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I used to be a blogger like you, until …  well, you know the rest.

I have been too involved with family and business over the last month to spend any time updating this blog.

For the last three years it has been like another, unpaid, job.

My real job has to take priority. Over the last four years we have built up quite a good little business here on Kangaroo Island.

We are not making vast amounts of money, but we are not going backwards.

KI is a small, isolated community. Its residents have very low average income by national standards. We rely on primary industry and tourism, and transport to and from the island is expensive. Any increases in travel or energy costs hit us very hard. A number of businesses have closed over the last year.

Our approach to business is simple; every person who comes into the shop is important. It doesn’t matter if he or she buys anything or not, or speaks English or not, or lives on the island or not. People are important because they are people, and not because of any possible benefit they can provide to us.

That means that we do our best to be competitive with city and online prices, that we tell people if someone else has an item on special and cheaper than us, that when doing repairs we do what we would want done if it were our computer or camera, that we give people options and encourage them to decide based on what is in their best interests, that we complete work as quickly as we can, etc etc.

We don’t do any of this because it makes sense from a business point of view, but because each person who comes in has value for who they are, and deserves to be treated respectfully and honestly.

But the funny thing is that although it is not our purpose, working in this way does seem to bring in more business. We are busier than ever, to the point where we can start to take a out a wage. It is only a minimal amount. We hope to be able to take out $1500 per month – $18,000 per year. We’d be better off on the dole, but the the shop gives us opportunities for service, and of course, the self-respect that comes with feeling we are making a contribution.

All this means that I am pretty constantly busy during the day, and I need the evenings to eat, spend time with family, and to read and continue my other writing projects.

So my arrow in the knee is my business becoming busier.

This blog will be only intermittently updated from now on.

Thank you for visiting.

Siri on the meaning of life

Something is coming that will leave the world a different place. Not something wicked perhaps, though made necessary by wickedness. Certainly something sad, bad and dangerous.

I wrote a couple of days ago about what I thought was a likely sequence of events leading to a major war in the Middle East in 2012.

The initiating factor (underlaid, as always, by longstanding hostility and mistrust) is the imposition of stronger sanctions against Iran.

President Barack Obama has just signed into US law the strongest sanctions yet against any trade with Iran’s central bank. These sanctions are not only against Iran, but against any country which trades with Iran through its central bank. The US is effectively saying, you either trade with us or Iran. You can’t trade with both.

Meanwhile, the EU continues to consider sanctions specifically against Iranian oil. EU foreign ministers will meet again on January 30th to try again to formalise an agreement.

When imposed, those sanctions will cause huge difficulties for Greece, because Iran is the only major oil exporter still willing to offer Greece credit. Greece will need to be plied with promises of support and energy supply before it will agree. Some of those promises will not be kept, because when the time for payment comes, countries that made the promises will be in such financial straits they will be struggling to pay their own energy bills.

Meanwhile, Iran is flexing its muscles in the Straits of Hormuz, test firing a new medium range anti-radar missile, a weapon that could strike a US aircraft carrier, or more easily, other major shipping including oil tankers carrying Saudi or Kuwaiti oil.

Europe is weak. It has spent the last twenty years undermining the strength of its democracies and economies, and handing power to a bunch of mealy mouthed bureaucrats.

The US is economically weaker than at any time since the 1930s, and is lead by an ineffective and ill-informed president.

The West, in the sense of the world’s liberal democracies, will win. But the fight will be economically crippling, and tragically costly in human life.

By Bishop N.T. Wright at Durham Cathedral. Read the whole thing. It is a reminder that despite its mad follies and unfaithfulness, the Church of England still has men who care about the truth, and stand for it with courage.

John’s Christmas message issues a sharp and timely reminder to re-learn the difference between mercy and affirmation, between a Jesus who both embodies and speaks God’s word of judgment and grace and a home-made Jesus (a Da Vinci Code Jesus, if you like) who gives us good advice about discovering who we really are.  No wonder John’s gospel has been so unfashionable in many circles.  There is a fashion in some quarters for speaking about a ‘theology of incarnation’ and meaning that our task is to discern what God is doing in the world and do it with him.  But that is only half the truth, and the wrong half to start with.  John’s theology of the incarnation is about God’s word coming as light into darkness, as a hammer that breaks the rock into pieces, as the fresh word of judgment and mercy.  You might as well say that an incarnational missiology is all about discovering what God is saying No to today, and finding out how to say it with him.  That was the lesson Barth and Bonhoeffer had to teach in Germany in the 1930s, and it’s all too relevant as today’s world becomes simultaneously, and at the same points, more liberal and more totalitarian.

