The Ranting Kraut

19.3.2006 – 27.9.2010

Archive for June, 2006

Some false refutations

Posted by rantingkraut on June 30, 2006

The Telegraph recently ran a story about a lecturer who allowed students to set their own questions for an open book exam. The lecturer in charge had this to say:

“Some people would suggest that an open-book exam is open to plagiarism. I would counter that by the fact that the students felt a trust and respect from our collaboration.”
(source)

What is interesting about this statement is not so much the issue of plagiarism, but the rhetorical trickery involved. First note, that he raised the issue of plagiarism himself so he could rebuff it: this attracts attention away from the real issue -allowing students to set the exam question itself. Once this is done, only self assessment is missing.

Second, note how the impression of a refutation to the self made accusation is created: the possibility of plagiarism is contrasted with students feelings of trust and respect, yet it is easily possible to feel trusted and respected while engaging in plagiarism. The rebuff is dressed up as a refutation by no more than a bit of deceptive grammar. The phrase “I would counter that by the fact …” creates the impression that the accusation and the observed fact are mutually exclusive so the accusation can’t be true. A less than attentive reader might easily fall for that.

Now, if this was just a case of a lecturer misleading some vaguely interested readers, the issue wouldn’t deserve much attention. As it happens, the above quote just gives a clumsy example of the kind of rhetoric which our rulers use in a more polished form. Consider the following statement by Tony Blair:

“We are not living in a police state but we are living in a country that faces a real and serious threat of terrorism.”
(source)

As above, the impression of a refutation is created through use of no more than a sentence structure that suggests a case of mutually exclusive possibilities. In reality, both statements are easily reconcilable, i.e. we may well end up living in a police state that faces a real and serious threat of terrorism. Only that in such a state terrorists wouldn’t be the only ones threatening the average citizen.

[Edited: 26 January 2008]

Posted in Civil Liberties, media manipulation, Strange happenings | Comments Off on Some false refutations

Blair Bashing in the Guardian

Posted by rantingkraut on June 28, 2006

Following a helpful comment from the samizdata commentariat, I came across this piece on the Guardian’s website:

“For here is the key thought in considering Labour’s record on civil liberties. In the early phase of the second world war, when a huge enemy army was assembled on the French coast in preparation for an invasion of the British Isles, and while the air arm of that force was daily bombing us, the British government introduced a number of temporary – note: temporary – restrictions on civil liberties, including ID cards and limitations on press freedom. Pre-war liberties were restored after the war’s end. Today, in the face of far smaller, localised, intermittent threats from tiny numbers of people, the Labour government proposes to introduce permanent – note: permanent – diminutions of our civil liberties, among them ID cards ( that is, number plates for people) and storage of biometric data, with this linked to a central, national, computerised registry.

What has changed? Answer: the mentality, the quality, the intelligence, and the ethics of our political leaders.”

(Source)

Such are the closing paragraphs of a comment announcing a disturbing discovery: 1. Blair is authoritarian. And 2.: he and his government are eroding our civil liberties. –You don’t say!

Overall, this comment is well worth reading. The author (AC Grayling) proposes some crazy press regulation, in what I assume is a bit of sarcasm, and naively accepts that there is a smooth trade-off between safety and liberty. Other than that, a surprisingly good article, considering it is on the Guardian’s website. So while I am at it, here is another good quote from this piece:

A couple of years ago, the International Herald Tribune ran an article, penned jointly by the unlamented David Blunkett and several other interior ministers of EU states, arguing for the proposition that the first duty of governments is to ensure their citizens’ security. This is a falsehood, and a dangerous one. Their first duty is quite different: it is to protect their citizens’ liberties. When the two conflict, security has to yield to liberty…”

Posted in Civil Liberties, quotes | Comments Off on Blair Bashing in the Guardian

Communitarian Nonsense Masquerading as Government

Posted by rantingkraut on June 26, 2006

This week’s Economist has an moderately interesting commentary on Tony Blair’s approach to law and order. Among other things, it points to the communitarian roots of Blair’s authoritarianism:

