Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Bush legacy

An allegorical photograph.

Quote of the day

Rick Hills:

... I stand with George Orwell who spent the 1930s and 1940s denouncing the obscurity of intellectuals’ prose as a cloak for tyranny (and, incidentally, who was also accused of being an anti-intellectual). Intellectuals spray polysyllables like squid ink, to evade the democratic decencies of conversation. I’d like not to be one of their number.
Via David Thompson.

In praise of the Women's Institute

More robust common sense here, from the organisation that once slow-handclapped Blair:

So what, precisely were these Hampshire grandmothers doing, weighing up the pros and cons of the Moonlite Bunny Ranch?

The ranch was one of a number of brothels visited by the pair in Holland, America and New Zealand as part of their 'research' for the campaign by Hampshire WI to decriminalise prostitution.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Character test

What would you do?

Friday, July 25, 2008

Memphis police try to out anonymous blogger

I'm pretty unsympathetic to anonymous blogging, but there are cases where it's clearly necessary, such as for public employees. Presumably, the MPD suspect inside involvement:

The city of Memphis, along with Memphis Police Director Larry Godwin, have subpoenaed AOL to force it to hand over all records associated with an e-mail address, including registration information, billing information, names, e-mails, faxes, phone numbers, or IP addresses...
The user(s) of the e-mail address post to a blog called MPD Enforcer 2.0, which has historically been critical of the Memphis Police Department's activities. The blog has been somewhat of a sore spot for the MPD, especially as it has gained popularity online (and boy, is it going to be popular now). Among other issues, the MPD Enforcer 2.0 has discussed sexual harassment within the police department, questionable ticketing practices, and officers allegedly violating citizens' (and prisoners') rights. Godwin is often discussed extensively in many of the posts due to his position as director of the department.
Emphasis added - and ain't that the point? This is why Spartacus actions are so important.

Arctic soon to be open sea

Claims the NY Times... in 1969. And in 1922.

Financial privacy

In a very good post about workfare - one that if read without knees jerking contains much that Classical Liberals would agree with - Shuggy says the following:

... David Cameron can smoke weed and snort coke and all that happens to him is that commentators admire the way he deflects 'unjustified' questions about his 'private life'. But the left-behind society has no such privacy.
He isn't explicit, but I assume he is talking about means testing, and the license that gives the State to investigate every detail of a claimant's life.

The first letter on this page puts this more directly:
The BBC news now tells me my benefits will be scrapped and I will be tested (I have been tested twice already). I will have to bare all my privacy in the hope of retaining the right to survive the winter.
And that's true. This point is often made by the left. It is linked to dignity.

On the other hand, those whose income is taxed to pay for benefits are subject to what Adam Smith called "the odious examination of the tax-gatherers". Especially in the case of the self-employed, and most particularly when they are subjected to a tax examination, no part of their lives can be called their own. Far more than in the case of benefits claimants, every detail of their lives is open to enquiry.

Is an invasion of the privacy of a claimant more important than that of the people taxed to pay the benefits they are claiming? If it is not, then whatever form of government revenue can legitimately be raised, it does not include income tax.

My own position is that both claimant and tax payer have the same right to privacy. But the claimant has a duty of justification to those whose money is being taken on their behalf. This doesn't need to take the form of means testing, but it does need to be satisfied.

Therefore, while land and transactions can be taxed without an invasion of privacy, income cannot and should not be taxed. Equally, means testing is unacceptable, but if a claimant is capable of work, any work at all, and this is available, they have a duty (to their fellow citizens, the taxpayers) to take it.

Government waste

Picking up on an idea by Tim Worstall, I put a quick javascript widget together yesterday to show the amount spent by the US government on its stupid War Against Drugs since the start of this year. You can see it in the sidebar here, and if anyone wants to use it the code is as follows:

<div id="drugCounter">
<div id="caption">Money spent by the US Federal Government since the start of this year:</div>
<div id="amount"></div>


<script type="text/javascript">
var annualSpend = 39900000000;
var daysInYear = 365
var hoursInDay = 24;
var minutesInHour = 60;
var secondsInMinute = 60;

var secondsInYear = daysInYear * hoursInDay * minutesInHour * secondsInMinute;
var millisecondsInYear = secondsInYear * 1000;

var spendSoFar = 0;
var spendPerSecond = annualSpend / secondsInYear;

var counter = document.getElementById("amount");

String.prototype.reverse =
function() { return this.split('').reverse().join(''); } = function()
var s = parseInt(this).toString().reverse(), r = '';
for (var i = 0; i < s.length; i++)
r += (i > 0 && i % 3 == 0 ? ',' : '') + s.charAt(i);

return r.reverse();

function calculateSpend() {
var d = new Date();
var t = d.getTime();
var y = t/millisecondsInYear;
var roundY = parseInt(y);

var secondsThisYear = parseInt((y - roundY) * secondsInYear);
spendSoFar = parseInt(secondsThisYear * spendPerSecond);
spendSoFar =;

counter.innerHTML = "$ " + spendSoFar;

setInterval("calculateSpend()", 2000);
Of course, if the caption is changed and the spend amount in bold red above altered appropriately, it will count the amount spent on anything this year, which is why I wrote it. While the drug spending waste is important, I have been meaning to do one of these things for total UK government waste, and another for EU waste. The amount given to the EU by UK taxpayers is another possibility.