Discovering what God is saying No to today, and finding out how to say it with him.

I am not sure ‘earns’ is the right word, but it is, as Governor General Quentin Bryce noted in her congratulations to John Howard, ‘a rare and singular honour for his service to Australia.’

It is rare in that only 24 persons can be members at any one time (other members include Baroness Thatcher, Prince Charles, and Tom Stoppard), and singular in that he is the only Australian politician to whom this honour has ever been granted. Other Australians admitted to the Order of Merit include Howard Florey, Sidney Nolan and Joan Sutherland.

If you are not sure why he deserved to be honoured in this way, why not buy his autobiography?

The Kindle edition is only $15.25. It is a great read. Not only is Howard a good writer, but he is consistently fair to both colleagues and political opponents.

Or not…

Runaway Global Warming promises to literally burn-up agricultural areas into dust worldwide by 2012, causing global famine, anarchy, diseases, and war on a global scale as military powers including the U.S., Russia, and China, fight for control of the Earth’s remaining resources.   Over 4.5 billion people could die from Global Warming related causes by 2012, as planet Earth accelarates into a greed-driven horrific catastrophe.

OK, so The Canadian is hardly renowned as a careful and accurate purveyor of news.

But just as Christian and other groups are rightly criticised when they make end-time predictions that fail, so scientists should  be subject to criticism when their end-time predictions fail. Two things that characterise science are its basis in real world evidence, and its predictive power. The IPCC’s version of climate science has neither.

So it is doubtful whether global warming alarmism counts as as science at all. What happens in the real world continues to refuse to conform to the computer models on which the AGW (anthropogenic global warming) scare is based, and prophecies based on AGW theory continue to fail at a rate of 100% – a rate that would embarrass even Harold Camping.

Unlike Harold Camping’s fantasies, however, global warming alarmism costs billions of dollars every year. Those billions of dollars, if they had been spent on real problems, could have eradicated polio and malaria, and provided permanent clean drinking water for every person on the planet.

Now if only we can get these enthusiastic sceptics to be sceptical about something that is worth being sceptical about!

Not sceptical enough!

 

I wholeheartedly wish and pray for my readers and all people of goodwill, a happy, purposeful, peaceful and prosperous New Year.

But I don’t think it is going to happen.

Over the last six years the UN Security Council has passed four resolutions calling for economic sanctions against Iran, primarily relating to trade in nuclear technology. Various individual countries including the US and Australia have imposed wider sanctions. The US sanctions amount to an almost complete ban on any financial interaction with Iran.

These sanctions are motivated by disgust with a violent and oppressive regime, by growing concern over Iran’s refusal to wind back its nuclear programme, by Iran’s support for terrorist groups, and its threats against other nations.

Iran’s economy depends almost entirely on oil. EU foreign ministers, along with the US, Canada, Japan and Australia and other nations, have begun to wonder whether the only way to to encourage regime change without military intervention, or at least, to force Iran to shut down its nuclear programme, is to impose even tighter sanctions on Iran’s oil exports.

This would bring Iran’s economy to a grinding halt. Iran has said it will regard such sanctions as an act of war. It has promised that if oil sanctions are tightened, it will close the Straits of Hormuz. It could easily do so. The Straits are only about thirty miles wide.

Closing the Straits of Hormuz will not only stop the movement of Iran’s oil, but also most of Saudi Arabia and Iraq’s oil, and that of some smaller states like the UAE and Kuwait. About 35% of the world’s oil travels through the Straits of Hormuz on its way to Europe, Asia and the Americas.

If tighter oil sanctions are imposed and remain in place for any length of time, Ahmadinejad and the ayatollahs will believe they have nothing to lose. Even allowing for Russia’s likely refusal to co-operate, Iran will become unstable, and regime change will be inevitable. Iran is unlikely to back down from its threat.

Industrial nations will not be able to accept a 35% reduction in world oil supplies. The Saudis will not tolerate a complete stop to their oil exports.

Military intervention will become inevitable. Barack Obama has seen Wag the Dog. He will be desperate to look strong and decisive.

Iran will resist any foreign forces on its territory, and they will not hesitate to use chemical or any other weapons at their disposal. They will also attack Israel, in an attempt to draw other islamic nations into the conflict. This did not work when Saddam Hussein tried it. Given Iran’s influence in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, and now Egypt, it may well work when they try it.

There is a strong possibility of a major war in the Middle East in 2012.

