The Conversation

The Conversation is a website where academics comment on their areas of expertise and which has recently extended its reach from Australia and the UK to the USA.

It’s a form of vanity publishing for university lecturers who would rather be journalists – and none the worse for that. I can count on my fingers the number of British journalists I respect for their expert knowledge (Patrick Cockburn, the Independent’s far-left correspondent in Baghdad, Robert Fisk, also of the Independent, Ambrose Evan-Pritchard, the Telegraph’s polyglot economics freak…) If university specialists can provide expertise that today’s journalism can’t, then bring it on.

That said, any journal has its biases, and those of the Conversation are particularly evident when it comes to climate change.

For example, there were complaints about moderation policy on the thread at

https://theconversation.com/study-vindicates-climate-models-accused-of-missing-the-pause-29477

which begins:

Comment removed by moderator.

Comment removed by moderator.


Comment removed by moderator.


Comment removed by moderator.

Comment removed by moderator.


Comment removed by moderator.


Comment removed by moderator.


Comment removed by moderator.


John Phillip

Michael, I am baffled as to why Geoff’s original post has been deleted. Is it possible to reinstate it as he raised some valid concerns?





Malcolm Short

I was thinking the same thing. It wasn’t off-topic nor did it contain any ad homs, which was the reason they removed Alice’s comment.

Comment removed by moderator.


This led to a tightening up of moderation policy concerning climate change:

Michael Hopkin (Editor at The Conversation) In reply to Malcolm Short:

Geoff’s original post (and subsequent replies, including mine) have been deleted in line with our policy of moderating against comments that introduce misinformation or distortion. We much prefer commenters to link to sources that are informed by credible, peer-reviewed evidence.”

[My only sin, I think, was to have cited Wattsupwiththat, the world’s most popular science blog, on an article about climate science]

Editor Michael Hopkin continued:

For more info have a read of Cory’s blog post about our approach to comments about climate science -”

https://theconversation.com/cleaning-up-climate-comments-25914.

Where you can read:

As part of our approach to improving comments on The Conversation, we’re paying particular attention to comments on climate change…. we’d like climate change comments to be intelligent and constructive. To help achieve that, we’ll be taking a more involved role on moderation of climate articles and to keep things on track we will take a firm stance on what is on- and off-topic. For example, comments challenging the scientific basis of climate change will be regarded as off-topic unless the article is specifically about this subject (as opposed to articles about climate policy, for example).”

So if, for example, the Conversation carries an article suggesting that climate deniers should be hanged drawn and quartered in public, it will not be permitted to observe:

But climate change isn’t happ… AAAAAAAARGH!!”

(although I suppose it would be ok to point out that hanging drawing and quartering was contrary to UN Resolution number x…)

Despite these limitations to free speech, a number of us have been commenting, with a certain success I believe, for example at:

https://theconversation.com/climate-change-its-only-human-to-exaggerate-but-science-itself-does-not-33150

http://www.science20.com/the_conversation/why_climate_uncertainty_is_no_excuse_for_doing_nothing-147447

https://theconversation.com/limiting-global-warming-to-2-c-the-philosophy-and-the-science-3207

https://theconversation.com/can-people-power-drive-action-on-climate-change-33155

https://theconversation.com/germanys-green-power-surge-has-come-at-a-massive-cost-33202

https://theconversation.com/book-review-naomi-klein-finds-kernels-of-hope-amid-climate-change-and-untamed-capitalism-31756

I‘m talking about you, Robin Guenier, Barry Woods, Paul Matthews, (and others. Apologies to any I’ve forgotten)

But not enough. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of commenters at Bishop Hill, and maybe thousands at Wattsupwiththat (the Conversation has recently extended its tentacular growth from Australia and the UK to the United States) who could add to the utter destruction of the consensus among the superior university chaps who express such supreme confidence in the superiority of their superior university opinions at this superior university-financed blog

https://theconversation.com/uk

This could have an effect. For example, the third article mentioned above was by a philosopher, Laurence Torcello, and a climate scientist, Michael Mann.

