ModernityBlog

“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Archive for May 2007

How Hard Is It to Be A Humanist?

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Nowadays, we often forget how hard it is to put forward a secular or humanist approach to life, particularly in countries where there is strong religious or fundamentalist sentiment, therefore I was pleasantly surprised to find mukto-mona.

Mukto-mona is a secular site for Bengali humanists and freethinkers, it provides an interesting window into many of the issues facing secularists and humanists in developing countries.

Written by modernityblog

28/05/2007 at 20:14

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Slip Of The Tongue from Hamas?

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I wonder how the apologists for Hamas, will explain away these comments:

“Abbas hates rockets just like we hate the Jews,” Nizar Rayyan told reporters during a Hamas rally in the Gaza Strip.

Let’s try and guess what a few of the excuses might be?

1. “Reuters is controlled by international Zionism?”
2. “for sake of anti-imperialism, we will ignore Hamas’s virulent antisemitism”
3. “Nizar Rayyan was misquoted”
4. “Nizar Rayyan is not an offical Hamas spokesperson”
5. “it was a slip of the tongue”
6. “the cause of anti-Zionism is bigger than Hamas’s racist hatred of Jews, so we won’t dwell on it”
etc

Hmm, still Nizar Rayyan has some history, as the Guardian points out:

“Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas leader in Gaza, brushed aside any room for ambiguity. He told Reuters: “We will never recognise Israel. There is nothing called Israel, neither in reality nor in the imagination.”

Peace is clearly foremost on his mind, as detailed here:

“According to Nizar Rayyan, a Hamas leader from Gaza’s Jabalya refugee camp, the terrorist group has been manufacturing hand grenades and RPG’s for several years. In July 2006, a Hamas video entitled “Hosted by the Rifle,” showed assembly lines for anti-tank rockets, bombs and grenades.”

And we know where guns before butter leads:

to death, how pointless and stupid.

Written by modernityblog

25/05/2007 at 19:22

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Fatah Al Islam? Who Are They?

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Michael Totten has some insights into the recent conflict in Lebanon and Fatah Al Islam.

Written by modernityblog

22/05/2007 at 02:04

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Sir Humpty and Hacker triumph

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Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby would be proud of the MPs’ move to exempt Parliament from the Freedom of Information Act, as The Times reports:

“A move to exempt Parliament from freedom of information law has been approved by MPs after attempts to block it in the Commons failed.

MPs brushed aside accusations that they were creating one law for themselves and another for those they govern as they voted through the Freedom of Information (Amendment) Bill.

It is now passed to the House of Lords, where peers opposed to the plan will begin another attempt to stop it from becoming law.

The MP behind the Bill, the former Conservative chief whip David Maclean, maintained that the provision was needed to guarantee that information given to MPs by people seeking their help would stay confidential.

Otherwise public bodies such as councils, police authorities or health trusts might release letters from MPs about such cases in response to freedom of information requests, he argued.

“I am aware of the growing problem of correspondence being released,” he told MPs. “Theoretically it could be protected under data protection but it has not been. That is damaging. That is why my Bill is necessary to give an absolute guarantee that the correspondence of MPs on behalf of our constituents or others to a public authority remains confidential.”

But opponents fear a hidden agenda to block further embarrassing details about MPs’ expenses and other information about how the Commons is run from becoming public.

Mr Maclean, a member of the House of Commons Commission, the governing body of the Commons, cited an assurance from the Speaker, Michael Martin, that MPs’ expenses would continue to be published, but critics said such a voluntary offer did not have the force of law.

Unusually for a Private Members Bill, the measure was given a second chance by the Government which brought it back for debate after it was “talked out” by MPs who opposed the move in April.

Bridget Prentice, the Ministry of Justice minister, who spoke in the Bill, claimed that the Government was taking a neutral position on the Bill and would leave it for Parliament to decide.

But a large number of Labour MPs, who would normally be in their constituencies on the Friday, turned up at the Commons to force the legislation through in a series of votes designed to stop objectors from blocking its progress. The Conservative front bench also gave it tacit support.