“… the other main influence on Mr Blair came from the communitarian ideas of the philosopher John Macmurray and later thinkers, such as the American sociologist, Amitai Etzioni, whom he met in 1995. Mr Etzioni believes that the stress placed by developed Western societies on individual rights has come at the price of undermining the notion of responsibility to a wider community—a key element in Mr Blair’s disagreements with the judiciary since becoming prime minister.”
(Source – subscription access only)

This is in marked contrast to the classical liberal view that individuals should be responsible for their own actions as a counterpart to individual rights. To see just where this line of thinking leads in practice Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in Civil Liberties | Comments Off on Communitarian Nonsense Masquerading as Government

Fußballhymne

Posted by rantingkraut on June 23, 2006

The Krauts have followed recent tradition and have insisted on having their own football anthem for the world cup. Unfortunately, they came up with some rather sickening prog-rock song from a very PC Krautrocker by the name of Herbert Grönemeyer.
Luckily, two German comedians (yes there are two of those, braving the biggest marketing handicap in the entertainment industry …) well, anyway those two have launched their unofficial anthem and improved substantially on the Grönemeyer bit.

Posted in Crazy Krauts | Comments Off on Fußballhymne

Retreat of Reason

Posted by rantingkraut on June 15, 2006

Anthony Browne at Civitas has written a short but worthwhile book on political correctness: "The Retreat of Reason". It is worthwhile not least because Browne doesn't simply use 'PC' as shorthand for 'left wing' or otherwise for anything he doesn't like but aims for genuine comprehension of the phenomenon and its evolution. There are some sample chapters on the Civitas website, and I can't resist adding another quote:

"Those most zealously opposed to PC tend to be those who were once infected by it and then broke free. Like Winston Smith in George Orwell's 1984, the doubts often start slowly at first, with people realising the little lies and distortions. First they justify them as white lies, excusing them as being for the greater good. But as they start thinking about the lies, they start realising how prolific they are, and start wondering about the truth they conceal. Eventually, they become convinced that you cannot reach the truth through telling lies, and that, as the Bible said-in a rather different context-'the truth shall make you free'.

The pieces fall into place, and a new picture of the world-view emerges. The PC way of thinking is replaced with a new way of thinking-or rather an old one-that puts the emphasis on factual correctness rather than political correctness, and on reason rather than emotion. They are, in the classic definition of neo-conservatives, 'liberals mugged by reality', but often still liberal in the classical sense.

Those who journey from political correctness to truth often risk public disapprobation, but it is notable that most never lose their tolerance or humanity, and retain their fundamental values. They may question the politics of race, but not that racism is bad; they may question campaigns about women's pay, but not that women and men deserve equality of treatment; they may realise that western civilisation-with its extraordinary ability to create wealth and culture while promoting freedom, equality and democracy- is, by almost all measures, the best civilisation that humanity has yet created, but that doesn't make them Islamophobes."

Posted in Books, quotes | Comments Off on Retreat of Reason

Forest Gate Raid

Posted by rantingkraut on June 13, 2006

Muriel Gray argues in the Sunday Herald, that some degree of ethnic profiling could be justified in the case of the Forest Gate raid:

Let’s imagine for a moment that a small but potent cell of ginger-haired, freckled people began a terror organisation and started slaughtering their fellow citizens with suicide bomb attacks in the name of some red-haired god. Would the police be right or wrong in such circumstances to regard all ginger-haired, freckled people as potential suspects? The logic would surely be that not all red-haired people were terrorists, but that all terrorists were red-haired, and not to act upon such knowledge would be folly. So what must the police do when the same situation exists in reality, the fact being that not all young Muslim men are terrorists, but all terrorists are young Muslim men?
Should they perform a dawn raid on a few Jehovah’s Witnesses, or place a family of Quakers under surveillance just to show how even-handed they are? What would we think of such policing?
(Source)

This line of argument, coupled with specific evidence, surely goes some way in justifying a raid. What is harder to understand is the way the raid was handled. What exactly is the purpose of police officers not identifying themselves? Shouldn’t the inhabitant be perfectly justified in fighting off intruders who do not identify themselves as police? There may be explanations for all this, but at the moment, it looks as if the raid was carried out in a way that is hard to explain by the simple need to fight terrorism and which, by extension, cannot entirely be blamed on the jihadists who created this need.