I made several comments, mostly aimed at the philosophical arguments of Torcello in favour of the idea that expressing an opinion opposed to the scientific consensus was “morally condemnable”. But in an aside, I also took a couple of sideswipes at the science, for example when I quoted the article:

At our present pace of fossil fuel burning we will, by 2036, exceed the 2°C limit […] Currently, at just 0.9°C (1.6°F) warming…”

and commented:

So you’re predicting 1.1°C warming in the next 22 years? Bets anyone? Is there a scientist in the house who would care to support that prediction?”

Soon after, the article was corrected, presumably by author Mann, since author Torcello knows nothing of climate science, and comments were closed, with the excuse:

For ressource reasons, the comments on this article have now been closed”

whereas other articles, e.g.:

https://theconversation.com/can-people-power-drive-action-on-climate-change-33155

are still open for comments.

I hereby claim to be the first person in the history of the universe to have got Michael Mann to have corrected a mistake.

Go there, BishopHill’s Angels and WUWTistas. There’s a battle to be engaged, and won.

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24 Responses to The Conversation

  1. Barry Woods says:

    Mann bowed down to Ed_Hawkins on twitter –

    Ed was persistant

  2. Barry Woods says:

    I do agree with Geoff, far better that sceptics comment (if they are able to – many give up after deletion) at places like The Conversation, than sceptic blogs.. I tried myself ages ago to persuade more people to comment on Richard Blacks Earth watch for example.

  3. Barry Woods says:

    Hi Geoff –

    quite a good article about correlation not being causation at The Conversation..but they drag out the Skeptical Science escaltot sceptic misrepresentation graphic.
    https://theconversation.com/clearing-up-confusion-between-correlation-and-causation-30761

    I’ve made this comment:

    Sceptics don’t view global warming like the graph shown, that is just a creation of the anti-climate sceptic site SkepticalScience and is pure mis-representation of people that they oppose

    As for cherry picking their graph starts in 1973, the start of a warming period, after 30-40 years of a flat / cooling trend, the sceptics are suggesting we are due a similar period, predominantly due to natural variability(oceans being a likely driver) I’m a ‘climate sceptic’ & I would refer people to the HadCRut4 graph of global surface temperature anomalies (going back to the 1800’s, not a cherry picked 1973)

    (Hadcrut, being HADley Centre, Met Office and CRU – Climate Research Unit, UEA, UAH, or RSS or GISS all show similar trends)

    As climate scientist themselves are now talking about the ‘pause’ in surface temps after making strong predictions of rises, 0.3C by 2014, announced by Vicky Pope Met Office, in 2007, then revising it as flat to 2017 last year, and even a 30 yr pause possibility due to the PDO (Julia Slingo, Chief Scientist at the Met Office, discussing the pause at the Royal Society last year)

    Thus the whole purpose of the SkepticalScience graph to attempt to dismiss the ‘pause’ in global surface temperature as a silly sceptical argument (surface temps has been the measure politically and scientifically, for the last 30 yrs, ie the 2C target) is becoming increasingly obsolete/embarrassing for them.

    Three Reports on the ‘pause’ by The Met Office and a press release are here:
    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/news/recent-pause-in-warming

    Met Office – The Recent Pause in Warming

    “The Met Office Hadley Centre has written three reports that address the recent pause in global warming and seek to answer the following questions:

    What have been the recent trends in other indicators of climate over this period?
    What are the potential drivers of the current pause?
    How does the recent pause affect our projections of future climate?”

    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/news/recent-pause-in-warming

    Paper 1: Observing changes in the climate system (PDF, 2 MB)
    Paper 2: Recent pause in global warming (PDF, 1 MB)
    Paper 3: Implications for projections (PDF, 663 kB)

    all 3 reports are very well worth a read to understand the science, I would not recommend Skeptical Science, best to go to the scientists direct.

    (scientists I know at the Met Office, don’t recommend SkS anymore)

  4. Barry Woods says:

    Shubs added a comment..

    I’ve added another

    the Met Office use from 1998 when talking about the pause! So in Skeptical Science’s latest version of this graphic
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=47

    they try to hide the long ‘pause’ or ‘slowdown’ – (some at the Met Office like ‘hiatus) by breaking it (dishonestly?) into 2 lines, the Met Office treat the ‘pause’ as interesting to b examined/researched explained.. not misrepresented

    Met Office – The recent pause in warming (this was 2013, so we can add a year)
    http://www.metoffice.gov.uk/research/news/recent-pause-in-warming

    Climate projections over the globe
    July 2013 – Global mean surface temperatures rose rapidly from the 1970s, but have been relatively flat over the most recent 15 years to 2013.

    so here we have the Met Office showing and discussing a pause since 1998, vs Skeptical Science trying to hide the long pause, by breaking it into 2 lines,( as Shub describes) and misrepresenting both sceptics and scientists it seems now!

    what will Skeptical Science do, if as Julia Slingo suggested the ‘pause’ might last 30 yrs due to the PDO?

