Saturday, 30 January 2010

Note his choice of verb ...

From Tony Blair's testimony to the Chilcott inquiry:
"Responsibility but not a regret for removing Saddam Hussein. I think that he was a monster. I believe he threatened not just the region but the world. And in the circumstances that we faced then, but I think even if you look back now, it was better to deal with this threat, to remove him from office." (1)
Note that he believes Saddam Hussien was a global threat. Couching it as a belief - by necessity, an idea held inspite of there being no evidence to support it - allows Blair to sidestep the pesky absence of evidence supporting his demented suggestion that a third rate gangster with some broken down tanks and a bit of a nuclear reactor posed a global threat.

It's a belief, not a statement of fact. A belief doesn't need evidence, facts, or any of that inconvenient stuff.

But his choice of verb is lawyerly - it reveals - subtly - that he didn't have the evidence. It's a sly admission that he sent British troops to war knowing that there wasn't an adequate pretext.

I'm sure this fervently voiced belief squares Blair with his conscience. He can - and undoubtledly has - convinced himself that he truly believes this, just as he has doubtless convinced himself that he is truly a follower of the Catholic faith. The man's powers of self delusion and self persuasion are remarkable.

But he has failed utterly to convince anyone who thought his decision to join the invasion of Iraq was at best stupid, at worst craven, hypocritical and reckless, to change their minds.

That needs evidence.
1 - "To gasps from the gallery, Blair says we should be proud of the war," by Nigel Morris. Published in the Independent, 30th of January, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/to-gasps-from-the-gallery-blair-said-we-should-be-proud-of-the-war-1883651.html)

Friday, 29 January 2010

Did the Climate Research Unit play fair?

This is odd. The Information Commissioner's Office has released a statement slamming the Climate research Unit for failing to meet requests for data that should have been granted (1).

My understanding was that some requests could't be met because CRU didn't have the authority to release the data requested, and the requests were made again and again inspite of this.

This is the text of the ICO statement:
Norfolk Police are investigating how private emails have become public. The Information Commissioner's Office is assisting the police investigation with advice on data protection and freedom of information. The emails which are now public reveal that Mr Holland's requests under the Freedom of Information Act were not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation. Section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act makes it an offence for public authorities to act so as to prevent intentionally the disclosure of requested information. Mr Holland's FOI requests were submitted in 2007/8, but it has only recently come to light that they were not dealt with in accordance with the Act. The legislation requires action within six months of the offence taking place, so by the time the action taken came to light the opportunity to consider a prosecution was long gone. The ICO is gathering evidence from this and other time-barred cases to support the case for a change in the law. It is important to note that the ICO enforces the law as it stands - we do not make it. It is for government and Parliament to consider whether this aspect of the legislation should be strengthened to deter this type of activity in future. We will be advising the University about the importance of effective records management and their legal obligations in respect of future requests for information. We will also be studying the investigation reports (by Sir Muir Russell and Norfolk Police), and we will then consider what regulatory action, if any, should then be taken under the Data Protection Act. (2)
It's worth pointing out that the commissioner seems to have based his opinion on the content of the emails themselves, ("The emails which are now public reveal that Mr Holland's requests under the Freedom of Information Act were not dealt with as they should have been under the legislation.") rather than by actually speaking to the people involved and asking whythe request wasn't granted. If that's the case, it's a bit odd.

It might also be an administrative issue - instead of informing him that his request had been declined and why, he was simply told to piss off or ignored outright. Dunno, based on the statement. but it certainly doesn't help. If CRU weren't dealing with legitimate requests properly, then they should be sanctioned for it, because they've given the wingnuts a fantastic opportunity to shriek and gibber about something other thanthe science - which is their only really effective strategy.

It might be a case that the scientists developed a 'bunker mentality' because of the continual misrepresentation and twisting of data and work by the deniers, but whatever the reason, it is a very poor show by CRU if they were withholding data they should have release.
1 - "Climategate university 'breached data laws'," by by catherine Brahic. Published on Short Scharp Science: a science news blog from new Scientist, 28th of January, 2009. (http://www.newscientist.com/blogs/shortsharpscience/2010/01/climate-scientist-breached-dat.html)
2 - Text is reproduced in the blog post linked above.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

800,000 forced abortions carried out on Uighurs in the PRC

It has been estimated that 800,000 forced abortions have been carried out on unborn Uighur children since 1979 (1). This inspite of the fact that the Uighurs - as a minority within China - are supposedly notcovered by the 'One child' policy.

If this is true, it's a fucking disgusting act of genocide, deliberately targeting unborn children - hand in hand with the ethnic 'rebalancing' seen in East Turkestan, where the proportion of Han chinese now make up 42% of the population (2).

