Monday, 24 March 2008

US military Iraq toll hits 4,000

US military Iraq toll hits 4,000 (BBC News, Monday, 24 March 2008)

One never comes across an article reporting that the number of Iraqi casualties has reached a multiple of 1,000, or a multiple of 10,000 or 100,000 for that matter. Perhaps it is because nobody really cares, or perhaps it is because the country is in such a turmoil that the various estimates of the number of civilian casualties differ by almost one order of magnitude. Either way, it is very, very sad.
But Democratic hopefuls Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have both pledged to end the war.

If you read carefully, then "end the war" means withdrawal of US troops.

Bush started the war because he imagined it would be best for America (well, for Halliburton at least), and Obama or Clinton will leave Iraq in the mess it is in, because they imagine it will be best for America. Is it just me, or is something missing from the equation?

Teachers criticise over-testing

Teachers criticise over-testing (BBC News, Monday, 24 March 2008)

I've yet to meet a university Honours student who can tell the difference between "they're", "there" and "their". Many German and Swedish students seem to write better English than British students. But let's not put too much pressure on our kids, as they are already the "unhappiest in the western world", and who cares if Britain becomes the imbecile member of the European family.

Perhaps for once BBC journalists would care to substantiate or at least investigate the claims they jot down, rather than regurgitate hearsay. They could have asked the delegates at the National Union of Teachers some critical questions: By what criteria are British school children so unhappy, and how is this related to the number of tests? Are they subjected to more (or perhaps fewer) tests than children overseas of the same age? According to what studies? What evidence is there that tests are detrimental to the quality of education? How can one even measure the quality of education if not through tests?

Friday, 21 March 2008

Someone's watching you

Someone's watching you (BBC News, Friday, 14 March 2008)

This article makes a number of valid points, easily lost in the anything but coherent presentation, which mixes up marginally related issues and which sports a lot of opinion and not so much understanding.

A few thoughts of my own about:
The British press, even its tabloid basement, could be worse. On the whole it leaves the children alone. But one way or another it will print anything it can get about an adult.

I would dispute that the British press leaves children alone, and I can think of some counter-examples from BBC News articles in the past few weeks. Apart from this, it is regrettable the author does not speak on behalf of BBC News, which is one of the foremost offenders where it concerns the gratuitous publication of personal details about virtually anyone, including photographs, all for the sake of a juicy story. Whether the people involved are guilty, innocent, or not even tried yet, that seems to make little difference.

I have mentioned some examples in previous posts. A recent article is:

Worker dropped trousers on plane (BBC News, Thursday, 20 March 2008)

One of the most objectionable articles I can remember is:

Bride fined after wedding fight (BBC News, Tuesday, 10 July 2007)

(URLs to these articles were omitted for obvious reasons.)

This last article was about a couple fighting on their wedding day and breaking some stuff in a hotel. It is hard to imagine what public interest could be served by reporting this embarrassing event, including a photograph of the couple. Nobody deserves that such intimate details be archived for all eternity for the enjoyment of a demented readership that confuses BBC News with serious journalism.

Then about:

Pinching private phone calls and e-mails ought to be a crime, but somehow it isn't.

Britain has reached a stage of maniacal government prying that calls for private initiative to protect basic human rights. In the case of the internet and computer privacy, we have the technology. The draconian Government Access to Keys laws in the form of RIP Act Part III clearly violate human rights from any perspective. Fortunately such laws are easily defeated by steganography ('hidden writing'), as implemented for example by TrueCrypt.

The shameless surveillance of our email traffic by the British government, and of all European email traffic by the Americans aided by the British government (Echelon), can be thwarted through the use of PGP. Anonymity networks, such as Tor, still suffer from a number of weaknesses, but once these are fixed, such networks have the potential to greatly enhance internet privacy.

The biggest obstacle at the moment is defeatism among computer users, and moronic operating systems like all of the Microsoft crap, which have security leaks whereever one looks. Many Linux distributions are slightly better in this respect, but they still create log files without warning, and preserve data that an uninformed user thinks has been deleted.

If NuLabour gets its way, every street and alley in Britain will be covered by surveillance cameras and every move of every citizen outside their home will be recorded with the help of biometric data stored in central databases that would have made the Stasi envious. When this happens, and that may be rather soon, computers and the internet may, paradoxically, become the last bastion of privacy. However, this will require that computer users put pressure on software developers to heed privacy concerns and to make antiforensics the norm.

