Thursday, August 24, 2017

Corbyn vs Virgin and Traingate - the full CCTV is finally released!

Remember traingate: Corbyn claimed he was on a 'ram-packed' Virgin train, and Branson released CCTV stills from that train showed loads of empty seats? Virgin were asked for the full CCTV recordings under FIA rules. They have now, finally, revealed the CCTV from which the stills fed to the Press by Branson were taken [correction: I am told that the CCTV from which that still of the supposedly empty seats was taken was available to the BBC at the time, but it seems they never bothered to check the tape]. The CCTV originals confirm not that Corbyn lied but rather that Branson presented highly misleading images from the CCTV to the media.

Remember the days and days of outrage in the MSM that followed traingate....including on BBC Newsnight?

I imagine this news - that a billionaire deliberately misled the mainstream British media in order to smear a political leader threatening his financial interests - will be met with crickets.

There may also a moral to be drawn here about 'fake news'. I googled 'traingate' just now and I found ONLY The Canary, Skwawkbox, RT, and other sources endlessly denounced by centrists as 'fake news' are covering this story. The BBC, on the other hand, were successfully played by Branson, as were the rest of the MSM (most of it quite willingly of course).

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Continental vs Analytic Philosophy - powerpoint slides

Richard Dawkins recently tweeted: 'Philosophers happily speak of “continental philosophy.” What science department would appoint a professor to teach “continental chemistry”?' Is Dawkins suggesting Continental philosophy is bunkum? Well, some of it is. Indeed, the term was actually introduced by Ryle and other analytic philosophers as a dismissive label: Continental philosophy = not what we do/bullshit. But of course not all 'Continental' philosophy, as that term is used now, is BS.  It's also worth noting that, whatever 'Continental' means re philosophy, we are not talking geographical location.

I am no Continental philosopher. But here are some slides I made to explain the difference as I understand it, in case they are of interest.

Friday, August 18, 2017

What is, and isn't, Islamophobic/anti-semitic?

There's currently a great deal of talk about Islamophobia and anti-semitism in the UK press. You won't be surprised to hear me say I am very firmly against both forms of prejudice. However, I suspect many would consider me guilty of one or other.

I suspect many Muslims or Muslim-supporters would consider me Islamophobic because, say, I consider the religion of Islam one root cause of much contemporary terrorism. On the other hand, I don't doubt some Jews or Israeli-supporters would consider me anti-semitic because, say, I think the attacks on Gaza were disproportionate and unjustified, or because I am broadly sympathetic to non-violent methods of Palestinian resistance, such as their BDS campaign - Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions.

It may well be that I'm just mistaken about what is and isn't Islamophobic/anti-semitic, and I genuinely want to be guilty of neither, so I thought I would arrange various claims according to whether I consider them Islamophobic or not and anti-semitic or not, to get your feedback.

I DO consider the following claims Islamophobic:

All Muslims should be forcibly removed to Arab countries (e.g. from the U.S. or from Israel)
Muslims all want to take over the world (and place it under sharia)
The Muslims are secretly plotting to take over the world (and place it under sharia)
Muslims are cockroaches and rats
Muslims are a source of moral depravity
Muslims are bigots (homophobic, racist, sexist, etc.)

Why we are entitled to point a finger at Islam on oppression and bigotry

(This is reposted from CFI blogs, where it appeared 2015 - still relevant though)

In his recent post at the Daily Dot titled 'Atheism has a Richard Dawkins Problem', Ben Branstetter criticises Dawkins's targeting of Islam and the Quran as sources of bigotry and oppression.
Branstetter writes:

Dawkins seems to be targeting the treatment of women in many Islamic countries—which use religion to justify stoning rape victims and criminalize homosexuality. Dawkins is wrong, however, to target the Quran as the source of these atrocities: Atheists shouldn’t hold an entire religious community responsible for the actions of governmnents and fundamentalist state religions. Instead, Dawkins and his followers should attack the structures that allow for the systematic oppression of women and LGBT people.

Branstetter follows Steve Neumann in supposing that the root cause of such oppression is a delight in exercising power over others, which is by no means peculiar to religion:

Dawkins and his defenders are likely aware of the many atrocities committed in the name of Christianity—from the Crusades and the slaughter of Native Americans up to the bombing of abortion clinics. Likewise, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Tse-Tung slaughtered tens of millions without a whiff of religious influence.

The problem with this argument is that to point out that Y often happens without X does not establish that X is not a major cause of Y. Plenty of people get cancer without smoking, but nevertheless smoking is a major cause of cancer.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Should Corbyn one-sidedly condemn the violence of Venezuelan Government forces?

You don't like Corbyn and you want to discredit him and his leftist supporters by pointing out his even-handed condemnation of violence in Venezuela. And now Trump has condemned the violence on both sides in Charlottesville, despite it being clear that it's alt-rightists that are primarily responsible. So can you now legitimately draw a very damaging (for Corbyn) parallel between Trump and Corbyn? In this instance, aren't they as bad as each other?