This bit of script was slung together quickly (I nicked the number formatting stuff from here) but plan to rewrite it this weekend for some of these other purposes. I'm thinking of a configurable widget for displaying a number of different types of spending in one compact unit.

Suggestions for numbers to include, together with sources, are welcome. My source for US Federal drug spending is here.

My script above is free of copyright restrictions - do whatever you like with it. That might or might not be true of the number formatting snippet but the link is above if you want to be sure. I'll rewrite it all to make it completely free for unrestricted use this weekend.

UPDATE: Further to Mark's comment, the things to change for your own use are now in red. I also stripped out a couple of redundant variables - as I said, this was done in a rush. I'll make a nice config section at the top when I rewrite it over the weekend.

UPDATE 2 If you want to use the GBP symbol instead of the dollar symbol, it's better to type "&pound;" (excluding quotes) than the symbol on your keyboard.

UPDATE 3: Some duplication removed.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Government IT watch

SQL injection is one of the most common types of security problem with database-backed websites. I'm going to give a brief and slightly simplified technical description for those who don't know what it is, because that's the only way I can show how obvious - and easily avoided - it is.

A SQL query is almost plain English. This one:

"UPDATE users SET firstname='Fred' WHERE lastname='Bloggs';"
updates a database table called 'users', changing the value of the column 'firstname' to 'Fred' in every row in which the last name is 'Bloggs'. The query ends with a semi colon. Another example of an SQL query is this:
"DELETE FROM users;"
which will delete every record from the users table - there's no WHERE condition, so it just does the lot.

If a website allows people to change their first names, then it will have a form on a web page in which people can type the new name to use. So if Fred Bloggs has a sex change, and wants to update her record to Frederika Bloggs, she could type this new first name into the box, click "SUBMIT", and the database will be updated.

Behind the scenes, a server-side script of some kind will have the new name she typed available to it as a variable. For the sake of argument, I'll call this variable $new_name - for these purposes a variable is like an envelope in which some value can be stored; the value can vary but the word on the outside of the envelope is always the same, so it's easy to use. The WHERE clause will also need to know what the relevant surname is, so we'd need a variable called $last_name too.

This script will then bung the variable in the right place in the SQL query that needs to be executed, maybe a bit like this:
"UPDATE users SET firstname='" . $new_name . "' WHERE lastname='" . $last_name . "';"
That's fine when Fred changes her name to Frederika. But a malicious user might type this in the web form where the new name is supposed to go. Instead of a name, it could be some sort of new SQL that starts with a semi colon to terminate the query it will get placed inside:
";DELETE FROM users;"
This will give the following SQL query in the back end:
"UPDATE users SET firstname=';DELETE FROM users;' WHERE lastname='" . $last_name . "';"
Since semi colons end SQL statements, that will parse into three separate SQL statements, so far as the database engine is concerned:
1. "UPDATE users SET firstname=';"
2. "DELETE FROM users;"
3. "' WHERE lastname='" . $last_name . "';"
The first and third are incomplete and will generate errors. The middle query will wipe all the user records from your database. Malicious SQL has been injected into the website backend.

Not rocket science, is it? How do you prevent this sort of attack from succeeding? You mistrust all user-supplied data and do stuff to sanitise it when you develop a website. This is a first principles thing. It isn't advanced and any non-technical reader here could, I believe, understand it.

If that's you, then you now know more, apparently, than the developers the government hires to build some of their websites. That's what this really boils down to:
In the past fortnight Eastern European hackers have infected more than a thousand British websites with the virus, known as Asprox, including those belonging to local government offices and the NHS, it has been claimed.
That's because:
Asprox uses SQL injection on vulnerable Active Server pages to compromise weak sites.
Active Server Pages run on Microsoft servers. Two lessons come out of this:

  1. Many government projects lack even the most rudimentary security design specifications and quality control
  2. You have to be mad to use a Microsoft server

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Help for Heroes

I haven't seen this picked up much yet by blogs, but it deserves wide coverage:

Twickenham Stadium will be hosting a challenge rugby union match featuring rugby stars from around the world aimed at raising over £1m for the Joint Services Rehabilitation Centre at Headley Court, Leatherhead, Surrey, which cares for armed services men and women injured in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The match, to be played at Twickenham Stadium on Saturday, September 20th will feature two teams, a Help for Heroes XV and an International Select XV who will play a challenge match at the home of English rugby. (Kick off time tbc).

Former England Captains, Phil de Glanville (ex-Bath Rugby) and Lawrence Dallaglio (ex-London Wasps) will act as Team Manager and Captain respectively for the Help 4 Heroes XV with Welsh Rugby legends, Ieuan Evans and Scott Gibbs filling the same roles for the International Select XV. The teams, which will be announced in due course, are expected to include a composite of players from the Guinness Premiership, National Division One, the Magners League, overseas stars and the armed forces.
Johah Lomu has just signed up, showing what a big man he is metaphorically as well as physically:
"As soon as I heard about the Help for Heroes cause and the game, I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of," he said, adding: "It will be great to team up with Scott Gibbs in the International Select XV back line and to have one more outing at Twickenham Stadium. There are some great names already signed up to this fixture and I'm really looking forward to being a part of it."
Martin Johnson will be playing. Irishman Eddie O'Sullivan has taken on a coaching role. I don't want to hint... I want to urge this strongly. This is something that should be picked up in the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand as well. Spread the word. We support our troops.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Monday, July 14, 2008


I think Norman Geras is right:

An absolute prohibition against torture that is not grounded primarily in the inviolable individual right against being tortured must fail, I think. Rodin's focus on the doers won't work unless it starts from the done-to and what they suffer.
This, in response to someone else's argument that torture degrades the torturer and their society and that this is a complete objection to torture.

