Monday, April 30, 2007

Adaptive? Aye!

In Chapter Five of 'The God Delusion' Richard considers the origin of religion, and briefly considers the possibility that it might be adaptive before moving on to his own theory. Richard is dismissive of group selection theories, as I said before. In fact, for reasons that I don’t quite understand, the idea of group selection in general seems to be anathematised by the evolutionary biology community. Perhaps this is a reaction against the pernicious ideas of the 19th and 20th centuries that saw human history in terms of the struggle between different races

Richard takes only one possible example of group selection for religion, a tribe with a ‘God of battles’ that impels it to war against other tribes and squish them like bugs. He outlines how this could happen, then says:

‘Those of us who belittle group selection admit that in principle it can happen.
The question is whether it amounts to a significant force in evolution. When it
is pitted against selection at lower levels - as when group selection is
advanced as an explanation for individual self-sacrifice- lower-level selection
is likely to be stronger. In our hypothetical tribe, imagine a single
self-interested warrior in an army dominated by aspiring martyrs eager to die
for the tribe and earn a heavenly reward. He will be only slightly less likely
to end up on the winning side as a result of hanging back in the battle to save
his own skin. The martyrdom of his comrades will benefit him more than it
benefits each one of them on average, because they wull be dead. He is more
likely to reproduce than theyt are, and his genes for refusing to be marrtyred
are more likely to be reproduced into the next generation. Hence tendencies
towards martyrdom will decline in future generations.'

Richard undercuts his own argument when he decries (in Chapter 7) the appalling behaviour of the Israelites as they entered the land of Canaan, described with approval in the Old Testament:

The book of Numbers tells how God incited Moses to attack the Midianites. His
army made short work of slaying all the men, and they burned all the Midianite
cities, but they didn’t kill the women and children. This merciful restraint by
his soldiers infuriated Moses, and he gave orders that all the boy children
should be killed, and all the women who were not virgins.

Where are the Midianites today? Where are the Amalekites? Where are the Jebusites? The Israelites are still there. In these sort of ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ examples, it is not what happens to the winners that is most important, but what happens to the losers. They don’t pass on their genes at all.

But ‘nature red in tooth and claw’ is, as Richard knows, a classic misrepresentation of what evolution is all about, and the ‘God of battles’ has precious little to do with the adaptive significance of religion. Evolution is all about outbreeding the competition. Remember those Israelites that are still there? There are more religious Jews today as a proportion of the Western Jewish population than there were fifty years ago. Not because they have conquered the secular Jews, but because they have consistently had more children.

You can snicker all you like at my tribe for spending all its time building grandiose religious monuments and making yak butter to burn in our temples, but if we have 2.2 children survive to adulthood on average and your more gainfully employed tribe only have 1.9, in a few hundred years you will be history and we will still be around. At the end of 2005 I read a letter to the editor in the Devil Bunny City Morning Herald making the ridiculous suggestion that certain religions were bad from an evolutionary point of view because they encouraged people to have more offspring than the environment could support. This is the opposite of the truth. As long as there is a decent chance that some of your offspring can leave your overpopulated homeland to spread their genes and memes elsewhere, this is an excellent strategy.

At the business end of evolution- outbreeding the competition- religion is becoming more adaptive, not less, with the spread of contraception.

A more specific example of the adaptive significance of religion can be seen in the response of Sub-Saharan Africa to the AIDS pandemic. I sarted collecting data on this part of the world from the CIA world factbook about a decade ago, on the theory that people to some extent practice what they preach and that the spread of AIDS should favour monotheist religions that place a premium on fidelity in marriage, specifically Islam. Though a lot of the data on religious affiliation in Africa seem to be extremely rubbery and numbers are doubtless manipulated for political reasons, the overall proportion of Muslims has risen from 32.9 to 34.1% in Sub Saharan Africa as a whole in the years 1989-2005. In Kenya, for instance, the proportion of Muslims rose from 6% to 10% in that time, and much larger gains are claimed for Sierra Leone (30% to 45%), Togo (10% to 20%), the Ivory Coast (25% to 35-40%) and Burkina Faso (25% to 50%!). Those countries where the proportion of Muslims has apparently declined are only a few where a large hand-waving estimate has evidently been exchanged for a more precise one: significantly Malawi (20% to 12.8%) and Ghana (30% to 15.6%). More importantly, since all those numbers may have been influenced by all sorts of other factors, is that most individual non-Muslim countries have seen a much sharper decline in population growth rate than most individual Muslim ones. Anyway, will process all that data properly later and get it up here... For the moment, I think it is safe to argue that historically venereal diseases have been a very effective way of removing large numbers of people from the gene pool, and that religion is one effective way of combatting this problem.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The Platypus of Doom and Other Nihilists

At the end of chapter three, Richard summarises the central argument of his book:

1. One of the greatest challenges to the human intellect, over the
centuries, has been to explain how the complex, improbable appearance of design
in the universe arises.

