Peace on you
Tuesday October 20th 2009, 7:03 am

Bit of a shock that Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. For one of the few times in my life that it will ever happen, I actually agree with the far-right punditocracy that he didn’t really deserve it- not yet, anyway.

To be fair as one can be to a Peace Prize recipient who is presently in charge of a war, Rachel Maddow offers justification for the award:

For the record, there were some folks other than wingnuts that felt that he didn’t deserve it, either.

Good morning. Well, this is not how I expected to wake up this morning. After I received the news, Malia walked in and said, “Daddy, you won the Nobel Peace Prize, and it is Bo’s birthday!” And then Sasha added, “Plus, we have a three-day weekend coming up.” So it’s good to have kids to keep things in perspective.

I am both surprised and deeply humbled by the decision of the Nobel Committee. Let me be clear: I do not view it as a recognition of my own accomplishments, but rather as an affirmation of American leadership on behalf of aspirations held by people in all nations.

To be honest, I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize — men and women who’ve inspired me and inspired the entire world through their courageous pursuit of peace.

-Barack Obama

-weez



It’s not news- it’s News Ltd
Tuesday October 20th 2009, 4:59 am

The UK has News of the World. The US has the National Enquirer. Australia’s got News.com.au.

This could be is without a doubt the stupidest non-news story published this year:

Atom-smasher ‘sabotaged from the future’

By staff writers and wires

October 19, 2009 12:20pm

  • * ‘Time-travel from future to kill atom-smasher’
  • * Hadron Collider to test for ‘God particle’
  • * Scientists suggest God could be jinxing it

SCIENTISTS claim the giant atom-smashing Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is being jinxed from the future to save the world.

In a bizarre sci-fi theory, Danish physicist Dr Holger Bech Nielsen and Dr Masao Ninomiya from Japan claim the LHC startup has been delayed due to nature trying to prevent it from finding the elusive Higgs boson, or “God particle”.

Don’t miss the comments thread.

I don’t know why they are bothering. The Flying Spaghetti Monster will only fudge the result when he touches it with his noodly appendage.

Posted by: Pastafarian of Sydney

You gotta know it’s bullshit when the Pastafarians weigh in. ‘Scientists’ who suggest a ‘god’ is ‘jinxing’ anything are not scientists.

I wouldn’t trust so much as a weather forecast published on news.com.au.

Get this- Rupert Murdoch wants you to PAY for this rubbish.

Bring on the subscription model, Roop. The sooner he does, the sooner this sort of garbage will disappear from the ‘net.

-weez



Bill Maher on swine flu vaccine
Thursday October 15th 2009, 11:55 pm

Bill Maher rejects the fact-free nature of religion, but he’s perfectly OK with the fact-free nature of anti-vaccination and irrational hatred of ‘western medicine.’

Maybe Maher just gets better dope than most folks.

Bill, thanks for Religulous, lucky you for getting Dawkins’ award for it, thanks for commonsense about drug policy… but you’re in the Jenny McCarthy/Jim Carrey/antivaxer boycott bin until you wise the fuck up about medical science and particularly about vaccination.

-weez



Sydney Morning Herald conceals identities of corrupt NSW cops: Why? Because it ‘doesn’t add anything to the story’
Friday October 09th 2009, 4:35 pm

On 30 December 2008, attorney Andrea Turner was travelling on a CityRail train for a bit of a summer holiday bushwalk when she encountered an outrageous abuse of authority at the hands of the NSW Police, which the officers involved subsequently- and quite clumsily- tried to cover up.

The Sydney Morning Herald ran the following story about the event and the $40,000 taxpayer-funded payout Ms Turner received as a result:

Compensation for lawyer after wrongful arrest
BELLINDA KONTOMINAS
October 6, 2009


After unjust arrest … when Andrea Turner lodged a
complaint, police records were falsified, the judge
found. Photo: Peter Rae


A LAWYER has won $40,000 in compensation after NSW police wrongfully arrested her and then falsified official documents, alleging she had committed a terrorist act.

