Andrew Wakefield loses again in court; what happened?

This is the latest update I have found detailing the life and fortunes of erstwhile Dr. Andrew Wakefield and his egregious, self-serving and very damaging lies regarding autism and the MMR vaccine.

I would like to say that due to Wakefield, measles contagion has increased worryingly in Australia, the UK and definitely in America where he is holed up still spruiking his rubbish.
Andrew Wakefield

Violent metaphors

You may have seen the news about a Texas court throwing out Andrew Wakefield‘s lawsuit against Brian Deer, the investigative journalist who did so much to uncover Wakefield’s fraudulentanti-vaccine study. You can read the court’s opinion for yourself, but I’ve already seen some inaccurate commentary on it. Here’s a little background on the case, and a quick explanation of what happened last week for non-lawyers.

view Apparently this is “Asquith as John Bull giving cheap sugar and an old age pension to a child and an elderly couple.” I have no idea what it means. But I dig old editorial cartoons (and the headline).

View original post 1,427 more words


Why Tony Abbott isn’t even a bootlace

This is reposted from a very clear comment made by an Australian mate – Laurie Fraser. I am not the only one to approve of the way Laurie has nailed this. I listened to the National Press Club Luncheon address that Abbott made on Tuesday. Cringe-worthy is far too mild a term to express what I felt. And this is how Laurie reports it.

From Laurie’s Facebook page:

A highly anticipated speech, such as yesterday’s by Tony Abbott, is an opportunity for the speaker to advance his vision for his society; to bind the people in common purpose; to allow the audience a glimpse of the nature of the speaker; and to move the discussion of nationhood and commonwealth forward.

Great speeches exhibit all of these qualities – one has to only think back to Noel Pearson’s brilliant eulogy of Gough Whitlam to see that this is true. Pearson captured the nation, partly by his eloquence, but more importantly by tying Gough’s legacy to a vision of what a future Australia might look like.

For a little while, at least, we came together as Australians to realise and recognise that the most important issues we face are not about debt and deficit, fiscal bottom-lines and taxation margins, but the broader and deeper concerns of equality, opportunity and social building. Pearson made it plain that the reality of a society lies in its attitude towards the greater ‘goods’ – the arts, community, lifestyle and health, education and enterprise – to which economics is merely the foot-servant.

Yesterday Tony Abbott, the Prime Minister of Australia, failed us miserably. Not once was any vision employed; his address (which he alone wrote, by the way) was a pedestrian, carping, and pitiful apologia for his superficially-believed failings. Blame was everywhere poured on his predecessors; the speech quickly became a mantra of mendacity – yes, his first lie came nine seconds in, and tediously, repetitively, each lie tumbled upon the next.

Abbott wasted his opportunity, that is for sure. But what could we have expected?

The problem for Abbott is manifold. To begin with, he is unintelligent. And a low intelligence disallows grander sentiments; it constrains someone in that position to be, at best, a technocrat – a pusher of buttons and mover of levers – in other words, a tinkerer. Where, oh where, were Abbott’s grand designs for his society? They were missing from his speech because they are missing from his mind. ‘Vision’ appears not from nowhere – it is the result of deep thought and reflection; it comes from a complete understanding of our shared history and culture. Abbott simply doesn’t have the intellectual grasp of these things to develop a coherent idea of what the future could and should be.

And Abbott is a careerist politician whose ideology is conditioned by the milieu of hard-right Catholic political theology – which is the reason he surrounds himself with like-minded old boys from that peculiar strain of reactionary world-view that began with the Split, the DLP and A.B. Santamaria. It is a recipe for political torpor.

Thirdly, there is no sense of Liberalism – the only saving grace of the Liberal Party of Australia – left in Abbott’s re-imagining of our country. Pluralism is gone; in Abbott’s febrile ‘vision’, it’s his way or no way at all. It is possible, indeed probable, that he has never understood Liberalism at all – and for a leader of the Conservative side of politics in Australia, that is one black hole down which any notions of egalitarianism, equity, multi-culture and freedom will fast disappear.

What Abbott revealed yesterday was the unmistakeable stench of neo-fascism. If any vision of our society was forthcoming, it was a vision of meanness and constriction, of the morals of hard times and know-your-place. Bleak House, anyone?