O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum,

ut animalia viderent Dominum natum,

jacentem in præsepio.

Beata virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum,

Alleluia!

O great mystery and wondrous sacrament,

that animals should see the newborn Lord lying in their manger.

Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ.

Alleluia!

It certainly isn’t getting any warmer here, with the coolest start to Summer in Australia for the last fifty years. But according to the alarmists, that’s just weather.

Ed Caryl suggests that most of the land based warming recorded in the USA over the last 60 years can be traced to the influence of nearby heated buildings, with measuring stations more than 100 metres away from a heated building showing cooling rather than warming over the same period.

As can be seen on the plot, town population made almost no difference to the trend. The dots are nearly completely random with respect to population. On the other hand, the distance from a heated dwelling made a much larger difference. The two coolest sites were more than 100 meters from the nearest building. Within the population limits of this study, the Urban Warming Influence is simply the distance to the nearest heated building, not the size of the city.

This phenomenon is the reason for much of the Arctic warming. Urban Warming in the Arctic, and indeed in the Antarctic, is an occupied-building-to-temperature-sensor distance problem. In the polar regions, the temperature differential between occupied buildings and the outdoor temperature sensors is much greater than in the temperate mid-west U. S., so the distance must be greater to avoid the UWI problem. But man doesn’t like digging long cable trenches in ice or permafrost (it’s like concrete!), or walking long distances in –40° weather, so the measurements are not done properly.

It is clear to this author that measured “Global Warming” is simply due to increasing nearby energy use and the temperature sensor proximity to the resulting heat.

In other words, as Ed himself points out, if you heat up your thermometers, you will find warming.

It is a tad disappointing that church leaders trot out the same bland comments about illegal immigrants year after year. You might hope that if all they can up with is platitudes, they could at least try to find some new ones.

But no. This year, yet again, we heard that Jesus was a refugee, and that this means we have an obligation to be warm and welcoming to anyone who arrives here, no matter where they come from. We are asked to imagine the fear felt by Jesus’ family as they fled the violence of Herod’s persecution, and to understand that refugee families feel the same fear and desperation.

These are worthwhile thoughts. Or they would be if church leaders had not battered us with them every Christmas for the last twenty years.

Just as cliches in writing are to be avoided like the pox, cliches in preaching are to be avoided like polio, and for the same reason. Cliches become cliches because they express a thought strikingly. They make you think. As soon as they become cliches they cease to express anything very much. They are just boring and predictable and don’t encourage thought at all. It is the same with lazy, cliched preaching.

Church leaders who talk year after year about the need to be compassionate to refugees are not going to convince anyone, because everyone is already convinced. We all know we need to find a compassionate way to deal with refugees, including those who make their way to Australia illegally.

What most Australians understand, but which seems to have escaped the bishops and moderators, is the complexity of going from good feelings and wanting to do the right thing, to formulating and enacting policy which really does do some good.

Under the Howard government, people smuggling and illegal immigration had slowed to a trickle. That left more resources for the Department of Immigration to allocate to refugees who were in greatest need, and to supporting those refugees in their transition to life in Australia. When Labor was elected there were fewer than 400 people in immigration detention. Now there are over 4,000. That number is growing rapidly as new boats arrive every week.

At least 400 people have died in transit since Labor came to office. Yet there has been no acceptance of responsibility, no acknowledgement that the kinder policies demanded by churches and refugee advocate groups have been responsibile for the current cruel and expensive mess. Instead, the same people are serving up the same tripe about the ‘need for compassion.’

A lack of compassion is not the problem. A lack of willingness to think is. If church leaders really want to help, they need to stop the reflexive bagging of conservative politicians and recognise that it is possible for politicians on both sides of parliament, and for ordinary people, to feel the same depth of concern, but to have completely different ideas about the best way forward.

The best way forward, of course, is the one that works. What works is stopping illegal immigration, and concentrating resources on bringing to Australia people who are most in need, and who are most likely to share, or to come to share, Australia’s key values of rule of law, equality for men and women, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, fair work for fair pay, generosity and ‘having a go.’

And by way of contrast, thank God for Queen Elizabeth.

I would have thought the primary motivation for becoming a journalist was to make the world a better place by helping people to know the truth.

So it is a constant source of dismay that so many journalists and media outlets decline to be truthful, either by not covering stories which don’t match their own viewpoint, or by leaving out crucial facts, or by outright distortion of reality. The refusal to cover or even mention the constant attacks against Israel by state supported terrorists from Gaza and the West Bank is an example of the first. Calling the massive and ongoing violence by muslims against Christians ‘sectarian violence’ is an example of the later.