There has also been another type of argument made against torture: reciprocity. If we don't torture their people, they won't torture ours. That doesn't hold so true in contemporary conflicts.

But as the arguments about waterboarding show, these objections aren't so controversial; it's the definition of torture that causes problems. To what extent is it permissible to subject a suspect, or even someone who has been convicted, to harsh treatment in order to extract information that might prevent another offence, and thereby save lives? And what sort of treatment is permissable and what constitutes torture and should therefore be prohibited. Specifically, is waterboarding torture?

Perhaps there's yet another way to look at this issue: the adversarial versus the legalistic ethic. The very fact that we have a legal system at all is in part to prevent an adversarial response to crime - and terrorism is a crime. An adversarial response involves the direct retaliation by a victim or their representative to a crime. This sort of response tends to be unbalanced. Sometimes, a victim isn't in a position to respond at all. Other times, they might over-react. The Biblical injunction to take an eye for an eye, contextualised, is an appeal for victims not to react to the theft of a sheep by killing the thief, his family, burning down his hut and ploughing salt into the ruins.

A legalistic response refuses to behave as an adversary, but rather subjects the accused to a series of procedures and sanctions that have been agreed in advance and that are designed to be proportional and fair. Most of all, they must be universal and always applied to everyone in the same position. This is not the case with waterboarding, which has been applied to a few people on an individual and arbitrary basis.

The idea that we can subject suspects to severe treatment in order to prevent new crime is adversarial rather than legalistic. While a rights based objection to torture, or indeed any harsh treatment that is applied to a particular person but not to others, is valid, it isn't necessary for an objection to waterboarding to be sustained. Waterboarding is in conflict with the rule of law itself, and that must be the principle objection to it.

Arctic melting

Fox News reports:

Russian scientists are evacuating a research station built on an Arctic ice floe because global warming has melted the ice to a fraction of its original size, a spokesman said.

The North Pole-35 station, where 21 researchers and two dogs live in huts, will be taken off the floe in the western Arctic Ocean this week instead of in late August as originally planned, said Sergei Balyasnikov of the Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute in St. Petersburg.

The research crew landed in early September on the 1.2- by 2.5-mile floe near the Severnaya Zemlya archipelago. During its westward drift of more than 1,550 miles, the floe shrank to just 1,000 by 2,000 feet.

"The evacuation is ahead of schedule because of global warming," Balyasnikov said.
Global warming, huh, Sergei? Even though the extent of ice in your neck of the woods is significantly greater than this time last year? The whole of the northern Russian coast is still sea ice-bound, whereas last year there were areas of ice free water.

Specifically, there's more sea ice around the exact islands where the Russians landed than was the case last year.

Is there the teensiest chance this is a cock up being blamed on global warming?

Television news

Snoopy, that's just cruel!

Good sci fi

The Prof writes:

Megan McArdle is requesting recommendations for good introductions to Sci-Fi, for female readers.
He then gives a recommendation of his own.

I'd add I am Legend and The Forever War. I was given these two a couple of Christmases ago, by someone with good taste, hadn't read them since they were first published, and was struck by how well they have stood the test of time.

Wrong Pizza joint

For this particular robber.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

A reluctant restaurateur

Sorry for the paucity of posting, but this is what I seem to have become in the last ten days. Odd, what happens. But it's been busy.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Big brown eyes

The romance of dog ownership: walking through sunlit cornfields with your frisky chum, cleaning up undigested stomach contents that have leaked from a hole in his abdomen, changing dressings and smearing cream on his testicles.

Yes, the big guy is home after his operation* for stomach torsion. He hadn't been recovering well in the veterinary hospital - constantly anxious and refusing all food for six days. So they decided he might do better chez Risdon.

He has. Getting back, after panting unhappily the whole of the drive, he found his bed, lay down, sighed deeply and slept for six hours. Then he ate. He passed on the first walk after he got back - too busy sleeping - but next morning he was waiting with the others to jump into the car. You try jumping with a ten inch, week-old, suture-clamped cut running the length of your belly. I was going to lift him, but as soon as he saw me start to stoop he was in. When I collected him from the hospital, eighteen hours earlier, I'd had to lift him in.

It's rescue dog syndrome - and the vet hospital knew that. Membership of the group really matters to mutts and when that is broken, when they change ownership, under circumstances they sense are traumatic, it's a shattering thing for them. They frequently bond almost desperately to their new owner or, in my case, pack. And they really don't want to have to go through it again, so kennelling anywhere is a problem.

Tell me again, someone, how animals don't have complicated sensibilities.

Sorry it's blurred, but here's the chap in question, as I type:

That hole in his side is odd, though. I think they must have stitched his stomach to his abdominal wall, perhaps to prevent a repeat performance. Certainly, a (happily, decreasing) proportion of anything he eats is evacuated through this hole through which they were feeding him when he wasn't eating. I'm assuming here that an equal proportion isn't being deposited in his abdominal cavity.

