No educashun

The reliably extreme wingnut daily – and seemingly hundreds of other blogs with names like (don’t you just love that ludicrous z?) have an almost word-for-word replica of a story about:

Court orders Christian child into government education
10-year-old’s ‘vigorous’ defense of her faith condemned by judge

(“Her” “vigorous defence”, indeed. “Her” faith, indeed.) To summarise the tale, a court-appointed guardian ad litem

reasoned that the girl’s “vigorous defense of her religious beliefs to [her] counselor suggests strongly that she has not had the opportunity to seriously consider any other point of view.” (from worldnetdaily)

To paraphrase, he saw the girl as being in danger of being far too isolated and brainwashed for her own good. Just in case, that doesn’t have the ring of truth, look at, say, Amazon’s Classical homeschool list to see what kinds of material are available for homeschoolers.

Classical.HomeSchool for grades K-3

(No, I don’t know why it has a dot between Classical and Home either. I am already baffled enough by grades K-3. I am guessing kindergarten to grade 3[?]. Basically very young children then.)

Item 1. is

KJV/Amplified Parallel Bible, Large Print (King James Version) by Zondervan Publishing
The list author says:
“My favorite Bible, the beauty of the KJV language, with Amplified to enhance…great for reading aloud to the children.”

Item 2.

Teaching the Trivium: Christian Homeschooling in a Classical Style by Harvey Bluedorn
The list author says:
“The # 1 Homeschooling Book in my opinion, and I have read ALOT of them. This is where it all starts!”

(wtf is the trivium? I casually assume that was the metal thing you use to suspend pans over a camp fire. No, that’s a trivet. The freedictionary says

in the Middle Ages, one of the two divisions of the seven liberal arts, comprising logic, grammar, and rhetoric.

So, a medieval curriculum then. Hmm. What a brilliant idea in the 21st century. (not) Wikipedia gives more choices.:

Trivium is the Latin singular form of trivia. It may also refer to the following:
* Trivium (band), an American heavy metal band
* Trivium (cipher), a synchronous stream cipher
* Trivium (education), in medieval educational theory

I suspect “the singular form of trivia” may be just as appropriate.)

To continue the homeschool trivia curriculum:

3. The Three R’s by Dr Beechick
4. Dr. Beechick’s Homeschool Answer Book by Ruth Beechick
5. Egermeier’s Bible Story Book by Elsie E. Egermeier
6. The Child’s Story Bible by Catherine F. Vos
7. Prima Latina: Introduction to Christian Latin, Teacher Manual by Leigh Lowe
8. The Alphabet for Classical Latin by Helena Bluedorn
9. A Greek Alphabetarion: A Primer for Teaching How to Read, Write & Pronounce Ancient & Biblical Greek by Harvey Bluedorn
10. Ray’s new primary arithmetic: For young learners (Ray’s arithmetic series) (Ray’s arithmetic series) by Joseph Ray,

etc. Enough, already… You get the flavour.

Basic reading and maths, fair enough, although I begin to be suspicious of even these books, given the context. And the fact that googling Ruth Beechick found me this enthusiastic home-schooler’s blog.

I think I now own every book Ruth Beechick has written ~ well, not every one; she’s got a new one just hot off the press: “World History Made Simple: Matching History With the Bible.” (from Homeschooling from the Heart blog)

Speaking of history, number 14 on the Amazon list is:

14. The Story of the World: History for the Classical Child; Volume 1: Ancient Times by Susan Wise Bauer
The list author says:
“This is a *good* story…I do like it, however have your Bible handy and make sure your children are grounded in OT History FIRST…may want to skip the beginning sections, and pre-read so for editing”

In other words, it’s a book that doesn’t JUST have the Old Testament in it, so they have to issue a health warning.

The Latin and Greek seem eccentric, to say the least. However, surely they’d be a welcome relief from the constant Bible shit. Maybe not, given that they seem to be there just so these poor unfortunate kids can read even more Bibles.

I can understand why people might prefer to spare their kids the many horrors of standard schools. But, to teach kids at home, following this sort of curriculum…… How could any child subjected to this have a hope in hell of fitting in with other people, let alone of thinking for themselves?

Tories try to spoil the Wire

My Wire fan-status already took a knock when the Guardian started running a Wire-fan reading group and most of the posters seemed to be prats. But to find the Tories using the Wire, just to steal its perceived credibility for a soundbite, is making me gag.

The BBC website headline says

Parts of Britain ‘like The Wire’

I assumed that was a subject-verb-object construction, meaning “There are parts of Britain where people like the Wire.” Which is bound to be true but a bit of a strange news headline.

But it turned out they meant:

Parts of Britain (are) ‘like The Wire’

Even that is fair enough. After all, it’s a drama that’s deliberately meant to suspend disbelief through “realism” ffs. Bits of it feel “true” to me, “true” in terms of my experience of the world and of the ways people act. I don’t assume that makes it literally “true,” in a documentary sense. No one who’s ever watched a tv series before would assume it’s a literally “true” representation of life in Baltimore, let alone any UK city.