Around 30 MPs, most from the Liberal Democrats but including both Labour and Conservative backbenchers, mounted a show of resistance but were defeated by the superior numbers of its supporters and their ruthless use of parliamentary procedures.

Mark Fisher, a Labour MP, protested, saying: “This Bill shuffles everything to do with freedom of information under the carpet. People will be aghast and horrified and totally contemptuous of Parliament that we could place ourselves above the law in this country. We are going to bring this House into derision, contempt and discredit with this Bill.”

And Simon Hughes, for the Liberal Democrats, said: “I think we should say no to this Bill because it is an absolutely over-reactive Bill to a set of issues that have not been either addressed or evidenced.”

To be honest, we all knew it was going to happen that way didn’t we?

Despite protestations to the contrary and calls for “greater freedom and more open government”, it was always on the cards that when they could, members of Parliament and the Government,would block public access via the Freedom of Information Act

It is entirely predictable, and MPs wonder why they have such a bad reputation?

Arise Baron Humphrey of Subterfuge

Written by modernityblog

18/05/2007 at 18:16

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Site(s) of the Week/Month 22

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You could be forgiven for assuming that I take a slight interest in Middle East.

Well, it is partly true, but all of those other snippets that I mean to comment on are still in draft format, awaiting a few final touches before publishing,  and stuff on the Middle 
East seems to be so relevant  nowadays:

Thanks to Engage, I ran across the work of Khaled Diab

He has a refreshing perspective on the Middle East, so his blog: without a roadmap is my site of the week/month

Written by modernityblog

17/05/2007 at 00:00

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Patiently Untrue?

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Microsoft seems rattled, and their latest pronouncements on patent infringements by the Open Source community is part of a longer term strategy to undermine Linux, Eweek’s Microsoft-Watch suggests:

“Microsoft doesn’t have to sue anybody. The company just needs to generate FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) about open-source software. The company can insinuate that liability could extend to the enterprise using open-source software. But, c`mon. There is no way Microsoft would ever really sue enterprises because they’re its customers, too. Microsoft can’t sue its own customers and ever realistically hope to keep them. But the uncertainty might be enough for some customers to back away from open-source software.”

Written by modernityblog

15/05/2007 at 13:15

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1948 In Context

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Written by modernityblog

14/05/2007 at 00:00

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Two Better Than One

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The debate over One versus Two states rumbles on, and although many people may have long ago decided their views on this particular subject, I think that Uri Avnery’s comments are very persuasive and rational:

“99.99% of the Jewish public do not want to dismantle the state. And that’s quite natural.

There is an illusion that this can be changed through pressure from outside. Will outside pressure compel this people to give up the state?

I propose to you a simple test: think for a moment about your neighbors at home, at work or at the university. Would any one of them give up the state because somebody abroad wants them to? Because of pressure from Europe? Even pressure from the White House? No, nothing but a crushing military defeat on the battlefield will compel the Israelis to give up their state. And if that happens, our debate will become irrelevant anyhow.

The majority of the Palestinian people, too, want a state of their own. It is needed to satisfy their most basic aspirations, to restore their national pride, to heal their trauma. Even the chiefs of Hamas, with whom we have talked, want it. Anyone who thinks otherwise is laboring under an illusion. There are Palestinians who talk about One State, but for most of those, it is just a code-word for the dismantling of the State of Israel. They, too, know that it is utopian.”

Written by modernityblog

13/05/2007 at 12:36

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Blair’s Drama

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Tony Blair’s descent from Power has all the elements of pantomime.

Will he do it? “oh, yes he will”, “oh, no he won’t” and so on.

Finally, we are told that in some seven weeks he’ll step down.

The whole process has been dragging on for months and Tony Blair’s desire to cling to power is phenomenal.

If I remember correctly Harold Wilson resigned one day and they were sorting out his successor the next, but Tony Blair’s flair for drama continues.

The next seven weeks will probably be a time of negotiation and dealmaking with Gordon Brown.

Blair will probably ascend to the House of Lords and receive some immunity from prosecution over the Peerages scandal.

Written by modernityblog

10/05/2007 at 13:30

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Another Form of Imperialism?

