Tag Archives: BBC

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.

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?”

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

Great minds thinking alike

This may be a unique event, this blog and the Archbishop of Canterbury (oh, all right then, and millions of other people) speak with one voice. The idea that UK Christians are being persecuted is silly.

Rowan Williams (C of E Archbishop) expressed this so well that it bears repeating:

.. told a congregation at Canterbury Cathedral that “wooden-headed bureaucratic silliness” combined with a “well-meaning and completely misplaced anxiety about giving offence to non-Christians” should not be mistaken for persecution. (in the Guardian)(

Easter persecution show

“Are Christians Being Persecuted?” on BBC1 tonight posed that ludicrous question. The description on the BBC site started with a contentious intro:

For years now, some town halls have been renaming their Christmas Lights as Winter Lights festivals. More and more Christians are ending up in court, defending themselves against what they see as victimisation for not being allowed to wear a cross to work or to pray for a patient.

It’s doubtful if “Winter Lights Festivals” are anything except an urban myth. But, anything is possible. Rebranding things on a random basis has somehow become compulsory in Britain. (For instance, the Department for Trade and Industry is on its third renaming in as many years. No one suggests that this means that Business is being persecuted.)

Ah ha, the programme has actually found a council that called its Christmas decorations “Winter Lights” one year (not “some town halls” and not “for years” then.) The council has now again rebranded the light switching-on procedure, as “Christmas in Autumn” or something.

Wny is the name given to street lights even remotely newsworthy?

Because of the media that feels no shame in trying to stir up controversy about nothing, maybe.

Or because of the activities of a tiny fringe group of extremists who are being quite successful in rebranding “Christianity” – redefining their religion in terms of items of jewelry and acts of bigotry. (At the same time, bringing into the UK fundy beliefs – like Intelligent Design – that mainstream UK Christians still laugh at.)

This was a truly annoying programme. It gave yet more credibility to the extreme wing of Christians, accepting their self-definition, so confusing the boundaries between them and the mainstream churches.

Although no member of the mainstream churches seems to have got into any dispute over wearing crosses, etc., any act of overzealous-personnel-management-madness directed against these people now gets seen as representing an attack on Christianity as a whole.

If you could bear to sit through the whole dull 60 minutes, the programme finally concluded that UK Christians aren’t actually being persecuted …… well, at least not compared to Christians in the Sudan. That almost defines “damning with faint praise.”

Simon Singh gets result

Simon Singh has won his libel appeal against a case brought by the British Chiropractic Association.

Take pleasure in the instance of the right thing being done but the case cost the defence £200,000.

So just to be on the safe side, not having £200k to spend on legal protection, I want it on record that this blog will never “question claims made by companies or organisations “……..

That leaves us with loads to blog about. Erm.

To start with, all alternative medicine works. Oh yes, the Rapture is imminent. ID cards are a brilliant idea that the UK population is crying out for, except of course the bad people who have something to hide. Political correctness has indeed gone mad. etc

Well, that should guarantee our future.

Speaking in tongues

English speakers are notoriously bad at speaking any other languages. When travelling, we tend to treat anyone’s inability to understand what we are saying as a form of deafness, so we just speak English very LOUDLY.

I’ve even come across an American variant of this, which involves the assumption that anything said in English will be understood just as long as you don’t use any contractions: so saying “I will not” will get you understood where “I won’t” won’t.

I’ve just (accidentally) discovered a BBC site that could singlehandedly end the international muteness of the English speaker.

It is wonderful. It covers a dozen languages well enough to take you quickly to a reasonable level of practical fluency. It also gives you key phrases for 36 other languages. It is entertaining and easy to use.

More BBC website genius. I stand in awe of the BBC for producing this. It’s free. It’s as useful as most commercial courses and probably a good bit more effective than any language lessons most people had in school. (If they had language lessons… I believe these are becoming the educational equivalent of an endangered species. like any non-utilitarian subject in British universities, now I come to think of it.)

Wouldn’t this be a good resource for schools? Imagine if English-speaking people left school with a useful smattering of a dozen languages rather than our present incapacity to even say “Hola!” on Spanish holidays.

