Tuesday, December 27, 2005

2005 style doublethink...

This doesn’t need any supplementary comment does it? …

TRANSCRIPT OF BBC INTERVIEW (lifted from the Anxiety Culture Website)

- The BBC's John Humphrys interviewed Lord Falconer (the lord chancellor) on Radio 4 ('Today' news, 13/12/05). This part of the interview was about a woman found guilty of breaching the Serious Organised Crime & Police Act - for reading out names of soldiers killed in Iraq (at the Cenotaph in central London).

John Humphrys: Can I turn to another subject fairly quickly - and that is freedom of speech. What's happened to it? Why have we lost it? Why can't a woman stand near Number 10 Downing Street and read out a list of names without being arrested?

Lord Falconer: We have not, we have not. She was arrested, charged and convicted, and I think given a conditional discharge.

JH: Doesn't matter, she's got a criminal charge. She was not allowed to do something which Tony Blair himself has defended in the past. Let me read you what Mr Blair said: "I pass protesters every day at Downing Street and believe me, you name it, they protest against it. I may not like what they call me but I thank God they can. That's called freedom." We've lost that freedom.

LF: We have not lost that freedom.

JH: We have. She cannot stand in Downing Street and read out a list of names.

LF: John, we've introduced the European Convention on Human Rights that preserves freedom of speech.

JH: Tell that to the lady who's got a criminal conviction because she chose to stand outside Number 10 and read a list of names.

LF: There isn't a country in the world that doesn't take particular measures to protect its parliament.

JH: We didn't have to do it in the past, why do we do it now? Is she threatening Parliament by standing there quietly and calmly reading out a list of names?

LF: No, of course she isn't.

JH: And she's now got a criminal conviction.

LF: No, of course she's not threatening Parliament. But the question...

JH: Then why has she got a criminal conviction?

LF: Because it was a sensible measure to avoid disorder around Parliament.

JH: She was creating disorder? Standing there quietly reading out a list of names.

LF: Well, you describe that as depriving this country of freedom of speech which is hugely overdone.

JH: Yes. I and many, many other people do. Like the woman who appeared on Radio Five Live, on this programme, she said something about she wasn't terribly keen on homosexual men adopting children - she got a call from the police.

LF: Well I don't know anything about that. Freedom of speech is alive and well in this country and you are...

JH: So long as you don't exercise it near Parliament.

LF: Don't be ridiculous.

JH: I'm not being ridiculous.

LF: You are. We are a country which couldn't be freer, in its press, in what people say...

JH: So long as you don't want to exercise it near Parliament within one kilometre.

LF: The idea that you take a measure which is a public order measure, designed to protect our Parliament building as depriving people of freedom of speech is ridiculously overdone, if I may say so.

JH: I shall bear that in mind next time I want to stand outside Parliament and read my newspaper aloud, possibly an editorial that somebody doesn't like.

(category: political stuff)

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Carol Service Tonight

You are cordially invited to a public carol service in Parliament Square at 6pm on Wednesday the 21st of December 2005.

This inclusive service will contain both Christian and secular verse, and is expected to last no more than an hour.

Candles and song sheets will be made available, with donations going to Medical Aid for Iraqi Children.

Please note that if you attend this carol service, it will classify as a spontaneous demonstration (of faith, hope, joy and/or religious tolerance) and there is a possibility that you will be cautioned or arrested under Section 132 of the Serious and Organised Crimes and Police Act 2005.

Click here for more information.

Might be worth attending if you’re near Westminster and fancy running the risk of being arrested going about your now unlawful business.

I'm 50:50 about attending myself even just to take pictures as, if it does come to a caution, I'm almost certainly going to think 'fuck you' and go the whole hog and I really can't afford the fine.

On the other hand, our police wouldn't be so stupid as to intimidate or arrest a bunch of carol singers just before Christmas. Would they?

(category: political stuff)

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Barking at the Moon

OK, my last post was a bit of a Richard Dawkins bash. I make no secret that I personally don’t buy into his Darwinist message but that’s not my issue. It’s the arrogant, fundamentalist nature of his approach. An approach that deliberately stifles debate over important questions about origins and purpose that hacks me off.

There are other populist proponents of evolutionary theory out there who manage to communicate their message without resorting to intellectual fascism; Professor Steven Jones and the late Stephen Jay Gould come to mind.

(that’s the British Professor Steven Jones not the American Professor Steven Jones who released a scientific paper last month that suggested the three WTC towers were taken down by explosives)

History teaches us, quite emphatically, that we can be sure that today’s scientific certainty will be tomorrow’s superstition. And, for the life of me, I’ve seen no evidence that the Theory of Evolution will be any different.

I mention all this because I tried taking a couple of photos of the full Moon last weekend and I got round to thinking about a paper I’d read a few weeks ago.

The Moon is a most excellent and coincidentally useful lump of rock. The moderating effect it has on the Earth’s rotation and the role of tides make a key contribution to life on Earth. Professor Dawkins would dismiss the significance of the Moon as being one of those things. Me, I’m not so sure.

But anyway, the Lunar quirks and coincidences that intrigue me most at the moment are those that apparently have no impact on life on Earth. My two favourite are:

Lunar maria, the large dark basaltic plains visible on the Moon’s surface, are almost entirely restricted to the near-side, visible from Earth. The few maria on the far-side are much smaller, being mostly very large craters. This bias of distribution is thought to have assisted in the tidal locking of the Moon's rotation to its orbit. This results in only one side of the Moon being visible from the Earth. The reason the maria have assisted in tidal locking is that they are denser than much of the rest of the surface and are therefore more strongly attracted towards the Earth by gravity. Over millennia, the Moon's rotation has slowed so that the heaviest side of the Moon with the maria on it faces constantly towards the Earth.

Now the phase locking explanation is all very well and good but it doesn’t do anything to explain why one side of the Moon was splattered so badly in the first place. Given that the Moon is rotating, dismissing the skewed distribution of Lunar maria as being one of those things doesn’t really cut it.

My second favourite Lunar coincidence is the fact that the Moon and the Sun appear to be exactly the same size in the sky...

What’s that all about? This coincidence isn’t fixed in time. The distance between the Earth and the Moon is changing gradually. Near perfect Solar eclipses have only a limited run which coincides neatly with our own existence.