And these evil bastards are our valued trading partners. This is obscene. With due respect to godwin's Law, this is akin to doing business with Nazi Germany in the 30s, when it was sterilizing the 'feebleminded' and the mentally ill, 'asocial' Gypsies and homosexual 'deviants' (3). And yes, I know we were quite happy to make that trade then, as now.
1 - "East Turkestan: Uyghurs in East Turkistan Suffer from China’s Forced Abortion," unattributed article published on the website of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples' Organisation, 25th of January, 2010. (http://www.unpo.org/content/view/10621/107/)
2 - "Xinjiang: China's 'other Tibet'," by Lydia Wilson and Poppy Toland. Published by Aljazeera.net, 25th of March, 2008. (http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2008/03/2008525184819409441.html)
3 - "Nazi Persecution of the Mentally and Physically Disabled," unattributed article published by the Jewish Virtual Library. (http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/disabled.html)

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Non-electronic 'bomb dowsing wand' is a dud, unsurprisingly

One of these stories that makes you check the date to make sure it isn't April Fools Day. But the only fools in this are the lunatics who bought this 'device,' with terrible consequences. In Iraq, even the surreal and comic comes with a hefty amount of spilled blood and sufferring:
Hundreds of people have been killed in horrific bombings in Iraq after a British company supplied "bogus" equipment which failed to detect explosive devices.

The head of the company, which has made tens of millions of pounds from the sale of the detectors, has now been arrested and the British Government has announced a ban on their export to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Just another example of con-men trying to make money, albeit with the added nastiness that the result of their snakoil routine is people being killed. But then it gets deeply weird:
Mr McCormick, who served with Merseyside police before becoming managing director of the company ATSC, said that his "highly successful" ADE series was based on a similar principle to dowsing – the belief that certain types of woods can detect water underground.

He claimed recently: "We have been dealing with doubters for 10 years. One of the problems we have is that the machine does look a little primitive. We are working on a new model that has flashing lights."

...

The "bomb detector", a small hand-held wand, with a telescopic aerial on a swivel, is used in dozens of checkpoints in Iraqi cities including Baghdad. It is claimed that it had failed to detect two tonnes of explosives used by suicide bombers to murder 155 people and destroy three ministries in October last year. There was a similar alleged shortcoming when 120 people were killed in another series of bombings in December.

...

However the device has some defenders in Iraq. Major General Jihad al-Jabiri, the head of the Interior Ministry's directorate for combat explosives, said: "Whether it's magic or scientific, what I care about is detecting bombs. I don't care what they say. I know more about bombs than the Americans do. In fact, I know more about bombs than anyone in the world."
I can make an ineffective, non-electronic device. I can produce it for a lot less than Mr McCormick. True, it will be made out of lego ("Modular!" "Customise it!" "Comes in a avariety of colours!") but I'll throw in the flashing lights for free.

Dunno what is more reprehensible, really - someone selling this crap, or the derilection of duty thsat lead to it being bought.
1 - "Head of bomb detector company arrested in fraud investigation," by Kim Sengupta. Published in The Independent,23rd of January, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/head-of-bomb-detector-company-arrested-in-fraud-investigation-1876388.html)

Monday, 18 January 2010

What Danny Glover didn't say

Rush Limbaugh has aired an audio clip of the actor turned activist Danny Glover, in which he claims the Haitian earthquake was a result of our failure to agree a climate treaty at Copenhagen (1).

It is, of course, bullshit. Not what Glover said, but what Limbaugh said he said.

Here is the Limbaugh clip, with a transcript of what Glover says below. Glover is in conversation with a female interviewer (obviously, not Limbaugh).

I prepared the transcript myself, and will appreciate any comments or suggested amendments:



Here's the transcript:
"This is be a defining moment for this administration. Other countries in the region - I think Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba, and other countries - have already stepped to the plate [indecipherable] What happened to Haiti could happen anywhere in the Caribbean, to these island nations, you know, because of global warming, because of climate change, and all of it. And we need to find ... When we do what we did at the climate summit, in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I'm saying. but we need to act now."
Pretty clear, huh? Obviously, Glover's a loon. Perhaps well intentioned, but clearly insane.

