Friday, February 29, 2008

extended book meme

I just had an idea for a slightly random extended version of the meme:

Pick the first noun in the second sentence of the passage you have produced from the first book, and use that as a search term in Google Books (use Advanced Search and check Full View to get whole books, otherwise you may not be able to see page 123). Pick the third search result, and repeat the first meme with the online book.

I tried it with mine, but the word was "parking" which produced some exceptionally dull results, so I'm going to do it with my blogger profile, which gives me the word "archaeologist".

Result: The Works of Thomas De Quincey, 1863
For surely Dr Parr, on any subject whatever barring Greek was as competent a scholar as Master Heyne. And on this particular subject, the jest is apparent, that Parr was, and Heyne was not, a schoolmaster. Parr had cultivated the art of teaching all his life; and it were hard, indeed, if labours so tedious and heavy might not avail a man to the extent of accrediting his opinion on a capital question of his own profession.
I love 18th century prose, it's so convoluted.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

random book meme

Lifted from Chas Clifton:
1. Pick up the nearest book (of at least 123 pages).
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the next three sentences.
5. Tag five people.
My book is Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps, lent to me by a friend. I still haven't got around to reading it because I object to its biologically deterministic model of gender, but it is the only non-technical work to hand. So, here goes:
The best parkers are German men with 88% doing it successfully on the first attempt. Parking tests at driving schools show that women generally do better at reverse parking than men during driver training, but statistics show women perform worse in real life situations. This is because women are better than men at learning a task and successfully repeating it, provided the environment and conditions under which they do it don't change.
What a load of pseudo-scientific psychobabble. What about the other variables in the situation; and look at the way that the authors have made an unjustified conclusion based on a few random statistics which may mean something completely different than what they say they do! "Statistics show women perform worse in real life situations" does not justify the conclusion that women work better under circumstances that don't change, or necessarily suggest that that is the cause of it. It could be caused by the fact that some women tend to process many stimuli at once rather than focusing in on one particular stimulus.

Anyway, I tag Liz Williams, Joe Gordon, The Silver Eel, Methodius and Balador to do the same (and post a link in the comments when you've done it, if you choose to accept).

Monday, February 25, 2008

Save Fawza Falih: write a letter

The address to write to:

HRH King Abdullah bin Abd al-'Aziz Al Saud
Royal Court
Riyadh 11111
Saudi Arabia

Salutation: "Your Royal Highness"

See the letter from Human Rights Watch to King Abdullah.

Main points to include:
  • The religious police who arrested and interrogated Fawza Falih and the judges who tried her in the northern town of Quraiyat never gave her the opportunity to prove her innocence against absurd charges that have no basis in law.
  • The authorities failed to comply even with existing safeguards in the Saudi justice system.
  • The judges relied on Fawza Falih's coerced confession and on the statements of witnesses who said she had "bewitched" them to convict her in April 2006.
  • She retracted her confession in court, claiming it was extracted under duress, and that as an illiterate woman she did not understand the document she was forced to fingerprint.
    She also stated in her appeal that her interrogators beat her during her 35 days in detention at the hands of the religious police. At one point, she had to be hospitalized as a result of the beatings.
  • The judges never investigated whether her confession was voluntary or reliable or investigated her allegations of torture.
  • They never even made an inquiry as to whether she could have been responsible for allegedly supernatural occurrences, such as the sudden impotence of a man she is said to have "bewitched."
  • They also broke Saudi law in multiple instances, ignoring legal rules on proper procedures in a trial.
  • The judges did not sit as a panel of three, as required for cases involving the death penalty.
  • They excluded Fawza Falih from most trial sessions and banned a relative who was acting as her legal representative from attending any session.
  • The Law of Criminal Procedure of 2002 grants defendants the right to be tried in person, to have a lawyer present during interrogation and trial, and to cross-examine any prosecution witnesses. The law obliges law enforcement officers to treat detainees humanely. Fawzah Falih was denied all these rights.
  • An appeals court ruled in September 2006 that Fawza Falih could not be sentenced to death for "witchcraft" as a crime against God because she had retracted her confession. The lower court judges then sentenced her to death on a "discretionary" basis, for the benefit of "public interest" and to "protect the creed, souls and property of this country."
Please write to King Abdullah and sign the petition.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Save Fawza Falih

We are citizens of many countries appealing to you on behalf of Fawza Falih Muhammad Ali who has been sentenced to death by beheading for the alleged crimes of “witchcraft, recourse to jinn, and slaughter” of animals. The conviction of Fawza Falih for “witchcraft” is a travesty of justice.
BBC: Pleas for condemned Saudi 'witch'
The illiterate woman was detained by religious police in 2005 and allegedly beaten and forced to fingerprint a confession that she could not read.
This is like some medieval notion of justice, not what you would expect to be happening in the 21st century. I mean, I know Saudi Arabia is basically a medieval state, but I didn't even know they had the death penalty for witchcraft until I saw this. Please sign the petition. I am glad to see that people from lots of different faiths have signed the petition.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

inquest for Menezes

From the Facebook group, Justice for Jean:
a date has finally been set for the inquest into the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. It will begin on 22nd September 2008 at Southwark Coroner's Court, London and could last up to three months.

