really big swings in O18, which is universally interpreted as a valid proxy for temperatures. I don’t have anything better to replace that with, but let’s just say that if it some day turns out to not be true, I won’t be surprised. YES, the O18 went up and down. Does that REALLY mean that temps swung up and down by 13°C or 14°C? As a catastrophist thinker, I’d WANT it to be, but as a realist, I have to wonder."

But perhaps the most graphic evidence for ice-core unreliability comes from the work of German chemistry professor E.G. Beck.  He showed that actual measurements of CO2 in the atmosphere that were taken over the last 180 years gave a very different result from what was inferred from ice cores.  So sad to wreck a lovely time-travel story.  But I am sure Claude Lorius is SUCH a nice man.  And so CARING!


The Cannes Film Festival's closing film on Saturday was a call to arms to tackle climate change featuring the scientific pioneer who spent decades in Antarctica proving the existence of global warming.

"I used to be pessimistic, but I think people are changing," said Claude Lorius, the 91-year-old French scientist whose groundbreaking research on ice cores proved the link between greenhouse gases and global temperatures.

His story is told in the documentary "Ice and the Sky", featuring footage from his earliest missions in the 1950s through to the present day.

Lorius carried out 22 expeditions -- some lasting as long as a year -- in Antarctica, where he helped pioneer the drilling and examining of ice cores, gathering climatic data going back more than 400,000 years.

One of his key insights, described in the film, came from drinking whisky one day with colleagues. Watching ice crack in the glass made him realise he could extract ancient air bubbles from the ice samples they were collecting.

"I'd already had a bit to drink, otherwise I wouldn't have had this brilliant idea, this brainstorm," Lorius told reporters after the screening. "It took many years to put the ideas into practice."

Director Luc Jacquet said the world had made "fundamental progress" in understanding the problem of climate change.

"When Claude published his paper 30 years ago, the concept didn't even exist, it was hard to drum this idea into people's minds," said Jacquet.  "But people are now aware of the problem and impatient to see results."

Lorius said he was looking forward to progress at the next global climate conference being held in Paris in December.  "We expect a lot from the conference, it could really change things," he said.

"I deeply believe that if everyone tackles these issues, they will cease to be problems. They can be a source of tremendous creativity."

SOURCE

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Buchanan strikes back

I like a lot of what Pat Buchanan says  -- his knowledge of history is exceptional -- but I disagree with his views below.  He clearly has no background in economics.  His major point below is that largely bipartisan measures fostering free trade have led to a large loss of American factory jobs -- with most consumer products now being made in China.  What he refuses to look at is the great enrichment of Americans that freeish trade has brought about.  You now get far more for your dollar by buying Chinese. It's much the same in Australia.  I have seen the price of some electrical goods plummet from around $100 to $10.  That's phenomenal.

Buchanan notes that America is now much less self-sufficient than it was but America is not at war with the rest of the world and the huge trade relationship with China is surely a strong force for peace.  America would not want to cut itself off from its major supplier and China would not want to cut itself off from its major customer.

And the situation in fact gives America a lot of leverage.  If China became particularly annoying, America could without great bother embargo the import of all Chinese products.  Suppliers in Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and elsewhere could readily take up the slack and replace China as suppliers.  China, on the other hand, could not at all replace America as a customer.  So China has now to a substantial extent put itself in America's power.  Not that the black jellyfish in the White House at present would ever exercise such power.

And moving Americans out of assembly line jobs surely has a lot to be said for it also


As Middle America rises in rage against "fast track" and the mammoth Obamatrade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, The Wall Street Journal has located the source of the malady.

Last Monday's lead editorial began:

"Here we go again. In the 1990s Pat Buchanan launched a civil war within the Republican Party on a platform targeting immigration and trade. Some claimed Pitchfork Pat was the future of the GOP, though in the end he mainly contributed to its presidential defeats."

But, woe is us, "the GOP's Buchanan wing is making a comeback."

Now it is true that, while Nixon and Reagan won 49-state landslides and gave the GOP five victories in six presidential contests, the party has fallen upon hard times. Only once since 1988 has a Republican presidential nominee won the popular vote.

But was this caused by following this writer's counsel? Or by the GOP listening to the deceptions of its Davos-Doha-Journal wing?

In the 1990s, this writer and allies in both parties fought NAFTA, GATT and MFN for China. The Journal and GOP establishment ran with Bill and Hillary and globalization. And the fruits of their victory?

