August 2010

This blog’s excursions into culture tend to be a mite genteel: opera, detective fiction, Asian Extreme cinema. So, let’s venture into that most civilised of sports. When a relative passed on he left me part of his ageing, extensive hoard of cricket books. Among these I’ve found a preview of the 1953 Ashes, which is wholly and magnificently of its time.

It’s written in prose as cultured as an off-drive from Jack Hobbs. Take this staid appreciation of an up-an-comin’ talent…

What a truly judicious assessment of class batting! Here’s another young recruit of favourable promise…

Didn’t hear much from him. Post-war austerity was slowly dissipating, and the populace could regain joys of leisure and invention…

You put the tobacco in the paper…

Great Scott!

Ah, an Ashes series, a hearty smoke and more brylcreem than a whale has grease. Those were — some days.

Recently I had a bout of tweeting with Aaronovitch on the theme of David Kelly. I’m sad to report that it was a fruitless and hostile affair, ending with his accusation that I “couldn’t be arsed to read” – I had! – and was “asking questions that [he'd] already answered” – he hadn’t! A shame, perhaps, but not particularly chastening: he knocks out ad hominem when faced with a theory or opponent that he’s not equipped to match.

In this case the latter wasn’t me but Tim Wilkinson, who muses on the ruckus here. I’d directed his attention to Tim’s robust fisking of his Times column on the subject. Ah, he pounced, but Wilkinson made one contentious speculation. Well, perhaps, I granted, but he made incisive points as well. “Nope“. Aaronovitch had thrown the mental shutters up. Wilkinson was “one of those…kooks” and saying otherwise was just a “waste [of his] time“. Ah, the joys of rational discourse: bracing as the sea breeze after an oil well’s exploded.

I’m not keen on the psychologising of one’s adversaries. As “sceptics” take such delight in doing it to “conspiraloons”, however, I’ll indulge. As they say, the theorists might draw comfort from pursuing baroque stratagems of malice. Humankind, as Robert Carrol notes, “has not evolved to calmly seek the truth in a cooperative way” and people are inclined towards certain patterns of thought. This remains true of the “sceptics” as well as the theorists, though. They might well be teeming with the most unreasoned impulses. In my case – quite rare, one hopes – I was dim and insecure, groping for a little cerebral superiority. Aaronovitch and other fiercely sensible pundits hope to maintainrespect” for officials; feeling we must “trust” the governors of our “mature democracy“. Thus, these theories are not just opposed to their perceptions, they’re a danger to their project.

Update: Ben Aaronovitch suggests that I use the twitterer’s full name, lest his reputation be defiled. Fair enough. I speak, of course, of Dr Sam Aaronovitch, author of the classic Mergers, Growth and Concentration.

Here’s a thought that adds some insecurity to the young day: a convict might have done no wrong. Judge n’ jury combinations may be as reliable a process as we’ve yet established but that doesn’t render them the arbiters of truth. Humankind is fallible and thus its institutions will be. Unless you’ve witnessed a suspect’s crime, close-up and in good light, you’ll never be quite sure they did it. Even then Descartes might plant a doubtful seed inside your mind.

Journalists should have remembered this when writing on Megrahi. His guilt was assumed to have been proven by his trial, despite manifold reasons for being suspicious of both that and it. Meanwhile, across the pond, another famous case is shaking…

Proclaiming itself bound by technicalities, a federal appeals court on Monday upheld a lower court’s decision not to overturn the conviction of Jesse Friedman, a Long Island man who served 13 years in prison for sexually abusing several children in a 1980s case later made famous by the movie “Capturing the Friedmans,” a documentary that questioned his guilt.

But in exceptionally harsh language, the court excoriated the trial judge, prosecutors and detectives in the case, suggesting that it ought to be reopened at the state level.

“While the law may require us to deny relief in this case,” the panel of judges wrote, “it does not compel us to do so without voicing some concern regarding the process by which the petitioner’s conviction was obtained.”

The court wrote…that the actions of the Nassau County district attorney’s office were “troubling” because instead of acting to “neutralize the moral panic, the prosecution allowed itself to get swept up in it” as well.

