Wikileaks.org is back up! Not a *huge* victory for freedom and common sense – but a victory nevertheless

On 3 December, we reported that you could no longer reach the Wikileaks site by using the wikileaks.org URL. Well, that is no longer the case: aim your browser at “http://wikileaks.org” and you get rerouted to http://mirror.wikileaks.info/ – one of the many, many mirrors that sprouted after the USA’s clumsy efforts to limit free speech. Not a major victory by any means. But a victory nevertheless.
In other (Wikileaks/Assange-related) news: Julian Assange is still in prison even though he was granted bail yesterday. The Swedish prosecutors have appealed against the bail ruling, claiming that he would pose a major flight risk. I’m not sure how the Swedes think he’ll flee: Assange’s face must be one of the best known in border security circles, plus they have his passport… but as things stand, he must remain in HMP Wandsworth for at leat another couple of days while this judicial circus runs its course.
This case is highlighting the problems with the new European arrest warrant system. Usually, it is only possible to extradite someone if the crime he’s accused of is also a crime in the country he’s “hiding” in. As far as I can tell, Assange’s alleged crimes are not illegal in Britain (what the Swedes call “rape” and “sexual molestation” are very different to the UK’s definitions – I believe one of the charges relates to Assange refusing to use a condom; the complainant admits that the sex was consensual, so how in hell can this be called a crime? He didn’t force her to have unprotected sex).
Anyway, a blog like this one is not really a good place to discuss the intricacies of Swedish law. But what I will say is this: Sweden has got very accommodating rendition agreements with the USA. If Assange is extradited to Sweden, it won’t be long before he ends up in America. And if you look at what politicians are saying about Assange it’s pretty clear he won’t receive a free trial and he’ll end up on a slab.
But do these people really believe that Assange is Wikileaks? The leaks will continue, regardless of his fate. All that will happen is that Assange’s colleagues will improve their security and anonymity. Killing (or imprisoning) Assange will not kill Wikileaks. And all politicians need to beware: if they treat Assange like a piece of shit, the leaks will become more and more damaging to the so-called “liberal” European “democracies” who are currently baying for his blood. So watch out, fools: the day of reckoning is nearly upon us… and you.
UPDATE: I just noticed this, a page that lists the very many sites that are mirroring Wikileaks in an attempt to stop the authorities ever again closing them down. Well, when I say “stop”, I actually mean “make it very difficult”. The USA has already demonstrated the length of its reach. But when Wikileaks is mirrored in a huge number of countries, some of whom dislike America intensely, the job of censorship becomes much more difficult.
There’s also info on the page about how you too can mirror Wikileaks on your web server. I say go for it! I think it’s about time that the USA learned what “democracy” actually means: rule by the people for the people; not rule by a bunch of rich geezers on behalf of their billionaire buddies. Or is my dictionary out of date?

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How to search the internet 4: Understanding search engine results

