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.

Told you so..

Today’s Guardian has a piece looking at the effects of the French burqa ban. In a nutshell:

France’s burqa ban: women are ‘effectively under house arrest’
Since France introduced its burqa ban in April there have been violent attacks on women wearing the niqab and, this week, the first fines could be handed down. But a legal challenge to this hard line may yet expose the French state as a laughing stock.

I have to show off about my predictive skills here, although anyone with at a week’s experience of living on this planet could have predicted the outcome.

But still, in June 2009, I said…

Some members of the public will demand police action against women wearing burqas. At the very least, insulting women as they go about their daily lives will become more, not less, common. Burqa-wearers will be afraid to appear in the street.

…Exactly the consequences that today’s Guardian report talks about…

There’s some shame for atheists in this story

Secular France has a complicated relationship with the veil. In 2004, all religious symbols including the headscarf were banned in schools. Even among Sarkozy’s opponents there are very few feminists or socialist politicians who would defend the right to wear niqab in a country where secularism is one of the few issues that still unites a fragmented left. Barely a handful of people came to Notre Dame cathedral to protest against the law in April. (from the Guardian)

I refuse to see how interfering with women’s chosen modes of dress “for their own good” can be in any way feminist.

It makes me really uncomfortable to see secularism used as a smokescreen for racism.

I thought I was at least in favour of the French banning all religious symbols in schools but I’ve started to even reconsider that, when I look at it logically. I hardly think it’s a battle worth fighting. It’s basically unenforceable without causing religious believers to become even more entrenched in their sense of having a beleaguered cultural identity.

How do you define a religious symbol in order to ban it? What are the boundaries of religion?

What about an innocent wearing a piece of jewelry with a Chinese Buddhist symbol? The English youths tattooed with Maori warrior symbols for gods they’ve never heard of and couldn’t pronounce even for real money?

Does it only count if you know what the symbols mean? In that case, most wearers of religious insignia would be OK.

What if you know what the symbols mean but just don’t believe in them? (I’m looking at you, all you people with silver rings carrying Egyptian ankhs.) You might have bought a tourist T-shirt printed with a scene from the Sistine Chapel. You might be wearing a reversed cross as a fashion item. You might even be wearing a religious item ironically (like the plastic rosaries incomprehensibly fashionable a couple of years ago)

More seriously, what about dreadlocks? They can be read in dozens of different ways. Locks have religious significance for some rastas. They also have several forms of cultural resonance for many people wearing them who wouldn’t subscribe to the religion – from people who see them as symbols of African heritage to eco-warriors. Some people wear them for purely aesthetic and fashion reasons. Are they banned in French schools? Would they be acceptable for people who could prove they didn’t follow the religion?

However you follow through these ideas, they become nonsense.

If secularist are to subscribe to the idea of banning religious artefacts worn on the body, how can we be sure that any given object doesn’t have religious significance?

By the way, this might be the time to mention that I have recently joined a religion which venerates the holy lounge suit. We are a small religion but utterly fanatical. All men in our faith are required to wear a lounge suit, with the tie of the Eternal Cosmos wrapped around the neck in a complicated knot that represents the interconnectedness of all life.

I sincerely trust that this doesn’t cause more than minor inconvenience in the French parliament.

Dale Farm (not the yoghurt)

Tomorrow there will probably be a mass eviction of 86 traveller families at Dale Farm, Basildon, despite the opposition of bodies like Amnesty International and the UN’s expert on minority rights.
This eviction will apparently cost £18 million. Not a misprint. £209,302 plus change for every family evicted. About ten year’s wages at £20k, which is well above minimum wage. Financial crisis, my bum. There seems to plenty of spare public money for racial harassment. (Which, as far as I understand it, makes Basildon Council an international rogue council and potentially fair game for some sort of international invasion task force.)
If the historical parallels of where the new Euroracism seems to be heading aren’t clear enough, look at jewify.com. They’ve had the brilliant idea of rewriting newspaper pages and headlines by replacing words like “gypsy” and “traveller” with the word “Jew”.
Just look at the headline examples on the home page. I hope your blood runs cold.

