Thursday, June 28, 2007

Beating the England Smoking Ban?

Come July 1st and England's pubs and restaurants go smoke-free, thanks to the Nanny State's Thought Police.

A previous proposal for a compromise bill, which involved allowing pubs to choose between allowing smoking but relinquishing serving food or ban smoking and be allowed to continue to serve food, was considered "too messy". The market place was in fact already self-regulating, with many pubs and clubs choosing the non-smoking option and with others preferring to become smoking dens, a market-driven compromise that could have suited everybody. But no, the busybodies in Whitehall saw no problem in marching us off to a near-illegal war but needed to protect the general public from... freedom of choice!

At the time, not a great deal of resistance came from the side of the affected landlords and breweries that obviously are in some sort of a political coma. At least the "horsy people" showed up in full force to protest against that equally ridiculous ban on fox hunting and whilst defeated have found ways around the new legislation.

And so landlords will have no option to comply and maybe exploit a few loopholes involving beer gardens or heated canopies. One landlord is trying to fight back in a highly original attempt to create his own loophole, involving a Consulate of Redonda, an English Knight of Redonda and more legal finesses...

Bob Beech wants to turn The Wellington Arms in Freemantle, Southampton, into the UK base of the uninhabited Redonda.

It follows the pub already being granted status as a consulate of Redonda by the island's king and Mr Beech receiving a Redondan knighthood.

But his plans are likely to be thwarted by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The landlord said: "We came up with the idea that this pub could become the British consulate for the Kingdom of Redonda - and the king thought it was a good idea.

"We had a ceremony for that and I was made a knight.

"Subsequent to that it was decided that we wanted to become an embassy. Our legal team are waiting to hear if that's possible.

"We intend to go ahead with the full benefits of an embassy."

Those benefits could include not having to enforce the smoking ban when it comes into force on Sunday 1 July.

The ruler of the tiny Atlantic island, King Robert the Bald, sent the island's official cardinal to grant consulate status on the pub.

Cardinal Elder, also a regular drinker at the pub, said: "If it works we won't have to enforce the smoking ban - I think it will good for the pub and the Kingdom of Redonda."

But a Foreign Office spokeswoman said that Redonda was a territory of Antigua and Barbuda and therefore was not entitled to an embassy or high commission in the UK.

Councillor Gavin Dick, of Southampton City Council, said environmental health officers would be advising Sir Bob of the legal position when the smoke free legislation is implemented.

He added: "If they are not granted embassy status, which requires formal accreditation by the Foreign Office, then they will be covered by the new law, which we will be enforcing."

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Meet Sir Quackbal Sacranie...

Oooops, I meant Iqbal Sacranie, the former General Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain. Sacranie is one of these people that lead non-Europeans to believe we are being "dhimmified" in our own European countries. In principle I have no problem with people receiving knighthoods, no matter what their ethnic or religious background actually is but to knight Sacranie was a step too far: Sacranie's disgraceful part in the Rushdie affair regarding the publication of the latter's book "The Satanic Verses" de facto disqualified this person from receiving any state-sanctioned awards. Sacranie was seen marching with protesters supporting the potentially deadly fatwa against Salman Rushdie, which forced the latter into hiding for nearly ten years. Later Quackbal was noted saying that regards Rushdie "death is perhaps too easy".

He also openly condemns homosexuality and same sex marriage.

And now both Rushdie and Sacranie are back in the news. The former for receiving a knighthood, the latter for opposing just that. Whether Rushdie deserves to be knighted for his services to Literature or not I cannot judge: I haven't even read his alleged masterpiece "Midnight's Children" and have it on good authority that "The Satanic Verses" are about as thrilling as watching paint dry. But that's not the point. Once again we have a leading Muslim basically opposing free speech because knighting the author of a book might upset Muslims. In Pakistan this whole affair has created ructions that are beyond belief.

I learnt of Sacranie's perhaps predictable stance on the Rushdie knighting while watching Al Jazeera English (I would recommend this station to anyone, very informative indeed) and it was a near "foot-through-the-telly" moment. Sacranie, you're a hypocrite and a slimeball... I couldn't care less whether you were Muslim, Zoroastrian or atheist...

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Creation Museum on YouTube...

This is positively funny... watch it!

Your ideal US Presidential Candidate...

Whether you're American or not, there's a (subjective) way to find out what would be your ideal candidate, by answering 25 simple questions over at From their write up:

This selector features over two dozen names of announced candidates and politicians considered by pundits to be possible White House contenders. You may select a position for every issue, or just select those issues important to you. The candidates' positions are based upon their voting records, special interest group ratings and the candidates' statements in the public record. In cases where a would-be president has no known public record or statement on an issue, they are not given a score, which tends to reward candidates who take stands on more issues. Also candidates for president who take consistent and stronger stands tend to get higher scores. All the candidates and/or their staffs were written to and given an opportunity to clarify or correct their views as characterized here.

My own results:

1. Theoretical Ideal Candidate (100%)
2. Dennis Kucinich (90%)
3. Barack Obama (86%)
4. Christopher Dodd (83%)
5. Hillary Clinton (79%)
6. John Edwards (79%)
7. Joseph Biden (76%)
8. Wesley Clark (75%)
9. Al Gore (72%)
11. Alan Augustson (67%)
12. Mike Gravel (65%)
13. Ron Paul (48%)
14. Kent McManigal (43%)
15. Elaine Brown (41%)
16. Rudolph Giuliani (35%)
17. John McCain (33%)
18. Mitt Romney (29%)
19. Mike Huckabee (27%)
20. Chuck Hagel (25%)
21. Tommy Thompson (23%)
22. Sam Brownback (20%)
23. Tom Tancredo (20%)
24. Newt Gingrich (17%)
25. Fred Thompson (12%)
26. Duncan Hunter (12%)
27. Jim Gilmore (8%)

No cheating please...

Don't know who to vote for? This guy might be the next POTUS...

Saturday, June 23, 2007

CIA reveals decades of plots, kidnaps and wiretaps

Now this you see, this could be interesting...

Mail & Guardian Online

23 June 2007 07:23

The CIA is to declassify secret records detailing operations including illegal domestic surveillance, assassination plots and kidnapping, undertaken from the 1950s to the early 1970s, at the height of the Cold War and the Vietnam conflict.

