Monday, May 24, 2010

Some Responses From Parliament

I've finally gotten some responses from Parliament to my letter (and email) that I sent a little while ago.
Dear Mr Monkey*

On behalf of Senator Adams, I thank you for your email.
It will be brought to her attention shortly.

Yours sincerely

Office of Senator Judith Adams
Deputy Opposition Whip in the Senate

Liberal Senator for Western Australia

Electorate Office

48 Ventnor Avenue, WEST PERTH WA 6005
PO Box 930, West Perth WA 6872
Ph: (08) 9481 0349 | Fax: (08) 9321 4876

Canberra Office
Suite SG-98, Parliament House, CANBERRA ACT 2600
Ph: (02) 6277 3646 | Fax: (02) 6277 5774
I suppose that's to be expected, but here's another one:
Dear Charles*

Thank you for your email. Given that you don’t want to receive what you describe as party political rhetoric, I am interested to know how you intend to use the information you gather from the politicians to whom you have written.

Also could you provide me with your contact details including an address.

With best wishes

Julie Bishop

The Hon Julie Bishop MP
Deputy Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs

Canberra: 02 6277 2102
Perth: 08 9388 0288
To this email, I replied:
Dear Ms Bishop,

First, thank you for responding to my email.

Second, my interest is a personal one. By that I mean, I don't work for any media organisations, I am acting on my own behalf.

These are questions I have never really heard answered or even asked of particular politicians, save perhaps the ones most caught in the public eye. I decided I (and indeed perhaps most Australians) didn't know enough about the people guiding the country, as people, and that it couldn't hurt to ask a few questions. Chalk it up to curiosity.

On that note, rereading the phrase "political party rhetoric" I realise it could have come across as cynical or even abrasive. This was not my intention at all. I merely meant that I am aware that due to time constraints and a concern over saying perhaps unsubstantiated statements or statements that may come across as contradictory to party lines (if there are any), many politicians answer with generic answers (like Senator Conroy's office sending me a pdf when I asked about the internet censorship issue). I was just expressing a hope that, time permitting, the answers I received would be as honest and natural as possible.

I hope that answers at least some of your concerns.

My contact details are:
Address: *
E-mail: *
Mobile: *

If you have any need of more details, please let me know.

Charles T. Monkey*
No response has been forthcoming from this second email to her. I wouldn't mind given that she's not my geographical representative, except that she's, you know, the Deputy Leader of Opposition in my country's government and if she could answer my first email, she could have answered the questions.

We'll see how things develop.


* Not necessarily the actual details.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Letters to Parliament

A little while ago, I wrote a letter to Parliament. By this, I mean this letter was sent to every member of the Australian House of Representatives, the Senate, at both State and Federal levels, as well as all the members of my local council.

The letter was as follows:
Dear Politician*,

As a citizen with an ongoing interest in Australian politics I write to ask a few questions to ascertain your views on a number of issues; which political direction you are coming from and what you are aiming for.

Unfortunately, the kind of information I'm looking for from members of parliament, in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, is seldom forthcoming or is couched in party political rhetoric that doesn't give an accurate indication of the actual views held.

While several of the questions I wish to ask deal with complex topics that could in fact be the sole subject of a thesis on their own, I do not wish to impose it upon you to go to that level of detail. Of course, I would be more than happy to receive such an answer.

My questions are as follows:

1. What motivated you to move into politics? What motivates you now?

2. Where do you see yourself in 4 years? Where do you see Australia in 4 years? More importantly, where do you wish Australia to be in 4 years?

3. What are you aiming for, as a politician, both for yourself and Australia, in the longer term? In answering this, I am particularly interested in any goals you have that may extend beyond your own career as a politician, or beyond your placement in a particular role in government.

4. If you could wish for one thing for Australia, what would it be? For example, a free public transport system running at such a capacity as to reduce traffic on roads by 70% of 2010 levels by 2040 or, for the coal industry to be wound down and replaced by the geothermal or solar power industries by 2015. (Bear in mind I've pulled these examples and dates out of the ether, as I write this).

I thank you in advance for taking the time to read and hopefully respond to my enquiry.

Yours faithfully,

Charles T. Monkey**
I've started getting a few responses back, so I thought I'd begin posting them up here once I collect them all together.

This should be interesting.


* Their name and title obviously went there.
** May not have been the name I actually signed with.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Potential Darwin Award Winner

Jim Rawlinson is a surfer. This is not the reason I propose keeping an eye on him as a potential winner of the Darwin awards*.

Jim was surfing, as surfers typically do, when a shark that was trying to catch turtles accidentally bit into Jim's board. This knocked Jim off balance, causing him to, according to Jim, fall onto the shark's back, where he remained for 5 to 10 seconds before sliding off.

Let us assume that what Jim is saying is accurate and not a fabrication, stranger things have happened. The reason I want Jim to be noted as a potential Darwin award is after his close encounter with the shark, he claims to have continued surfing for another 45 minutes before getting out of the water.

I must confess, the story makes him sound, I believe the term is, "bad-ass" and I expect the tale to be related around many campfires, perhaps with grandchildren sitting on one knee, enthralled at this legendary exploit.

On the other hand, had Jim been again accidentally attacked by perhaps even the same shark, I imagine the doctor would have no choice but to fill out 'Cause of injury' on related hospital forms as 'Stupidity'.


* For those who don't know, the Darwin Awards are explained here.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Because Poaching Isn't Enough

Apparently the fact that elephants are endangered due to poaching isn't enough for some people, they feel the need to poison them as well.

At this stage the investigation isn't complete, and I hope to be able to find any follow-up articles to see if they can indeed confirm the poison hypothesis.

I'm sad to say that the idea that someone would poison an elephant for no understandable reason isn't as far-fetched as I would like. What I'd like to see is for further investigation to show that it was not poison, after all, which killed the elephant, but something more mundane, though no less tragic, like a heart attack. At least then I could continue to think better of my fellow apes.


[Image courtesy of ]

Friday, May 14, 2010

Gay Dogs Not Welcome?

A blind man with a guide dog was refused entry to a restaurant because a waiter thought his partner, Chris Lawrence, said she wanted to bring a gay dog into a restaurant.

The way the article phrases the situation, it comes across as if bringing any other dog into the restaurant would have been fine, but a gay dog? Not on.
"The staff genuinely believed that Nudge was an ordinary pet dog which had been desexed to become a gay dog," the statement said.
If that were the case, that would surely be the most ridiculous example of homophobia anyone had ever seen. I'm going to give the staff at the restaurant the benefit of the doubt and assume that the article is merely clarifying what the waiter thought he had heard and that the dog's sexuality had nothing to do with the issue, only whether or not it was a guide dog.

I think this is a nice example of a lack of critical thinking.

A guide dog is typically easy to spot: they wear special harnesses, to allow the blind person they are guiding to easily sense what the dog is doing. The dog is typically a Labrador, which is fairly distinctive. The final clue is that the owner is blind.

Granted, there are different degrees of blindness and not all blind people wear sunglasses and carry white canes, but the combination of Labrador and person whose eyes don't seem to focus on what is in front of them should set off enough mental alarms to start anyone thinking.

