US Plans to Ban Irish Coffee….

Echoing the prohibition that hung round the great depression, the current global economic crisis seems to be encouraging people to ban things, almost at random.

From New Scientist:

THE US Food and Drug Administration is unimpressed by the fad for drinks that contain a double hit – alcohol and caffeine. Unless makers supply the FDA with scientific evidence that the drinks are safe they could be banned within months.

Another wonderful, yet unthinking, bit of legislation is sure to follow. Gone are the days when people can enjoy a cup of coffee with a shot of whisky after their meal. [Please feel free to twitter away on this!]

Regime change

The world is pretty unanimous about the need for regime change in a rogue state, long known to carry out torture of detainees and to have WMD that can be despatched at a mere 3 minutes notice.

Democrat Mr Obama was favoured by a four-to-one margin across the 22,500 people polled in 22 countries (from the BBC)

However, another poll, taken from within the rogue state itself, suggests that many women have been subject to the traditional tribal brainectomy, according to the Independent.

Women voters flock to McCain despite new Palin disclosures
By David Usborne in New York
John McCain has benefited in the polls since announcing his running mate was Sarah Palin, the ‘hockey mom’ Alaskan Governor
Democrats may not want to believe it but there is fresh evidence that the addition of Sarah Palin, the “hockey mom” Governor of Alaska, to John McCain’s ticket is winning him women voters in droves.

Well, I’m not even a Yank and certainly don’t want to believe it. The whole article could have penned by Stereotype Central. Usborne says that

…enormous numbers of women who previously favoured Barack Obama have had their heads turned since the introduction of Mrs Palin, according to a new ABC/Washington Post poll.

Had their heads turned….. (!!!!) So American women apparently thought that nice Mr Obama was so charming but now they’re sticking up for the gals and want to see a hardworking mom win.

(Cue Americanism.) Gimme a break. Why didn’t Hillary Clinton get chosen then, if femaleness is all it takes to engage women voters?

Approximately half of the population is male. Are the guys now supposed to be rooting for Obama solely because he can’t bear his own offspring?

The single, low-income women who turned out for Mrs Clinton – some 18 million – are increasingly balanced by Republican women, ecstatic about Mrs Palin’s deeply conservative religious views.

Excuse me if I misunderstand US politics even more than usual, but doesn’t “Republican women” mean “women who identify with the Republican party?” Wouldn’t that make them McCain voters anyway, even if he had indeed picked a farmyard animal wearing Max Factor lipstick as a running mate?

As the BBC reported, the rest of the world is unsurprisingly not “ecstatic” about “deeply conservative religious views.”

USA, we respect your exotic tribal culture and your quaint religious beliefs and all that, but please don’t let them spill out on the rest of us.

Judges, 1

Front page on today’s print Guardian was a story headed MI5 criticised for role in case of torture, rendition and secrecy about a judges’ ruling that some documents – as yet unspecified, as the ruling is secret – have to released for the man’s defence.

It’s hard to salvage any national pride from this disgusting story except:

Clive Stafford Smith, director of Reprieve, the legal rights group also defending Mohamed, said: “The British government may have been accused of being Bush’s poodle, but the British courts remain bulldogs when it comes to human rights.”

Indeed. It’s wonderful that there are indeed still judges with respect for the rule of law.

However, the rest of the story makes me want to throw up. The details are so griim, I imagine that any man who reads it will be wincing.

It appears that Binyam Mohamed faces the death penalty, on the basis of admissions extracted under torture, in which the British government was, at the least, complicit. The Indepedent reported last year that there is photographic evidence of the torture.

Here’s David Miliband (whose father is currently spinning in his grave, methinks,)

David Miliband, the foreign secretary, has provided the US with documents about the case, though the US has so far refused to release them. Miliband has declined to release further evidence about the case on grounds of national security, arguing that disclosure would harm Britain’s intelligence relationship with the US.

I fail to how “national security” would be threatened by the presentation of this evidence and the documents involved. Surely, this would only threaten our national belief in the veracity of the Foreign Office officials who’ve been assuring us that our hands are clean.