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Russia and China’s roles in Darfur becomes clearer with the latest report from Amnesty International:

Arms, ammunition and related equipment are still being transferred to Darfur in the west of Sudan for military operations. Extremely serious violations and abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law are being committed by the Sudanese government, the government-backed Janjawid militias and armed opposition groups in these operations.

In a report published today, Amnesty International (AI) describes the arming process and its effects on the people of Darfur and neighbouring eastern Chad, many of whom have been forcibly displaced. It describes violations of the United Nations arms embargo on Darfur by parties to the conflict that occurred during January to March 2007.

Amongst other things, it shows how the Government of Sudan violates the UN arms embargo and disguises some of its military logistics operations in Darfur. It details what types of arms supplied to Sudan from China and Russia — two Permanent Members of the Security Council — have been used by the government of Sudan for violations of the Security Council’s own mandatory arms embargo.

States supplying weapons, munitions and other military equipment to Sudan and to other parties to the conflict know, or at least should know, that these arms are often used to commit serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Darfur and now in eastern Chad. The fact that the UN Security Council has left the UN arms embargo on Darfur somewhat vaguely formulated and especially lacking a strong UN monitoring, verification and public reporting mechanism is allowing some states and persons to violate it with impunity.

AI is urgently calling upon the international community to assert its authority and immediately adopt steps to strengthen the implementation of the UN arms embargo and stem the flow of arms to Darfur as part of a package of immediate measures to help protect civilians and uphold their human rights as is required by international law.

A Global Arms Trade Treaty is needed to prevent arms fuelling such catastrophic conflicts. AI has been campaigning for such a treaty since its beginning in October 2003, as part of the Control Arms Campaign.”

Written by modernityblog

10/05/2007 at 00:00

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France Has Chosen?

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Nicolas Sarkozy has won the French presidential elections, it was close but he won, Bloomberg reports:

“Sarkozy, candidate of the governing Union for a Popular Movement, took 53.2 percent against 46.8 percent for Royal, the Interior Ministry said, with 96 percent of the vote counted.

Provided his party wins June parliamentary elections, lawmakers will be asked to vote on a budget that scraps payroll charges and income taxes on overtime hours. It would also eliminate inheritance taxes for all but the richest 5 or 10 percent and introduce a tax deduction for mortgage-interest payments.”

His presidency heralds a heightened level of expectation, the “radicalism” that he employed, as a minister in French government posts was his unique selling point and now it may be his weakness.

For all the talk of Sarko as a French Margaret Thatcher, it is far from clear if he will carry out the Thatcherisation of France.

Sarko might, as Jacques Chirac did, talk a good game but when it comes down to it, Sarko might just prefer the trappings of power and ditch any radical programme.

If he does turn out to be a Thatcherite, then I pity the French people, as libraries are closed, the welfare state shrinks, medical services close and unemployment rises.

I can’t put my finger on it, there is something malevolent about Sarko and I hope for the people of Europe that I’m wrong.

Oh and it is probably a good idea to visit France before the Thatcherism sets in.

Written by modernityblog

06/05/2007 at 23:04

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Another Reason to Give Up?

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Need an incentive to give up smoking?

According to reports, smoking may lead to an increased risk of dementia:

Living with a smoker can make people 2.5 times more likely to develop dementia than residing with non-smokers, say U.S. doctors.”

That follows a report from 2004:

“March 22, 2004 — Smokers have faster mental decline in elderly years — up to fivefold faster, a new study shows.

Only a few studies have looked at this link between smoking and mental function in elderly people who don’t have dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. In recent studies, researchers have found a significantly increased risk of both dementia and Alzheimer’s disease among smokers.

Smoking likely puts into effect a vicious cycle of artery damage, clotting, and increased risk of stroke causing mental decline, writes researcher A. Ott, MD, a medical microbiologist with Erasmus University Medical Centre in the Netherlands.

….”

Cheerful stuff eh?

Written by modernityblog

04/05/2007 at 23:56

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About Time?

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The international criminal court has finally issued some arrest warrants over Darfur.

The International Herald Tribune, reports:

Issuing its first arrest warrants on Darfur, the International Criminal Court said Wednesday there were “reasonable grounds to believe” that a Sudanese government minister and a janjaweed militia leader were responsible for the murderous 2003 attack on the town of Bindisi.