On top of the visual clues, we also have what the waiter heard. A diner telling a waiter they would like to bring their gay dog into the restaurant is not, I don't think, an every day request. Surely it would make the waiter curious enough to wonder to themselves; along the lines of "Why has this patron mentioned that their dog is gay? How can a desexed dog be gay? Perhaps I have misheard. I will ask for clarification about the situation."

It seems no such thought process occurred.

The manager of the restaurant also told the blind man and his partner that the dog could not be brought inside without permission from the police. I'm not sure where this rule could possibly have come from. After all, the restaurant displays a "guide dogs welcome" sign.

I'm surprised that at this point that the couple hadn't left to try their luck at a more reasonable restaurant, but they persevered enough for the manager to say that the chef was allergic to dogs, so the dog wouldn't be able to enter the premises. Unless the chef was going to come out to pat the dog in the dining area, rather than stay in the kitchen, or the waiter was planning on bringing the dog into the kitchen, I can't see how this is more of an issue than if a dog were to pass by the front of the restaurant.

Hopefully this sort of miscommunication between people and misinterpretation of the law needn't occur in future. Perhaps if Ms Lawrence had pointed at the "guide dogs welcome" sign as she explained the situation a second time, the waiter would have understood. In this case he would have either allowed the dog inside, showing that it had been an innocent misunderstanding.

Or he would have continued to bar the dog from entering despite knowing it was a guide dog, showing that he was just being an inconsiderate twit.*


* Excuse my french.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

More on Kick-Ass

Given that I wrote a post about people's reaction to the movie Kick-Ass, I thought I'd post here a link to a column by Emma Young where she also points out the bizarre nature of the public's focus.

I particularly like this bit:
The director, Matthew Vaughn, finds it bizarre that public furore has zeroed in on the girl's bad language more than her homicidal tendencies.“I was like, 'Does it not bother you that she killed about 53 people in this film?'” he told The New York Times. “I'm like, 'Would you rather your daughter swore, or became a masked vigilante killer?' They're going, 'Yeah, I don't know.'”
I can imagine a father teaching his daughter about life. "Sweetheart, you may kill anyone you like, in as gruesome a fashion as you like, but a lady never cusses."



Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Customer Ethics

Apparently young Australians have loose ethics. Shopping ethics that is, according to a 10-year study.

Let's have a look at this statement made in the article and see what's wrong with it:
The moral decay has been blamed on new technology, including the rise of self-service transactions, and the common perception that businesses are purely out to make as much money as they can.
Straight away, the phrase "the moral decay has been blamed on new technology" begs the question. Decay compared to what? Was there a previous study performed that they're not mentioning that is being used as a benchmark? Unless this previous study exists, there is no reason to assume that customer ethics have changed one iota.

Second, it's being blamed on technology. They are arguing that customers now have the means to more easily steal from businesses. Let us assume this is true, though you'd have to talk to experts in shop security to get any real data. That doesn't mean that customer attitudes have changed, it would only mean that they can now take actions based on those attitudes in a way they couldn't before.

Thirdly, they state that the 'decay in ethics' is due to the perception that businesses "are purely out to make as much money as they can." It makes sense that customers have this perception, because businesses are out to make as much money as they can.

Dr Neale, who was part of the 10-year study, says "Businesses cannot rely on their customers to always do the right thing." Interesting, I can also phrase that the other way. "Customers cannot rely on businesses to do the right thing." That is something everyone would agree with. After all, it's only when laws and regulations are put in place to prevent businesses from doing the wrong thing that they actually stop doing the wrong thing.

Even with regulations in place, it's no secret that businesses, particularly big businesses, make very lucrative profits on their sales. Enough to give CEOs bonuses of millions of dollars on top of their already enormous salaries. To my mind, and indeed to every other consumers', the fact that they can afford to throw around such large sums of money probably means that the price of the goods we buy is probably a little over what it actually costs to make, ship, store, package, advertise and sell them. Maybe.

It should therefore come as no surprise if some consumers didn't feel any remorse at saving themselves those few dollars by stealing from big business.

The assumptions made by the article go further than that. Let's assume that the article is right and that a third of customers are likely to try and get away with stealing items, or paying less, or failing to refund extra change. Perhaps it is simply a fact that a third of all people will behave similarly, whether they are consumers, or businesses, in any transaction.

Another flaw in the study is the fact that it was conducted using data from "3700 young consumers on five continents including Australia" over a period of ten years. I hate to break it to the researchers, but 10 years means that some of your subjects have probably changed demographic.

Since the study is being conducted over five continents, it means that, taking the average, we expect around 740 people from each continent. Given that Australia is the only country that is also a continent, that means that in the other countries the study was performed in, much fewer than 740 people would have been polled. Add to that the fact that Australia is likely to be the country involved in the study with the smallest population. That means the percentage of the population polled is so minute as to become statistically meaningless. Unless the study took into account cultural norms and values in each country, region, demographic and cultural group, the results are likely to be similarly devoid of any meaning or comparison value.

It's hard to see what the possible conclusion to the study could really be other than "some people steal stuff and they think it's ok". Which is hardly something we need to have proven in a study.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Burka in Europe

A woman in Italy has been fined for wearing a full burka in a public building, in this case, a post office. Last week, Belgium passed laws banning women (and presumably men) from wearing a full burka in public. In France, President Sarkozy is trying to institute a similar law.

Of course, as expected, Muslim leaders, even Catholic leaders and groups like Amnesty International, are protesting the laws, saying it is discrimination against Muslims, a violation of human rights, freedom of speech and so forth.

This is of course, ridiculous. The Belgian law makes it illegal to wear any clothing that prevents the user from being identified. This just happens to include niqabs and burkas, but it also includes motorbike helmets, masks, balaclavas, etc. The French laws banning children from wearing burkas is a law that bans any overt religious symbol, so that school remains a secular and religious free zone. This hardly looks like a case of picking on the Muslims.

Expression of religion can hardly be used as a reason to allow anyone to wear clothing like the burka in public. If religion offers such a carte blanche, then perhaps we should see what reaction people would have to someone claiming their religion mandated that they carry a machete at all times. (Sikhs, for example, are obliged to carry a Kirpan, or small sword). Clearly other considerations are more important than mere religious expression.

Claiming freedom of speech has been violated by stopping women from wearing the burka is misguided, at best. I cannot help but imagine slavers during the 1700s demanding that their slaves be able to freely express their status of servitude by wearing their chains, or Jews in Nazi Germany demanding to be allowed to wear the yellow star. For the sake of simplicity, let us assume that these women do want to wear the burka. That doesn't change the fact that they shouldn't be allowed to wear it in public, particularly in places like post offices, shops, banks and other sensitive areas.

Someone in a burka can't be identified. They could be anyone, they could have anything under their clothing. You can't even properly read the expressions on their face. In short, they are cut off from normal social interaction. Of course, this is the whole point of the garment and it's why women don't wear the burkas in their homes, or in all female company. If anything, this should tell us that the burka is the antithesis of free expression*.

