Thursday, February 23, 2006

Guantanamo not British

The UK Government would never have set up Guantanamo Bay, says Lord Falconer. No, we would call it something different.

Smell the propaganda machine distancing the UK from the US.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Hallucinations for the believers only

Excellent - hallucinatory tea fine for "talking to God" purposes. In America. The NY Times reports that "... the government's "bold argument" that the Controlled Substances Act, the basic federal narcotics law, "simply admits of no exceptions" could not be reconciled either with the religious freedom law or with administrative practice under the act itself."
The quote from the above article from Chief Justice Roberts' opinion is also one worth noting:
"The government's argument echoes the classic rejoinder of bureaucrats throughout history: If I make an exception for you, I'll have to make one for everybody, so no exceptions."

He then went on to say that the very point of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was to require consideration, on a case-by-case basis, of claims to religious-based exemptions from laws of general applicability.

I find it... amusing that faith - rather than, say, responsibility, "scientific evidence" or medical relief (although I'm never sure where we've got to on that last one) - is the grounds upon which laws can be discriminatorily applied. Perhaps in today's world, what we profess to believe is more powerful than who we actually are. Perhaps the hidden religious depths behind most world leaders spark a seed of mutual recognition, and the fear of hypocrisy. A perfectly mature, responsible individual can be denied the use of somethig potentially dangerous simply because it's for her or his own sake. If you have the chutzpah to proclaim transcendence, though, then you might have a chance.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Jiminy Cricket wears a curly wig

In Austria, David Irving is sentenced to 3 years for denying the Holocaust in an interview 17 years ago. Since then, he's changed his mind:
"I said that then based on my knowledge at the time, but by 1991 when I came across the Eichmann papers, I wasn't saying that anymore and I wouldn't say that now," Irving told the court.

Even Deborah Lipstadt, who Irving tried to sue for libel in the UK in 2000, recognises the ridiculous of the situation:
"I am not happy when censorship wins, and I don't believe in winning battles via censorship... The way of fighting Holocaust deniers is with history and with truth"

Personally, as a commentator, I don't profess to have any historical knowledge on the matter. On this point, I freely admit to believing in something merely because others have told me about it. While I like to question assumptions, it would become rather silly to disbelieve everything and anything until I had verified it with my own eyes.

But I do indeed digress. Or do I? The question, then, is whether history is a science, or an art. The science of determining what has happened, or the art of maintaining an archive, and drawing links and lines of cause and effect through time. In the end, of course, it will be a bit of both - we need to establish truth, but we also need to understand where we have come from. The important point is to learn from our past.

But the concern here, legally speaking, is this split between the two - how much one can risk affronting emotion in the search for knowledge. Nobody argues with the idea that much of history is written by the winners, which is effectively another way of saying that history becomes what people want it to become. Memories are filled with soul, and our souls are generated from our memories.

I haven't time to delve to deeply into Irving's past, and his legal clashes with Lipstadt. If, as he says, he has changed his tune following his own, personal discovery of further "evidence", then he is acting as a scientist. Lipstadt is right to point out that this is a much preferred method of resolution than "simple" censorship.

Yet with the gradual onslaught of the psychological and juridical science domains, we are left increasingly with a view of the individual as an automata. We are painted as being rational and "free" so long as we remain on societal track. Our decisions are our own. But once we enter the justice system, quite often we lose this shield of perceived "freedom". Our actions are unhelpable, our motivations are driven by forces we cannot control, forces that exist naturally but that somehow occur outside of sense of "choice".

Increasingly, then, a single action is extrapolated into our mindset in totality. Pop Media amplifies this "dehumanisation", turning the middle aged man who accidentally catches sight of a 14-year-old girl in a short skirt into a raging paedophile. We have mastered the links between "effect" and "cause" and, because we have statistics to prove it, we believe the link and nothing more. Or less.

What are the implications for the idea of human fallibility, for occasional frailty? When we end up with a judicial system that becomes so keen to extract (penal) guilt from intention, and that loses the power to believe in the reversibility of the human "conscience"? If Irving is basing his opinion on what he knows, and changes his opinion accordingly, but still gets 3 years for what he now knows is wrong, where does that leave the rest of us? How can we even trust history so long as it has some emotional content to it?

Clay Shirky brought this up as the most dangerous idea for coming decades. Richard Veryard notices move from questioning to employability in education. Just how easy is it to forget that we may actually have some control over ourselves, and some say in the world we live in?

Monday, February 13, 2006

Some new ground, but same old arguments

Hurrah, some movement. New legislation will be required to make ID cards compulsory. Meanwhile, Blair trots out the usual rubbish:

"People have this idea that there's a problem in civil liberties with people having an identity card and an identity registered today when across all walks of our life this is happening."

Politicians just don't get this idea that it's not how necessarily much information is out there about you - it's about who has access to how much in one go. Yes, there are serious concerns abut publically-available information (via Google, for example), which need to be addressed. Gathering all the information together under the eyes of a pompous government isn't an "inevitable" step in the slightest.

Sainsbury's do not need to know how often I visit the Doctor's, just as insurance companies are not allowed to know the results of genetic tests for diseases. This is a much, much bigger issue than people realise, or that I have time for today. Maybe soon.

Wake up to Brown's terror threat

Gordon Brown plays the "fear for your lives" card this weekend, a day before votes are due to be cast on the latest round of the ID card push. How odd. Time and time again, the Home Office have told us that ID cards were never intended to be a panacea or a sole solution for terrorism, witness:

"I must emphasise that we have never said that the identity cards scheme is intended to be the sole solution to ... terrorism. The scheme is therefore not being designed to be the primary method of combating these problems." - letter from Des Browne, 13 Jan 2005. Emphasis mine.

Yet on Radio 4's Today, Brown's cited as saying:

"If you take the Ricin plot ... there were 12 main suspects, they had 120 separate identities ... If you take one of the 11 September terrorists in America, he was operating with 20 false identities so he could not be spotted.

"It is absolutely crucial to the disruption of terrorism that you can spot quickly where multiple identities are being used.

Well, make up your minds. Do you want us to be scared or at ease?

The above Today quote is from an article concerning Blair missing the vote due to technical difficulties - his plane's engine has a problem. That's the problem with technlogy, isn't it? It always fails just at the most inopportune moments. Maybe it's a hint.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Meanwhile, back in UKPS...

Blogging must go in waves... nothing for ages, then about 3 in a day.

I've finally gotten around to reading - and recommending - an article from the Register last week about the introduction of passport biometrics and its link with ID Cards.

Having just watched an episode of "Yes, Minister", my policynical-radar is twitching, and now I realise it would be wrong to think that Whitehall doesn't have some arguments-in-preparation going on. The article is pretty lengthy, but the gist of it is that much of what the ID card promises (biometrics, databases, etc) is already underway for passports anyway. Once it's in place, saying "oh, but we already have 75% of the infrastructure in place" will probably become a very convincing argument. Who wants to scrap a plan once the money's been spent on it? And who gives a fiddling monkey about what effects it'll have aside from the financials?

Not us, hum.

Reading for Today

If you read one thing today (apart from this post), make it Chick Yog's post on ideas, supermarkets, political debate and jet-propelled nurses:

Chicken Yoghurt: Battlefield Medicine