As an aside, the print Guardian gave out little booklets with a few phrases in the world’s fastest-growing languages. No rival to the BBC’s mastery in the area but they did offer a few unique joys, such as the gestures. These were illustrated with drawings that made you think of the non-existent cartoon “Family Guy Does Russian.”

Suitable tale for Hallowe’en

According to the BBC

Five women were paraded naked, beaten and forced to eat human excrement by villagers after being branded as witches in India’s Jharkhand state.
Local police said the victims were Muslim widows who had been labelled as witches by a local cleric. (from the BBC)

This poses an interesting question. Does Islam have “witches?” Are they mentioned in the Koran? (I have no idea. I am too idle to googleit even)

The BBC has a video but I’m such a wuss that the warning that it contains disturbing footage was enough to stop me playing it. The video has understandably outraged people in India.

According to more links on that BBC page, witch persecution is not uncommon in India today. For instance, the BBC story “Witch family killed” reported the deaths of four people, who were stoned and buried alive in June 2008.

More than 500 people have been killed in Assam – and half as many in neighbouring West Bengal – in the past few years because their neighbours thought they were witches.
A study on these killings by a Bengal police officer, Asit Baran Choudhury, suggests that most of those accused of practising witchcraft and then killed are “isolated families” with some landed property.
He says most of those killed are widows.
“Powerful people in the community target them to acquire the land,” says the study. (from the BBC, 12 June 2008)

These horrific tales don’t need commenting on. It’s blindingly obvious what’s going on here. I could refer you to the mountains of anthropological literature about persecution of “witches”. The European witch trials were so similar in terms of targetting widows and grabbing property. But any mention of “anthropology” or “history” places this sort of madness in a conceptual realm that’s outside our own experience – in the distant past or in some “superstitious” alien society that is nothing like the modern world (Ha.)

In any case, I tend to assume that most readers are halfway sane so I won’t do this to death. Feel free to work up your own outrage. I’m getting a bit tired at expressing outrage at things so WRONG that they defy any sense of innate human decency. And I choose not to go down that road, as a matter of principle.

How monumentally convenient for someone who is jealous of another’s good fortune to make up insane accusations and convince the gullible that they are true.

Welcome to Minority Report

On the BBC

Bus CCTV could predict assaults
The system would monitor suspicious behaviour on buses
CCTV security systems could soon spot an assault on a bus before it happens, according to a major research project.(from the BBC)

:-)

OK, admittedly, this is what is more often known as “vapourware” than a fully-working Minority Report system.

Although much of the work is currently at the theoretical stage, the team from the university’s newly-founded Centre for Secure Information Technologies predict that within five years their software will be able to profile people as they board a bus. (from the BBC)

I bet they haven’t even bred the mutants for the tank yet.

“Profile” bus passengers troublemakers? Through CCTV? With software that does exactly what a bus driver thinking “I don’t like the look of him” would do?

Leaping to conclusions on the basis of appearance and movements?

I can do that for free. I try to stop myself doing it because I believe the more accurate word is “stereotyping,” rather than “profiling,” but then, I’m only human…..

Oh right, that was why Minority Report seemed such a good choice of title. :-D

Rumble about the Jungle

How easily does extreme right-wing discourse slip into the way the media frames the world? Answer: Very easily.

The BBC website has a report on the argument by the Refugee Council that the UK should take some responsibility to grant asylum for vulnerable residents – children -of the squatter camp at Calais.

They are talking about children. Children who are living in a squatter camp. I think that qualifies as a humanitarian issue. Surely all our media hysteria about risks to children should also apply here?

But, in the interests of “balance”, presumably, the BBC gives at least an equal space to the views of Migration Watch, who carefully seek to redefine this issue to ignore the “children” bit. After a load of unchallenged nonsense such as an assertion that 80% of people who say the word “asylum” are admitted to the UK, their spokesman says

“You have to look at the system as a whole, you can’t just say there are vulnerable children” (from the BBC)

Now, I’m already on semiotic alert by the BBC’s description of this squatter camp as

the camp known as “the jungle”

And lo, there is a sidebar with links to previous BBC articles about this camp.