Andrea Turner, 57, was arrested on December 30 last year when a senior constable mistakenly believed Ms Turner had taken a photograph of her conducting a routine patrol of a train with a junior colleague.

Ms Turner, a practising criminal lawyer, had been on her way to a bushwalk in the Royal National Park.

None of the police officers involved has been reprimanded over the incident and there has been no internal investigation.

”Don’t take my photo. If you take my photo I will put you on your arse so fast it will not be funny,” the junior officer had said.

The other told Ms Turner: ”You’re obviously a bloke.”

Ms Turner was asked for identification and when she refused, was told to get off the train at the next station or be ”dragged off”.

The senior constable told her she was being arrested for taking a photograph of an officer in the execution of her duty.

Ms Turner denied taking a photograph and pointed out it was not an offence to do so. As was her legal right, she again declined to provide identification.

She was then detained for 30 minutes in front of a crowd of onlookers at Kogarah station.

Ms Turner successfully sued the state of NSW for wrongful arrest and false imprisonment in the District Court, telling the Herald: ”How could I have backed down when I tell my own clients, ‘That is thuggery, that is unlawful behaviour and you can’t let them get away with it’?”

The state had admitted liability for the incident, but did not accept it should pay aggravated or exemplary damages.

Awarding Ms Turner $20,000 in aggravated and exemplary damages, Judge Anthony Garling found she had displayed no signs of aggression during her arrest and there was no suggestion that the officers had needed to use force.

Yet three police officers were called in as back-up before she was escorted off the platform. Another five – including two detectives – also arrived on the scene.

Despite several phone calls to their superiors, none of them knew which offence, if any, Ms Turner had committed.

”It was an unjust arrest, it was a wrong arrest,” Judge Garling said.

Without explanation, Ms Turner was freed without charge.

But what happened next was even more serious, with Ms Turner falsely accused of a ”terrorist act”, Judge Garling found.

Police had decided not to pursue the matter or formally record the incident in the police COPS system. But later the same day Ms Turner called the police station to complain about her treatment.

”The police officer then decided to lessen whatever complaint could be made against her by falsifying a public record, that is, by alleging that the plaintiff committed an offence which is related to railway property, not to photographing the police officer,” Judge Garling said.

The senior constable had written in the falsified COPS entry: ”It should be noted that at the time of dealing with the person of interest police were unaware of the exact offence. It is an offence to take photos on railway property under the new terrorism laws.”

The judge said: ”This lady was sitting on a train going for a bushwalk when the police mistakenly did what they did. In no way could [it] be suggested that it related to terrorism.” He criticised the police force for not removing or amending the falsified COPS entry or apologising to Ms Turner.

In a statement NSW Police said it would treat the judge’s comments seriously. ”The matter will be investigated and any issues identified as a result of that investigation will be addressed.”

Now, what’s missing from Bellinda Kontominas’ story? I’ll give you a clue. There are 5 “w’s” that comprise any proper news story- who, what, when, where and why. The pivotal ‘who’ in this tale of abuses of authority, the law, the public interest and the interests of the people of NSW to be well served by those entrusted with enforcing our laws, are the police officers. These two officers abused their authority by needlessly if not fraudulently detaining Ms Turner, simply because they wanted to punish her for lawful behaviour that they didn’t like, in particular, Ms Turner’s lawful resistance to being bullied by police officers.

Punishment isn’t the job of the police service and falsifying records to attempt to cover their own asses after the fact is absolutely a crime. The public purse is $40,000 poorer (at least) as a result of the unlawful acts of these two corrupt cops.

This is all fairly heinous stuff for police officers- possibly perversion of the course of justice, among other offences. The officers involved haven’t yet been charged with any offences nor are on trial for the same, meaning the SMH is not subject to sub judice restrictions on publishing particulars related to the matters.

