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.