Raymond Ibrahim at the Middle East Forum writes:

The so-called “Arab Spring” continues to transition into a “Christian Winter,” including in those nations undergoing democratic change, such as Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis dominated the elections—unsurprisingly so, considering the Obama administration has actually been training Islamists for elections.

Arab regimes not overthrown by the “Arab Spring” are under mounting international pressure; these include the secular Assad regime of Syria, where Christians, who comprise some 10% of the population, are fearful of the future, having seen the effects of democracy in neighboring nations such as Iraq, where, since the fall of the Saddam regime, Christians have been all but decimated.

Meanwhile, it was revealed that “Christians are being refused refugee status [in the U.S.] and face persecution and many times certain death for their religious beliefs under Sharia, while whole Muslim communities are entering the U.S. by the tens of thousands per month despite the fact that they face no religious persecution.”

Categorized by theme, November’s batch of Muslim persecution of Christians around the world includes (but is not limited to) the following accounts, listed according to theme and in alphabetical order by country, not necessarily severity.

Churches

Ethiopia: More than 500 Muslim students assisted by Muslim police burned down a church, while screaming “Allahu Akbar” (and thus clearly positing their attack in an Islamic framework); the church was built on land used by Christians for more than 60 years, but now a court has ruled that it was built “without a permit.”

Indonesia: Hundreds of “hard-line” Muslims rallied to decry the “arrogance” of a beleaguered church that, though kept shuttered by authorities, has been ordered open by the Supreme Court. Church members have been forced to hold services on the sidewalk, even as Indonesia’s leading Muslim clerics warned Christians that it would be “wise and sensible” for the church to yield to “the feelings of the local believers, specifically Muslims.”

Iran: The nation’s minister of intelligence said that house churches in his country are a threat to Iranian youth, and acknowledged a new series of efforts to fight the growth of the house church movement in Iran.

Nigeria: Islamic militants shouting “Allahu Akbar” carried out coordinated attacks on churches and police stations, including opening fire on a congregation of “mostly women and children,” killing dozens. The attacks occurred in a region where hundreds of people were earlier killed during violence that erupted after President Jonathan, a Christian, beat his closet Muslim rival in April elections.

Turkey: The ancient Aghia Sophia church has been turned into a mosque. Playing an important role in ecumenical history, the church was first transformed into a mosque in 1331 by the jihadist Ottoman state. As a sign of secularization, however, in 1920 it was turned into a museum. Its transformation again into a mosque is a reflection of Turkey’s re-Islamization.

Apostasy and Proselytism

Afghanis around the world are being threatened for leaving Islam and converting to Christianity. One exile, who changed his name after fleeing Afghanistan in 2007 when an Islamic court issued an arrest warrant for his conversion, is still receiving threats: “They [Afghan officials] were very angry and saying that they will hit me by knife and kill me.” Even in distant Norway last September, an Afghan convert to Christianity was scalded with boiling water and acid at a refugee processing center: “If you do not return to Islam, we will kill you,” his attackers told him.

Algeria: Five Christians were jailed for “worshiping in an unregistered location.” International Christian Concern (ICC), an advocacy group investigating the case, states that the five Christians are charged with “proselytizing,” “unauthorized worship,” and “insulting Islam.”

Iran: Pastor Yousef Nadarkhani, who caught the attention of the world after being imprisoned and awaiting execution for leaving Islam, remains behind bars as officials continue to come up with excuses to force him to renounce Christianity, the latest being that “everyone is [born] a Muslim.” A Christian couple “who had been snatched and illegally-detained” by authorities for eight months without any formal charges, were finally released, beaten again, and have since fled the country. While imprisoned, they were “ridiculed and debased” for their Christian faith.

Kashmir: Muslim police arrested and beat seven converts from Islam in an attempt to obtain a confession against the priest who baptized them. After the grand mufti alleged that Muslim youths were alternatively being “lured” and “forced” to convert by an Anglican priest “in exchange for money,” the priest was arrested in a “humiliating” manner. Recently released, his life is now “in serious danger.”

Kenya: A gang of Muslims stabbed and beat with iron rods a 25-year-old Somali refugee, breaking his teeth; he was then stripped naked, covered with dirt, and left unconscious near a church. Although he was raised Christian since age 7, he was attacked on the “assumption that as a Somali he was born into Islam and was therefore an apostate deserving of death.”