Dystopia, UK

You just try getting to sleep in an undeclared war zone. Given the noise of helicopters and exploding vehicles, I suspect that there must be a film crew remaking Apocalypse Now outside my house.

The UK media has reported the riots with instant guesses about what’s happening and/or repeats of each other’s copy. The posh papers have been full of instant punditry. Online, these stories have been twat magnets for the far right’s minor army of hangers and floggers.

The BBC site provided a selection of UK riot stories from around the globe. Among the quotes, there were quite a few perceptive ones, such as this from the Chinese Renmin Ribao

“The Olympics will be hosted next year; the security situation in London, which has always been a first-choice site for terrorist attacks, will be even grimmer. British police now face two main problems. First, as the government cuts police funding in order to reduce the deficit, British police will carry out massive layoffs. With insufficient manpower and financial resources, they will inevitably be overwhelmed with problems in maintaining social order. Second, after the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, the credibility of the British police has declined and there is still a very long way to go in rebuilding the credibility of the police and restoring public support, says Qu Bing, Institute of European Studies, China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.”

Obviously, there’s an element of irony there, for anyone who can remember the build up to the Beijing Olympics. But this one from Iran takes the irony biscuit:

Iran called for London police to exercise self-restraint in dealing with protesters in Tottenham, north of London. Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast referred to Saturday night’s massive protests in Tottenham, which came following [the killing] of a young black man by Scotland Yard police and called for the UK government to avoid any police’s harsh treatment with protesters.

Mass killer apparently rewarded

Murder over 90 Norwegians and you’ll get a platform to explain why. WTF? The killer’s ludicrous and hate-filled “document” is already being spread across the world’s media. His lawyer said that he’ll make a full statement tomorrow, setting out why he felt that he had to carry out that act.

What sort of message does this send? In the face of the suffering of countless Norwegians – the dead, the wounded, their friends and families – the bastard is getting rewarded. He’s achieved worldwide fame, with a global platform to express views that you’d assume would empty a pub if he was spouting them at the bar.

Surely, he forfeited any freedom of speech right to spread anti-social propaganda with the death of the first victim, let alone when the death toll was coming up to 100.

And his views won’t just be spread by the man himself. They’ll be filtered through the very media that have already responded to the atrocity by feeding us an almost uninterrupted stream of anti-muslim nonsense. i.e. already serving his purpose. Here is particularly risible-if-it-wasn’t-serious US example.

At a time when you’d think that maybe the British media would be a mite humbled – in the face of the ongoing NewsCorp corruption scandals – the British press and tv have covered this story with their customary shamelessness. (Eg., the Sun initially described the far-right islamophobic nutter as “a muslim convert”.) There seems no way for the media to see any atrocity as not being somehow linked to Islamic extremism. Even if they have to invent the connection from whole cloth.

Charlie Brooker nails this perfectly, so, over to you Charlie Brooker.

God-bothering 101

You mightn’t realise that doorstep evangelists have to learn some sort of craft. But a you-tube video has Pastor Anderson showing newbs how to god-bother. The title is “Basic Soul-winning Demonstration Video (witnessing, gospel)” :

This video demonstrates how to win someone to the Lord start to finish. This method could be used in door-to-door soul-winning or in a casual situation with friends or family that are unsaved.

(Soul-winning would put a severe strain on any friendship.)

Spoiler alert

This video is youtube-linked to videos of crazy pastors getting tasered, or at least heckled. So you might watch this video waiting for him to get a seemingly well-deserved punch in the face.

In defiance of natural justice, this never happens.

Apology

Sorry. This blog mocked Pastor Anderson’s wife’s (now mercifully non-existent) blog in 2009. I expressed some sympathy for him, believing that he had got the worst of the spouse bargain. After looking at his you-tube performances, I now have to apologise for this error of judgement and concede that it is her who is getting the worst deal.