So, why didn’t Bellinda Kontominas publish the names of these officers and the location of the local command to which they’re assigned? The public certainly has a right to know this information which is completely basic and core to the story. I dropped a note to the SMH and asked:

RE: “Compensation for lawyer after wrongful arrest” at http://www.smh.com.au/national/compensation-for-lawyer-after-wrongful-arrest-20091005-gjfk.html

Despite the serious and proven accusations against police, this story omits the number 1 ‘W’ of the vital 5 ‘W’s necessary for any news story- ‘who.’

Why did writer Bellinda Kontominas omit the names of the senior and junior constables involved as well as the location of the local command to which they were assigned?

Will SMH amend the online story to include the pertinent missing data? If not, why not?

Have SMH journos been threatened with similar intimidatory action by NSW Police if this data is published?

Ms Kontominas responds:

From: Bellinda Kontominas
Sent: Friday, 9 October 2009 10:42 AM
Subject: Compensation for lawyer after wrongful arrest

In response to the query about Andrea Turner’s unlawful arrest, I made the decision not to publish the names of individual police officers involved in the case because I felt the story was about the police force as a whole.

The names were read in open court so there was nothing to stop me publishing them. Nor did the police pressure me in any way to omit the names.
I simply didn’t think naming the officers would add anything to the story.

BK

This quite simply has to be the most astonishing response I’ve ever heard from a journalist.

I replied:

Dear Ms Kontominas,

You have got to be kidding me. I honestly can’t believe that you, as a journalist, are attempting to justify withholding information from the public. Your job primarily entails conveyance of information to the public, not concealing it.

Your employer has fought tooth and nail over the years to obtain information on the behalf of the public’s right to know, with FOI requests and even lawsuits against the government.

Naming the officers absolutely goes to the public’s right to know. Identifying officers implicated not just in abuse of authority but falsification of public records is information the public most certainly should know. Being named and shamed also may give other officers pause for thought when considering such thuggery and officialised bastardry in the future.

In all seriousness, these officers have breached their obligation to the police service, to uphold the law and protect the people of NSW. Not only would disclosure of the officers names serve the public interest, it without question would ‘add something to the story.’ In fact, it would lead to a whole new story, about lawless police officers who remain on the force despite perverting the course of justice.

Kindly reconsider your news judgment on this issue.

Let’s see if she does.

-weez



So, why are blackface theatrics racially offensive?
Thursday October 08th 2009, 8:05 pm

(cross-posted from FightDemBack!)

As FDB‘s resident American, albeit a ‘recovering American’ with some relative sobriety due my 13 years of residency in (and now citizenship of) Australia, I can understand to some degree why many Australians could not see the racial offence in the Hey Hey It’s Saturday blackface skit.

However, denying that the skit was offensive can not rely on any sort of excuse that such an offence can not occur in Australia. There’s certainly people present in Australia who reasonably can be offended by such a skit, starting with Harry Connick, Jr. I do confess to harbouring some cynical suspicions that the Hey Hey producers needed some outrage for the benefit of ratings- and Harry was a handy person to have around to be outraged.

If there’s any viable excuse for not understanding why the skit was offensive, it could be due to the fact that many Australians may be ignorant of the use of demeaning, stereotypical blackfaced characters in popular entertainment for many decades. Bear in mind that ignorance of why something is racially offensive doesn’t make it any less offensive nor excuse the offence.

The primary reason why Harry Connick Jr, a New Orleans native, took offence at the Hey Hey skit is in part because he’s very well aware of the history of the use of blackface to stereotype and demean Africans in a predominantly Anglo culture. Mind you, simple commonsense should tell you, even if you’re utterly devoid of any knowledge of the history of blackface theatre, that making-up yourself to look like a certain ethnic person and then acting like a buffoon is highly likely to be offensive to the depicted ethnicity (and I’m talking to you too, Borat). Aside from his knowledge of the history of blackface stereotypes, the commonsense explanation is in no small part why Harry took offense at the Hey Hey skit.