Between 2000 and 2010, 55,000 U.S. factories closed and 5 million to 6 million manufacturing jobs disappeared. Columnist Terry Jeffrey writes that, since 1979, the year of maximum U.S. manufacturing employment, "The number of jobs in manufacturing has declined by 7,231,000 — or 37 percent."

Does the Journal regard this gutting of the greatest industrial base the world had ever seen, which gave America an independence no republic had ever known, an acceptable price of its New World Order?

Beginning in 1991, traveling the country and visiting plant after plant that was shutting down or moving to Asia or Mexico, some of us warned that this economic treason against America's workers would bring about political retribution. And so it came to pass.

Since 1988, a free-trade Republican Party has not once won Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois or Wisconsin in a presidential election. Ohio, the other great Midwest industrial state, is tipping. The Reagan Democrats are gone. Who cast them aside? You or us?

Since the early 1990s, we have run $3 billion to $4 billion in trade deficits with China. Last year's was $325 billion, or twice China's defense budget. Are not all those factories, jobs, investment capital and consumer dollars pouring into China a reason why Beijing has been able to build mighty air and naval fleets, claim sovereignty over the South and East China seas, fortify reefs 1,000 miles south of Hainan Island, and tell the U.S. Navy to back off?

The Journal accuses us of being anti-growth. But as trade surpluses add to a nation's GDP, trade deficits subtract from it. Does the Journal think our $11 trillion in trade deficits since 1992 represents a pro-growth policy?

On immigration, this writer did campaign on securing the border in 1991-92, when there were 3 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

But the Bush Republicans refused to seal the border.

Now there are 11 million to 12 million illegal immigrants and the issue is tearing the party apart. Now everybody is for "secure borders."

We did urge a "moratorium" on legal immigration, such as America had from 1924 to 1965, to assimilate and Americanize the millions who had come. The Journal Republicans called that xenophobia.

Since then, tens of millions of immigrants, here legally and illegally, mostly from the Third World, have arrived. Economically, they consume more in tax dollars than they contribute.

Politically, most belong to ethnic groups that vote between 70 and 90 percent Democratic. Their children will bury the GOP.

Consider California, which voted for Nixon all five times he was on a national ticket and for Reagan in landslides all four times he ran.

Since 1988, California has not gone Republican in a single presidential election. No Republican holds statewide office. Both U.S. Senators are Democrats. Democrats have 39 of 53 U.S. House seats. Republican state legislators are outnumbered 2-to-1.

Americans of European descent, who provide the GOP with 90 percent of its presidential vote, are down to 63 percent of the nation and falling.  By 2042, they will be a minority. And there goes the GOP.

SOURCE
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Der Graf von Luxemburg

I first watched this Singspiel some months ago and thought so little of it that I wrote down no notes about it here.  As all opera people know, however, the first viewing of anything operatic is merely an introduction to it.  You have to watch it several times to  get the best out of it.  And this show is perhaps an extreme example of that.  I enjoyed it greatly when I watched it again recently.

If people get the impression that I spend half my time watching operettas these days they are right -- I do spend 2 or 3 hours watching them every night.  My day would not be complete otherwise.  I read and write serious stuff during the day so watching operetta before bedtime  rounds out my day.

The show was composed by Lehar in 1909 and was apparently set in his day.  The production I have is another cinematic version -- from 1972 -- with the late Erich Kunz as the big name -- he wielded a mean monocle!  He played Basil, the Polish Prince and delegate to the Austrian Reichsrat.  He of course does the part very convincingly, as indeed do all the singers.  The costumes were all well done -- with very big hats on the ladies at times and big and very luxurious-looking sable collars on the coats worn by the men.


Erich Kunz gets his girl

The leading soprano, the long-necked Lilian Sukis, of Lithuanian origins, is now an old lady in her mid-70s but had a  lily-like and languid attractiveness in this performance.  She was particularly associated with the Bavarian State Opera in her day.

The leading baritone was the late Eberhard Wächter, an Austrian  singer of some distinction in his day, though he was new to me. That he became Intendant of the Wiener Staatsoper is a considerable recognition of his artistry.  What amused me a little about him was his looks -- almost hypermasculine, with a big heavy head and a strong jaw.  It's a characteristic I have seen in other big male parts in operettas.  Having such characteristics is clearly an advantage in getting good parts in operetta.  I think of Rodney Gilfry in my copy of Die Lustige Witwe and Rainhard Fendrich in my copy of Im weissen Roessl as other examples of that. And they all get the girl!


