Let there be no light

I am overawed by the predictive power of Leviticus, if I’m right in thinking that that’s the book that set the rules for orthodox jews.

As far as I can make out, from this BBC story, (Light sensors cause religious row) orthodox jews aren’t allowed to see by electric light on holy days.

A couple have taken legal action after claiming motion sensors installed at their holiday flat in Dorset breached their rights as Orthodox Jews.
Gordon and Dena Coleman said they cannot leave or enter their Bournemouth flat on the Sabbath because the hallway sensors automatically switch on lights.
The couple’s religious code bans lights and other electrical equipment being switched on during Jewish holidays.

I can’t understand the problem, here. If the hallway sensors detect that it’s dark – the outside world will have street lighting, surely.

So the litigious couple can’t go in the street anyway, as far as I can see. Because then they would be in non-kosher electric light anyway….

Unless street-lighting doesn’t count because those lights are already on when the couple leave their home. In which case, I suggest that they trick the sensors and just switch the lights on permanently in advance of any jewish holiday… Lateral thinking, hey?.

Did Leviticus ban all electric light? Or just proscribe electric light switches and motion sensors but say some lights were acceptably kosher?

As I said at the beginning – this rulebook seems so amazingly farsighted. There must have been real prophets at work, if they foresaw electric lighting a few thousand years ago. Is there anything in there about when we get the jetpacks?

UK Culture Secretary Fails Internet

In a terrible indictment on the UK government, Andy Burnham (Culture Secretary) demonstrates some fundamental gaps in his knowledge of both the mystical internet and what freedom of speech means.

From the BBC:

Film-style age ratings could be applied to websites to protect children from harmful and offensive material, Culture Secretary Andy Burnham has said.
Mr Burnham told the Daily Telegraph the government was looking at a number of possible new internet safeguards.
He said some content, such as clips of beheadings, was unacceptable and new standards of decency were needed.

Briefly defending him, Mr Burnham has only suggested it as an option. But that is as far as my charity will go.

First things first. Film style age ratings do not “protect” anyone from anything. Browser based implementations (such as blocking your browser from viewing certain ratings) would prevent people from seeing “offensive” material but that is a different matter. Film style age ratings are far from 100% successful in stopping people seeing offensive films (have you seen Mama Mia?) and they are only moderately sucessful in stopping people seeing age-inappropriate content. Why would they work on the internet?

Despite being culture secretary, Mr Burnham appears unaware that the internet is global in nature. This website is written by British people, hosted on a German server and has 60% of its traffic from the USA. Who gets to say what is, or isnt, appropriate here? Harmful content is very culture-specific and by its nature, the internet skips over these boundaries. Do we censor information that the Iranians find offensive? Or the North Koreans? Or southern-US Baptists? Who gets to choose what is harmful? What gives that person the right to say to me what is harmful for my children?

There are some common standards that could be applied, but I suspect there are less of these than Mr Burnham thinks there are. Some cultures think it is acceptable for people to watch criminals being executed, others don’t. Supporters of capital punishment talk about the death of the criminal serving as a deterrent to others. This only works if others know of the death, which is why most executions of this nature are public. Is it harmful (in this context) for people to see the punishment carried out? It is “harmful” in the eyes of a culture that does not condone the death penalty, but why should that culture control the internet?

One thing that screamed out at me was the idea that a video clip of a beheading was unacceptable, rather than the beheading itself… But, in my charitable mood that might have just been a turn of phrase.

The madness continues:

[Mr Burnham] also plans to negotiate with the US on drawing up international rules for English language websites.

Wow. So the UK and US will make a pact that dictates the rules for Australian websites? That sounds fair. What about Iranian websites translated into English? This is mind-numbing madness. Hopefully the US government is technologically literate enough to tell Mr Burnham to boil his head for a few hours. Equally, most video clips showing beheadings are on foreign language websites. What control does the US have over them (short of invading, although admittedly the US rarely stops short of that…).

“Leaving your child for two hours completely unregulated on the internet is not something you can do,” he told the Telegraph.

Another bit of madness. The internet is not a parent. It is not even a child minder. Parents need to be able to educate and assist their children, not rely on badly-thought out “ratings schemes.” Parents need to sit with their child as they surf the internet. Its like anything children do – if you abandon your child to do it, you have no control over what they do. You may think you have some say, but you dont. Take the ratings scheme: most children who are able to surf un-assisted will be able to change web-browers to one that ignores the ratings. Or better still, will be able to enter a URL without a .uk or .com ending where the UK/US RULE is ignored. Technologically backward parents will not be able to implement a control to prevent the child switching to [Lynx|Amaya|Chrome|Opera|FireFox|Mozilla|Safari|Etc]. Does Mr Burnham think every browser coder will be willing to implement a strong age-ratings control without new ones spawning up? Is he that foolish?