Well, first off you would have to show that there is a major imbalance in the violence from either side in Venezuela (as there is in Charlottesville). Arguably there is (that UN report suggests as much), but still it is clear there is also much violence from the protestors whose actions have also caused deaths (some accidental, as in the eight who were electrocuted, but perhaps also some quite deliberate). But suppose you can show there is nevertheless such an imbalance in the number of deaths caused by either side? Is that enough to condemn Corbyn as being, in this instance, 'just like Trump'?

No. You are not even close.

If we should condemn much more forcefully or even exclusively those who cause the most deaths in such situations - that being a reason why Corbyn should one-sidedly condemn the Government side in Venezuela - then what about Israel/Palestine? Palestinian violence kills very few people compared to Israeli violence. Yet Israel's violence is widely thought justified, proportionate, and acceptable. Should Corbyn condemn only the Israeli violence, then?

Or is it the fact that the violence is coming from the much more powerful side - Government forces - that should lead us to condemn the violence of the Government much more forcefully, or even exclusively? But again, what about Israel vs violent Palestinian protestors. And the UK Government vs the IRA? It seems we should then condemn the Brits much more than the IRA, and the Israelis much more than the Palestinians.

Corbyn's position in all these disputes - UK forces vs IRA, Israel vs Palestinians, Venezuelan Gov. forces vs protestors - is, to my knowledge, to condemn the violence on both sides. To suggest Corbyn is a hypocrite for not one-sidedly condemning the Government violence in this case seems to me unjustified, and, frankly, dumb. He would be a hypocrite if he did condemn only one side in this case, given his previous form. Corbyn's long-standing position on such violent situations may not be to your liking - and you may argue that some other position would be better - but it is principled and it is consistent.

Trump's position, on the other hand, is neither principled nor consistent.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

'But it's the best explanation!' - how bullshit beliefs are justified

Folk who believe in fairies, or miracles, or alien visitation, are generally fond of an argument called ARGUMENT TO THE BEST EXPLANATION.
Here's an example of argument to the best explanation (or abduction, as it's sometimes known):
I see shoes poking out from under the curtain and the curtain twitching slightly above them. I can also hear breathing. I infer there's someone standing behind the curtain. Why? Because that's the best available explanation of what I observe. True enough, the twitching might be caused by the breeze from an open window and the shoes were just coincidentally placed in the same spot. But I reckon that's a bit less likely than that there's someone standing there (for what explains the breathing noise?)
Quite what makes an explanation the 'best' is controversial, but there's some agreement that the simpler and more elegant an explanation, the better. So, for example, I could explain that twitching curtain by supposing that there are three dwarves standing on top of each other behind the curtain, but that's a far more complex and less elegant explanation for what's oberved than that there's just a single person there.

Monday, August 7, 2017

The Christian Legal Centre - and their bullshit claims of religious persecution

This (click for link) seems to me to be the right verdict. In fact the case looks very much like the Olive Jones case (Jones was also represented by the Christian Legal Centre). Here is something I previously wrote about that:

At the end of this conference on Religious Freedom and Equality (at which I presented a shorter version of this paper), some of the speakers, myself included, were invited to discuss the issue of religious freedom in a Q&A session organized at the Christian Legal Centre (CLC). On arriving, all those attending were given a double-sided sheet of paper which listed a string of cases in which Christians had, it seemed, been treated unfairly - investigated, suspended, sacked, prevented from fostering, and so on - because they had dared to express their Christian views. To get an impression of the reliability of these anecdotes, I picked one at random and looked it up online while the CLC’s representative was still introducing the event. The CLC’s handout said:

Peripatetic teacher Olive Jones – dismissed for offering prayer to family.

My Paper on Natural Kinds (Aust. J Phil 2016)

Here's my paper on natural kind terms - which combines philosophy of language and metaphysics (essentialism). I defend a Kripkean/Putnamian account of how 'water', 'tiger' etc. function, against the criticism (from Nathan Salmon, Helen Steward, and others) that such accounts presuppose something exotically 'metaphysical'.

I actually think it's one of my better papers...and has the added bonus of a reference to Winnie the Pooh and an analogy involving mysterious boxes and a magician. (Australasian J Phil 2016.

Go here.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Why you should follow The Canary, Skwawkbox, and Evolvepolitics

Uh oh! A branch of Momentum has posted a highly racist (antisemitic) tweet featuring a photograph of a prominent Tory Jewish politician. 

Of course, they haven't. But suppose they had. We can be confident this would be picked up by the Mainstream Media, that it would feature prominently on the BBC, with Marr et al piling into senior Labour figures asking for condemnation, severe action to be taken against Momentum, and so on. Labour's own right-leaning MPs would be piling in too - indeed they would probably by leading the charge, using it to embarrass and damage Corbyn. This would be a media spectacular that would probably run for weeks. The damage to Labour - and to Momentum and Corbyn in particular - would be colossal.