Blackface in theatre has been around for a long, long time- since the 1830s, in fact. The blackface tradition was carried forth into motion pictures as they became a popular entertainment form. Typically, a white actor in blackface makeup was dressed in ‘dandy’ attire, though often tattered and second-hand to indicate the low socioeconomic status of the black person being portrayed. Blackfaced characters also commonly employed mispronunciations and malapropisms to reinforce the popular racist stereotype that blacks were stupid and unable to be educated, but attempted to act ‘above their station’ or be ‘uppity,’ inclusive of the character wearing garish garb which they mistakenly consider to be stylish. As the early 20th century wore on, actual black actors appeared in film and theatre- in blackface makeup which emphasised the eyes and lips. A comprehensive history of blackface and the common stereotype characters can be found on Black-face.com.

Blackface theatre portrayed and propagated stereotypes of African-Americans so pervasively that black actors couldn’t get work in early 20th century film unless they themselves played the stereotypes…


Hattie McDaniel in
‘Gone With The Wind”


Bert Williams


Billie Thomas as
“Buckwheat” in
‘The Little Rascals’

Blackface stereotype characters carried forth even into television programs of the 1970s, inclusive of Sanford and Son, The Jeffersons, Good Times, What’s Happening and Diff’rent Strokes. Black actors playing roles which more resemble real people is really a rather recent innovation in popular culture and entertainment.

A lot of Australian commenters on news items regarding the Hey Hey skit who claim to not recognise the offence try to lever the excuse that the ‘Jackson Jive’ troupe were merely spoofing the Jackson Five, not blackfolk in general. However, the ‘Jackson Jive’ troupe…

much more closely resemble the blackface ‘uppity coon’ minstrel characters who sing the old ‘negro’ song ‘Camptown Races‘ in the 1942 Warner Brothers Bugs Bunny cartoon short Fresh Hare

than they do the Jackson Five:

The Hey Hey skit actors, who have since apologised, claim not to have intended offence. While the lack of intent to offend may be true, the players simply didn’t think this one through. The skit would have been just as offensive in 1989- the only difference being that 20 years ago, no-one in Australia was brave enough to stand up and say so. The 2009 version of the skit was also undeniably racially offensive. That it was even considered for repetition was fully thoughtless, on the part of the Hey Hey producers and the skit actors as well.

Harry Connick Jr should be highly commended for the bravery to stand up to the Hey Hey producers and audience and call this skit out for what it was- racist rubbish.

-weez



Fillum industry mob sues iiNet over torrent downloaders
Wednesday October 07th 2009, 5:50 am

An Australian film industry group is mounting a case against ISP iiNet, alleging that the ISP did not prevent unlawful sharing of (mainly American) copyrighted movies via their network.

AFART makes a few outrageously silly assumptions in their case.

First and silliest of all is that a download equals a lost sale. I’ll download a lot of things that I’d never go to a cinema to watch. That’s not in any way to avoid paying to view the material- it’s to avoid the ‘cinema experience.’

The nearest cinema is a 1 hour, 70km round trip for me. If the film sucks, I can usually get a refund for the price of admission, but I won’t be remunerated for travel time, fuel cost, annoyance and general inconvenience. Cinemas these days often demand to take possession of patrons’ mobile phones while they are viewing a film, allegedly to prevent piracy with their inbuilt cameras- as if a tiny, low resolution screen-to-camera capture of a movie is in any way resaleable or if watching said copy on the phone’s tiny screen itself is even do-able. Moreover, cinemas won’t guarantee that the content of a mobile phone won’t be browsed while the patron is in the theatre. Cinemas further demand to search your pockets and bags to make sure you haven’t brought any contraband soft drinks or snacks with you, assuring that you will pay $5-6 for a soft drink worth 50c at the local grocery or a similar amount for 15c worth of popcorn. I won’t stand for cinemas treating me like a criminal because I have a phone in my pocket or like a rube who will pay ridiculous amounts for ordinary items at a snack bar.