Wächter with Sukis

Wächter sang and acted very well, at any event. I am sad that he is deceased. He was a magnificent presence. He was undoubtedly the star of the show. He was somewhat more expressive than his lady, in my opinion, though she had a powerful line in rapt gazes. The latter very romantic parts were especially well done.  They had convincing sincerity.  It was a love-at-first-sight story but since both members of the couple were good-looking, that has some plausibility.  His "come-to-me" look towards the end after his lady had unwittingly insulted him was quite brilliant.  It got him the girl too.

To me the best aria came from the "second string" story -- "Schauen Sie freundlichst mich an", where the artist and his nervous lover reassure one another.  They really made a very attractive couple.  It puzzles me why they  spoke per "Sie" (formal) rather than per "du" (informal), though. Something to do with tensions between them at that time, I guess.  On earlier occasions they do speak per "du"

The entire show is online here, but without subtitles.  Around the 7 minute mark you can see quite a bit of an attractive barmaid with a well-filled blouse whom I thought might have been mentioned in the credits -- but she was not.   A barmaid dancing with a prince is a very low-probability event -- but this is operetta.  I love it.

The painter's girlfriend (Helga Papouschek) also played well and looked good.  She has been described as a "vielseitige Schauspielerin und Sängerin".  I can see that.

I think I know why I was not enthusiastic about the show when I first saw it.  It opened with a prolonged hymn of praise for financial folly  -- which did not suit my careful Presbyterian soul at all at all.  To me it was idiocy. I have however become used to introductory scenes in operetta that are best fast-forwarded so I discounted that this time.

There are quite a lot of jokes in the show but you have to be attuned to them.  I found the dropped-glove episode hilarious in its corniness, for instance. And it was an amusing touch when the unflappable Graf who had unwittingly disrespected his donor on being introduced to him simply replied Sehr angenehm ("pleased to meet you") on being apprised of his mistake.

And, as seems common in operetta, alcohol is something of a star.  Mostly it was skolling Schnapps in this case but we did get around to the champagne eventually. And the birdbath cut-glass champagne glasses they used are just like the old-fashioned ones that I have.  I don't agree with the fashion for champagne flutes at all at all.  Very inelegant.

The plot is typical operetta absurdity, though notes accompanying  the DVD suggest that similar things did happen in real life  at the time.  And the ending was very much as one expects of operetta, with THREE happy couples getting married.  After having watched two operettas that violated that formula -- Paganini and Zarewitsch, it was a welcome return to form.

In summary:  A great romance with a marvellously happy ending. I liked the way Wächter's lady mostly looked and sang over his shoulder after they had accepted one-another. She looked best in those later scenes in my undoubtedly wicked opinion. She looks better happy.

Seeing other people happy makes me happy -- unlike the Leftist Gore Vidal, who said: "Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little".  What a mess of a man!  I am pleased to say that over the years I have been able to make small contributions to the happiness of others. Ecclesiastes 11:1 is my guide, though you may need your minister to explain it to you.

I will be watching the show again, and again.
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That good ol' Antarctic peninsula again

These guys below are remarkably incurious.  They see the sudden change in parts of the Antarctic peninsula but are sure they have a magic decoder ring that tells then what causes the change -- global warming, of course.  But how come the change is so sudden and so recent?  And how come it has happened during a period when there has been NO global warming?  Their explanations linking it to global warming are obviously just desperate stabs in the dark  

And the real cause is known anyhow.  There have been several recent reports of subsurface vulcanism in the Western margin and the peninsula.  Having a volcano underneath an ice mass is a pretty good way of melting some ice.  And volcanoes are sudden and episodic.  So  vulcanism explains what the Warmists could not -- the SUDDEN onset of the melting.  And the second aspect of volcanoes -- that they are episodic -- shows how absurd are the great extrapolations offered below.  Volcanoes are mostly caused by tectonic shifts so most erupt and then stop as the plates re-adjust. You cannot reasonably project vulcanism into the future, let alone the distant future.  It could stop tomorrow. So the alarming predictions below are just the usual sort of baseless scare that we expect from Greenies

The article below is from the Daily Mail and they obviously didn't like the Warmist claims either.  They followed the original story with a quote from a polar expert which pointed out a hole in the story and added a "box" to the article (the words from the capital letters onward) which also shows the absurdity of saying that the Antarctic is being affected by global warming


The Antarctic ice sheet in a previously stable part of the frozen continent is thinning at a rate that has added more than 300 trillion litres of water to the surrounding ocean in the past six years.