    Julia Slingo Chief Scientist of the Met office asked the following question to Prof Jochen Marotzke of the German Max Planck Institute of Meteorology, (about 42 mins in)
    [audio src="http://downloads.royalsociety.org/events/2013/climatescience-next-steps/marotzke.mp3" /]

    Julia Slingo
    “… some of us might say if you look at the Pacific Decadal Oscillation and it’s timescale that it appears to work, it could be 30 years, and therefore I think, you know, we are still not out of the woods yet on this one. … If you do think it’s internal variability, and you say we do think the Pacific Decadal Oscillation is a key component of this, and it’s now in it’s particular phase, but was previously in the opposite phase, could you not therefore explain the accelerated warming of the 80s and 90s as being driven by the other phase of natural variability?” – Julia Slingo

    will Skeptical Science be drawing a 30 yr line, or 3 ten yr lines?

    perhaps the authors here would want to re-consider the evidence when using the SkS escalator graphic? and update this article?

  5. Raff says:

    If you want to destroy the ability of sceptics to comment at all you are going the right way about it. By encouraging others to pile in on an article (“I just posted my clever comment on site x”) you are provoking exactly what you are complaining about. The result is likely to be comments disabled.

  6. A comment I particularly liked on the “study vindicates..” thread was this one that you wrote towards the end of the “conversation”. Of course it was deleted but I saved it.
    It explained which comments they should delete and ended with “have a good conversation”.

    There is a lot more to be said about the so-called Conversation – I have a draft post on it. Even devout climate activist Alice Bell has expressed doubts, over how articles with a particular slant are solicited and then hyped up by the editors.

  7. j ferguson says:

    “…extended their reach…” but still working on their grasp.

  8. Barry Woods says:

    actually Raff – I just want to talk to people (rather than an echo chamber) and like Geoff think engaging people that think differently is productive for all.. Ie I’ve happily talked and MET people on the other side of the debate, Harrabin , Leo Hickman, Lynas, Joe Smith and many others and had civil adult conversations.
    But I guess you don’t see it that way

  9. Raff
    I was going to reply to you this morning, because you raise an important point, but I was busy (well, actually I went to Spain to do some shopping). I’ve just got back, and I do recommend that you read Barry Woods’ two comments above yours which I’ve just rescued from moderation, since he’s doing what you consider “suicidal”, i.e. encouraging us to post on threads where he thinks we could be useful, and quoting at length his own posts, which are far more informative and valuable than mine. He’s communicating his enthusiasm for posting there to other people who he thinks might be interested in posting there too. If that is interpreted as “piling in” and leads to us being banned – well, we’ll know where we stand, won’t we?

    You may be right, I just don’t know. We’re talking tactics, so reasonable people can disagree. Tactically, I think its pointless to comment on noisy blogs like the Telegraph or the Mail, where sceptics are in a majority anyway, and the sheer quantity means that any comment is liable to get lost in the mass. WUWT is often like that, but Watts or the moderators read the comments and sometimes elevate interesting ones.

    The Conversation has a fairly exhaustive list of things that can get your comments removed, including quoting from sources that the editors of the Conversation consider to be not reliable. This raises questions, not only of journalistic ethics, but of elementary logic. An atheist who announced his willingness to debate with a Christian but refused to allow him to quote from the Bible on the grounds that it was not a reliable source would be accused of acting in bad faith. A refusal to accept that others have differing views of what constitutes a reliable source is a refusal to accept the possible validity of their opinions.
    Paul Matthews, whose comment has also just been rescued from moderation, has a whole blog devoted to challenging the reliability of the IPCC reports. Not only does he not ban commenters from quoting from it, but he quotes from it himself all the time.