It's very odd. Not long after getting back, Ben had a big drink of water. Ten minutes later, the dressing was flapping in the breeze, and a large pile of lurid orange sludge was on the lawn (I'm pleased to be able to report that this happened outdoors). This was the gunge they were pumping through a tube directly into his belly. The hole is where the tube used to be. The original plan was that I'd tube-feed him at home, but that changed when Ben intervened by chewing off the feeding tube a couple of hours before I collected him. They gave me a "flowerpot" for him, but Ben has no need of it because I put it in my hall (bookcases had been shoved in there during re-carpeting, it's not normally this cluttered) and, therefore, it was plainly meant for cats:

Thanks to Cleo for sorting out that potential misunderstanding.

*Thanks very much for the good wishes expressed there.

Thursday, July 10, 2008


Attorney Brooke M. Goldstein, interviewed in FrontPage Magazine, described a relatively recent tactic now being employed by Islamist Jihadis as follows:

... while the violent arm of the Islamist movement attempts to silence speech by burning cars when Danish cartoons of Mohammed are published, by murdering film directors such as Theo Van Gogh and by forcing thinkers such as Wafa Sultan into hiding out of fear of her life, the lawful arm is skilfully manoeuvring within Western court systems, hiring lawyers and suing to silence its critics.

Islamists with financial means have launched a "legal jihad", filing a series of malicious lawsuits, in American courts and abroad, and against anyone who speaks out against or writes about radical Islam and its sources of financing and support.

This type of lawfare is often predatory, filed without a serious expectation of winning, and undertaken as a means to intimidate, demoralize and bankrupt defendants. The lawsuits are often based on frivolous claims ranging from defamation to workplace harassment to plain Islamophobia, and have resulted in books being banned and pulped, in thousands of dollars worth of fines and in publishing houses and newspapers rejecting important works on counter-terrorism out of fear of being the next target.
The latest example of lawfare in the UK is the following threat issued to the Harry's Place blog by lawyers acting for the British Muslim Initiative:
Last Friday, in the wake of a closely argued debate about whether Mohammed Sawalha, the President of the British Muslim Initiative, had used the phrase “Evil Jew” or “Jewish Lobby” in a speech, Harry’s Place received a letter. The letter is from Dean and Dean, a firm of solicitors who are acting for Mr Sawalha. Mr Sawalha has demanded that we take down certain articles from Harry’s Place, and publish an apology “in the attached wording”.

The solicitors have failed to attach the apology that Mr Sawalha insists we publish. That omission matters little, as we have no intention of apologising to him at all, nor of taking down any article.

We have responded to Mr Sawalha’s solicitors, through Mishcon de Reya, who are acting for us.
Mr Sawalha is a weak litigant, when it comes to questions of reputation:
Mr Sawalha says that the attribution of the phrase “Evil Jew” to him implies that he is “anti-semitic and hateful”. Notably, he does not take issue with our reporting of the revelation, made in a Panorama documentary in 2006, that he is a senior activist in the clerical fascist terrorist organisation, Hamas. The BBC report disclosed that Mr Sawalha “master minded much of Hamas’ political and military strategy” and in London “is alleged to have directed funds, both for Hamas’ armed wing, and for spreading its missionary dawah”.

Hamas is an organisation which recently took power in Gaza by means of a violent coup, in which they consolidated their power by systematically murdering their Palestinian political opponents. It operates by deliberately targetting innocent Israel civilians in terrorist attacks: a tactic which it has used to stymie any prospect of a negotiated settlement between Israel and Palestine.

Hamas is both racist and genocidal. Its foundational document, the Hamas Covenant is little more than a racist diatribe against Jews. It claims that Jews have used their money to control the world media. It claims that Jews engineered revolutions, in particular “the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about, here and there”. Jews are also said to control “imperialistic countries”. Jews are also claimed to have instigated the First World War, in order to destroy the Caliphate, and the Second World War, in order to make money from arms dealing. Indeed, “[t]here is no war going on anywhere, without having their finger in it”. Jews are said to operate by forming “secret societies, such as Freemasons, Rotary Clubs, the Lions”
Nevertheless, libel actions are time consuming and costly to defend. The process is the deterrent, to a large degree. If the litigant has, or is supported by backers with, deep pockets and most especially if they have few identifiable assets, or have taken steps to conceal their assets, even a successful defence can be punitive for the defendant.

Harry's Place will be well supported by people from most sides of the political divide. I don't think their original post was libellous. BMI are just putting their least savoury characteristics on public display and in the process are doing themselves a great disservice.


Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Wild again

This reforestation business ("For just £4, €6 or US$8 you can help fight global warming and buy your own piece of forest") does not lack ambition:

Buy deforested land, help it regenerate, and protect it from exploitation again forever.
(emphasis added)

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

One law for us

Another law for them.

Monday, July 07, 2008


A quick roundup.

The reverse Canute effect. Or should that be Cnut?

Imposing piety.

Sea ice - does this really show less than last year, as Richard Black of the BBC claims?

Should we have Nuremberg-style trials for Riemann deniers?

Adam Smith unveiled.

Right to free speech won, for the moment, in Belfast.

The Daily Kos takes Justice Scalia to task for comments about Guantanamo Bay, in the process quoting a passage that seems to exonerate the Tipton Three. These people might not be the best example for Kos to champion.

You don't have to be stupid...

... to use spelling like "dey" and "dis", but it helps.

The one and only comment, found in a piece of source code:

// 8/26/96 - dey told me to document dis
// 8/28/96 - i did

Bulldozer driver murdered

How did the BBC first report the terrorist attack in Jerusalem during which a Palestinian used a bulldozer as a weapon and killed 3 Israeli civilians, wounding many more?