2. The natural temptation is to attribute the appearance of design to
actual design itself. In the case of a man-made artifact such as a watch, the
designer really was an intelligent engineer. It is tempting to apply the same
logic to an eye or a wing, a spider or a person.

3. The temptation is a false one, because the designer hypothesis
immediately raises the larger problem of who designed the designer. The whole
problem we started out with was the problem of explaining statistical
improbability. It is obviously no solution to postulate something even more
improbable. We need a ‘crane’, not a ‘skyhook’, for only a crane can do the
business of working up gradually and plausibly from simplicity to otherwise
improbable complexity.

4. The most ingenious and powerful crane so far discovered is Darwinian
evolution by natural selection. Darwin and his successors have shown how living
creatures, with their spectacular statistical improbability and appearance of
design, have evolved by slow, gradual degrees from simple beginnings. We can now
safely say that the illusion of design in living creatures is just that- an

5. We don’t yet have an equivalent crane for physics. Some kind of
multiverse theory could in principle do for physics the same explanatory work as
Darwinism does for biology. This kind of explanation is superficially less
satisfying than the biological version of Darwinism, because it makes heavier
demands on luck. But the anthropic principle entitles us to postulate far more
luck than our limited human intuition is comfortable with.

6. We should not give up hope of a better crane arising in physics,
something as powerful as Darwinism is for biology. But even in the absence of a
strongly satisfying crane to match the biological one, the relatively weak
cranes we have at present are, when abetted by the anthropic principle,
self-evidently better than the self-defeating skyhook hypothesis of an
intelligent designer.

Because of this argument, Richard states, God almost certainly does not exist.
Clearly, I don’t think that conclusion follows from this argument.

Richard is implicitly assuming two things:

(1) We have all the information we need to explain the universe. I think this is unlikely, on the basis of our experience thus far. We cannot explain the history of life on Earth by taking only terrestrial events into account: there are things like asteroids and supernovae that come from outside the Earth that we need to worry about. Our solar system cannot be explained in isolation: it has antecedents; it cannot be explained without generations of stars that existed before. In a similar way, it looks like our universe is not all that is, and that it can only be explained by considering things outside it, in the rest of all-that-is (which I will call the Universe). The difference between this and our previous experiences is that it is likely to be impossible ever to gain any experimental evidence of conditions outside the universe. This idea that we can explain everything in the system by information we already have in the system is a very tempting assumption, because it makes intractable problems tractable. But in experience it frequently leads us astray. It is the ‘assume a spherical horse’ of the historical sciences.

(2) Our reason, which evolved for problems on our human scale, is nevertheless sufficient to make sense of the nature of the universe. This is another article of faith. I share it, but I have no very good reason to believe it. Historically, this belief has been strong in Judaeo-Christian culture, because a belief in a rational creator suggests a rational universe. In a post-Judaeo-Christian world of relativism, one would expect this certainty to evaporate- as indeed it seems to be doing.

I suggest then that Richard has the first two points almost exactly backwards. We did not observe order in the universe and work backwards to propose a designer. Historically, we stressed the orderly rather than chaotic features of the universe, and we sought out and found regular laws to explain these orderly features, because we already believed in a rational creator. This is why science took off in the Judaeo-Christian West rather than elsewhere. The main function of the ‘God Hypothesis’ throughout history, its main attraction and importance, has not been to explain where the order present in the universe came from, but to explain the human sense of the numinous. Richard does not take a lot of time addressing the adaptive significance of religion. He claims it has no adaptive significance, though I find it hard to believe anyone with a cursory knowledge of history and current events could come to that conclusion. I will take up the deficiencies in his discussion of cultural group selection another time. For now, I want to make the inflammatory suggestion that I don’t think he is really that convinced by his own theory that religion is maladaptive: I think he wants to brush the adaptive significance of religion quickly aside for another reason.