The inquest will be the first opportunity Jean’s family have to ask the questions they want about the botched anti-terrorism operation that led to the death of their loved one. It will also be the first time key evidence will be heard such as evidence from the public witnesses’ in the tube carriage and from the firearms officers who killed Jean. If an inquest jury return a verdict of ‘unlawful killing’, the Crown Prosecution Service could revisit their earlier decision not to prosecute any officers involved in the police operation.

Monday, February 11, 2008

what he actually said

As usual, what was actually said has been misreported and over-simplified - in this case the Archbishop of Canterbury's comments on Sharia law.
In his lecture, the Archbishop sought carefully to explore the limits of a unitary and secular legal system in the presence of an increasingly plural (including religiously plural) society and to see how such a unitary system might be able to accommodate religious claims. Behind this is the underlying principle that Christians cannot claim exceptions from a secular unitary system on religious grounds (for instance in situations where Christian doctors might not be compelled to perform abortions), if they are not willing to consider how a unitary system can accommodate other religious consciences.
I still disagree with what he said - in my opinion, the law should be single, unified and not make special exemptions for anyone (whether they be Christian homophobes seeking to discriminate against LGBT people, or Pagans who want to rebury ancient human remains, or the implementation of sharia for Muslims - most of whom have very sensibly asked, which sharia law are you going to implement? and in fact the Archbishop acknowledged the multiple forms of sharia) . It is OK to allow people to do stuff which doesn't hurt anyone else (e.g. there are special arrangements in place for Muslims to have mortgages without borrowing money at interest, which is usury and forbidden in Islam), and if Christian doctors don't want to do abortions they can refer women to clinics, and there are compromise options available in the ancient human remains situation. But discrimination in the provision of goods and services to LGBT people is just bang out of order.

Concomitant, however, to this unity of the law is the fact that every citizen has a right to contribute to the debate around law and the making of laws (and to bring in their unique perspective and experience, both secular and religious). For example, I am strongly opposed to ID cards and consider that introducing them is a form of oppression that I would strongly resist - and I think all people of conscience (religious or secular) have the right to resist such tyranny. But my ideas on this come from my political identity as a free citizen, not my religious identity as a Wiccan Unitarian animist (both my political and spiritual identity come from my personal values, and not the other way around). Similarly, if homosexuality was suddenly made illegal (fortunately very unlikely), I would do everything in my power to resist this, and to help my LGBT friends to hide or escape. So individual conscience should trump the law, but the law should not make special exemptions for it. Which seems like a paradox, but can be resolved by the fact that unjust laws can be campaigned against and resisted, and if the consensus is that they are unjust, they will be repealed (e.g. the death penalty, slavery, etc.)

I personally have a problem with the fact that the legal system in this country is more concerned about (and has more severe penalties for) violations of property than violations of the person; but I think this imbalance is being addressed by the introduction of human rights legislation. I also worry that many categories of difference, like being left-handed or having ginger hair, will fall between the gaps of the "six strands" of diversity (ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation, disability, age).

I also wish that journalists would report these things properly.

Update: An excellent article by Simon Barrow, 'A Multifaith Muddle' in The Guardian

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

famous hat - lost

Tragically, we (well, mostly me) managed to lose the famous hat of grooviness on the train (the 7.30 from Bristol Temple Meads to Paddington on Saturday 2nd February).

Have you seen this hat?

Failing that, do you have any tartan offcuts or similar for me to make a replacement hat?

As you can maybe see from this photo, this was a totally awesome hat, which does not deserve its fate.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Save Sayed Kambakhsh

Sentenced to death for reading about women's rights
A young man, a student of journalism, is sentenced to death by an Islamic court for downloading a report from the internet. The sentence is then upheld by the country's rulers. This is Afghanistan – not in Taliban times but six years after "liberation" and under the democratic rule of the West's ally Hamid Karzai.

The fate of Sayed Pervez Kambaksh has led to domestic and international protests, and deepening concern about erosion of civil liberties in Afghanistan. He was accused of blasphemy after he downloaded a report from a Farsi website which stated that Muslim fundamentalists who claimed the Koran justified the oppression of women had misrepresented the views of the prophet Mohamed.
That is terrible. We need to support Sayed Kambaksh - it is unthinkable that he should be executed merely for reading something. Please sign the Independent petition for his release.