Doctor Who, BBC One, 15 May, 2010: Amy’s Choice

Does Toby Jones (the Dream Lord) now count as one of those who have played The Doctor (albeit only the dark side)?

It’s a tribute to Simon Nye’s writing and Jones’ extraordinary performance that I can hear the Dream Lord’s scornful laughter in my head: “Of course he doesn’t, fan boy! He plays a hallucination. At least *try* to keep up, or have your ears filled with fluff from hiding behind the sofa?

blogging@thepub with Skypephone S2 on 3

Blogging in the away-from-home comfort of the pub with a nice pint of beer in front of me is something I could definitely get used to.

The Skypephone S2 for £40 from 3, with a very generous pay-as-you-go tariff and Skype calls with no obligation to top up, sounds too good to be true, but it’s even better. This is a really decent phone that easily matches the excellent Sony-Ericsson it replaced.

The economy and ease of this phone and tariff are impressive–my son has already bought one and when my wife follows we will have free, always-on, multi-channel communications. Yes, completely free, as in beer.

That reminds me, I have some beer to drink!

Twitter is a better Facebook than Facebook

I received a message from Facebook today: a close family member wondered why I hadn’t acted on her Friend request.  The truth is I don’t visit my Facebook account any more.

Superficially Facebook would seem to be ideal for families and friends to stay in contact.  You can create a closed profile to which only friends have access.  To be registered as somebody’s friend you have to be confirmed by that person.

The privacy model breaks down in ways that have been widely discussed elsewhere.  See for instance the article Criticism of Facebook on Wikipedia.  But my problems with Facebook go beyond that.  Even if I trusted Facebook to respect my confidentiality, it’s an intrusive environment.

As I’m an aquaintance of several very popular Facebook members, every time I logged in the list of suggested friends would be full of people I didn’t know very well, sometimes didn’t know at all, and certainly didn’t want to be Facebook friends with, simply because those people and I shared a common acquaintance, so there was one potentially useful group-building function very broken from the start.

I’d become resigned to this, and used my status line to keep people up to date on what I was doing.  That worked okay for a while.  Then came the deluge of nonsense in the Facebook history.

I don’t recall exactly when my logins to Facebook started being net wastes of time.  It crept on slowly, but one day I noticed that the majority of stuff on the area of the page which was supposed to update me on what my friends and family were doing no longer contained much useful information.  Instead it was full of inane and meaningless interactions–people giving one another virtual gifts, challenging one another to play online games and so on, none of which are of any conceivable interest to anyone except the participants and (to be cynical, that is to say, to hit the nail on the head) to whoever Facebook had charged with the task of increasing Facebook traffic.

So here I was using a busted tool.  One very valuable method of making links with acquaintances was busted because of an unsophisticated algorithm  that fed me useless leads.  And the main reason I’d joined up–the promise that I would keep in closer touch with friends and family–was spoiled by the fact that my friends and family were all engaged in artificially generated, noise-making activities that drowned out all information about what they were actually up to.

Around that time I experimented with a Twitter account.  The first thing that struck me about it was how lightweight the thing is, in several ways.   Firstly it is just a status line–exactly the thing I like about Facebook: an answer to the question “What are you up to?”  Secondly the site itself has a light feel because it is relatively unencumbered by bloated scripts and needless graphics.  And there are no distracting flash animations.

Twitter accounts can be private but the vast majority are public.  Because of the lightness of the site most Twitter users update their status more often than is the case on Facebook, and you don’t have to get permission to see somebody’s status.  This makes for a far more open and interactive environment.

So to friends and family who wonder why I don’t respond to their requests, this is the explanation.  Facebook doesn’t work for me.  If you want to see what I’m up to, look at my Twitter account or send an email.

Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority

For the full report, see here.

SENATE ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE INQUIRY INTO THE TREATMENT OF DETAINEES IN U.S. CUSTODY

Executive Summary

What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight… is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings
— General David Petraeus
May 10, 2007

  • The collection of timely and accurate intelligence is critical to the safety of U.S. personnel deployed abroad and to the security of the American people here at home. The methods by which we elicit intelligence information from detainees in our custody affect not only the reliability of that information, but our broader efforts to win hearts and minds and attract allies to our side.
  • Al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are taught to expect Americans to abuse them. They are recruited based on false propaganda that says the United States is out to destroy Islam. Treating detainees harshly only reinforces that distorted view, increases resistance to cooperation, and creates new enemies. In fact, the April 2006 National Intelligence Estimate “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States” cited “pervasive anti U.S. sentiment among most Muslims” as an underlying factor fueling the spread of the global jihadistmovement. Former Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora testified to the Senate Armed Services Committee in June 2008 that “there are serving U.S. flag-rank officers who maintain that the first and second identifiable causes of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq – as judged by their effectiveness in recruiting insurgent fighters into combat – are, respectively the symbols of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.”
  • The abuse of detainees in U.S. custody cannot simply be attributed to the actions of “a few bad apples” acting on their own. The fact is that senior officials in the United States government solicited information on how to use aggressive techniques, redefined the law to create the appearance of their legality, and authorized their use against detainees. Those efforts damaged our ability to collect accurate  intelligence that could save lives, strengthened the hand of our enemies, and compromised our moral authority. This report is a product of the Committee’s inquiry into how those unfortunate results came about.