If I live in the Kingdom of the Blind and wish to prove ‘sight’ is a delusion, then an observation that the ‘sighted’ are more evolutionarily successful than regular people is a blot on my theory. It suggests that there may, just possibly, be something objectively out there independent of the ‘sighted’, to which ‘sight’ corresponds. I propose that this is the case with our sense of the numinous. It is a real sense and is just as likely to correspond to something ‘out there’ as the senses of sight, hearing, and phyllixometry.

The question ‘who designed the designer?’ does not imply an infinite regression. In my unfinished story about the android taking the train from Punchbowl to Redfern, the theoretical cosmologists are attempting to model universe formation based on the ‘gebit’ theory. However, their simulation does not generate something that looks like a universe, but something that looks like a single creative intelligence filling all their parameter space- a god. I’m not claiming this is the truth, but there is no reason ‘Our universe was created’ implies an infinite regression. The simplest explanation for the universe being here is the one the classical world had: the universe is self-existent, and always has been here. Up until a century or so ago, this was the common-sense view of all educated irreligious people. However, all the evidence points to our universe not being self-existent. It looks like a watch that is running down. There is clear evidence that it had a beginning. It is very unlikely that it is self-existent. This means that we have no idea whatsoever what a self-existent thing might be like. The tidiest explanation for our universe would be that it was created by, or happened to precipitate out of, something else that was self-existent. But clearly there is no reason why it could not have been created by something that evolved, or evolved out of something that was created, or is at any finite number of levels removed from the ultimate self-existent reality.

‘Where did this quantum foam of multiverses come from?’ we could ask, just as easily as Richard can ask ‘Who designed the designer?’ Neither logically lead to an infinite regression, since we have no idea what a self-existent thing should look like.

I guess this has sort of led me wandering from Richard’s point 3 to his point 5. I have never paid much attention to these sort of anthropic principle arguments before, but Richard seems to take them seriously. It seems that our universe is dependent on the values of six or so constants, and if any of them are tweaked a little bit, no us. Clearly, if they were different, we wouldn’t be here to quibble about them, but it looks like there are two possible explanations for this coincidence of numbers.

(1) We are one of a large number of universes with different sets of constants that were generated by some ‘physical’ mechanism in whatever ‘layer’ of the Universe is the foundation to this universe. This layer may obviously be one or many layers removed from whatever is the ultimate self-existent foundation of the Universe.

(2) We are a universe designed by rational entities in whatever ‘layer’ of the Universe is the foundation to this universe. This layer may obviously be one or many layers removed from whatever is the ultimate self-existent foundation of the Universe.

I think we do not have enough data to decide one way or another, so are free to chose whatever we find most pleasing. Of course, neither are relevant to the God Hypothesis as I would frame it: At some level of the Universe more fundamental than our own, there exists an entity which is omniscient and omnibenevolent with regard to our universe. I assert that Richard’s discussion does not have any bearing on the probability of this hypothesis.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Interim report on 'The God Delusion'

‘Logically, anything I don’t understand is unimportant.’

- Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss

'The God Delusion’ came in at the library, and I’ve read the first four chapters. In the first one Richard Dawkins makes pretty much the same point that Tony Payne made in ‘Islam in Our Backyard’, a point that I agree with: there is no division between ‘secular’ ideas which can be discussed freely and ‘religious’ ideas that cannot be. Ideas should be allowed, or forced, to fight each other freely, with none of this rubbish along the lines of ‘everyone is entitled to their opinion’, or ‘I disagree with your beliefs, but I respect them’. Like Tony, Richard is naturally very optimistic about the ability of his own beliefs to come out on top in this free for all. So much so that he is rather a long time getting to the point: the first two chapters are a more or less random hodge-podge of anecdotes about the evils and absurdities of religion.

Despite expressing hope in the introduction that his book might lead readers to atheism, Richard has written in a style of continuous ridicule that will chiefly serve to amused those already converted. Like the lovable rogues at, Richard takes it for granted that all those who disagree with him are stupid, brainwashed, or on the take. Early on, he make an argument from authority to justify his heavy reliance on ridicule:
‘Thomas Jefferson, as so often, got it right when he said: ridicule is the
only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.’
But when confronted with an unintelligible proposition, we must always be careful: does the unintelligibility really lie in the proposition, or in us? Richard quotes several definitions of the Trinity in order to ridicule them, and makes no attempt to understand them because he is confident that there is nothing there to understand.