Our society is built on, by definition, social interaction and communication. In fact, it is believed humans evolved the whites of their eyes** because of the advantage it gave them communicating with visual cues. Scientists are even studying the hypothesis that part of the reason humans have become hairless is so that other humans can more easily read their emotions. Add to this the fact that a large portion of communication is through non-verbal cues, then it's no surprise that people are made deeply uncomfortable by someone they can't read.

A person masked and anonymous, who could be carrying any sort of device under formless clothing, will and should always be seen as a potential threat. This is why anyone wearing a motorbike helmet into a bank will be asked to take it off or be escorted out by security. It is not something concocted up to suppress Muslims.

Asking everyone else in society to ignore this threat to themselves in the name of human rights, freedom of speech, religion and multiculturalism, is to step on their rights as members of society.


* Or an avant-garde, post-post-modern ironic piece using lack of expression as a form of expression. I don't think this is the case.
** Not on purpose.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Time Travel Isn't New

Stephen Hawking, as part of his latest set of lectures, mentioned that time travel is possible, but only travelling forward. Again, the media has grabbed onto this as if it was new. Understanding Einstein's theory of relativity is high school physics. The faster you go, the more time slows down for you relative to everyone else.

The classic text book example given was typically one twin getting into a spaceship, rocketing away from earth at near light speed before returning again at the same speeds and finding his twin to now be older than him (or in more extreme cases, his twin dead and the planet overrun by apes*).

For some reason, it actually makes me angry that newspaper journalists can be so far behind on basic science. Either that, or they think that their readers are. If they are correct, then our education system has a lot to answer for.


* Of the non-human variety.

[Image copyright Espion |]

Friday, May 7, 2010

Aliens Might be Dangerous

Stephen Hawking has mentioned that aliens, if we find them, may be dangerous. The news has latched onto this as if what he said wasn't obvious to anyone with any passing knowledge of social contact of any sort.

Hawking rightly warns us of the lessons learnt in history time and time again when a more powerful civilation encounters a less powerful one. The results, to date, have rarely been pleasant for the lesser* civilisation.

Some people may say that advanced civilisations must surely be beyond such violent behaviour as would be demonstrated by an annihilation or enslavement of the human race. I rather think perhaps the Aztecs might have thought the same before their civilisation was reduced to a shadow of its former self by the conquerors they initially mistook for gods.

There is no guarantee of what any other alien life we find would be like. We don't know what they would look like, what environments they would live in, how advanced they would be, how they would communicate, what their motivation would be if they contacted us at all or or indeed whether we would ever be able to meet in the first place.

I would suggest that anyone with an overly optimistic view of what other alien civilisations must be like, if they exist at all, should read or watch a little more science fiction.

Start off with Alien.


* Lesser only in terms of the ability to defend itself.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Ultrasound Before Abortion

A few days ago, the Oklahoma state government passed a law requiring women to get ultrasounds before being able to have abortions and which allows doctors to withhold test results that show any defects.

There are many things wrong with this, beginning with the basics.

The first is that getting women to have an ultrasound before having an abortion is a blatant attempt to use emotional blackmail to guilt women into continuing the pregnancy to term.

Judging from this law, "pro-lifers"* must believe these women somehow don't realise that the foetus, or even before that, the embryo, is a potential living human being and that the only reason they get an abortion is because no one has reminded them of this.

That is not the reason women have abortions. The decision to get an abortion, or not, is a complicated and emotional one, where a woman and hopefully her partner must consider whether or not they are willing or indeed capable or raising the child properly. Adding an emotional argument against abortion does not help what is already a difficult decision to make in as objective and realistic a manner as possible.

If, as certain "pro-lifers" seem to imagine, women were just having mid or final term abortions at the drop of a hat whenever they got pregnant, would these really be the kinds of women you would want raising a child anyway?

The second problem with this law is that doctors can withhold test results showing fetal defects. I find this disgusting. The whole point of testing is to see whether a foetus has any serious defects that would seriously impact on its and the parents' lives. I imagine "pro-lifers" hope that this will stop parents from choosing to abort a child if it does have defects, like down syndrome or cystic fibrosis.

That these "pro-lifers" have no qualms about destroying the lives of adult human beings by forcing them to care for and raise a child with such debilitating conditions, makes me feel ill and puts the lie to the name they give themselves. I value the life of even one fully conscious human being above the "life" of a clump of cells.

Of course, pro-lifers will always need to fall back on the argument of potential life. This argument is, of course, ridiculous. After all, if a fertilised egg is potential life, morally requiring a baby as a result, then so would every sperm be a potential life, left to waste without an egg. In this case, masturbation would be a crime. Furthermore, any woman who was not pregnant on a constant basis would be committing murder and when labs finally developed the ability to clone humans from any cell from our body, one wonders whether "pro-lifers" would demand we gear the entire wealth of our economies to a constant, ever growing, never ending production of such clones until the very weight of supporting this "industry" has crushed our quality of life to levels that are the stuff of post-apocalyptic nightmares.

The very idea of such a scenario is ridiculous, but it's the logical follow-through of the potential life argument.

A cluster of cells is not a human being. Until it has developed a brain and nerves, it cannot even feel pain. Its life, at the very least until it is born, is a thing of future potentials whilst the mother's life is an existing one.

When will "pro-lifers" stop calling just calling themselves "pro-lifers" and actually start thinking about all the lives they're trying to affect?


[Incidentally, Right-to-life groups in Australia have seen this Oklahoma law and started to make a push for similar laws here. Cause for concern.]

* I put "pro-lifers" in apostrophes because they only consider the potential future human being's life, but not the parent's or anyone else's for that matter.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Is Religion Abuse?

I've never quite realised this before, but it's been pointed out that the religious world-view, particularly the attitudes towards punishment and sense of self-worth, share a lot of symptoms with Battered Woman Syndrome.

1. The victim believes the violence was their fault.

We've seen this over and over again. Earthquakes, floods and natural disasters are always believed to be the fault of the victims, where God is punishing them either for their sins, or because they have turned a blind eye to other people's sins.

2. The victim has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere.

Continuing on the first point, instead of knowing that often bad things like earthquakes just happen, or that they are caused by well known natural phenomena, they are seen as being a result of the victims' sins.

3. The victim fears for their life and the life of their children.

Fear of hell, fear of eternal torment, fear of sinning. The devout are afraid that either their actions will give God no choice but to punish them because He loves them.

4. The woman has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omnipotent.

Obviously, most religions hold this belief about their deity. It makes sense that with bad things happening anywhere at any time (as they are random and subjective), anyone with a belief that these events were controlled by their god would believe that their god could see everything and do anything.

I like this video because it shows a new way to view religion. In particular, it gives insight into how the Abrahamic religions may have formed the way they have, becoming belief systems that trap the believers in self-reinforcing patterns of belief. It also reminds us that often, believers are also victims.

I hope that any believers who do watch this video will be given new insight, something to make them have another look at what they believe. Maybe they too will break free.


