Category Archives: Rants

Discussion about things that ANNOY US :-)

Atheist bigotry

Can anyone explain how and when Sam Harris became an atheist spokesman? I missed the email.
Which is lucky, because I find many of his views (eg he thinks torture is ok) as repellent and unrepresentative of mine as, say, the average muslim would find the views of the latest islamic wingnut hate figure.
There’s a superb – if unfashionably long – piece by Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian about his response to Murtah Hussein’s article on Al Jazeera. and Nathan Lean in Salon – both of whom pointed out the bigotry expressed by the atheist media stars.

Contrary to the assumptions under which some Harris defenders are laboring, the fact that someone is a scientist, an intellectual, and a convincing and valuable exponent of atheism by no means precludes irrational bigotry as a driving force in their worldview. Glenn Greenwald in the Guardian

I’m talking about Greenwald’s, rather than the other, articles because:

  • I wouldn’t have seen the other posts except for his article;
  • His arguments seem self-evidently true to me; and
  • because his article attracted a flurry of comments. (4913 at the moment of writing this.) I find many of those comments, at the least, disturbing, even allowing for the fact that the Guardian’s comment pages have basically become a vanity publishing platform for trolls.

Commenters referred to Greenwald’s being a gay jew:

“As a gay Jew, you must realise that in most Middle Eastern countries you would be persecuted. The exception being Israel.”

” If Glen expected to be an open and practicing gay man in Qatar he would be imprisoned.”

I presume that these rational beings have not come across the concept of a non-sequitur. The only way to read this is that these people genuinely believe that Islam is a huge monolithic block, that every person born a muslim is responsible for every injustice committed by every other muslim and any other majority islamic state, and so on.

In one comment, a Harris defender complained that his words had been taken out of context, then provided the “context” which turned out to be at least as disturbing as the paraphrase.
I am particularly offended that the pro-Harris writers seek to present themselves as the defenders of a rational scientific worldview. And then take their political and social opinions straight from the “Holy Book of Neocon Ideas about Global Politics.”
“Bugger rationality in that case, then, fellow rational people. Don’t bother trying to understand global politics and religion, because they’re really really hard to follow and you might find your simplistic world views too hard to maintain. Just keep your minds closed and go along with the war and torture stuff. It’s not as if non-atheists are human beings or anything.”
That is the Sam Harris message and it seems to have had at least a greater than zero influence on fools.

It’s April Fools Day, citizen

A magnificent range of April Fools Day japes for you this year.
1. Food banks. In the UK. And not organised by the Disasters Emergency Committee after an unexpected tsunami in Kent.
Organised by charities and churches and individuals who find themselves disturbed to live in a society in which so many of their fellow citizens are going hungry.
So hungry that they first have to swallow any residual pride they have somehow maintained – in the face of a media that’s hellbent on demonising anyone who’s sick or disabled or poor, and then go to beg for donated tinned goods and dried pasta.

2. A Bedroom tax… This sounds charmingly antique, like the window tax that existed from 1696 to 1851.
(You’d think the conservatives would have learned their lesson about the folly of reintroducing historical taxes after the Poll Tax but it appears not. )
The bedroom tax will mean an average £14 a week cut to people who are – by definition – so poor that they are already turning up at food banks in droves.

3. NHS reform reorganization carve-up. Pissup/brewery, enough said.

4. Many many more, ad nauseam. These are no longer funny.

5. Oh, yeah, a potential rerun of the Korean war with nukes.

Where is a bloody Atheist Rapture Index when you need it?