‘Arius of Alexandria, in the 4th Century AD, denied that Jesus was
consubstantial (i.e., of the same substance of essence) with God. What on earth
could that possibly mean, you are probably asking? Substance? What ‘substance’?
What exactly do you mean be ‘essence’? Very little, seems the only reasonable
Well, ‘substance’ and ‘essence’ are translations of Greek philosophical terms with meanings as specific and clear in their home environment as ‘force’ and ‘power’ have in classical physics. Arius was trying to say something, and the something he was trying to say would have had real consequences for the worldview of his contemporaries and their consequent actions.*

Richard’s habit of assuming that anything he can’t understand must be drivel is rather endearing, and has kept me from getting as irritated or depressed by his book as I was by Jim Wallis’. Tomorrow, I will outline his central thesis, and my response. Onwards and upwards!

* Don’t ask me what exactly, however, since that would mean I would have to go off and do some actual research.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Blogging Line of Least Resistance... to put in a gratuitous link, or a slab of text from somewhere else.

The gratuitous link is to Ross Gittins' article today in the Devil Bunny City Morning Herald.

And here is the slab of text, an extract from 'The Treason of the Clerks', by Julien Benda, 1927:

Peace, it must be repeated after so many others have said this, is only
possible if men cease to place their happiness in the possession of things
"which cannot be shared," and if they raise themselves to a point where they
adopt an abstract principle superior to their egotisms. In other words, it can
only be obtained by a betterment of human morality. But, as I have pointed out
above, not only do men to-day steel themselves entirely against this, but the
very first condition of peace, which is to recognize the necessity for this
progress of the soul, is seriously menaced. A school arose in the nineteenth
century which told men to expect peace from enlightened self-interest, from the
belief that a war, even when victorious, is disastrous, especially to economic
transformations, to "the evolution of production," in a phrase, to factors
totally foreign to their moral improvement, from which, these thinkers say, it
would be frivolous to expect anything. So that humanity, even if it had any
desire for peace, is exhorted to neglect the one effort which might procure it,
an effort it is delighted not to make. The cause of peace, which
is always surrounded with adverse factors, in our days has one more against
it—the pacifism which pretends to be scientific.

I can point to other sorts of pacifism, whose chief result I dare to say is
to weaken the cause of peace, at least among serious-minded persons:—

(a) First, there is the pacifism I shall call "vulgar," meaning thereby the
pacifism which does nothing but denounce "the man who kills," and sneer at the
prejudices of patriotism. When I see certain teachers, even if they are
Montaigne, Voltaire, and Anatole France, whose whole case against war consists
in saying that highwaymen are no more criminal than leaders of armies, and in
laughing at people who kill each other because one party is dressed in yellow
and the other in blue, I feel inclined to desert a cause whose champions
oversimplify things to this extent, and I begin to feel some
sympathy for the impulses of profound humanity which created the nations and
which are thereby so grossly insulted.

(b) Mystic pacifism, by which I mean the pacifism which is solely animated
by a blind hatred of war and refuses to inquire whether a war is just or not,
whether those fighting are the attackers or the defenders, whether they wanted
war or only submit to it. This pacifism is essentially the pacifism of the
people (and that of all the so-called pacifist newspapers) and was strikingly
embodied in 1914 by a French writer who, having to judge between two fighting
nations one of which had attacked the other contrary to all its pledges while
the other was only defending itself, could do nothing but intone "I have a
horror of war" and condemned them both equally. It is impossible to exaggerate
the consequences of this behavior, which showed mankind that mystic pacifism,
just like mystic militarism, may entirely obliterate the feeling of justice in
those who are smitten with it.

I think I see another motive in the French writers who in 1914 adopted the
attitude of M. Romain Rolland—the fear that they would fall into national
partiality if they admitted that their nation was in the right. It may be
asserted that these writers would have warmly taken up the cause of France, if
France had not been their own country. Whereas Barrès said, "I always maintain
my country is right even if it is in the wrong," these strange friends of
justice are not unwilling to say: "I always maintain my country is in the wrong,
even if it is right." There again we see that the frenzy of impartiality, like
any other frenzy, leads to injustice.

My point is only this: our inherent bias towards optimisim is just as likely to be a dovish bias as a hawkish bias.

We want to think that our opposite numbers are rational, like us. We want to think that they want peace, like us. We want to think that they will see our gestures of goodwill and respond in kind, just like we would to their gestures. Anyone who has ever taught first year students knows how easily this dovish optimism can lead to disaster.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

What was I thinking?

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out what other people think about things and understand why they think the way they do. The first bit, trying to put myself in someone else’s shoes and see the world the world the way they do, is really hard. The second bit, understanding why, is also pretty tricky. I haven’t completely discounted the ‘Insect Men from Minraud putting drugs in the water’ theory to explain some of the opinions I read in the papers, but I suspect a more prosaic explanation.