The Conservatives have compared parts of the UK to The Wire, a US television show which portrays inner-city drugs and violence.
In a speech, shadow home secretary Chris Grayling argued that the UK was suffering the same culture of gangs and street violence found in the US.
He said Labour had failed to ensure law and order was preserved in the poorest parts of the country. ..
Mr Grayling repeated his charge that poorer communities in the UK have been let down by Labour, saying: “The Wire has become a byword for urban deprivation and societal breakdown in modern America.”
He said: “When The Wire comes to Britain’s streets, it is the poor who suffer most. It is the poor who are the ones who have borne the brunt of the surge in violence under this government.

It’s pretty obvious at this point that Chris Grayling hasn’t really ever watched the Wire.

Because, if he had, he’d have noticed that the crimes aren’t just at street level.The economy, the political world and the media don’t exactly emerge unscathed.

Crocodile tears for the “poor” seem to be the Tories’ new election strategy. For instance, they claim that the poor are being let down.

Oh yes, “let down by rising crime” is the claim. I think that misinterpreting & manipulating crime figures is called “juking the stats” in the Wire. So you’d think that a Wire-o-phile like the shadow Tory Home secretary would have the grace to blush when he does it. (Seeing as all crime figures show falling rates)

OK, the Tories aren’t the BNP – which is also trying to corner the market in populist concern for the class-formerly-known-as-working (before the last Tory governments hammered it into the ground.) But they bear a pretty monstrous responsibility for the disaffection and poverty of so many neighbourhoods, where many people never found work since the 1980s. (Don’t make me repeat the list of Tory crimes against “no-such-thing-as-society”, because I will rant for hours.)

So it’s doubly sickening to see them both using the consequences of their own actions as a stick with which to beat the government and dragging the good name of the Wire into it.

Still, it’s all in the game, I suppose…..

Monkeys and wordprocessors

A Civitas* survey of teachers claims that they believe trained monkeys could pass A Level exams, according to the Metro. And the Press Association.

One director of A-levels, based in the North West, told researchers: “You could train a monkey to do the questions today.”
Another head of sixth-form from the East Midlands said: “This is Mickey Mouse stuff – what they learn at A-level today is not sufficient for GCSE. The system is an absolute shambles. The standard of the candidates is very low – it’s a national disgrace.” (from the Press Association)

(How bad at teaching must these surveyed teachers be, then, if their human pupils fail? )

I, for one, welcome our new simian overlords.

So – in the interests of helping monkeys to achieve University entrance qualifications – I’ve drafted an A Level paper that monkeys (or at least the orangutan, in Terry Pratchett’s novels, who says “Ook”) could have a fair shot at passing.
Paper II English Written, Advanced Level, June 2009

Answer ALL questions. Write on both sides of the paper. Points will be deducted for bad spelling.

Time: 100 years

1 You are provided with a typewriter. Type out the complete works of Shakespeare.

Paper II English Oral, Advanced Level, June 2009

1. Complete the following sentences by saying the missing syllables:

A “War and Peace” is a b…
B “A thief” is another word for a cr…
C The castle chess piece is also known as a r…

2. Express your response to the following statements through appropriate gestures:

A When I read about mock surveys carried out by spurious “think tanks”, I feel like doing this.
B When I can’t find any mention of said “survey” of “teachers” on the thinktank’s website, I feel like doing this.
C This survey is a load of ….
(Extra credit may be earned by baboons here)


Supplementary Notes
* Civitas is a “thinktank” which is also a registered charity. That means it gets tax relief on donations. Which seems quite amazing, given that it seems to have no purpose but to spread right-wing propaganda.
No wait, it also funds an education establishment, which luckily brings it under the remit of the Charity Commission’s qualifications.
To quote Sarah Hall writing in the Guardian in 2004.

Rightwing thinktank’s school aims to teach traditional culture
A rightwing thinktank which promotes pamphlets opposing immigration and asylum is writing to supporters urging them to help fund a school because it fears “our culture is in serious decline – one might say meltdown”….

Met Credit Card? That’ll do nicely

If enough people break a law, it won’t be enforced. This is a central principle of civil disobedience, so it’s heartening to see that the police have taken it on board.

(Well, it would be heartening if the law against credit card fraud was a civil liberties issue. Like taking photographs, for instance.)

Today’s Metro reported that so many police had misused their official credit cards that they’ve been given an amnesty. It would just be too burdensome to prosecute them.

More than 1,000 police officers who used their corporate credit cards for personal spending have been given an amnesty.
Met police chiefs decided there were so many officers guilty of abusing their American Express cards that they would not be punished. (from the Metro)

A few counter-terrorism officers have been prosecuted for flagrant misuse of their cards. Everyone else will get “training and guidance.” Even if most of these just spent money and paid it back, it still seems odd that the Met’s normal training and guidance didn’t cover fraud. Nor the idea that they aren’t above the law, just because they are police officers.

The entire UK was about to bite MP’s heads off when the Telegraph revealed their claims for bath plugs and duck islands. The media response to this issue seems remarkably permissive. No mileage in it for the Telegraph, maybe? No stick to beat the government with?

