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Archive for the ‘News’ Category

Interesting times

Posted by Polonius on 21 February, 2011

Recent events in Egypt have been relatively peaceful, certainly compared to what now appears to be going on in Libya, but I’m afraid of what could happen next. Cameron has gone there today to meet members of the military and some opposition groups, but not the Muslim Brotherhood. Does Cameron’s endorsement, or lack thereof, really hold any sway? The Muslim Brotherhood is the closest thing Egypt has to a functioning opposition party and they’re poised to turn Egypt into another Iran. And now Yusuf al-Qaradawi is staking his claim to be the new Ayatollah Khomeini. I don’t much care for Gaddafi, but a fatwa?


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Claudy bomb report – church response even more stupid than expected

Posted by Polonius on 24 August, 2010

Sean Brady doesn’t seem to understand parody; he’s doing it to himself!

We acknowledge the finding of the Police Ombudsman that: ‘With regard to the role of the Catholic Church, when informed of the level of concerns others had about one of their priests, they challenged Fr Chesney about his alleged activities, which he denied. In the course of this enquiry the Police Ombudsman’s investigation found no evidence of any criminal intent on the part of any Church official’.

In other words, “We asked him, he denied it, what more can you ask?”

It’s entirely consistent with the church’s view of buggering altar boys.

The tragedy is that all of this pales into insignificance against Pope Benny’s pronouncements against the use of condoms, which contribute to 1.5 million deaths a year in Africa alone.

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The war on photography continues

Posted by Polonius on 26 February, 2010

Much of this was drafted last May but, by an oversight, not published before now.

As I’ve remarked elsewhere, the notion that all photographers are paedophiles has been around for a long time, but it’s only since September 2001 that all photographers are paedophiles, terrorists or both. Bruce Schneier has written about the “war on photography“. Though much of his writing is from a US perspective, that article originally appeared in the Grauniad. There’s a useful summary of the UK legal position at sirimo.co.uk. I’m not sure if that may not need to be updated (at least for Scotland) following the disgraceful behaviour of Sheriff Kenneth Hogg.

The only new thing to add is the latest halfwit to join the war, and the original article.

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A matter of semantics

Posted by Polonius on 2 September, 2009

Just heard Evan Davis try to talk David Milliband into a corner on Radio 4. Davis’ point seemed to be that the UK government was saying one thing to the Libyans while saying something else (or trying to avoid saying anything) to the Americans. But much of the dispute seemed to be about a false dichotomy. The question under discussion was “Did the UK government want Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi to die in prison?”. There are, to my mind, three possible cases here:

  1. The UK government positively wanted him to die in prison.
  2. The UK government had no view on the matter.
  3. The UK government positively did not want him to die in prison.

Milliband seemed to be at great pains to say that the government’s position was not Case 1 (while leaving open the option to choose Case 2 or Case 3). Davis repeatedly demanded a straight answer to the question “Did the UK government want him to die in prison?” Milliband didn’t want to answer “No”, because that would be interpreted by many as Case 3.

Of course the UK government wants to distance itself from the Scottish government’s decision. If there is any truth to the conspiracy theory, the UK government almost certainly colluded in that decision, and I’m sure the US government was at least aware of it too. But that’s realpolitik, and the electorate wouldn’t understand.

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It’s no time to gloat

Posted by Polonius on 28 August, 2009

I’ve had misgivings for a while now about Pharyngula. I think the issue of science versus religion is a kind of triage (in the original French sense): there are basically three groups of people in the world:

  1. the ones who will believe in a god or gods regardless of evidence,
  2. the ones who won’t,
  3. and the ones who might be open to persuasion.

Ridiculing Group 1 is entertaining in the short term, but gets tedious after a while. Preaching to Group 2 is pointless. Telling Group 3 they’re stupid is counterproductive, and Pharyngula is all about ridiculing religion.

PZ Myers doesn’t explicitly impute any causal link between religion and the events that have recently come to light in Antioch, California. He simply juxtaposes a few facts and leaves readers to form their own conclusions. Sadly, most of the comments on his post are about as reasoned and evidence-based as those at Garrido’s disturbing blog.

Rational people, especially scientists, can do better than this. “Data” is not the plural of “anecdote”, and this incident doesn’t prove anything. We should not aspire to be as unscientific as the religious in our treatment of evidence.

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Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi

Posted by Polonius on 20 August, 2009

This started off as a comment on Head of Legal’s post on the rumours leading up to today’s release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi.

A successful appeal would be embarrassing to the governments of several countries. Where there’s terrorism, the standard government reaction seems to be some form or other of the politician’s syllogism. The American approach is along the lines of “We must invade somewhere. The culprits were from Saudi Arabia, but we can’t invade there – Afghanistan will do.” The British approach seems to be to convict somebody – anybody will do.

That goes some way towards satisfying the immediate lust for revenge. If they convict the right people, so much the better – it stops them committing crimes and deters others. But it’s intensely embarrassing when it goes wrong. If an appeal succeeds, it’s apparent that the real culprits are still out there somewhere. Furthermore, potential terrorists can see no point in not committing crimes if they think they’ll be considered innocent until proved Irish/Muslim/whatever.

I think Lord Denning understood that, and he pointed out that the death penalty is an effective way of preventing such appeals. Of course, he also felt that the possibility of embarrassing police officers with evidence of their perjury constituted grounds for rejecting such appeals. (Many readers will know that that was the speech where he coined the term “appalling vista”, preempting Microsoft by a quarter of a century.)

If I was a real conspiracy theorist, I’d say that the Scottish government saw an opportunity to avoid an embarrassing defeat at the appeal, especially if the rumours turn out to be true.

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London court strikes a blow in the war on photography

Posted by Polonius on 23 July, 2009

Somewhat belatedly, I’d like to draw your attention to the shocking story of Jamie Waylett. The use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act was a disgrace, and the fishing expedition to find something to pin on him was small-minded and vindictive. I’d love to contrast the entire episode with how grown-up police officers behave, but Sierra Charlie‘s been deleted. I must lobby Sierra Charlie 2 to repost.

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Realisation dawns on an idiot

Posted by Polonius on 13 June, 2009

The absurd Hazel Blears regrets her resignation. Of course she does! She was in the Cabinet, thanks to the lunatic Blair. Her resignation is the best thing that could have happened to Brown. The only mystery is why he didn’t get shot of her sooner.

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BBC News does science right (Shock! Horror!)

Posted by Polonius on 11 June, 2009

I’ve often been critical of BBC News coverage (postings passim ad nauseam), so it’s only fair to report when they do something right. It’s even more surprising when it’s science. Kudos to Victoria Gill, Science Reporter.

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BBC News continues downhill (6)

Posted by Polonius on 6 May, 2009

When I had occasion to chastise Stephen Fry about the silly modern habit of using “more than” to mean “as many as” (or, less charitably, using “three” to mean “two”), I was sure he wouldn’t be so stupid as to do the same thing with percentages. I had no such confidence in the new, dumber, BBC. Today they published this piece of innumerate drivel.

Checking out the actual numbers at Amazon, I see that the Kindle DX has a 9.7″ screen, compared with 6″ on earlier models. That’s a ratio of about 1.6 in linear dimensions or about 2.6 (let’s round it down to 2.5) in area. That makes it about 150% bigger, not 250%!

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