Urgent warning

If you live in a small town in Arizona, move house. Now.

Small Town Soul-Winning Program

Our church spends several hours a week out soul-winning in the greater Phoenix area. We are in the process of eventually knocking every door in our county. However, many small towns, or “villages” as the Bible calls them, scattered across Arizona and across America have never had a soul-winning Baptist church in their town. How will these people hear the Gospel? Many people live and die in small towns with no Gospel-preaching church. How shall they hear without a preacher?
Every 3 months, our church spends a Saturday knocking every single door in a small town in Arizona preaching the gospel to everyone who will listen. So far we have knocked every door in Gila Bend, Miami, Cordes Lakes, Congress, Strawberry, Kearny, Hayden, Winkelman, and Mammoth, and have had many, many people saved. Eventually our church will reach every small town in Arizona with the Gospel. (from their website)

It’s probably unwise to move to Norway, South Korea or Alaska, though. They have missionaries in all those places.

Making up numbers for fun and profit

Why buy ads when you can blag respected media organizations into publicising your company for free, as long as you can raise some public controversy (622 comments on this)?

An online entrepreneur says that poor spelling is costing the UK millions of pounds in lost revenue for internet businesses. Charles Duncombe says an analysis of website figures shows a single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half.(from the BBC website)

Whereas achieving a gratuitous link on the BBC site can presumably double them….

The Confederation of British Industry weighed in with this ludicrous claim, based on a survey they did.

James Fothergill, the CBI’s head of education and skills, said: “Our recent research shows that 42% of employers are not satisfied with the basic reading and writing skills of school and college leavers and almost half have had to invest in remedial training to get their staff’s skills up to scratch.(from the BBC)

The first part (42%) may be accurate. Complaining about young people’s spelling is like complaining about the weather. Everyone over 25 does it and probably always has. But I am intrigued by the claim that “almost half” have paid for remedial English classes. That implies that 2% of bosses who don’t have a problem with young workers’ literacy have been paying for extra lessons.

To address these weaknesses, 44 per cent of employers have had to invest in remedial training for school and college leavers.(from HR_Inform report on the CBI survey)

Bosses are “investing” so money must be changing hands. ( This suggests that there must be a massive Remedial English industry. Intriguing. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen a private training company advertising these courses.

Avid googling throws up a few remedial English courses but these all turn out to be courses in teaching Remedial English. Or they are courses in Remedial English for non-English speakers.

Education cuts have probably made it impossible to find a free public sector course. So, teachers of basic English and Maths – who’ve found themselves out of a job as our adult education colleges disappear – should set themselves up as Remedial English and Maths trainers and offer their services to the CBI. Who apparently know where there is a massive hidden cache of employers who are happy to pay for their skills…

Make your excuses and leave

The UK is daily seeing revelations of levels of institutional corruption that would have raised eyebrows in Amin’s Uganda. News International seem to have gone for full-scale subversion of any British institution they can get their hands on.

There’s an embarrassment of revelation riches. Scandals are spilling out at a rate that reminds you of the way that a convicted criminal might ask for hundreds of offences to be taken into consideration when he knows he’s going to jail anyway.
As a random instance: The Sun targeting Gordon Brown’s family. Including getting access to his disabled child’s medical records. And even having to invite the buggers to the funeral.
Hacking Brown was not even a well kept secret. It should have been the subject of a court case.

An unexpected ruling by a judge six years ago effectively covered up the chance to publicly expose evidence of the illegal targeting of Gordon Brown, which had been unearthed by a startled team of provincial detectives.
Operation Reproof, by Plymouth police, revealed the first of what became many systematic attempts to gain illegal confidential information on the prime minister and his family, but their findings were suppressed.
The Guardian has now been able to document the facts.
Files buried in police archives detail the discovery of an extraordinary nationwide network of private investigators, whom a corrupt local police officer was feeding with information filched from the police national computer (PNC) (from the Guardian)

Unlike Plymouth Police, the Metropolitan Police were allegedly so entangled in NI’s web of corruption and blackmail that they couldn’t do anything except contribute to the cover-ups.