The records were compiled in 1973 at the behest of the then CIA director, James Schlesinger, and collected in a 693-page dossier known as the "family jewels". Although some of its contents have been leaked, the CIA has refused until now to put the full dossier in the public domain.

Schlesinger acted after discovering that veteran CIA officers whose burglary of a Washington hotel room triggered the Watergate scandal, had received the agency's cooperation in carrying out "dirty tricks" for president Richard Nixon.

According to the National Security Archive at George Washington University, Schlesinger directed his officials to collate details of any other current or past agency activity that "might fall outside CIA authority" -- that was, in other words, illegal. The results of the internal trawl were breathtaking. But within months of finalising the dossier, William Colby replaced Schlesinger as CIA chief.

When the New York Times published a report on the CIA's domestic surveillance operations in December 1974, apparently based in part on the dossier, panic erupted inside the administration of president Gerald Ford, who had succeeded Nixon. At a damage-limitation meeting in January 1975 with James Wilderotter, the deputy attorney general, Colby laid bare the "skeletons" in the dossier.

Minutes of the meeting, obtained by the National Security Archive and posted at on Friday, list the skeletons one by one.

Domestic operations include the illegal detention and interrogation of a Russian defector, the wiretapping of columnists Robert Allen and Paul Scott, and the surveillance of other journalists including the late Jack Anderson. Several illegal break-ins are also listed.

In the minutes, Colby says some US citizens had been subjected to "unwitting" CIA drug experiments to induce "behaviour modification". The CIA also illegally amassed 9 900 files on Americans involved in anti-war activities.

The minutes state that the CIA "plotted the assassination of some foreign leaders including [Fidel] Castro, [Patrice] Lumumba [Democratic Republic of Congo] and [Rafael] Trujillo [Dominican Republic]." They go on: "With respect to Trujillo's assassination on May 30 1961, the CIA had 'no active part' but had a 'faint connection' with the groups that in fact did it."

In an official record of a White House meeting with Ford the next day, on January 4 1975, a rattled Henry Kissinger, the secretary of state and national security adviser, argues that the existence of the "family jewels" dossier, and its partial leaking, may turn into a major scandal -- with the FBI investigating the CIA.

"What is happening is worse than in the days of McCarthy. You will end up with a CIA that does only reporting, not operations ... What Colby has done is a disgrace," Kissinger tells Ford. "All these stories are just the tip of the iceberg. If they come out, blood will flow. For example, Robert Kennedy [the former attorney general] personally managed the operation on the assassination of Castro."

Announcing the decision to release the dossier next week, plus 11 000 pages of "hard target" intelligence gathered about the USSR and China from 1953 to 1973, General Michael Hayden, the CIA director, said they offered a "glimpse of a very different time and a very different agency".

Friday, June 22, 2007

Religious amputees to sue God for anti-amputeeism...

A few rational questions for educated Christians (and other theists...)

No prizes for anyone telling me that I "must be God-hater": I can't hate what I don't believe to exist...

Related: Mr Deity and the messages...

My favourite in the series: Mr Deity and Lucifer...

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Coffee Can Foundry... (making bronze, part 5)

This is Part 5 of my mini-saga on attempting to make home-made bronze, using a method similar to Bronze Age technology. Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 can be found here:

Part 1: Goal, building and initial tests
Part 2: First attempts at metal melting
Part 3: Improving the foundry
Part 4: Lump charcoal is as lump charcoal does...

Summarising the goal of the project...

I'm now close to achieving the stated goal of the project and it's worth summarising what the object of this little adventure is. Basically I'm trying to produce small amounts of castable bell bronze (20 - 25 w% tin) using a method close to what our Bronze Age ancestors would have used in all likelihood, although they would have done this on a large scale. Bronze is an alloy of copper and tin and both metals can be obtained by reducing their oxides by means of a chemical reduction with carbon. The oxides occur readily in nature as ores, in the case of tin a mineral called
Cassiterite and in the case of copper, Cuprite (for both metals also other ores are also available). Cassiterite is mainly tin oxide, with small amounts of iron oxide as a contamination, while Cuprite is mainly copper (I) oxide. Carbon is of course most commonly used in the form of coal or charcoal.

By glowing the oxides with the right amount of carbon, the carbon recombines chemically with the oxygen present in the oxide, thereby being carried off as carbon dioxide and leaving the "pure" metals behind. I say "pure" because this is a technical process and the metals are therefore always slightly contaminated.

The process of extracting metals from their oxides by means of heat and a reducing agent (beside carbon there are many others such as aluminium, magnesium, calcium, lithium and others) is known as
pyrometallurgy and our Bronze Age (and Iron Age) ancestors were master pyrometallurgists. We still are today, even more so...

My objective is to carry out both reductions at the same time on an appropriate mix of Cassiterite and Cuprite. Both constituent components of bronze would then form at the same time, fuse together and bronze metal would be the result.

The Cassiterite reduction

Cassiterite, a mineral once found and mined in abundance in Cornwall, South England, is a little hard to come by today, especially in small amounts. Instead I'm using the purer yet cheaper form which is essentially technically pure tin oxide (SnO2). This is an off-white powder with a slightly greenish hue. It contains about 79 w% of tin metal.

Mixed with the theoretical, chemically required amount of carbon (I used the same charcoal that I use as fuel for the charcoal-fired paint can foundry but added some 20% extra to the mix to account for some that would simply burn off at these temperatures) and glowed to about 900 C (1650 F) or higher, the reduction reaction proceeded fast and easily.

It's interesting to watch, as the liberated by-product (carbon dioxide) puffs up the hot, powdered mix a little, then proceeds actually to bubble out of the mix. The powder is behaving therefore much like a boiling liquid that reduces steadily in volume, until only a small puddle of molten tin metal remains (MP 232 C/450 F). It's perfectly possible to keep topping the crucible with fresh "Cassiterite"/charcoal mixture, which then continuously reduces to pure tin metal, thereby filling up the crucible with the desired metal. The crucible in question here was a stainless steel former sugar bowl...

