Sunday, December 02, 2007

And here I thought kidnapping was a serious crime

But no, apparently not, as the US says it has right to kidnap British citizens. The only funny thing about this is the potential fora beautiful recursive loop, as they kidnap a British citizen, and the UK kidnaps the criminals who committed a kidnapping in the UK, and those desperate felons who kidnapped US citizens are then kidnapped back, until one country or the other runs out of kidnappers to send abroad.

After all, it may be legal under US law, but the kidnapping's still a very serious crime in the UK, so whoever does it is fair game to be dragged back in front of a UK court, right? Or does the US not recognise the rights of other countries to act in the same way they do? It would be nice if the US agreed that their agents would be bound by the laws of their allies (such as the UK) while in territories governed by said allies, but that wouldn't really go with the themes of this Administration - it would admit that there are some times and places where US law is not the be all and end all of the law.

Of course, if other people do decide to take this decision as good and legal, the CIA might be in for an uncomfortable time - as might Donald Rumsfeld, what with war crimes charges hanging over his head. But as with so many US positions at the moment, this is clearly only intended to benefit the US, and no one else gets to use these rules against America - that would be wrong.

(Discovered via Warren Ellis' blog.)

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sounds like a Fair Exchange

According to this Reuters report Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa has an entertaining notion - if the US wants him to renew the lease on the air base they maintain in Ecuador (apparently the only one the US has in South America), they'll have to let Ecuador have a base in Miami in exchange.

Lets see what reasons the US government can come up with for saying no...

I've often wondered why no one ever calls the US on it's rather one sided deals with the rest of the world. Of course the US will look out for it's own interests primarily, but I often get the impression that US politicians don't see why the rest of the world doesn't share their priorities. So good for President Carrea, and hopefully this will get some people thinking about how the US looks from an outside point of view.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Goodthinkful comics

The latest issue of the Blue Beetle comic (issue 19) was, as ever, very good. What made it stand out to me was the odd little comic in the middle, an advert for AirHeads candy. For a start, it's eight pages long, making it an impressive length for an advert, but more important is the content.

I wish I could find a scan to post, but to summarise the plot - Lex Luthor and Brainiac use a force-field to lock Superman out of Metropolis. Lex then starts to give his speech about how he will make Metropolis into a great place, yadda yadda. Kids in the crowd get out some AirHeads - and along with the candy comes the bouncing balloon spokes-entity AirHead himself. He enters with the immortal lines "Civics? On a Saturday? Booor-iing!"

And starts spraying candy out to the crowd, turning it into a party where people ignore Lex's attempt to take over the state. Eventually, Brainiac is distracted by Airhead, and the force-field drops, letting Supes back in to arrest the crooks.

So, as far as I can tell, this is an eight page advert telling kids that, when evil politicians try to take over the government, the best thing to do is to ignore it and have a party - that's contributing to the solution! So run along little citizens, eat your candy, and remember not to vote...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Causus Belli between turkey and the US

At least arguably, that's what this is. After all, we keep hearing about how Iranian weapons in the hands of militants in Iraq is a reason for the US to attack Iran - how is this different?

Except, of course, that it's not the US that's the victim here, rather the US might be at fault. So I expect it won't play very heavily in the press unless Turkey decides to do something about it.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Oh Look! We're Suddenly Safer.

Or at least, we're back to a 'Severe' alert level, meaning that there's only a high risk of an attack, not an imminent danger of one. Given that no attack took place after the rise in alert levels to Critical at the end of June, I can only assume that the Government was wrong to raise it. After all, it went up after the incidents had already happened.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

OMG Terrists!

Wacky - someone drove into Glasgow airport in a burning car, and fortunately no one is hurt. And the police would like to 'reassure' us that they don't know if it's connected to the car bombs found in London?

Why is not knowing better than knowing? Why would I prefer to think that there were two sets of lunatics wanting to blow people up? I'd be more reassured if the police knew, one way or the other, than by their ignorance. I don't get that comment at all.

On the other hand, if this is the worst Terror can get to us with, then good! These folk seem thoroughly incompetent.