The Saudi King is Dead – Long live Female subjugation

June 2nd, 2014
Sahar and her three sisters Jawaher, Maha, and Hala have been held under effective house arrest by their father, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, for nearly 13 years. For years, their mother, Alanoud Al Fayez, has been advocating for their release from her home in London. In an unedited interview conducted via email,IaskedSahar, the eldest of the four sisters, about the reasons for her confinement and her thoughts on women’s rights in the Kingdom.

Firstly, can you describe the situation you are facing?

It’s a battle for survival…we’re literally facing a vicious army: the Saudi National Guard, headed by our half-brother Mitab. He along with our half-brother AbdulAziz, Deputy Foreign Minister, have been issuing orders to abuse us along the years. Both men are in the government and should not be allowed to evade justice simply because they occupy such positions. Civilised countries should not allow them to continue their crimes without holding them to account. The silence of the world is deafening, as they issued orders to starve us. We were prevented from going out to buy food and water on March 17th, our heavily guarded bimonthly outing. They prohibited home delivery as well; the person trying to deliver food and water was threatened to be jailed should he attempt to return. Food will soon run out. We are on one meal a day, surviving on some expired food and distilled seawater.

My sister Jawaher suffers from asthma and is denied her medication. I cannot watch her health deteriorating. She needs medical help, in fact we all do. We suffer excruciating headaches and backaches. We have been calling on the Red Cross and they are trying to communicate with the Red Crescent, but seems that they are under Saudi control, so we haven’t received a reply yet. We have the right to choose where to seek medical help. We will never seek the help of the Royal Clinic since they have played a big role in our abuse, nor will we ever ask our captors for food and water since they have been drugging it. We also need to save our pets, our two dogs Gala and Gracia as well as Jade the cat. The situation is getting worse, while Saudis continue their crimes with impunity.

Why do you think you have been placed under effective house arrest?

We, along with our mother, have always been vocal all our lives about poverty, women’s rights and other causes that are dear to our hearts. We often discussed them with our father. It did not sit well with him and his sons Mitab and AbdelAziz and their entourage. We have been the targets ever since. We have been treated abysmally all our lives, but it got worse during the past 15 years. When Hala began to work as an intern at a hospital in Riyadh, she discovered political prisoners thrown in psychiatric wards, drugged and shamed to discredit them. She complained to her superiors and got reprimanded. She began to receive threatening messages if she didn’t back off. The situation deteriorated, and we discovered that she was also being drugged. She was kidnapped from the house, left in the desert, then thrown in Olaysha’s Women’s Jail, Riyadh. She soon became yet another victim of the system, as were the so-called patients (political prisoners) she was trying to help. Maha, Jawaher and I have all been drugged at some point. Jawaher and I have resisted and we were able to protect ourselves.

We have been told to lose all hope of ever having a normal life. A chance to study, work, and raise a family have been denied us. They wanted us to be hopeless and helpless, to give up like many have in this country. After years of hopelessness, forced sedation, physical and psychological abuse, we managed Jawaher and I to fight back, thanks to our mum who has raised us to be independent, to fight for what we believe and stand for our rights. She left to London in 2003. She did not flee as some media has been saying, fabricating lies for sensationalism. In fact, they had tried to push her away to separate us, and to prevent her from supervising my sisters’ treatment. She decided to leave so that she could fight for our freedom. We have been saved from a worst fate thanks to her leaving. Alas, many human rights organisations, journalists, and lawyers have not helped. Some have even hindered her efforts, while others ignored our plight altogether. Her attempts throughout the past 10 years have failed despite her constant fight to free us from captivity and seek medical help for my sisters Maha and Hala. Our mother means everything to us. She is the light that shines through all this darkness.

Have you and your sisters ever been physically abused or threatened?

Yes, my sisters Maha and Hala were physically restrained by members of the Saudi National guard – note that psychiatric nurses were not allowed near them. This would happen after nurses from the Royal Clinic injected them with substances, which would agitate them. We discovered the abuse while trying to call the Royal Clinic doctors for help, but they would either ignore our call or refuse to treat them. A certain doctor before resigning told me that he was given orders by AbdelAziz not to treat my sisters and that his conscience could not allow him to continue, as this would mean breaking his oath as a doctor trained to serve people and treat them. He stated, ‘God help you, you are living with monsters.’ Jawaher and I have been threatened and there were attempted attacks. However, we have been taking mixed martial arts lessons at home training for self-defense, and this had deterred their attempts when they confronted us. Jawaher and I have managed to resist. Yet, systematic drugging and abuse are ongoing and we fear for Maha and Hala’s life. Mum would receive messages, cries for help, but they wouldn’t pick up the phone later. We have no current news about them.