Israel bulldozer driver shot dead

Strange reasoning

From a strange site. Try this, Organic Trade: Towards a Global Green Currency?

The idea of LETS [Local Exchange Trading System] is to foster exchange within local communities. Conventional money is issued by an authority in limited supply to assure that it is generally accepted as valuable in itself, no matter who has it. Such money comes and goes, in, out and through communities. LETS money goes round and round, within the community of its users, because it has no value beyond the ongoing exchange relationships that it supports. It stays within the community. One type of money encourages people to act exclusively, the other inclusively.
Self-issued currency that is not convertible with (in other words, that excludes) any but your most immediate neighbours encourages you to act inclusively. Currency that lets you interact with anyone anywhere is exclusive.

It just gets worse.

Yup, the man's a professional academic.

A supplicant Jew

Norm ain't:

This, for me, is the decisive point. To be a Jew in UCU today is to be, in some sort, a supplicant, pleading with the would-be boycotters and those unmoved to oppose them and deliver them a decisive defeat, pleading for Israeli academics to be accepted as having the same status as other academics world-wide, pleading that Jewish supporters of the rights of academics in the Jewish state should not be made to feel isolated in their own union, like participants willy-nilly in an anti-Semitic campaign. Well, not to put too fine a point on it, shove that. Not today, not tomorrow, and not any time. To be a supplicant Jew is not a choice I would be willing to contemplate. I should come and entreat within the UCU for the same consideration for Jewish academics in Israel and Jewish academics in Britain as are extended to academics of every other nationality? Forget about it.

Di Hydrogen Monoxide

If you enjoyed the Penn and Teller video, you might enjoy the website that started it all, and the reprint (username "press", password "press") of the Guardian article about a town in California that decided to ban this pernicious substance. And you might also like the story about the Green politician from New Zealand who declared herself to be "absolutely supportive" of a ban down there.

Email answered


300, the remix

From the comments here - a classic right/left attack politics dustup.

Friday, July 04, 2008


This is the common name for a condition (torsion, Gastric dilatation-volvulus) large dogs, especially Mastiffs, are prone to. The stomach swells and can get out of position, it puts pressure on blood vessels, the heart starts labouring, symptoms of shock follow and so does death, in a couple of hours at worst.

When I came down to walk my dogs at about seven this evening, my Mastiff was poorly, and his abdomen was swollen. He's now in surgery. If you don't know about this condition and assume the animal has a stomach ache or worms, you can have a dead dog on your hands very quickly indeed. Fast treatment is essential. As it is, he has a decent chance. He's a strong animal and although the x-rays showed his stomach in very much the wrong place he's in good hands.

Bloody animals. I should have got a hamster instead.

Libel update

I have been reminded of my manners by a post at the Ministry of Truth. When a blogger is faced with a vexatious and manipulative threat of libel action, the polite thing to do is to reproduce their remarks as widely as possible:

Here’s Mohammad Sawalha, President of the British Muslim Initiative, speaking to Al Jazeera in Arabic about his demonstration against last Sunday’s celebration of the foundation of the State of Israel:

The President of the British Muslim Initiative - Mohammad Sawalha - said in a speech to Al Jazeera:

“We, the Arab and Islamic community, gather here today to express our resentment at the celebrations by the Jewish community and the [evil Jew/Jewish evil] in Britain”

[والوبيل اليهودي في بريطانيا]

Translation by DaveM
David T has since summed up the issues in a new post here:
Al Jazeera initially reported the phrase in question as containing the word “وبيل”. That word translates as “evil” or “baneful”, or some variant thereon. The next word was “يهودي “, which means “Jew” or “Jewish”. We translated the phrase, as it appeared, as “evil Jew” or “Jewish evil”.

Some time later, the word “وبيل” was removed from the Al Jazeera report. It was replaced with the word “اللوبي ”, “lobby”.

The British Muslim Initiative then issued a bombastic “press release”...
I can form no conclusion on what precisely Mr Sawalha said at Sunday’s demonstration. The meaning of the words “وبيل” and “يهودي ” have been extensively discussed in the comments of the thread below. Initially, defenders of Mr Sawalha claimed that in Arabic, “Jew” meant “Zionist”. When that argument fell apart, there was some debate as to whether the word “يهودي ” means “Jew” or “Jewish”. The defenders of Mr Sawalha insisted that the word could not be used to mean “Jew”. However, the leading dictionaries suggest that it can be used in this manner. There was also some disagreement as to how likely it was that a careless journalist would have mistyped the word “evil, “وبيل” when intending to type the word “اللوبي ”, “lobby”.

It is possible that Mr Sawalha railled against the “evil Jewish Lobby”, rather than the “evil Jew”. What I find astonishing, is that the British Muslim Initiative thinks that it is somehow better to be caught out inveighing against - not the policies of the Israeli Government, not the “Israel Lobby”, not even against the “Zionists” - but against the “Jewish community” and the “Jewish Lobby”. It is clear from their letter that they see no problem with saying any of that.
Out of interest, Google Translate makes the Arabic phrase first quoted above "The dreaded Jew in Britain", which confirms the translation by DaveM at the start of this farce.

Johnson shock

Incredibly, it seems Boris Johnson is not a left wing Mayor. Even more amazing, he and his appointees are being attacked by their political opponents, and this includes trawls of their pasts.