Schoolboy error

Settle down at the back, there. Today we’re going to learn basic numeracy.
Do pay attention, Sir Michael Wilshaw (Chief Inspector of Schools, head of Ofsted, the agency that inspects schools…) This will be on the test.
On Breakfast TV this morning, you said that UK schools were failing to keep up with the rest of the world, and that one in 5 ten-year-olds were failing to reach the average.
LOL, LOL again.
Nobody on BBC Breakfast challenged this. The discussion continued as if he had said something both meaningful and scary. (And, of course, nobody said – “Surely this slide down the world’s literacy league tables coincides with the past decade’s massive expansion of school inspection activity?”)
OK, I naturally assumed the “average” word was a slip of the tongue. I told quite a few people because I was amazed that the chief inspector of schools didn’t understand the concept of a mean. But, on the BBC website, some more savvy person (maybe someone who’d studied Maths at the age of 11, as Sir Michael clearly hadn’t) had changed the reported words to refer to expected standards. Maybe I’d dreamt it.
But it turns out that Sir Michael had said the same thing on Newsnight the night before.
As the Guardian reported, a flurry of well-earned Internet derision followed the Newsnight speech. Ofsted press office said it was just a “slip of the tongue”.
Impossible that he and his press office didn’t spot any twittered mirth. But, there he was on BBC Breakfast, this morning, with his tongue still slipping wildly and disgorging the same scare story, using the same silly “average” word.
To misquote Oscar Wilde, to misuse one statistical concept may be a misfortune, to misuse two begins to look a lot like innumeracy.
I’ll be charitable and take it that he “really” meant “expected standard” but was more interested in getting in a soundbite than in communicating meaningfully. (In that case, of course, he’s failed basic literacy requirements instead.)
As the Guardian blog showed, Sir Michael isn’t alone in his innumeracy. The Secretary of State for Education is equally challenged by the statistical concept of averages. This is priceless:

Chair: One is: if “good” requires pupil performance to exceed the national average, and if all schools must be good, how is this mathematically possible?
Michael Gove: By getting better all the time.
Chair: So it is possible, is it?
Michael Gove: It is possible to get better all the time.
Chair: Were you better at literacy than numeracy, Secretary of State?
Michael Gove: I cannot remember.

This sort of thing would normally inspire pity. He’s obviously not very bright but, in a fair world, he could probably get useful work that didn’t need academic skills. In the real universe, he’s Secretary of State for Education.
In which role, he’s hellbent on promoting the ludicrous Academies. These obviously make perfect sense if you’re a business person who wants to get your hands on public money that’s earmarked for education but make no sense to anyone else.
The process seems to be –

  1. Ofsted “inspects” a school
  2. They declare it to be “failing” and in need of “special measures”
  3. The school has to choose between becoming an Academy or being closed
  4. An Academy is set up, it gets the money that the local authority would have paid to the school
  5. The school becomes Outstanding in the next inspection

But there’s a hiccup. A few awkward schools are refusing.
Heads are rolling resigning or knuckling under. And now, intransigent (locally elected) school governors are being dismissed and replaced by government appointees – who by an amazing coincidence turn out to be very pro-academy. (Downhills Primary, Nightingale Primary):

“We have therefore decided to appoint an interim executive board to give the school the leadership and expertise it needs to improve.
“Those connected with the school will then be consulted on whether the school should convert into a sponsored academy under the leadership of the Harris Federation.”
The hand-picked interim executive board will be chaired by Les Walton, the chairman of the the Young People’s Learning Agency – the academies’ funding body.
Other members include the head of the Harris Federation, Dr Dan Moyniham, and Dame Sylvia Morris.
Dame Sylvia has just retired as head teacher of St Saviour and St Mary Overy Primary School in Southwark. She was made a dame in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours for services to education, and mentors new head teachers in four London boroughs….
At a parliamentary committee hearing in January, Mr Gove labelled campaigners against the academy plan for Downhills “Trots”, claiming they were politically motivated and linked to the Socialist Workers Party. (from the BBC)

One can only hope that Mr Gove is himself politically motivated. Otherwise, the whole operation looks a lot like straightforward theft.

Getting really cross

“Sell everything you own and buy yellow precious metal, fashioned in the form of one vertical long stick crossed with a horizontal shorter stick. And wear it publicly at all times, as a sign of your devotion to me. Blessed are the jewellery wearers for they shall inherit media attention” Book of Ratner ch19.v4

(As Jesus directed his followers in a previously little-known apocryphal bible book covering the Jewellery Company Years)

Determined cross wearers Shirley Chaplin and Nadia Eweida (a former nurse and a former British Airways worker) have taken their case to the European Court of Human Rights

Shirley Chaplin and Nadia Eweida take cross fight to Europe.
Shirley Chaplin said “hiding” her cross was akin to denying her faith
(headlines on the BBC report)

I can’t see that it matters what styles of jewellery people wear. I think that their employers have behaved insanely (although I bet they were a real trial to employ). Although, if you know that a job has a uniform and you refuse to stick to the uniform rules, you shouldn’t really take that job.