Later on:

So why do Muslims not take to the streets in furious demonstrations, not against the British police but against the psychotic killers that have made innocent Muslims the subject of police suspicion and non-Muslims afraid of their fellow citizens? Let’s hope that the answer is that it’s asking far too much for everyone to be as forgiving (…) and that the years of being made to feel like second-class citizens in the country of their birth has quite understandably taken its toll.That’s the good answer, because their ire would be justifiable and it would present society with a horrible wrong that can be righted with time. The bad answer would be that they don’t demonstrate because the core aim of the terrorists, that of bringing about an Islamic Britain, is one shared by a majority of Muslims, even moderates who might despise the suicide bombing route but nevertheless wish it to happen peacefully and without bloodshed. If this were true, and let’s hope it’s not, for the implications are uncomfortable, it might explain the deafening silence from the Muslim community concerning terrorism committed in their name. After all, there are countless Jewish groups who protest constantly, noisily and vigorously against the policies of Israel, which they not only despise on the behalf of Palestinians, but they also feel stoke up anti-Semitism and hatred. Where is the Islamic equivalent?
(Source)

Good questions … One may add that the whole phenomenon of Islamist terrorism and the reaction –or lack thereof- of the wider Muslim community is eerily reminiscent of communist terrorism of the 1970s. When the Bader Meinhof gang (a.k.a the Red Army Faction) launched its murderous campaign in Germany, few of the many socialists there liked their methods but many shared their ultimate aims. Within the socialist community, there were those who were truly horrified by the violence but there were others who didn't really care and yet others who didn't commit murders but sympathised with the terrorists. Among the latter, some may well have been ready to provide some degree of support to the 'RAF' or one of the other, smaller terrorist groups. One shouldn't be surprised if the situation in the Muslim community were similar. Islamism seems to be widely accepted –judging by the substantial support for the 'moderate' pro censorship rally following the publication of the Mohamed cartoons for example. The mainstream socialists of 1970s Europe would not have been surprised to meet with hostility by those who disliked socialism or liked things incompatible with it –'things' such as free markets or liberal democracy for example. Likewise, Britain's Muslim community shouldn't be surprised if they meet with hostility from those opposed to theocracy or in favour of things incompatible with it –'things' like freedom of speech or liberal democracy for example.
Revolutionary socialists would not have been surprised to come under police surveillance as the state cracked down on the Bader Meinhof gang. Radical Islamists –who may not themselves be planting bombs— should likewise not be surprised to come under police surveillance.
Maybe there is a part of Britain's Muslim community which does not want to impose its beliefs on others, a part of the Muslim community that is happy to coexist peacefully with secular society. If there is such a community then it should be in this community's interest to make itself heard and to distance itself from the Islamist mainstream –just like social democrats at one point had an interest to distance themselves from the then revolutionary socialist mainstream.

PS: The above was posted before the two suspects arrested gave their press conference on Tuesday evening. Given what they said during this event, and given that the police by now should have had ample time to be prepared for any false allegations, things are now looking even worse. Not only did they not identify themselve as police officers, they also appeared to act with needless brutality. If the police think that there is a good reason for this they'd better say a bit more than just 'sorry'.

Posted in Civil Liberties | 1 Comment »

Fear of Flags

Posted by rantingkraut on June 8, 2006

Clive Wolfendale, the deputy chief constable of North Wales Police said that flying the English flag from your car window could have dire consequences, if done on Welsh roads:

“There’s no doubt about it that this can be the precursor to behaviour which is much worse than flag waving – it’s violence, it’s racism, it’s hooliganism of the very worse kind.”
Source

In fact, it turns out that Mr. Wolfendale profoundly misunderstands the true meaning of these flags.