Scientists have expressed alarm at the rate of ice loss at the Southern Antarctic Peninsula, which had shown no signs of change until 2009, when it started suffering rapid destabilisation.

Now new research has revealed that glaciers along the peninsula have been melting at accelerating rates, causing the mass of ice there to reduce.

The loss of ice in the region is so large that it has caused the gravitation field of the Earth to change, according to some measurements conducted by scientists.

Since 2009, scientists estimate that the volume of water lost from the ice sheet is equivalent to a body of water larger than Lake Winnipeg in Manitoba, Canada or 350,000 Empire State Buildings.

Researchers warn that the melting glaciers are likely to drive rising sea levels if they continue to melt.

They blame the flow of warm subsurface water from the deep ocean for causing the melting of the ice sheets to accelerate.

The Amundsen Sea has long been thought to be the weakest ice sheet in the West Antarctic.

A study published in December suggests the barren region is haemorrhaging ice at a rate triple that of a decade ago.

Researchers believe that the melting of glaciers in West Antarctica, which contain enough water to raise sea levels by at least a metre, may be irreversible.

The findings of the 21-year study by Nasa and the University of California, Irvine claim to provide the most accurate estimates yet of just how fast glaciers are melting in the Amundsen Sea Embayment.

Scientists found the rate by taking radar, laser and satellite measurements of the glaciers' mass between 1992 and 2013.

They found they lost an average 83 gigatons per year (91.5 billion US tons), or the equivalent of losing the water weight of Mount Everest every two years.

Dr Bert Wouters, an earth observation scientist at the University of Bristol who lead the study, said: 'The fact that so many glaciers in such a large region suddenly started to lose ice came as a surprise to us.

'It shows a very fast response of the ice sheet: in just a few years the dynamic regime completely shifted.

'To date, the glaciers added roughly 300 cubic km of water to the ocean. That's the equivalent of the volume of nearly 350,000 Empire State Buildings combined.'

Ice sheets in Antarctica have until recently showed significant resilience to the impacts of global warming. Additional snowfall on the continent has meant some glaciers have actually grown in size.

On the Southern Antarctic Peninsula, the glaciers there appeared to be relatively stable – the flow of ice into the ocean occurred at the same rate as new ice was added at the top of the glaciers.

However, in 2009, several glaciers along the coastline – which measures 466 miles (750km) – started to lose ice at 14 cubic miles (60 cubic km) a year.

Dr Wouters and his colleagues, whose work is published in the journal Science, used radar measurements made by the European Space Agency's CryoSat-2 satellite to measure the thickness of the ice over the region.

Using five years of data they found the ice surface appears to be falling by around 13 feet (four meters) each year.

Another satellite mission – the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment – also revealed a slight change in the gravity field of the Earth as a result of the dwindling ice.

Dr Wouters said that it appears a change in the winds that encircle Antarcica in response to global warming, was pushing warmer waters from the Southern Ocean towards the ice sheet.

Here they eat away at the ice shelves and glaciers that float on the surface of the ocean from below.

Dr Wouters said: 'It appears that sometime around 2009, the ice shelf thinning and the subsurface melting of the glaciers passed a critical threshold which triggered the sudden ice loss.

'However, compared to other regions in Antarctica, the Southern Peninsula is rather understudied, exactly because it did not show any changes in the past, ironically.

'To pinpoint the cause of the changes, more data need to be collected.

'A detailed knowledge of the geometry of the local ice shelves, the ocean floor topography, ice sheet thickness and glacier flow speeds are crucial to tell how much longer the thinning will continue.'

However, Professor Andy Shepherd, director of the Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling at the University of Leeds, said he felt the ice loss may actually be smaller than the study estimated.

Professor Shepherd, who is also the principal scientific advisor to the European Space Agency's Cryosat mission, said: 'I think the new estimates of ice loss computed from them are far too high, because the glaciers in this sector just haven't speeded up that much.

'It could be that a bigger chunk of the thinning is down to snowfall fluctuations than the authors have accounted for, and so I would be cautious about the new numbers until more information is to hand.'

