Over-reaction

Media hysteria again, which will inevitably lead to more and more repression, giving Brown a free pass for not undoing any of the civil liberties damage of the past few years.

This country is under more or less blanket surveillance. We are supposed to be a democracy. We are supposed to adhere to values of freedom of expression and movement and so on.

WTF are all these cctv cameras, biometric data collection, interception of comms for if they don’t protect us yet? We all know that any professional criminal or terrorist just regards these things as nuisances that they have to pay to get round.

What about the rest of us? We may have mistakenly thought we could rely on Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights and things like that. (If you asking what they were, you probably left school when the History syllabus was made more idiot-friendly. And no, don’t ask me. How much do I know about them.? More or less nothing.)

As the UK abandons centuries of constructing “liberal” political values, as soon as it’s faced with a few determined groups, what will remain that is even worth defending in our way of life?

I’m going through one of those phases where I want to go up to 80 odd year old men and women in the street and apologise.

“I know you were part of the opposition to fascism. I know you helped create the welfare state. I know you went through Blitzes and rationing and so on. But look, sorry, we just can’t be arsed keeping up with that stuff, when we have shopping and reality shows and celebs to worry about.”

The history of all conflict – not just the UK’s history – suggests that, in the end, there is no alternative but to sort out the basic causes. If this doesn’t happen soon, anything recognisably sane about our society will have been put in a straitjacket.

(To borrow Trevor Phillips’ memorable phrase and mess about with it a bit) Why are we sleepwalking into tyranny?

Science fair

Wireless energy promise powers up, says a BBC article that claims that wireless energy transfer is close to practicable. Which would be impressive if it were true (although it might give the anti-wifi campaigners a few more warranted causes for concern than your standard Belkin device currently justifies.)

I probably am too cynical for my own good but I’d have to say this story has less of the ring of truth than the kidney transplant reality show that suckered me last week.

US researchers have successfully tested an experimental system to deliver power to devices without the need for wires.
The setup, reported in the journal Science, made a 60W light bulb glow from a distance of 2m (7ft).

For a start, I am not too impressed by making a lightbulb glow. Don’t some science museums have a display where you can light up a bulb at a distance by using some innate physical property of the gas in the light bulb? (Apologies for the vagueness. Yes, sometimes social science really isn’t a “science” and sometimes you really can’t ask me cos I’m just a girl.) This makes the whole public unveiling seem like a school science fair. (No, we don’t have them in the UK – or didn’t when I was at school – but we do get the Simpsons.)

But then again, maybe it is another example of a physical property that was considered only a toy that turns out to be really useful… I’m thinking of the gyroscope, but maybe the toy came after the engineering thing. OK, table blow-hockey and hovercraft then? Surely they had those tables before the hovercraft?

The BBC site says the news is from an experiment reported in Science. Ever diligent, I looked through a good few days’ news items in Science without finding it. Which is not to say it isn’t there, just that I couldn’t spot it. I looked at the MIT site and it had the “stem cells in mice” article that Science did, but no mention of any amazing new wireless energy transfer experiments.

Maybe this is actually old news and just appears on the BBC today because it’s a slow science day.

(Aside. It bloody must be. They have a totally spurious article saying that cannabis-caused mental health hospital admissions have gone up by 85% since Labour took power. Don’t make me go into the utter nonsense of this one. It merits an entire newspaper full of mocking deconstruction.)

So, with no easy science references to check out the light bulb, I was reduced to going back through the BBC’s own site. And, blow me down with a feather, etc, here’s a reference from November 2006 about the same chap, Assistant Professor Marin Soljacic, announcing that physics is about to solve the resonance issue, as soon as they build a model….

The article has basically the same content as today’s, even down to the same bizarre illustrations, minus the science fair-style lightbulb display..

  • Prof Soljacic, in front of an LCD monitor with a garish abstract screen saver – messaging how cutting edge he is;
  • a GCSE science-style diagram of two antennaed headsets, with an explanation – this is the bit I understood. However, I saw too many Tomorrow’s World’s to be totally convinced. Please note: I AM STILL WAITING FOR THE JETPACK;
  • a lot of wires in a multi-socketplug – so we can find out what plugs in a multisocket look like, in case we’ve never seen one.
  • Plus a garishly coloured plug with trailing wire that looks like an artist’s impression of a future wirefree energy provdiing device, until you realise it’s supposed to be a standard plug, lit by someone with only a 1960s lightshow as their illumination.