So what would happen if, say, a local branch of the Tory Party, in an attempt to mimic Momentum's online success, started up a national online Tory website - 'Digital Conservatives' or something similar - with associated Facebook and Twitter feeds, and they then posted a tweet of a prominent Black Labour politician with an accompanying racist comment - with, say, the hashtag #nationalwatermelonday?

We don't have to imagine that, because it just happened. And the only reason I know it just happened is that it was covered by The Canary, Skwawkbox and Evolvepolitics, three online news sources that we are warned - usually by centre-left Corbyn-bashers - we should NEVER follow or link to as they are 'fake news'.

Except, while these sources do sometimes get stuff wrong, and are certainly partisan (like The Daily Mail, etc.), they are to my knowledge STILL the only media sources even covering this story after also breaking it. And it's not fake news.

So my advice is DO follow the Canary, Skwawkbox, and Evolvepolitics. Read them with a sceptical eye, as you should all media, but they have repeatedly turned up stuff that the MSM won't cover. Important stuff you probably won't get to hear about otherwise.

And to those right-wing Labour folk who say there is no BBC/MSM anti-Corbyn/Momentum bias, I say: pull the other one. This sort of biased selectivity about what stories to cover is going on day in, day out. It takes a special sort of cognitive bias not to see it.


Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Letter to my MP regarding excessive 'Roam Like Home' mobile charges

Hi Anneliese

I live in East Oxford and have raised an issue with OFCOM that I am also now raising with you.

I have a contract with VIRGIN MOBILE for my daughter’s mobile phone. Her number is ..... As you know, mobile use abroad is now subject to an EU ‘roam like home’ policy. The phone can be used just as at home, with no additional charge. However there is a ‘fair use’ policy which says that the service provider can make a small additional charge for data use once a reasonable cap set by the service provider has been exceeded. The EU regulation says that the service provider can charge 7.70 Euro plus VAT for each extra GB once the data cap has been exceeded.

Now, Virgin have said on the phone, twice (two entirely independent calls about different phones), that this EU fair use policy re using mobiles abroad allows them to charge E7.70 per GB *PER DAY* plus VAT once the cap is exceed. This is very clearly their charging policy.

That is surely not a ‘small' charge. So for example, if my daughter exceeds her data cap (5.63GB) abroad then on each subsequent day, if she uses, say, just 0.1GB on that day, she will be charged 7.70 Euros plus VAT for that day, and then another 7.70 Euros plus VAT for similar use the next day, and so on. So, over ten days, Virgin will charge her an additional 77.00 Euros plus VAT (except they have a cap of £42 for additional charges, so it would be £42), rather just the small charge of 7.70 Euros plus VAT for that total of 1 GB of extra data she used over the cap.

That is £42 charged by Virgin for 1GB of data.

Now the wording of the EU regulation is unclear whether the 7.70 Euro charge applies PER DAY, but it seems very clear to me that the intended reading is that not more than 7.70 Euro PER MONTH (i.e. of the monthly contract) should be charged, as it clearly says the additional charge should be ‘small’ (an additional charge which amounts to adding £42 to her existing monthly tariff of £22 for just a single GB of data is surely not ’small’). In which case, Virgin are exploiting an ambiguity in the wording of this EU regulation in order to rip off their customers - probably very many thousands of customers each year.

Virgin also said on the phone that my daughter would NOT be alerted when she exceed the data cap - contrary to what the EU reg explicitly requires of them (again see the reg below).

I phoned OFCOM about this. However I was told that the EU reg was indeed ambiguous, and that it is open to Virgin to interpret it that way. I asked whether they had a responsibility to clarify what the EU reg actually was, and to prevent Virgin ripping off their customers by means of a loophole, and they said that this was their job, but that I would not hear from them whether or not they would do anything about the issue.

The person I spoke to at OFCOM just said my complaint would be passed on to certain higher individuals in OFCOM who might or might not act on it. This is frustrating given that Virgin are pretty clearly exploiting their customers and OFCOM are the body responsible for ensuring this sort of exploitation does not happen. It would be good to get some more transparency on what OFCOM are actually going to do regarding this issue, if indeed they are going to do anything.

I am writing to you because it seems to me that as a former MEP and now MP you are particularly well-placed to clarify what the EU regs re ‘Roam like Home’ mobile use actually are, and to ensure that OFCOM do their job both when it comes to clarifying and enforcing those EU regs and also in terms of protecting UK customers from being ripped off.

BTW, My guess is that if Virgin are exploiting this unintended ambiguity in EU regulations, then so are many other service providers. In which case, this amounts to a major mobile phone scandal.

Very best wishes
Stephen Law