This is the fourth part of my guide on how to search the internet. Part 1 is here, part 2 is here, and part 3 is here. Part 5, about using “advanced operators” is here.
So you’ve used Google or some other web search engine, following the tips I’ve given you in this little series, and you’ve been confronted with “results” that don’t actually seem to be any help whatsoever. And it’s true, often Google comes across as an incomprehensible joke designed to make you feel bad. But don’t fret: Google (and its kind) really don’t want you to run screaming; they want you to use the results to find what it is you’re looking for. Unfortunately, this may involve having to learn a thing or two about how Google works. It may be scary-looking at first glance, but really Google want you to find their results pages easily to comprehend. They want you to return to Google.com every time you want help in finding what you want. It can be a rather intimidating interface the first time you look at a results page: but it is all pretty simple really. You just need to know how to understanding the reams of info Google throws at you. Hopefully, this 4th part of my guide will make it all seem far easier.
First thing first: very often Google will offer you a list of sponsored results that may give you what you’re looking for; but if you click on a sponsored link you will be putting money in Mr Google’s pocket and chances are that link will be useless. Forget the sponsored links: go for the meat and potatoes in the list of real links.
Look at the search results; very often you will find other kinds of info alongside those results. Stuff like:
Suggested spelling corrections: Google may think you typed in your query incorrectly. If you’re no good at spelling, this can be a life-saver. But if you know damn well you typed your query correctly, forget this option;
Dictionary definitions: Are you actually searching for the word/s you mean to search for? Maybe you are, maybe you’re not. Think about it. Spelling can be a right tricky operation;
Cached pages: Google carries a huge number of pages that are not currently up to date. Maybe one of those cached pages may contain the info you need. Worth checking if regular searches are turning up sweet F-all;
Similar pages: Often Google won’t find a page that contains the precise info you want, but it has algorithms to turn up similar results. Have a look at them, you’ve nothing to lose really…;
News headlines: A webpage dealing with your query might be hard to find, but it’s often easier for Google to find news stories on related material. And these news stories may well include links to more relevant info. This can save you a bunch of time searching for that little nugget of info that will give you what you want. Remember: news stories are updated frequently, whereas a static page may never be more relevant. Use those options;
Product search: You want to know something about a particular project name. So search for that project name, add a bit of info on what the product can/is meant to do, and see what turns up. This approach works a lot more than you might think;
Translation: So what you want isn’t available in your mother tongue. But it may well be out there for speakers of other languages. Just think: if you are looking for info on a product released by a Portugese company, what makes you think that info will be in English? Search Portugese sites, using Google’s Translation feature or the other translators offered by search services. These translators are often pretty crap; but at least it’ll give you a good idea of what’s what;
Do book searches: Useful info may not yet be available in articles, but books often contain useful stuff. So it can often be a good idea to do a book search;
Cached pages: When a web page is undergoing a lot of changes, clicking on a Google link to a page might take you to the latest version of that page, which may be missing information that was presented some time before. Sometimes, these changes can happen frequently, so a Google link will not take you to the info that the search results first suggested.
Fortunately, Google will often cache an earlier version of the page. So, let’s say a particular page yesterday contained the info you want; but you go to today’s version of the page no longer holds that info. A problem? Not necessarily. Next to the Google link to the updated page will be a link to a [i]cached[/i] version of the page; basically, a version of the page that Google downloaded and cached before the important info was removed. So you click to navigate to the cached page, and you will find the info as it was before it got removed. Google’s system of caching certain pages helps ensure that the history of the web is respected to a certain extent.
If you want to download a version of a page that existed longer ago (several weeks, or months, maybe even years) you can go to [b]The Wayback Machine[/b] at archive.org. This is a project to archive internet sites the way they were in the past, so the current generation’s “now now now” attitude doesn’t drive the history of internet sites into oblivion. [b]The Wayback Machine[/b] doesn’t promise to archive the internet of the past forever; but it is a very useful project that has a multitude of potential uses. Archive.org, like most such projects, is run by volunteers and is always in need of financial support, as well as more practical support such as providing servers. I’d advise anyone who finds such projects very useful to contribute even just a few dollars.
There’s a lot of info on how to understand Google results, and how to configure the way Google works to it gives you the info you want and hopefully protects your privacy, here: http://www.googleguide.com/category/understanding-results/http://www.googleguide.com/category/understanding-results/. I really advise anyone who’s seriously into using Google as best they can to check out this info. Google really is one of the best resources available online… and it’s free! Let’s make the most of it while we can! Before the goddamn Man tries to take it away from us!

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Is Hamas a terrorist organization? Funnily enough: no.

My recent post on the documentary film “Children of Gaza” has provoked a couple of comments from someone calling him/herself “Facts First” (both to the post referred to above and an earlier one also about the Israel-Palestine conflict). While “Facts First” is most eloquent in his/her support for Israel and dismissal of Hamas, he/she has basically restated the US and Israeli position that Hamas is a terrorist organization and has no legitimacy as a government. This has persuaded me that I need to state the truth about Hamas’ legitimacy both in the Palestinian territories and the wider world.
In 2006, Hamas beat its opposition party Fatah in a free and fair election. This resulted in Hamas forming a government with Fatah. Unfortunately, supporters of both parties continued to fight each other.
As well as this factional conflict, Hamas’ position as a legitimate government partner was undermined by the USA and EU’s refusal to recognize a government that contained Hamas – their view is that Hamas is a terrorist organization and therefore unqualified to govern.
Matters came to a head when Fatah seized control of the West Bank territory and Hamas did the same in the Gaza Strip. Israel and Egypt, with US and EU support, then imposed a political, economic and humanitarian blockade on the Gaza Strip, again because Hamas is a terrorist organization.
Many critics of Hamas, including the US, the EU and “Facts First” make much of Hamas’ terrorist status. They tend to claim that Hamas’ status as a terrorist organization is a fact.
They are wrong. It is simply their opinion that Hamas are terrorists. There is an equal argument that Hamas is a legitimate political party qualified to govern the Palestinian territories.
For instance the Council on Foreign Relations says of Hamas:

