May 29, 2011

Sex and the camels: how the scene was shot

And here is the link. Topical! Timely! Director has a campy voice! They used "blond" camels from Egypt, because the local ones looked too "stingy(?)"!

May 25, 2011

Modernization and progress

Yes, we believe in it. It's perhaps hard to read between the lines of this blog, but it's true: we think that mankind is on the road towards a better future, a future characterized by individual and collective freedom, rationality, scientific and technological progress, common sense, and solidarity. And we are not the only ones. There's at least one other individual, Emmanuel Todd, a demographer working at the National Institute of Demographic Studies in Paris, who thinks along the same lines. He predicted the end of the Soviet Empire (although we did that, too), the demise of America's world dominance (not so difficult), and the Arab Spring (which we did not anticipate). He has given an interview to Der Spiegel. Here are some highlights:

The factors behind the Arab Spring: The rapid increase in literacy, particularly among women, a falling birthrate and a significant decline in the widespread custom of endogamy, or marriage between first cousins. This shows that the Arab societies were on a path toward cultural and mental modernization, in the course of which the individual becomes much more important as an autonomous entity.

The Arab Spring in Tunesia

Liberalization guaranteed? No. At this point, no one can say what the liberal movements in these countries will turn into. Revolutions often end up as something different from what their supporters proclaim at the beginning. Democracies are fragile systems that require deep historic roots. It took almost a century from the time of the French Revolution in 1789 until the democratic form of government, in the form of the Third Republic, finally took shape after France had lost a war against the Germans in 1871. In the interim, there was Napoleon, the royalist restoration and the Second Empire under Napoleon III.

How about other religious and economic factors? The condition for any modernization is demographic modernization. It goes hand-in-hand with a decline in experienced and practiced religiosity. We are already experiencing a de-Islamization of Arab societies, a demystification of the world, as Max Weber called it, and it will inevitably continue, just as a de-Christianization occurred in Europe.

How about the increasing popularity of the veil for women in Turkey and Egypt, for example. Or the retrogression in Iran? The Islamist convulsions are classic companion elements of the disorientation that characterizes every upheaval. But according to the law of history that states that educational progress and a decline in the birth rate are indicators of growing rationalization and secularization, Islamism is a temporary defensive reaction to the shock of modernization.

How about poverty? Of course, one can placate the people with bread and money, but only for a while. Revolutions usually erupt during phases of cultural growth and economic downturn. For me, as a demographer, the key variable is not the per capita gross domestic product but the literacy rate. The British historian Lawrence Stone pointed out this relationship in his study of the English revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries. He saw the critical threshold at 40 to 60 percent.

The Arab culture stagnated in the 13th century already. Why did it take so long? There is a simple explanation, which has the benefit of also being applicable to northern India and China, that is, to three completely differently religious communities: Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism. It has to do with the structure of the traditional family in these regions, with its debasement and with the disenfranchisement of women. And in Mesopotamia, for example, it extends well into the pre-Islamic world. Mohammed, the founder of Islam, granted women far more rights than they have had in most Arab societies to this day. The patrilinear, patrilocal system, in which only male succession is considered valid and newlyweds, preferably cousins in the ideal Arab marriage, live under the roof and authority of the father, inhibits all social progress. The disenfranchisement of women deprives them of the ability to raise their children in a progressive, dynamic fashion. Society calcifies and, in a sense, falls asleep. The powers of the individual cannot develop. The bourgeois achievement of marriage for love, and the free choice of one's partner, replaced the hierarchies of honor in Europe in the 19th century and reinforced the desire for freedom.

Female emancipation with a headscarf? The headscarf debate is missing the point. The number of marriages between cousins is dropping just as spectacularly as the birth rate, thereby blasting away a barrier. The free individual or active citizen can enter the public arena. When more than 90 percent of young people can read and write and have a modicum of education, no traditional authoritarian regime will last for long. Have you noticed how many women are marching along in the protests? Even in Yemen, the most backward country in the Arab world, thousands of women were among the protesters.

Western values... where do you draw the boundaries of the West? In fact, only Great Britain, France and the United States, in that historic order, constitute the core of the West. But not Germany.