Not so fast. The actual interview has been heavily edited. Here's the fuller version (2), again with a transcript I've painstakingly prepared:



Transcript:
"I believe this is going to be a defining moment from this administration - what we live for, and a new relationship, a partnership with Haiti, not one of dominance, not one in which it tries to extract even more from the pain of the Haitian people, but a new relationship. And I think that other countries in the region, I think Venezuela, Brazil, Cuba, and other countries - have already accepted the point on this. This is a great moment for another type of internationalism, and I hope we seize this particular moment. Because if [indecipherable] could happen to Haiti, it's [indecipherable] that could happen anywhere in the Caribbean, to these island nations, you know. they're all in peril because of global warming, they're all in peril because of climate change, and all of it. And we need to find ... When we do what we did at the climate summit, in Copenhagen, this is the response, this is what happens, you know what I'm saying. But we have to act now."
Notice, straight away, how much has been cut out, without any indication that the conversation has been edited. I've highlighted them in bold just to make them more obvious.

(One bit I'm particularly unclear on is what he says the other nations are doing. In Limbaugh's version, he seems to say they have "stepped to the plate," but in the full version, it sounds more like "Accepted the point on this." Anyone with too much time on their hands care to review?)

Then look at how the edits have changed the sense of what he's saying, in particular where they edit it to create the false sense that he says directly that the Earthquake was caused by climate change. In the full version, he's very clearly talking about how our failure to address the issue of climate change is going to see scenes like this replicated in years to come, and if we don't like what we're seeing on our TVs then we need to address climate change because otherwise we'll see more carnage and chaos in years to come. It might be fair to criticise him for using the Haitian tragedy to make a point on a different topic, but he is NOT suggesting that climate change caused this earthquake.
1 - "Danny Glover on Haiti - Rush Limbaugh Show," uploaded to You Tube by Dittopost, January 15th, 2010. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6fWBy9DEgk)
2 - "GRITtv: Danny Glover and Marie St. Cyr on Haiti," uploaded to You Tube by lauraflanders, 13th of January, 2010. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a2ft5JkNWJA)

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Tories toasting themselves on tax breaks for married couples

Recently, David Cameron came unstuck over planned tax breaks for married couples, first of all claiming they were absolutely definitely going to happen, then they were just a nice idea that they'd like to do if they could, then definitely absolutely going to happen again:

But there was confusion over policy on tax breaks for married couples, a long-standing priority for many in the party, after Mr Cameron appeared to say he could not give a guarantee to legislate in the next Parliament.

"It is something we want to do, it is something we believe we can do, it is something within a parliament I would definitely hope to do," he said in an interview with BBC political editor Nick Robinson.

"But I am not able today to make that promise because today we face this vast budget deficit."

Priorities

But soon after the interview, the Tories released a statement saying they would "definitely" recognise marriage in the tax system over the course of the next Parliament and would give more details in "due course".

Labour said the Tories were in "disarray" over the issue, saying such a policy could cost £5bn to implement.

The Tories said there were a number of different options for taking the policy forward, costing different amounts, and they were studying the experiences of other countries. (1)

The last line, I think is the giveaway - "a number of different options for taking the policy forward, costing different amounts". that doesn't sound like whole-hearted commitment to me.

The reason I'm blogging about this now, when Cameron's blunder was almost two weeks ago. David Willetts, a member of Cameron's shadow cabinet, is calling for something more than a gesture, and at the same time not to try to strait-jacket people into a particular way of life through the tax system:

David Willetts, the shadow families minister, appears to put himself at odds with the Tory leader's passionate defence of marriage by warning that people must not be told "how to live their lives". In remarks that are normally out of bounds for any senior Conservative, Mr Willetts raises the spectre of John Major's ill-fated call for a return to family values in the last Tory government in reference to Mr Cameron's flagship policy on tax breaks for married couples.

In a discussion with women from the parenting website Mumsnet to be broadcast on BBC1's Politics Show today, Mr Willetts defends the Tory policy of recognising marriage in the tax system, but says it should be about finding a practical solution to help ease the tax burden for families. This jars with Mr Cameron's declaration earlier this month that the marriage policy was "about the message more than the money".

Asked if he was worried that the policy had echoes of back to basics, Mr Willetts, who was a minister in the Major government, says: "You are absolutely right to warn about the ghost of back to basics, and the last thing people want is politicians setting themselves up as somehow morally superior or telling people how to run their lives. I think if you look at the way in which David Cameron, Maria Miller [shadow families minister] and myself have talked about this and addressed this, it's not some kind of pompous attempt to tell people how to live their lives. We are very much looking at the evidence."

He says evidence shows commitment between two adults is a "good thing", but adds: "Now, we all know the real world, all the pressures, and how not every relationship stays together. We completely understand that." (2)

It's always good to see opposition parties tearing themselves to pieces BEFORE they've attended to the small matter of actually winning power.

Cameron is wanting to reward marriage through the tax system, albeit in a token way, with a tax break so minimal (What else can "about the message more than the money" mean?) that it will allow married coupels to celebrate their anniversary with a packet of crisps, as long as they don't go for the posh brands.

