Freedom of Speech Anecdote


When Dr Samuel Johnson had finished his great lexicography, the first real English dictionary, he was visited by various delegations of people to congratulate him including a delegation of London’s respectable womanhood who came to his parlour in Fleet Street and said ‘Doctor, we congratulate you on your decision to exclude all indecent words from your dictionary.’ Whereupon he said ‘Ladies, I congratulate you on your persistence in  looking them up.’

Egg Schism of Lilliput


(Part I, Chapter IV)

‘[…] the two great empires of Lilliput and Blefuscu. Which two mighty powers have, as I was going to tell you, been engaged in a most obstinate war for six-and-thirty moons past. It began upon the following occasion. It is allowed on all hands, that the primitive way of breaking eggs, before we eat them, was upon the larger end; but his present majesty’s grandfather, while he was a boy, going to eat an egg, and breaking it according to the ancient practice, happened to cut one of his fingers. Whereupon the emperor his father published an edict, commanding all his subjects, upon great penalties, to break the smaller end of their eggs. The people so highly resented this law, that our histories tell us, there have been six rebellions raised on that account; wherein one emperor lost his life, and another his crown. These civil commotions were constantly fomented by the monarchs of Blefuscu; and when they were quelled, the exiles always fled for refuge to that empire. It is computed that eleven thousand persons have at several times suffered death, rather than submit to break their eggs at the smaller end. Many hundred large volumes have been published upon this controversy: but the books of the Big-endians have been long forbidden, and the whole party rendered incapable by law of holding employments. During the course of these troubles, the emperors of Blefusca did frequently expostulate by their ambassadors, accusing us of making a schism in religion, by offending against a fundamental doctrine of our great prophet Lustrog, in the fifty-fourth chapter of the Blundecral (which is their Alcoran). This, however, is thought to be a mere strain upon the text; for the words are these: ‘that all true believers break their eggs at the convenient end.’

And which is the convenient end, seems, in my humble opinion to be left to every man’s conscience, or at least in the power of the chief magistrate to determine. Now, the Big-endian exiles have found so much credit in the emperor of Blefuscu’s court, and so much private assistance and encouragement from their party here at home, that a bloody war has been carried on between the two empires for six-and-thirty moons, with various success; during which time we have lost forty capital ships, and a much a greater number of smaller vessels, together with thirty thousand of our best seamen and soldiers; and the damage received by the enemy is reckoned to be somewhat greater than ours.’

– Jonathan Swift, Gulliver’s Travels (1726)

5/v mmxvi


The tobacco hornworm uses its terrible breath to fend off predators.

The facial expressions on Lego figures have become increasingly angry over the last 30 years.

The population of Ireland is still smaller than it was before the Great Famine of 1845.

The Antarctic is a continent entirely surrounded by oceans the Arctic is an ocean almost entirely surrounded by continents.

All the eggs a woman will ever produce are present in her ovaries when she is born. The egg cell that became you was as old as your mother.

See other: Quite Interesting Facts

The Scharff Approach to Interrogation


Perhaps ironically, the most effective approach to extract information from someone may be kindness. In 2014, Swedish researchers compared a common, direct interrogation—where the questions are direct and specific—to the Scharff Technique, named after the highly successful German interrogator Hanns Scharff.[1]

Scharff was not a typical Nazi interrogator. Unlike the infamous Klaus Barbie, he did not believe in using physical violence. Instead, Scharff got prisoners to spill their secrets through kindness and cunning.

“Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” ― Voltaire

According to Pacific Standard magazine, he even used to share his wife’s baked goods with allied fighter pilots. Once, while strolling with a captured allied fighter pilot through the woords, Scharff claimed that American tracer bullets left a white instead of red smoke due to a chemical shortage, the pilot jumped in to correct him, saying the white smoke was a signal to pilots that they were low on ammo. Thus Scharff was armed with the information he sought. Contemporary researchers are now beginning to put his techniques to the test.

In the Swedish study, participants were given a story with 35 details and interrogated by phone, Scharff’s approach not only resulted in more (and more precise) information, but those being interrogated thought they gave up less information than they actually had, while those being interrogated directly felt they gave up more than they actually had. Kindness is not the only key ingredient to the Scharff Technique; having a “know-it-all” attitude compels information-disclosing corrections, as in the case of the pilot correcting his “friend.”

“The object of terrorism is terrorism. The object of oppression is oppression. The object of torture is torture. The object of murder is murder. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?” ― George Orwell, 1984


[1] Oleszkiewicz. S., Granhag. P.A., Montecinos. S.C. (2014) The Scharff-technique: eliciting intelligence from human sources.

Political Correctness


‘How many more architects and engineers must hit the wall at four hundred miles an hour before we admit to ourselves that jihadist violence is not merely a matter of education, poverty, or politics? The truth, astonishingly enough, is this: in the year 2006, a person can have sufficient intellectual and material resources to build a nuclear bomb and still believe that he will get seventy two virgins in Paradise. Western secularists, liberals, and moderates have been very slow to understand this. The cause of their confusion is simple: they don’t know what it is like to really believe in God.