Did Germany contribute otherwise? The Reformation -- and, with it, the strengthening of the individual, supported by his knowledge -- and the spread of reading through the printing press -- that's the German contribution. The fight over the Reformation was waged in a journalistic manner, with pamphlets and flyers. The spread of literacy among the masses was invented in Germany. Prussia, and even the small Catholic states, had a higher literacy rate than France early on. Literacy came to France from the east, that is, from Germany. Germany was a nation of education and a constitutional state long before it became a democracy. But Martin Luther also proved that religious reforms did not by any means require the support of a spirit of liberalism.

A nice word about Europe in these troubled times? If the European Union recognizes its diversity, even its anthropological differences, instead of trying to force everyone into the same mold with the false incantation of a shared European civilization, then Europe will also be able to treat the pluralism of cultures in the world in a reasonable and enlightened way. I'm not sure that the United States can do that.

May 24, 2011

Rapture retry: don't give up hope

Rapture warning in the Phillipines

Harold Camping, the author of the latest rapture prediction, went public following a few days of silence after the failed rapture of last Saturday:

"I can tell you when 21 May came and went it was a very difficult time for me – a very difficult time. I was truly wondering what is going on. In my mind, I went back through all the promises God had made. What in the world was happening. I really was praying and praying: 'Lord, what happened?'"

Meanwhile, our thoughts are with raptionado (or is it rapturionado?) Robert Fitzpatrick, who spent all his live savings of $140,000 spreading the word of the world's end, and also with Jeff Hopkins, who erected a doomsday sign on top his car and spent the past few months driving from Long Island to New York city to publicize it.

"I've been mocked and scoffed and cursed at and I've been through a lot with this lighted sign on top of my car," he told Associated Press. "I was doing what I've been instructed to do through the Bible, but now I've been stymied. It's like getting slapped in the face."

And here's the unabridged post-rapture Harold Camping:

Stay tuned for a new Q/A with Babette Bienpensant coming up soon.

May 22, 2011

Rapture reversal: rapture mockers stand corrected

Rapture mockers stand corrected as new rapture evidence is coming to light:

We've tried to reach Babette Bienpensant for comments, but she is holed up in an emergency meeting of the Metaphysical University.

Rapture recap: Hitler is not fooled

A friend sends this picture and writes: "Tell Hitler I found him."

Rapture recap: fooled again (2) --- the song

Rapture recap: fooled again?

Babette Bienpensant at rapture hour
We've asked Babette Bienpensant, Metaphysical University's rapture expert, to share her post rapture thoughts with us. Here is her reaction:

"Atheists and other rationality addicts have been quick to exploit certain shortcomings of yesterday's events and to prematurely throw the baby out with the winds of change. Yet most real Americans will agree that we have witnessed a rapture success of numerous dimensions, including a volcano eruption in Island, an earthquake in the gay-infested San Francisco Bay area, and many other occurrences of medium to high significance. We at the Metaphysical University are proud of our contribution and excited about our ability to again split the infinitive and share our thoughts in unprecedented ways."

May 21, 2011

Rapture: all you need to know

Our trusted colleague Babette Bienpensant from the University of the Metaphysical Sciences has gracefully agreed to answer a few questions:

Q: The end of the world has been predicted before...
A: And now it's going to happen.
Q: ...predicted before, even by Harold Camping, the prophet of today's event. His last end-of-the-world prediction was for 1994...
A: Yes, there was an error in his calculations.
Q: Not this time.
A: Not this time.