During the early stages of the reaction, the mixture darkens somewhat, probably due to the formation of finely divided tin metal, bubbles of carbon dioxide start to form and then small pearls of tin metal start appearing, which then later settle at the bottom of the crucible as a puddle of molten metal.

The "pearling effect" is apparently something that can be witnessed by putting some Cassiterite (you can find it in small quantities in mineral shops or around the now mostly abandoned Cassiterite mines in Cornwall) on the fire of a hot charcoal fired barbecue: the combination of heat and carbon causes some of the Cassiterite to reduce to tin metal. This is one of the most likely routes of discovery of this useful metal by our ancestors...

Right, two tin buttons (29 g) made by reducing tin oxide, left a copper blob (13 g) made by reducing copper (I) oxide. The copper is porous and "bubbly", probably because carbon dioxide got trapped during solidification. The white spot on the copper is a shard of porcelain from the broken crucible.

The Cuprite reduction

For basically the same reasons as above, I substituted the Cuprite ore with technically pure copper (I) oxide (Cu2O), which is a heavy, wine-red powder. It contains about 89 w% of copper metal.

Other copper ores contain significant quantities of iron and sulphur and it's much harder to pyrometalurgically extract the metal from these. It is reasonable to assume that our ancestors did eventually master the art of extracting copper from the more unyielding ores but that they preferred (and started out with) the copper (I) oxide based ores, like Cuprite. Even today, I bet Cuprite ore still fetches a better market price than the other ores, because of its ease of conversion to the desired metal...

Mixing the "Cuprite" with charcoal and glowed along the same lines as above, this reaction proceeds also steadily although it all looks quite differently. The mixture starts darkening and glowing very quickly with the occasional green flame (typical of copper) erupting. At first I thought that the copper (I) oxide (Cu2O) was merely oxidising further to copper (II) oxide (CuO is black) but at the end of the test I prised open the contents of the cooled crucible (breaking it in the process!) pure, slightly spongy and porous copper metal was clearly there. A quick estimate based on the weight of the crucible and its contents before and after firing seemed to indicate that the reaction copper (I) oxide + carbon --> copper metal + carbon dioxide had proceeded
stoichiometrically. That requires some corroboration though: it's possible that some oxidation of the copper (I) oxide to copper (II) oxide did indeed take place and that not quite enough carbon was present to reduce the copper (II) oxide to copper metal...

Although the metal almost certainly formed in the liquid state, I didn't manage to keep it molten: copper's melting point is 1084 C (1984 F) and although I've melted both brass and copper in my dinky toy furnace before, it requires maximum running temperatures to achieve that. I may have been slightly short of that and it was only the very first test, cut slightly short because it started raining...

The paint can furnace during firing...

So, on the Cuprite side of things some problems remain to be resolved. The main problem is to achieve the high temperature needed to keep the copper metal molten and that entails a highly temperature resistant crucible. On this first test I used a 60ml chemlab ceramic crucible. Whilst this definitely resists that kind of temperatures (and higher), the material is also very fragile (hence the breakage when prizing the metal out) and not really suitable for this kind of thing. Some reading and some advice by the foundry enthusiasts at the ABYMC forum would indicate that in all likelihood a clay-graphite crucible is in order for more experimentation. This is definitely the material of choice for bronze temperatures. Steel can survive these temps as well, but copper is said to dissolve some chemical components of steel, making the material vulnerable in this usage.

Next stop: actually making bronze metal or so I hope...

Anticipation: three roads to bronze...

It's possible to envisage four possible routes to bronze, during the Bronze Age:

1. Two reductions and one alloying smelt:

This route would involve running the Cassiterite and Cuprite reductions separately, resulting in ingots of both tin and copper metal. Melting these together would yield the desired bronze alloy. This would require three furnace firings.

2. Two reductions, one of them being also an alloying smelt:

This would involve making either copper or tin, then loading some of either metal into a reducing crucible and adding the reducing mix for the other metal. The pre-loaded metal and the newly formed metal would then result in bronze. This would require two furnace firings.

The reduction of copper oxide in the presence of the right amount of tin metal would appear to be the most attractive here because of the lower melting point of tin.

3. Two reductions carried out simultaneously:

By reducing a mix of Cassiterite and Cuprite (mixed in the correct ratio) a bronze alloy could be obtained using one firing only. It's my contention that that is possible and that our ancestors would have cottoned onto that too. Wait and see...

Saturday, June 16, 2007

'We couldn't leave our home. You don't know who is your enemy'

Saturday June 16, 2007
The Guardian

Mowaffaq Alami, 35, lives in an apartment in Gaza City with his wife Suha, his son Ismail, two, and his 16-month-old daughter Maya. He has a degree in sociology and psychology from Bethlehem University and runs the Gaza office of One Voice, an initiative that works to support a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


We spent the night at my mother-in-law's eating dinner. We left around midnight and it was already clear on the street that something was going to happen. Militants were moving all around our area, which is called al-Nasser. My mother-in-law lives in an apartment about 100 metres away in a compound of 10 high-rise buildings. There are about 30 families living here, as well as a Fatah spokesman called Maher Miqdad. He's been wanted by Hamas since they won elections last year and there's always trouble there.


By morning no one was allowed to move on the streets. It was very dangerous. We could hear Kalashnikovs, rockets, bombs, all kinds of weapons. When we spoke to my mother-in-law, we could hear the fighting. Maher Miqdad's people were in his apartment, and Hamas men were on the roof of two buildings nearby shooting at him. Their weapons are made locally and they're not very accurate. Often they miss and other people get hurt or their houses get damaged. We call them stupid weapons.

We couldn't leave our home. Everything was closed, you don't know who is your enemy in the street.

Fortunately it was near the beginning of the month so everyone had just received their salary and had stocked up on food. Our electricity was down from the first night. I was only in contact with people on my cellphone and the batteries soon ran out. But at least it wasn't too hot, maybe God is still standing with our people because the weather, at least, was acceptable.

I have a transistor radio and we followed the radio stations: there are two that are close to Fatah and one close to Hamas. In some ways the propaganda war is more dangerous; it's something that attacks you psychologically. At home the family told me not to listen to the Hamas station. But I want to listen to both sides.