    The Conversation is an interesting place to comment for three reasons, I think. First, the intellectual level of contributors and commenters is higher than elsewhere, for the most part; secondly, there are many commenters who are not participants in the climate wars, and can be influenced by persuasive argument; and thirdly, the Conversation is financed by universities and state-funded agencies, and is therefore answerable to the taxpayer and elector.
    To illustrate my second point: on one thread a professor of philosophy was roundly ticked off by a warmist commenter for expressing sceptical opinions, not of climate science, but of the argument in the article. Brad Keyes and I independently furnished some information about the author of the article, and the professor replied “Thanks Brad and Geoff, now I understand.”

    The idea that Brad or I or Barry or Paul or Robin Guenier can make a professor or two think twice about some entrenched opinion they hold is precious to me. I know that among the habitués of BishopHill there are dozens of other commenters, many of them with specialist knowledge in science, engineering or other arcane activities, and equally capable of putting forward trenchant opinions. Why shouldn’t I encourage them to express their opinions where they’ll be read by people with equivalent intellectual capacities?

    Coming to the third reason why I find the Conversation an interesting place to comment: if ever they try to stop sceptics from commenting, then letters will go to the Nuffield Foundation, and the other nine foundations and 35 universities which fund them, possibly accompanied by a petition signed by academics. Universities would not, I think, feel happy about funding an organisation which had a policy of limiting free speech.

  10. The latest post from the US version of the Conversation is interesting and amusing because it talks about the left-wing bias in the media and resulting distortion of climate reporting.

    The first part of the article is (as Geoff points out in his comment) a bit pointless, just saying that people with stronger political views are more likely to take part in the political process. But the second part goes on to admit bias in reporting of extreme weather events and in hyping up renewables. Geoff and I have taken the opportunity to question the Conversation’s “sceptic cleansing” moderation policy and their claimed lack of political bias.

  11. Raff says:

    Geoff Chambers, you write over at Bishop Hill: “What’s the difference between the demand of sceptics to be heard in the media and the demand of Blacks in the American South for the end of segregation? What’s the difference between Raff’s reply and the observation that, by demanding the right to sit in the front of the bus, blacks would only make things worse for themselves?”

    Do you prefer to keep your crass, stupidity off your own site? Bishop Hill is a fitting place for it, you think? For readers who are not rich white English boys, that is an offensive comparison.

    The United States Declaration of Independence starts:

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,…”

    The Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, contains the wording:

    “all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights…”

    The Massachusetts Constitution of 1780, says:

    “Article I. All men are born free and equal, and have certain natural, essential, and unalienable rights;”

    The apartheid system of the southern states violated the founding principles of the United States. It was offensive to all right thinking people.

    Your “demand of sceptics to be heard in the media” is baseless. It has the same strength as a demand by chiropractors, homeopaths, natural cure enthusiasts or alien abductees to be heard: none. If you want to be heard, do some original research and publish – if what you publish has any worth, you will be heard.

  12. Raff
    My apologies. It was a bit excessive wasn’t it? I didn’t mean to suggest that the frustrations felt by sceptics were in any way comparable to the sufferings of blacks under segregation.

    It’s permissible to point out the similarities between the trivial and the momentous. When we call a bunch of idiots who tag a synagogue “fascists”, we don’t mean to suggest that thye are likely to kill millions of people.

    But I hold to my comparison of your advice. It’s the quietist argument that can be met in all sorts of situations: “Don’t make waves; you’ll only make it worse”.

    You measure the seriousness of the treatment of blacks under segregation by citing the US Constitution. That’s not something that would come naturally to a British person, since we don’t have a written constitution, but we do share a sense of shock when we see rules that we take for granted systematically ignored by those in power.

    I think the reason that the civil rights movement came to mind was because of the utter absurdity of the nature of the injustice. Telling someone where they can sit in the bus because of their skin colour is even more absurd than refusing people the right to express their opinion in certain media because they disagree about how many degrees the world is likely to warm by the year 2100.

  13. Mooloo says:

    It has the same strength as a demand by chiropractors, homeopaths, natural cure enthusiasts or alien abductees to be heard:

    All of them are heard, regularly. Chiropractors, homeopaths etc even have support in some countries (France, for example for homeopathy, NZ for chiropractors). I’m not aware of any major publicity campaigns that suggest 97% of scientists don’t believe in alien abductions. The official “sceptic” organisations fighting UFO nonsense are very much on the same scale as the climate-sceptics. They might be toeing the official line, but they get no support for it.