Harold Camping

Q: The hour, 6pm, that's which time zone?
A: Regardless where you are. It revolves around the world like New Years Eve.
Q: So, we can watch in on television.
A: Yes, it starts in New Zealand, then Sidney, and so on.
Q: Let's see, hasn't it started already?
A: The communication lines must be down.
Q: What is "rapture" exactly?
A: The end of the world. The last judgment as an action movie. No court proceeding. Instead, those who have been saved by Jesus will rise into the air (whence the term "rapture"). The condemned will stay behind. Expect a great earthquake rolling from city to city across the planet, just for starters.
Q: Are you sure?
A: Cry mightily unto God. The Bible guarantees it. Everyone will be weeping and wailing because they'll know in a few hours it'll come to their city.
Q: Nobody is weeping so far.
A: The communication lines must be down.  It's going to be a horror story of tremendous proportion.
Q: How can I save myself?
A: Find Jesus.
Q: That's all?
A: You need to find Jesus.
Q: Callers to Christian radio stations have debated what to do about nonbelieving friends and neighbors who will be left behind to endure the wrath of God. One caller in Oregon wanted to know if he should arm himself to protect his family from the doomed in his street who might be jealous that those who have found Jesus were about to go to heaven.
A: They will be too busy being tortured by fire to worry about seeking vengeance.
Q: Atheists are throwing "after Rapture" parties to celebrate the departure of the religious – or at least Christians – from their midst...
A: ...showing appalling disrespect for the religious feelings of real Americans.

Rapture: the in-depth story

A few quotes from the Guardian:

It's a complicated business calculating the precise date of the end of the world.There's the Great Flood to consider, which may have happened around 4990BC, depending on who's estimating. And the timing of the exodus of the Jews from Egypt. Then there's a bit of maths that involves equating one day to 1,000 years.

Do all that and it turns out that Armageddon will begin at 6pm on Saturday. That is, if Harold Camping has got his calculations and his reading of the Book of Ezekiel right.

Raptured (a note for "quick" readers: being raptured is OK, being
not raptured is not)

The 89-year-old doomsday prophet, a former engineer who perhaps inevitably comes from California, has prompted a tide of expectation, elation and derision after persuading listeners to his Family Radio Worldwide across the US and as far away as the Philippines to sell up everything and prepare for the beginning of the end of the world with the second coming of Jesus.

If all goes according to plan, those who have been "saved" by Jesus will rise into the air in the Rapture and look down as God smites billions of nonbelievers with a great earthquake rolling from city to city across the planet, and a bit of fire to boot.

Judgment day will begin at 6pm wherever you are. The mayhem will move west over the planet, wiping out cities, towns and villages.

In the US, some believers have given up their jobs and donated money they think they will no longer need to pay for more than 2,000 billboards across the country proclaiming "Judgment Day: May 21, 2011 – Cry mightily unto God. THE BIBLE GUARANTEES IT!"

Thousands of people, some wearing T-shirts proclaiming that doomsday is at hand, have said goodbye to family and friends. It is not always welcome. Abby Haddad Carson gave up her job as a nurse two years ago to spread the message. Her three children do not believe it. "My mom has told me directly that I'm not going to get into heaven," Grace Haddad, 26, told the New York Times. "At first it was really upsetting but it's what she believes."

Callers to Christian radio stations have debated what to do about nonbelieving friends and neighbours who will be left behind to endure the wrath of God.

Parisian rapture dance

Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan

May 20, 2011

Rapture day (2)

Here's the proof:

Rapture day

In a foreseeable, but somehow under-reported event, the Tea Party is leaving the world tomorrow.


Seven thousand years after 4990 B.C. (the year of the Flood) is the year 2011 A.D. (our calendar).

4990 + 2011 – 1 = 7,000

[One year must be subtracted in going from an Old Testament B.C. calendar date to a New Testament A.D. calendar date because the calendar does not have a year zero.]

We checked and re-checked the algebra, but can't find any fault. For a full account, please go to our Judgment Day page.

May 19, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn stark naked (3): the view from France

Dominique Strauss Kahn rapes chamber maid

His resignation has taken the pressure off the steam cooker, and we fear for our hit score.

Questionably romancing the chamber maid---a small step for Strauss-Kahn (DSK) possibly, whom we suspect to do this all the time---how else could one muster the courage at the age of 62 to walk out of the bathroom stark naked and serenade the maid (did he already have an erection or did this come later?). A small step for DSK, but a large step for this blog, and a triumph for male nudity. He's the first to outscore our naked girls, although Prince William came close with his baldness during the wedding to Kate.