I received many calls from my mother-in-law's compound. The Hamas militants didn't allow ambulances to enter to take the injured away. We couldn't do anything, except to stay in contact with them. The next day the Hamas militants started to search all the homes in that compound, looking for weapons. It was a chance for some of the families to leave, so my mother-in-law, her two daughters and two other families who have elderly parents came to our place.

It was my first chance to go outside. I had enough for me, my wife and the kids, but now we were 13 people and I needed more food and pillows and blankets. Most shops were closed but I knew one man who lives next door to a factory selling pillows and I asked him to open just for me. Then I found a supermarket that was open and I bought the food. I borrowed a friend's car. I was stopped six or seven times at checkpoints. They looked in the car, opened the doors and I said: "Peace be with you. Do whatever you want" and they let me go.


My friends gave us a picture from the street. It was Hamas in control. They were promised by their leaders: this is the day to change your life, become an official, have an office. They had something religious to fight for that they believed in. While on the other side, what were they defending? Who were they fighting for?

I was jailed once in 1990 during the first intifada because of my activity in the Fatah movement, but then I changed by way of resisting to non-violence. I believe that's all we have. Weapons don't help end the conflict, they destroy our hope of having a state. These militias are mainly against the ordinary people, not against the occupation.


We could hear the fighting at the intelligence headquarters near the beach. They were on the roof shooting and no one could stop them. We heard that Maher Miqdad, the Fatah spokesman, left his home on Wednesday night undercover. But we don't know what happened to him. Later, I passed by his home. The building was completely burned and all the windows and doors nearby were smashed.

Later that night, after the main compound of the Palestinian security forces fell to Hamas, I went out. I needed some bread and more water. I went to the security forces compound to have a look and there were militants there and young people looking around. It was quieter on the streets.


Things were quiet again, as if everything was over. Regular life returned, with just one question: what next? People are afraid, they want a clear message.

If Hamas wants an Islamic state, OK. But give me an answer about every-thing: political life, social life, civil society? They talk about victory; we talk about war crimes. And it's not just Hamas, but Fatah too. What's happened here is not so different to what is happening in Lebanon and Iraq. It is a tragedy, but because we love Gaza, we stay. I will never think about leaving.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The case for Norman Finkelstein

Norman Finkelstein, the famed critic of Israel, has been denied tenure by DePaul University. What does it mean for academic freedom?

Matthew Abraham

On Friday, June 8, DePaul University President Dennis Holtschneider announced that he had decided to uphold the university's tenure and promotion board's ruling denying outspoken political science professor Norman Finkelstein tenure. In a press release, the president is quoted as saying that academic freedom "is alive and well at DePaul University". Not surprisingly, the announcement of Finkelstein's tenure denial has spawned a national discussion. Academics everywhere have been forced to ponder the implications for the future of academic freedom in the United States, especially those who dare to criticise US and Israeli policy in the Middle East.

Finkelstein, the son of Holocaust survivors, has been relentless in exposing what he calls "The Holocaust Industry": the institutions and organizations that have used the holocaust (the actual historical event) to justify Israel's criminal assault upon the Palestinian population and international law. Among these organisations, he includes the World Jewish Congress, the Anti-Defamation League, the American Jewish Committee, and a host of other fellow travellers. There is no doubt that Finkelstein's work has stoked controversy. But that shouldn't detract from what makes his tenure treatment so worrying: Finkelstein is undoubtedly a path-breaking and serious scholar.

Raul Hilberg, the leading scholar on the Nazi holocaust, has called Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry "a breakthrough" and states that Finkelstein "was on the right track" in his documentation of how the World Jewish Congress, with the aid of the Clinton administration, extorted billions of dollars from Swiss banks in the name of Holocaust survivors, only to pocket the money for Jewish organisations. And, although The Holocaust Industry is Finkelstein's most frequently cited book in defamatory attempts to cast him as a "Holocaust denier" and a "denier of justice to Holocaust survivors", Image and Reality in the Israel-Palestine Conflict - a thorough criticism of the central political and philosophical tenets informing Zionism - is his most scholarly and substantial work. But Finkelstein's detractors avoid discussion of Image and Reality for exactly that reason: it is considered a first-rate piece of scholarship.

Finkelstein argues that most US commentators obscure or avoid the clear historical and diplomatic record in examining the Israel-Palestine conflict by ignoring or downplaying international law, fooling the US public into believing that Israel's occupation is just, necessary, and lawful. One such example is the failure of the 2000 Camp David talks - a failure that has been attributed, at least in elite circles within the United States, to Yasir Arafat's intransigence. In actuality, what Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak offered Arafat was something no Palestinian leader could accept: a Bantustan state reminiscent of the African national territories.

Finkelstein's latest exposure of US and Israeli apologetics for state violence was of famed Harvard Law Professor Alan Dershowitz, who was at the centre of Finkelstein's analysis in Beyond Chutzpah: The Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History. In August 2003, Dershowitz published The Case for Israel, which Finkelstein uses as a foil in Beyond Chutzpah, demonstrating that Dershowitz misrepresents key diplomatic, legal and historical aspects of the conflict. Dershowitz attempted to block publication of Beyond Chutzpah by inundating the University of California Press with threatening letters from the major New York law firm of Cravath, Swaine, and Moore throughout the spring and summer of 2005, stating he would sue the press if it did not ensure that every claim Finkelstein made about Dershowitz was factually correct. Beyond Chutzpah was vetted by six experts of the Israel-Palestine conflict and several libel attorneys. When he could not prevail upon the press or the University of California's Board of Reagents, Dershowitz asked Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to intervene. Schwarzenegger refused to do so on grounds of academic freedom. Finkelstein wasn't so lucky at DePaul.

But, by all accounts, Finkelstein far exceeds DePaul's teaching and publication requirements; indeed, he has the teaching and publication record for full professorship. His tenured colleagues in the political science department voted 9-3 in favour of his tenure and promotion to associate professor. (And the three professors who voted against Finkelstein's tenure are not experts on the Israel-Palestine conflict or the holocaust.) The college's personnel committee unanimously upheld the department's recommendation in a 5-0 vote.