DSC_4207 (800x565).jpg

Why do you think your access to the Internet has not been cut off, even after going public about your situation?

This is to clearly sow seeds of doubt and to discredit us somehow. They seem to spread lies about their so-called ‘freedom of speech’. Meanwhile people cannot verify that we are indeed being starved since March 17th with little food left, eating expired food on occasion and distilling sea water to survive. We are calling on the Red Cross to provide immediate assistance especially that my sister Jawaher suffers from asthma and ran out of her inhaler. She finds it hard to breathe and we don’t know for how long we can endure such barbaric treatment. We have pets to feed as well, two dogs, Gala the Labrador and Gracia the German Shepherd and Jade the cat. We cannot allow them to starve to death, so we try to provide food, cutting down our own meals to once a day. Lack of nutrition and medical care is taking a toll on us. Yet we are hanging on, resisting such horrendous treatment while the world is silent. We are calling on the UN to investigate immediately. Saudi should not be able to get away with it, especially after having ratified numerous conventions against torture, not to mention CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women).

What is the current state of women’s rights in Saudi society?

Women suffer under a brutal ‘guardianship’ system, akin to slavery. Women cannot move an inch without the approval of male guardians, a clear violation of human rights. Women are treated as minors and second class citizens, with no hope of ever growing up or reaching a better position in society as long as such an un-Islamic law is imposed. Male guardianship should be abolished like slavery. It is an abomination, which no civilised country should accept. The international community should not tolerate Saudi’s flagrant dismissal of human rights, indeed women’s rights.

What do you mean by the term ‘gender apartheid’, which you have used in interviews?

Women are segregated. There are signs that clearly state ‘Women are not allowed in.’ This is also true of men; signs prohibiting ‘single’ men from entering stores and restaurants. It seems that such segregation is also selective: the King himself, his sons, our half-brothers and half-sisters meet the opposite sex on several occasions, whether in private or public. Why should such restrictions be imposed on the populace, while the elite enjoy normal interactions with people regardless of gender. Such hypocritical behaviour and double standards are typical of the Saudi regime, which imposes its own version of Islam to subjugate women as well as the people. Confining them and restricting their thoughts and actions according to whim in the name of religion.

What do you think about the Right To Drive campaign and the work of Saudi women’s rights activists like Manal Al-Sharif, Waheja Al-Huwaider and Fawzi Al-Oyouni? (Manal was arrested for defying the ban on women driving in 2011, while Wajeha and Fawzia were jailed for 10 months in 2013 for the crime of ‘inciting a woman to defy her husband’s authority’)

I have a lot of respect for all these women and their fight for rights. I am however not selective in choosing a topic, such as driving, which only serves to limit our rights as women, indeed as a people. We deserve – women deserve – full rights. The right to drive becomes a given.

How do you think full rights can be achieved?

I call out to all women, especially activists in Arabia to unite and call for their human rights, enshrined in the Universal declaration of Human Rights. As the late, great, Madiba (Nelson Mandela) said, ‘There is no such thing as part freedom.’ There is definitely no such thing as part human rights.

We need collective work, unity, and a clear understanding of our own rights and freedoms. People around the world are coming together to fight injustice. We as a people deserve the same rights. Women throughout the world can join hands and support women in this country so they may finally be able to achieve their rights. Global support is needed; public opinion matters and people around the world could help by pressuring their own governments to stop tolerating Saudi flagrant violations of human rights, holding them to account.

What do you say to Western governments like Britain and the United States which support the Kingdom?

No Western country tolerates a family holding their daughters captive. News is rife with such stories and the consequences of these criminal acts are harsh jail sentences. Holding grown women captive and starving them is a flagrant crime that should not be tolerated by any civilised nation claiming to champion human rights. The Saudis have responded with their usual absurdities: “this is a private matter”. Can the West call this crime a private matter? If they can, then they have no right demanding certain countries to implement human rights while excluding Saudi, their own included. Laws in the West do not tolerate such crimes. We are as human as others, and as such deserve the same rights. We are resisting them, and we hope more people come out to express their opposition to the grave and flagrant Saudi human rights violations. Saudi is mocking the whole world, and it should not be allowed to do so.