Let us briefly consider where our discordant religious certainties are leading us on a global scale. The earth is now home to about 1.4 billion Muslims, many of whom believe that one day you and I will either convert to Islam, live in subjugation to a Muslim caliphate, or be put to death for our unbelief. Islam is now the fastest growing religion in Europe. The birth rate among European Muslims is three times that of their non-Muslim neighbors. If current trends continue, France will be a majority Muslim country in twenty five years—and that is if immigration were to stop tomorrow. Throughout Europe, Muslim communities often show little inclination to acquire the secular and civil values of their host countries, and yet they exploit these values to the utmost, demanding tolerance for their misogyny, their anti-Semitism, and the religious hatred that is regularly preached in their mosques. Forced marriages, honor killings, punitive gang rapes, and a homicidal loathing of homosexuals are now features of an otherwise secular Europe, courtesy of Islam.* Women are thought to “dishonor” their families by refusing to enter into an arranged marriage, seeking a divorce, committing adultery, even by being raped or suffering some other form of sexual assault. Women in these situations are often murdered by their fathers, husbands, or brothers, sometimes with the collaboration of other women. Honor killing is, perhaps, best viewed as a cultural (rather than strictly religious) phenomenon, and it is not unique to the Muslim world. The practice, however, finds considerable support under Islam, given that the religion explicitly views women as the property of men and considers adultery a capital offense. Throughout the Muslim world, a woman who reports being raped runs the risk of being murdered as an “adulteress”: she has, after all, admitted to having sex outside of marriage.

Political correctness and the fear of racism have made many Europeans reluctant to oppose the terrifying religious commitments of the extremists in their midst. With a few exceptions, the only public figures who have had the courage to speak honestly about the threat that Islam now poses to European society seem to be fascists. This does not bode well for the future of civilization.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 26-27

Competing Religions and War


‘Billions of people share your belief that the creator of the universe wrote (or dictated) one of our books. Unfortunately, there are many books that pretend to divine authorship, and they make incompatible claims about how we all must live. Competing religious doctrines have shattered our world into separate moral communities, and these divisions have become a continual source of human conflict.

In response to this situation, many sensible people advocate something called religious tolerance. While religious tolerance is surely better than religious war, tolerance is not without its problems. Our fear of provoking religious hatred has rendered us unwilling to criticize ideas that are increasingly maladaptive and patently ridiculous. It has also obliged us to lie to ourselves—repeatedly and at the highest levels of discourse—about the compatibility between religious faith and scientific rationality. Our competing religious certainties are impeding the emergence of a viable, global civilization. Religious faith—faith that there is a God who cares what name He is called, faith that Jesus is coming back to earth, faith that Muslim martyrs go straight to Paradise—is on the wrong side of an escalating war of ideas.

Religion raises the stakes of human conflict much higher than tribalism, racism, or politics ever can, as it is the only form of in-group/ out-group thinking that casts the differences between people in terms of eternal rewards and punishments. One of the enduring pathologies of human culture is the tendency to raise children to fear and demonize other human beings on the basis of religious faith. Consequently, faith inspires violence in at least two ways. First, people often kill other human beings because they believe that the creator of the universe wants them to do it. Islamist terrorism is a recent example of this sort of behavior. Second, far greater numbers of people fall into conflict with one another because they define their moral community on the basis of their religious affiliation: Muslims side with other Muslims, Protestants with Protestants, Catholics with Catholics. These conflicts are not always explicitly religious. But the bigotry and hatred that divide one community from another are often the products of their religious identities. Conflicts that seem driven entirely by terrestrial concerns, therefore, are often deeply rooted in religion. The fighting that has plagued Palestine (Jews vs. Muslims), the Balkans (Orthodox Serbians vs. Catholic Croatians; Orthodox Serbians vs. Bosnian and Albanian Muslims), Northern Ireland (Protestants vs. Catholics), Kashmir (Muslims vs. Hindus), Sudan (Muslims vs. Christians and animists),[7] Nigeria (Muslims vs. Christians), Ethiopia and Eritrea, (Muslims vs. Christians), Ivory Coast (Muslims vs. Christians), Sri Lanka (Sinhalese Buddhists vs. Tamil Hindus), Philippines (Muslims vs. Christians), Iran and Iraq (Shiite vs. Sunni Muslims), and the Caucasus (Orthodox Russians vs. Chechen Muslims; Muslim Azerbaijanis vs. Catholic and Orthodox Armenians) are merely a few, recent cases in point.

[7] This long-standing civil war is distinct from the genocide that is currently occurring in the Darfur region of Sudan.

And yet, while the religious divisions in our world are self-evident, many people still imagine that religious conflict is always caused by a lack of education, by poverty, or by politics. Most nonbelievers, liberals, and moderates apparently think that no one ever really sacrifices his life, or the lives of others, on account of his religious beliefs. Such people simply do not know what it is like to be certain of Paradise. Consequently, they can’t believe that anyone is certain of Paradise. It is worth remembering that the September 11 hijackers were college educated, middle class people who had no discernible experience of political oppression. They did, however, spend a remarkable amount of time at their local mosque talking about the depravity of infidels and about the pleasures that await martyrs in Paradise.’

Harris. S. 2006. Letter To A Christian Nation p. 25-26

Illiberal [Adj.]


From the Latin illiberalis, restrictive to individual choice and freedom; narrow-minded; bigoted.

Acrimonious [Adj.]


Angry, acid, and sharp in delivering argumentative replies: bitter; mean-spirited; sharp in language or tone.

Joey: Hey, if you wanna grab a bite before work we’d better get acrimonious.
[…]
Ross: Listen, if you don’t know what the word “acrimonious” means, just don’t use it.
– Friends (2003) Season 9, Episode 21; “The One with the Fertility Test” [No. 215]