Who'da thought it?


Antony Loewenstein writes:

Hating Islam and Muslims has become legitimate and encouraged. Can we imagine Jews being treated in the same way?
Yes, I could imagine that, all too easily.


Legal threats a relief

This group's sister organisation often resorts to worse:

The British Muslim Initiative is the sister organisation of the terrorist group, Hamas. Its President is Mohammad Sawalha: a man who the BBC identified as the mastermind of “much of Hamas’ political and military strategy”, and as responsible for directing “funds, both for Hamas’ armed wing, and for spreading its missionary dawah”. Its senior members include Azzam Tamimi, the Hamas Special Envoy who once expressed a desire to commit a suicide bombing.

Yesterday evening, [the Harry's Place blog] received a letter from Anas Altikriti of the British Muslim Initiative, threatening legal action against us.

It is a great relief to be the subject of mere legal threats. In Gaza, where Hamas is in power, they prefer to settle disputes with political opponents by murdering them.

Liberty, God and the Constitution

An email exchange with Right Wing Prof. He wrote::

Its being July 3, the web is starting to fill up on Independence Day posts, but there's one on Real Clear Politics today that brings up something I've toyed with discussing with you, if only because you seem to be a foaming at the mouth atheist.


I think she misses the boat, however good her article is. No, that's an overstatement. She implies it, but let me state it more clearly. I maintain that the great central idea upon which the US is founded is that the state, the Constitution, the government has no power to create, grant, or deny rights, because our rights come from our Creator. And that leads me to this topic I've thought about kicking around with you.

Leaving all theological discussions aside, it seems to me that the greatest problem from the perspective of liberty with atheism is that liberty cannot be inherent. The source of rights may be God, Nature, or the state. Nature really becomes the same as the state, because nature is subject to the realm of science, and science can be maniuplated to deny rights. The problem with the idea that the state grants rights is that any body that can grant rights can deny them.

Certainly, you might argue that God is subject to religious injunction and religion may be used to do the same. Without the First Amendment, you would have a valid point. But with no officially recognized state church, whose religious injunction could wield the necessary power to do so?

The Vatican was long suspicious of the First Amendment, or its effects. Pope Benedict has recognized that the freedom of religion protected by the Constitution has resulted in what is perhaps the most religious civilized nation on earth, where it is still the norm when you marry and have children to take them to church every Sunday. A state with no established church is not the same as an atheist nation (and in every one of those "Would you vote for x?" polls, atheists rank at the very bottom, even below Muslims in the post-9/11 polls).

I'm not trying to convert you. I'm Catholic. I'll leave conversion to my evangelical brethren. I believe, however, that atheism presents a paradoxical problem for libertarians. How can rights be inalieanble if they come from the state?
My reply:
First, Happy Independence Day, for tomorrow. As always, my good wishes are tempered with envy of your freedoms and Constitutional protections. I wish Paine had had his way, the French hadn't screwed up the whole revolution thing, and the torch that was lit in Philly had travelled here too.

I am a foaming at the mouth atheist, but I'll try to keep a napkin handy while we talk about this. I'm an atheist because I don't believe in God. I'm not picking on God here - there are so many things I disbelieve in it would be laborious to try to recite them. I expect you disbelieve in most of them as well. But that means that an argument that it would be convenient, for my libertarianism, to believe in God can't make a difference. God and liberty, for me, are separate arguments.

You're right, though, to say that an absence of divine justification for natural rights leaves a problem. I think of this in two ways.

First, we are naturally autonomous. If you want to determine the properties of something, you isolate it and see what you have. If you isolate a person, on a desert island, perhaps, you have a completely free creature, but one that has to bear the consequences of their actions, or inaction. If Crusoe builds a hut, he has somewhere to keep dry when it rains. If not, he gets wet - and there's nobody to whinge to. He can say and do what he likes, but has to take the consequences of his actions - there are no consequences for his words. That's our natural state.

But we don't live on desert islands. So we accept, most of us, that society brings with it some responsibilities. On the whole we should be free to decide for ourselves what those responsibilities are: if we feel the homeless deserve some help, we can help them ourselves. Some things do need state intervention - keeping us all free from the brutalities of some others, for example. That means the state should enforce a minimal legal code - protection of the person and of property - and maintain national defence. That's about it.

Second, the absence of divine support for freedom brings the realisation that it's something we have to win for ourselves, and that's a useful realisation because it's true. It's a never ending struggle. Milton Friedman talked about this - I'll try to find the YouTube clip. I doubt he was an atheist, but he said that the sort of free society he advocated wasn't the normal state of man. This has almost always been tyranny. With the exception, he said, of 19th century Britain and America, and 4th century BC Athens (leaving the slaves to one side), man has always lived under tyrannies. The advocacy of liberty isn't a call for a return to a golden age, it's a fight for a new condition of freedom, and the abolition of tyrannies.

Rights cannot be inalienable if they come from the state. They have to come from individuals, won from the tyranny of the state by individuals acting in concert, and that condition of freedom would have to jealously, and zealously, guarded.

The degredation of the idea of constitutions is one of the horrors* of our time. Constitutions limit the state, but marxists try to turn that on its head and argue they define the responsibilities of the individual to the state. This deserves to be treated with contempt and the true meaning of constitutional democracy - free citizens electing a government with severley limited powers to perform a limited role - needs to be advocated and maintained against this inversion of the truth. But Marxists have turned the idea of freedom on its head, arguing that "positive" freedom means a world of unlimited state intervention. That's what Marxists do - they are entryists, even into ideas and language.
There might be more later.