Henri-Bernard Lévy summed up the emotions of the French chattering classes when he declared DSK "a friend" whom he "knows well" (wouldn't one assume that one knows "a friend" always "well"---never mind), and who could never have done such a thing. He must have spent (much) time with DSK in comparable situations (they, together in a Hotel suite 3000 kay per night, the maid entering unannounced, and DSK not jumping up, not locking the door, not forcing the girl toward his private parts, not have oral sex, etc.) Furthermore, he observes wittily, hotel rooms of the Sofitel class are always entered by a team of a least 2 maids, so there's something wrong in the maid's account.

So it must be a conspiracy. Maureen Dowd picks up on this in the NYT and mentions that she spent many nights in the same hotel and has never seen more than one maid serving a room. She also has some predictable things to say about the French elite and its arrogance, but Stephen Clarke (author of "1000 Years Annoying the French") says them even better (pay attention the the racehorse):
France may think it had a revolution, but in fact it just got a new, and even more powerful, elite. They believe themselves so indispensable to the running of the country that trying to topple one of them is a bit like threatening to shoot a prize racehorse for nibbling your lawn. You’re meant to shut up and let them nibble.

This is why the French establishment sees Mr. Strauss-Kahn---rather than the traumatized chambermaid the police say he attacked---as the victim. The same case would never have come out in the open in Paris. The woman would have been quietly asked whether she thought it was worth risking her job and her residence permit. She would have been reminded that it was her word against his, and frankly, whom would people believe? The witty, famous man with the influential friends, or the nobody?
Krugman, in his only remark on his blog, treads a similar path. He cites the famous unknown right-winger Ben Stein defending Strauss-Kahn, and concludes
I’m not alone in pointing this out, but Strauss-Kahn is a man of the sort-of-left, an internationalist, a surprisingly Keynesian IMF head. On ideological grounds you might have expected Stein to be gleeful about his troubles.

But it turns out that there’s a kind of class loyalty that trumps even politics: the powerful must be protected. Only the little people get charged with rape.

That's our take as well. DSK and his ilk must be doing this all the time, and now we are shocked, shocked about the illegal gambling going on at Harry's Bar, and we can't believe it, and it's impossible.

May 15, 2011

Dominique Strauss-Kahn stark naked (2)

Q: So, what does it all mean?
A: The end of Strauss-Kahn's (DSK) career, of course, and more.
Q: He could deny it; then it's his word against hers.
A: Well, first, he left his cell-phone behind, so he fled the scene. Equally important, a famous person is always guilty until proven innocent, especially in America.
Q: Could it be a conspiracy?
A: Sure, as always. He was the most important threat to Sarkozy's bid for a second term, so Sarkozy could have tried to engineer the whole thing. However...
Q: ...however...?
A: It would have been difficult for Sarkozy to do so, even with the French secret services at his disposal. It's unlikely the maid was an agent, since she was working at the hotel on a permanent basis (presumably), and it was unforeseeable that DSK would stay there...well, who knows, changing my mind, perhaps he's always staying there, in the same suite, in which case they actually could have planted her there, perhaps paying off the service manager to have her assigned to this suite (soon to be dubbed the Kahn suite). And so on and so forth.
Q: But the cell-phone?
A: Élémentaire, cher Watson. DSK will deny this is his phone, but the records, oh là là, the records, the most beautiful cell-phone records in the history of the French secret services.
Q: We're in full conspiracy mode now?
A: I'd say 60-40.
Q: Which way?
A: Don't know yet.
Q: Will the Euro collapse?
A: It's in the cards. Expect a weakening of the Euro tomorrow, just for starters.
Q: Why?
A: Sarkozy's ratings are the lowest in the history of the French presidency. He's unlikely to get re-elected, even if the whole thing was his conspiracy. So it's either a socialist next time (to our American readers: DSK was a member of the Socialist Party, no, the SOCIALIST party), but, with the exception of DSK himself, all other contenders are unreconstructed dinosaurs, real tax-and-spend ideologues, all of them, or it's Marine LePen from the Front National. France's standing as a debtor will be weakened, and the markets might fear its collapse, comparable with other members of the Club Med.
Q: This could mean the end of the Euro.
A: Yes, if France does not get its act together, the Euro will collapse.
Q: How about the extreme right?
A: Yes, good question. Marine LePen, the new, charming leader of the Front National is collecting followers left and right with her compassionate xenophobia and an economic program from the dark ages.
Q: How so?
A: Her economic program calls for France leaving the Euro, and for erecting high import barriers to save domestic jobs. To do that, France would have to leave the European Union.
Q: Is that going to happen?
A: Possibly not, since the French farmers would lose their European subsidies, and so on. But I would not rule out a debt spiral triggered by weakening French credit scores (rising interest rates on French sovereign debt raise the deficit, etc), which leads to France's exit from the Euro, the end of the Euro, the end of the European Union...
Q: The end of the world as we know it?
A: It looks bad. But 500 years from now, the only thing we will remember is that the 3rd world war was caused by a man stepping out of his bath room stark naked.