Western governments cannot keep dismissing the rights of our women and our people. Safeguarding their own narrow interests at the expense of our people will backfire. This is a policy doomed to fail as history teaches us that people inevitably revolt when injustice becomes rampant. They need to reassess their stance. Standing against human rights will not serve their interests. On the contrary, it will harm them eventually. Everyone can win, if everyone decides to respect the rights of others. Nations that respect the wishes of their own people and those of the people in other nations can build mutual respect and understanding, serving the interests of all. We demand respect. It’s simple.

We have to stand with Charlie Hebdo – there is no other choice

FRANCE-ATTACKS-MEDIAMuch as a very large part of me wants to curl up and become a xenophobe and a religiphobe, I do not want to cloud my vision to what is actually going on.
The senseless and violent assassinations of 12 people, including the two policemen charged with security, at Charlie Hebdo in Paris today leaves all of us numb, with developing anger, sadness and a sense of impotence that no amount of throwing something at the wall will satisfy.
We all remember the Danish cartoons, the people who were killed, the movie made by Hirsi Ali and Van Gogh, the fatwa that sent Rushdie to America for safety, and other atrocious killings. We have witnessed beheadings by terrorists of harmless journalists and aid workers posted on the internet for all to see.

We are all aware of what is definitely an upsurge in Islam-related bombings, suicide bombings, stabbings and the appalling murder in full daylight of a soldier with the perpetrators sending their dreadful message on video tape while waving blood stained hands and machetes on air.

You can go onto YouTube and find video after video after video of Islamic would-bes if they could-bes ranting and raving about the immediate world domination by Islam and the beheadings of all those who refuse to submit to the religious edicts.

All these acts are aimed at creating a miasma of fear with the aim of subjection.

There are those who insist that European countries start to repel intended immigrants if they come from war-torn Arabic or African states. There have been incidents in The Netherlands, Denmark, France, the UK and so many other countries. Here is an image; an analysis of Islamic terrorism gleaned from 12 years data collection. I can’t attest to any accuracy, obviously. It is disturbing, none-the-less.

Distribution of Islamic terrorism using collected from 2001 to 2012

Distribution of Islamic terrorism using collected from 2001 to 2012

I have to say, to any reader not familiar with me, that I have a decided antipathy to any and all religion as it is practised, proselytised and imposed. Historically religion has dominated societies and we are still trying to shake ourselves and our societies free of religious shackles. Not an easy task. As secularism grows and has a greater voice in the media (and there are many media these days), the more insular, dogmatic and hard line religions fight back. They cross the line when they resort to murder, terrorism, mutilation, mass killings etc.
It is very easy to satirise Pat Robertson with his loopy Christianity, or any of the way over the top religious charlatans who fleece gullible people. Not so easy to relegate Islamic extremism to the asylum ward.
There is an enormous movement of Muslims into Europe – Europe that has seen bloody religious wars and has no stomach for them. But Europe is worried by the growing ant-Islamic sentiments venting there.

Any reading of the histories of any/all religions shows the intolerance and internecine flavour that attends them.
I have a friend who has, for years, eschewed criticism of religion partly because it goes nowhere. Just words. However today, he has posted an essay that Christopher Hitchens wrote for Slate in 2006 and I reproduce it in full here with the introduction by Slate on today’s atrocity:
The case for mocking religion

By Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens

On Wednesday, gunmen attacked the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12. The magazine was known for printing images of the prophet Mohammed, including the 2005 cartoons that originally ran in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, leading to widespread violence. In February 2006, Christopher Hitchens addressed that controversy in his inimitable way. His article is reprinted below:

As well as being a small masterpiece of inarticulacy and self-abnegation, the statement from the State Department about this week’s international Muslim pogrom against the free press was also accidentally accurate.

“Anti-Muslim images are as unacceptable as anti-Semitic images, as anti-Christian images, or any other religious belief.”