Screw you guys, I’ll stay home, whether I can or can’t download films off the torrents. My Dolby surround sound with subwoofer and 50″ plasma HDTV provide just as good (or better) a viewing experience than I can get at any ordinary cinema. I don’t have to strain to hear the soundtrack between yowls from some patron’s colicky baby or breathe fumes from enthusiastic perfume wearers- or worse. Moreover, imagine the response of the cinema management and other patrons if you ask to have the film paused while you have a bathroom break or take a trip to the snack bar. At home, I can pause at will and if the flick blows (which is all too common), I can turn it off and delete the file from my dedicated home-theatre PC in the loungeroom, without having to demand a refund, suffer any of the other associated delights of the ‘cinema experience’ nor even so much as having to return a DVD to a video rental shop. If the things I do download were made available online by the studios at a nominal cost, I’d happily pay for them, but Hollow-wood has yet to get the idea that in 2009 with modern home-theatre equipment, cinemas are a dead concept… and that the public are sick to death of crap movies.

Second silliest is the idea that Australian TV viewers are happy to cooperatively wait 6-12 months to view an overseas TV series on local broadcasts, and when we do finally get them, series episodes are often shown out of sequence, with large time gaps between the air dates or episodes are skipped entirely. Shows like The Late Show with David Letterman, The Colbert Report and The Daily Show have the shelf-life of lettuce- they’re not worth anything a week (or even a few days) post the original air date. Australian TV viewers have had quite enough of being treated with contempt by cable and free-to-air broadcasters.

Third silliest is the notion that any ISP has the technical ability to look at my encrypted torrent packets to determine what I’m actually downloading, to verify that it’s copyrighted material and further assert that I have shared a complete copy of said matter with anyone.

To use the words of the Daily Show’s Jon Stewart- AFUCT, y’all just keep on fuckin’ that chicken.

-weez



Mobile phones, brain cancer and pseudoscience, revisited
Saturday October 03rd 2009, 9:50 am

One of the top 10 most frequently read posts on mgk is Do cellular phone base stations cause brain tumors?, which I wrote back in May, 2006. The short and sweet of it is ‘no, they don’t,’ as there’s simply no medical evidence to support the idea.

However, this lack of evidence of harm doesn’t stop the urban myth machine from propagating rumours. Mainstream media frequently carry these tales, such as this recent example, “How safe is your mobile phone?” from the Sydney Morning Herald, which levers frightening and misleading phraseology:

Handsets from high profile manufacturers such as BlackBerry and Motorola might be beaming out higher levels of radiation than those of some of their peers, says a recently published report.

The SMH story cites an outfit called the ‘Environmental Working Group’ which has released a comparison of the ‘radiation’ from particular makes and models of mobile phones.

I suspect this mythology is mainly due to the use of the term ‘radiation,’ which many people automatically associate with the gamma rays emitted from radionuclear substances like uranium, plutonium, etc.

The term ‘radiation’ simply means the emission of something in all directions from a particular point. ‘Radiation’ does not necessarily refer to cancer causing gamma rays. It can be reasonably said that a candle flame emits ‘radiation’ of light energy, but to my knowledge, no one has ever tried to implicate candles in the causation of cancers.

The reason why there’s no hazard from mobile phones or their associated base stations is that the signals they emit are incapable of ionisation. Ionisation is the gain or loss of an electron from a neutral atom by exposing the atom to energy of some form. If that energy is an electromagnetic emission, the frequency of the emission must be at or higher than the frequency of ultraviolet light for ionisation to occur. Below the frequency of UV, emissions don’t have the ability to knock electrons off the atoms which comprise DNA molecules. At or above the frequency of UV, ionisation can occur, which does have the possibility to damage DNA, resulting in improper replication. This improper copying may express as cancers.

As you see from this chart from the US Environmental Protection Agency (with my added annotation of the relative frequency of mobile phone emissions to other common electromagnetic signals), mobile phone signals (1800MHz or 1.8GHz) are in the microwave region, about 650MHz below the 2.45GHz operating frequency of microwave ovens.

How the concept of mobile phones being associated with cancers entered the lexicon of urban mythology is somewhat mysterious as there’s no medical research or evidence that indicates any correlation- in fact, there’s significant medical research to the contrary, notably this conclusion from the World Health Organisation

No recent national or international reviews have concluded that exposure to the RF fields from mobile phones or their base stations causes any adverse health consequence.