In a memo dated March 22, Dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences Charles Suchar withheld support of Finkelstein's tenure application and agreed with the authors of the minority report, arguing that Finkelstein's tendency to engage in demeaning and reputation-damaging attacks compromised the quality of his scholarship. The dean invoked "Vincentian Personalism" as a tenure criterion, and reported to the university's board that Finkelstein has an "apparent penchant of reducing an argument and oppositional views to the inevitable personal and reputation damaging attack, demeaning those with whom he disagrees." Surprisingly, these concerns had never been raised about Finkelstein's work previously by DePaul's administration.

To thank for these new concerns we have Alan Dershowitz, who distributed an "information packet" to the faculty and waged a one-man war against Finkelstein. Throughout the months of April and May, Dershowitz availed himself of the pages of the New Republic, FrontPage magazine and even the Wall Street Journal to attack a world-renowned scholar and one of DePaul University's most accomplished teachers. Dershowitz has maintained that the Finkelstein case is not about academic freedom but about academic standards. DePaul administrators ended up rationalising the tenure denial along similar lines. That Finkelstein's opponents have succeeded should give pause to anyone concerned about academic freedom in the United States.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Are you a Jooooooo obsessed paranoid Internet circus freak?

Considering that there seems to be a resurgence of anti-Semites of the more comical variety on the Tinkerwebs, I'm offering anyone who might be in doubt a simple test to figure out whether he or she belongs in that category. It involves answering a few simple questions: test your knowledge. Scoring at the bottom of this post.


1. The Holocaust didn't happen. It was invented by Jooooooos, so that said Jooooooos could seize Palestine and make it the HQ of Joooooooish World DominationTM. True or false?

2. The Holocaust did happen but it was perpetrated by the Jooooooos. They sacrificed "a few of their own", so that said Jooooooos could seize Palestine and make it the HQ of Joooooooish World DominationTM. True or false?

Protocols of the Elders of Zion:

1. The Protocols are not a hoax, they are an authentic document, pertaining to Joooooooish World DominationTM. True or false?

2. The Protocols are a hoax committed by Jooooooos and used as a trap to identify non-Joooooooish anti-Semites, thereby ostracising the latter for the greater good of Joooooooish World DominationTM. True or false?

Scoring: if you answer one or more of these questions as "True", then in all likelyhood you are a Jooooooo obsessed paranoid Internet circus freak. Please form an orderly queue so we can insert you at
Judeophobe Watch's pantheon of Jooooooo Paranoid Imbeciles and Internet Circus Freaks (scroll down the right sidebar, you might already be up there...). Thanks for participating!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Memed by Eitan...

I've been asked by Eitan of Hear O Israel to take part in a little game of Q & A.

Well, I'm not a great fan of the "what's your favourite?"-game, so I'll play a limited version, naming only one (or two) in each category. Here goes.

1. From 1(most) to 5 name the five modern politicians you like most accompanied by a one-sentence explanation.

I think Yitzak Rabin but you might not class him as modern (he's also a bit dead unfortunately). Never in my view was Israel so close to making peace with the Arabs. A missed opportunity but only one out of many...

Up to recently I would, aptly as this man is truly the
Raymond Poulidor of Israeli politics, put Shimon Peres in second place, if it wasn't for the fact that Peres seems to have sold out and is what another blogger called, "what's left of the dried up turd of the Israeli Left". I used to admire him a lot and believed he too held the keys to peace. No more so. He did recently made me smile when in a TV documentary he announced quite sheepishly that "you can't become Israeli Prime Minister if you haven't been a General in the IDF". He was later once more proven more or less right, when it turned out Olmert is probably the least popular PM in Israeli history...

2. From 1 to 5 name five modern Israeli politicians you can least stand.

Bibi. Netanyahu, if true to his word, would plunge Israel into multiple wars simultaneously. The man is also a hypocritical, opportunistic flip-flopper and living proof that if you're media-savvy you can get away with murder... (proverbially speaking, at least).

3. From 1 (worst) to 5 name the 5 worst decisions in modern Israeli history.

The colonisation of the West Bank. Post-1967 Israel in the settlement era has made achieving a final settlement very difficult.

The dream of an undivided (i.e. purely Israeli) Jerusalem. For a country that harps on a lot about the history of Jews and Judaism, that is folly. The city has been shared for most of its existence.

4. Name 5 reasons why you would/would not vote for me (or whom you'd vote for and why) in the upcoming elections to the Knesset.

You're an Ultra Nationalist. From such a position, nothing good can come. The only way forward is through compromise. Anyone who is married should know that...

I have already
detailed here, why PM Eitan would be an unmitigated disaster for Israel.

5. Name 5 of the top reasons why you would consider making aliya/moving to Israel(If this does not apply, name 5 people you're Meme-ing).

I'm not Jewish, so the question doesn't apply. If I was, I wouldn't consider even making Aliya, unless the final settlement was achieved. Without it I wouldn't consider Israel safe enough for me and my family and in the current political climate I don't feel I could make a meaningful contribution.

Thanks for inviting me...

Sunday, June 10, 2007

We of little faith

Religious belief is inconsistent with reason and corrosive to the human mind - and I don't want to live in a world where it is respected.

Sue Blackmore

"Religious faith is not inconsistent with reason."

I nearly choked on my breakfast when I heard this on the Today programme. These words were spoken by Mr Blair, in his inimitably sincere style. He was addressing an Islamic conference in London, on June 4, and pledging more money to support Islamic studies in British Universities.

When I'd calmed down I went to check, and it really is true. In the full text of his speech, on the No 10 website, he says:

"In the face of so much high profile accorded to religious extremism, to schism, and to confrontation, it is important to show that religious faith is not inconsistent with reason, or progress, or the celebration of diversity."

But religious faith is inconsistent with reason (and much more that we value as well).

I'm not referring to the ordinary kind of faith by which we have faith in another person's honesty, or that taking an aspirin will reduce our headache. I am talking about religious faith, as Tony Blair was too. In this context faith means believing without reason. Indeed, this is precisely how it is defined, for example as "Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence" or in Merriam Webster as "firm belief in something for which there is no proof". Does this make faith inconsistent with reason? I would say yes. Reason demands that you look for evidence and believe accordingly - which is exactly what we do when we trust a friend because they've been reliable in the past, or doubt a rumour until we've checked on the facts.