The appellate court also had harsh words for Abbey Boklan, the Nassau County Court trial judge in the case…Mr. Friedman, the federal appeals court found, could not have expected to receive a fair trial from Judge Boklan, “who admitted that she never had any doubt about the defendant’s guilt even before she heard any of the evidence or the means by which it was obtained.”

Via. Capturing The Friedmans may be watched on teh youtubes.

“Innocence ’til proven guilty” does imply that Courts can prove. Yes, they might establish something to a reasonable point: without baby-step assumptions we’d never get out of bed. Yet we should leave room for doubt within our inculpating minds. Jurors – and, of course, Judges – are as open to bias and mistakes as the average Josephine, and there’s nothing in the Court’s structure that nulls this fallibility. On that note, end capital punishment!

(By the way, this note isn’t preemptive self-exoneration. If anyone asks, however, the guinea pig was like that when I found it…)

A group of medical experts have written to the Times, calling for an inquest into Dr. David Kelly’s passing. The suggested cause of death, they write, is “extremely unlikely“…

Absent a quantitative assessment of the blood lost and of the blood remaining in the great vessels, the conclusion that death occcurred as a consequence of haemorrhage is unsafe.

A detailed investigation of all the medical circumstances is now required and we support the call for a proper inquest into the cause of Dr Kelly’s death.

Unsurprisingly, the “Great Debunker” isn’t moved. David Aaronovitch sniffs (via Tim Wilkinson’s lusty fisking)…

There is an element of the legal purist at work here. Sure, the probabilities are pretty clear, and they are (to be blunt): dead guy, knife, pills, blood, wrist cuts, no sign of struggle or of any second-party presence. But if you can’t absolutely prove that death was caused this way, then, in the letter writers’ view, the verdict must be open. What people then deduce from that is their affair.

If you read Tim’s piece you’ll find these “probabilities” aren’t half as clear as Aaronovitch states. Even if they were, however, he’d have just fed Occam’s razor through a mangle once again. Parsimonious theories consider all the data, not just that which forms intuitively graceful explanations. “Dead guy“, “knife” and “blood” might appeal to our prejudices but if there’s a factor that defies their grim union within a suicide that must be realised and accounted for. One might find a spanner-wielding Reverend Green atop a corpse but if its wound suggests a longer, thinner implement it may have been a swinging candlestick. Besides, the expert’s disputations weren’t just split hairs and picked nits: they think the stated cause of death is “extremely unlikely“; that’s pretty urgent, isn’t it?

On the experts, and the case, I offer no opinion. As of yet I’m Switzerland. John Rentoul – a volunteer publicist for Tony Blair – fails to tempt me to his view with this “rebuttal”, though. He wields the sophistic tropes of vacant “scepticism” like a jouster who proclaims his triumph even as he lies upon the grass…

The other puzzle is why The Times published the letter. It is not as if it would print one from supporters of David Icke, who are also convinced that Kelly was murdered, and who believe that the world is ruled by two-legged lizards from the constellation Draco, inhabiting the lower level of the fourth dimension – that is, the one closest to physical reality.

Perhaps because the studious opinion of professionals is rather more worthwhile than ranting from the lizard-baiters? This pompous ad hominem is typical of commentators. At least he restrained himself from implying they’re anti-semites.

Last month, a company of Armored Corps reservists decided they would try to adjust the tone. The troops of Company 11 of the 7001 Battalion agreed that their central mission – safeguarding the checkpoint that lies on the key road linking Samaria with the Jordan Valley – would be carried out while using a different kind of language in their daily encounters with hundreds of Palestinians.

“I wanted to see if it was possible to see Palestinians as human beings and not as potential threats who suddenly take out knives or pipe bombs,” said Eliezer Cohen, a poet and social worker who initiated the idea. “This is antithetical to the entire viewpoint on which we were educated in the army.”

I’d like to wish Cohen every success in seeing human beings as human beings.

TV presenter Alex Jones will replace Christine Bleakley on The One Show sofa, the BBC has announced.

Coming up! We’ll speak to Piers Morgan, hear the new release from Girls Aloud and tear down the conspiracies of globalist elites!