In fact, the only “fraud” “scandal” that’s upset the Daily Mail today is the claim by Leicester police that beggars aren’t really poor. They are actually begging, after they finish their day jobs, in order to refurbish their kitchens….. (I kid you not, that is the supposed “story”)

I liked one comment on the Mail story (in a standard sea of Mail-reader bile):

In the good old days, beggars only wanted money for essentials like booze and drugs. Now it seems that along with our politicians and certain members of the police farce, they are getting delusions of grandeur with new kitchens now a must have- at least for the more discerning beggar.

A fickle master

Seriously, you would think that the government and senior members of the military would know better. These are the people who lead our country and our military and should really know better. The fact they don’t is utterly baffling to me.

I am talking about the way our glorious leaders bend in the wind of public opinion like young saplings. The government is craven in how it panders to the media – ignoring any blatant contradictions and any strange notions of policies or morality. However this is not surprising. Its been almost two decades since the political parties in the UK had “party politics” rather than saying what ever they thought would get them elected. This entire century the UK has been governed by the Daily Mail and the Telegraph opinion pieces rather than any notion of public good.

What is surprising, to me anyway, is how quickly the MOD has fallen into this trap as well. Over the last few years we have seen an infuriating number of retired Generals and former Chiefs of the Defence Staff suddenly come out of the cold to criticise the government. This is annoying, because these are the same General Officers who presided over identical problems without the slightest hint of complaint until they were safely away from the system. This is not exactly living up to their heroic image, but such is life.

Showing a worrying reluctance to learn from the past, the MOD has had some spectacular blunders of late. Sadly, these are not blunders in the normal sense; more an example of how clueless the MOD / Government is when it comes to falling over itself to court the media – without remembering the media will savage it no matter what.

As a result we see, in recent weeks, such oddities as the government going to court to reduce payments to two people who were crippled in the line of duty. Now, in normal circumstances this would be ignored – the government is claiming it is not liable for secondary problems and is trying to reduce the burden on the taxpayer by reducing the payments these people get. This is not a bad thing as any other organisation would do it, and every penny the government has to spend comes from the public. It is not magic money.

The madness is this comes at a time when the government have been whipping the public up into a fervour about supporting “Our Boys” who are fighting wars in far away lands. Realising these wars are very unpopular, the government seems to have decided the only solution is to turn every soldier into a hero who deserves our undying support, no matter what they do. This played very well with the media (the Sun’s Help for Heroes has become such a powerful charity that on-duty police officers are allowed to wear its labels and promotional media, can you imagine that happening for any other charity?) but the government – or more properly the Civil Service who run the MOD – has failed to realise what this jingoistic monster will demand. With every service person being seen as the greatest Hero since Gilgamesh, any attempt to due the correct thing by the taxpayer is obviously going to be seen as a grasping act by a degenerate government. The whole deal is muddled even more by some MPs being so obvious about their desire to court the media they will go against both government policy and the taxpayers best interests (*). There is more irony than I can cope with in one sitting over this, but this is what the BBC reports about Mr Joyce:

Writing in Scotland on Sunday, Mr Joyce, parliamentary private secretary to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, said that although technically the MoD had a good chance of success, the appeal should be dropped.

So, although the case is sound – and the taxpayer is NEEDLESSLY paying these people money – we should carry on paying because not doing so will be unpopular. This confuses me. Is he saying that we should apply the same standard of payouts to Police, nurses, teachers, bus drivers, pharmacists, dentists, bin men, street sweepers, train drivers (etc)? These are all jobs which are essential to our every day life, more so than the military for 99.99% of the time and where (on the whole) people are paid a lot less than they deserve.

The government are never going to get it right. They are serving that most fickle of masters, the media. The same newspapers that will castigate them for spending one penny more than they should on something will also castigate them for trying to reclaim the said penny if the recipient has “human interest.” The government is a faceless bureaucracy and can never win. Ever.

The Military is no better and, despite the Heroes angle, its no safer from media savagery – simply because it is “part of the government.”

This twist has led to senior Army officers claiming they are incapable of fighting the war in Afghanistan with the current kit and manpower levels – even going as far as claiming we should, as a nation, move to a war footing. Before we go on, lets look at the war in Afghanistan. This is basically small manoeuvre warfare of Battalion size formations. This is not the “Major War” the British Army was geared up to throughout the cold war. It is closer to one of the small conflicts we were supposed to be able to fight two of, while having the resources for a major war left spare. However it seems that decades of defence spending has left the military incapable of fighting any war. Do the military chiefs accept responsibility for this? No, they claim it is down to the government who haven’t spent enough on them… Yet they agreed to the budgets. They furnished government with reports as to how effective they would be in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is still the civilian governments fault… No, I dont get it either.

“War is a dangerous business” – certainly a truism and, in July 09, the British public were forced to realise this. However, rather than educate the public about what happens in war (one UK news outlet even claimed it was the most bloody conflict since WWII, neatly ignoring Korea, Aden, Borneo etc) and forcing people to realise that any conflict is going to cost lives, the craven military leadership laid the blame on various bits of equipment – mostly helicopters. This was a lifeline for distraught family members, who obviously needed some way to rationalise the loss of their loved ones. However its not the real answer. No amount of helicopters will stop the need for “boots on the ground” to dominate and in any firefight people are likely to die. Helicopters are great moving people from A to B and for providing air support to ground troops but they are not the magic solution people seem to think they are.