Faith is corrosive to the human mind. If someone genuinely believes that it is right to believe things without reason or evidence then they are open to every kind of dogma, whim, coercion, or dangerous infectious idea that's around. If someone is convinced that it is acceptable to base their beliefs on what is written in an ancient book, or what some teacher tells them they must believe, then they will have no true freedom of thought; they will be trapped by their faith into inconsistency and untruths because they are unable to throw out false ideas when evidence against them comes along.

The whole point of a university education is to learn to think for yourself, to criticise theories, to compare ideas and to find out the truth by research, exploration and experiment. Whether you are studying French, chemistry, or psychology, you are given tools for thinking independently and ways of evaluating other people's claims. In this there is no room for faith, and should be no room for faith.
I want to be clear about some things I am not saying. First I am not saying that everything has to be rational. There is much about human life that has little or nothing to do with rationality; there's love and affection, art and poetry, happiness, beauty and intuition. But none of these things has to be taken on faith. University courses include much that is not rational, not just in arts courses but even in science, where one has hunches or enjoys beautiful ideas, but again there is no room for holding onto religious faith - wherever the ideas come from they must ultimately be thrown out if they are shown to be wrong.

Second, I am not saying that no students should have religious beliefs. This is (and must be, in a free society) a matter for them, in the privacy of their own minds. There will always be some students who believe things on faith and others who don't, but the job of a university course is to make people think and to give them the tools for doing so. Faith is not one of those tools. Indeed, by and large, a university education reduces religious belief, as indeed it should.

I have had countless students on my psychology courses who began as believers in God, or the afterlife, or spirits and souls, and then had to question those beliefs through the process of learning how the mind actually works. I have seen them (and I hope helped them) go through this painful process of throwing off their restrictive childhood religious beliefs and learning to live with the uncertainties and open-mindedness needed for real learning.

Finally, I am not saying there should be no courses on Christianity or Islam or any other religion. There are and should be, for there is much of importance to study: the history of the religions, the beliefs, their cultural background and much more. But universities should be teaching people how to think, question, and understand these things, not to have faith in "truths" proclaimed without reason or evidence.

Tony Blair pronounces the word "faith" with just that touch of special reverence in his voice, as though it were something to respect, something we should admire in others and grant them licence to believe whatever they want on its account. Indeed he proclaimed that the conference was "an opportunity to listen; to hear Islam's true voice; to welcome and appreciate them; and in doing so, to join up with all those who believe in a world where religious faith is respected". How despicable. How creepy. How frightening when we see the dire consequences of faith-based actions all around us.

Of course people of faith want us to respect their beliefs. For they have no other way of defending them than to appeal to respect, to promise rewards for believers, or threaten punishments for unbelievers. So anyone who cares about the truth should resist these meme tricks. Religious faith is something that we should struggle to throw off when we have better ways of learning the truth about the universe we live in; something we should overcome rather than something we should respect.

I, for one, do not want to live in a world where religious faith is respected. I do not want more "faith-based initiatives". I do not want more faith schools, and our great universities should continue to teach people to think for themselves, to respect the truth, and to take nothing on faith.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

A Coffee Can Foundry... (making bronze, part 4)

This is Part 4 of my mini-saga on attempting to make home-made bronze, using a method similar to Bronze Age technology. Parts 1, 2 and 3 can be found here:

Part 1: Goal, building and initial tests

Part 2: First attempts at metal melting

Part 3: Improving the foundry

Lump charcoal is as lump charcoal does...

As the refractory material (Perlite/fire cement composite) had started to suffer fire damage and the inner lining was losing mechanical integrity, I decided to increase the capacity a little by removing the degraded material (a strange pink salmon type of colour). The diameter of the furnace cavity is now about a 1/2 inch wider and slightly tapered. Next I moulded another 1/4 inch on the top, making it level with the rim of the paint can and moulded a new lid.

The foundry enthusiasts at the
ABYMC forum made some more suggestions, from better regulating the airflow, using a hydrocarbon side feed to reverting back from briquette charcoal to the more expensive but hotter burning lump charcoal.

So I bought some new lump charcoal and fired her up, using the smaller pieces of charcoal only. It became immediately apparent that the furnace burnt considerably hotter than previously. It glows a nice bright orange, as does the crucible which previously yielded only a dull, dark red, only visible in fainter light.

Here's the furnace with lid during firing:

In the cavity:

The photo's colour is deceptive due to the temperature (the glow is a nice bright orange but not yellow).

A quick test with some 50 g of aluminium (some clean and some painted can scraps) led to melting in a matter of minutes. The resulting blob of clean aluminium shrank a lot because it was way over its melting point when poured.

Then the next litmus test: a 7.5 g piece of engineering brass of unknown composition, with some LoSo flux to improve heat transfer. It melted in about 5 minutes, indicating the required 900 - 950 C (1650 - 1740 F) had been reached comfortably!

One more run with three 2 pence coins (no LoSo) resulted in the coins being sintered together but not melted. Left the splatter of brass and right the three unfortunate 2p copper coins (heavily oxidised to cuprous oxide, I imagine).

I played around a little with the airflow but it didn't seem to make much difference. I'm probably getting close to optimum airflow. The lump charcoal has the added advantage of producing much less ash, as the briquettes are formulated to generate ash for cooking.

I'll try and further boost the heat with slightly finer coals but for now there's no need to inject hydrocarbons (propane or butane) into the tuyère. I will try that at a later date in an attempt to push the furnace to its thermal limit.

So, although the temperature isn't yet at the melting point of copper (1084 C, 1984 F), I feel confident that the achieved temperature is sufficient to glow tin and copper from their oxides using charcoal as a reducing agent.

My tin oxide is about to be delivered and hopefully my own bronze age will then commence...


I've just "gone copper"! Selecting the smaller lumps of charcoal and breaking up some bigger ones, I melted about 22 g of the same "yellow brass" in minutes. It caught fire and there isn't much left of it.
Carrying on, I tried the three copper 2 pence coins again and they too melted in a few minutes: so I've got 1084 C (1984 F)!

Left what's left of the brass, right the blob of molten copper (both splattered onto dry sand):

In fact the oven ran so hot that the crucible softened noticeably (it's got a small dent to prove it) because it yielded to my pliers.