Blame the scapegoat

I know it hasn’t been long since I ranted about the craziness in the UK media nowadays, but listening to local and national radio tends to have this effect on me. One of the main headlines over the last few days have been the revelations from the Terrorism Trial which found five British Citizens guilty of terrorism charges. Part of the surveillance footage showed the now-convicted terrorists in conversation with two men who later (a year or so later) went on to bomb the London underground (7 Jul 05).

This “find” has motivated the survivors (or at least a media-friendly subset of them) of the London Tube Bombing to call for an “Independent Inquiry” into the Security Service (MI5) investigation. As with lots of things which become news items in the UK it has the air of self evident truth and “justice” but on second glance it really is pointlessly mad.

The radio news I have been listening to has been crowing over the “outrage” the survivors have felt that MI5 had two of the bombers under surveillance a year before the blast, with the implication (often stated) that if the Service had acted against them earlier they would have disrupted the bombing and the 55 odd people would not have died. Sounds reasonable enough, doesn’t it? Continue reading

Bad mothers

Hmm. After having expressed blogged horror about the women who goaded toddlers to fight, I am a bit disturbed by the way this case is getting reported now.

The women are now getting demonised as representative sub-class trash across all the media. Photographs of them leaving court have all the visual cues that identify them as “scum” to middle England and to the respectable working class – the clothes, the smoking, the visible navel adornments, their facial expressions, the unconscious visual references to the gangs of binge-drinking raucous women that are supposed to be menacing our cities.

I now know much more about their relationships and intelligence and mental health and even suicide attempts than I know about the people who live in my street. Possibly more than I know about myself. Continue reading

Royal Marine, Royal Navy, Publish and Be Damned

 (Update: It seems this has been added to Digg)

I am not sure why I have strayed into current affairs as a topic for debate here, but I promise this will be the last blog post I make on this topic (for a while at least…). Previously, I have ranted about the supposed “outrage” over the 15 sailors and marines held hostage by Iran being allowed to sell their stories, and about them wrongly being called cowards or a disgrace.

For people outside the UK, this may come across as little more than a parochial spat and, to be honest, I am amazed there is so little going on in the world that this is actually headline news. Again, today, I have spent most of the day listening to the radio. This is never a good thing, and especially so when I spend time listening to the Jeremy Vine show on Radio 2 (he gets callers to call in on current affairs topics). I am also very aware that they will screen callers to ensure the cranks get more air time than they deserve.

Knowing all this doesn’t stop the idiocy and bigotry winding me up though. (Again, this is long so most is below the fold)
Continue reading

History lessons are good..

Now if it had been a , I could understand it. Some seem very unwilling to learn about anything which happened before their Saviour came to Earth and to them the is a bit harsh and cruel. Oddly this is a Rabbi showing little real understanding of historical events. On MSNBC there is an article by Rabbi Marc Gellman (hat tip – Pharyngula) titled “In God’s Image” with a tagline of “The death of Captain America and the movie ‘300’ raise questions about the duty of the truly religious to protect freedom—even with their lives.

Blimey. Talk about reaching out for straws…

After an intro about the enlightenment and the problems with fascism, communism and jihadism, the Rabbi writes:

This same conflict lies behind the comic-book death of Captain America and the cinematic death of Leonides in the movie “300.” The Spartan Greeks, led by Leonides, could have chosen to live under the rule of Xerxes and the Persian Empire. They could have traded their imperiled freedom for a secure life of slavery. The choice of Leonides and the 300 Spartans to die in a doomed but heroic battle is the clear choice of those who believe that nothing—no faith, no material wealth, nothing—justifies the surrender of freedom to tyranny.

Strangely, I agree with his last sentence. Nothing, especially no faith, justifies the surrender of freedom to tyranny. I suspect the Rabbi and I have a different idea of how that is interpreted in the real world though but that is a whole different matter…

Often ignored is that, in addition to the 300 Spartans (Leonidas’ royal guards) there were 700 Thespians (from Thespiae) at the final battle. I am sure, as they were largely a “subject” city at the time, their freedom didn’t matter much though… Further on, the article continues:

Neither Leonides nor Captain America were religious, but both of them stood for that part of the religious world that believes in a God who fights for freedom.