(Even where NI misbehaviour involved a police detective, Detective Chief Superintendent David Cook, a Crimewatch presenter targetted for daring to investigate the murder of a NI-employed private detective, whose partners – also NI-employed private detectives were suspects. )

You can’t really blame them when it seemed that every member of the British establishment was either cowed or complicit (or, more likely, both.)

Thus, it’s been left to people like comedian Steve Coogan and actor Hugh Grant to mount almost the only serious challenges to the evil empire.

I am pleased to see that the BSkyB bid finally looks unlikely to go through unchallenged. The Murdoch machine has almost brought the BBC to its knees in pursuit of its tv ambitions, so – blameless as Sky channels might be, in terms of hacking dead teenager’s phones – I’d like to see it fail.

Also, it’s nice to see that News Corp investors are finally questioning the company, although it seems a mite hypocritical for institutional investors to insist that Murdoch must have known what his papers were doing. Can investors really have been unaware of the nature of the business they were investing in? If so, I suggest sending them 412 scam letters immediately, because they have money to invest and are naive enough to believe anything.

Ever since Margaret Thatcher signed some Faustian deal with Murdoch, British society has been paying the price. Maybe, as Harriet Harman implied in an interview this week, all UK political parties should get together and ask News Corp “Can we have our country back, please?”

NoW that’s what I call outrage

The News of the World has been shown to have been phone hacking on an industrial scale. Last year, the Guardian had a spreadsheet with a list of over 30 celebs who have been hacked, and that didn’t even scratch the celeb surface, let alone begin to count the lesser mortals – like the families of murdered teenagers – who have apparently also had the full attention of the NoW turned towards their personal messages.

Rebekah Wade Brooks- now News International’s British Chief Exec – has made a statement containing a phrase which I must assume she meant literally – what with her being a newspaper editor and all.

“It is inconceivable that I knew or worse, sanctioned these appalling allegations.”(from the Guardian)

I agree it is inconceivable that the sanctioned the allegations of phone hacking. The phone hacking is, of course, another matter. She’s been the editor of the biggest selling “newspapers” in the UK. Surely she should know how to string a sentence together. Otherwise, I can only conclude that was an accidental, if rare, incidence of a News International employee telling the truth.

Some of us have long memories. And luckily, so does tinternet, so that I can throw this news item from 2005 into the fray.

The ethically-unimpeachable Ms Wade was arrested for beating up her then-husband, Ross Kemp.

Ironically, as editor of the Sun, she had masterminded a domestic violence campaign, according to the BBC. (The word “mastermind” was theirs), Also ironically, her career seems to have been based entirely on carrying out search and destroy missions against other people, largely on the basis of misbehaviours that don’t even begin to rival the heinousness of her own private actions.

Health Ministry of Truth

Combining theThe War against Terror with The War Against the National Health Service, the UK Home Secretary is about to propose that doctors be co-opted into the TWAT, by reporting on potential terrorists amongst their patients.

Doctors and other health professionals will be asked to identify people who are “vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism” as part of the government’s redrawn counter-terrorism programme to be detailed on Tuesday. (from The Guardian)

In a departure from recent government style, it seems that, for once, the Lib-Dems aren’t even being used as a human shield for this particular mad idea. Theresa May is putting it forward herself.

Theresa May and her advisers didn’t grow up in Fairyland, so they may have had occasion to visit a doctor. In which case, they should have noticed that, although doctors ask patients some very personal questions indeed, they don’t normally ask about plans to carry out suicide bomb attacks.

Doctors are indeed often too busy to ask where we stand on the single transferable vote or the extension of the eurozone. How wonderfully relaxed must some surgeries be, if doctors can take the time to engage their patients on a wide range of political topics and rank their answers on an extremism scale?