Hot, hot, hot!

The whole run was approx. 40 mins and burnt 450 g of charcoal, putting the power output at approx. 6.2 kW (6,200 W).

The next instalment of this project can be found here.

1967: The price of victory

It was Israel's stunning success in the 1967 war that led to many of the Middle East's problems today.

Martin Woollacott - Guardian CiF

The completeness of Israeli victory in 1967 shackled the peoples of the Middle East to a ball and chain which has ever since crippled their development. The shackle was Israeli military dominance, the chain was the unwavering alliance between Israel and America, the ball was the ever more oppressive and onerous occupation of Palestinian lands.

The character of the regimes in both the Arab states and Israel, the policies of their governments, and the psychological state of their citizens have all been shaped, or distorted, by the consequences of the Six Day War.

At the moment of victory, it now seems odd to recall, the opposite seemed to be the case. The Israelis, excitedly canvassing the opportunities for peace with Egypt and Syria, and exploring options for the political future of the West Bank which even included the establishment of a Palestinian state, saw a new beginning.

The Americans, not then as committed to near-automatic support of Israeli decisions as they later became, also thought there was an opportunity for a permanent regional settlement.

Even the Arab leaders, although initially stunned and angry, were privately ready to think along the same lines. Nasser, the Egyptian president, quickly indicated that there were possibilities, although he wanted them to be realised under international auspices. The Khartoum Summit's famous three negatives - No to peace, No to negotiations, No to recognition of Israel - represented in fact a partial success for Arab moderates. As King Hussein of Jordan was later to explain, they were intended to leave room for the creation of a state of peace, but not a treaty, for dealings with Israel through a third party, but not face to face, and for acceptance rather than formal recognition of Israel. The hard fact of Israeli military supremacy made Arab states ready for peace, even though they wanted it to appear to be imposed.

Yet this apparent room for manoeuvre was gone, if it had ever really existed, in some instances within days of the first cabinet discussions of peace proposals. The Israelis at first thought there would be superpower intervention and began by thinking they would just keep East Jerusalem. Then, as it became clear there would be no superpower fiat and as the Arabs failed to respond to their proposals, they added the Golan, then the West Bank, then Sinai. Not too long afterwards, the first settlers were headed for Hebron. The Arab lack of response to the peace feelers was one cause, but the main one was that victory went to Israel's head, as well as opening up the ideological divisions in Israeli society.

There was no plan, the pragmatists lost the arguments, romantics and extremists set the pace, and soon Israel had a prime minister, Golda Meir, who had no interest whatever in returning any territory to the Arabs and who denied the existence of a Palestinian people. At the same time, the American conviction that Israel was a strategic asset in the Cold War hardened. Israel now had a reliable great power protector which would in any conflict help it to win or at the very least prevent it from losing, and one which would never, as it turned out, exert enough pressure to undo the expansion it contemplated or strip it of the nuclear weapons it was developing.

The 1967 victory thus led, by way of two further conflicts, to an end to the possibility of general war between Israel and the Arab states. In the War of Attrition, back and forth across the Suez Canal, Egypt showed there was a price to be paid for continued occupation of its territory. In the 1973 war, Anwar Sadat tried to bring Israel, and the United States, to their senses. But his success was only partial.

In 1979, peace between Egypt and Israel removed the biggest and strongest Arab country from any possible military line-up against Israel and meant, in effect there would not be another inter-state war. The Iran-Iraq war, together with the Osirak raid, took another contender, Iraq, out of the picture. King Hussein, always the closest Arab leader to Israel, had made up privately with the Israelis soon after 1967. Syria, alone among the front line states, remained hostile, yet that hostility would have almost certainly ended if Israel had been ready to return the whole of the Golan.

Israel's security, as far as inter-state war was concerned, was thus absolutely assured, without having to give up, apart from Sinai, any of the territories it had seized. It could, it seemed, indulge its fantasies, let every political tendency in the land, however harebrained, have its way, and carry on as if it could have both peace and territory.

Yet the 1967 victory had greatly reinforced two processes which came to bulk larger and larger - Palestinian resistance, and the radicalisation of Arab societies, both, as the years went by, acquiring a more and more Islamist character. Israeli dominance was the obvious cause of the first, but only one of the causes of the latter. Secular Arab governments disappointed their peoples in many other ways, yet the failure to make Israel return what it had taken in 1967 was an important element in the disillusion and disorientation of their citizens.

Israel set out to achieve as complete a victory over these new, non-state enemies and their protectors as it had over Arab states in 1967. But the military efforts, in Lebanon and in the occupied territories, brought no such victory. Hesitantly they began to consider concessions, but they subverted their own diplomacy, and that of others, by their constant failure to deliver, a failure which turned the peace process into a travesty.

Everything that happens cannot spring from one event. Yet it is permissible to wonder what might have happened in the Middle East if the 1967 war had ended in a more messy way, leaving all the participants at some disadvantage. America might not have jumped to the conclusion that Israel was a uniquely vital ally. Arab governments might have been freed of a burden and a shame which has helped undermine them. And Israel might have realised that no state, and particularly one in her situation, can have everything it wants.

Nanny state in motion...

Less whining, more wining

Will these busybodies who seem determined to control even what we drink at home please leave us alone to enjoy a glass or two?

Matthew Fort

Alcohol seems to occupy a very special place in the consciousness of the nation. It seems that one half can't get enough of the stuff and the other half worry that the first half are having too much of it. To this end, the second half (actually, more like a tiny minority) are endlessly calculating how much damage alcohol abuse costs the nation in terms of medical treatment, social damage and personal distress.


While there may be an argument in favour of trying to [curb, my edit] alcoholic exhibitionism, violence and vomiting in the streets (although, as we have been doing this for at least 800 years, I can't quite see why we're going to stop now), to suggest extending the control order to the privacy of our homes would be risible if the people making the suggestion weren't so preposterously earnest about it. It does not seem to occur to these sanctimonious busybodies that one of the reasons why the rest of us are hitting the bottle so hard is that they are driving us to it with their tedious sermonising and painful finger-wagging admonitions. Most of us now feel that we have so little control over our lives, that about the only true freedom left is what we choose to put into our mouths.