Is Hamas only a terrorist group?
No. In addition to its military wing, the so-called Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigade, Hamas devotes much of its estimated $70-million annual budget to an extensive social services network. Indeed, the extensive social and political work done by Hamas – and its reputation among Palestinians as averse to corruption – partly explain its defeat of the Fatah old guard in the 2006 legislative vote. Hamas funds schools, orphanages, mosques, healthcare clinics, soup kitchens, and sports leagues. “Approximately 90 percent of its work is in social, welfare, cultural, and educational activities,” writes the Israeli scholar Reuven Paz. The Palestinian Authority often fails to provide such services, and Hamas’s efforts in this area—as well as a reputation for honesty, in contrast to the many Fatah officials accused of corruption—help to explain the broad popularity it summoned to defeat Fatah in the PA’s recent elections.

Although the USA, the EU, Israel, Canada, Japan and others call Hamas a terrorist organization, there is not an international consensus on this matter. The United Kingdom and Australia consider Hamas’ independent military wing, the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, to be terroristic, but accept that Hamas does have legitimacy. Norway is resolute in its position of recognizing Hamas as a legitimate party, and Russia also refuse to regard Hamas as terroristic because Hamas was elected democratically.
Considering the above facts, one has to wonder what exactly Israel was trying to achieve when it attacked Gaza in Operation Cast Lead, and with its ongoing blockade on the region. Israel claims its goal is to remove Hamas’ ability to operate as a terrorist organization. But this has involved the destruction of civil infrastructure in Gaza, including police stations, prisons, power and water supplies, roads, communications, commerce – and hospitals, schools and residential buildings have also been attacked. This all looks like an attempt to destroy Hamas’ ability to provide the services mentioned by the Council on Foreign Relations in the passage quoted earlier – and as no one else can provide those services, this means Israel is trying to destroy Gaza as a functional territory. Exactly who are the terrorists in this scenario?
“Facts First” has criticized my use of Wikipedia as a source of information on this subject. And I’m well aware of Wikipedia’s problems. But I think the article on Hamas is well researched, with a large and diverse number of references, and is very balanced in its presentation of the facts. In fact, I believe it is the article’s thoroughness and neutrality that makes “Facts First” dislike it so much – he/she would prefer to use US or even Israeli sources of information instead as they are more likely to present the “facts” the way he/she likes to see them. But don’t take my word on the Wikipedia’s Hamas article’s balance and thoroughness – read it and decide for yourself. And please, feel free to comment here on what has been said (and also what has not been said). All I ask is that you take “Facts First’s” pseudonym as advice: let’s stick to the facts rather than deal in opinion. And I contend that one simple fact is: Hamas is not a terrorist organization just because some governments think that’s so.

You are now entering the United Kingdom: No Smoking!

Monday 1 February 2010
Unbelievable! First the British government banned smoking inside… now they want to ban smoking outside!
To be precise: they want to ban people smoking outside the entrances to public buildings. The health secretary Andy Burnham favours such a ban to prevent non-smokers having to walk through clouds of smoke. This is part of a wider attempt by Burnham to “improve public health”. According to the Guardian:

He will set out four principles where he says intervention is justified: where it protects the health of children, where a person’s choice affects the choices of others, where barriers need to be removed to allow people to behave healthily, and where the environment can be shaped to offer healthier lifestyles.