The last week or so I’ve been trying to do something which ought to be easy, but it is also proving to be really hard. I am trying to put myself in my own shoes. These are the shoes I had when I was a supporter of the armed struggle for Palestinian self determination. I can remember considering myself a supporter of the PLO. I can remember sitting myopically waiting for my glasses in the optometrists at Punchbowl at the beginning of the second intifada when a young man came in selling casettes to support the struggle in Palestine, and feeling guilty for not buying one. I can remember striding along feeling the same righteous indignation I still feel about lots of other stuff. But I cannot reconstruct the thoughts of my younger self that should accompany these memories. What was I thinking?

The answer came to me the other day, mediated like so many profound insights through country music:

Oh, I knew there'd be hell to pay. But that crossed my mind a little too late.
'Cause I was thinkin' 'bout a little white tank top, Sittin' right there in the middle by me.
An' I was thinkin' 'bout a long kiss, Man, just gotta get goin', where the night might lead.
I know what I was feelin'
But what was I thinkin'?
What was I thinkin'?

I was thinking of the newspaper images of Sabra and Chatila refugee camps from the invasion of Lebanon; I was thinking of the Time magazine article mentioning how Abu Wossname’s gardener was killed by Mossad in Tunisia; I was thinking of the description in the Tablet of the 14- year old boy shot in his own living room with a remote control in his hand at the time of the first intifada.; I was thinking of the pictures of Mohammed Ali Dura’s father trying to shield his son. I know what I was feeling. But what was I thinking? What was I thinking?

I'm pretty sure I cannot put myself in my old shoes because I had no shoes. I was not thinking, I was just riding along on a wave of emotion that I had caught back in 1982. When I finally stopped to think, it was obvious that the Palestinian leaders were not interested in finding a peaceful solution to the problems of their people, and that they had done their darnedest to brainwash them into being willing accomplices in their own degradation. It was obvious that Israel, despite having done some bad things, was really trying for a reasonable solution and had already made big sacrifices for it. It was obvious that the vast majority of the Palestinian civilian casualties I read about were more or less by accident, while the vast majority of the Israeli civilian casualties I read about were more or less on purpose. I cannot remember exactly how long this process of changing my opinion took, but I think it was only a couple of weeks. Looking back at it, I am pretty sure it was not exchanging one informed opinion for another, but forming an informed opinion for the first time.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Ezekiel's Radio

One of the benefits of listening to classic country every other weekend is finding really nifty songs now and then. For example:

Two young brothers marched away
Two young brothers marched away
Two young brothers marched away
One wore blue and the other wore grey
Two girls waiting by the railroad track
Two girls waiting by the railroad track
Two girls waiting by the railroad track
One wore blue and the other wore black

Which made me go out looking in cyberspace for other sad Civil War songs, but what should I end up with but:

Hurrah! Hurrah! We bring the Jubilee!
Hurah! Hurrah! The flag that makes you free!
So we sang the chorus from Atlanta to the sea...

Which- despite knowing all I know about the horrors of Sherman's march through Georgia, and the violence of Reconstruction, the way the old powers-that-were clawed their way back to bring in the Jim Crow laws, etc., etc.- I still felt to be perfectly splendid and heroic. Freedom does beat slavery, as surely as rock beats scissors, whatever the 'Lincolnapoleon' and 'No Blood for Cotton!' people say...

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Of Tony and Terry

As I said a post or two back, some time ago Nato told me I ought to read ‘Islam in Our Backyard’, by Tony Payne.

Which I did. The book is only small, and is a reasonable introduction to Islam coupled with a fairly standard evangelical Christian apologia. Like the Pope’s Regensburg speech, the real target of ‘Islam in Our Backyard’ is not Islam or Muslims, but the lazy cultural relativism that says one religion is as good as another- meaning, one religion is as bad as another.

The main recommendation of the book is simply that religious topics should not be placed off-limits for discussion: Islam makes claims that are either true or false, and these claims should be allowed to fend for themselves in the great marketplace of ideas. Tony is confident that in this marketplace other ideas will be able to compete effectively with Islam, but the examples he chooses to illustrate the conflict between his own ideology and Islam are curiously unconvincing.