The problem is that the cross ladies picked this fight on purpose. To bolster the picture of the UK’s imaginary condition of “discrimination against Christians”.

Christian Concern website (find it yourself, if you want, I’m not keen to post a link) is always willing to place itself at the centre of any case that it can use to promote the fantasy that we live in a parallel universe in which European Christians are beingpersecuted.

Increasing numbers of Christians have been penalised for their faith in the public sphere, often due to equalities legislation and the promotion of homosexual rights. Some Christians have been threatened with disciplinary action, suspended, and even sacked for refusing to act against their consciences. At Christian Concern we vigorously resist any restrictions on freedom of speech and expression for Christians.(from Christian Concern)

What? Equalities legislation and homosexual rights are a threat to Christians?

Passing blithely over the irony that people who feel threatened by human rights legislation are resorting to the European Court of Human Rights for redress, do they claim that they are being compelled to become homosexual in order to get human rights? No, I think I get it, maybe they claim the right to persecute gay people is the human right that they are in danger of losing?

Christians have been sacked for refusing to act against their consciences? I would have much sympathy – nay, admiration – if their consciences were telling them they had to resist the government’s ongoing programme to attack the poor and the NHS or if they were campaigning against wars or using their resources to feed the hungry and house the homeless…

But their Christian consciences aren’t stirred by such insignificant social issues. Their moral sense is roused by rules about wearing jewellery in work.

And their consciences can only be accommodated by following the Book of Ratner and wearing jewellery with malice aforethought.

Oh, and spending vast resources on getting their own way through the courts. What would Jesus Do? Well, the same, obviously. I believe he was working on his latest designer jewellery collection for Argos when he was crucified. He thought the cross shape would be really great for the brand.

History lesson – WMD

This is an object lesson in how to get WMD. Don’t worry, you won’t get in trouble or anything. Well, this chap didn’t.
Public records, released under FOI for a 2006 BBC TV Newsnight programme and discussed in a New Statesman article, showed how the ~1960 Israeli government managed to get its hands on nuclear weapons materials.
The BBC reported that the programme has shown “Secret sale of UK plutonium to Israel “ Secret indeed. Even secret from government ministers and quite probably the sitting Prime Ministers, and over the objections of Defence Intelligence, the MOD and – sometimes – the Foreign Office.
The New Statesman has the fullest account. Read it.

Kelly and his colleagues .. (i.e. the Defence Intelligence staff who mounted a pretty spirited attempt to uncover what was going on and try to block it) .. however, found their views were being challenged. Chief of the challengers was Michael Israel Michaels .. who was a senior official at the science ministry under Lord Hailsham during the Macmillan government, and went on to serve at the technology ministry under Benn. He was also Britain’s representative at the IAEA.(my emphasis) quotation is from New Statesman

Mr Michaels was in fact so keen on the idea of supplying Israel with bomb-making materials that he just carried on doing it, even after Tony Benn became Energy Secretary. Michaels just didn’t think to bother ministers with the knowledge.

Mr Benn told the programme that civil servants in his department kept the deals secret from him and his predecessor, Frank Cousins.
He had always suspected that civil servants were doing deals behind his back, but he never thought they would sell plutonium to Israel. He told Newsnight: “I’m not only surprised, I’m shocked. It never occurred to me they would authorise something so totally against the policy of the government. (From the BBC)

“Michaels lied to me, I learned by bitter experience that the nuclear industry lied to me again and again.” He thought Wilson may not have known that Britain was helping Israel to get the bomb. (From the Guardian)

Astonishingly, Michaels had the effrontery to complain to the BBC Trust about the programme, rather than to give disbelieving thanks that he hadn’t been arrested for treason.
From the Trusts’s ruling on his complaint about Newsnight