This story doesn’t appear on the BBC. Maybe I didn’t look hard enough, because the BBC has reported the story in the past. But even the Daily Mail has a reasonable summary of the judges’ ruling, in a prominent place on their website. Even the Daily Mail.

The world news has been reporting terrorist atrocities all week. Some of these have taken place in exactly the sort of countries that use torture freely. Guess what? Torture doesn’t prevent terrorism. It breeds it.

And, to be honest, I could hardly think of more effective anti-western propaganda coup than the execution of people on the basis of admissions made under torture.

Less US religion

Moderately cheering news on Ruth Gledhill’s Times blog of 28th February. Apparently the US population is becoming more sceptical.

However God is defined, fewer Americans are believing. The Pew Forum’s groundbreaking report, which we cover today, shows a surprising decline in religious affiliation in this most God-fearing nation of all. (From Ruth Gledhill’s blog)

I said “moderately cheering” because the Pew report (whatever that is) has only 1.6% of the US population declaring itself atheist, 2.4 % agnostic and a fair number of people who don’t care, making 16.1% of the population who don’t define themselves as religious. OK, it’s not a huge proportion but it’s an impressive show of rationality, all the same.

It still brings home quite clearly why American atheists sometimes seem to feel part of a beleaguered minority. Posts on the trials and tribulations of being an atheist can seem hard to understand if you live on a more godless continent.

Less cheering, Evangelical Protestants are the largest group at 26.3%, (greatly outnumbering traditional Protestants at a mere 18.1%) followed by Catholics at 23.9%. This explains why candidates are falling over themselves to woo the votes of the congregations. Grab the support of fundies and the Catholic Church and you’d be guaranteed a win.

Interesting that there are more Jehovah’s Witnesses than Muslims in the US, according to this report. Although that may be undercounting the “secret” Muslims, of which there might be a fair number, if US levels of fear of any Muslims are anything to go by.

There is a bizarre God-o-meter chart at Beliefnet. It’s hard to work out the logic behind it but, apparently, getting falsely characterised as a Muslim gets you high points. Scoring low on it seems to mean that you are obviously not a presidential front-runner. I’m European, ffs, I am barely familiar with the names of Clinton, Obama and McCain. and could only pick out two of these in a line-up. And my recognition failure is pretty well an exact replica of their lack of religious identification.

(If the Republican at the bottom of the chart wasn’t from Lawn Order and if I wasn’t an avid TV crime drama viewer, I wouldn’t recognise any of the others at all. )

All atheists aren’t bright

If you’re smugly thinking that your being a bit less stupid than the next person is evidenced by your lack of religious belief, I have some unwelcome news. Then again, if you think the idea of all atheists banding together in a broad unchurch of unbelief is silly, you may feel vindicated. (Snakes and ladders.)

There’s a blog on the Atheist Blogroll called Al-Kafir Akbar Its site in the lower reaches of the mental gene pool became evident in a climate-change-denial post. This post has already been elegantly and eloquently savaged by Black Sun Journal.

I was pretty struck by today’s post. Mohammed protector of infidels. I already suspect this story of the Swedish artist is rather more complex than it is being reported in the international media, although, with any more reports, it will indeed become yet another crazy international incident.

There is a bizarre capacity of small groups in the Islamic world to stir up mass hysteria over “insults” known at 15th hand, and only through the deliberate agency of rabble-rousing Islamic leaders. There is also an evil twin Western response, which assumes that the entire Muslim world is made up of demented fundamentalist fanatics.

Most atheist blogs are well able to oppose any flavour of fundamentalist nonsense without degenerating into mania.

But let me refer you to Al-Kafir Akbar’s blog again. This doesn’t fit into that camp of rational discourse. He says

.. those neurotic, thin-skinned cry-babies will be rioting again – peacefully, of course….. Al-Kafir akbar, ragheads! 🙂

I find this unpleasant. As I do the “Disprortionate Response” button. “Mr Akbar’s” “Islam & the War” blogroll includes Soldier of Fortune blog and Western that has the sort of posts that include one saying “Moderate Islam: a Reductio ad Absurdum.”

I am trying to see this as a cultural Europe versus USA thing and be more tolerant. But something about that “ragheads” word chills me. Despite sounding completely unlike “gooks”, it somehow sounds exactly the same.