Thus the hapless Sean McCormack, reading painfully slowly from what was reported as a prepared government statement. How appalling for the country of the First Amendment to be represented by such an administration. What does he mean “unacceptable”? That it should be forbidden? And how abysmal that a “spokesman” cannot distinguish between criticism of a belief system and slander against a people. However, the illiterate McCormack is right in unintentionally comparing racist libels to religious faith. Many people have pointed out that the Arab and Muslim press is replete with anti-Jewish caricature, often of the most lurid and hateful kind. In one way the comparison is hopelessly inexact. These foul items mostly appear in countries where the state decides what is published or broadcast. However, when Muslims republish the Protocols of the Elders of Zion or perpetuate the story of Jewish blood-sacrifice at Passover, they are recycling the fantasies of the Russian Orthodox Christian secret police (in the first instance) and of centuries of Roman Catholic and Lutheran propaganda (in the second). And, when an Israeli politician refers to Palestinians as snakes or pigs or monkeys, it is near to a certainty that he will be a rabbi (most usually Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the leader of the disgraceful Shas party) and will cite Talmudic authority for his racism. For most of human history, religion and bigotry have been two sides of the same coin, and it still shows.

Therefore there is a strong case for saying that the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, and those who have reprinted its efforts out of solidarity, are affirming the right to criticize not merely Islam but religion in general. And the Bush administration has no business at all expressing an opinion on that. If it is to say anything, it is constitutionally obliged to uphold the right and no more. You can be sure that the relevant European newspapers have also printed their share of cartoons making fun of nuns and popes and messianic Israeli settlers, and taunting child-raping priests. There was a time when this would not have been possible. But those taboos have been broken.

Which is what taboos are for. Islam makes very large claims for itself. In its art, there is a prejudice against representing the human form at all. The prohibition on picturing the prophet—who was only another male mammal—is apparently absolute. So is the prohibition on pork or alcohol or, in some Muslim societies, music or dancing. Very well then, let a good Muslim abstain rigorously from all these. But if he claims the right to make me abstain as well, he offers the clearest possible warning and proof of an aggressive intent. This current uneasy coexistence is only an interlude, he seems to say. For the moment, all I can do is claim to possess absolute truth and demand absolute immunity from criticism. But in the future, you will do what I say and you will do it on pain of death.

I refuse to be spoken to in that tone of voice, which as it happens I chance to find “offensive.” (By the way, hasn’t the word “offensive” become really offensive lately?) The innate human revulsion against desecration is much older than any monotheism: Its most powerful expression is in the Antigone of Sophocles. It belongs to civilization. I am not asking for the right to slaughter a pig in a synagogue or mosque or to relieve myself on a “holy” book. But I will not be told I can’t eat pork, and I will not respect those who burn books on a regular basis. I, too, have strong convictions and beliefs and value the Enlightenment above any priesthood or any sacred fetish-object. It is revolting to me to breathe the same air as wafts from the exhalations of the madrasahs, or the reeking fumes of the suicide-murderers, or the sermons of Billy Graham and Joseph Ratzinger. But these same principles of mine also prevent me from wreaking random violence on the nearest church, or kidnapping a Muslim at random and holding him hostage, or violating diplomatic immunity by attacking the embassy or the envoys of even the most despotic Islamic state, or making a moronic spectacle of myself threatening blood and fire to faraway individuals who may have hurt my feelings. The babyish rumor-fueled tantrums that erupt all the time, especially in the Islamic world, show yet again that faith belongs to the spoiled and selfish childhood of our species.

As it happens, the cartoons themselves are not very brilliant, or very mordant, either. But if Muslims do not want their alleged prophet identified with barbaric acts or adolescent fantasies, they should say publicly that random murder for virgins is not in their religion. And here one runs up against a curious reluctance. … In fact, Sunni Muslim leaders can’t even seem to condemn the blowing-up of Shiite mosques and funeral processions, which even I would describe as sacrilege. Of course there are many millions of Muslims who do worry about this, and another reason for condemning the idiots at Foggy Bottom is their assumption, dangerous in many ways, that the first lynch mob on the scene is actually the genuine voice of the people. There’s an insult to Islam, if you like.

The question of “offensiveness” is easy to decide. First: Suppose that we all agreed to comport ourselves in order to avoid offending the believers? How could we ever be sure that we had taken enough precautions? On Saturday, I appeared on CNN, which was so terrified of reprisal that it “pixilated” the very cartoons that its viewers needed to see. And this ignoble fear in Atlanta, Ga., arose because of an illustration in a small Scandinavian newspaper of which nobody had ever heard before! Is it not clear, then, that those who are determined to be “offended” will discover a provocation somewhere? We cannot possibly adjust enough to please the fanatics, and it is degrading to make the attempt.