(I left the typos in, these were quick emails).

*And the ridiculous hyperbole. Still, it's a bad thing.

Independence Day

My draft post got deleted when I read this, which said it better:

Today is the day when the British freed themselves from a despotic monarchy and declared independence. Unfortunately, they were unable to liberate their homeland of the British Isles, but those Britons willing to stand up to a tyrannical king went on to become “Americans” and created a world superpower, invented the corndog, and gave the world Bob Dylan.
Happy 4th of July.

Selection bias and Nobel Prizes

It turns out there is a significant degree of climate scepticism among Nobel Prize winning scientists. See this 92 minute video of a recent conference (via), and this related post that claims the percentage of sceptics is about 50% of these highly honoured scientists.

But, to channel Chris Dillow for a moment, and although as a sceptic myself this is a convenient piece of information, might there not be a selection bias at work here? Obviously very high levels of expertise and ability are necessary for work at the sort of level, in any field, that might result in the award of a Nobel Prize. But a predisposition to scepticism must also be necessary. Nobels are generally awarded not to those who do important work with other people's discoveries - something that should not be underrated - but rather to those who do new work. This demands a predisposition to challenge received opinion, and the ability to regard ones own ideas as being of value even if they do run against the grain within your profession - another prerequisite for a climate sceptic in the recent political environment.

Thursday, July 03, 2008


Can I be bothered? The fact that I had 2,500 uniques in one day helped me to my best ever monthly total in June. The fact that this was almost a quarter of the month's total will not, I am determined, take any of the gloss off that fact.

Message for a regular reader

Whoever thought up the hostname "beerwulf" deserves maximum respect.

Destroyer of Joy

Justin McKeating, who blogs at Chicken Yoghurt, graced me with one of the strangest insults I've ever had, recently. I can't be bothered to trawl his blog for it, but it was something like I am "destroyer of joy" - reminiscent of a Hindu God, perhaps? I must find the exact words and add them to my sidebar.

But credit where it's due - this made me laugh, a post titled "Gordon Brown: Obscurity Knocks":

Picture Gordon Brown getting a job in a supermarket or in a bar.

‘Do you know when you’re getting more tuna in?’

‘This store is working towards fulfilling its demand for tuna in the very near future.’
‘Pint of lager, please.’

‘While we regret that supplies of lager are currently causing difficulties for the public, we have taken the right long term decisions to secure lager supply in the coming years.’
No wonder he’s clinging to power like an asylum seeker round the legs of a Home Office official on a flight to Zimbabwe. The after-dinner speaking circuit is hardly going to be chanting his name when the Labour Party finally finds its collective cojones and tells him to do one.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Celebration disorganised

Over on Conservative Home, a brewery manager writes:

Whilst Gordon Brown attempts to bathe in the reflected glory of sixty years of nationalised beer, on the front line we have run out of the ale needed for routine piss-ups. We have ordered and re-ordered. We have emailed, faxed and written to the suppliers and to the Department of Happiness, all to no avail. We no longer have enough booze to provide furtive swigs of cider for our children. And the government? They are refusing to admit that there is a crisis. They are telling lies. Flagrant, brazen lies.

“we are currently distributing more (drink) than is needed to float a battleship…”

“…in order to maintain stability in matching deliveries to supplies, we will introduce ‘allocation’ of the above beverages…” (full details here)

For the first time in my brewing life, I am having to turn away office workers who need routine booze ups on Friday evenings. I cannot even offer them shandy. This is the reality of Gordon Brown's beverages service.
Maybe we need a Beverage Report?

I changed a few words there, as you'll have guessed. To read the original, and see one further reason why governments shouldn't manage health services, click through.


For all your leggins needs

Ever wondered what Fundamentalist Mormons wear beneath their outer garments? Wonder no more., for all your FLDS dress requisites. Note there are no jeans for females.

Via The Stranger, which comments:

Personally, I think the site works best as an adolescent rebellion deterrent: “If you’re not home by 11:30, young lady, your entire back-to-school wardrobe comes from here!”

Islamophobia in the Balkans

In sum, Islamophobia, in the Bosnian war, was an expression of hatred directed against an ethnic group, or groups. One of the paradoxes of this is that for all the Islamophobic hatred directed against the Balkan Muslim peoples by Balkan Christian nationalists, and indeed by the anti-Muslim bigots in the West who supported them, the Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians are among the most secularised Muslim peoples in the world. Just as Jewish atheists will always be the Christ-killers or ritual slaugherers of Christian children in the eyes of certain anti-Semites, so Bosnian Muslim and Albanian atheists will always be jihadis in the eyes of Islamophobes.
A long and interesting historical perspective from Marko Atilla Hoare.

I agree with his initial statement that it's incorrect to say, as many do, that religions are a matter of choice and therefore unlike race or sex and that therefore discrimination against religions are not like racism or sexism. The distributions of religions plainly correspond to geographical and demographic distributions. In this, they are more like nationality than race, and they are not a matter of simple choice. I argued this a couple of years ago during a talk I gave to the Oxford Secular Society.

The real difference is that unlike nationality religions have bodies of dogma. Sure, there can be national narratives and these can have important texts, but this isn't analogous to scripture. And scriptures can be liked or disliked, admired or hated, on rational, analytical grounds - unlike race or gender.