    Climate scepticism is different in getting a highly organised, and well-funded, opposition that paints it as not just wrong but evil. That seeks to not just denigrate, but silence. That’s because of the political implications, that pseudo-medicine does not raise, And because all the major political parties are in alignment and there are no well-funded pressure groups fighting them.

    I would suggest that better comparisons might be to votes for women or Scottish independence from the UK — causes that were for a very long time considered disgraceful to raise. Where the minority of supporters were harassed until they built sufficient support. Of course there are other causes that were silenced and then died utterly from their silence.

  14. Raff says:

    Apology accepted. But if I were a webmaster, posts like that would probably go straight to the trash. And that would not be “censorship” or a curtailment of your freedom of speech, but an editorial decision.

    I don’t consider that I (or you) have any automatic right of reply to any article, it is up to each website to decide what to allow. I may consider my opinion relevant and important but if the website doesn’t, they have a right to snip.

    Taxpayer funding doesn’t change that. Ignoring the fact that the webmaster has no way to know whether you are actually pay UK taxes (IP address proves nothing), sites need to set their own standards, editorial policy and so on and afford the cost of moderating comments. I don’t see that any supposed “rights” I have to comment and to recruit others to echo my sentiments on a site exceed those of the site to determine its editorial policy – including restricting the number of comments from a vocal and organised minority in order to maintain balance etc. Maybe you think you are not a minority, but if you weren’t you wouldn’t have to chivvy others into action by advertising where and what you are posting.

    So as I said before, by rounding up supporters to hit a website in a coordinated attack you are most likely to get snipped. And that has no connection to US civil rights.

  15. Then go and run your own blog. This is the internet.

  16. The US black movement was the rounding up of people to attack entrenched and respectable racism in a co-ordinated manner. It appears to me, that while you protest the imagery employed by alluding to the event, its actual message has not sunk in to your mind.

    If you ran a website and if someone compared a current circumstance to a historical scenario and that ruffled your pretty feathers, you could delete the comment. Or, you could try to see that humans are fallible and prone to making the same mistakes thoughout.

  17. Raff says:

    Shub, I know you go in for a revisionist reading of US racial history (slavery, civil war, civil rights) and I understand that people at your end of the political spectrum consider “respectable racism” not to be an oxymoron. It also seems to be true that many attacks on climate science come from that end of the spectrum. I often wonder how reasonable people like Geoff (who I understand to be on the left) can make common cause with you.

  18. Raff (November 1, 2014 at 10:53 pm)
    Agreed there’s no automatic right of reply on a website. I could have trashed your comment, saving myself some embarrassment and the effort of writing this reply. But that wouldn’t have been honest or fair.
    Your remark about taxpayer funding reveals that we have a radically different idea about the right of reply. I’m not talking about legal or constitutional rights, but about something much vaguer and more fundamental, and which has no legal basis: – the right to be treated as a normal human being.
    If an editor or webmaster is bombarded with letters from Jehovah’s Witnesses or Moonies of course he has the right to bin them. The readers of BishopHill I was encouraging to write in are not like that. (Well, some of them may be, I wouldn’t know). They have a wide range of interesting views on the subjects discussed at the Conversation, and I remain convinced that if they expressed them their they’d reach an interested audience.
    My comment that was censored in the thread I quote at the beginning of this article simply linked to WattsUpWithThat, and, as two commenters whom I’ve never heard of commented, it was perfectly reasonable. The Conversation will censor you if you refer to the world’s most popular scientific website. Isn’t that absurd?
    At least two of the writers at the Conversation (Mann and Lewandowsky) write peer-reviewed articles denigrating those who criticise them, associating us with racists, conspiracy theorists and people who write hate mail. Renowned journalists praise their articles without ever examining them, and scientific organisations give them medals. Isn’t that weird?

  19. manicbeancounter says:

    I have posted a few times. The only one that responded was Richard P. Allan. In fact, we exchanged pleasant emails. I will let you make up your own minds if his answers were satisfactory.
    My current one is on a Pancost/Lewandowsky post on uncertainty. No response from the man himself of course, but am having a great time nevertheless.
    The reason I engage is not necessarily to get a response from the authors, but to learn through engagement. That means getting called the “D” words a bit🙂
    From Richard Allan’s article I learnt how to calculate how long it take for 4 Hiroshima bombs a second of heat would take to warm the oceans by a whole degree centigrade – answer is about 600 years.
    From an article on Sea level rise in Florida I learnt more about the IPCC’s sea level rise projections and how a climate “experts” exaggerated opinions forecasts may be getting Miami-Dade to enact expensive and unnecessary policies.