Summary of the finding
The complaints concerned an investigation carried out by Newsnight, and presented by Michael Crick, that looked into the British government’s involvement in assisting Israel with its development of nuclear weapons in the 1950s and 1960s. The item was based on recently released government papers suggesting that Michael Michaels, a senior civil servant and the British government’s representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency, had acted with dual loyalties when he had ensured the supply of plutonium and other radioactive materials to Israel without the knowledge of the Minister responsible, and possibly without the Prime Minister’s knowledge.
Both complainants felt that the inclusion and repetition of Mr Michaels’ middle name (Israel) was unnecessary and, therefore, anti-Semitic.
They also objected to the suggestion that he had dual loyalties, which they felt implied disloyalty……..
The Committee concluded as follows:
The use of Mr Michaels’ middle name did not breach the guidelines on harm and offence.
It was satisfied that there was no intention to endorse a stereotype, and it was not anti-Semitic. In general, the use of the name had been as a form of shorthand to highlight Mr Michaels’ association with Israel.
With regard to “dual loyalties”, the Committee was satisfied that there was sufficient evidence put forward to suggest that Mr Michaels might indeed have had dual loyalties in his dealings with Israel. However, the Committee concluded that this was not the same as suggesting that Mr Michaels had been disloyal.
The Committee also felt that the report had raised the possibility that the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, might have known about the shipment to Israel. The item therefore did not breach guidelines on impartiality…
The Committee did not uphold the complaints.

More war on jokes

Jokes. Not necessarily funny jokes. Just things said in a lighthearted way. Who’d have thought the internet would kill them off?
Not Jokes with a punchline, clearly labelled as jokes. Or funny viral videos. Or internet cartoons. Or footage of comedians on YouTube. I think these are all OK.
Just the sort of things that you might say to your friends. Not real jokes. Banter. Mockery. Using figures of speech: Irony; Sarcasm; Hyperbole; Metaphors; Similes and so on. Exaggerating things for effect.
Whatever you do, don’t try this on the Internet. Don’t even react to other people doing it.
On today’s BBC site:

Labour councillor suspended over Facebook ‘Tory bomb plea’

The story is outrageous. A comment was posted on a Facebook site in July 2010.

It read: “We are appealing to the IRA to find it in their hearts to bomb the next Tory conference.” (from the BBC story)

That’s obviously a joke. Or, an amusing aside, rather than a “joke.” It’s elegantly phrased (“find it in their hearts”). It’s witty. I would even say that I liked it, if the consequences mightn’t be so horrendous. Because apparently, among twenty six people who Facebook-”liked” it in the following half a year (rather than people who just may have liked it unofficially) one was a local councillor, Florence Anderson.
She was suspended. She didn’t even write the joke herself. She had just responded to an elegant expression of frustration by casually clicking a button on a Facebook site. Clicking a button.
I don’t know anything about her record as a councillor but she looks like someone who’s devoted many years to working for her party and her local community. She probably never even made the Sunderland Evening Advertiser before. And here she is getting rewarded by getting suspended from her role and plastered over the BBC’s website because she once may have clicked on a “like” button.
Comedian Al Murray wrote about the ongoing saga of the Robin Hood Airport trial in last Saturday’s Guardian. Total respect to Al Murray and the other comedians who have kept this issue alive and raised the money for Paul Chambers’ appeal. (Paul Chambers was convicted of sending a “threatening” message after a jokey twitter comment that even the prosecutors admitted no one would have seen as a credible threat. After conviction, he lost his job and his life was pretty well destroyed).