... BUT ELSEWHERE THE SEA ICE SEEMS TO BE GROWING

Growing sea ice surrounding Antarctica could prompt scientists to consider relocating research stations on the continent, according to the operations manager of the Australian Antarctic Division.

Rob Wooding said that resupplying Australia's Mawson Station - the longest continuously operated outpost in Antarctica - relied on access to a bay, a task increasingly complicated by sea ice blocking the way.

He said that at Mawson, the ice typically breaks up for one or two months of the summer, but in the last four to six years this has not happened every year and some years only partially.

He said: 'We are noticing that the sea ice situation is becoming more difficult.

'In the 2013-4 season we couldn't get anywhere near Mawson due to the sea ice and we had to get fuel in there by helicopter which is inadequate for the long-term sustainability of the station.'

He said that French and Japanese bases on the continent have had similar problems.

Tony Worby, from an Australian centre studying Antarctic climate and ecosystems, said that in contrast to the Arctic where global warming is causing ice to melt and glaciers to shrink, sea ice around Antarctica was increasing.

It hit a new record in September last year, with the US-based National Snow and Ice Data Center reporting that the ice averaged 20.0 million square kilometres (7.72 million square miles) during the month.

Scientists have struggled to predict sea ice conditions, which are believed to be affected by the strong winds of the Southern Ocean which can push the ice out from the continent of Antarctica.

This does not happen in the Arctic because the ocean is hemmed in by land masses.

SOURCE



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Some more Green/Left dishonesty

The screed below by diehard socialist Marg Gleeson (her pic below) is the sort that amuses me.  It displays the crookedness and addled thinking of the Left very well.  Just a few points:



She heads her article with the picture of  a mirror-driven solar furnace.  And what she says about it is true enough.  It's what she omits that is the killer.  The biggest such plant is the Ivanpah setup in California.  It fries birds at a great rate and is so inefficient and unprofitable that it asked last year for half a billion dollars grant from the Federal government in order to keep going. THAT is what Marg thinks is great!  More on Ivanpah here

And she says without embarrassment that "existing emissions have raised the global average surface temperature by less than 1°C." Such a rise is supposed to be bad?  I would have thought that it was trivial.  Her trick is that she does not say it took over a century to generate the rise concerned.  And there is no proof that the rise had anything to do with CO2.

Then she goes on to a bare-faced lie:  "This has already caused significant impacts: increases in frequency and intensity of weather events, such as fires, droughts, cyclones and floods."  Except that it hasn't.  If anything, extreme weather events have become LESS frequent in recent years.  No Category 3-5 hurricane has struck the United States for a record nine years, for instance.  She completely ignores all the statistics on that.  See here

Speaking of mines, she says: "This has brought much wealth to the Australian ruling class".  No mention that the biggest single destination for the money earned by the mines is the pockets of the workers who built and run the mines concerned. See here. Are they ruling class?  As a socialist, shouldn't she be celebrating the high pay earned by the mine-workers?

I could go on and fisk much more of this lying little article but, after looking at only the first four paragraphs, I think it is clear that there is nothing in it that anyone concerned with the facts should take notice of.  So I reproduce below only those paragraphs. The rest of the article can be accessed at the link for anyone who is curious but the quality does not improve in the rest of the article.  The old baggage is just another Leftist crook. She is good at regurgitating Green/Left boilerplate, nothing more.  Note that I give references for everything I say.  She gives none. I wonder why?


Government of dinosaurs will give Australia a 'fossilised economy'


The technology exists for Australia to immediately transition from fossil fuels to 100% renewable energy, such as solar thermal

Following a recent meeting of federal and state ministers with the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Christiana Figures, the federal government announced that it will publish by mid-year the emissions target it will take to the Paris Climate Summit in November.

However, even if all the world's governments agree to limit future emissions to what would cause the global average surface temperature to rise by no more than 2°C from before industrialisation, it will not be enough to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Already existing emissions have raised the global average surface temperature by less than 1°C. This has already caused significant impacts: increases in frequency and intensity of weather events, such as fires, droughts, cyclones and floods. A safe level is to limit emissions to zero.

The Australian economy is heavily dependent on resource exports, including fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas. This has brought much wealth to the Australian ruling class and created a political culture where governments are beholden to the mineral and energy sectors.

SOURCE



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Beware of Neil Fallon electrical

My split system air-conditioning unit had stopped working so I asked Brisbane's Neil Fallon electrical to look at it.  The firm does advertise that it does repairs.