Too Much to Write, Too Little Time

Whenever I see an article I'd like to write a piece about, I save the link to it along with some key notes as a draft in on this blog. When I find the time, I then come back and finish off the post, then schedule it be displayed.

Lately, my problem is that I find articles and interesting events much faster than I can finish writing about them. At last count, I have over 40 entries to finish. That wouldn't necessarily be a major problem if it weren't for the fact that I don't want to give up on any of them, but it does make it harder to finish them in as timely a fashion as I'd like.

Perhaps soon, the world will become boring and I'll be able to catch up on writing about all the interesting things, but in the meantime, treat any posts relating to events from yester-week as wonderful windows into the near-past.


Tuesday, May 4, 2010

How Protected Are You From ID-Theft?

I've mentioned before that being safe on the Internet requires proper caution. However, ID-Theft, which is a growing industry* takes place both on and off the web.

Whether they steal your wallet and get your credit cards, phish for your details online, sort through your mail or paper bin, there are a number of ways they can get enough details to steal your identity and possibly steal your money. That being said, there are a number of ways you can protect yourself from identity theft.

A good resource I've found, through Penny Sharpe (The Hon Penny Sharpe MLC) in the Labour Party is the Privacy Awareness Week site. Particularly, the self assessment ID-theft tool.

I scored 84% and learnt a few new things I could be doing to help protect my details. Though I was performing some of the following, a more complete list of tips is:
  1. Contact the card companies when your credit cards are stolen.
  2. Make sure your mail and e-mail are secure.
  3. Shred documents rather than throwing them away.
  4. Keep important documents locked away.
  5. Update security software on your PC.
  6. Only download legitimate software.
  7. Keep your computer physically secure.
  8. Be aware of who you give your details to online, especially credit card details.
  9. Have a PIN for your mobile phone.
  10. Monitor your mobile phone bill.
  11. Keep passwords secret, hard to guess and secure.
  12. Only give your driver license details if absolutely necessary.
  13. Check credit card bills regularly.
It all comes down to limiting unauthorised access to your personal details.

Hopefully you'll all benefit from this site as well.

Tip of the hat to Penny Sharpe.


* As much as crime can be considered to be an industry.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Have you seen this man?

To make a long story short, the latest South Park episode featured Muhammed, the prophet of Islam. And some muslims aren't happy about this.

Islam forbids the representation of Muhammed, for some reason. That's fine, but the bit that isn't fine is that they expect and demand that everyone else also respect their religious commandments to not represent Muhammed. They go so far as to threaten those who don't obey this command with death. In this case, it's the creators of South Park.

A lot of people have rallied in support of South Park creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker. I particularly liked the idea proposed by youtuber Gotthatfunk in his video, which I found through NonStampCollector.

The proposal was that everyone draw a stick figure and label it Muhammed. I can't get around to making a video, but I thought I'd offer my support.

Realising Muhammed might feel alone during his world media debut, I wondered, what would Jesus do? He would help Muhammed in his hour of need*. So here they are:


* The hippie, nice guy version of Jesus, anyway. The real Jesus might have had Muhammed killed, who knows.

Child Panic Button for Facebook

A British group has urged that a panic button be added for Facebook users to protect them from pedophiles and internet predators. The murder of a teenager was linked to the site and a serial rapist used the site to lure a girl to her death.

The idea that some sort of panic button is needed or would even help, is fundamentally misguided and flawed*. I don't even know how the originator of the idea would have thought of it and can only wonder why the fact that it simply won't do anything hasn't been pointed out.

The reason it won't work should be obvious. The crimes do not occur on the web.

It seems obvious to me, but apparently it is not obvious to others. If a man manages to lure and murder a boy or girl then that means that until the moment where they were physically trapped and killed, the victims did not understand that there was any danger. Since they never felt threatened, they would never have used a panic button, even had it been available.

Instead, had they been adequately taught about the fact that on the internet, anyone can pretend to be anybody else, they would have known that it's best to be cautious about people you haven't met in real life. Whether they would then have simply stopped chatting to these strangers, or whether they would never have started chatting to them in the first place or even whether they would simply have made sure they met with these strangers in a public place, with friends around and family who knew where they were and who they were with, they would not have been in the dangerous situation that led to their deaths.

What is needed here is not some magic button that will make pedophiles and rapists disappear. There is no such button and not only does any button pretending to be so not work, it also gives internet users, particularly children, the wrong attitude to internet safety. The only way to be safe on the internet is to be aware of the dangers and apply proper caution. Just as you would, or should be, appropriately cautious about meeting and trusting strangers in the real world, you must also apply proper caution and care when meeting and dealing with strangers on the internet.


* Though the word I want to use is "retarded".

Friday, April 30, 2010

Noah's Ark Found! Oh Wait.

Noah's ark has been found, according to Chinese and Turkish evangelical explorers. Well, more like wooden remains of something, which they're pretty sure must be the ark from the bible story, since they can't think of any other reason for wooden remains to be up there. To be fair, they're erring on the side of caution and not claiming absolute certainty. Merely 99.9% certainty.

The fact that this archeological dig is being conducted by Noah's Ark Ministries International couldn't possibly be biasing the conclusions they are drawing from what they've found so far, could it? Some other possible hypotheses for the presence for the remains of a 4800 year old wooden structure could be, perhaps, a house? Those existed 4800 years ago, so did farms.

Oh, of course, the group "ruled out an established human settlement on the grounds that one had never been found above 3500m in the vicinity, Mr Yeung said."

I think, perhaps, you just did find one, Mr Yeung.

Ruling a normal human settlement out as a possibility just because no other such examples of settlement remains exist nearby would be like ruling out the first fossil ever found as being a fossil because you hadn't ever yet discovered fossils.

The bible claims that Noah, following God's orders, built a giant ark which carried all known and unknown species of animals* for a period of 40 days and 40 nights on the waters of an enormous, global flood which covered even the highest mountains of the earth until the ark finally came to rest on mount Ararat when the waters receded**.

The fact that these researchers consider this the most likely explanation for these wooden remains to have been found where they are speaks volumes about how seriously we should take their scientific credentials. Or not.


* For simplicity, we're not mentioning the need for food, water, waste disposal, proper separation and containment of predators and their prey, animals that don't normally live in social groups, like Tigers, etc.
*** Receding to whatever magical place the water would have had to have come from in the first place.

Larian LeQuella in the comments below has reminded me that while it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, the bible states the flood lasted for over a year. It only gets worse for the religious version of events.]

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Monkeys! (But Really Apes)

A dose of cuteness. And what's more cute than some monkeys (or apes, rather)?

I'm not biased at all.


[Note: I've used these images here without the express permissions of the authors, but am giving links to the two that I found the original source for.]

Kevin Rudd's Backflip on Climate Change

Kevin Rudd has just recently (yesterday) deferred action on climate change till 2013. This is after his grand speeches in 2007, as part of his election campaign and then again in 2009, where he said Australia had to take action now. We can only assume that when Kevin Rudd said "now", he meant 2007 (or at least 2009) rather than "some day in the future, like 2013, if I get re-elected".