This week I went to the Royal Courts of Justice to offer support to someone who is in a lot of trouble because of a not particularly funny joke. As an erstwhile pedlar of some not particularly funny jokes (just ask the Guardian’s comedy critic, he doesn’t dig what I do at all), this matters to me a great deal. (from Al Murray in the Guardian)

In the face of the all-out war on banter, Al Murray suggested that anyone using any figure of speech in banter might now have to put the tag #joke# around anything not meant to be taken literally, for the benefit of the hard of thinking.
This seems like a plan. It would cut down on prosecutions for banter. However, it would have the side effect of raising idle banter to the status of “joke,” which few items of banter could carry off successfully. The reader would usually be left thinking “Well, that’s a bit amusing but I don’t think it has much of a punchline”.
In any case, it wouldn’t have helped Florence Anderson. She didn’t even have an opportunity to acknowledge that she didn’t believe it was a serious attempt to direct Republican terrorists to the Tory Party assembly. Nor that she thought for one minute that dissident Republicans would take orders from random blog posts.
Hence, I suggest that Facebook and Google Plus etc should provide buttons that say “I would quite like this, on the understanding that I am only liking it as banter”
Who are these mean-spirited reporters-to-the-authorities of twitter banter or Facebook clicks. Who is policing people’s “likes”? Why don’t these enemies of free speech turn their attention to private conversations and start calling in Swat teams anytime they hear “Don’t be late or I’ll kill you” on the bus? Is it the scary magic of the internet that makes them unable to distinguish between the use of a figure of speech and a statement of intent? If so, let’s ditch the internet, human beings haven’t evolved enough to use it.
Tip for any one with any enemies:
If you really hate someone who may now or at any time in the future hold any public office or have a job that needs a clean criminal record (ie anyone) set up a honey trap Facebook page, fill it with seemingly lighthearted banter that could be misconstrued by someone who doesn’t really speak your language then encourage your enemy to express appreciation. You’ve destroyed them right there.

(You wait ages for a post and then two come along at once….)

Sleepwalking into the pit

There’s a truly chilling article in the Guardian. These are the headlines.

US officials believe Iran sanctions will fail, making military action likely
• Growing view that strike, by Israel or US, will happen
• ‘Sweet spot’ for Israeli action identified as September-October
• White House remains determined to give sanctions time

Could there be a less appropriate use of the word “sweet”?
If the “White House remains determined to give sanctions time” sub-heading suggests that there is still some hope of avoiding the next world war, don’t get your hopes up. The article implies that the delay is only intended so that sanctions will render Iran too weak to resist full scale attack.
I’m trying to comprehend this but I keep failing. In terms of simple logic, here are a few analyses.
A Iran has lots of oil.
B Israel doesn’t have lots of oil.
C The US has an overpowering interest in getting access to oil.
ergo - you would think that making friends with the country with the oil would be the pragmatic thing to do.
or
A Israel has nuclear weapons.
B Iran may possibly be developing nuclear weapons.
C Israel apparently plans to invade Iran.
D Iran would therefore be insane not to develop nuclear weapons if it doesn’t want to be invaded by Israel.
ergo – the aggressive actions of Israel are bringing about the very actions it allegedly fears
or
A Iran needs allies.
B Israel’s allies are experiencing slow-burning financial disaster.
C The other current or emergent global powers are doing quite well economically and they also need oil.
D These powers are finding they can get a lot better access to oil by befriending Iran.
ergo - Every other global superpower and any emergent nations with any ambitions to superpoweriness will befriend Iran.
or
A The US and its allies have wasted billions of dollars and ended the lives of enormous numbers of their own and other countries’ citizens in recent wars.
B Oil still costs a fortune in the USA.
C Huge numbers of citizens have tried everything to stop their governments going to war
ergo – these wars don’t even begin to achieve any rational objectives.
…. and so on.

Unlike wars before the 21st century, there’s not even any prospect of profit for capital as a whole in it, although a few companies like Blackwater will prosper. It won’t solve the recession. The US and its allies are now so dependent on the imaginary wealth from “finance” that their economies are more likely to be completely destroyed, as the emperor is finally revealed to be naked.

Whichever way you try to look at it – not only will it be a terrible evil, it doesn’t even make sense for any country on earth.

This might seem OK to jihadi warriors or believers in the Rapture or in God’s chosen people or other lunatics for whom the destruction of the world can’t come soon enough.

I just wish there really was a god who would vacuum the warmongers up now and throw them in the Pit and show them some ruthless smiting for having no respect for life and trying to take those of us who do along with them.