Second (and important enough to be insisted upon): Can the discussion be carried on without the threat of violence, or the automatic resort to it? When Salman Rushdie published The Satanic Verses in 1988, he did so in the hope of forwarding a discussion that was already opening in the Muslim world, between extreme Quranic literalists and those who hoped that the text could be interpreted. We know what his own reward was, and we sometimes forget that the fatwa was directed not just against him but against “all those involved in its publication,” which led to the murder of the book’s Japanese translator and the near-deaths of another translator and one publisher. I went on Crossfire at one point, to debate some spokesman for outraged faith, and said that we on our side would happily debate the propriety of using holy writ for literary and artistic purposes. But that we would not exchange a word until the person on the other side of the podium had put away his gun. (The menacing Muslim bigmouth on the other side refused to forswear state-sponsored suborning of assassination, and was of course backed up by the Catholic bigot Pat Buchanan.) The same point holds for international relations: There can be no negotiation under duress or under the threat of blackmail and assassination. And civil society means that free expression trumps the emotions of anyone to whom free expression might be inconvenient. It is depressing to have to restate these obvious precepts, and it is positively outrageous that the administration should have discarded them at the very first sign of a fight.

In the Wall Street Journal today there is this:

salman rushdieSalman Rushdie, whose book “The Satanic Verses” prompted Iran’s Ayatollah to issue a fatwa on him in 1989, responded to Wednesday’s shooting attack at the Paris offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. His statement:

“Religion, a mediaeval form of unreason, when combined with modern weaponry becomes a real threat to our freedoms. This religious totalitarianism has caused a deadly mutation in the heart of Islam and we see the tragic consequences in Paris today. I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”  –Salman

What to do about this stuff?? I don’t know. It is no use crying to ‘get rid of them’ from ‘our’ country(ies). The problems with terrorist Islam is not going to go away soon. Each incident has to be dealt with as it happens. The US has immigrants sign a paper stating they will not bring harm to the US or they face being deported. That still only works on an individual incident and perpetrator basis.

There is a lot of money brought into different countries from oil-rich Arabic and Islamic states. Populations have become dependent on the products that oil provides. There appears to be no political will to cut off potential political funding by taking any sort of strong stance on immigrants, even if there is a suspicion that said immigrant may be problematic.

Has anyone arrived at a logistical and reasonable solution to this seemingly growing problem of religio/political terrorism? Not a polemic but a solution that can be realistically implemented? In any case, I am with Rushdie and Hitchens – mock all religious stupidity, and tyranny. The pen has to be mightier than the sword. Well – more people can write and make cartoons than can wield the sword.

A Psychological Post-mortem of the Scottish Independence Debate

My thoughts about IndyRef are caught in the campaign rolled out by the unionists at the latest time – 2 days – when they thought they may lose Scotland.

I could do nothing but scorn their attempts because they did not sway me one iota. What they did do was lift my hypocrisy meter sky high and hyper-sensitive. My abiding disappointment is with the fear that swayed 5% of the Scots to vote against their self-interest. That saddens me more than anything else because no one can overcome fear except the feart.among us. Sigh!!

Fracking – not a good idea.


Let's Frack!

Let’s Frack!

There has been much hype, misinformation, anti-fracking rallies, business bullshit and economic justification, desire for more fuels and pure greed – otherwise known as the gold rush mentality – surrounding the unconventional natural gas extraction technology that it is difficult to see the woods for the trees.
I have watched a PBS America documentary about ‘fracking’. I had started off anyway with a gut feeling that fracking was not a good idea – digging into the earth’s crust for any number of metres has never seemed like a good idea to me. This documentary has not changed my mind but has given me a greater understanding of why it is not a good idea. Sure, the doco is basically anti-fracking and has to do with the US and Canada but the US is the country that has had the gungho go ahead approach and, it would seem, without sufficient research in the environmental effects of thousands of wells in areas, some of which are residential and urban, suburban or small townships. The doco cited some women talking about the wells being completed and vented while they were pregnant. The effect on the kiddies who were subsequently born seems to possibly be correlated with fracking activity in their residential area. That needs a citation!

As I said, there is a lot of hype – fracking has not been regulated or monitored by government agencies but has been left to the industry itself to regulate – never a good idea where profits are to be made.

The first thing is air quality – no government agency monitors this. Apparently there is not enough available dosh to do this. Methane is a colourless, odourless gas, relatively non-toxic but is about 22 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than is carbon dioxide. Phew! That helps to heat the environment. And the albedo effect merely exacerbates this. And the air quality is not monitored. This is irresponsible. Edit: This is from Wikipedia and talks of the exemptions in America with regard to various government and quasi-government agencies that regulate the oil and gas industries.