This has not stopped the senior officers seeing a chance to get some more toys to play with by claiming they need more helicopters to save lives (tell that to the bomb disposal people…), and they have been somewhat successful. Still this is not enough to placate the baying media. From the BBC News:

Reports in the Daily Telegraph claimed six Merlins – due to go to Helmand in December – did not have Kevlar armour.

The paper quotes senior RAF sources as warning this could prevent the craft’s use in missions against the Taliban.

The moral of the story is you really cant win. Once you enter into a dance with the media, you are caught in a death spiral. Nothing you ever do will be enough. Someone, somewhere in your organisation will have a different opinion (or just say something stupid by mistake) and the media will pounce. When this happens all the good will you generated by doing what the press wanted will vanish and you’ve be savaged again.

Why doesn’t the military and government realise this? Why do they try to grab the tiger by the tail?

(*) It is even more interesting when you think that the traditional Ministry of Defence politics align with the Conservative party, so it is unsurprising that the MOD seems to be having so many PR blunders of late. That the Labour government seems unable or unwilling to take charge and control this is a further indictment of the party and another sign that, sadly, this time next year we will almost certainly have an irritating bastard Conservative PM.

While the cat’s away

Ben Goldacre seems to be on holiday. (His most recent post on was dated 18 July.) The temporary absence of the scourge of pseudo-science may have given the green light to new levels of absurdity.

The Times Science Editor, no less, wrote that

Women are getting more beautiful
FOR the female half of the population, it may bring a satisfied smile. Scientists have found that evolution is driving women to become ever more beautiful, while men remain as aesthetically unappealing as their caveman ancestors.
The researchers have found beautiful women have more children than their plainer counterparts and that a higher proportion of those children are female. Those daughters, once adult, also tend to be attractive and so repeat the pattern

Now, being in the female half of the population, I’m not showing a satisfied smile. In fact, he only physical expression that you could detect me making would be the Sign language sign for “bullshit”, which a QI repeat showed last week.

(Arms crossed on your chest, with the fingers of one hand making horns and the fingers of the other hand opening and closing as if to drop a load. How beautifully expressive is that?)

If I knew the Sign Language for “ideological and sexist bullshit”, I’d be putting that here instead. But I bet even Steven Fry doesn’t know that one.

“Beautiful” women have more children? Can anyone pretend for one second that there is an objective standard for beauty? Ideals of beauty vary enormously over time and between cultures. Indeed,you wouldn’t find agreement on a common standard between people living a few miles apart. (Certainly not in the city where I live.)

And “having more children”, nay even, having more female children? WTF. That might have been a sign of evolutionary success in the paleolithic, but would surely have depended much more on the capacity to raise children to adulthood than to breed them even then. In modern societies, having a smaller number of offspring is pretty well directly associated with higher levels of education, health and wealth, at the household level, and with economic development, at the social level.

To follow the “logic” of this argument, uglier women would be more reproductively successful in modern society, then, surely?

Quite apart from anything else – because I’m bored with pointing out blatant absurdities in this report – just look around. Opening your eyes on any public street will soon put paid to any idea that good-looking people reproduce more than homely people.

This is the nub of the science bit:

In a study released last week, Markus Jokela, a researcher at the University of Helsinki, found beautiful women had up to 16% more children than their plainer counterparts. He used data gathered in America, in which 1,244 women and 997 men were followed through four decades of life. Their attractiveness was assessed from photographs taken during the study, which also collected data on the number of children they had.

Hmm, that sounds sciencey but, just having numbers in doesn’t make it science. (Pause to remember that “up to 16%” more children can include anything from fewer children right up to 16% more. )

I can’t find this study online, although there are plenty of newmedia refernces to it. The only works I can find with the name of Markus Jokela are apparently legit: a study of childhood risk in the the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry and a study of IQ, Socioeconomic Status and Early Death: The US National Longitudinal Survey of Youth in Psychosomatic Medicine.

I’m pretty tempted to let Dr Jokela off the hook here and suggest that the whole beautiful women reproduce more “study” is an obscure internet jokela. One can but hope.

In any case, Ben Goldacre, please stop sunning yourself, and sort this nonsense out.

They steal your soul

Police in Greater Manchester have been walking around with hand-held cameras filming parolees and “people they don’t like the look of” with the intention of putting video footage on Youtube.

How beautifully ironic that police in some parts of the country are arresting and dearresting people carrying cameras with intent to capture images, while their colleagues in other places are doing that exact thing as a supposedly powerful crime-fighting tool.