But scriptures aren't people, and this hatred or admiration doesn't transfer to individuals or groups without becoming a prejudice just like racism or sexism.

Tell the son-of-a-bitch I said hello

There are some pissing contests the Democrats really shouldn't get into. Wesley Clark vs John McCain is one.

I lost the source, but I suspect this came via the Prof.

Two benefits

First, it keeps your data safe; second, it makes sure that the CIA has no reason to kidnap me.
Colin Percival's encrypted online snapshotted backup system tarsnap is in beta testing. Seems excellent. I might switch to using it for my customers, providing the friendly front end as usual.
Tarsnap is an encrypted snapshotted backup service designed to match my concept of an ideal backup system. The back-end storage used by the service is Amazon S3, but the client code never talks to S3 directly -- the API provided by S3 is too weak to be directly useful, so the tarsnap client code only communicates with my tarsnap server. The tarsnap client code doesn't trust the server to do anything except store bits and hand them back when requested; all the data is encrypted by the client, and one of the design principles behind tarsnap is that the NSA (and other less capable adversaries, of course) should be unable to access your data or learn anything significant about it, even if they force me to cooperate with them. (This has two benefits: First, it keeps your data safe; second, it makes sure that the CIA has no reason to kidnap me.)

Some notes about the beta:

1. The tarsnap client code currently runs on FreeBSD and Linux. There is also partial support for OS X -- the code will run, but it won't back up resource forks or ACLs. Windows is not supported at present.
2. This is currently a free beta, but at some point it will stop being free. At that point beta testers will have 30 days to decide if they want to start paying or stop using tarsnap.
3. When the free beta ends, tarsnap will probably cost $0.30 per GB of bandwith (incoming + outgoing) plus $0.30 per GB per month of stored backups (after compression, of course -- the tarsnap client compresses data before encrypting it, and the tarsnap server can't tell how much data you had before compression). This is slightly more than what I was hoping for when I starting working on this 18 months ago... I hope I can bring these prices down later.
4. This is a beta. I don't expect to lose anyone's data, but it could happen. More likely is that there could be occasional outages when the tarsnap server isn't available. Neither of these have happened yet -- but there's enough risk that I don't recommend using tarsnap to operate a nuclear power plant.
5. Use of tarsnap is at your own risk. It might break. It might eat your dog. It might be slippery when wet. If you use tarsnap, you're agreeing to not sue me if anything goes wrong. (I hate software exclusion-of-liability boilerplate. I wish it wasn't necessary. I think my friends in law school might kill me if I didn't include it.)
Windows support isn't an issue for me. My clients mainly use Windows desktops and laptops, but we use FreeBSD servers for their LANs and internet services and enforce a policy of data only ever being stored on secure servers. No Local Data Ever!

Imagine, if certain UK government agencies used us, they'd have been spared quite a lot of recent embarrassment.

Quote of the day

For Adam Smith poverty meant having visibly less than others. But it’s not obvious that Smith’s problem of poverty could be solved simply by handing out food, housing and health care to those at the bottom of the income distribution. Smith argued that people have social as well as physical needs. In our society, working-age adults meet many of these needs through paid employment. Work is not just a source of income, it can also be a source of status, belonging and approval from others.

This view of well-being helps explain why income redistribution on its own will never be enough to guarantee that the needs of the least advantaged are met. When income support payments are linked to tests of employability (as with disability payments) or job search effort (as with unemployment payments), eligibility for the payments is itself a signal (whether we like it or not).
From, via.

Nation States

David Thompson rounds up a multi-blogger debate.

Dear Gordon

David Davis replies to the Prime Minister:

Dear Gordon

Thank you for your letter of 26 June. This is the second time you have responded to me directly, since my resignation from the House of Commons in protest at your relentless assault on British liberty.

First, you gave a speech on 17 June at the IPPR, a favoured Labour think-tank, hardly an environment that allows for the vigorous and open debate we so sorely need. Now, you insist that any questions I wish to ask on this vital national issue be raised within the narrow confines of Prime Ministers Questions, where you have developed the novel practice of asking - rather than answering- the questions.

I note from your speech on 17 June that you genuinely believe in the positions you have taken and stand behind the sustained erosion on British liberty, which regrettably means that the country must expect more to come in the future. Equally, it is deeply disturbing how ill-informed you are about the basic effectiveness of your security policies - from 42 days, ID cards and the DNA database, through to the ineffectual deployment of CCTV at immense cost to the taxpayer.

We need a proper national debate on these important matters - not just set piece speeches to carefully choreographed audiences or the weekly one-liners you deploy at PMQs. If you were serious about debating these important issues, you should have put up a candidate or at the very least allowed your Ministers to debate publicly with me. Having cowered from both options, it is a bit rich to snipe from the sidelines in a serious debate that will proceed with or without you. Even at this late stage, I would be only too willing to adjust my schedule to debate you or any Cabinet Minister in public, if you feel able to relax the restrictions currently in place.

Yours sincerely

David Davis

Gordon Brown

Guido summarises:

Oil is up some $10 since he went to beg the sheiks to cut their profits. In a result reminiscent of the New Deal for Youth that resulted in higher youth unemployment, the plan to build millions of new homes has resulted in the lowest number of houses being built since World War II. God really hates this accursed one-eyed son of the manse Prime Mentalist.

If they IM'd

Barak Obama and Muslim Americans, Instant Messenger transcript. Very funny.