SEE ALSO
UK turns down ‘jungle migrants’ 18 Sep 09 | Europe
France to close migrant ‘jungle’ 16 Sep 09 | Europe
Migrant squalor in Calais ‘jungle’ 02 Jul 09 | UK
UN to help advise Calais refugees 01 Jul 09 | UK

Was a decision taken in early July to use the “jungle” word? Hmm, does that mean that it’s full of Africans? Yes, I believe it does. Jungle is a pretty loaded word. It arrives carrying echoes of the racist ideas that supported colonialism. That’s why we now say “rainforest”.

I don’t have a problem with calling the “rainforest” the “jungle”. However, I do have serious problems with the BBC calling a refugee camp a “jungle,” given that I don’t believe that trees and parrots are over-represented in the Calais camp.

And what is MigrationWatch? Surely that must be an organisation with equal credibility to the Refugee Council, given that it’s accorded equal billing by the BBC? Well, maybe it’s just me but I rather think not.

Its website says that

We are an independent, voluntary, non political body which is concerned about the present scale of immigration into the UK.

Let’s say “concerned” is putting it mildly. The word “rabid” would probably fill the bill better. Here are the first 3 of what they call “key facts”:

Net immigration has quadrupled since 1997 to 237,000 a year.
A migrant now arrives nearly every minute.
We must build a new home every six minutes for new migrants.

They have a press page where they record their appearances in the media: (When I say “their” I am not convinced that “they” exist far beyond their spokestwat, but that may be wishful thinking)

Bear with me while I paste in their media triumphs over the past couple of years. Unsurprisingly, the Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph are the favoured platforms – until the BBC started to see their glorious leader as a spokesman:

Migrant housing figures, Letter in The Daily Telegraph 25 July, 2009
25-Jul-2009
Turks increasingly turn to Islamic extremism: Al Qaeda’s reliance on Arabs is altering as recruits from Turkey and Turkic-speaking areas of Central Asia form a recent wave of trainees, experts (sic) say.
By Sebastian Rotella Los Angeles Times – 20-Jul-2009
At last, the truth about immigration and council house queue jumping
By Andrew Green The Daily Mail, London – 30-Jun-2009
Statisticians are right to publish and be damned By Sir Andrew Green,
The Times – 12-Feb-2009
We must create a culture of solidarity, not offer amnesties
Editorial from The Catholic Herald 28-Nov-2008
How many more people can our small island take? As population heads towards 70 million has the penny dropped for Labour? by Sir Andrew Green The Daily Mail – 19-Nov-2008
Devastating demolition of the case for mass immigration by Sir Andrew Green, Chairman of Migration Watch UK, The Daily Mail – 01-Apr-2008
Immigration is making matters worst (sic) Letter by Sir Andrew Green
The Surrey Advertiser – 07-Dec-2007
Hold back the immigrant flood By Sir Andrew Green,
The Sunday Times – 04-Nov-2007
‘We must act now to cut immigrant numbers’ Commentary by Sir Andrew Green, The Daily Telegraph – 24-Oct-2007

Plus this “1 Sep 2009 … Sir Andrew Green was interviewed on the Today Programme at 8.35 this morning about the asylum seekers’ camp near Calais”

Who is Sir Andrew Green and why are his views so much more worthy of media attention than, say, mine? A Guardian profile from 2005 says his friends are unanimous that he’s not a a racist. Oh, well, that must be OK, then.

Apparently, he can’t be a racist, because he was British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia…….

The portrait that emerges from those who know Sir Andrew is of a shy, private individual, “a right old Tory, Daily Telegraph reader”, and also a “very religious” man who held regular evangelical meetings at the British embassy in Riyadh. (from the Guardian, 4 Nov 2005)

A very religious man. LOL Regular evangelical sessions.. Double LOL. Why am I not surprised that this right-wing figurehead for an ugly ideology is also an “evangelical Christian”? Indeed, “suffer the little children” may have become his new watchword, if we consider his Calais stance.