Added bonus - after this, the Terror Alert Level was raised to Critical, meaning an attack is expected imminently. Odd, that - it looks like the attack has happened. No reason is given that we should expect more. How soon is 'imminent' anyway?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dick Cheney - Vice-President or Quantum Event

From the Daily Show:

So he doesn't need to reveal information because he's not in Executive branch; and he doesn't need to reveal information because he is in the Executive branch. Wow.

Quantum politics - I never thought I'd see it.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Bush uses Time Machine to Prevent Nuclear Attack on the US

That's the best conclusion I can reach after reading this report. It would appear that the US policy on Iraq is based on fears that al-Qaeda might use it as a base to attack the US. After all, they sent one of their top men there in 2005 to plan such attacks.

Aren't we fortunate, then, that top secret time-travel technology was available to allow the US to invade Iraq in 2003 and prevent these horrific attacks from taking place?

Less sarcastically, I believe I recall newsmen talking, around that time, about bin Laden losing his influence over al-Qaeda globally. Supposedly, al-Zarqawi was more popular as he was in the news, fighting the Americans. That would make this a story about how bin Laden tried to exert his authority over an uppity subordinate, and one who had no reason to listen to him. After all, Iraq is a warzone - why base attacks on the US out of a country where the airport doesn't work?

Finally - al-Libbi? Others have suggested Scooter al-Libbi, but I prefer to think that someone thought the President asked them to "provide an al-Libbi" for his actions in Iraq...

Friday, April 13, 2007

Lacking Sympathy for the UK Sailors

It seems that some people have no sympathy for the sailors recently returned by Iran, or for Britain's response to their captivity. The second part I have no truck with - we got them back, which was the point. No concessions have been made, nothing bad has happened. Iran made their point, we learned a lesson (I hope), and we move on.

Comparing it to Abyssinia is asinine -
In 1868, the Emperor Theodore of Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, feeling insulted that Queen Victoria didn't respond to his diplomatic overtures, took Britons and other Europeans hostage. Sir Robert Napier led a force of 12,000 men and 44 elephants on a 380-mile march to the fortress of Magdala, where they easily overwhelmed the defenders.
See the difference? If we could have 'easily overwhelmed the defenders' we might have done it. Also, Sir Robert commanded an army in the days when civilian casualties amongst the enemy weren't something to worry about - it's not as though the folks at home would see the crying, orphaned children on tv or such. We could afford to be bastards about it.

Perhaps most importantly, Abyssinia had no options for response to such an attack. Iran, of course, does - at least against our forces in Iraq, if not at home in the UK.

The complaints about the sailors, though - apparently they were forced to confess.
Some of the detainees explained upon their return that they had confessed to sailing into Iranian waters under the pressure of solitary confinement and threats of lengthy imprisonment.
Sorry, but allies of the US lost the right to complain about such tactics about the time terror suspects were shipped to Guantanamo bay. Solitary confinement? Threats of lengthy imprisonment?

Our allies do worse.

Complaints about being called 'Mr Bean' are laughable. If this kind of treatment wrings false confessions from our (ostensibly) highly trained and disciplined soldiers, then how can we trust anything that comes out of Gitmo interrogations? And if that is a fair way to treat a suspected enemy (as the US administration will insist), how can we complain when it's deployed against us?

It's a shame, since i do sympathise with the sailors themselves, that I can't muster any outrage at all at the behaviour of Iran. We're worse than they are, though. To complain about this kind of mistreatment would be hypocritical.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

No Negotiation with Terro - I mean, Democrats

So, it seems that President Bush will meet with Congress only to tell them to agree with him - at least that's what this article suggests.

I wonder what we're meant to think the point of a meeting is, when one side flatly refuses to discuss the possibility of agreeing with the other. I also wonder why we're meant to solely blame Congress for a failure to fund the troops if the President vetoes a bill that would fund them.