GetUp! have started a campaign to call the prime minister to task on his latest political backflip. I urge everyone to go have a look and spend 30 seconds to lodge your protest to Rudd's actions (or rather inactions).


Ongoing Witch Hunts in Africa

Yet another story about witch hunts in Nigeria. Yet another example of irrational beliefs held by some leading to the horrific suffering of others.

Children attacked by their own mothers, children denounced as witches by pastors and prophets of God when taken to church. Children "tortured to death, bathed with acid, abandoned to die by the roadside or in the bush."

Again, we see that in a society where people's unjustified beliefs are not only respected, but encouraged and permitted by government, the innocent are made to suffer at the hands of the insane.


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Child Sacrifice All Over Again

Just when you think we've managed to drag most of humanity out of the darkness and cloying fear of superstition and unjustified beliefs, someone stabs a baby.

Told by a witchdoctor that sacrificing their baby girl would make them rich, this Pakistani couple did what any good believer in the supernatural would do. They killed their baby.

I can't think of any clearer example of the dangers of believing in something without evidence. When people ask what's the harm when people have a personal, private belief in something, you can point at this dead baby girl and say "That's the harm."

These people believed in magic. This meant that when the witchdoctor, a trusted authority figure in their belief system, told them that killing their baby would make them rich, it made sense.

If they hadn't believed in magic, or if they hadn't been monstrous enough to believe that being rich was worth more than the life of their baby girl, they wouldn't have performed the sacrifice.

There is no such thing as a belief in a vacuum. When you believe in something, it shapes the way you live your life and how you deal with others. Unfortunately for this little girl, her parents believed she needed to die.


Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Why the Fuss About Naked Yoga?

I like stretching, it feels good. Sometimes being naked also feels nice. The person who decided to invent naked yoga was probably hailed as some kind of genius by people who loved both those things and could think of nothing better than doing both at the same time.

Fair enough.

It's a bit odd, to me at least, to see people start to get worried and confused or even concerned by the fact that these all-male naked yoga classes exist. Whether they, like Joshua Stein, editor-at-large for OUT Magazine, who attended a class in 2008, say that real yoga can't be performed in environments with such "heightened sensuality" or whether, like Mary Dillion, they don't see why you need to go to a class to perform naked yoga, since you can do it at home, some comments about the classes aren't making much sense.

Firstly, it's not exactly a secret that a lot of men go to yoga classes to be surrounded by beautiful lithe women*. Also, just because you** can't see why someone would enjoy naked yoga, doesn't mean others can't enjoy it. After all, they're not you. Not only are you not under any requirement to enjoy nude yoga, you're not not under any requirement to think it makes sense, since whether a bunch of other people enjoy stretching naked with a bunch of other naked people doesn't affect you in any way if you don't want it to.

If it turns out that these naked yoga "male-only gatherings tend to be more popular and have become a mini-phenomenon in the gay community" and that they are actually an excuse to get intimate and naked with a bunch of other guys, then so what? So's football.


* Or at the very least, it's a strong stereotype that society has no issue with, so long as looking remains just looking.
** And by you, I don't mean the reader, I mean the literary technique you.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Book Review - Defending Pornography

Nadine Strossen's book, Defending Pornography tackles the highly loaded issue of pornography and its relationship with free speech. She explains in detail why it is crucial that governments not be given the power of censorship, nor the legal powers to determine what is or is not obscene.

As a professor of Law, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)'s president from 1991 until 2008, Strossen has many examples and case studies of how attempts by governments to censor sexual material not only fail to achieve their stated goal - the decrease of violence and sexist attitudes towards women - but also consistently resulted in censorship of a far wider range of free expression than expected or desired, even by those backing the censorship laws.

This book was another that was lying on my shelf for a long time. Worried that the book might prove to be dry reading (being written by a lawyer), I was in fact surprised at how engrossing I found it to be.

The fact that the Australian Government is attempting to put in place a mandatory internet filter only goes to show that the issue of freedom of speech is as relevant today as it was in 1995 when this book was written and how relevant it is likely to remain in the future.*


* And worth keeping as reference for those times when Conroy shouts "Think about the children!"

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

It's a Wonderful World

This isn't going to be much of a post, in fact, all I'm going to do is put up some pictures I found on another site which you should all definitely visit.

There's very little in the world that compares to the beauty and awesomeness of nature and everything crawling around in it.* I came across these reminders of that and thought I'd share them around. They made me feel better, I hope they do the same to you.


* I know, technically, depending on how you define it, there's nothing outside nature, but you know what I mean.

Monday, April 19, 2010

British Chiropractor Association Drops Libel Case Against Simon Singh

In case you're living under a rock and haven't heard, the BCA has withdrawn its libel suit against Simon Singh.

Dear Friends

The British Chiropractic Association has dropped its libel case against Simon Singh. Read Simon’s, our and some of our supporters' reactions to the news here:

Keep an eye out for coverage about this today - there has already been lots, I'll include a few links below.

We are so pleased for Simon that the BCA has dropped the case but the campaign is far from over. Until we have a public interest defence that can protect discussion and comment about evidence and research, scientists, commentators, bloggers, forum users, authors and NGOs will continue to be bullied into silence, and cardiologist Dr Peter Wilmshurst is still fighting to defend his right to speak out about a medical device clinical trial.

With your support the Coalition for Libel Reform has secured manifesto commitments from all the major parties. But we need to continue to put pressure on politicians to make sure these promises are turned into meaningful reform once the new government is in place. We are organising a Free Speech General Election Hustings where you can come and question politicians on their commitment to libel reform for Wednesday 21st April in London. Check for more details about this soon.

The campaign reached 50,000 signatures of support last night. We really need to double this to keep the pressure up and make sure the politicians are aware of how serious the need for libel reform is. Please do all you can to help us reach our target by encouraging people to sign up at



This is great news. More detail here, here and here.

The greater battle, changing the libel laws in the UK, continues, but at least this case has highlighted the need for reform and Simon himself is now able to better spend his time showing that the claims made by the BCA about the benefits of chiropractic medicine are not supported by evidence and need to be taken to task by governments in order to safeguard unknowing consumers from further harm.


Friday, April 16, 2010

More Sorcery in Saudi Arabia

Just a few days ago, I talked* about the disturbing fact that the Saudi Arabian government still believes in magic and sorcerers and considers it a crime to practice those (non-existent) dark arts.

Just another example of this has come up in the news recently, with a twist. In Saudi Arabia, a man, pretending to be a sorcerer** able to create love potions, would film and then blackmail the women who came to him, in order to rape them.

This man is disgusting, but the society that has made his crimes possible is even more sickening. Let us ignore the fact that for raping over 100 women, with the number being possibly as large as 350, he receives a punishment of 1000 lashes and 10 years in prison. My first inclination is to think that it isn't much of a punishment. If it were a western prison, I would be able to affirm that a sentence of 10 years is a mockery of justice considering the number of victims***. Given that he may very well die from the lashes he receives and the fact that I don't know the condition of jails in the Middle East, I'd prefer withhold judgment on the appropriateness (or not) of the punishment to the crime.