SBS‘s Fouad Hady has travelled to Iraq, where he shows us children wrought with cancer and deformities. Recent findings, bolstered by a swathe of anecdotal evidence, has suggested that these cases are becoming more profuse; notably in Fallujah since the American assault. Doctors and researchers have linked this to chemical weapons – theories Alistair Hay, a toxicologist, has saidcr[y] out for [more] investigation“. Some experts – as well as the U.S.’s own damn military – have suspected DU arms of poisoning long after use. U.S. propagandists sneer that they’re “conspiracy theorists“. I’m no expert on, well, anything – and especially not on science. Yet ignoring people’s fears, never mind the bodies that now mount in the invasion’s wake, is gut-punchingly atrocious.

Hady asks the Mother of a young, disabled girl if she’d like to conceive more children…

I’d love to, but I’m scared because I had a boy right after [the daughter] and he died straight away…He was deformed…I’d love to but I’m scared.

If, as nonbelievers say, religion was designed we can’t pin all the blame for wrongdoing on it. If it was created poorly then – as argued here – we should look to the designer

Certainly there are a lot of people who are frantically trying to hold onto their hatred of and bigotry against homosexuals by clutching their scriptures as tightly as they can – because it gives these bigotries an illusion of legitimacy. However, we have to ask, how did those bigotries get into scripture to start with? God did not put them there. Nor did some scribe taking down the dictates of a hateful and bigoted God. They came from the hearts and minds of the original authors. And these religions became popular because a lot of people found something warm and comforting there.

One objection could be that the feelings of those “hearts and minds” have withered while the scripture lives. Say a parent can’t stand gays and tells their children to revile them. The offspring might not inherit their emotional dislike but feel, nonetheless, that homosexuality must be wrong for that’s what they’ve been taught. All that could stand in the way of inter-orientational peace are teachings – or, in our case, scriptures – that express another’s hate. Where a cultural perception differs from religious law and, thus, where the latter’s precepts have outlived their origins, giving them a hefty kick may bring the flimsy stucture down.

Many of the urges that informed religions still endure. Clearly these aren’t all malignant but some – the desire for power, say, or fierce tribalism – have washed the canvas of time in a dark, cheerless red. History suggests, however, that we’re “quite capable of substituting alternatives to religion that are just as horrible as religion“. Secular depravities are strewn across our recent past, from the Terror to the purges, via the slaves and Nazism. Atheists respond that Stalin, Mao and Robespierre were certainly cold-hearted nonbelievers but their actions weren’t the product of their nonbelief. This evades the point. Even where religion has declined, ideologies have channelled cruelty, hatred and baroque unreason. This implies that faith is not the cause of baneful acts, but a conduit for dark and deeply-rooted human urges.

Here’s a song I like, am listening to and suddenly feel is appropriate…

Cultural discourse is, perhaps, more crude and vapid than it was but that’s no reason to bemoan the “diminished role played by public intellectuals in modern politics“. When have such exalted figures ever blessed societies? Intellectuals can do grand things within their fields of knowledge but they’re rarely gifted with a general cogency. The Guardian‘s writer mentions Bertrand Russell, of whom I’m a fan, but though he could write with grace and wisdom on a host of subjects, when it came to politics he’d screw up like the silliest of us. He advocated war against the Soviet Empire; fostered odd, utopian ideas of global government and once proffered a view of race that would startle Prince Philip. He was, nonetheless, more sage than his equally public peers: Shaw, the Stalinist; Ellis, the eugenicist; H.G. Wells, one of the century’s greatest frustrated tyrants. I’ve no wish to dig these thinkers up and give a – public – slapping: they were still geniuses and I’m a dull-minded fool. Their presumptions, carelessness and bouts of unhinged passion were quite human – all too human – but suggest they weren’t ideal for “think[ing] out alternative courses on major questions publicly and clearly“. Who is? What characteristics make one suited for the job? Some are far wiser than most and on a greater range of topics – RIP, Tony Judt – but I don’t feel there’s a class of minds – philosopher kings, shall we say? – who deserve elevation to the poop deck of society. Besides, look at the people that our culture might exalt. Dawkins? Bernard-Henri Levy? Thomas Friedman?

There are too few Campbells undergoing war crimes trials…

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