What is it about the magic of cameras? There is a probably mythological idea that certain tribes believed that photographs somehow stole your soul. Our society seems to hold to a contradictory belief that photographic images are at the same time both “terrifyingly dangerous” and “the solution to every social problem”. Which of these beliefs is the most obviously irrational? (Rhetorical question)

This reminds me of a post on the Register that showed pictures of Google Street View vehicles, taken by the people who were themselves featured on Google Street View taking the pictures on the Register. The Register suggested that

Surveillance feedback loops threaten fabric of time and space

Ties that bind

Few items of men’s clothing are as silly as ties. They don’t keep your neck warm or work as an effective bib. They would hardly be anyone’s first choice for a weapon, unless they were reinforced with metal wire to fashion a more effective garrote. Although conveniently sited for would-be suicides, they probably wouldn’t even let the wearer achieve effective self-strangulation. Any man in his right mind would choose to go tie-less whenever he can get away with it.

Their only purpose is to signify meaning: masculinity, formality, group membership, conformity to dress codes, higher status.

But, clip-on ties are even worse than real ties. They are neck ornaments that express the concept of humiliation in a polyester format.

They make the wearer look a bit simple-minded: too clumsy to wrap a bit of cloth round itself and thread one end through the loop; too aesthetically challenged to notice what they are wearing exudes ugliness; and too stupid to realise that nobody thinks you are wearing
a real tie just because there’s an ersatz tie front clipped under your adam’s apple.

So, as insignificant as this was as a BBC news item (only “news” because of the media’s strange belief that mention of Facebook or texting will make any story seem totally up-to-date), I can actually understand why school students would campaign against the replacement of real ties by clip-on travesties.

Two odd explanations are put forward: safety issues and preventing self-expression through the medium of the tie knot.

Schools across the UK are said to be switching ties over safety fears……
In May the Schoolwear Association, the trade body for the school uniform industry, said 10 schools a week in the UK were switching, because of fears of ties getting caught in equipment or strangling pupils.
The association also said that clip-on ties can stop pupils from customising the size of the knots in their ties.

Both these arguments are ridiculous.

This bizarre idea that modding your school uniform is anti-education was also held at my school – usually by the teachers with the lowest capacity to engage the students in learning. If there really were any connection between students’ conformity to a randomly-assigned dress code and their capacity to develop their minds, postgraduates students would be wearing uniforms. Surely it would be more important for PhD students to get the brain-boosting power of the dress code?

The health and safety argument is also bizarre. A tie caught in a bunsen burner or lathe would be dangerous. Doesn’t that suggest that boys should take off their ties in the lab or machine shop? If they are still in danger of accidental or deliberate strangulation in the playground, shouldn’t schools just dispense with the stupid garments altogether? Rather than replace them with even more ludicrous alternatives?

These arguments have been trotted out a few times this year, for instance by the Schoolwear Association who did a “survey” that found that 10 schools a week were switching to clip-on ties on the grounds of safety. And also because of the worry that some pupils might be knotting their ties in dangerously non-standard ways – obviously imperceptible to the likes of me, who assumed that all tie-knots were pretty much of a muchness.

Here’s a BBC story about one such school

School bans ‘unsafe’ knotted ties
Children not wearing clip-on ties will be sent home
A school in Greater Manchester has banned its pupils from wearing knotted ties because it says they could pose a safety risk.

That school head claimed that:

“Obviously there is a health and safety element.
“Pupils can take precautions during technical lessons where there is machinery, but it is the unexpected factors such as running and having their ties pulled that could be a problem.
“We also feel it is smarter because older children will not wear the ties in a casual way. This is in line with places like Marks and Spencer, the police and the armed forces.”

**Pause to chortle at the idea of the army and police issuing regulation clip-on ties. Although it might certainly add a welcome tension-diffusing dimension to arrests, if the arrestees suddenly spotted that he or she was being detained by someone wearing a comedy tie.**

Not to mention, these silly arguments just give aid and comfort to the “political correctness gone mad” buffoons who never miss a platform to mouth off in the media. As in this classic quote that would score two out of two in a miniature game of bigot bingo.

Nick Seaton, chairman of the Campaign for Real Education, said the decision was inexplicable.
“It seems like another instance of political correctness and health and safety gone mad. (from the BBC report in May)

Ugly word, ugly actions

A photographer was arrested for taking photographs in Kent – and apparently also for being tallish in a public place (according the Register, although this bit of the story may be apocryphal). Well, being tallish seems safer than looking a bit Brazilian.

Medway Eyes has links to several magazines and newspapers that discuss this infuriating story. (Eg, Henry Porter in the Guardian.)

The wrongness of this incident is self-evident. (For instance, let’s start with the misuse of anti-terror laws to harass people or with the de facto imposition of a requirement to show ID…..)

However, I’m getting soooo tired about banging on about the loss of civil liberties that I won’t bother here. Please take it as read.

Instead, I’m just going to whine about the word “de-arrested” According to Amateur Photography:

A spokesman for Kent Police confirmed this morning: ‘We can confirm that on Wednesday 8 July, at approximately 12.30pm, a man was arrested on Military Road, Chatham. After a short period of time the man was dearrested and no further action will be taken.’

“Dearrested”. It’s not a word.

I’m all for making up words on spec but surely any inventions should add something to the English language, not just make speech uglier, to no purpose.