Shroud mystery 'refuses to go away'

Shroud mystery 'refuses to go away' (BBC News, Friday, 21 March 2008)

If one merely consults the BBC News site for weather predictions or to learn about the number of red lights ignored by a Tory cyclist the other day, it may be easy to forget how far apart the BBC is from serious journalism. The above article helps to remind us. It claims the existence of "conflict of evidence" where there is none. If there is a conflict, it is between serious scientists and religious crackpots who distort the evidence to match the conclusions they desire, reinforced by gullible journalists who are too stupid or too lazy or both to read up on the subject. All reliable investigations point to only one conclusion: the Shroud of Turin was created in the 14th century. The artist was even identified by Pierre d'Arcis, Bishop of Troyes, documented in a letter dated 1389.

It is not the Shroud mystery that 'refuses to go away', it is dilettantism at the BBC that refuses to take a hike.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

hypersensitivity in the extreme

Afghans protest against cartoons (BBC News, Saturday, 8 March 2008)

They also condemned the planned release of a Dutch film critical of the Koran.

Violent threats against the Netherlands on the basis of a film no one has seen yet. What if it turns out the film consists merely of verbatim quotes from the Koran?

Friday, 7 March 2008

Microsoft cutting price of Vista

Microsoft cutting price of Vista (BBC News, Friday, 29 February 2008)

Unless Microsoft is actually paying people to use that crap, how do they find any customers at all, beyond those who are utterly gullible or masochistic?

Brown condemns no-uniform advice

Brown condemns no-uniform advice (BBC News, Friday, 7 March 2008)
He said armed forces members should be "encouraged to wear their uniform in public and have the respect and gratitude of the British people".

That's right. The Iraq war is not the fault of the armed forces, who were betrayed just like everyone else. If Gordon Brown means to say that people opposed to UK involvement in Iraq should direct their verbal abuse instead at those who are ultimately responsible for that war, and at him in particular, then for once I agree with him. But probably I misunderstood.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

Accused 'not sorry' for UK deaths

Accused 'not sorry' for UK deaths (BBC News, Tuesday, 4 March 2008)

I'm inclined to say I feel sorry that people die in wars that should never have been started, whether civilians or military. Do I lose much sleep after hearing that yet another Iraqi child has died thanks to trigger-happy cowboys panicking at a roadblock? If not, do I really feel sorry, or do I just think I feel sorry? Would that make me evil? Is there a neurochemical by which we can measure degrees of sorriness?

Such questions haunt me after reading the title of the above-mentioned BBC News article. How can the central fact of a newsworthy article be that someone says he doesn't feel sorry about deaths of US or UK troops? What I would like to see is the unlikely headline 'Blair tormented by regret'.

The Americans and the British are going through a learning process. The Americans are learning (once again, about three decades after the end of the Vietnam war) that they are not equipped to deal with asymmetric warfare. The British are learning they should not blindly join the Americans in their adventures. Some people have argued that troop casualties contribute to this learning process, and these people may have earned themselves a place in HMP Wandsworth, under part 1 ("Encouragement of terrorism") of the Terrorism Act 2006. So much for freedom of expression, or alternatively, freedom to draw conclusions from observations.

The accused in the reported trial may have done truly evil things, but the only factual information we've been given so far is that he's a bloke with an opinion.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Proms not inclusive, says Hodge

Proms not inclusive, says Hodge (BBC News, Tuesday, 4 March 2008)
Tory leader David Cameron said she did not "get it" and said the Proms were a "great symbol of our Britishness".

Margaret Hodge and David Cameron both don't get it. The Proms is a unique event that celebrates the infinite joys of music. Why drag some form of nationalism into it? If one should be compelled to feel any extra-musical sentiment while listening to, say, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, then an obvious candidate would be pride to be human. But freedom to experience music in an individual way is indispensable. Any government that employs art for political ends ought to be distrusted.

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Monarchist propaganda journalism

Prince Harry rejects 'hero' label (BBC News, Sunday, 2 March 2008)

What grovelling dumbfuck journalist brought up the word 'hero' anyway, and did this have any other purpose than to allow the prince to demonstrate to the British people just how modest he is? Ugh!