What I do want to make note of is that the man's crimes, or rather, his method for luring and trapping his victims is only possible in a society like Saudi Arabia's, where belief in and punishment for association with magic, is rife.

In western society, there are few people who believe in the effectiveness of love potions. At the very least, it would be lower than the number of Saudi Arabians. This means that the number of women, say, in Australia, who would have gone to see such a 'sorcerer' would have been lower.

Even were that not the case, the crucial difference is that no one in Australia who went to consult or talk to, or purchase potions from any so called sorcerer would have to be afraid of being arrested by the Mutawa'een (a.k.a. Religious Police). That is what made it possible for this 'sorcerer' to blackmail these women. The mere fact of filming these women coming to talk to him about magic potions was enough for this man to get leverage over them.

Add to this the fact that a woman who has been raped in Saudi Arabia, as the article says:
rape victims themselves are often the recipients of scorn and are sometimes themselves blamed
This second aspect of Saudi Arabian culture, namely their attitude towards women, is what allowed this man to trap and rape so many women before being caught. It was shame and fear of the law that made these women succumb to the 'sorcerer's blackmail and it was the same fear and shame that prevented them from reporting the fact that they had been raped.

The man who raped these women may have been arrested, but the environment that made any of this possible remains the real cause of their suffering and it has not changed. Until it does, it's the very society that these women live in that continues to betray them.


* Ranted.
** Keeping in mind that you can only ever pretend to be one, since they aren't real.
*** With even one victim being one too many.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Girl Not Allowed to Dance with Girl at Prom

I thought we were past this. The whole, "you're gay so you don't belong" thing. Perhaps I'm too modern, living in Sydney, as I do, to appreciate that in some places in the world, homosexuals are still being seen as somehow unnatural, immoral; a group to be feared*, reviled and marginalized.

I have to wonder what parents are afraid of. Are they worried that their children will become homosexuals, by coming in such close contact with a lesbian couple? Perhaps they are afraid that lesbians, being, of course, immoral and sexually promiscuous by nature, will begin to perform lewd acts at the prom? Perhaps they fear God would condemn them for permitting two women to show their affection for one another?

There is no reason I can think of that does not sound ridiculous. It is plain discrimination. The fact that the school would have preferred to cancel the prom rather than let McMillen dance with her partner, while not as surprising as I would have liked it to be**, still makes me wonder what kind of people the organizers and staff at the school are, to hold such attitudes. I would say they were throwbacks to tree-swinging gibbons, but that would be to insult my uncle, Alfred.

Would the parents have objected if two heterosexual girls happened to dance together for fun, at some point at the prom? I doubt it. I almost have to wonder how the organisers found out the gender of the different people being invited to the prom as dates to the students or why they even cared.

I applaud the ACLU for supporting McMillen's legal rights to equality of freedom and expression, meaning the right to be who she is. I simply wish that it hadn't been necessary for them to do so.

Apparently we still have a way to go yet, until we get to a time when everyone realises that other people's sexual orientation is their own business.***


* Whether some homophobes are afraid that homosexuals bring God's wrath, will rape them or are just deeply immoral people, I'm not sure.

** It is the US after all.
*** And their partner's obviously.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Some Upkeep: Library Page

I've created a library page to show a list of all the books I own and have read so far.

I intend to eventually write some sort of review about all these books, not only to help people choosing something to buy and/or read, but also to help entrench what I've read in my memory.

At the moment, the page is fairly basic, just a list. What I would like to have at some point, is a sortable table of information, so that people can search by author or by title, by category and whatever other book features I can think of.

That's a little way off though.*

In the meantime, enjoy.


* Monkey speak for "don't hold your breath".

Woman Shot Over Dress Sense

There are very few justifiable reasons for killing someone. Some would argue that there are none*.

What I am sure of, as sure as I can be of anything in life, is that the way someone is dressed is typically not worth killing them over.

I sincerely hope that when the article states that "the women fought", it means the argument moved on from the way Danielle was dressed to more important things, like whether or not Danielle was secretly a serial killer**. That would help me try to pretend that this event isn't the meaningless tragedy that it is.

Ms Burgess claims she didn't mean to kill Danielle Pickens, which I say is at the very least a stretch of the truth given she shot Pickens in the head.

If it is the case that Ms Burgess didn't mean to shoot, then this incident should be a reminder to all gun owners, actual or aspiring, that with ownership comes responsibility, never mind the responsibilities when you actually use one. One of the first rules anyone who's been trained in gun-handling would know is that you don't aim your gun or put your finger on the trigger unless you intend to shoot.***

I hope that at the very least Danielle's death can help remind people of the care they must take when using guns, otherwise I'm left with only the absurdity that someone's life can be ended for something as trivial as the outfit they wear.


* Successfully or not.
** Even then, if the TV show Dexter has shown us anything, it's that being a serial killer doesn't mean you're necessarily pure evil and should be killed.
*** I myself have never used a gun (there aren't any models made for monkeys) and I still know basic gun safety.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

All Major UK Parties Commit to Libel Reform

Again, there has been another promising move forward as a result of Simon Singh's court case in defense of his article on chiropractors. For those of you not receiving the emails from the Sense About Science campaign, I'm posting the email here so you can hear the good news for yourselves.
Dear friends,

Great news - all 3 major political parties in the UK are committed to libel law reform.

Dominic Grieve, the Shadow Justice Minister, told us on Friday that “the Conservative party is committed, if elected, to undertaking a fundamental review of the libel laws with a view to enacting legislation to reform them. This reform could best be done by means of a separate Libel Bill and this is the preferred approach for us.”

The Lib Dems made libel law reform a policy in September 2009 after Professor Richard Dawkins addressed their party conference and Jack Straw committed Labour to reforming English libel law at our mass-lobby of Parliament on 23rd March. The Labour manifesto, released today, pledges “To encourage freedom of speech and access to information, we will bring forward new legislation on libel to protect the right of defendants to speak freely.”

We are delighted that the Government and opposition have been moved by the campaign and by your support but now we have to make sure libel reform doesn’t become a forgotten election promise. Please keep telling your friends and colleagues what a fundamental issue libel reform is and encourage them to sign up to the campaign at

If you are in London this evening come to the libel rally organised by Westminster Skeptics in the Pub to hear about the next steps for the campaign and to celebrate Simon’s recent appeal hearing. More here:


Granted, this doesn't mean it's happened yet, nor that the reviews of libel law will result in the changes that need to be made to protect science and fair criticism, but it is very promising.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Book Review - Death from the Skies!

Imagine a book detailing the most horrific natural disasters conceivable by the human mind. Now imagine it detailing disasters not even conceivable by the human mind, on a scale so large and terrifying that the most devastating cataclysms known to date are like a candle to a firestorm. Even more aptly, like an ember to the end of the WORLD!

Scared yet?

Spare a thought for how much more terrifying this is for a tiny monkey*.