Once again, Dawkins fans would dismiss this coincidence as being one of those things. Proponents of Intelligent Design, at first sight, would seem to be stuck for an explanation. What Earthly point is there to designing Solar eclipses into the grand scheme of things?

Which gets me back to the paper I was thinking about. Guillermo Gonzalez, a US based astronomy professor has put forward the idea that we are part of a designed system that is designed for habitability and observability. In this kind of designed Universe the Solar eclipse coincidence makes perfect sense as its existence allows us to make all sorts of scientific observations which we would otherwise be unable to perform.

This is an absolutely fantastic hypothesis and it promises to drive Dawkins-esque types mental. Sure, it’s a bugger to prove experimentally and so cannot honestly be considered a theory but, if we’re being honest here, nor can Evolution (if anyone knows of an experiment that validates the Theory of Evolution I’d love to hear about it).

I’m particularly tickled by Gonzalez’ hypothesis because it turns the discredited notion of Mankind being at the Centre of Creation, an idea once supposedly as ‘certain’ as Evolutionary Theory, completely on its head...

We are not located at the centre of the Universe because it’s a really crap place to be, both in terms of habitability and for the scope it offers us to observe the Universe.

If you’re interested in this kind of material I recommend reading through Gonzalez’ stuff. Some of it is quite dry and academic but some of it is really amusing, particularly when you think about the potential implications if any of it is true.

Of course, Richard Dawkins and most of his fans wouldn’t bother reading material like that. They know he’s right.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Richard Dawkins - scientific fundamentalist

Aside from being reminded that people are having their arse shot off because I am part of a society populated largely by idiots, I have also been treated a couple of times this week to one of my most favourite cliches whilst discussing Iraq with people

Religion is the cause of all wars

... delivered in the context of discussing suicide attacks and ‘Terror’ in general.

I love that line so because it manages to encapsulate an impressive payload of both ignorance and stupidity in a handful of words.

My favourite-ever expression of the ‘religion is the cause of all wars’ syndrome is this corker written by Richard Dawkins, leading spokesmen for our genes and humanism, just four days after 9/11…

Religion's misguided missiles

Apparently, according to Richard Dawkins, it is a superstitious belief in the afterlife that was responsible for the 9/11, and similar, terror attacks

It came from religion. Religion is also, of course, the underlying source of the divisiveness in the Middle East which motivated the use of this deadly weapon in the first place. But that is another story and not my concern here. My concern here is with the weapon itself. To fill a world with religion, or religions of the Abrahamic kind, is like littering the streets with loaded guns. Do not be surprised if they are used.

Just to put the record straight in my humble little corner of the Internet (again)…

First off, I have real trouble coming up with an example of any war from the last few hundred years that was caused by religion – WW1? WW2? Vietnam? Korea? The Boer War? The American War of Independence? The War of Jenkins Ear?


And as I recall, Hitler and his boys went through particular pains demonstrating that what they were up to was based on firm scientific principles. The concept of the Survival of the Fittest being a particular favourite.

Second off, buying into the tosh that the troubles in, and coming from, the Middle East are the result of Muslim nutcases plays straight into the hands of the worst fundamentalists in the heap. ‘Our’ ones.

Those ‘suicidal lunatics’ fighting us are pissed off with us because we have soldiers occupying their homes. Religion may be a comfort to some of them but is not the cause of their grievance. And if they could lay their hands on a few cruise missiles they’d almost certainly use them before going for a spin in their Toyotas.

And Richard Dawkins is most definitely a lunatic. A fundamental one.

(Further details of the Playmobil Airport Range as illustrated at the top of this post can be found here)

Sitting in Blighty on my big fat civvy arse

Being me, I’ve got drawn into a few heated discussions with folks about the elections in Iraq this week.

One of the people I ended up ‘debating’ with is a soldier who has actually served in Iraq. He’s the second serving combatant I’ve found myself discussing Iraq with in a month.

And at times I’ve felt this small (makes gesture with finger and thumb) doing so.

There I am being totally negative about the whole thing and there’s the other guy talking the situation up. I, of course, am not running the risk of being blown up by an IAD in the course of backing up my opinion.

I totally respect the military personnel serving in Iraq. I also believe the best way to support them is to whip them out of there as soon a possible. That country is set to crumble and maintaining a military presence there will only delay the inevitable. At great cost to ourselves, particularly to those serving there.

What struck me most about my conversations with both guys is how they both rejected the notion that I supported them. Whatever ‘support’ really means in this context. Their opinion is that people speaking out against the war only serves to encourage the insurgents and spur them on to continue their attacks. I even detected a vague whiff of contempt for civilians who have turned against the war.

After thinking about it for a little while I realised that they had a point. The facts of the war in Iraq haven’t changed much since Bush or Blair were re-elected over the last year yet public opinion, particularly in America, has undergone a major about face. So, basically, we sent those soldiers out there, a fair number of them have been subsequently killed or maimed whilst serving in our name, and now we’ve changed our minds about them being there - and as they see it, half way through what they started.

And blaming politicians and the media for collectively misleading us only goes so far in justifying our change of heart

Come to think of it, I’d probably be a bit contemptuous myself

And some of those guys have enough trouble coming to terms with the situation we’ve put them in as it is.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Debt is a four letter word

Two weeks to Christmas

Oh goodie

Not being gainfully employed at the moment, my total festive spending will probably stretch to a few dozen 2nd class stamps and some crappy Christmas cards. That’s if I don’t leave my card writing session too late like I did last year.

I could, of course, decide to make everyone around me much happier and also treat myself to a little something by reaching for the old plastic pal and using it to spread the joy.

But I won’t.

I won’t because I’m not a fucking idiot.

Sadly, however, a lot of people out there are. I’ve just spent a little while perusing the latest UK debt statistics. I strongly recommend anyone bumping into this blog does so too. They make for truly mind-boggling reading.

The UK average house price graph is extra specially scary. And one thing you can’t help noticing is that the graph started going berko round about the same time the UK Government handed over interest rate setting to the ‘independent’ Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) of the Bank of England.