What’s wrong with “freed”? Maybe “freed” was rejected because it carries a subliminal association with the concept of “freedom,” whereas “dearrested” just reminds you of “arrest.”

There’s a subtle suggestion that the condition of being arrested is the default state, with “dearrest” (sic, not “dearest”, please try to keep up) being the anomaly.

Obviously, being “dearrested” is infinitely preferable to being arrested. But, then, who’d have thought – ten years ago – that using your own camera in a public shopping street could lead to you getting arrested in the first place?

On 9th July, the Metropolitan Police issued guidelines to its police officers to point out that taking photographs was not a crime, but apparently the Home Office was not altogether behind that seemingly innocuous message. And it certainly doesn’t seem to have filtered through to the Medway towns.

In any case, if taking photographs is somehow a crime, how can anyone square that with the ubiquity of CCTV in Britain? There must be scarcely more than ten feet of public space that isn’t being photographed on a 24-hour -a-day basis. The Register pointed out a truly amazing statistic:

As if to underline Britain’s status as the West’s most monitored society, the BBC’s Freedom of Information requests showed that authorities on the Shetland Islands have more CCTV cameras than the San Francisco Police Department.

Failure to grasp the point

Truly, the world is a pendulum. A great post on Why Evolution is True about the vestigial grasp observed in human infants was countered by a silly post on Uncommon Descent.

WEIT discussed how the instinctive grasping reflex observed in newborn babies can best be interpreted as a relic of behaviour in pre-hominids (new-born babies hanging on to their mothers)

This is not a revolutionary new idea. I am amazed that it is even contentious. This was accepted wisdom in the UK several years ago.

O’Reilly’s counter starts from the position of apparently never having heard of the idea that “anecdote is not evidence”.

When my first child was very young, she had a habit of grasping my hair while feeding. My hair was long at that time.
It seemed to please and comfort her.

(Can I be the only person who sees it as a commentary on O’Reilly’s attitude to her offspring that – believing pleasure and comfort to be the only reason for the baby’s hair-grasping – O’Reilly immediately got her hair cut? )

However, grasping has many uses for a human infant – it is the principle [sic – a pedant] way the infant contacts reality (unfortunately by attempting to put things in its mouth), that being the only sense that is even moderately well developed.

This sentence is too ambiguous to follow. She seems to have meant to put the end of the sentence in the bracket, so I’ll ignore the bit about taste.

We are left with grasping being described as the main way in which an infant contacts reality. What? Does this make any sense?

In case you can’t answer that rhetorical question, let me answer it for you. “No.”

So what? Well, this Uncommon Descent post was O’Reilly’s “answer” to:

Incidentally, what do the ID and the Evolution-is-limited-in-scope (Behe, et all) do with data like this:

“Mouth random words” is what they do, apparently.

Oh, and betray that they implicitly acknowledge the role of evolution 🙂 :

However, I also suspect that it has been a long time since any such skill as hanging on to mother was needed.

A long time? As in “the sort of time scales and species changes that evolution would predict”?

Bug report, pig sick

Conspiracy theories from

Conspiracy theories from

In the spirit of this xkcd comic, I’d like to file a bug report on that section of the British public that Had its Say to the BBC on the swine flu epidemic.

You could basically construct almost any one of these farts-in-email format by perming any 3 items from the following list:

  • It was deliberately created in a military lab to cull the world’s population
  • It is a just media hype to sell papers
  • It is just a pharmaceutical industry hype to sell tamiflu
  • It is an imaginary disease dreamt up by the same media liberals who insist that climate change is a real danger.
  • Treatment is a waste of their precious public money
  • It’s just “flu” and, therefore, completely insignificant
  • It is completely out of control. (It’s actually possible to find this idea in the same email as the idea above)
  • I demand immediate access to the (so far purely conceptual) vaccination
  • The (so far purely conceptual) vaccination is poisonous and I refuse to take it.
  • The government has invented the epidemic to distract us from….

This example is a representative classic, in its mixture of selfishness, poor grasp of the English language and anti-labour government ranting.

I suppose we the Tax payer will be paying for the expensive drugs, the additional medical staff and rubbish propoganda material published by good old Gordo and his quango’s

Hmm, these HYS-armchair-generals-turned-medical-experts make me feel pig sick. Even if I didn’t have swine flu, which I apparently do.

Weird security

Bruce Shneier’s blog discusses how to secure your laptop at international borders. Ignoring the fact that the Shneier methods are impressively ingenious – although, surely, in the sledgehammer-nut category – the truly amazing thing is that any government thinks “security” is served by searching laptops at airports.

I don’t mean “searched to make sure that they aren’t hiding bombs or weapons”. That would be a completely reasonable kind of search.

No, I mean searched, in the sense of “searching the hard drive.” This is absurd, in purely practical terms – ignoring the civil liberties questions – on so many levels. (I planned to list the practical difficulties of the idea, but they should be obvious to anyone who’s ever trawled their own hard disks for hours, in a quest for a two years old cv.)

The gaping elephant-in-the-room sized flaw in the whole procedure is the INTERNET. Any given piece-of-dangerous-information can be sitting comfortably on a computer in end-country x, hours before a courier-with-the-laptop has driven to an international airport in origin-country y. So, why the laptop searches?