This is Death from the Skies!, another book by Philip Plait, PhD. In his book, Phil Plait delights in explaining the various threats the earth faces on a constant basis from outer space. Asteroids, gamma ray bursts (or GRBs) and gluttonous black holes. Still Phil Plait eases the fear by telling us exactly how likely these events are and what, if anything, we can do about them.

I won't lie, the book makes you feel very very small and puts all petty concerns firmly and brutally into perspective. At the same time though, it makes you take another look at the staggering, truly breath-taking beauty of the universe we live in.

This is absolutely recommended reading for anyone, regardless of educational background.


*5 cm tall, or thereabouts.

Friday, April 9, 2010

They Have Cabs, and They're Green

In Sydney, a first world country, it can be difficult to get a cab.

Whether you're somewhere in suburbia, or whether you're waiting at a taxi rank* in the CBD, you often have to wait a while. Additionally, if you're unlucky enough to need a cab any time after 2am and before 4am, you're out of luck.

In Cape Town, not only do they have taxis, they have several taxi companies competing with each other. Since they can't compete on price, these taxis are competing by offering additional benefits.

One such newly established taxi company is offering itself as a green alternative where the taxis are using more environmentally friendly fuel and pay for carbon offsets.

So not only does Cape Town have taxis, they have environmentally conscious ones. What do we have?**

Come on Sydney, the rest of the world is starting to really make us look bad.***


* In fact, especially if you're at a taxi rank.
** That's a rhetorical question.
*** To be fair, even Melbourne's taxis make us look bad. Shiny yellow and omnipresent things that they are.

Witch Hunting Revived

Most people would think that the world had seen its last witch hunt in 1693 when the Salem witch trials came to an end in colonial Massachusetts. These people would be sadly be wrong. Not only are accusations of witchcraft rife in countries in Africa, like Nigeria*, where levels of education are (obviously) very low, there are also accusations of witchcraft and sorcery in Saudi Arabia.

Of course, you have to believe in witches or sorcerers before you can start accusing people of being one.** Not only does the Saudi Arabian government believe in witches and sorcerers, they have their own religious police.
El Khansa told CNN her client was arrested by Saudi Arabia's religious police (known as the Mutawa'een) and charged with sorcery while visiting the country in May 2008.
Sibat, is the former host of a television show "Sheherazade" where he predicted the future and gave advice to his viewers. In any sane society, these come in two categories:

1. He is really able to tell the future. He consistently predicts the outcome of events in double-blind trials. In this case, he makes millions on the stockmarket or becomes a government advisor or works with scientists to determine how his powers work.

2. He's making it up, or thinks he has the power to predict the future, but in fact does not. He is not able to successfully pass double-blind trials testing his ability. In this case, no one cares about him.

Note that there has never been a reported case of a true psychic. Case 1 has never happened, to the world's knowledge.

The Saudi Government is not interested, it seems, in proving whether or not he really is able to predict the future, they just think that he must have powers, since he said so on TV. And we all know everything on TV is true.

They don't even seem interested in proving that he has harmed anyone. The mere fact that he 'has' these powers is enough to condemn Sabit, according to religious law. A law left over from a time where everyone thought magic was real. A time everyone else has outgrown and moved on from.

Of course it is the countries still steeped in religion, whether it be Nigeria and Christianity or Saudi Arabia and Islam, that believe in witches and sorcerers. They have to. After all, what are the prophets and Gods but wielders of magic? To disbelieve in the existence of magic completely is to disbelieve their Gods.


* Other examples are here.
** You also have to believe they are necessarily evil.

Topless Women Surprised at Male Attention


Now I have your attention. I am a monkey. As such, I don't really understand the human (particularly male) fascination and obsession with boobs. A certain article caught my eye though and for the sake of writing this post about it, I'm going to put my boob-liking hat on.

Here we go.

There are few things male human heterosexuals like more than breasts. Female breasts to be more precise.* In fact, I would argue that it is one of the things that men like most about women.**

So when a group of women in downtown Portland, Maine, in the U.S. got together to walk with police escort down (or up) the street to bring attention to double standards regarding toplessness, it comes as no surprise to me that many men showed their appreciation by whipping out their cameras.

Apparently it surprised the organiser, Ms Ty MacDowell who says "I'm really upset by the men … all the men that are here, just like watching it like it's a parade,".

I'm confused. She obviously wanted to draw attention to the fact that men take special notice when women are walking around topless, but was upset when she managed to draw that attention (admittedly in the very form she was attempting to combat). I think she needs to go away and think about what her goal is.

I have nothing against women walking around topless if they want. That's their business. By the same token, I have no issue with anyone taking pictures of other people (in this case topless women) in a public area. Sure, to me it seems a little sleazy, but again, that's their problem, not mine. Just because I wouldn't take photos of women doesn't mean I can or should tell other men (or women) they shouldn't take photos either.

Ty MacDowell somehow expects men to not find breasts attractive. Her reasoning is that men going around topless doesn't excite anyone or seem out of the ordinary, so it should be the same with women.

I'm sorry Ty. First of all, I'm sure if a group of sexy, well-toned men was to get together and walk topless down the street, women (and homosexual men) would probably appreciate it, text their friends and take lots of souvenir photos. Second, women going topless is less common in a public setting than men going topless is. That being the case, until naked boobs are "just another thing"***, they'll receive lots of attention when they make an appearance. Thirdly, well, men really like boobs.


P.S. Notice in the photo, it's a woman using her phone to take a picture.

* And more precisely still, female human breasts.

** I would argue, but it may not be true. The point is a lot of men like them a lot.
*** I hope that never happens. It would be a shame to lose such a source of happiness. For other men to lose it, I mean.

Oriental Yeti Baffles Scientists

Some hunters in remote central China have trapped a strange looking animal, the Daily Telegraph says. The article claims that scientists are baffled as to what it could possibly be, a combination of cat, bear or yeti? Who knows?

The odd thing is this creature is so baffling it's managing to baffle people who haven't even examined it yet. The article mentions that the animal has just been sent off to Beijing where its DNA will be analysed.

In the meantime, the locals (or indeed the Daily Telegraph) aren't waiting until the facts are in before they start speculating. Some think it's a bear, but it's not hairy. Perhaps it's a cat, it sounds like one. It has a tail like a kangaroo, maybe a Chinese bear got lonely one night, searched online on and found a mate.*

The last claim reported by the article is that, according to local legend, there was a man who turned into a bear and that that is what the hunters have caught.

The article already calls the creature the 'Oriental Yeti'.

Those seem like strong, plausible and rigorously scientific hypotheses to me.

Or maybe it's just a poor cat whose hair was burnt off. In any case, perhaps the conjectures should wait, or at least be reined in, until someone without a need to increase his village's income from tourism can have a look at it.


* Ok, so I may have exaggerated that last claim.
** Or perhaps that should be who.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

1st Milestone

Posting a few things this morning, I realised I'd posted enough since I started a week ago (feels longer than that*) to have too many posts for the front page to handle on its own. That's right, this means readers now have to click on the 'older posts' link to see the first few posts.

"You're crazy Charles!" I hear you say, "It doesn't take many posts to make that happen." Of course you're all correct, it doesn't. It did, however, bring a smile to my crazy monkey face and I thought that warranted a mention.