Anyway, this section of the article is almost funny:
"The president is not asking to lecture anybody, nor does he want to," Perino said. "We understand that Congress has a role to play. We understand what that role is. I would hope that they understand what the commander-in-chief's role is. And if a meeting can help alleviate some of the tension, then that's what we're for."
As far as I can tell, the White House (or at least White House deputy press secretary Dana Perino) thinks Congress' role is to send the President only those bills he asks for, and that Congress should understand it's the commander-in-chief's role to tell Congress what to do in time of war. However, I'm fairly sure that Congress is not a branch of the US military, and so the commander-in-chief has no real connection to this situation; it's the President's role that matters, and that the President is also the commander-in-chief is simply irrelevant. The commander-in-chief tells the troops what to do - and if the law says they have to leave Iraq, then it's his role to comply with the law and get them out on schedule, not to tell Congress to write him better laws.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Bagels, CD Spindles & Creationism

It says something about me that when I saw this example of geek ingenuity, my second though (after the obvious 'cool!' ) was that it poses problems for the theories of some creationists.

If the way a banana (a) fits perfectly into a human hand (b) proves that a was created for b to hold, then surely this also proves that bagels were created for CD spindles to hold. Which I'm sure would come as some surprise to the original creators of both, especially the bagel's creators - given they pre-date the CD by some centuries.

Not that that particular creationist argument needs any more debunking, it's quite stupid enough already, but a bit amusing at least.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

US Raid -> Hostage Crisis

I'm glad that we're getting our sailors back. That's good news.

The bad news:

The botched US raid that led to the hostage crisis - Independent Online Edition

I had wondered why the Iranians were doing it. Taking hostages seemed like a really dumb thing to do, in that it might kick off the war which would be awful for Iran (and pretty bad for everyone else). But that makes sense; obviously they can't let an attack like that go by without some kind of payback. We certainly wouldn't.

So, thanks America. Well done again. Keep up the good work, and soon we'll have another war in the Gulf...

Friday, March 23, 2007

Oh Dear

Iran Siezes British Sailors

... which can't go anywhere good, can it?

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Climate Change censorship? Surely not!

Bush administration accused of doctoring scientists' reports on climate change | The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited

Okay, that's quite disturbing, particularly combined with the White House's sudden acceptance of global warming as a problem (no matter how outlandish the solution they propose may be). It's like they knew about it for years, and just hoped to keep everyone else in the dark as long as they could to keep the oil money rolling in.

That can't be right though; the US government is surely full of honourable men who would never permit such dishonesty. Oh, wait...

Monday, January 29, 2007

"Since the dawn of time it has been mankind's dream to blot out the sun"

US answer to global warming: smoke and giant space mirrors | The Guardian | Guardian Unlimited

Now that's what I call a plan! Who says we don't have evil geniuses like we used to?

Seriously, what kind of mind spends years denying that global warming is happening and leaps straight from that to darkening the Sun? How do you do that? Ignoring, of course, the work that everyone else is doing to address the problems, and proposing this notion while criticising the idea of actually lowering emissions and dealing with the problems we're causing.

On the other hand, though, I'm impressed. It's an awesome plan, if it's serious. Pure science fiction, stolen straight from Mother of Storms, but impressive. And in fairness, by all reports the global warming problem is growing so far and fast that we need to be looking at ideas like this, in case we find that moderating our behaviour isn't enough to save ourselves. As long as it's a backup plan, and not the primary.

I doubt that the US would actually go through with it, though. This is just a mighty plan to put forward by the administration to deflect the blame for all that they've not done about this problem so far. Imagine the religious right if they actually expected to be meddling in "God's work" on this level...

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Magical Thought

Magical Thinking: Why Do People Cling to Odd Rituals? - Psychology - The New York Times - New York Times

Okay, interesting article. But it has a few points, especially in a society where most technology we use isn't understood by many of the people in it. To quote the article:

In another experiment, the researchers demonstrated that young men and women instructed on how to use a voodoo doll suspected that they might have put a curse on a study partner who feigned a headache.