Feelings about Islam in the US can go way beyond denouncing anti-humanist religiously-influenced practices. Many Americans and more and more Europeans go beyond reason into demonising Muslims en masse. The ultimate direction of this way of thinking is genocide.

Endless global war over access to dwindling resources. Justified on all sides by appeals to increasingly polarised beliefs in nonsense.. Which takes us back to the environmental threats topic again….

Yes, terrorism is vile and terrifying. (The clue’s in the name.) However, Europe has lived in the face of terrorism for decades, barely paddling in the ocean of craven fear, bigotry and database-driven authoritarianism that the world seems to be now diving into. In most cases, the way to stop terrorism is to find out what it’s really about and to deal with that.

(Look more closely at the Swedish artist Lars for a good-natured and good-humoured response to bigotry. He tried to buy the Egyptian cartoons that insult him.)

Quick history lesson, the mention of which will probably annoy the hell out of many US readers. Read Wikipedia on the Stern gang. The founders of the state of Israel got it by carrying out a terrorist campaign against the UK, who held Palestine as a “protectorate”. To this end, they even supported Germany in World War II.

(Stern) differentiated between ‘enemies of the Jewish people’ (e.g., the British) and ‘Jew haters’ (e.g. the Nazis), believing that the former needed to be defeated and the latter manipulated. To this end, he initiated contact with Nazi authorities, in order to enlist their aid in establishing a totalitarian state on Nazi lines., open to Jewish refugees from Nazism, in exchange for collaborating with Germany against the British Empire in the Second World War. (from Wikipedia.)

An object lesson in why you shouldn’t give into terrorism. At the same time, this shows you why terrorism presents an attractive option to people who can’t get what they want by normal methods.

Religious geography

In case you ever wonder about how far people’s beliefs affect the rest of society, (Well, alright, the advent of suicide bombing probably means you have an idea that there may some connection – Look, I’m just trying to introduce the blog, OK?) piece in the Times that compares a USA map of religious adherents as a percentage of all residents, with another map showing whether each state voted Democrat or Republican in the 2004 elections.

There is a broad (but moderately convincing) similarity between the map of the densest areas of god-adherents and the map locations of Republican states.

This reinforces an impression that the Republicans have pretty well hijacked Christian “belief” across swathes of the USA.

If you keep repeating over and over that Christianity = “traditional values” = Republican, some of it is bound to stick.

I always wonder how the uncomfortable bits of Christian writings – like the Sermon on the Mount – are so easily reconciled with the social policies of the Republican right, but I assume that the religious have to get well used to picking and choosing what to actually follow in their “unerring” texts.

Otherwise, the bizarre prohibitions and injunctions in Leviticus would have to be a daily guide for Christian fundamentalists. Which would be a moderately good grin for the rest of us.

As it is, US religion-in-politics seems to relate to just being anti-abortion and anti-gay – neither of which I can remember as having been big concerns of Jesus, from my school RE lessons. In fact, I thought “Render unto Caesar” was about as overtly “political” as the New Testament got.

But, then, I have to admit to having paid minimal attention, so these may indeed have been hot political issues in ca. 0 AD Palestine.

Gibberish and the Emperor’s new clothes

Whenever I hear the phrase like “innovative, grassroots-driven, decentralized, and empowering campaign” I reach for my gun….

These words were in the site of a supporter for a Massachusetts politician, Deval Patrick, about whom my knowledge is less than or equal to none, except for his having been associated with a plan to get community feedback that somehow put every voter’s personal information online, as far as I can determine from universalhub. Otherwise, he seems OK by US politician standards. (Well, he seems to be a Democrat for a start. It was hard to find anything about his politics in the sites I trawled trying to find out if I was doing the man an injustice here. This blog is nothing if not fair. OK, it’s more like nothing.)

Would people even consider voting for politicians who weren’t surrounded by a fog of cheerful phrases that didn’t have any content? Identifiable ideas might lose votes. Who would be so churlish as to not be in favour of innovation? Grass-roots driven things? Decentralised? Empowering? (Wow, it could have almost come from Paolo Freire, if his actual content hadn’t been sucked out.)