‘There are many exemptions for hydraulic fracturing under United States federal law: the oil and gas industries are exempt or excluded from several of the major federal environmental laws. These laws range from protecting clean water and air, to preventing the release of toxic substances and chemicals into the environment: the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, National Environmental Policy Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act, and the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act, commonly known as Superfund.’

What is most disturbing is the release of a mixture of organic compounds with the venting /flaming of methane. After 2015, new wells will be prevented from venting/flaming. The initial gas released will have to be collected and shipped where ?? Only 5 tonnes of organic compounds will be allowed to be wasted annually. It is a more expensive scenario (for the fracking company and its investors) than simply flaming the compounds into the atmosphere. But the restriction on new wells won’t extend to already existing wells. So they remain unmonitored and the public will have to rely on lobbying and demonstrating in an attempt to get companies to comply with emission standards. Edit: As time goes on and opposition to fracking starts to mount, there is bound to be regulatory bodies, not under the auspices of the oil and gas industries, that will develop better best practice codes including emissions and wastes. I should admit there are some regulations listed in Wikipedia here.

Cementing the pipes that are drilled down for about a couple of miles – maybe 10,000 feet – to try to halt any fracturing of those pipes has been partially successful in stopping leakage into the surrounding geological material. The stresses are caused by the weight of rock above and the disturbance of the fracturing process itself. According to the PBS doco, in Pennsylvania between 6.2% and 7% of wells are in violation of cementing standards and fracturing is apparent. This means leakage of the fracturing fluid, but more likely the methane and other components of the gases being collected are leaking through the shale into wherever – including water tables and natural water storage areas many metres above the horizontal pipeline. Once the well is completed, the injected fluids are withdrawn and the gas is allowed to travel up the pipes to the earth’s surface where it is initially vented and afterwards collected and compressed in pipelines for transport to distribution tanks. Well casing violations are dealt with in this article. Edit: There seems little reporting or monitoring is effected on wells. From another report:

‘For Pennsylvanians with natural gas wells on their land, chances are they won’t know if a safety violation occurs on their property. That’s because the state agency charged with regulating the wells — the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) — does not have to notify landowners if a violation is discovered. Even if landowners inquire about safety violations, DEP records are often too technical for the average person and incomplete.’

Now when I had a caesarean, it was because there was a 1.2% – 2% risk that my uterus would split under contractions and no doctor would allow me to have a natural birth. I would claim that 6.2% to 7% is far too high a risk to take with fracturing shale, potential earthquakes, subsidence, water and air pollution. The proper care of population is a lot more important than one woman being prevented from going into labour.

The other thing is that we know, or we should know, even though Scotland is rich in supplies of potable water, that this is a precious resource and we are fairly profligate in our usage. Fracking uses a massive amount of fresh water and its collection from water storage points is not regulated except by the fracking industry that needs it. This is not a good idea at all. Independent agencies ought to be monitoring water collection and usage. A fracking well, from beginning to completion, is going to use about 2 – 8 million litres of potable water. That potable water will be mixed with sand and chemicals including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene. These compounds are not known as goodniks for humans and some are ‘known’ to be carcinogenic. Besides, wells can be fracked a number of times, thus increasing the water and chemical usage. The salient point is that none, repeat none, of the contaminated waste water can ever be re-introduced into the water cycle. So we will be using up a precious resource that we can’t replenish. Smart move, eh?

What to do with all that water once the fracturing has been achieved and the pressure is reduced? Well, it was originally pumped out into the sea and other water ways but it became environmentally untenable. So open evaporation ponds were employed and the sludge was left to the atmosphere and any being accessing the surface of the dried pond. It must have been obvious that as a secondary treatment plant that idea was insupportable. So now the contaminated waste water is carted away and injected back into the ground at a great depth in order to sequester it. Remember this is what ‘they’ were going to do with carbon dioxide waste from coal power plants?
The big problem with trying to machinate, ie fracture yet again, the earth’s crust to pump waste materials underground is that, by increasing the volume underground, you also increase the potential for earthquakes. And that is what has happened. See Pennsylvania.