Why is it 'magical thinking' and a wrong assumption to believe in the voodoo doll experiment above, but if you are told by a 'doctor' that when you press the button he gives you, you're shocking the other participant in the study, that's okay to believe? That's the basis of the justly famous Milgram experiment, and as far as I can see the only difference is that it's somehow okay to believe in a random bit of science, but not in voodoo. Okay, in the Milgram experiment, the participant is shocked to demonstrate the effect, but would the absence of that proof render it 'magical thinking?' I doubt that many would class it so.

It seems to me that, if we are to expect people not to be sheep, we must and should expect them to believe the evidence of their senses, even when they get it wrong. If you can prod a voodoo doll, and the target reports pain - it could be a trick, or the hoodoo could be working.

If you can flick a switch and the light comes on - the technology might be working. Or, just possibly, it's a trick. How do we decide between those cases, save by preferring the comfortable case that conforms to our expectations?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

How's that surge looking?

RealClearPolitics - Articles - Is the Surge Already Producing Results?

Now, to me, the things mentioned in the article are no surprise. My prediction would be that the enemies of the US in Iraq will try a combination of bleeding the new forces with attacks, and melting away their own visible targets - withdrawing from Baghdad and so forth. Then, when the Us is pulling troops out (and that won't be too long, since this is a 'surge' rather than a long term deployment of more troops), the fighters come back with a bang, and claim to have driven the Americans out.

The US can, of course, then stay on and fight, but the deployment will already be unpopular (well, it's unpopular now, but it'll be even worse then). Or they can do their nation building right in the time this buys them, so that their enemies have a harder time building up again once they retake the territory. Maybe that can work; time will tell. But I don't think we can say the surge is working until the final stats are in. There are too many possible strategies for the enemy.

My bet is that this does no one any good at all.

Friday, January 19, 2007

War in Spaaace

Flexing Muscle, China Destroys Satellite in Test - New York Times

Well, well. So the USA has a military rival for control of space - I wonder howBush will react. It goes a little way towards threatening his vision for space, which seems to be mostly that the US can do what it likes, and will stop anyone doing anything that could interfere with US activities.

I can't really imagine why anyone would give in to such bullying - at the time, it seemed like a reason for any other country that ever wants to have even the option of being a space power to arm up to defend their possessions in space before the US was unchallengeable up there. Unfortunately, China seems to have taken up that gauntlet.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Two more hangings...

BBC NEWS | Middle East | Hanging of Saddam's aides filmed

... and again the official video is silent. Why? In Saddam's case, it turned out that the guards had been chanting slogans at him and taunting him. Did that happen here, too?

I can't see why we should think it didn't. This is a poisonous mess.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

I thought the point was to keep the US safe...?

Bush concedes U.S. decisions made Iraq unstable |

Now that's funny. Bush says that the fighting in Iraq is leading to instability in the region that "could lead to attacks here in America."

I thought the reason that the US is fighting in Iraq is that that would mean they wouldn't be fighting in America? Wasn't that the anti-terror part of the war in Iraq? The bit that made it part of the "War on Terror?" Oh well, never mind. I guess it was just about the oil then.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Good news from the Lords, for once

Gay rights laws challenge fails (BBC News)

Yay for the House of Lords, for once they're in the news for NOT making a mess of things!

The arguments on the losing side make me cringe, though:

Lord Morrow told peers: "The regulations make it possible for homosexual activists to sue people who disagree with a homosexual lifestyle because of their religious beliefs. "They require religious organisations to choose between obedience to God and obedience to the state."

Well, yes. We do that all the time, if you haven't noticed. We do, for example, when we refuse to allow people to kill people in the name of God. If a faith has a revelation that states they must not pay taxes, would Lord Morrow accept that? Sikhs are enjoined by their religion to carry swords - they don't, though, wearing pins in the shape of a sword, because they chose obedience to the state (in a reasonable and responsible compromise). Why should Christians retain the 'right' to be intolerant of other lifestyles?

I expect that Lord Morrow wants his own faith to be protected from interference by the law, but would not extend similar protection to a religion that offended him. Lord Smith's response seems to be just right, though. Hooray for sensible Christians.

But Labour's Lord Smith said: "I am somewhat puzzled by the arguments that have been advanced.