Now the funny thing about the MPC is that just about everybody in politics and the media harps on about what a great idea that was and how it has paved the way for economic stability and the end of boom and bust economics. Dissenting voices are conspicuous by their absence.

Have another look at the average house price. No sign of any boom and bust mentality there, oh no.

What the MPC has been doing, with enthusiastic government support in the background, has been to manage interest rate levels to encourage the maximum amount of personal debt without going too far and letting the whole system go tits up.

For now anyway.

Lending is a first class con. Create some money out of thin air, stimulate demand for that money by lending it cheap, then sit back and watch the mug punters strangle themselves as they borrow more and more.

Then every now and then burst the bubble, hoover up assets on the cheap and start the process all over again.

Governments, as well as the banks, do quite nicely out of the deal, as insane borrowing levels create an illusion of prosperity for some and a financial cosh for others. Chuck in a few handfuls of good old fashioned fear; about terrorism, about killer plagues, about environmental catastrophe and you can pretty much do whatever the fuck you like.

And 2006 is shaping up to be a best-ever year for debt and fear.

And just in case any body out there retains the old fashion notion that personal debt is a bad thing, our government helpfully provides all sorts of little aids and prompts to keep us on track. Students in tertiary education are now thoughtfully set up as major debt bitches before they even start work. People who can barely make ends meet in our burgeoning service based economy, as they compete with workers from the 3rd World, are constantly assured that the economy is great and that prices are only rising by something like 2%. Well except for housing, fuel, water, transport, local taxes and minor stuff like that, oh, and money. But sod it, everyone else is doing well so why not take up that credit card offer?

And let’s face it, everyone needs somewhere to live and, yes, property is expensive but the banks are so obliging these days.

Personal debt would be a lot more fun to handle if individuals had the same rights as companies or governments. If you were a company you’d just skip on a dividend for a couple of years. If you were a government you’d just screw your employer for more money on threat of imprisonment. But, sadly, we mortals are none of these things so we have to make do with getting shafted instead.

And if all of this sounds just a teensy weensy bit demented just read through the commentaries that accompany the monthly MPC decisions. They, not the individual, decide how much money the individual has to spend each month. And the greater the individual’s debt the more direct their control.

And the magic part is that they are totally unaccountable


Fuck it, why stop there? If having unaccountable bankers setting people’s spending behaviour and personal debt burden is such a marvellous idea why not have a panel of psychiatrists deciding how collectively happy we all are every month and slipping anti-depressants into our air and water supplies as well? Personally, I’m also inclined to think that management of Fear, like the interest rate, is too important to be left in the hands of mere politicians. Maybe we should have a panel of Fear experts deciding scientifically just how much Fear we can all bear without things getting out of hand? People topping their kids, then themselves, or running up and down the high street naked, that sort of thing.

That would make for an interesting set of graphs.

Why not? When you really think about it, we’re all just rats in a cage aren’t we?

(category: political stuff)

Monday, December 05, 2005

Stockwell Shooting Inquiry - There is another way

So, in true New Labour fashion, little snippets about the Stockwell Shooting inquiry, a blend of truth and distractions, are gradually being leaked to the press; most recently an article in today’s Independent (if they’ve archived it and ask you to pay to open it don’t bother, it’s bollocks).

Under the banner of supposedly revealing the ‘shocking truth’ about the incident, the article deftly skirts around such intriguing questions as

  • what really happened to the CCTV footage? Outside the victims flat? At the station?
  • what’s the deal with the supposed eye witness accounts that talked about ‘bulky jackets’ and ‘protruding wires’? Where did the police think the man they were shooting in the face had concealed his supposed bomb?
  • why did armed men chase the train driver down a tunnel and shove a gun in his face? What was said?
  • why the fuck did the police permit a supposedly suspect suicide bomber to get into the tube system in the first place?

and so on

Many bloggers have gone over this ground already. I’m only posting on this subject because I’ve just had a blinding idea about how to find out what really happened

The article in the Independent suggests that the IPCC may need as much as a year to study the evidence and reach a definitive conclusion. The separate investigation into why Ian Blair, the head of the Met, lied through his teeth that day could presumably last an equal length of time.

Here’s my idea

Take Ian Blair, the policemen who shot Jean Charles de Menezes and their commanding officer, put them on an unmarked MI6-chartered passenger plane, fly them to some Third World dictatorship and torture the crap out of them for six months

Apparently it’s a proven system.

(category: political stuff)

Saturday, December 03, 2005

I love you Barney

Tired of the endless jabbering and conspiracy talk churned out by alternative news outlets, I’ve just spent half an hour or so perusing official US Government websites in a bid to keep informed about what’s really going on.

Based on my research, I’d like to recommend a couple of sites in particular.

First off comes the US State Department of Defence home page; a veritable trove of informative articles and photographs. Many available as high resolution downloads.

Recent stories include

And not forgetting the very special

Don’t let the titles fool you, the first story is the funniest.

The second link I’d like to recommend is Barney the dog’s home page on the official Whitehouse Site. Barney’s daily photo diary is a particularly good browse and probably the most fucking surreal thing I’ve seen since I ate that out of date Pot Noodle a few months back.

Fans of Barney will be pleased to learn that they can sign up for regular email photo updates from Barney and send Barney questions such as…

Q: Mollie from Purdue writes: My dog, Percy, and I are thrilled that you will be in the White House another four years! As First Dog, you are an exemplary role model for all American dogs. What are your plans for this next term?

A: Barney, First Dog: Bark, Bark, Woof.

Part of me really, really wishes I’d made that exchange up and not just cut and pasted it from the homepage of the government of the most powerful nation on Earth.

But there is method to this apparent madness and one should never underestimate the power of cute dogs to fire the imagination of the typical American voter.

Cue the quote from Richard Nixon’s well-received ‘Checkers Speech’ made in response to accusations of personal corruption back in 1952…

… one other thing I probably should tell you because if we don't they'll probably be saying this about me too, we did get something-a gift-after the election. A man down in Texas heard Pat on the radio mention the fact that our two youngsters would like to have a dog. And, believe it or not, the day before we left on this campaign trip we got a message from Union Station in Baltimore saying they had a package for us. We went down to get it. You know what it was.