Sudan swiftly rejected the court’s demand to arrest its humanitarian affairs minister, Ahmed Harun, and Ali Kushayb, known as a “colonel of colonels” among the janjaweed Arab militias who have terrorized Darfur villages.

“Our position is very, very clear — the ICC cannot assume any jurisdiction to judge any Sudanese outside the country,” Justice Minister Mohamed Ali al-Mardi told The Associated Press in Khartoum.

The warrants on a total of 51 war crimes and crimes against humanity could be a crucial step toward bringing atrocities in the Sudanese province to international justice.

They also are likely to increase international pressure on the Sudanese government, which has resisted outside political intervention or enough military force to end the four-year slaughter in its western desert.

Richard Dicker of New York-based Human Rights Watch said it signaled that “the days of absolute impunity … for horrible crimes in Darfur are winding down.”

Driving home the ferocity of the conflict, the ICC judges cited the horrific onslaught on Bindisi on Aug. 15, 2003, one of four attacks cited in the prosecution’s case between August 2003 and March 2004.

The incident started with Sudanese army troops telling villagers that the Arab janjaweed militia would be visiting a nearby village to collect an Islamic tax, said the 58-page judicial ruling.

The town, which had no rebel activity, was then “attacked by members of the Sudanese Armed Forces traveling in a number of camouflaged colored Land Cruisers mounted with heavy machine guns together with … janjaweed on horse- and camel-back and some on foot,” they wrote.

Four of the machine gun-toting four-wheel drive vehicles packed with troops drove into the village, backed up by more than 500 janjaweed.

“Three Sudanese Air Force planes also dropped bombs,” the judges wrote. Sudanese troops and janjaweed then went “from house to house in search of the remaining residents and killing those they found.”

Prosecutors said villagers were murdered, women and girls raped and homes pillaged by the government forces and militiamen.

Human rights groups and international observers have long reported such attacks in Darfur, but the decision to issue arrest warrants based on evidence gathered in a painstaking 20-month investigation marks the first time such allegations have been examined by such a high-ranking judicial body.

Sudan bristled at the allegations and warrants.

“Whatever the ICC does, is totally unrealistic, illegal, and repugnant to any form of international law,” al-Mardi said.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo and human rights groups said the Khartoum government was legally bound to arrest the men.

Harun is currently in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum.

Al-Mardi has said a Sudanese investigation into Harun’s activities found “not a speck of evidence” against him. The Sudanese government says it has arrested Kushayb pending an internal investigation, but several witnesses told the AP in Darfur that he was moving freely in Darfur under police protection.

Dicker, of Human Rights Watch, said the international community, especially China, must press Sudan to arrest the men and send them to The Hague.

Amnesty International suggested U.N. forces already in the country could enforce the arrests. The U.N. has a mission in southern Sudan following a peace treaty in an unrelated north-south war. But Sudan has refused to agree to a large U.N. deployment in Darfur, where an undermanned, under-equipped African Union peacekeeping force is struggling.

The prosecution accuses Harun and Kushayb of being part of a conspiracy to stamp out support for anti-government rebels by “indiscriminate attacks against the civilian population,” including murder and rape.

Fighting in Darfur, which erupted in February 2003, has left more than 200,000 dead and displaced 2.5 million in a campaign the U.S. has called genocide.

The judges said evidence pointed to a “unified strategy” by Khartoum of using troops, police, intelligence services and the janjaweed to fight the rebels. Janjaweed fighters were trained at government camps, paid and armed by Sudanese authorities, and their leaders wore Sudanese Armed Forces or police uniforms, they said.

At the time of the crimes, Harun, considered part of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir’s inner circle, was an interior minister responsible for security in Darfur who helped recruit, arm and fund the janjaweed, prosecutors say. Kushayb was one of his main contacts in western Darfur.”

Great news, I only hope that they carry it through.

I somehow feel that we will be told by some previous supporters of the ICC, that now it has been taken over by “the Imperialists” or “Great Satan”?

Written by modernityblog

03/05/2007 at 00:23

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