  20. Raff says:

    Geoff, why do you consider Jehovah’s Witnesses and Moonies not deserving of the same treatment as contributors to BH? When you say BH readers “are not like that” what are they not like? As an atheist I have no love of religion, but you seem very inconsistent there. Do you know for sure that these religions don’t also have a “wide range of interesting views on the subjects discussed at the Conversation”?
    I’m not saying you should not be heard, but that sites have legitimate concerns for what (including how much of any particular point of view) is published under their name and a consequent right to apply editorial decisions, taxpayer funded or not.

    Your description of WUWT as “world’s most popular scientific website” appears wildly inaccurate. Where did you find it? At http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/science-websites you can see a list of science websites that have vastly more traffic that Watts. Go to https://www.quantcast.com/wattsupwiththat.com and add in a comparison of any of the science websites listed on the previous link and Watts is but a fraction. These metrics are of course questionable, but WUWT as the most popular? – it just can’t be right.

    I’ve seen people at BH linking to WUWT as if they think it means something to anyone outside the sceptic “community”. It doesn’t and it never will unless Watts stops publishing articles that are laughed at by people who have the expertise to dissect what he and his collaborators write. Go to Hot Whopper at http://blog.hotwhopper.com/ if you haven’t seen the amusement that Watts generates.

  21. Mooloo says:

    At http://www.ebizmba.com/articles/science-websites you can see a list of science websites that have vastly more traffic that Watts.

    Only the top 13 have more traffic, as the bottom two have Alexa rankings below Watts.

    “Discovery” is a TV site, with extremely marginal science interest. “ScienceDirect” is an aggregator and hard to count alongside the others. The “SmithsonianMag” is, like the museum, as much about history and culture as science.

    Watts has lots of non-science articles, but less so than TreeHugger and HowStuffWorks. In terms of actual hard science, rather than popular “science”, Watts has lots more.

    There’s a couple of genuine science sites above WUWT, but far fewer than I would have guessed. It’s intriguing that most of them are actually sites for extremely famous magazines or journals.

    Isn’t it interesting then that WUWT then gets discarded from the “Top 15” science sites in favour of things like Discovery. You could suggest that it is a conspiracy to avoid those dirty deniers! Especially since Alexa has downgraded Watts substantially recently, even as its traffic rises. Watts may have lower Alexa rank than say TreeHugger, but people stay longer and read more, which tends to suggest higher engagement.

  22. Raff says:

    Your defence is to quibble about what is a “science” site and what is not? Many people would question whether a site like that of Watts that continually publishes articles that are full of incorrect statements (and some would say deliberately so) could be considered a “science” site at all.

    If you really think WUWT is anywhere near to being the “world’s most popular scientific website”, set your Google search settings to 100 results per page and search for “science”. When I do this Watts site is not the first 4 pages (i.e. 400 results – some duplicates, of course). Even if I search for “science climate” (without the quotes), Watts site is way down the 2nd page (2nd 100 results).

  23. A new paper in the peeriviewdlitracha analyses the ten most popular science blogs. They put WUWT at number 5, using something called Technorati. They also say that WUWT is 100% science!

  24. Brad Keyes says:

    Raff:

    “Maybe you think you are not a minority, but if you weren’t you wouldn’t have to chivvy others into action by advertising where and what you are posting.”

    One suspects you haven’t even followed your own logic far enough to notice what it entails for people like Michael Mann, who chivvies his groupies into action whenever the 1-star reviews of his book threaten to predominate at amazon.com.

    “… you are provoking exactly what you are complaining about.”

    Thanks for your… uh, concern.

    “For readers who are not rich white English boys, that is an offensive comparison.”

    I’m neither rich, English, nor a boy, and the simile wasn’t remotely offensive to me. (I guess Geoff really is an izquierdista, to feel the need to apologise for it. ;-D) Have you considered a reversion to Islam? It’s the perfect choice for the easily-offended.

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