It was a little cocker spaniel dog in a crate that he'd sent all the way from Texas. Black and white spotted. And our little girl-Tricia, the 6-year old-named it Checkers. And you know, the kids, like all kids, love the dog and I just want to say this right now, that regardless of what they say about it, we're gonna keep it.


Thursday, December 01, 2005

Do not fuck with Steve Phillips

Whilst on the subject of Internet paranoia, Flickr and ‘shills’ here’s a fresh example of the fine art of Internet misinformation.

An active to contributor to my favourite Flickr group, a guy called Thomas Hawk, ordered a rather expensive camera at an unbelievably good price from a shonky on-line retailer based in Brooklyn. Brooklyn-based internet photographic traders have a mythic reputation for underhand business practices, particularly ‘bait and switch’ tactics, that has spread far beyond the shores of America. These outfits are masters at filling merchant review sites with ‘favourable’ customer feedback.

To cut a long story short, Thomas got screwed. The long story version is available on Thomas’ blog here. It gets quite funny in places, particularly when he gets onto listing the inventive series of threats ‘customer service’ representatives from the retailer start making to him. One of the customer service reps, ‘Steve Phillips’, has spawned a Flickr tribute account.

Thomas’ account of his shafting was picked up by Boing Boing and went stratospheric. The last time I looked his posting had received something like 320 comments. The comments range from the sympathetic through to ‘what did you expect you Muppet?’. None of the comments doubt the veracity of Thomas’ story.

Well except for one, my favourite. Anonymous wrote…

As a professional photographer who has always bought equiptment from PriceRite Photo, to this date I have never had a bad experience with them in the 3 yrs that I have done business with them. I bought a 1DS from them plus I bought a lot of lenses from them. I think that it is unfair that everybody is ripping this company. You guys have no idea if this person is lying. I have learned that you shouldn't judge before you do business with them. I feel that this guy is trying to make a name for himself by killing a company. You guys need a life for ripping a company that you people probably never did business with. This fool who wrote this blog could also be a competitor of them. Well I am going to keep doing business with because I never had a problem with them.

As the credit card ad says .. priceless

And the moral of the story? Probably something along the lines of ‘shilling does have its limitations and if enough people get informed and make enough noise we can collectively drown out the bullshit’. Dodgy Internet retailers are admittedly relatively easy prey. Newspapers, multinational companies and governments are a slightly trickier proposition.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

In defence of Wikipediaphilia pt2

I was chatting the other day with a character who posts recycled publicity images from the Pentagon onto Flickr (it takes all sorts).

At one point I complimented him on his Tora Bora photographs, recording as they do the efforts of the coalition forces to capture a completely non-existent cave complex, taken straight out of a James Bond film; complete with Blowfeld style international criminal mastermind and everything.

The conversation changed direction.

Bizarrely, he was still under the impression that the cave complex actually existed.

Which gets me to the end of my line of thought about the mixed blessing that is the Internet. If it wasn’t for the Internet I would probably still believe that Tora Bora crap and lots of other crap as well. The very existence of the Internet has turned the notion of keeping abreast of current affairs by passively consuming media on its head. It’s much harder work and much more interactive than any of us would reasonably want it to be.

Whether there is any real point to keeping abreast of current affairs or not is another subject.

And why stop at Tora Bora? Mainstream coverage of the War on Terror in Afghanistan and Iraq has consisted of almost pure horse manure from beginning to end. And why presume that the horse manure is restricted solely to the War on Terror? It seems unlikely. Without the Internet I would have suspected that. With the Internet I am certain of it.

Favourite examples from Iraq and Afghanistan that come to mind, aside from the now obvious ones, include:

And a blast from the past

I won’t go on but I could, for a very, very long time.

The Saddam killed his own people story was especially crucial in justifying the 2003 war. Whilst it is rarely articulated, the government and the media are presumably aware that military intelligence is composed of two elements; capability and intent. We know for sure that lots of countries have WMDs but we do not perceive them as being a threat as we have judged that they do no intend to use them on us. So when it came to lying us into a war in Iraq it was necessary to exaggerate the Iraqi intent side of things as much as the capability aspect.

That’s why we kept hearing the same mantra time and time again ‘He used chemical weapons on his own people’. The plain fact that Saddam didn’t use his supposed WMDs when we kicked his arse and ripped through his army the first time was simply ignored.

I don’t know if Saddam gassed Kurds in Halabja. The article I linked to above raises questions that no one is answering. I know I can’t trust anything Saddam says. I also know I can’t trust anything the Kurds say on this either. They have a stake in perpetuating the story whether it is true or not. And the fucking pisser is that I can’t trust my own government or newspapers.

Up until the start of Saddam’s trial I tried to maintain an open mind on the subject. And then, surprise, surprise, it turns out that the Halabja atrocity and none of the other incidents that proved what a wicked regime we have overthrown will be aired in a court of law.

Saddam is going to be tried for reprisals made after an attempt was made on his life almost 25 years ago. If he’s found guilty he will be executed without any further hearings. In particular, nothing will be heard about the really big stuff the bastards responsible for the war still cite as being a justification for that war. Our wonderful news media and opposition politicians apparently see nothing wrong with that.

What’s a boy supposed to think?

Come on get happy

I revisited the Backing Blair site for the first time in a while today. Naturally enough, it’s been a little quiet since the General Election with the exception of their latest video Not Over by a Long Shot. An intriguing mix of the music of the Partridge Family, political satire and a zombie movie.

It’s been up for a while now but I’ve linked it so that I have a good excuse to post a screen grab of David Blunkett saying ‘I can smell your spicy brains’. Not that anybody really needs one…

(category: daft stuff)

Monday, November 28, 2005


OK, I took a pop at the 9/11 hologram theory a couple of posts ago and didn’t post a link to a page that explains the hologram theory. I’ll redress that omission right now…

What is the Hologram Theory?

Do I think holograms were employed on the day? No.

Do I think that the use of holograms was absolutely impossible? No.

Do I stand by citing hologram talk as an example of the kind of chatter and plurality on the Internet that can end up confusing the average Joe when surfing the Internet for alternative news and opinion? Yes

Competing conspiracy theories are like organised religions. At the very best, only one of them can be correct.

