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.