Temporarily ignore the monstrousness of treating medical confidentiality as a disposable luxury. This plan doesn’t even make sense in pragmatic terms. Potential terrorists can avoid getting caught by it by the simple expedient of not discussing their views with doctors. Can this be beyond the wit of even the stupidest terrorist?

Do we really have an Oxford-educated Home Secretary who believes that a terrorist will walk into his local surgery and says “I’ve got a bit of a sore throat but I’m planning an explosive attack on a plane this week and I’d hate to miss it”?

Machines of Loving Grace

Another work of genius by Adam Curtis was on BBC last night. In the UK, Episode 1 will be on the BBC’s i-player, In any case, it will probably be repeated a few times before the next episode (Monday, 30th. )

Amazingly thought-provoking. It fills your mind with images and ideas. I would certainly disagree with some of his arguments. (I can’t believe that Ayn Rand was really a major influence on the development of Silicon Valley individualism, no matter how many techy people called their kids Rand, for example. ) The programme is so engaging that I found myself arguing political/social/ecological points with the tv screen.

Curtis presents masterly transparent propaganda. Propaganda in the purest sense – spreading ideas, trying to make people change their minds. Transparent because he is explicit about what he is saying and communicates in a form that makes it explicit that he is spreading ideas. With blinding creative skill. He wants to make the viewer think creatively and recognise and question other propoganda.

Even if you’re not in the UK, you can read an interview with Adam Curtis and watch an intro clip on the Register.

The Register interview actually makes his point of view a lot clearer than the first episode. (But watching the programme is a pure joy. The interview is no substitute)

Challenging Utopian theories about the web:

I was suspicious of it because I hadn’t noticed power had disappeared. The real bastions of power are as they were, and are more concentrated. So I decided to trace those ideas back to their source. It leads you back to an absolutely fascinating area, which you can loosely call cybernetics, and also information theory.(from the Register)

He has a blog on the BBC. This is a source of major treats, such as “A is for Atom” which has an old documentary he made which dealt with the design of reactor at Fukushima Daiich. Or Rupert Murdoch – a portrait of Satan

On message

The UK Security Minister Baroness Neville-Jones has resigned her job.
Why so, you say?

“She will take up a new role working with businesses to boost their cyber security.” (a/c to the BBC)

…straight from government into a related private sector role.. how charmingly secure is that?…. (And, don’t worry, serfs, another Baroness is taking over.)

The BBC story implies that government ministers are engaged in some sort of SEO exercise to own the key phrase “essential rebalancing of security and liberty” on Google. (No, I don’t know why anyone would want to either, but the evidence is overwhelming.)

“I have also been able to contribute to the essential rebalancing of security and liberty in the review of counter-terrorism powers, the replacement of mistaken multiculturalism by an integration strategy which I hope will embed itself as a central feature of the ‘Big Society’, and to the redirection of the Prevent strategy which is nearing completion.”

Home Secretary Theresa May thanked Baroness Neville-Jones “for her hard work, both in opposition and in government, contributing to the rebalancing of security and liberty as well as participating in the work of the National Security Council”.

Cameron’s response is a paraphrase that manages to avoid the ugly “rebalancing” word while still hitting the jackpot.:

“You have helped to ensure that security and liberty are more appropriately balanced and dramatically strengthened the government’s strategy to prevent young minds being poisoned and radicalised,”

Credible as the others’ efforts are, however, the Baroness has achieved a full Tory key phrase home run :

“the replacement of mistaken multiculturalism by an integration strategy which I hope will embed itself as a central feature of the ‘Big Society‘”

You will have already spotted that none of these phrases have any meaning. they are the verbal equivalent of fog.

It all seems a bit odd. As the Baroness is leaving the government, why does she feel so compelled to continue to kiss linguistic ass? What on earth does a knee-jerk-right-wing-pleasing swipe at “multiculturalism” have to do with national security, anyway? And, surely, even the PM must be finding the “Big Society” catchphrase something of an embarrassment by now?

Anyway, enough rebalancing of blog silence and blog production for me. I’m off to embed myself.