Exhibit 1: Tony says that Islam claims that God is both All Just and All Merciful, and that when pressed to explain how this can be, can only reply that it is a mystery. He finds this unsatisfactory. Tony contrasts this with Christianity, in which the perfect justice and prefect mercy of God are reconciled in the person of Jesus Christ. This is doubtless satisfactory to someone steeped in Tony’s ideology from birth, but to outsiders I am sure it will fall rather flat. After all, if you were to ask me to explain how Jesus Christ reconciles the perfect justice and perfect mercy of God, I would have to say- based on extensive reading of Christian theology over a few decades- that it was, er, a mystery.

Exhibit 2: Tony points out that Islam and Christianity cannot both be true because of their conflicting claims about the historical Jesus. Islam says that he was not really crucified, but that his followers snuck him away and that another man was crucifed in his place. Christianity says that he was crucified, died and was buried, but rose again on the third day. Now, it is easy for me to make the imaginative leap to put myself in the shoes of the average irreligious man or woman in the street, and ask: which of these two scenarios is intrinsically more plausible? Hmmm?

Exhibit 3: There is no exhibit three! These are basically the only two instances in the book- which is rather too short- where Tony explicitly contrasts the claims of Islam and Christianity.

It appears to me, then, that Tony might almost be an agent provocateur for Islam, advancing deliberately poor arguments for Christianity. In this he is similar- though he appears to be a very much nicer chap- to Terry Eagleton, a soppily left-wing literary critic who has attempted a rebuttal of Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’.

Look at the sentence where Terry metaphorically stabs his allies in the back:

Dawkins’s Supreme Being is the God of those who seek to avert divine wrath by sacrificing animals, being choosy in their diet and being impeccably well behaved. They cannot accept the scandal that God loves them just as they are, in all their moral shabbiness. This is one reason St Paul remarks that the law is cursed.

So limited by the horizons of his own narrow culture is Terry that he cannot imagine any other interpretation of the personal relationship ‘master:servant’ but ‘bully:victim’. Terry isn’t really defending God at all. He is defending his God. He is tacitly assuming that Dawkins is perfectly right about the God worshipped by all those towelheads and rednecks.1 In the guise of defending religion, he is acting as an agent provocateur for atheism, attacking every religion but his own- like in the old truism about atheists merely having to go around gathering up all the arguments religions have already made to tear each other down.

I intend to attempt a rebuttal of Dawkins myself, of course, when his book gets in at the library, but I will accept the record of the Abrahamic religions warts and all, and proudly stand beside Osama bin Laden and John Calvin in opposition to Richard Dawkins.

1: Elsewhere, Terry has had a startlingly nasty go at the late Pope.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Grouchy Quibble #1

Once upon a time, I used to believe what I read in the newspaper. It seems such a long time ago now. One little thing that riled me during my holiday was this article in El Pais de Murdoch.

It says something about the janjaweed "ending centuries of peaceful co-existence" between Arab and non-Arab tribes in eastern Chad. It also says: "The Dajo tribe, who have resisted the Janjaweed, rely on traditional spears and bows and arrows tipped with poisonous tree resin. The weapons are for hunting antelope, not people, and for centuries they have needed nothing more lethal." (Clamly emphasis)

This is all just stuff somebody made up. I have no idea why. The French did not conquer Chad from native Chadians: they conquered it from Sudanese Arab warlords who had recently swanned in with rifles in an earlier wave of militant Islam. These were followers of the 'Mahdi' of Siege of Khartoum fame. Before that, there were earlier waves of Arabs and Arabised Muslims moving in from the east. It is not an area with any impressive tradition of peaceful coexistence. You can google this if you like; don't just trust me...

Of course, I should be getting cross about the horrible events, not the shoddy reporting of the horrible events: but shoddy reporting is one reason why Western countries so often stuff up the handling of horrible events in foreign countries so badly. :(

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Alithos Anesti

I ought to have something really impressive prepared for today, I know, after my Lenten hiatus, but also don't want to spoil the holiday by being too grouchy and can't think of anything sufficiently cheerful and non-confrontational to rabbit on about.

Nato the Silent recommended some time ago that I read the book 'Islam in Our Backyard', which I have done, but I haven't yet written anything about it except a flimsy comment on his blog. I probably would have prepared something while I was at the beach last week letting everything at work fall to pieces, but I couldn't find my copy of the book again.

The hysteria about climate change is becoming ridiculous and making me nervous and twitchy, but I have excised fulminating against this from the Accidental Blogging zone.

I have also sworn off those Accidental Blog literary competitions for good, as it looks as if they are never going to amount to a hill of beans.

Well, there will be something more interesting up here soon, I reckon...