I have just read a well nigh 50-page consultant’s report on the department where I work. It could have been written by the same person. The consultancy fee will have equalled the salary of a couple of peon employees like me. They generated any content there was by consulting employees. Shouldn’t we have got some sort of cut?

The final text was obviously put together with the help of a Gibberish-generating programme, into which they must have fed whole volumes full of phrases like the words above. Then, translated the words into Basque, using Babelfish, retranslated the result into an obscure variant of Icelandic Gibberish and then got Dilbert’s manager to wring out any residual shred of meaning and replace it with phrases about empowerment and core values so upbeat that Ned Flanders would be embarrassed to utter them.

The report may be favourable. Who could tell? No one dares say that it doesn’t mean anything. It’s really the emperor’s new clothes. In pdf format.

ID (the other one) and “Race”

Thanks to Gary McGath for the link to Cato at Liberty on the inclusion of a race question on the proposed US ID card.

Homeland Security has proposed a standard for Real ID barcodes that would include every American’s race or ethnicity in the new “not-a-national-ID” card. ..The article notes that race information on ID cards in the past has been used to facilitate genocide. This is unlikely to happen in the USA….Homeland Security and the Bush administration howl that this tyrannical measure is necessary to keep us from being blown up by terrorists; the use of race registration to “fight terrorism” gives an idea of what they’re really after. (from Mcgath’s blog)

Excellent points.

To reinforce this point, you can’t assume that genocide is unlikely anywhere. Didn’t Rosa Parks’ refusal to abide by the segregation rules on American buses occur less than 50 years ago? So apartheid was normal, in the home of the free, less than 50 years ago. (Good job, there is no racism in the US, today, then….)

So, everyone in the USA is to carry round electronic information about their “race”, blindly trusting that this will never disadvantage them? How about our quaint little old UK electronic ID cards? Don’t tell me we’re going to miss out on this great leap forward in race relations.

How are they going to classify race? As this blog is getting bored with pointing out – there is no such thing.

So are people going to make judgements on their own hair colour/skin tone/eye colour/ body shape? American black and hispanic and asian white and whatever people are black or white according to arcane cultural rules that wouldn’t apply in the same way elsewhere. Who’s going to set these rules for the cards?

Maybe they’ll do it on the religion into which they were born – so it can identify Muslims, as that seems to be the point of the exercise? Can even American governments see Muslims as a race? What about when Seamus O’Sullivan decides to convert and becomes Ali Mohammed? Or Mohammed Baddawi deides to become an atheist?

Taking an invented classification (race) and coding it into an identifying tag, for the benefit of the government, actually goes one step beyond the Third Reich, in terms of accepting pseudo-scientific racism and applying it to human populations.

I’m not saying the consequences will be the same, but the potential is so inherent in the process, it seems about as safe as giving every American the right to bear their own nuke.

Hardly the best actors

This may seem deeply unpatriotic but I am have to protest at some arrant nonsense.
In today’s Guardian Charles McNulty claims that the best actors are British. Are you mad?

This unlikely claim is based on Helen Mirren, Judi Dench, Peter O’Toole and Kate Winslet being in line for Oscars today. OK, these are all great actors but only one of them is likely to be under 50. So, it’s really more like saying Britain used to have the best actors.

An RSC-style delivery really impresses the helll out of Americans. The masters and mistresses of the style, from the bloke who played Jean-Luc Picard to the bloke who plays Gandalf are briliant.

However, most good acting has to work on the tv and dvd. The “acting” needs to be unobtrusive and understated and convince us we’re looking at real-life characters rather than Shakespearen declaration. And Americans just win hands down on this.

I’m sure that we don’t get the lamest US soaps here, so it’s not really fair to compare the relatively big-budget US productions that make it to the UK with the dross that home-grown television has become. But, I’m still going to. I am ashamed to say that the mass of Americans, from childhood on to old age, can act most British actors off the stage and into the “don’t call us” bin.

Their bit-part actors are immeasurably superior to ours. If they didn’t have a niche for an evil Brit in every known style of film or tv programme, we would produce about five actors a year and they would all be crap.