Willetts is warning him about banging on the Family values drum, the Tory equivalent of Labour's recent attacks on Cameron for being posh (because barristers like Tony Blair are so very representative of the blue collar masses).

But there is a third thing that needs to be thought about here.

It does make you wonder if the Tories can really deliver a tax cut that only targets married, heterosexual couples, without violating all manner of human rights and non-discrimination conventions and treaties. Homosexuals can now register their relationship in Britain, and committed de facto couples exist there just like here. It certainly raises the question of a legal challenge for the tax break - no matter how cursory - to be applied to de facto and homosexual couples as well, on the basis that they should receive the same entitlements as married couples.

Which raises a tactical problem for Cameron, albeit one he won't have to worry about until after he has the keys to Number ten in hi shot little hand. If there is a challenge, does he fight it or acquiesce? If he does the former he will risk his 'trendy Tory' image by insisting it only applies to married heterosexual couples, and opens himself to accusations of hypocrisy as he voted against the repeal of the loathsome Section 28, a Tory policy banning schools from 'promoting' homosexuality. he's since apologised for the policy, lock, stock, and barrel, but it will still look very odd to see him rewarding homosexual couples through the tax system.

Or, by agreeing that it should be extended, he risks annoying his conservative support base by extending it to include gayers and the those cavorting in sinful non-matrimonial lust.

I suspect Cameron, being a cynical and pragmatic operator, would opt for the latter, as the damage will be proportional to the size of the tax cut, and thus minimal. Still, the Tories giving tax cuts to gays. Who would have thought it?

1 - "Labour and Tories clash over tax and spending," unattributed BBC article. Published by the BBC Online, 5th of January, 2010. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/politics/8440069.stm)
2 - "Senior Tory warns against raising spectre of 'back to basics' on marriage," by Jane Merrick. Published in the Independent, 17th of january, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/senior-tory-warns-against-raising-spectre-of-back-to-basics-on-marriage-1870412.html)

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Reality check for Google in china

Google have indicated they might cease operations in China, following what appear to be attempts by the Chinese security services to hack Gmail accounts of dissidents, and continued censoring of Google search results:
We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that "we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China."

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered--combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web--have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China. (1)
Google were naive to think that appeasing the authorities in the PRC would lead to more freedom. At least they are realising their error.
1 - "A New Approach to China," posted by David Drummond on the Official Google Blog, 12th of January, 2010. (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/01/new-approach-to-china.html)

Saturday, 9 January 2010

French consider burka ban

The blasted French have reverted to Greenpeace bombing, Nazi aiding, weird cheese promulgating type by putting forward a law banning the burka and niqab in public places - which means the 400 odd women in france who wear them can continue to do so in the privacy of their own homes, but risk a €750 fine if the venture out onto the street in them (1).

Obviously, it is a pretty nasty attempt to appeal to reactionary, anti-immigrant prejudice. It looks like it will work as well - neo-fascist Jean Marie Le Pen has decried the suggestion of a ban, arguing current laws could serve without new legislation being required.

Yesterday the veteran far-right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, also rejected the need for new legislation against the burka, perhaps surprisingly. He said that the existing French legal code already banned masks in public places. "All they need to do is apply the law," he said. (2)

There is nothing surprising here, contrary to what the Indie suggests. The subtext is pretty plain - everyone should stop trespassing on his territory and leave the hatemongering reactionary chauvinism to him.

Obviously, no-one can come out and say that they are doing this to just to appeal to bigotry and xenophobia. The pretext, ennunciated by Sarkosky, is that by banning freedom of religious expression in public (setting aside for one moment that we're talking about burkas and niqabs, and they are inherently repulsive) is being done in the name of liberation and feminism:
Mr Copé, in his interview with Le Figaro, said a specific ban was justified by security concerns – the need to oppose extremist forms of Islam – but also by an obligation to "protect and respect the rights of women". (3)
Never mind that many of those choosing to wear the burka in France are french born converts, choosing to express their faith in their way:

The burka, per se, is an Afghan tradition allowing a woman only a narrow gauze-covered eye-opening. It is little found in France. The Arab equivalent, the Niqab, which has a narrow opening at eye-level, is only slightly more common.

A study by the French internal security services last year suggested that the total number of women wearing both types of full body veil in France was around 2,000 – out of a total French population of adult, Muslim women of about 1,500,000.

Most of those women who wear full-length veils are below 30 years of age, the report said. Many had been influenced by radical forms of Islam; a substantial proportion were French women who had converted. (4)

I'd say they are weird for deciding to dress up like that, but it is even weirder to argue that you are empowering women by taking away their right to choose what to wear.