The final bit of oddness is: [Emphasis mine]

He went on to say it was time to review the accessibility of certain content on the internet and insisted he was not trying to curb free speech.
His plans are likely to anger those who advocate the freedom of the worldwide web.
You can still view content on the internet which I would say is unacceptable. You can view a beheading,” he said.
“This is not a campaign against free speech, far from it, it is simply there is a wider public interest at stake when it involves harm to other people.”

For a culture secretary, Mr Burnham is woefully ignorant of what “freedom of speech” means. Personally I am opposed to beheading people. I find the death penalty for any crime offensive. Not everyone shares my opinion and, as a result, there are websites where you can read about executions. There are even websites that support the death penalty. I would say they were unacceptable. Does that mean they should be blocked from your browser? No, it means I shouldn’t view them. If I find something offensive, then I shouldn’t look at it. With my children, I sit with them to educate them about what they see. Should I accept your view of what is acceptable for them?

Despite what Mr Burnham says, freedom of speech is not about being free to say things that he (or anyone else) finds acceptable. I find political diatribes offensive and I find religious websites offensive. Will Mr Burnham have them removed? Or would that be a violation of the concept of Freedom of Speech? (I suspect the answer is yes)

The world is full of things which people will find offensive. I find children dying of hunger in Africa unacceptable. Does that mean we ban video clips of it (there go those Oxfam adverts) or does it mean we try to prevent it happening in the first place?

Mr Burnham is right to be offended by the video clips of beheadings. So why dont we prevent the beheadings?

I am sorry, Mr Burnham. As culture secretary you fail.

Getting climate change and asbestos wrong

You’d think that there had been enough pop science articles about climate change for even the thickest journalists to have grasped that “global warming” is

  • short-hand for complicated climatic processes, more accurately referred to as anthropogenic climate change, which don’t necessarily involve warming in any given place. (For instance, the diversion of the Gulf Stream could make the UK colder.)
  • not specifically identifiable in any given day’s or year’s temperatures in any particular place. Climate is not necessarily the same as weather

I assume that Christopher Booker is not a complete fool. He’s expensively educated, and he studied at Cambridge. So, it’s hard to see why he’s spreading ideas as confused as those in his Telegraph article, where seems imply that climate change is pretty well only “global warming” and the fact that some Russian measurements are wrong makes it all false anyway. (I paraphrase)

The world has never seen such freezing heat
A surreal scientific blunder last week raised a huge question mark about the temperature records that underpin the worldwide alarm over global warming. On Monday, Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS), which is run by Al Gore’s chief scientific ally, Dr James Hansen, and is one of four bodies responsible for monitoring global temperatures, announced that last month was the hottest October on record.(from the Telegraph)

Oh dear, Christopher, the point really isn’t whether a given month is “hot”.

How can you explain this to someone who believes that it is somehow discrediting Al Gore’s arguments to mention Al Gore’s name in the context that someone he knows has been misled by being supplied with a handful of duff numbers?

The science is too difficult for me to understand, but I’m pretty confident that it rests on millions of different types of observations, over many years and all parts of the world. And the work has been analysed and peer-reviewed by legions of climate scientists.

So, it’s not actually proven. (And, granted that my own assessment that the climate has changed dramatically over my lifetime, let alone Christopher Booker’s, is anecdotal.) But there seems to be such a serious weight of evidence to support it, it would be pretty dumb to imagine it is contradicted by one month’s error figures.

Pretty well as dumb as this complete misunderstanding of the evidence on asbestosis, for example, on the basis of some spuriously-qualified scientist :

Booker’s articles in The Daily Telegraph on asbestos and also on global warming have been challenged by George Monbiot in an article in The Guardian newspaper
Booker’s scientific claims, which include the false assertion that white asbestos (chrysotile) is “chemically identical to talcum powder” were analysed in detail by Richard Wilson in his book Don’t Get Fooled Again (2008).
Wilson also highlighted Christopher Booker’s repeated endorsement of the alleged scientific expertise of John Bridle, who has claimed to be “the world’s foremost authority on asbestos science”, but who in 2005 was convicted under the UK’s Trade Descriptions Act of making false claims about his qualifications, and who the BBC has accused of basing his reputation on “lies about his credentials, unaccredited tests, and self aggrandisement”.(from the Criticism section of Brooker’s Wikipedia entry)

Tory Leader spins tabloid appeal

Well, time for a departure from American politics and a look closer to home.

At the moment the Conservative party are spewing out vast tracts of nonsense, under the guise of a party conference. It does, however, give an insight into how willing to manipulate the voters they are, and how easily manipulated we actually are.

This is a headline news item which has been in papers and on radio bulletins quite a bit under the headline “Tories ‘to help have-a-go heroes’“:

Measures to help the public and police tackle criminals and end the “walk on by society” have been outlined by shadow home secretary Dominic Grieve.
He told the Conservative Party conference that too many people making “genuine attempts to prevent crime” had been arrested or prosecuted.