So, for example, some 911 theorists support the hologram theory. Others believe that the airliners were hijacked remotely and guided into the towers using ‘Global Hawk’ technology. At least one of those groups is flat wrong and peddaling misinformation. Whether they are doing this sincerely or maliciously is kind of academic.

That’s why I personally prefer discussing and contemplating unanswered questions rather than formulating or supporting alternate explanations.

And I admit it, that makes me a pussy

Sunday, November 27, 2005

A couple of links

I’m a serious connoisseur of the New World Order conspiracy thing and looking forward to the embarrassed silence when American militia types, anti globalisation campaigners, genuine environmentalists, civil liberties protestors and all the other deliberately fractured and manipulated activist groups out there realise that they have all essentially believed the same things all along.

That’ll be a laugh.

One of the exciting developments we can look forward to in the meantime is increasing scarcity, genuine and manufactured, of all sorts of things; fuel, personal freedom, water, decent jobs that pay a living wage, this year’s must have Christmas present, life saving vaccines, stuff like that.

With that in mind, I find stories of people fighting each other for shit that they really don’t need quite entertaining and a handy pointer towards what life will be like for most of us in the not too distant future. This video clip of people stamping on each other in a Walmart in Michigan is a fairly amusing example of the genre.


And whilst I’m posting links, how about this story in the Washington Post that talks about ‘Post Traumatic Personal Growth’ experienced by soldiers returning from combat in Iraq – and there was I thinking that seeing babies burned alive and having your own legs blown off wouldn’t have an up side.

(category: daft stuff)

Saturday, November 26, 2005

In defence of Wikipediaphilia pt1

Someone pulled me up by way of comment on my previous post on my implication that the Internet may be somehow be a less reliable source of information than other sources.

That wasn’t my intention

I absolutely love the Internet

But it does present unique problems.

In the good old days, before the Internet, most news stories would be subject to a handful of different interpretations. Hard core alternative news junkies subscribed to limited production newsletters and journals but this was hard work and small beer.

Now, and without exaggeration, any individual news event may be subject to literally hundreds of interpretations; all of which are just a couple of clicks away. Some of those interpretations are heartfelt and sincere, some are lucid and sane, some are not lucid and sane, and some are planted by individuals deliberately seeking to poison the well. The barriers to entry are low and anonymity easily achieved. The result is thousands of voices, of varying degrees of merit, all clamouring for attention.

Sifting through this stuff is fucking hard work and most people are not equipped with the time or the skills to wade through it all. Remember, just under half the people out there have a sub-average IQ.

Every public interest story out there is subject to lies and spin, and sneaky tricks and, yes, some honest, objective coverage. But, in truth, your average Joe or Jane’s reaction to being pounded with the sheer volume of bullshit that they are now subject to is to become nihilistic, not give a fuck about anything ‘important’ and concentrate on the sports news and celebrity gossip. Can anyone blame them?

A small example from this week…

On Wednesday, Downing Street threatened The Daily Mirror with prosecution under the Britain's Official Secrets act for the disclosing a memo that indicated Blair had convinced Bush not to bomb the Arab language news network al-Jazeera.

So, how many different ways are there to serve this story up on the Internet?

On top of that, I could cite dozens of references who believe that al-Jazeera is CIA funded misinformation and agitation agency anyway.

Aren’t the weekly football results so much more straightforward?

And that’s an example of a relatively open and shut story. If you consider larger more complex stories, such as the entire basis for the attack on Iraq or the 9/11 attacks, the sheer mass of information and misinformation is baffling.

For example, there are piles of hard evidence out there that sections of the US administration were at least complicit in the 9/11 attacks but if you start trawling through the material available on the Internet you will encounter absolute bollocks almost immediately… the airliners that hit the Twin Towers fired missiles into the buildings before striking them … they weren’t really airliners at all, they were holograms

fucking holograms

What are the chances of the real issues rising up through all of the bullshit? The mainstream media has explained the situation to us very clearly ... doubts about 9/11 or the build-up to the Iraqi War are conspiracy theories and all conspiracy theories are bullshit

... fucking holograms

And let’s not kid ourselves here. Hardcore alternative media fans regularly criticise the mainstream media for being bogus yet still feel obliged to seek the validation of the same mainstream media when trying to break a story.

Take the recent news that the Americans used White Phosphorous and Napalm in Fallujah. I’ve been reading about this on the Internet for months now. I’ve seen dozens of pictures of people with their faces literally melted off. This horror happened almost a year ago, yet the story only broke in the UK and US because a documentary was screened on Italian national television. Right up until that point the US government denied the use of these weapons in Fallujah but now the story is acknowledged as being true. The story itself hadn’t changed yet it was transformed from conspiracy theory to a matter of fact purely due to the seal of approval grudgingly given by major news organisations

That’s bullshit isn’t it?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Wikipediaphiles beware

I spend a fair chunk of my on-line time hanging around the Flickr photo-sharing site. I originally started using it as cheap off-site storage for my photos but then gradually got sucked into the photo sharing and community side of the site.

I have made many virtual friends

Oh dear, that’s quite sad isn’t it.

Anyway, one of my virtual friends was a character called ‘Pulitzer Prize Winning Photographer’ aka Clicky McPhotographer. As the names suggest, he was even more virtual than most of the characters you meet on the Internet. His entire portfolio consisted of blurry photos of half eaten packets of economy cheese, used ashtrays and pictures borrowed from other sites, particularly a gay podcast group. The face chosen for PPWP was that of Patrick Litchfield. PPWP’s persona was that of an arrogant old multimillion photographer who thought his pictures were the greatest ever and who enjoyed perverted sex in public places with like-minded individuals.

My understanding is that the genesis of PPWP began in the rude, crude, (and wonderful), ubergeek b3ta site, and his behaviour was consistent with that background

PPWP’s very existence annoyed a very large section of the Flickr community. He was banned from numerous groups within Flickr and blocked by many users. Earlier this month the inevitable finally happened and Flickr management deleted his account.

By a curious twist of fate the real Patrick Litchfield took sick and died less than a week later.

Anyway, all this is of limited interest to anyone not directly involved with PPWP.

