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.

Qualified win

“Free” Schools won’t get public money to teach creationism. A rare bit of good news in UK politics, which seems determined to outdo its own Worst News record on a daily basis.

“Free” schools are a rubbish idea for so many reasons that adding creationism into the mix was almost superfluous. But, nevertheless, it was in there:

Several creationist groups have expressed an interest in opening schools in towns and cities across England, including Bedford, Barnsley, Sheffield and Nottingham. Critics say they seek to promote creationism, or the doctrine of “intelligent design”, as a scientific theory rather than as a myth or metaphor.(from the Guardian)

I’m not too sure about the wording of the exclusion, though:

Under the new agreement, funding will be withdrawn for any free school that teaches what it claims are “evidence-based views or theories” that run “contrary to established scientific and/or historical evidence and explanations”.

This seems to spread the banned-ideas disturbingly wider than stopping science lessons becoming an outpost of bible study. It implies that “non-evidence-based” religious nonsense is fine – but, as “non-evidence-based” pretty well defines creationism, surely it will be allowed.

Maybe I’m being too bloody literal, assuming that words are supposed to have a meaning. Charitably, maybe it’s just that officials at the DofE aren’t allowed to release any document that doesn’t have the words “evidence-based” in it, even if they have only the vaguest idea what it means.

I’ll err on the side of optimism and assume that it won’t mean that schools can’t debate ideas that challenge “established” ideas about history and science, as, surely, that process would define a real education….

Another Canon Fired

(Sorry, they went of their own accord but I couldn’t resist the misleading headline. Maybe I should work for the Fail.) Another church minister has resigned in embarrassment over the CofE’s behaviour over the St Paul’s anti-capitalism camp. A part-time chaplain resigned, shortly after canon Giles Fraser’s resignation the other day.
While the Church of England is siding wholeheartedly with Mammon, for fear of losing £20k a day from the sale of cathedral trinkets, it seems that there may be a few of its staff who aren’t comfortable about the alliance. Maybe they thought the terms and conditions of their job included siding with the poor. In that case, I’d love to see the industrial tribunal case that would take place if they were to claim “constructive dismissal”.
It still somehow seems a bit shocking – despite the evidence of centuries – that the Church of England should be behaving quite so shamelessly as “the Tory party” at prayer.
Unfortunately for the powers at the Cathedral, their moves towards bailiffs and evictions came at the same time that the salaries of FTSE 400 directors were reported to have risen by 50% in the last year, at a time when everybody else is getting poorer at a rate of knots. Maybe the Cathedral bosses naively believe that this tiny minority of mega rich will happily spend some of their windfall millions in the cathedral gift shop.
St Paul’s has claimed

  • that they’d had to close the Cathedral on the grounds of “health and safety”. This is no blatant a misuse of the ideas of health and safety laws that you’d think the Daily Mail et al would be raging about “health and safety nazis” in St Paul’s. (Well. OK, you would never think that, to be honest.)
  • that people might trip over tents on their way to pray
  • that the cathedral is doing loads of good things for the poor in any case, so the protests were actually hurting the poor by stopping them getting in the wads of cash to do the aforementioned good things

This nonsense was clearly an embarrassment to those few clergy who had thought they were supposed to do something for society besides look after national monuments. Idealistic fools, who didn’t understand that they work for the big banks.
A commenter on Marina Hyde’s CIF column said:

Financial supporters of St. Paul’s Cathedral include:
Lloyds TSB Group plc, Goldman Sachs International, UBS Investment Bank, N M Rothschild & Sons Ltd, Prudential Plc, J.P. Morgan, London Stock Exchange, HSBC Holdings Plc, etc. Is it a case of “follow the money”? http://www.stpauls.co.uk/Support-St-Pauls/Our-Supporters

So I followed it:

300th Anniversary Campaign 2000 – 2008
The Dean and Chapter would like to thank all those who contributed to our £40 million campaign to conserve and restore St Paul’s Cathedral in celebration of the cathedral’s 300th anniversary.
We would specifically like to thank:
Robin Fleming and Family
Sir Paul and Lady Getty
The Garfield Weston Foundation
The City Bridge Trust
The St Paul’s Cathedral Trust in America
The Lennox Hannay Charitable Foundation
The Cadogan Charity
Lloyds TSB Group plc
An Independent Trust Associated with Barclays
City of London Corporation
City of London Endowment Trust
The Schroder Foundation
Goldman Sachs International
Mark Pigott OBE
The Wolfson Foundation
The Garfield Weston Trust for St Paul’s Cathedral
The Worshipful Company of Mercers
The Sunley Foundation
UBS Investment Bank
Mr Richard & Miss Clementine Hambro
McKinsey & Company
Roger Gabb
The Ernest Kleinwort Charitable Trust
CHK Charities Ltd
David Mayhew CBE
N M Rothschild & Sons Ltd
Sir Brian Williamson CBE
29thMay 1961 Charitable Trust
Dr Yury Beylin
Brunswick Group
Mr and Mrs William R Miller CBE
Lennox and Wyfold Foundation
Hugh & Catherine Stevenson
Skandinaviska Enskilda Bank
Roger Carlsson
The Clothworkers’ Foundation
The Headley Trust
Nicholas Oppenheimer
Prudential Plc
Simon & Virginia Robertson
The Capital Group
Lexicon Partners
Slaughter & May
Barry Bateman
Charterhouse Capital Partners LLP
Cinven
Cognetas
Electra Partners LLP
Land Securities
Standard Chartered Plc
JPMorgan Cazenove
J.P. Morgan
Cantor Fitzgerald L.P.
BGC Partners
Dulverton Trust
CMS Cameron McKenna LLP
The Freemasons’ Grand Charity
David Barnett
Len Blavatnik
Canary Wharf Group Plc
Lord Cockfield Memorial Trust
The Drapers’ Company
Man Group Plc Charitable Trust
London Stock Exchange
The Worshipful Company of Grocers
Stewart Newton
Sir David Walker
Sir Roger & Lady Gibbs
Sir Robert & Lady Finch
Peter and Stephanie Chapman
Fidelity UK Foundation
English Heritage
Wyfold Foundation
American Express
The Coutts Charitable Trust
The British Land Company Plc
HSBC Holdings Plc
Morden College
Aldgate & All Hallows Barking Exhibition Foundation
Jon B Lovelace
Richard & Ellen Sandor Family Foundation
The Scholl Foundation

£40 million towards the upkeep.

plus thry have ongoing Corporate Partners:

Lloyds Banking Group
Fidelity Investment Managers
CMS Cameron McKenna
London Stock Exchange
Sarasin & Partners
BGC Partners

Brilliant artwork

By chance, I spotted a gallery/shop/whatever window display in Liverpool One, piled high with unsettling baby dolls. This was arresting enough as a sight and it was drawing the attention and laughter of almost every other passerby.

But the explanation that accompanied the exhibition showed that the whole project is close to genius:

To produce a written constitution for the UK, by outsourcing the job to China.

You can read all about the project – with some fascinating posts – and track the journey using Google Maps and even see photos of the disturbing dolls on
http://www.mrdemocracy.org/.

Brilliant.

The problem with the afterlife

This is quite a good summation of what is happening to those who sit around waiting for the afterlife:

If you think your afterlife will be better than your current life, you're not really living. You're just waiting to die #atheist #atheism
@kaimatai
Another atheist

Admittedly not every religious zealot “waits around” – but the fact is a significantly non-zero number of people are giving up on their real life because they are waiting for it to all get better in the next one.

Smells of fail if you ask me.