Ah-ha, comes the response, what about those who do not have such a choice? What about the wives and sisters and mothers and daughters of fanatical misogynists who force their luckless womenfolk to drape themselves in table clothes when they step out of the house?

Yes, well, what about them? What effect will this ban have on those women? Simply, it will remove whatever minimal freedom of movement they have. their cretinous menfolk aren't going to suddenly see the error of their ways, buy their wives boob tubes and start reading The Female Eunuch. The likely unintended consequence of this law, if passed, would be that these women wouldn't be allowed out at all. Which hardly achieves the stated aim of liberating them.

And, what is sauce for the burka draped goose is sauce for the ... um ... other goose in the bikini.

I could argue that bikinis are a symbol of the oppression of women, a symbol of how they are objectified and exploited in western society,reducing them to sex objects for the edification of males. It is disgusting that this misogynist garment is legal. We must legislate this abomination of genderocide-by-garment out of existence.

Some see a burqua as a symbol of women's oppression. A conservative Muslim might view a bikini as a sign of how the west degrades women by encouraging themselves to parade as sex objects. Obviously, since both positions are founded on subjective considerations, both are equally valid and the ban on oppressive clothing must be extended to include bikinis and other degrading attire.

Standard issue, one size fits all Maoist grey smocks will be issued in due course.

the correct way to deal with the disgusting habit of making women wear burkas and the like isn't by trying to ban it - as I said, that will just result in the women not being allowed out at all. The beliefs that make some people think the burka is a Good Thing have to be persuaded to change their ideas. Moderate Islamic leaders and theologians, and cultural leaders - who don't support this obscenity - need to be brought in, to start a debate on what is required, necessary and right.

Like the war on drugs, the war on burkas won't be won from the top down and the bottom up. the individuals wearing them, and the people telling them they have to do it, have to be persuaded to see things differently. Simply telling they can't do that any more won't work.
1 -"France moves to outlaw the burka and niqab citing égalité," by John Lichfield. Published in the Independent, 8th of January, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/france-moves-to-outlaw-the-burka-and-niqab-citing-galit-1861411.html)
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.
4 - ibid.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Respect is due: Freya Grafin von Moltke

January 2010 will not be looked back on as a cheery time on lefthandpalm, if things continue the way the are ... Three posts, two of them noting the passing of notables.

Still Freya Grafin von Molke would probably consider herself lucky. Not many people have faced the wrath of Hitler, Stalin and Aprtheid South Africa (1). Even fewer managed to live to be 98.
1 - " Freya Gräfin von Moltke: Anti-Nazi activist," by David Childs. published in The Independnet, 8th of Janusry, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/freya-gr228fin-von-moltke-antinazi-activist-1861136.html)

Monday, 4 January 2010

Respect is due: Vic Chesnutt

I only managed to see Vic Chesnutt sing once, supporting Kristen Hersh in Edinburgh many years ago, while she was touring her Hips and Makers album and he was - I think - playing songs from West of Rome.

He died on Christmas Day, having intentionally taken an overdose. He was in debt due to ongoing medical costs and risked losing his home (1).

Gotta love that American healthcare system.

Here's a taster (2):


1 - "Vic Chesnutt: Singer and songwriter whose work tackled issues of mortality," by Pierre Perrone, published in The Independent, 31st of December, 2009. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/vic-chesnutt-singer-and-songwriter-whose-work-tackled-issues-of-mortality-1853708.html)
2 - "The Fox and Little Vic," performed by Vic Chesnutt, with T. Griffin & Catharine McRae. Filmed & Recorded at Shiny Little Studios, Brooklyn, NY 2002. From "Benjamin Smoke," directed by Jem Cohen. Posted on You tube by billgarm, 4th of May, 2008. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ccy9e6FffzI)

Sunday, 3 January 2010

Blackwater case dropped in the USA

Unsuprisingly, the case against Blackwater employees responsible for the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians has been thrown out of court by a US judge, due to alleged "procedural errors in the way evidence was collected (1).

Which does beg the question, will the same standard be applied to any alleged terrorists put on trial in the USA, when the case relies on evidence or information obtained under torture, or where other extra legal procedural errors" have been committed?

Somehow, I think not.
1 - "Iraq outraged as Blackwater case is dropped" by Guy Adams, published in the Independent, 2nd of January, 2010. (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/iraq-outraged-as-blackwater-case-is-dropped-1855401.html)

Prediction

There's nothing stupider on the internet than putting down your thoughts in an indisputable form.  So that, of course is what I am going...