PPWP’s wider legacy is of slightly more general interest though. Even though he was deleted, PPWP merchandise is still available from the Cafe Press site and he still is on record in Wikipedia for winning the Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography in 1999

1999: Clicky McPhotographer, for his undercover work investigating an international ring of underage male prostitutes, based in Luton (UK)

This entry has remained uncorrected for months.

This isn’t the first time I’ve personally encountered misinformation in Wikipedia. Just in the last few months I’ve seen an entry that described my local MP Kate Hoey as an ardent supporter of the London 2012 Olympic bid when she was an ardent opponent and some dubious comments made about the use of acetone peroxide, the explosive supposedly used by the alleged 7/7 bombers. Both entries have since been corrected.

Now, I quote Wikipedia regularly, it’s a source of handy summaries, but only if an entry is confirmed by other sources. But there’s a wider issue than just the integrity of a single on-line reference work here and it's a point I've made before. I have seen too many examples of ‘shilling’ on the internet to ever trust material I find on it without a healthy side helping of scepticism; from on-line product reviews through to accounts of supposed terror attacks.

If you accept the possibility that there are people out there deliberately poisoning the well it’s only logical to assume that government and business are aware of the potential of Internet disinformation and exploit that potential. You should expect Trojan Horses of all kinds to abound on the Internet, from individual comments through to entire websites and blogs. And they do.

My advice is to trust no one. Well, except for me obviously.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Blog Cross Plug

Came across this blog through a comment made on my recent climate change post

Global Warming is Good

A contrary weblog that argues against the dangers of climate change, that contends that global warming is not essentially a man-made phenomenon nor can it be significantly modified by man. Many scientists are afraid to speak out against the global warming culture, possibly because they may lose funding, possibly because they are not able to get the word out through a biassed media. So it is up to sites like this to get out the word.

Nicely put


While am at plugging other blogs here’s another that I picked up on by way of comment to one of my previous posts

Robert Sharp’s Blog

anyone who links to one of my posts is alright in my book ;)

Monday, November 21, 2005

Second Class Citizens

So, this year’s Christmas stamps are out. I was looking them over in the post office this morning. In the words of the post office blurb…

The images of the Madonna and Child for the special stamps were selected by artist Irene von Treskow, award winning designer, illustrator and Anglican priest. The collection comes from European, Haitian, Italian, Indian, Native American and Aboriginal Australian backgrounds.

Middle-aged white males who have benefited from a life of outstanding privilege such as myself will no doubt detect the hand of political correctness in their selection. But why should our stamps be any different? Our television has been adhering to Black face quotas for years now.

Britain’s cities, and London in particular, are now home to a staggering variety of different ethnic groups. Yet, all that diversity and complexity is dealt with by simply sticking the occasional Black face in a shot. Apparently, British television makers appear to be labouring under the perverse impression that all ethnic minorities are Black.

Yes, when you’re dealing with complicated issues such as race and culture why not over-simplify your treatment by making do with sticking a couple of Black kids in front of a camera, then giving yourself a great big pat on the back at how fucking right on you are.

So, as things stand in the UK at the moment, Black people are over-represented in novelty yoghurt adverts and postage stamps but thin on the ground in parliament.

I have a strong sense that the TV advertisers and the people who make programmes for the BBC are at least twenty years behind the times. Much of the ‘racial’ concern I pick up from people is not directed at Blacks. Most people’s concerns are not racial at all. They are cultural. Many people, myself included, may be concerned about the development of a certain kind of street culture in which Black male teenagers are over-represented but Black people per se are not an issue. There is plenty of grumbling about different cultural groups going on these days but it’s bugger all to do with skin colour and not usually directed at Blacks or Asians anyway. Fuck it, round where I live Jamaicans and Asians are amongst the only people who actually speak English and watched the same television as I did when they were kids.

Actually, I hear a lot more concern expressed about the perceived negative influence of certain groups of East European migrants than people from the Caribbean. So maybe TV commercial makers and postage stamp designers should start featuring thin white babies with high cheek bones in shiny leather jackets and crew cuts to communicate their anti-racist message.

You may detect that I have a problem with forced expressions of multiracialism. They are crude and patronising and usually ring false. It is painfully easy to identify when a Black face has been pressed into a TV show or advert or whatever in response to a quota or an edict. The result just doesn’t feel right. Watching a TV show or ad where a Black actor has obviously been drafted in to play the token ethnic friend in a group of middle class white people is truly cringe-inducing.

And often the results are outstandingly counterproductive as well as embarrassing. Take this year’s first and second class Christmas stamps for example…

That can’t be right can it?

Friday, November 18, 2005

Up the Elephant and Round the Castle

So, what have I been doing for the last week or so?

Well, thanks for asking.

As it happens I spent most of my free time restoring my spacked-out PC. The laughs I had…

I fact I was so busy fixing my PC I missed out on this event just down the road…

£5 note give-away descends into chaos

A promotional stunt inviting the public to pluck a £5 note from a "money poster" descended into a frenzied stampede today as greedy Londoners grabbed handfuls of cash.

The give-away, to encourage investment in rundown Elephant and Castle, south London, was over in minutes as passers-by elbowed each other out of the way before walking off with pocketfuls of cash.

The money-grab, in which more than three hundred £5 notes were stuck to a billboard on Walworth Road, began with an orderly queue as organisers tried to ensure only one note per person.

But within minutes the true character of the locals appeared, with around 25 people pulling down as much as they could lay their hands on.

As a friend said ‘Ha, madness. They could never have predicted that.’

Or as another said ‘I believe in the essential goodness of mankind. What a heart warming and life affirming little tale...’

Presumably in response to this quote from the news story…

"But then I saw some other people at the other end of the poster just grabbing as much as they could so I ran round and started filling my pockets.

"My ten-year-old son Kevin managed to get quite a lot of money from the top of the poster by sitting on my shoulders. This has been a great day."

To be honest, even if I knew what was going on my camera’s fastest shutter speed is only 1/4000 second, so the photographs would have been pretty blurred.

Admittedly, a certain degree of chaos would have been expected in any part of the world but to pull a stunt like that at the Elephant and Castle of all places. Why not go the whole hog and do it at night in a dimly lit street. Better yet, wait until the much predicted global pandemic gets under way and pin a few hundred doses of Tamiflu up on a wall somewhere and maybe lay some razor wire and man traps out in front of it. The concept of offering free stuff people desperately need, positioned so that they have to jostle and fight for it in a public place is a winning one whose time has definitely come.