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To understand how we get there, we first need to understand how we got here.

President Obama’s remarks at Georgetown University on the economy, April 14, 2009.

It has now been twelve weeks since my administration began. And I think even our critics would agree that at the very least, we’ve been busy. In just under three months, we have responded to an extraordinary set of economic challenges with extraordinary action – action that has been unprecedented in both its scale and its speed.

I know that some have accused us of taking on too much at once. Others believe we haven’t done enough. And many Americans are simply wondering how all of our different programs and policies fit together in a single, overarching strategy that will move this economy from recession to recovery and ultimately to prosperity.

So today, I want to step back for a moment and explain our strategy as clearly as I can. I want to talk about what we’ve done, why we’ve done it, and what we have left to do. I want to update you on the progress we’ve made, and be honest about the pitfalls that may lie ahead.

And most of all, I want every American to know that each action we take and each policy we pursue is driven by a larger vision of America’s future – a future where sustained economic growth creates good jobs and rising incomes; a future where prosperity is fueled not by excessive debt, reckless speculation, and fleeing profit, but is instead built by skilled, productive workers; by sound investments that will spread opportunity at home and allow this nation to lead the world in the technologies, innovations, and discoveries that will shape the 21st century. That is the America I see. That is the future I know we can have.

To understand how we get there, we first need to understand how we got here.

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Loving on loving: Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others

Since the recent changes in the status of same-sex marriage in the states of Iowa and Vermont, and with other states such as Maine and New Hampshire also considering a change, perhaps it’s time to remember that this isn’t the first time America has faced the question of who can marry whom. In the 1920s, the Commonwealth of Virginia was one of several US states that adopted strict eugenics laws. One of those laws in Virginia was the Miscegenation Act, under which all people were registered by race at birth and it was against the law to have sex with or to marry someone of a different race. This wasn’t repealed until 1967, by the US Supreme Court, in the case Loving v. Virginia.

Mildred Delores Jeter Loving, whose Washington DC marriage to Richard Loving resulted in her and her husband being convicted of a felony under the Virginia law, had this to say about marriage in 2007, on the 40th anniversary of the decision that overturned the law:

My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed that what the judge said, that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But I have lived long enough now to see big changes. The older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone, they have a right to marry.

Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. Especially if it denies people’s civil rights.

I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard’s and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight, seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.

Avast! Ahead be windbags!

This is lifted from the Guardian Talk website. It made me laugh,and I hope it amuses you too.  These are parody responses attributed to various right wing and conservative pundits to the dramatic rescue of Captain Richard Phillips who was held hostage by pirates last week.  Arrr.

brooklyny – 03:40am Apr 13, 2009 GMT

shamelessly stolen from a poster at The New Republic: what Republican commentators have to say about the rescue of the captain —

Rush Limbaugh: Why did it take a Democrat days to accomplish what a Republican president would have accomplished in hours?

Sean Hannity: Piracy is a direct result of a liberal philosophy.

Ann Coulter: It’s obvious the whole thing was staged to bolster Obama’s abysmal poll numbers.

Michelle Malkin: At least 2 of the pirates were seen in the crowd at Obama’s inauguration.

Glenn Beck: Can pirates in Kansas be far behind!!!

Lou Dobbs: This never would have happened with a wall separating America from the rest of the world.

Bill O’Reilly: Secular progressive pirates are pinheads.

Tim LaHaye: This was all predicted in the Book of Revelations.

Sarah Palin: We can see pirates from Alaska.

Bobby Jindal:Pirate cells in America are all in the blue states.

Michael Steele: Rush and I both agree the Republican party platform should denounce pirates.

Matthias Rath–the missing chapter of “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre

This is a copy of “Matthias Rath – steal this chapter” by Ben Goldacre, reproduced under a Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-No Derivative Works licence.

This chapter was omitted from the first edition because Ben was being sued by the subject of the chapter, Matthias Rath, at the time.  The suit failed and costs were awarded against Rath.

I have reset the text for readability but have not changed anything else.  The work you are about to read is the copyright of Ben Goldacre.  I did not write any of it.  Please disseminate this document as publicly and widely as you see fit under the terms of the licence..  Please buy a copy of Ben’s excellent book, of which this is only one of over a dozen fascinating chapters.

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JREF has been suspended from Youtube

Please read this posting by PZ Myers about the suspension of the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Youtube account, pass it on and do what you can to make sure the suspension is reversed.

UPDATE: please read this notice by Phil Plait, President of the James Randi Educational Foundation..

The creationist loonies have lost in Texas

Phil Plait reports that the creationist loonies trying to sabotage the science curriculum in Texas have only managed to scrape a 7-7 tie on a vote to incorporate a bogus “strengths and weaknesses” clause into the State’s science teaching standards.  Without a vote to carry the amendment, it fails.

Science has scored the narrowest of victories over the most blatant ignorance and stupidity.

They always lose, but they never give up.  The battle against this avoidable and self-inflicted damage goes on.