Erm, no. Not really true. It is, however, the poster child of the tabloid news papers. For decades we have been hearing urban myths about how a “have a go hero” stepped in to save someone and then got prosecuted. Most of the time, these are just that – urban myths. If you investigate the cited examples, the truth is often very different.

The law of the land is not biased against “have a go heroes” but, quite rightly, punishes vigilante gangs and disproportionate use of force.

Sadly, British journalists are shamefully bad at investigating. The BBC even have an example in their article:

Mr Grieve’s comments came after banker Frank McGarahan died following an attack in Norwich. The 45-year-old intervened when he saw two other people being assaulted in the early hours of Sunday morning, but was himself set upon, suffering fatal head injuries. Police have launched a murder inquiry.

Now, is that relevant? No. Mr McGarahan was not prosecuted by the police. The government did not kill him. Unless this is an example of the BBC showing why it is a bad idea to encourage untrained, unskilled people to pile in, there was no reason to bring it up.

If, however, the BBC are similar to the tabloids, the conflation of statements like this is often done to generate misdirection – the public hear the two, and decide that the government shouldn’t have prosecuted people like Mr McGarahan….

Madness. I am saying this a lot lately. We are a society of lunatics. Worryingly, when you think everyone else in the world is insane it normally means……..

Anyway, pushing that to one side. We get more ludicrous waffle from the tories:

Mr Grieve pledged to “take on the health and safety culture” and the legislation which “is holding officers back and making them more risk averse”.

This defies belief.

Health and safety measures are there to protect people. They are there to stop your employer forcing you to risk your life and limb for your job. They are there to make sure that you can function as a working member of society for as long as possible. It has nothing to do with stopping people from being “risk averse” (and here I suspect the Tories demonstrate a lack of understanding as to what “risk” means).

The Conservatives point to examples like the case of 10-year-old Jordan Lyon, who drowned in May 2007 saving his younger sister.
Two community support officers were at the scene but did not get into the water because they had not received the appropriate training.

What should they have done? Should they have died trying to save the 10-year old? (In which case the 10-year old would have died anyway). Do the tories plan to force everyone to risk their lives on a daily basis?

Note, the 10 year old was not risk averse. He took a risk and died. Should two other lives have been added to the tally? If you are family of Jordan Lyon, the likely answer is yes, but if you were a loved one of the community support officer would you have wanted them dead? Whose life is more important?

It gets funnier though:

The Conservatives want to amend Section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 to ensure that protecting the public from risk is given priority over the risk to officers.

Interesting. Police officers will no longer be able to risk the life of the public to protect themselves… There go the tasers, armed police, batons, riot shields etc. When someone tries to jump off a balcony, will police have to throw themselves underneath to break the fall?

Still it is a sad day that the lives of our Police officers is now deemed to be less important the lives of our public. This is doubly sad in the case of the Police Community Support Officers(*) who have no powers, are paid appallingly bad wages but still have to sacrifice their lives.

Going back to the tragic Jordan Lyon case, the officers were untrained in how to save someone. If they had been compelled to dive in without knowing what to do, what are the chances they would have saved him? Why is lifesaving a taught skill that comes with a qualification if everyone can do it automatically?

The sad fact is, the manipulative tories have jumped on this bandwagon to stir up an apathetic public. They have made meaningless gestures but grabbed headlines. The tabloids love them and to uncritical thought it sounds great.

Dont you just hate politicians?

It isnt just the tories who are prone to such underhand statements:

But the government said its was already working on the issues the Conservatives had raised, including changes to the law, so people using “reasonable force” to protect themselves could have “greater confidence” they would not be prosecuted.

Political vapourware at its best. This basically says: they are not currently going to be prosecuted but the tabloids and tories make them think they are so we will change a meaningless part of the law so everyone feels better. Argh.

Given the lies of the tories, the emptiness of the Labour party and the pointlessness of the Liberal Democrats is it any wonder voters are apathetic?

(*) I detest the very concept of PCSOs. It strikes me as a nasty way of getting policing on the cheap, while allowing under-trained, under-educated thugs out on to the street with a false idea of their own authority. Spend more money on getting real police out. That would save 99% of the problems with PCSOs. IMHO of course…. 😀

Minor Update

The Church of England’s Darwin site, as predicted in my last post is there now. Do I have uncanny psychic powers or what?

In this context, the BBC discussed the rise of creationism in the UK, reminding me of something I’d taken for granted for so long that I’d even forgotten it. Darwin’s portrait is on our £10 notes. 🙂

But in Britain, where a portrait of Darwin appears on the back of the £10 note, his theory of life evolving from primitive to complex structures by means of natural selection appears to be unchallenged orthodoxy.
Not so, say those on both sides of the creationist divide – a point amply proved by the existence of the Genesis Expo museum, to date Britain’s only creationist museum.