It’s a firmly held belief of mine that there are a shit load of people out there, mostly middle class, who have absolutely no conception of the reality of life in our inner cities. How else can you explain some Muppet coming up with the idea of pinning free fivers up on the Walworth Road and expecting people to wait patiently in line for them? For fuck’s sake…

Or maybe I’m too jaded. Maybe I’ve lived in London for too long. A couple of weeks ago we were strolling in Oban, up in Scotland, on a Saturday evening and I saw a distressed child inside a car desperately banging on the car window screaming ‘Help me! Please help me!’. I started towards the car. A shifty looking man moved between me and the child, blocking my path, and glared at me. For a moment, I considered twatting him and sized up the most effective way of going about it.

Then he turned around and opened the car door and the kid said

Thank you daddy’

There’s a moral to that tale somewhere

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Stef's Long Post About Climate Change

We’ve just come back from a couple of days in the Western Isles of Scotland. And, as one does, we caught a couple of ferries between one island and another.

I could enthuse about the scenery in that part of the world for a long time, even if it does piss down most of the time, but that’s not important right now. The reason why I mention our ferry rides is that we saw a lot of raised beaches from the boat.

Raised beaches are beaches or wave cut platforms raised above the shoreline by a relative fall in the sea level. In some places you can see three or four distinct platforms on a hillside. What those beaches tell us is that…

  • Sea levels have changed quite significantly over relatively short geological timescales.
  • The changes are quick, with relative sea level changing by fifty-foot or more in sudden jumps. Otherwise they wouldn’t be as distinct as they are. Sometimes the sea jumped up or down, sometimes the land did.

OK, I’m a geology geek but this stuff is relevant to the global warming ‘debate’ that is currently raging in the media.

I have said this before but the reality of our existence is that we are sitting on the crust of a ball of molten rock, spinning through a vacuum at thousands of miles an hour. The ambient temperature of the space around us is –273C and our planet is constantly bathed in lethal radiation. If it wasn’t for the stabilising effect of the Moon, our planet would tumble erratically, seasons would last for years and the business of Life would be extremely difficult, if not downright impossible. On top of all that, this stuff is variable. The Earth is constantly cooling and degassing, the heat from the Sun has increased by at least 30% since the Earth was first formed.

I really could go on about the improbability of our continued existence for a very, very long time.

Now, I’m a non-fundamentalist advocate of intelligent design. That’s not to say I believe that ‘God’ set this all up, just that someone did but I’ll shelve that belief for a minute. Thinking strictly scientifically, how could it be that the conditions on this planet; temperature, availability of water, surface radiation etc, have stayed within the relatively narrow range required for the continued existence of life as we know it for the 650+ million years that it is supposed to have existed?

The scientific explanation invokes the concept of Homeostasis

Homeostasis is the property of an open system; especially living organisms, to regulate its internal environment so as to maintain a stable condition, by means of multiple dynamic equilibrium adjustments controlled by interrelated regulation mechanisms.

Which is techno-babble for ‘It just happened’. Fans of homeostasis basically believe that life adapts to changes in the environment and may actually interact with the environment in a way that encourages equilibrium. The classic Daisyworld computer simulation and the Gaia concept are examples of homeostatic thinking. More sun = more white daisies. Less sun = more black daisies. A real world example would be trees growing more vigorously due to more carbon in the atmosphere. More vigoroustree growth = reduction in atmospheric carbon.

There’s no doubt that the living world does contain an almost infinite number of interactions that help stabilise our environment. It’s fucking marvellous. What is not so clear is whether this system was established by accident or design. I’m particularly interested to know how the homeostatic argument accounts for all the astronomical factors that ensure environmental stability and shield life from harm. The tremendous significance of the moon, the shielding effect of the Earth’s magnetic field, a rotation pattern that ensures reasonable days and nights and annual seasonality. Again I could go on for a long time. Just take a look at any of the other planets in the Solar System to see how extreme the results would be if just one of those factors were out of whack.

It’s one thing to say that living things have an impact on atmospheric composition, it’s another to imply that they can collectively move planets around. Actually, there is the basis for a very interesting theory of life in that last statement if someone smarter than me ever got hold of it.

When pondering upon such things, my heart is always warmed by the Biosphere 2 story. Built in the 1980s and costing something like $150m, the idea was to demonstrate that people could live in a scientifically designed closed system. I still fondly remember the coverage of the first ‘mission’ and the sight of eight intrepid pioneers suited up like astronauts or, more appropriately, Heaven’s Gate cult members, waving and smiling before being sealed up on their voyage of exploration.

It didn’t work. Twice. Homeostasis proved terribly elusive in the real world and the Bionauts began to run out of oxygen straight away. They had to have more pumped in. The last time I looked the site was up for sale for use as a spa, resort or, most significantly, a church. The Eden Project in Cornwall is sort of a homage to Biosphere 2, without the inconvenience of trying to make the system work.

I’ll chuck a couple of more personal favourites into the pile whilst I’m at it. If you radiocarbon date the Earth’s atmosphere it comes out at less than 30,000 years old, which is why radiocarbon data needs ‘correcting’ before publication. If you date the atmosphere based on Helium isotopes it comes out at 175,000 years old. I mention these two nuggets on the basis that they either mean radioactive dating techniques are crap, that Bible fans might have a point or, more intriguingly, the Earth has been stripped of its atmosphere more than once. Which would beg the question what were living things doing whilst all that was going on?

So, where am I going with all this?

First off, the notion that there is a 'correct' temperature for the Earth, as advocated by the Global Warming industry, just blows me away. The Earth’s temperature has always shown variability and always will. The real blessing, or handy accident, has been that this variability has somehow managed to stay within a survivable range over millions of years. My, how fortunate. The notion that we should somehow strive to stabilise the Earth’s temperature is arrogant and chauvinistic in the extreme, even if it were possible.