Nigeria: The Muslim militant group, Boko Haram, executed two children of an ex-terrorist and “murderer” because he converted to Christianity. When still a terrorist, he “was poised to slit the throat of a Christian victim” when “he was suddenly struck with the weight of the evil he was about to commit.” After finding he converted to Christianity, “Boko Haram members invaded his home, kidnapped his two children and informed him that they were going to execute them in retribution for his disloyalty to Islam. Clutching his phone, the man heard the sound of the guns that murdered his children.”

General Killings

Egypt: After a Christian inadvertently killed a Muslim in a quarrel begun by the latter, thousands of Muslims rose in violence, “collectively punishing” the Copts of the village. Two Christians “not party to the altercation” were killed; others were stabbed and critically wounded. As usual, “after killing the Copts, Muslims went on a rampage, looting and burning Christian-owned homes and businesses.” Even so, “Muslims insist they have not yet avenged” the death of their co-religionist, and there are fears of “a wholesale massacre of Copts.” Many Christians have fled their homes or are in hiding.

Kenya: Suspected Islamic extremists, apparently angered at the use of wine during communion—Islam forbids alcohol—threw a grenade near a church compound killing two, including an 8-year-old girl, and critically wounding three others. The pastor of another congregation received a message threatening him either to flee the region “within 48 hours or you see bomb blast taking your life and we know your house, Christians will see war. Don’t take it so lightly. We are for your neck.”

Nigeria: In the latest round of violence, soon after mosque prayers were heard, hundreds of armed Muslims invaded Christian villages, “like a swarm of bees,” killing, looting, and destroying virtually everything in sight; at the end of their four-hour rampage, some 150 people had been killed—at least 130 of them Christians. Another 45 Christians were also killed by another set of “Allahu Akbar!” shouting Muslims who burned, looted, and killed. Hundreds of people are still missing; the attacks have included the bombing of at least ten church buildings. Nearly all the Christians in the area have fled the region.

Pakistan: A 25 year-old Christian was shot dead by “an unidentified gunman in what his family believes was a radical Muslim group’s targeting of a Christian.” According to the son, “We firmly believe that my father was killed because of his preaching of the Bible, because there is no other reason.” He began to receive threats “after voicing his desire to start a welfare organization for the poor Christians” of the region.

“Dhimmitude”

(General Abuse, Debasement, and Suppression of non-Muslim “Second-Class Citizens”)

November’s major instances of dhimmitude come from two Muslim nations notorious for violating Christian rights—Egypt and Pakistan—neither of which is even cited in the U.S. State Department’s recent International Religious Freedom report:

Egypt: Following October’s Maspero massacre, when the military killed dozens of Christians, some run over intentionally by armored vehicles, Egypt’s military prosecutor detained 34 Christians, including teens under 16, on charges of “inciting violence, carrying arms and insulting the armed forces”; many of the detainees were not even at the scene and were just collected from the streets for “being a Christian.” Three are under 16 years of age, including one who, after having an operation to extract a bullet from his jaw, was chained to his hospital bed. Hundreds of Christians also came under attack from Muslims throwing stones and bottles, after the Christians protested against the violence at Maspero: “Supporters of an Islamist candidate for upcoming parliamentary election joined in the attack on the Copts.” Meanwhile, a senior leader of the Salafi party, which came in second after the Muslim Brotherhood in recent elections, blamed Christians for their own massacre, calling “Allah’s curse on them.” Muslim Brotherhood leaders asserted that only “drunks, druggies, and adulterers” are against the implementation of Sharia—a clear reference to Egypt’s Christians.

Pakistan: A new U.S. government commission report indicates that Pakistani school textbooks foster intolerance of Christians, Hindus, and all non-Muslims, while most teachers view religious minorities as “enemies of Islam.” “Religious minorities are often portrayed as inferior or second-class citizens who have been granted limited rights and privileges by generous Pakistani Muslims, for which they should be grateful,” notes the report. Accordingly, in an attempted land-grab, Muslim police and cohorts of a retired military official, beat two Christian women with “batons and punches,” inflicting a serious wound to one of the women’s eyes after the women spoke up in defense of their land, and shot at Christians who came to help the women. “In the last few years Muslims have made several attempts to seize the land from the Christians, usually succeeding because Christians are a marginalized minority.” Likewise, under a “false charge of theft,” a Christian couple was arrested and severely beaten by police; the pregnant wife was “kicked and punched” even as her interrogators threatened “to kill her unborn fetus.” A policeman offered to remove the theft charges if the husband would only “renounce Christianity and convert to Islam.”