It has always struck me as very rum that when doctors, dietary specialists, health professionals of every hue and health-conscious food writers extol the virtues of the Mediterranean diet, they always leave out two critical ingredients - pig fat (or mutton fat in North Africa), which goes into virtually every baked product in southern Italy, Sicily and Mediterranean Spain and Portugal; and alcohol, the not inconsiderable litres of wine that still gush down the throats of most sun-loving Mediterranean folk on a daily basis. Cheers.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A Coffee Can Foundry... (making bronze, part 3)

This is Part 3 of my mini-saga on attempting to make home-made bronze, using a method similar to Bronze Age technology. Parts 1 and 2 can be found here:

Part 1: Goal, building and initial tests

Part 2: First attempts at metal melting

Improving the foundry

The main purpose of a foundry furnace is of course to reach the temperature needed to melt the metal or alloy in question. In part 2 I showed that the coffee can foundry (well, paint can foundry) was unable to melt copper (coins).

And so I set out to improving the thermal performance of the furnace by means of the following modifications:

  1. Use a Perlite/fire cement refractory lid to bounce some of the radiation loss back into the furnace.

  2. Start to fire the furnace in a semi-continuous way, by adding charcoal every 3 - 5 minutes.

Here's the furnace with lid during firing:

In addition I made a new, smaller and much safer crucible by chopping off the bottom of a disused "SodaStream" (remember those?) carbon dioxide canister. It has a capacity of 50 ml, an inner diameter of 45 mm, a wall thickness of 3 mm and weighs about 190 g (see pic below). This should last a few firings, unlike the "soup can crucibles"!

I first got a bit of practice by empty firing the new crucible, lifting it out periodically and adding fuel when needed. Not a big problem, just rather finicky due to the small size of the furnace cavity.

Next I tried a 30 g charge of clean aluminium. That melted quickly in about 10 - 15 minutes of firing. Passivation was still a problem though: I didn't flux that time. I got the melt out with the usual difficulty caused by the aluminium oxide "skin" and was left with a crucible full of dross! So I returned it to the furnace and added quite a bit of LoSo salt (a 50/50 mixture of sodium and potassium chloride, NaCl/KCl). That melted almost instantly into a very mobile liquid and on adding more it just sank and melted away immediately. I cast it (it splatters a lot!) and ended up with quite a clean crucible.

The Perlite/fire cement refractory material held up well but did sustain a little fire-damage at the top: the exhaust flow is awesome at the estimated 5 - 6 kW power output. Due to the heat generated, the modest incoming cold air flow is isobarically expanded by a factor of almost 4!

Another melt (see pic below) of 32.6 g mixed aluminium (some clean and some scraps) with 16.3 g of LoSo added melted in about the same time, with the fused salt mix clearly floating on top of the aluminium melt. Adding more pieces of scarp aluminium and forcing them in the melt with a dipping tool caused these to fuse immediately into the melt, as ice chips do in hot water. Here's that melt, the black LoSo flux floating neatly on top:

Then I had a little mishap: a fairly large cold blob of melted flux (LoSo) had stuck to the dipping tool and when I stirred the mix one last time the cold salt dropped in, cooling the melt considerably. The resulting cast was small but clean, with a lot of "cold" salt and metal left behind in the crucible. Elbow grease for cleaning that one up! Lesson: allow molten LoSo to rejoin the melt from the dipping tool and remove any cold LoSo prior to using it again...

So, I'm pretty sure I've boosted the temperature by quite a bit but still didn't know by how much...

Next I fired up again to try and melt a small (7.5 g) piece of what I believe to be "yellow brass". It was once part of the "SodaStream" dispensing valve. I've no idea of the composition of this alloy but I'm fairly sure that it's brass: yellow coloured and non-magnetic. I fired it for about 40 minutes and it didn't put a dent in it! That the alloy contained copper was clear: part of it coloured a bright red, probably from cuprous oxide formation.

Conclusions so far...

The improved furnace probably does fire at slightly higher temperature, judging by speed of reaching aluminium melting point and easy of melting salt. The molten salt was very mobile while before it was rather gooey.

The single brass melting test may not have been very conclusive but it seems likely only about 850 C (1560 F) has been reached and not the 900 - 950 C (1650 - 1740 F). This could be problematic for reaching the final goal of the project: to fuse together copper and tin from copper oxide and tin oxide-carbon reductions. I'm not even sure what temperature is needed to get these reactions going but I bet I'm a little borderline right now.

So, another attempt at improving the furnace will be made soon. I will fill the paint can to the rim (thereby gaining another 5 mm in height) and make the surface of the top of the furnace completely smooth so that the smooth moulded lid leaves less daylight and "seals" the furnace better.

Another improvement can be made by better controlling the size of the charcoal. Due to the small size of the furnace, I need to break up the BBQ briquettes. I should take more care in getting about 1 cm3 sized pieces and sift off the fines, to pack the furnace with a maximum fuel punch...


Following a tip at this forum thread, I decided to play around with the airflow a little. I had previously reduced the airflow a lot and believed it to be more or less optimal. But the furnace was spewing out rather massive amounts of very hot air, definitely increasing the heat loss of the furnace. As all furnaces are essentially "heat pumps", to reach the highest temperature possible you need not only to generate as much heat as possible but also to retain as much of it as is achievable.

And so I ran a quick test to see if reduced airflow could increase furnace temperature. It would appear to be the case: with the reduced airflow the furnace melted a standard aluminium/LoSo charge in record time.

Then I attempted to melt that dastardly piece of "unknown brass" again, this time using some molten LoSo as heat transfer agent. Again, no joy!

Getting the balance between the amount of charcoal and the amount of air right is the crucial part here... that much I have learnt. More charcoal will only generate more heat if it has enough oxygen. But too much air means you're blowing heat out of the furnace. It's probably a more "delicate" balance for a smaller furnace.

Another poster at said forum suggested boosting heat output by squirting lighter fluid (in my case methanol) directly into the truyère, making it act as a carburettor. I'll try that but it does kind of corrupt the purpose of a "charcoal fired furnace".

Now the race is on to make the above mentioned improvements and work more on the balance between charcoal and air...

The next instalment of this story can be found here.