:) <- A smile like this.


* I have yet to make the calculation in monkey weeks.

Simon Singh and Libel Reform

This morning I received an email through the Sense About Science mailing list, relaying a message from Simon Singh. I thought I'd display it here as well, for those of you interested in the ongoing court case Simon Singh is having to go through to defend the statements he made about chiropractors in Trick or Treatment as being fair comment, rather than libel.

Message from Simon Singh : “A big step for me, a small step for libel reform, and what you can do to help today.”

Dear friends,

With apologies for cross posting,

Sorry for the silence, but it has been a ridiculously hectic (and happy) time since last week’s victory at the Court of Appeal. However, I urgently wanted to get in touch to update you on the status of my case, the latest news on libel reform and what you can do today to push libel reform up the political agenda.

BCA v Singh

April Fool’s Day 2010 was a day to remember. The Court of Appeal gave a ruling in my libel case with the British Chiropractic Association. The ruling strongly backs my arguments and puts me in a much stronger position when my trial eventually takes place. At last, after two years of defending my article and my right to free speech, I seem to have the upper hand and can breathe a small sigh of relief.

Moreover, the judges made it clear that they did not want to see scientists and science journalists being hauled through the High Court. In particular, they endorsed the view that a so-called comment defence should be adequate for scientific and other articles on matters of public interest. As well as the legal technicalities, the three wise, charming and handsome judges quoted Milton on the persecution of Galileo and directed that the High Court should not become an “Orwellian Ministry of Truth”.

Libel Reform Campaign

This is a small step forward for libel reform, but there is still a huge battle to be fought over the issues of costs, libel tourism, public interest defence, balancing the burden of proof, restricting the ability of powerful corporations to bully individuals (e.g., bloggers, journalists, scientists) and so on.

The General Election was called yesterday and the manifestos will be published in the next week, so we need one last push to persuade the major parties to commit to libel reform. Although we have already achieved a huge amount (from editorials in all last week’s broadsheets to the Commons Select Committee recommending libel reform), we must keep up the pressure!

Both the Labour and Conservative parties have made encouraging sounds about libel reform, but now is the time for them to make commitments in their manifestos.

What you can do today to pressure politicians

I have spent over a million minutes and £100,000 defending my article and my right to free speech, so I am asking you to spend just one minute and no money at all persuading others to sign the petition for libel reform at

The last time I made this request, we doubled the number of signatories from 17,000 to 35,000. Can we now double the number from almost 50,000 to 100,000?!

You could ask parents, siblings, colleagues or friends to sign up. You could email everyone in your address book. You could blog about it, mention it to your Facebook friends and Twitter about it.

In fact, I have pasted some possible tweets at the end of this email – it would be great if you could twitter one, some or all of them.

You could forward all or part of this email to people or just steer them to Or you could persuade people that English libel law needs radical reform by using some of the reasons listed at the end of this email.

Remember, we welcome signatories from around the world because English libel law has a damaging impact globally.

Please, please, please apply maximum pressure to the politicians by encouraging as many new signatories as possible. Please do not take my victory last week as a sign that the battle is over. My case is still ongoing and the campaign for libel reform is only just starting.

Thanks for all your support – it has been incredibly important for the campaign and a real morale booster personally over the last two years.

Simon Singh

Ps. Please spread the word by sending out one, some or all of the following tweets

Pls RT English libel law silences debate, says UN Human Rights Committee. Sign up at & back #libelreform

Pls RT English libel costs 140x more than Europe. We can't afford to defend our words. Sign up at & back #libelreform

Pls RT Two ongoing libel cases involving health. The law should not crush scientific debate. Sign up at & back #libelreform

Pls RT London is notorious for attracting libel tourists who come to UK to silence critics. Sign up at & back #libelreform

PPs. Reasons why we need radical libel reform:

(a) English libel laws have been condemned by the UN Human Rights Committee.

(b) These laws gag scientists, bloggers and journalists who want to discuss matters of genuine public interest (including public health!).

(c) Our laws give rise to libel tourism, whereby the rich and the powerful (Saudi billionaires, Russian oligarchs and overseas corporations) come to London to sue writers because English libel laws are so hostile to responsible journalism. (Again, it is exactly because English libel laws have this global impact that we welcome signatories to the petition from around the world.)

(d) Vested interests can use their resources to bully and intimidate those who seek to question them. The cost of a libel trial in England is 100 times more expensive than the European average and typically runs to over £1 million.

(e) Two separate ongoing libel cases involve myself and Peter Wilmshurst, and we are both raising concerns about medical treatments. We face losing £1 million each. In future, why would anyone else raise similar concerns when our libel laws are so brutal and expensive? Our libel laws mean that serious health matters are not necessarily reported, which means that the public is put at risk.

PPPs. I know that I will leave people out of this list, but I owe a huge thanks to:

  1. The 10,000 people who joined the Facebook group “For Simon Singh and Free Speech - Against the BCA Libel Claim”, particularly those who joined when the rest of the world ignored the issue of libel.

  1. The 300 people who packed Penderel’s Oak in May 2009 and who helped launch the Keep Libel Laws Out of Science campaign, particularly the speakers: Nick Cohen, Dave Gorman, Evan Harris MP, Professor Brian Cox, Chris French, Tracey Brown (Sense About Science), Robert Dougans (Bryan Cave) and David Allen Green.

  1. The 20,000 people who then joined the Keep Libel Laws Out of Science campaign.

  1. Jack of Kent and every other blogger who ranted and raved about libel reform when the mainstream media was turning a blind eye.
  1. Everyone in the mainstream media who is now covering the various libel cases and the issue of libel reform.
  1. Sense About Science, Index on Censorship and English PEN, who formed the Coalition for Libel Reform. And thanks to everyone who has contributed pro bono to the campaign in terms of design, technical support, chivvying support for the EDM and more.
  1. The 46,000 people (i.e. you) who have signed the petition for libel reform, particularly those who have cajoled others to sign up at
  1. All the big names who have spoken out in favour of libel reform, from Professor Richard Dawkins to Derren Brown, from the Astronomer Royal to the Poet Laureate, from the Amazing Randi to Ricky Gervais. Particular thanks go to Dara O Briain, Stephen Fry, Tim Minchin and Robin Ince, who have gone out of their way to step up to the plate when the campaign has needed them. Immense thanks also to the 100+ big names who were the first to sign the petition to keep libel out of science and highlighted the need for libel reform.
  1. Everyone who has emailed and twittered and told me in person that I am not going crazy, and who reassured me that I am doing the right thing by defending my article.
  1. Thanks to Nick Clegg, leader of the Lib Dems, for promising to put libel reform in his manifesto. And thanks in advance to Jack Straw (Justice Secretary) and Dominic Grieve (Shadow Justice Secretary), because I know that the Labour and Conservative parties are going to commit to libel law reform. I cannot believe that they will allow more scientists, serious journalists, bloggers, biographers, human rights activists and others to go through the same hell that I have had to endure for last two years.