Via Wizbang.

What strikes me about this is not so much the courage, but the kindness of the store clerk.

Mustafa comes at him with a gun, threatening his life for money. Derek knocks the robber out with a single punch and calls the police. But there is no more shouting or violence. Derek sits with him, almost in a comforting way, and gives him paper towels to help with the bleeding.

He has good advice to offer too: If you want money, get a job. Work, like everyone else.

Jimmy Carter is a kind-hearted and sincere man who, partly because of his own honesty and gentleness, cannot seem to believe in the dishonesty and brutality of others. He is a Christian who does not believe people can be evil. This naivety made him a bad president, and makes him a poor judge of foreign policy and a dangerously incompetent commentator on social issues.

Michael Wiess in the UK Telegraph is right to point out just how destructive some of Carter’s comments and actions have been. But I cannot get distressed at Carter’s reported sending of condolences to Kim Jong Il’s son Kim Jong Un. Jong Il was a vile dictator. We may be glad his reign is over. But his family still suffers grief at his death, and it is right that we condole with them.

Nor can I share in the sentiments expressed by John McCain, for whom I have considerable respect:

“The world is a better place now that Kim Jong Il is no longer in it,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said in a statement after the North Korean leader died, reportedly of a heart attack. “For more than six decades, people in North Korea have been consigned to lives of dire poverty and cruel oppression under one of the most totalitarian regimes the world has ever known. I can only express satisfaction that the Dear Leader is joining the likes of Qaddafi, Bin Laden, Hitler, and Stalin in a warm corner of hell.”

I hope not. None of us is worthy of salvation. If Qaddafi and Kim Jong Il don’t deserve to be in heaven, well, no more do I. Jesus came to save them as much as to save me, and if he loved them enough to go to the cross for them, then I cannot rejoice at their deaths, nor hope for damnation for them.

That is not to deny the harm they have done, and the immense suffering they have caused. My prayer for the family of Kim Jong Il is that they will be comforted in their time of sorrow, and that both the sorrow and the comfort will lead to a change of heart, then to changes in policy and eventually to freedom for North Korea.

A few grammatical points.

1. Comprise means ‘is made up of.’ Comprise should not be followed by ‘of.’ Comprise includes the ‘of.’

This is a frequent error in real estate agents’ descriptions of their properties. ‘This house comprises of four bedrooms, three bathrooms … ‘ No it doesn’t. It comprises four bedrooms, three bathrooms, etc. Writing ‘comprises of’ or  ‘comprised of’ makes you look like an idiot.

2. It’s always means ‘it is.’ Always. If you mean its coat, its temperature, etc., you do not need an apostrophe. The possessive pronouns ‘his,’ ‘hers,’ ‘its,’ etc., do not take an apostrophe.

Real estate agents seem to have difficulty with this one too, as do signwriters. ‘It’s bathroom is tiled in blue.’ No it isn’t. What that sentence means is ‘It is bathroom is tiled in blue.’

3. Plurals do not take an apostrophe. I don’t know why this is so difficult to understand. If you want to say there is more than one of something, you do not need an apostrophe. More than one tomato is tomatoes, not tomato’s. More than one CD is CDs, not CD’s.

4. Unique means ‘one of a kind.’ Whatever it is, it cannot be ‘very unique,’ or ‘quite unique.’ It is either one of a kind or not. It is either unique or not. Nothing can be partly unique.

5. To beg the question means to avoid the question, to answer without answering. For example, if Mr Obama was asked ‘Has unemployment risen during your presidency?’ and he answered ‘Our policies are designed to ensure ongoing economic growth,’ he would be begging the question.

If a statement makes you want to ask another question, or leads naturally to a question, that is not ‘begging the question.’ For example, it is not correct to say the statement ‘Black men suffer higher rates of imprisonment than white men,’ begs the question ‘Are the courts biased in their sentencing?’ It might invite the question, or lead to the question. It does not ‘beg the question.’

You could use any one of a dozen expressions to mean that a statement leads naturally to another question. If that is what you mean, use one of them.

What you should not say is, it ‘begs the question.’ It doesn’t. That has a specific meaning, which is to avoid answering a question by giving an answer unrelated to what has been asked. It is a useful expression, and worth preserving.

The best tribute to the despicable and admirable Christopher Hitchens is to read, hear and inwardly digest his words.

This interview taped in 2002 for Uncommon Knowledge is brilliant. Two highly intelligent, eloquent men, with deep knowledge of history, talk about something that is still critically important.

In the war on terror, who are our enemies?