They charged me $232 to diagnose and quote on the fault -- all for an hour's work.  Work at that rate did not interest me so I sent the guy away immediately and gave the job of replacing the unit to someone else.  I think they outsmarted themselves there.

UPDATE:  I note that Fallons did give me a quote for a new installation -- of over $2,000.  The firm I finally gave the job to -- Brisbane Air are doing it for $500 less than that.  And I know from past experience that their work is high quality.  Instructive.




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The attention-seekers and people-haters never stop

Two Greenie organizations, the Foundation for Deep Ecology and Population Media Center have got together to commission and publish a set of magnificent color photos which display scenes said be of environmental degradation.  Needless to say, various newspapers and others have grabbed this free artwork and reprinted it.

But the text accompanying the pictures is systematically dishonest.  As usual, Greenies can only make their case by lying. I am not going to do a systematic fisking of such a large body of work but I will offer a few comments.  I will be referring to the pictures as reproduced by Britain's Daily Mail, a very widely accessed site.

As a preliminary comment, a lot of the unpleasant pictures come from Third World countries such as Indonesia and India.  Such scenes are not our fault and are certainly not the result of capitalism, market economies or modern industrial society.  They result primarily from a LACK of capitalism, market economies and  modern industrial society. They are the fruit of the low-energy economies that Greenies idolize.  A subset of the pictures could well be used to show the sad results of the lack of capitalism. So what the pictures show depends heavily on the text accompanying the pictures.

And the very first picture in the set is a case in point.  It shows an Indonesian surfer, surfing among trash. They had to go all the way to Indonesia to get that shot.  No distressing shots from neighboring Australia, with its thousands of miles of superb beach?  Australia has so much beach that you can find deserted and untouched ones with ease, just the sort that the people-haters want. Anyone who has taken the drive from Cairns to Mossman knows that.

The lesson to note is clearly that you can find bad examples of anything if you scour widely enough.  I think already at this point I have alerted readers to the essentially deceptive nature of the project but let me go on.

Next is a picture of power-station cooling towers in the UK.  The subtext reads: "Harder and harder to breathe: Air pollution, C02, and water vapor rise from that stacks at a coal-burning power plant in the United Kingdom".  That is an outright lie. With the scrubbers that modern power stations employ, the output of the towers is 99% pure steam --  and anything not caught by the scrubbers has certainly never been shown to hinder breathing! And do I need to point out that steam is just water?

The text beneath the next picture reads:  "Waterfall of melting ice: In both the Arctic and Antarctic regions, ice is retreating. Melting water on icecap, North East Land, Svalbard, Norway".  I have no doubt that the text is accurate but once again we encounter selective reporting and lack of any attempt at a balanced or comprehensive story.  I imagine the the picture and text are meant to assert that polar ice is in general melting.  It is not.  

There has indeed been some melting of Arctic ice and ice associated with the Antarctic peninsula but Antarctica overall has been gaining ice at a rate which more than makes up for losses elsewhere. Why the ice cover in the Arctic and Antarctic sometimes moves in opposite directions nobody knows.  The one thing we DO know is that there has been no overall ice melt.  But who cares about the full story when you can cherrypick?

Then there is the dead polar bear -- with the probably made-up story of why it died.  Did they do an autopsy?  It was probably just old.  The story that it starved because it could not find a ice floe to hunt from is just fiction.  Polar bears do perch on ice floes at times but they don't need to.   Polar bears are extremely strong swimmers and can swim for hundreds of miles in search of food.  A few years ago, one swam from Greenland to Iceland.  The Icelanders promptly shot it.  Polar bears are dangerous predators and Icelanders are a no-nonsense sort of people. But the big point is that polar bear populations are increasing overall.  So again:  No cause for alarm.

And then there is the clear-felled forest.  Clear felling is normally done to make way for pine plantations.  Pines grow  rapidly so are a RENEWABLE resource.  Aren't Greenies supposed to LIKE renewable resources?

I could go on but I have spent too much time on this nonsense already.  Selective reporting is just as deceptive as an outright lie.  But the Green/Left rely on lies and don't even seem much bothered when their lies are exposed.  No amount of effort to rebut the lies will ever stop the cascade of them, it seems.


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Black Brain, White Brain?