Posted in Strange happenings | Comments Off on Fear of Flags

Reza Moradi Case

Posted by rantingkraut on June 5, 2006

Reza Moradi, who got arrested at the Freedom of Expression rally in Trafalgar Square, may still be facing charges. Moradi’s ‘crime’ consisted in holding up a sign displaying some of the Danish Mohammed cartoons. There is a message from Moradi on Maryam Namazie’s blog:

Thanks for your emails and questions regarding my situation. To give you an update, Keith Porteous Wood, from the National Secular Society, has found me an excellent pro bono lawyer, Daniel Burbidge. We have already met once to go over the case; he is now following it up for me. The police have not yet sent the case to court because they say they are still gathering evidence. I am still waiting to receive their summons.

We want to make sure this case gets its day in court and that with your support – with the support of all those who seek justice when our civil liberties and freedoms are under attack – we will win and raise the banner of unconditional freedoms higher than ever before.

We fight both the political Islamic movement and the laws that support it and provide it with cover to make sure there can be no justification and excuse for such attacks on human values again.

I will keep you posted. I will be needing your support in defence of free expression and against political Islam’s encroachment on universal values.

Hat tip: Pub Philosopher

Posted in Civil Liberties, Freedom of Speech | Comments Off on Reza Moradi Case

Legalize it!

Posted by rantingkraut on June 4, 2006

The Independent of 2 June 2006 reported that legal heroin prescriptions in Zürich had led to a fall in the number of heroin addicts after they became available from 1991. The source for this is a recent article in The Lancet:

“Incidence of heroin use rose steeply, starting with about 80 people in 1975, culminating in 1990 with 850 new users, and declining substantially to about 150 users in 2002.
(…)
The harm reduction policy of Switzerland and its emphasis on the medicalisation of the heroin problem seems to have contributed to the image of heroin as unattractive for young people.”

Carlos Nordt and Rudolf Stohler (2006) “Incidence of heroin use in Zurich, Switzerland: a treatment case register analysis” The Lancet Vol.367, No. 9525

I find it surprising that the number of addicts actually fell. I always expected the main benefit of such a scheme to be in producing secondary effects such as eroding the profits of organised crime or reducing drug related theft. Anyway, this looks better still.

Posted in Regulation | 1 Comment »

Save the Planet

Posted by rantingkraut on June 1, 2006

For those who are concerned about our environment David Burge has some useful advice:

1. Turn off faucets when not in use. While a single dripping faucet may not seem to be much of an environmental hazzard, the numbers really begin to add up when you’re hosting a Sierra Club fundraising party for Laurie David and all 10 of your bathrooms are in use. Have your domestic staff check to make sure that electonic sink sensors are working properly, and use other water conservation methods such as installing low-flow bidets. Remember to remind your guests: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow.”

2. Upgrade to a new Gulfstream G550. Next time you take off for Cannes or Sundance or that big Environmental Defense Fund gala, stop and think how much fuel that clunky old G450 is using. Not only does the new G550 have 10.8% better fuel efficiency, it’s quieter, has real burled walnut, and with a maximum cruising speed of Mach 0.885 you’ll never be late for the Palm d’Or ceremony!

3. Crush a Third World economic development movement. One of the most pressing threats facing our environment is rising incomes in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Only a generation ago, these proud dark people were happily frolicking in the rain forest, foraging for organic foods amid the wonders of nature. Now, corrupted by wealth, they are demanding environmentally hazardous consumer goods like cars and air conditioning and malaria medicine. You can do your part to stop this dangerous consumer trend by supporting environmentally aware leaders like Robert Mugabe and Fidel Castro to foster an economy of sustainable low-impact ecolabor camps.

For more, go here.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Save the Planet