"It seems to me, in my simplistic way, that what they (the opponents of the regulations) are arguing for is quite simply the right to discriminate and the right to harass.

"And those arguments are being made in the name of Christianity."

Monday, January 08, 2007

Terror Alert emails

BBC NEWS | UK | MI5 to send e-mail terror alerts

Ok, now that's an interesting idea, and I approve of anything that keeps the public informed about what our security services are up to. I doubt this will tell us much, but I'll sign up for it on the off chance.

The article raises another point, though. It prompted me to have a look at the MI5 website, and see what they think our current situation is. This is what they had to say:

Current threat level

The current threat level is assessed as SEVERE (as of 14th August 2006).

This means that an attack is highly likely and indicates a continuing high level of threat to the UK.

Hmm. To me, that's a problem. We've been in a position where an attack is 'highly likely' since August last year. It's the second highest rating, second only to Critical threats, in which an attack is 'expected imminently.' So, where is the attack? How long can an attack be highly likely before we have to start doubting the assessment rather than continuing to take precautions?

The last attack posted by MI5 on their website is the July 2005 attack on the London transport system. The last significant arrest was in September 2005. In both cases well over a year has passed with no attacks. Oddly, no mention is made of the bomb scare that paralyzed air traffic on the 10th of August 2006 (and pushed the threat level to Critical) - an event which, I now read, happened in the first month that the alert status was public and exactly one month after the Home Office announced that it would be made public. An event which turned out to be no real threat, or at least not an immediate one, as the suspected terrorists still needed to get passports... it's as though the timeline is missing embarrassing details.

Perhaps there have been attacks which were quietly prevented, in which case good for MI5. But I'm unwilling to take that on faith, and without some evidence I can only assume that we're not really at that much risk, and that these threat ratings are more an exercise in politics than prudence.

Funny Spam Watch

So, I thought I'd keep a track of the most interesting spam I get here, just for fun.

Today's highlight is a standard "Your loan request approved" email, of which I (like everyone else, I think) get quite a few. This one, though, is special. It wasn't sent by a bank, or an individual. No, the from address told me it was from "lesbians."

Apparently, lesbians in general want to loan me $331,000.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Iraq Launches Drive to Subdue Baghdad -

Iraq Launches Drive to Subdue Baghdad -

Good luck with that.

I can't see how it will work, though. The best result I can see is that the militants put away their guns for a bit, and pull them out again when the army is needed elsewhere and Baghdad has been relatively quiet for a bit. I may be wrong though, and I hope things do get better. Maybe this is a good idea.

Still, whatever the case, didn't we just conquer this place a few years ago? Why does it need another military attack so soon? Grr, the incompetence of it all... this shouldn't be needed. And I don't see how we're going to avoid having the same problems all over again after this assault.

Revealed: Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran - Sunday Times - Times Online

Revealed: Israel plans nuclear strike on Iran - Sunday Times - Times Online

So Israel threatens Iran with nukes, and that's alright?

Deterrence is about the only good argument I know of for having nuclear weapons; to me, this does no more than provide Iran with a good and sufficient reason to get their own, so that they don't have to suffer under this threat. Obviously, the same applies to Israel, but advocating a nuclear first strike on an enemy is not something that endears a country to me.

Lets hope this isn't a serious op plan just yet. I can't see things going well in the Middle East if Israel nukes someone.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Investigating the wrong problem

So, the Iraqi government is planning to investigate how Saddam's hanging came to be filmed.

If they don't want this kind of a public mess, wouldn't they be better off, say, investigating why it was such a botched job in the first place? When the executioners are wearing street jackets rather than uniforms, when they taunt the condemned, and when they chant the name of a militia leader - surely that's the problem, rather than the fact that someone filmed it.

If there's one thing that I am coming to hate about politics, it's the way that the politicians seem to have an endless capacity to excuse actions, but not those that bring these actions to our attention. Obviously, this film will inflame the violence in Iraq. But wouldn't it have been much less controversial if those filmed had acted like professionals doing a job rather than thugs killing a rival?

They killed him in the middle of a prayer. Way to make him a martyr, guys. Thanks for that.