Dominique Strauss-Kahn stark naked (1)

A former minister of finance of France, he had been married to one of the most beautiful, intelligent, and richest women of the country: Anne Sinclair, who ran her own prime time talk show before they tied the knot. Nicolas Sarkozy, upon taking office, got him the top job at the International Monetary Fund, evidently to rid himself of a dangerous future rival for the second term of his presidency,  but failed, as DSK grew in stature abroad and was topping the French polls in anticipation of the presidential elections of 2012.

Dominique Strauss Kahn rapes chamber maid
Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK)"We have our spies"

And then, around 13:00 local time yesterday, a chamber maid entered Room 2806 of the Sofitel New York, 44 W Street — believing it unoccupied. The suite, which costs $3,000 a night, has a foyer, a conference room, a living room, a bedroom — and also a bathroom, from which a starkly naked Domique Strauss Kahn emanated and "attempted to sexually assault" her. "He grabs her [according to her account] and pulls her into the bedroom and onto the bed." Then, according to NYPD's Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, he locked the door to the suite. (We think something is wrong with the sequence of events here, but never mind). "She fights him off, and then he drags her down the hallway to the bathroom, where he sexually assaults her a second time."

The woman breaks free, however, flees, tells another maid in the hallway who calls the police. When the police arrives, DSK has left, apparently in a hurry, since he left his cell phone behind, next to other DNA-relevant evidence, as the NYT darkly reports.

It quickly transpires that DSK is on an Air France plane. The plane is held at the gate, and an officer of the New York Port Authority arrests the IMF president in the First Class section of the plane (10,000 USD for a one-way ticked to Paris).

DSK was to meet Chancellor Angela Merkel today in Berlin, but the meeting has been cancelled.

May 5, 2011

A year ago: Back from the races (reposted)

Terry, our neighbor, and his lovely friend Anne-Carole have invited us to the 7ème Grand Prix de Monaco Historique. We arrive by train. Terry picks us up, personally, at the station. We wouldn't get unchaperoned through security, he apologizes. “The richer you get, the more involved the logistics become," I think to myself. Terry chuckles politely, he can read thoughts, the déformation professionelle of a famous film producer.

Terry's apartment overlooks the harbor from the 8th floor. It's rented. His own apartment would be better (he owns apartments in Monaco, Paris, etc), but they put the grandstand for the races right in front of his view, so there is no view.

The view of the harbor invites a study of the rich and famous. I feel the inner Lee Harvey Oswald. All Kennedies look the same.

The cars practice on the road below. The noise is physical. The Séries G race (“voitures Formula 1, 1975 – 1978”) is about to start. It starts. It has started.

The cars are surprisingly slow. You’ve heard that phrase before, “everybody was secretly hoping….” Not us. It’s not our fault that the tailwind of a McLaren M26 turns yellow, then orange, then ultraviolet. I point my Nikon D80 with the purest of motives. A second car is blinded by the fumes, and we have an accident. Yellow flags are waved viciously. Nobody dies. The unfortunate, but lively drivers exchange views. Gentlemanly compliments, certainly, or proposals to a mutual duel on the most generous terms, before sunrise, at Agincourt. “Tirez les premiers, messieurs les Anglais,” they will say.

“If Joan of Arc would not have chucked out the English, the whole world would now speak French,” my late friend Paul always used to say, tears in his eyes.

Stay tuned. The story continues here.
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