Wow. While I can not comment on Captain America (he is a comic book character and not a real person!), I think it is reasonable to assume Leonidas was a very religious person. Maybe the fact it wasn’t Judeo-Christianity so it doesn’t count? Spartans always sought guidance from their Gods before pretty much anything (sports, war, trade etc) and part of the problem at Thermopylae was “ill omens” from the High Priests. However the nonsense, continues:

They both stood for the proposition that freedom is the foundation of all meaningful life. Religiously speaking, this is the belief that God gave freedom to all people made in His image, and that those who oppose freedom must be prepared to fight God.

Wow (again). The Spartans (remember Captain America is not real) were certainly NOT supporters of freedom – even by their contemporary standards. They were a military dictatorship in almost every sense. All citizens were geared for war and this was built on a bedrock of slave labour. Even the other Greek states (with their own slaves) thought the Spartans were oppressive. One of the reasons the Persian kept attacking Greece was the poor Greeks spent most of their time trying to stop the Spartans enslaving them.

The piece closes with:

Embracing the need to spiritually justify the fight for world freedom carries its own perils. Chief among these dangers is what we now see in the world of Islamic fascism: the use of religion to extol death and tyranny. The biblical name for this is idolatry, and the seductions of idolatry are hard for some to resist. In the end, though, the spiritual truth of freedom’s cause is eventually clear to all.

Leonides and Captain America were heroes not because they entered the field of battle with a shield of Vibranium or were in possession of abs of steel, but because they entered battle with a spiritually authentic idea: that God is free and we are made in God’s image to be free as well. We were not placed on planet earth to avoid death. We were placed here so that we could avoid surrendering our God-given freedom to tyrants.

Well again we hit an little dichotomy. Generally when people say things like “it is clear to all” or “every one can see” and my favourite “it is obvious”, the point being made is nonsense. Here, I think this is still valid. While I strongly agree the we should never surrender our Freedom to Tyrants (nothing to do with who gave us our freedom – that in itself implies tyranny but this is a whole new post..), I think the rest of it is nonsense. Leonidas was not a hero, and Captain America is not a real person so cant really be heroic.

The tyranny of religion is not limited to Islamic fascism – although that is the most overt form. Read the blogosphere about how gay people should be punished for an example of how otherwise moderate people are happy to subject others to religious tyranny. But I suppose that is ok though, cos it is a “good” religion…

(p.s. It is interesting how many sites / blogs (rightwingers) seem to see Thermopylae as a parallel to the west vs Iran/Iraq type thing. Dangerous comparison to be making… Why do the religious RIGHT get so confused when it comes to the media – remember March of the Penguins? Can’t they just accept a film is a film. It is there for entertainment. Study the reality if you want to draw cultural parallels…)

[tags]300, Judaism, Rabbi, Spartans, Sparta, History, Rants, Society, Philosophy, Logic, Religion, Religious Moderates, Religious Tolerance, Belief, Culture, Film, Media, Fiction, Superheroes, the 300[/tags]

Treachery of the soundbite

Richard Dawkins fell into the treacherous pits lying in wait for those who live by the soundbite. He was reported last week as having insulted Peter Kay for saying something silly about being sustained by his faith. The effect was to make Dawkins seem petty and even engaged in a nasty spat with someone who was in competition with him for a book prize.

Repeat after me, several times,

“I will no longer regurgitate kneejerk responses every time a journalist rings up for a quote.”

Luckily few of us will be called on to put this into practice, but, you never know.

Dawkins had the grace to apologise in the Guardian and admit that he was just giving a standard phone rentaquote and had no problem with Peter Kay’s apparent adherence to the Catholic beliefs (or lack thereof). I have greater respect for him after this admission, given that it shows he is aware of some of the consequences of being media flavour of the month. There is always a danger of trivialising serious issues when you get involved with mass media. That’s what they are there for.

Worst, this made Dakins appear to have no understanding of humour or context. Peter Kay could have been being ironic. I don’t know, not having read his autobiography or ever being likely to, but I suspect the contradicions in the offending quote may have been there for comic effect.

In any case, he mind boggles at a book prize that involves a competition between a crusading atheist biologist and a Bolton comic. Maybe they should get together and create a real crossover bestseller.