Just to show exactly how “unracist” the former ambassador is:

The row offered Sir Andrew an opportunity to renew his argument on the BBC’s Today programme, when he said: “We have no problem with immigration from Poland, which is valuable to all sides.” (from the Guardian, 4 Nov 2005)

So Eastern Europeans are OK?

But. almost all the migration to the UK that makes up the numbers that Migration Watch presents (e.g UK supposedly needs to build a house every 6 minutes for migrants) is from EC countries. This apparently doesn’t worry “Migration Watch”.

Shouldn’t they call it “Non-white Migration Watch” and have done with it, then? Clearly not, because even the BBC would then have problems presenting Sir Andrew Green’s views on its main pages, in the name of balance.

Oh Emm Gee !1!

OMG! Have you heard? The president of AMERICA has an opinion…. ZOMG!!!!!!111

Seriously. It must be the slowest news day ever. Obviously the media has hit saturation point with war, famine, plague and pestilence so now we have a headline news bulletin which revolves around the President of the USA expressing an opinion about someone.

What the fuck has the world come to for this to be news? Even the BBC has shamed itself by covering it. To death.

In a nutshell, Kanye West was a jack ass and interrupted an award winners speech.  Yeah, big deal. I could just about see that being the news item but the reality is people act like self-centred idiots day in, day out. The fact that some one famous is self-centred is hardly news. Following this frankly uninteresting incident, President Obabma was holding a conversation about it off air, but some ABC staff recorded it and felt the need to post twitter messages about it. Following it becoming “news” ABC have apologised to CNBC and the POTUS and have removed the twitter posts. Obviously this has done nothing to reduce the global spread and the wonders of the interweb mean we can all listen to the President of the USA calling Kanye West a “jack ass.”

Is this really how low our society has sunk? Is the President’s personal opinion about someone’s behaviour genuinely newsworthy? What impact does this have on anyone’s life?

If pushed, I am sure you could easily find in excess of 50% of the worlds population who would call Kanye West a “jack ass” even prior to his MTV awards behaviour. Is that news worthy? If not, why not?

The only thing I can think of is that the worlds news agencies are so overwhelmed by the onslaught from Web 2.0 crap applications that anything which has even a passing reference to them becomes news based solely on its perceived ability to appeal to the yoof market. It is shameful, and certainly goes a long way to explaining why “old media” feels it is under threat from the new media…

Shame on every news outlet that carried this story. Even a cat up the tree would have been more newsworthy.

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…..

Justice, mercy or revenge

Today’s news has been pretty much filled with items about the decision to allow Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, the man jailed for blowing up a US airliner over Lockerbie in 1988, to go home to die. al-Megrahi is suffering from terminal cancer and, according to some reports at least, has about three months to live. It is probably unsurprising that this release has generated a lot of vox pop about what an “outrage” it is that he be allowed home to die. One of the terms of his release is that al-Megrahi dropped his series of appeals against his conviction, saving the UK taxpayer a large amount of money; however I can only assume that he still thinks he is innocent (or at least has a chance of being found innocent) but no longer had the will to fight this.

In the UK a life sentence doesn’t actually mean you are expected to die in jail. The criminal justice system is, in theory at least, based upon the principles of removing an offender from society as long as they present a danger to society, while providing correctional education to allow them to reintegrate to society upon release.

Equally, in the UK (and the US I am fairly sure) there are frequent cases where a prisoner is released from jail on compassionate grounds. There is nothing specifically unusual about this case.

The biggest difference here is that this is a person who has killed Americans. As a result, President Obama felt the urge to pressurise the “Scottish Government” (hmm) to change its mind about al-Megrahi’s release. President Obamba is not alone in this, almost every US politician has tried to convince the Scottish Justice Minister to change his mind. The UK radio and TV news is running headlines about how this has “all been ignored” – as if the requests of US politicians should carry some weight in this matter. I notice that previously the US government fell over itself to listen to pleas from UK politicians about the treatment of Gary McKinnon… Or not.

All this is only mildly interesting. I notice with more interest, and a lot of amusement, that the same parts of the British media objecting to this were crying for the release of the convicted Great Train Robber Ronnie Biggs. Obviously there are differences, Biggs is unrepentant, proud of his crime and white so the objections of Jack Mill‘s son went largely ignored.