Giving bad science a bad name

“Coffee cures Alzheimer’s.” This sounds like great news for me personally, given that generally I drink enough coffee per day to wake up the population of a small town.

Am I drinking the right amount, though? How much do you need to drink to avoid – nay, cure – the dread disease?

The Independent claims that a modest cup a day will do it.

A coffee a day ensures the memory will stay

The BBC has a more demanding coffee-drinking schedule. And it’s a lot more tentative about the good it will do.

Coffee ‘may reverse Alzheimer’s’
A possible treatment for dementia?
Drinking five cups of coffee a day could reverse memory problems seen in Alzheimer’s disease, US scientists say.

Wait, a mere two cups of coffee might do it.

The mice were given the equivalent of five 8 oz (227 grams) cups of coffee a day – about 500 milligrams of caffeine.
The researchers say this is the same as is found in two cups of “specialty” coffees such as lattes or cappuccinos from coffee shops, 14 cups of tea, or 20 soft drinks.

It may be too pedantic to point out that a latte or cappuccino are defined by the milk, rather than by the caffeine content. I take it they are using these as shorthand for “real” rather than instant coffee. Ground coffee or espresso may just be too unfashionable to mention.

The Daily Express actually led with this news item covering its front page, in some print editions. It thinks two coffees is the magic quantity.

DRINKING two cups of coffee a day reverses the effects of Alzheimer’s, ground-breaking research has revealed.
Scientists say powerful evidence shows caffeine not only helps to stave off the disease but can even treat it, as it helps to sharpen the memory.

This news item is a mite less groundbreaking than it appears. There was a similar story last year. The protective volume of coffee was one cup a day.

“This is the best evidence yet that caffeine equivalent to one cup of coffee a day can help protect the brain against cholesterol.

In that experiment, it was rabbits that got the caffeine. The poor buggers were killed, of course, but at least they they were just regular rabbits, as far as I can make out.*

Not so the mice. They were bred to have symptoms of Alzheimers. I am sure you will correct my neuroscience idiocy but – is that really the same as human beings having Alzheimers? Or so close to the same as dammit?

(I have serious doubts about the applicability of this research to humans. Serious enough to say that – in the astronomically unlikely event that I were ever on a university ethics committee – I’d have said to these experimenters “Not a chance. You haven’t justified doing the Frankenstein thing of breeding creatures to be sick, in this case. First try some epidemiological studies of people.”)

The interesting thing is that the research report itself doesn’t even claim that coffee cures Alzheimers.

Researchers in the US have shown that caffeine can boost memory in mice with Alzheimer’s symptoms.
At the moment it is not clear whether caffeine can have the same effect in people. Researchers are now carrying out trials to see if caffeine can be beneficial for people with Alzheimer’s.(from the Alzheimers Research Trust website)

However, a casual scan of a few news items would leave you thinking that you only need to force a few doppio espressos down the throats of your formerly caffeine-free older relatives and they could emerge brighteyed from dementia.

(* Another paper in the same journal reckoned that

Acetaminophen inhibits neuronal inflammation and protects neurons from oxidative stress

I think that’s paracetemol to us. I’ll start swallowing two with my morning latte.)

Let them eat ID cards

Another crazy ID scheme, this time in India.

ID cards planned for India’s 1.1 billion
Hi-tech entrepreneur will lead operation to create huge database (headings from the story in the Independent)

Here the rationale is not just “terrorism” but also a claim that ID cards will benefit the poor.

…..will help in the delivery of vital social services to the poorest in society who often lack – or are at least told they lack – sufficient identification papers. The government has long complained that most of the money set aside for the neediest is diverted as a result of corruption, and it believes the cards could help to tackle identity theft and fraud.

Hmm. An impressive sleight of hand in “ID-card justification” creation, although the Indian government is clearly following a model similar to the UK one. The “fighting poverty” argument is:
(1) Corruption prevents relief of poverty.
(2) ID cards will prevent identity theft and fraud.

Where is the logical connection between 1 and 2?

I will temporary defy logic and try my best to look at the argument from the pro-ID card side.

Even on the assumption that corruption is the only bar to stopping poverty (which is a big and unjustified leap of faith) doesn’t that make dealing with corruption the main priority?

To get from priority 1 to priority 2, you would have to assume that “identity theft” is the only way that “corruption” works.

You would also have to assume that no “corruption” could possibly be involved in handing over billion dollar contracts to major industrialists.

(This is a leap of faith that is far beyond my jumping abilities. Silly me, I would have assumed that pumping resources in to relieve poverty and to stamp out corruption would be the intuitive way to go. You live and learn, hey?)

You would have to assume that identification documents wouldn’t become another incomprehensible/insurmountable burden for the very poorest that would probably make it even harder for them to access resources. (ditto… This is a leap of faith ….)

And you also need to believe that this won’t give rise to a new set of forms of corruption – in distributing ID documents, forging them, and so on.