This laughingly-titled “museum” claims

The old National Provincial Bank on Portsmouth Hard is now home to CSM’s Genesis Exhibition, the first of its kind in the UK on this scale.

“On this scale”? The site of a former bank? That’s not a very large scale. It’s bigger than the average living room but nowhere near as big as the average open-plan office. And I suspect that the words “the only UK creation museum on any scale” might have the virtue of being a bit more accurate. (What am I thinking? Accuracy, creation museum? In the same sentence?)

There’s a giant 20 foot model of a dinosaur, called Boris, in a faux-affectionate way that might be taken as an ironic comment on London’s Tory mayor if it had originated from a more progressive source.

Plus there is the Genesis Expo.

This consists of 12 dioramas and a clutch of real fossilised dinosaur eggs.

What? This museum’s exhibits could be outclassed by the average primary school’s Parents’ Evening display. It’s not going to be much competition for the Natural History Museum in the scope of its exhibits. Nor, it seems in the quality of its content:

The topics covered include –
* The impossibility of life forming from chemicals.
* Chinese calligraphy refers back to Genesis.
* The present day forms remain unchanged from their fossil counterparts.
* Geological sediments are laid down rapidly.
* A study of genetics shows that all humanity came from one man and one woman.
* and many other subjects.

I don’t know about the”many other subjects”, but I think that list makes it 100% “made-up stuff.”

And, what a treat, it seems that the Expo is online, saving the tedious trek to Portsmouth Hard to see it. As you might expect, the Expo turns out to be unutterably dull as well as stupid. But there is still an evil joy to be found in the fact that it’s provided by a site called www.genesisexpo.co.uk which sounds a mite seedy.

There are also many books and videos on display for sale. Each has been selected to be of good quality and approved in that the creation information it contains is generally conforming to the views held by the CSM Council

Phew, that’s a relief. I was a bit worried that some of these books and videos might put forward other non-CSM-accredited creationist views. Then what would I have to believe? My brain hurts………

Costume drama

A policemen got removed from his job because he dressed in a carnival costume. This seems pretty incomprehensible on the face of it. His offence was that he wore an “Osama bin Laden” costume to a village (population: very few) carnival in Cornwall.

Before I go any further with this, it’s clear that the job that he was removed from would count as most people’s definition of “no loss”. In fact most people would sell their homes and families NOT to take the job. He was on secondment to the Foreign Office in Afghanistan. So I shouldn’t think he’s that distressed by this.

The bizarre things about this story are:

  • A costume worn in a village carnival might just about make the local press – if there was a local newspaper, and there isn’t for anything on a lesser scale than half a county, as far as I can googlit. How the fuck did this story end up on the BBC news site and in every UK newspaper?
  • After dedicated googling, it seems that the “disrespect” that Colin Terry has been accused of showing was not disrepect towards Osama bin Laden – which was a pretty baffling concept – but to the victims of 9/11, according tothe Times.
  • Taking that to mean the surviving victims and the families of the dead, do they routinely follow Cornish village news? How do they find it? I can’t even find a local newspaper for that area, online.
  • Has their grief been expressed in such bizarre activities as searching the web for any fancy-dress items that might mock Al Qaeda? In that case, I think I can find a few costume shops within a couple of miles of my house that they may need to know about.
  • What about the supposed impact on the man’s job in Afghanistan? Given that Danish language cartoons seem to be the must-have media in the most undeveloped Islamic countries, could it be that the ungooglable Cornish village newspapers are being read avidly in Al Qaeda mountain strongholds? Might Osama bin Laden have taken offence at an ungraceful bit of carnival capering by someone dressed as a comic-book version of him and told the mujahideen to step up their attacks on British troops? (Don’t answer that. It was a rhetorical question.)

In other words, how did this become a news item?

For the policeman, the loss of the secondment to Afghanistan must surely be a blessing in carnival disguise. (If he’d had any sense, he would have phoned a complaint in himself. But then, who could have predicted this as a major national news item?) But why is he facing investigation by the Police Complaints Commission? Don’t they have enough real police misbehaviour to deal with?

God does it again

The world’s heaviest man has lost body weight equivalent to a couple of adult males. Guess who’s responsible? Well, God, of course.

Alongside his copy of the Guinness World Records lies another text, The Bible.
“I have Claudia, my mother and God to thank,” said Manuel. “I am happy.”

You’d think a conceptual ruler of the universe would have better things to do than supervise an individual’s diet, but he must be working in his usual mysterious ways.

However, I’m afraid that the notionally all-powerful one might have been falling down badly in his new cosmic personal training role, to let Manuel Arribe get to weigh half a tonne in the first place.