Unusually for a missive from WhyDontYou Towers, I have no real opinion one way or another over the treatment and final disposal of al-Megrahi other than to wish there was some actual justice and consistency in the UK Criminal Justice system. Justice is not about revenge. Fair treatment includes compassion. Nothing that happens to al-Megrahi will bring back the dead or turn the clock back to before the murders. If justice is allowed to become revenge, then Al Qaeda can give up, we’ve destroyed western society ourselves. There can be no doubt that al-Megrahi showed his victims no compassion, but so what? Do two wrongs make a right? Does anyone honestly think al-Megrahi remains a danger to society? The news is showing traumatic footage of the night Pan Am Flight 103 went down – what can this do other than inflame people about the decision, which I think is at least consistent with the UK criminal justice policy.

As is always the case, the BBC is an example of the odd responses. There is the frequently wrong idea that those who are emotionally entangled can give a just and reasoned opinion – the BBC website has an entire page devoted to “Reaction – Lockerbie Bomber Set Free.” Show the effects of emotional involvement, the sister of a victim understandably says:

I don’t know how you show compassion to someone who has shown no remorse for what he has done and as Mr MacAskill praised the justice system and the investigation and the trial, how do you then show this person compassion? It’s just utterly despicable. I think he should have died in prison. Why should he be returned to Libya? That’s not what we were promised. We were always told he would serve out his full sentence in Scotland.

It is understandable, but wrong. I cant begin to imagine the suffering this person has undergone, but that is not grounds for a policy decision. This is why in the Dark Ages we moved away from blood feuds and instituted a system of courts and laws.  While she may not, yet, see it, the only way to show compassion is in situations like this. There is no compassion in being nice to nice people you like. Compassion involves doing what is right even when you dont want to.

The inherently evil David Cameron gives us a sign of the Criminal Justice system we can look forward to if the Tories come to power:

This man was convicted of murdering 270 people, he showed no compassion to them, they weren’t allowed to go home and die with their relatives in their own bed and I think this is a very bad decision

Ah, an eye for an eye eh? Does the body count matter? If he had killed just one, would he be objecting? Is the only reason to keep him in jail the fact that 270 families were torn apart rather than one or two? I suspect that if you are a grieving family member, the pain is not reduced simply because no one else died.

The Scottish Labour Leader has shown a tendency towards fluid politics that is characteristic of the Labour Party in general:

While one can have sympathy for the family of a gravely ill prisoner, on balance, our duty is to honour and respect the victims of Lockerbie and have compassion for them. The SNP’s handling of this case has let down Scotland

Yes, have compassion for the victims. Making someone suffer because not doing so would upset the families is not compassionate. It is pretty much a cowardly response.

Annoyingly for a committed Atheist, the Reverend Ian Galloway (Church of Scotland) says what is, IMHO, the right thing:

We are defined as a nation by how we treat those who have chosen to hurt us. Do we choose mercy even when they did not chose mercy? This was not about whether one man was guilty or innocent. Nor is it about whether he had a right to mercy but whether we as a nation, despite the continuing pain of many, are willing to be merciful. I understand the deep anger and grief that still grips the souls of the victims’ families and I respect their views, but to them, I would say justice is not lost in acting in mercy. Instead our deepest humanity is expressed for the better. To choose mercy is the tough choice and today our nation met that challenge.

Infuriatingly I cant help but agree with everything he has said here.

If you want to read some genuinely insane arguments on this matter have a look at the BBC “Have Your Say” Pages. Here the hatred really flows. The whole of Europe is called “Cowardly” because the Scottish National Party stood up to American pressure. The irony is amusing, if the ranting is disturbing.

It saddens me that people are still suffering to such an extent about this. Their suffering will not be changed by this persons release, nor would their suffering end if he had died in jail. That political figures in both countries are making so much capital out of this is an example of how craven politics really is. When I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with a Church of Scotland Reverend, its time to lie down.

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.

TWO CUPS OF COFFEE A DAY STOPS ALZHEIMER’S
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.)