Secondly, we really haven’t the faintest fucking idea how this system works. Scientists acknowledge that the ecosystem is self-correcting but have decided that human pollution is being generated at a rate faster than it can be absorbed and that it is the major driver in climate change. And data that doesn’t fit in with that view is flatly ignored. Take the news that the Sun’s temperature has increased steadily over the last 20 years for example.

Finally, you’ve got to ask yourself what are the scientists and politicians playing at? What’s the real agenda here? The level of debate over this issue is retarded and misleading to say the least. Even a non-atmospheric disaster such as last year’s tsunami managed to get groups with a vested interest in climate change shamelessly jumping onto the bandwagon.

Sea levels are going to change and we ain’t going to stop that, with or without Kyoto. Instead of pissing about worrying about continued consumption of hydrocarbons that scientists are saying we’re going to run out of anyway, we should be discussing how to deal with the certainty of sea level change. The reason why this year’s hurricanes had they effect they did, and the tsunami before that, is partly because of sloppy management but more significantly because more people are occupying marginal land, all over the world. How much debate is taking place about that?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Top notch quote

Here's a good quote I've just read ...

Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. but, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a parliament or a communist dictatorship ... the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country

Herman Goering, 1946

Monday, October 31, 2005

We are all suicide bombers now

There’s an interesting story about the alleged London suicide bombers in the Independent today

During a training seminar a Metropolitan Police anti-terrorism expert is quoted as warning fellow officers that terrorists now look and behave just like normal people going about their normal business…

As an example the unnamed official told delegates that Tanweer argued with a cashier that he had been short changed, after stopping off at a petrol station on his way to the intended target in London.

The official told the seminar held in Preston, Lancashire two weeks ago: "This is not the behaviour of a terrorist - you'd think this is normal.

"Tanweer also played a game of cricket the night before he travelled down to London - now are these the actions of someone who is going to blow themselves up the next day?

Me! Me! Me! I know the answer.

Cynical old scrotes like myself see this as part of the next stage of manipulating the 7/7 story. A very similar process took place after the 9/11 attacks. Uncorroborated assertions and rationalisations for apparently inexplicable behaviour are trickled into the public domain to consolidate the ‘official’ story; cementing it into the public consciousness. The most important thing is to ensure that these little titbits are never subject to any serious scrutiny.

The BBC did its part last week by airing a show called The 7/7 Bombers: A Psychological Investigation’. The clever part was showing this programme as part of the Horizon science documentary series. And, as we all know, scientists never bullshit and always stick to the facts.

Viewers were treated to fifty minutes of psychobabble that retrospectively fitted the actions of the 7/7 bombers to the official story. It was truly shameful. Whenever one of the bombers was on record as behaving like an innocent person that was due to their ‘discipline and training’ when they did apparently act suspiciously that was because the ‘strain was starting to show’. The entire exercise was reminiscent of that old Vietnam joke…

If he runs he’s VC. If he stands still he’s well disciplined VC

The most chilling conclusion of the programme coincided with the implication of today’s Independent story. The new breed of suicide bombers is indistinguishable from normal citizens. Their terrorist cells can form spontaneously and may have no contact with outside groups. There’s no way of picking them out.

This is the new dogma that is now being fed to people in the UK.

Part of me still thinks I’ll wake up one day to discover this has all been just a nasty little nightmare and Britain is sane again.

On top of the pseudo-scientific bullshit the BBC show also chipped in a few explanations for some of the oddities of 7/7 that the police haven’t got round to clarifying.

Oddities like, why did the suicide bombers buy parking tickets for their cars? A psychologist came on screen and explained, scientifically, that was because they didn’t want to draw attention to themselves by not paying the parking fee. Sadly, he didn’t go on to explain why the bombers a) bought return rail tickets or b) drove to Luton in the first place, when they could have taken the train to London directly from home.

The programme also repeated the timeline that has the bombers catching the 7.48am train to London. The problem with that is that the 7.48am was delayed and didn’t get into London in time to have carried out the attacks. Back in July, some newspapers reported the bombers caught the 7.40am, but that train had been cancelled.

The programme also managed to fully account for the motivations of the alleged 7/7 bombers without making any reference to Iraq whatsoever which, in itself, was quite an achievement on the part of the programme makers,

This behaviour is reminiscent of the treatment of some of the events of 9/11. Almost without exception, the mainstream media has forgotten that three buildings collapsed that day – the Twin Towers and WTC7. The collapse of WTC7 is quite problematic as it wasn’t hit by an aircraft and suffered only superficial secondary damage. The kind of damage that doesn’t cause 47 storey buildings to spontaneously collapse.

And the media’s treatment of the WTC7 collapse? It just doesn’t talk about it. Ditto for the sheer improbability of two of the hijackers’ passports being hurled out of the blazing planes onto the streets below and, unlike the aircraft black boxes, being recovered a few days later. The papers just didn’t touch it.

The failure to discuss WTC7 is the straw that broke the camel’s back when it came to my personal attitude to the mainstream media. If you can effectively write something as large as that out of history you can do anything. Luton train times and suicide bombers buying return tickets are fly shit in comparison.

Early last week the news outlets were full of the story that George Galloway had, yet again, been accused of corruption by a US senator.

What struck me most was the subliminal, and universal, suggestion of Galloway’s guilt in the coverage. This is in spite of the fact that he has gone to court, and won, a libel action concerning these matters. Jon Snow the anchor of Channel 4 News, for example, gave Galloway an absolute grilling; interrupting Galloway’s answers almost as a soon a Galloway started speaking and summarising the story with lines like

‘If Galloway is found GUILTY he could be sentenced to up to ten years in jail’

All the other news organisations said similar and managed to work the word guilty in most of the time. What none of them said was…

‘If Galloway is found INNOCENT that means a US senator is using forged material in an attempt to get an elected British MP jailed’

I mention all of this because at the end of the week on More4, Channel 4’s digital spin off, Jon Snow pointed out that US senators accusing George Galloway of corrupt dealings with the Iraq regime was intensely hypocritical when you consider that, in the same week, a UN report accused 2,000+ companies of doing the same. Roughly half are American and some have already owned up.

So, that suggests to me that at least some journalists are intelligent enough to know that they’re shovelling shit but only feel comfortable enough to comment on it when they don’t think many people are listening

Hmmmm… I really don’t know what’s worse, being an idiot or being a whore.