When coal was being mined in Scotland, I am led to believe (I wasn’t here) that subsidence occurred around some underground pits, especially around Glasgow. Well – why wouldn’t that happen? Prop up the pits, box in the horizontal underground trenches and blast/dig away. It is bound to fail sometime – another analogy with gold mines.

I used to be involved in blasting and digging 60 feet vertical mines down to shale and then tunnelling along horizontally trying to locate seams through the shale that contained the chemical impurities embedded in the silica that made the opal. I have a working knowledge on a small scale of what subsidence is and what tunnel roof falls can be. Subsidence isn’t necessarily a problem, but if there are hundreds of fracking mines in any one area, burrowing down a kilometre or so and then horizontally tracking through shale; then pumping millions of chemically treated water under pressure to entice the fracturing of deep geological layers to release their trapped gas; that pressure exerting more pressure on the walls of the pipe – even though encased in cement – then there is a potential for massive problems. And we don’t need it. Wind power is far, far better and worthy of investment.

The argument that home owners will not have any recourse is a normal one. I do not know of a country that allows the property owner any rights to any minerals that may be discovered under the land he thinks he has bought. I believe the depth of the land to be about 6 feet depending on any particular country.

I think our best bet is to fund renewables to the max and forget the use and necessary extraction of fossil fuels. I agree with Lawrence Krauss that India should stomp on its proposed increase in coal mining and burning up to 1 billion tonnes and start funding renewable energy sources. It won’t be cheap but neither is pumping CO2 into the atmosphere. That is likely to be fatal at a species level. And we are just another species relying on the 28% oxygen in our breathable air. Nitrogen in abundance will kill us and all other oxygen breathing species. Methane and Carbon dioxide in abundance will cook us and all other species. The choice is hard for me to work out. But I will be dead in a decade or so. My grandkiddies have to live in the future.

There is obviously more to this post – but I want to say what I want to say right now! I have problems trying to anticipate a future without us. But I am starting to accept that we have fucked it all up. And all other species will suffer and die because of our intransigence. That hurts. And it doesn’t endear me to my species. I could say ‘sorry’ but I think this planet is better off without us. We have not shown ourselves to be good and responsible caretakers of our environment. On the other hand we have shown ourselves to be greedy bastards and we deserve all we reap. No pity. I am sorry for other species. Vale.

Edit: I have probably not done enough research on this but it is an immense topic and becoming more contentious. Some bans are already in place. See this pdf.

Because of significant questions about health and pollution issues related to fracking, several countries have banned the use of fracking. Bulgaria [See: Photo I-16], France, Germany, and Ireland have banned all fracking operations. The Czech government is seriously considering a ban.’

There will be more.

Useful links – some are polemical. – This is current – ie. right now. Just how much was spewed into the atmosphere over the four days I don’t know. People have been allowed to return to their homes now.   – This is an informative and reasonably comprehensive article for those of us who are not technically trained.

This is new – reported from Ohio.


When Islam Breaks Down


This image from Church&State

This image from Church&State

This is a remarkably insightful article from City Post by Theodore Dalrymple. I have to share it here – I have not read such a comprehensive piece on Islam before. I hope that everyone reading this blog gets as much from this as I do. I read the following article on the Church and State site but it was first published in City Post – a quarterly review published by The Manhattan Institute.

Editor’s note: “When Islam Breaks Down” was named the best journal article of 2004 by David Brooks in the New York Times.

There are so many appropriate quotes to be taken from this article – I have chosen this one:

‘Is there an essential element that condemns the Dar al-Islam to permanent backwardness with regard to the Dar al-Harb, a backwardness that is felt as a deep humiliation, and is exemplified, though not proved, by the fact that the whole of the Arab world, minus its oil, matters less to the rest of the world economically than the Nokia telephone company of Finland?
I think the answer is yes, and that the problem begins with Islam’s failure to make a distinction between church and state. Unlike Christianity, which had to spend its first centuries developing institutions clandestinely and so from the outset clearly had to separate church from state, Islam was from its inception both church and state, one and indivisible, with no possible distinction between temporal and religious authority. Muhammad’s power was seamlessly spiritual and secular (although the latter grew ultimately out of the former), and he bequeathed this model to his followers. Since he was, by Islamic definition, the last prophet of God upon earth, his was a political model whose perfection could not be challenged or questioned without the total abandonment of the pretensions of the entire religion.’

If I were to continue from this quote, I would mention the intractable problems that Islam faces but Dalrymple has written so lucidly that his words are the ones to read.