He wants to cut the number of people in Britain who smoke to 10% of the population. Another move he is considering is banning “distinctive wrapping” from cigarette packets and insisting they are sold in plain brown packets instead. He also wants to ban cigarette vending machines and launch a renewed crackdown on the sale of blackmarket tobacco.
He claims this isn’t “nanny-statism” – but I think this is something worse. It’s a direct attack on individual rights in the same of some vague notion of “the public good”. Okay, he isn’t proposing banning smoking in private premises. Yet. But I can see that coming. He’s already said intervention is justified to protect children’s health. So how long will it be before he bans parents from smoking in their own homes “to protect the children”? He’s already got backing for a ban on smoking in cars containing children from the UK Faculty of Public Health and doctors’ leader Professor Steve Field, who called it “a form of child abuse”. This emotive language is designed to inflame public opinion – after all, who doesn’t want to stop child abuse?
No doubt some of you will say I’m spouting nonsense, that he is not eroding our individual rights. But I don’t see how you can even doubt it. Ten years ago no one would have believed that smoking would be banned in all pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants. Yet here we are. Now he’s pushing the ban a little further; and he’s got sock-puppets like Prof Field saying parents who smoke near their children are as bad as pedophiles. In a few more years, if he gets the publicity campaign right, more people will find themselves agreeing with Field – and of course he’ll get the publicity right, that’s what the Labour government are especially good at. And then he’ll make smoking illegal. Mark my words!
Some of you will say: “So what? Smoking’s a filthy habit. You should give up, for the children’s good if not your own.” Well, when I hear the phrase “for the children”, I want to reach for my ciggies. Leave me alone, health Nazis!

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Countless Americans claim asylum in Britain from US government persecution

Monday 25 January 2010
Okay, so maybe I was exaggerating when I said “countless” Americans are claiming political asylum in the UK. Actually, between 2004 and 2008, 45 US citizens claimed asylum in Britain, claiming they were being persecuted by their government.
The UK Home Office released this info after a Freedom of Information request by the Guardian newspaper. Between 2004 and 2008 there were 132,640 asylum claims made in the UK, according to government statistics. 45 were made by Americans, and 15 came from Canadian citizens. The Home Office refused to reveal the reasons for asylum requests, but a source within the US government suggested that the US requests were made by self-declared “political refugees” claiming persecution by the Bush administration. Applications from the US peaked in 2008, the final year of George Bush’s presidency, when 15 Americans submitted asylum claims. All 60 North American claims were refused – again, the Home Office refused to divulge why they were refused, claiming that a manual search of records to collect the information would take too long.
Maybe you think 45 claims over 4 years isn’t a huge number. But remember: these are just the claims for asylum made in the UK. How many other US citizens have sought refuge in other countries? It would be extremely difficult to collate world-wide information. But I think it’s reasonable to assume that if the UK, America’s biggest ally, received 45 claims for asylum from Americans, other countries probably received many more.
Liza Schuster, an asylum expert from the department of sociology at City University in London, quoted in the Guardian article, suggested another reason to believe these figures are just the tip of the iceberg. She said:

“I don’t know the details of those cases, but assume the US citizens are deserting before being sent to somewhere like Afghanistan. With the Canadians I’m really not sure. It is, as is clear from the numbers, pretty unusual – if only because it is relatively easy for those people to leave their countries and settle elsewhere. Why not just apply for a work visa and renew and then apply for leave to remain?
“As someone who would not find admission to European countries too difficult, it would only make sense to claim asylum if you feared extradition back to Canada or the US, or if there was some reason you might be refused entry. It is interesting – I’d be curious to know more – not least because in spite of what the law books say, granting asylum is a criticism of the originating state.”

On various online forums, people claiming to be American refugees have outlined their cases. One Texan hoping to be allowed sanctuary in Scotland claimed he had been “persecuted as a political dissident against US government war-mongering”.
This really does raise some important questions. For one, there’s the question of how many Americans in total have felt the need to seek political asylum abroad. And why have they sought asylum? Why are citizens of “the land of the free” running away from a country whose constitution allegedly grants them “undeniable rights”? Is American democracy actually no better than the brand of “democracy” on offer in Russia, China, Saudi Arabia?

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