Which might illustrate an admirable capacity for inventiveness in the face of survival pressures. But it’s quite hard to see how creating new forms of criminal industry would otherwise bring any benefit to the Indian poor.

The Independent says that the poor ” often lack – or are at least told they lack – sufficient identification papers.”

This scheme will provide a whole new set of identification papers for the poor to be told that they lack, then. From the perspective of the poor, this is a scheme that you could best characterise as “adding insult to injury.”

The Fascists at Prayer

Well, I had to do it, didn’t I? After finding out about the Racist Rev, the failed BNP candidate who was also self-defined as not a BNP member, I had to find out more about his “Christian Council of Britain.” (Link to wikipedia article)

Infuriatingly, it comes top in google for Christian Council while other more innocent – if more authentic – “Christian Councils,” such as Ryedale Christian Council, Telford Christian Council, trail behind.

Site report:
The good news: On the basis of its website, it’s about as real as something that’s not very real.
The bad news: It’s definitely not a spoof site.

Website look and feel:
Like a Vatican website, with a spurious seal and a dramatic Victorian angel statue emitting rays of light and holding a cross as if playing the bass. Gothic-looking Biblical font used for the title.

Most of the pages don’t work, being “under construction” since 13 June 2008, unless they created it yesterday and got the yyyy bit wrong. Most page links lead to a bit of text saying:

Welcome to the new website.
Please be patient as it is still under construction!

Which isn’t bad, considering the shite I expected it to say. Racist Christians must have the proverbial patience of Job. (I am assuming that means “a lot of patience”. My apologies, if Job turns out to have been really impatient, being so annoyed by getting a name meaning “what you do for wages”)

The most recent – indeed only – entry on its “Sunday Lunch” Blog discusses an article in the Daily Telegraph, from November 23, 2007. Like most things on the site, the post date is 13 June 2008, suggesting it was brought in with other old guff when this site was set up and that nobody’s looked at it since.

The About us is possibly wishful thinking. It claims an executive of seven PLUS a national council. It generously says you don’t have to be a Christian to be on the council, which must improve its odds of getting members, but I still doubt that there is a membership roll greater than the number of people I could fit in my bathroom.

Articles has 3 entries in one post by “Revd RMB West, Moderator, Christian Council of Britain.” The word “self-styled” is unaccountably missing. Think about getting stuck in a bus queue with a bigoted drunk who’s carrying the Daily Mail and you have the flavour.

Latest news is the only thing I can find that has much in the way of content. It’s not “latest news” in the sense of being particularly recent. But it does seems to be the “latest” news on this site, so I have to hold off on the phone call to the trade Descriptions Act.

It is a doozy (whatever that is) The piece is a response to the CofE’s General Synod’s call to Christians to oppose the BNP. You can imagine how welcomed that was by the Christian Council.

Whoever wrote it (“albert”) starts off trying to present it as if he is just someone who thinks the BNP is being misrepresented. However, he soon shifts to saying “we” rather than “the BNP.” He has already failed in the first paragraph.

The call of the Synod of the Diocese of Chelmsford is misconceived in that the British National Party is not a racist part, nor does it recommend or countenance politics of racial or national misbehaviour. ……. The British National Party is the only political party not seeking to do this; but rather to ensure a future for the indigenous peoples of these islands.

Indigenous people’s rights? Who are these noble savages? He must mean “celts”, given that we don’t know much at all about who lived here before them. How are they to be identified then? Are they hiding on the dark side of a mountain on Anglesey?

Ah. They don’t have some secret genetic science that can identify the indigenous peoples. The answer’s in genesis. Goddidit. He just forgot to avoid confusion by stopping people from all over the world coming to the UK over a few millennia.

It is the will of God that the one race of mankind be divided into nations or descent groups with each having its own homeland where its interests, identity and values can be protected, upheld and promoted (Genesis 10: 5, 32; Acts 17: 26-27) . (from the Christian Council site)

In case you remain as confused as I am over the whole concept of Britishness, as expressed by the Rev, it’s an “ethnic” concept of Britishness. Yes, this explains nothing. The term “ethnicity” is as clear as mud, and I’ve studied Anthropology – it’s a shorthand description of a few cultural traits, at best, and by its nature, it is constantly evolving:

.. Hitler sought to deprive the ethnic Poles of their identity and homeland by mass immigration from the Third Reich of ethnic Germans. Surely it is the denial of ethnic identity to the native British population which is analogous to what Hitler tried to do in Poland; and it is the mass immigration lobby, therefore, who are the far right and are practising what they accuse everyone else of doing.
Revd RMB West, Christian Council of Britain

Well, no, “mass immigration” lobby? (D’uh? name one person in it?) “the far right”. Blimey! This means that the term “the far right” is a dirty word, even to the BNP. (Well, for propoganda purposes anyway.) I shudder to think of what the BNP would see as “far right”.

There is something very disturbing about fascists claiming legitimacy by stealing the story of anti-fascism. The BNP are increasingly trying this trick – confounding bigotry with patriotism. Making racism appear patriotic. As Charlie Brooker’s old school-teacher said, they are insulting the memoriy of everyone who died or suffered in fighting fascism.