…and the results of this more than 10-year-long Swedish study into the same, as published in the American Journal of Epidemiology:

Handheld mobile phones were introduced in Sweden during the late 1980s. The purpose of this population-based, case-control study was to test the hypothesis that long-term mobile phone use increases the risk of brain tumors. The authors identified all cases aged 20–69 years who were diagnosed with glioma or meningioma during 2000–2002 in certain parts of Sweden. Randomly selected controls were stratified on age, gender, and residential area. Detailed information about mobile phone use was collected from 371 (74%) glioma and 273 (85%) meningioma cases and 674 (71%) controls. For regular mobile phone use, the odds ratio was 0.8 (95% confidence interval: 0.6, 1.0) for glioma and 0.7 (95% confidence interval: 0.5, 0.9) for meningioma. Similar results were found for more than 10 years’ duration of mobile phone use. No risk increase was found for ipsilateral phone use for tumors located in the temporal and parietal lobes. Furthermore, the odds ratio did not increase, regardless of tumor histology, type of phone, and amount of use. This study includes a large number of long-term mobile phone users, and the authors conclude that the data do not support the hypothesis that mobile phone use is related to an increased risk of glioma or meningioma.

It’s worth noting that the ‘Environmental Working Group’ also oppose fluoridation of municipal water supplies, based on no evidence in particular.

Furthermore, EWG make this statement on their ‘Health/Toxics: Kid-Safe Chemicals Act’ page:

We are at a tipping point, where the pollution in people is increasingly associated with a range of serious diseases and conditions from childhood cancer, to autism, ADHD, learning deficits, infertility, and birth defects.

…also based on no evidence in particular.

If there were anything substantial at all to the suspicion that mobile phones or associated base stations cause any adverse health effects, with the explosion of numbers of the devices in service since the 1980s and most certainly since the introduction of pocket-sized phones in the mid 1990s when they became ubiquitous, you would also expect a correlating explosion in the numbers of brain cancers… and it just hasn’t happened. There simply are no legion lines of people queued for treatment of brain cancers commensurate with the numbers of mobile phones now in service.

It’s worth noting that you rarely if ever hear anyone banging on about brain cancers being caused by microwave ovens, despite the facts that the operating frequency of microwave ovens is 650MHz closer than mobile phones’ emitted signals to that of UV light and that their power output, usually around 1000-1100 watts, is 3 orders of magnitude (x10³) greater than the 600mW (0.6W or 6/10 of 1 watt) maximum emitted by handheld mobile phones. Also, the acceptable signal leakage from microwave ovens (0.2 mW/cm²) is double that of the electromagnetic emissions absorbed by human tissues from a mobile phone pressed to one’s ear (0.1 mW/cm²). I have yet to hear of a P&C group insisting that microwave ovens not be operated within 1km of a school, as was demanded by a Faulconbridge NSW P&C regarding a proposed (and thankfully now approved and soon to be completed) 3-watt output mobile phone tower.

If the net result of this urban mythology and rumourmongering was merely giving people something to talk about around the water cooler, that’d be one thing. However, there’s a real economic cost to such pseudoscience as well as real emotional disturbances to people who really don’t need any. Of note is an attempt to correlate with electromagnetic signals a ‘breast cancer cluster’ said to have occurred at the ABC’s Toowong (Brisbane) Queensland facilities as well as another claimed ‘cluster’ at the ABC’s Southbank, Victoria studios. The ABC abandoned the Toowong facilities in 2006 at a cost of millions of dollars, despite the later finding that the incidence of cancers at both facilities were not abnormal nor statistically significant. That the ABC attempted to be accommodating to their employees is laudable. However, such conciliatory actions merely give conspiracy theorists something to crow about and at the end of the day, do absolutely nothing but feed rumour mills and needlessly deplete the public purse.

People have enough real hazards in this world to worry about. Publicising invented or imaginary hazards not only diverts attention from the real ones, but also desensitises people to valid warnings about such genuine hazards.

-weez