There came out recently a book called Black Brain, White Brain -- by  Gavin Evans.  It seems to have got some acclaim so I thought I might say a bit about it.  That task seems to be facilitated by an article by Evans under the same heading which appeared just over a month ago.  The article seems to summarize the main points of the book and thus spares me the time of reading the book.  But if there are things in the book which undermine any of the things I day below, I would be delighted to hear of it.

The main point of the book seems to be an accusation that it is racist to discuss the black/white IQ gap.  And like all other efforts in that direction that I know of it does a lot of huffing and puffing and declaring things obvious rather than providing proof of them.  The abusive and intemperate writing by Evans may be judged by his reference to "racist science that has been spewing out of the computers". Do computers spew? His use of abusive language like that is certainly a strong indication that he has a weak case that he is trying to cover up. "fester" and "dangerous" are other emotive words he uses.  Abuse in lieu of facts is a very familiar Leftist modus operandi.  And a few of Evans's  assertions do seem to be simply wrong.

And in the best Leftist style, his writing is almost entirely an appeal to authority.  Quite illogically, he thinks that because other people have declared something wrong then it must be wrong.  That many people have declared genetically-oriented treatments of the black/white IQ gap to be wrong and mistaken proves nothing at all.  It simply shows that most academics are Leftist.  For Evans to have written in any sort of scholarly way, he would have to list the main points where the genetic writers were found to be in error.  He does not do that.

He seems to think that he has made a great point by saying that no one gene for IQ  has been discovered.  So what?  IQ researchers have for decades accepted with perfect calm that  IQ is polygenetic.  Whether one gene or many is behind a difference may make research more or less difficult but it does not take away from the fact that the difference is genetic. And the genes that do contribute to IQ differences are being discovered all the time.  I must make a list of the studies concerned some time. I have noted quite a few on this blog.

He then goes on to claim that intelligence has not evolved for 100,000 years.  That completely ignores the work of Bruce Lahn, who showed a major evolutionary change in brain size about 5,000 years ago, a change which coincided with the birth of civilization and which is almost unknown in Africa. Pesky!

Another claim by Evans:  "Other studies have also shown that the IQs of children adopted into middle class homes rise significantly and that these increases can persist into adulthood".  He is right about the first part but wrong about the second part. Manipulations of the environment can improve IQ scores in childhood and even into the teens but by about age 30, all those improvements are lost.  By age 30 most environmental influences have washed out and the genetic endowment comes to the fore.

And then Evans gets on to the good ol' Flynn effect. So much has been written about that that I hesitate to write any more but in summary, the Flynn effect seems to be an artifact of increasing years of schooling and the test sophistication that engenders.  On important IQ subtests -- such as vocabulary -- where being test-wise does not help -- there has been very little movement in scores.  And in some advanced countries -- such as Nederland -- the rise has petered out, as one would expect if it was just a one-time artifact that had approached an asymptote (maximum value).

Finally, I am amazed by his assertion that "black American IQs are rising at a faster rate than those of white Americans".  I know of no evidence for that.  In fact, on some indices, the black/white gap is increasing.  So I guess I will have to "fester" away in my conclusion that there are real and inborn differences between the average IQs of blacks and whites.

And let's not have the old nonsense that IQ tests measure something limited and mysterious.  They measure general problem-solving ability, which is why researchers tend to use the term 'g' instead of 'IQ'.

And I may note that my view of IQ is no longer academically marginalized stuff at all. I don't quite know whether to be pleased or disappointed but it seems that mainstream psychology is catching up with what psychometricians such as myself have been saying for years: That IQ is highly general, highly central, highly hereditary and of overwhelming importance in determining people's life-chances. Not so long ago any claim to that effect would be very marginal within psychology and would expose anyone making it to all sorts of nasty accusations.

But you can now read it all not in some obscure academic journal or some Rightist source but in a 2004 issue (vol. 86 no. 1) of the American Psychological Association's most widely-circulated journal -- the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 

Article after article there sets out the importance of IQ. And for social psychologists to be taking an interest in such evidence is really amazing. Psychometricians have known all that stuff for years. It is the social psychologists who have been most resistant to such ideas.  I guess that even an organization as Leftist as the American Psychological Association has to come to terms with the evidence eventually.

And note that the APA conceded some time ago that "African American IQ scores have long averaged about 15 points below those of Whites".  15 points is one standard deviation, which is a huge difference -- accounting for 34% of the distribution.  So it looks like I've got a lot of company in my "festering", as Evans calls it. Evans is fighting a lost battle.