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Criminal investigation of MH17 tragedy – where is it at?

I thought this der Spiegel interview with Fred Westerbeke about the ongoing criminal investigation of the MH17 tragedy could be of interest. Especially as I have been accused of ignoring the “official version” of the incident.

At least this investigator is relatively open-minded – although I am concerned at the time the investigation is taking and the fact that even now they are only “preparing a request for assistance” from the Russian Federation about their radar records, and “remain in contact with the United States to get satellite images.” I would have thought these would be acted on much earlier.

Fred Westerbeke, born in 1962, directs the Dutch public prosecutor, the Department for investigations of terrorism and organized crime at home and abroad. He is coordinating the criminal processing in the MH17 case. As part of a joint investigation Commission (JIT) Malaysia, Australia and the Ukraine are also involved in it.

I have relied on Google Translate so please excuse the inevitable quaintness of the result.


Fred Westerbeke

 Der Spiegel interviews Fred Westerbeke from the Dutch Department for investigations of terrorism and organized crime at home and abroad.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Mr. Westerbeke, your job as chief prosecutor sounds hardly solvable: MH17 flight was shot down over a civil war zone, even now, three months later, your crime scene investigator for is not available. What gives you hope someday to be able to bring someone to court?

Westerbeke: The Netherlands does not determine in the case so alone. There is a very good cooperation with police and prosecutors, especially in Malaysia, Australia and the Ukraine. BTW, we can gain a lot of experience with similar cases, in connection with the genocide in Rwanda, for example, or with war crimes in Afghanistan. Also there you will find hardly any witnesses, no written documents that could be used as evidence. So As to your question: It is not easy. But we can do it.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In what period of time?

Westerbeke: Look at Lockerbie …

SPIEGEL ONLINE: … the bombing of a Pan Am jumbo in December 1988 with 270 deaths.

Westerbeke: At that time, it took three years before you could name those responsible. I do not mean that it will take a long time just as in MH17 flight, but it takes a long breath. We will certainly need the whole next year for our work, and perhaps even longer.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The Federal Intelligence Service BND assumes that pro-Russian separatists have shot down the machine with a surface to air missile. Recently some German parliamentarians corresponding satellite images were presented. Do you know these recordings?

Westerbeke: Unfortunately, we do not know to what images it involved concrete. The problem is that there are very many different satellite images: Some of them can be found on the Internet, others come from foreign intelligence agencies.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: High-resolution images, for example from US spy satellites could play a crucial role in the investigation of the case. Did you get those shots of the Americans?

Westerbeke: We are not sure if we already have everything, or whether there are more – material that may be even more specific. What we present is certainly not enough to draw any conclusions. We remain in contact with the United States to get satellite images.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: The shooting down of flight MH17 is the biggest criminal case in the history of your country, it says. How many investigators are currently working?

Westerbeke: In the Netherlands alone there are ten prosecutors. Three of them coordinate the investigation, two work at the international level. Two more are responsible for the care of relatives. In addition, forensic experts, also around 80 policemen. There are regular meetings with colleagues from Malaysia, Australia and the Ukraine, to divide the work.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Because being fought at the crash site again and again, was so far none of your investigators on site, about to collect debris. But that would be important only to determine the weapon system used. On which tracks you rely instead?

Westerbeke: There are metal fragments that were found in the bodies of the dead and in pieces of luggage. This could be shrapnel from a rocket-Buk, possibly also parts of the aircraft itself. We analyze this, so far there are no results. We also have some witnesses who were on the spot immediately after the crash. In the Internet we spot an immense amount of information, we also various recordings of telephone conversations before, which has recorded the Ukrainian police. Some of it is already available online, but we did get richer material.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: So far, there is no indisputable evidence?

Westerbeke: Yes. If you look in the newspapers, however, it always looks as if quite clear what happened to the aircraft and who is to blame. But if we really want to bring the perpetrators to justice or, we need evidence and more than a recorded phone call from the internet or photos of the crash site. That’s why we not only attract a scenario into consideration, but several.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: What are the scenarios?

Westerbeke: first we have drawn four possible explanations considered for the crash of Flight MH17: An accident, a terrorist attack, the shooting down by a surface to air missile or an attack by another aircraft. After the publication of the interim report by the Dutch Security OVV …

SPIEGEL ONLINE: … where the crash is attributed to a variety of fast flying objects that have riddled the outside of the machine …

Westerbeke: … fall off the accident and the terror scenario. The other two remain.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Moscow circulated for some time, the version, the passenger plane had been shot down by a Ukrainian fighter jet. Do you think it possible?

Westerbeke: Based on the available information, the launch is by a ground-to-air missile in my eyes is still the most likely scenario. But we do not close our eyes to the possibility that it might have been different.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the OVV report states that there were no military jets in the vicinity have been.

Westerbeke: Right. But this statement is based on information that was available at the time the OVV. The question is: Do the Russians possibly more?

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Your Prime Minister Mark Rutte has recently criticized Vladimir Putin because of his lack of support in the MH17 case. What is the role of Russia in the investigation?

Westerbeke: At the moment, no large, since it is not part of the investigation team. We are preparing a request for assistance, in which we ask Moscow to information that could be important for us. Among other things, those radar data with which the Russians wanted to prove the presence of a Ukrainian military jet near MH17 after the crash.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: If you actually draw the participation of the Ukrainian Air Force on firing of flight MH17 into consideration – is it not absurd that Ukraine is involved in the investigation?

Westerbeke: Of course that’s a problem. But we can not determine without them. I want a way to make it clear: We have no evidence that Kiev would not handle completely open with us. You give us all the information we want.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: In the eastern Ukraine, the winter is coming. Is there any chance that it still create your investigators this year at the crash site?

Westerbeke: At the moment I do not think the right thing. It is there still very dangerous. Therefore, we work with the OVV on a plan B – if we can not get to the crash site itself, we need the debris just brought here by other means.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Suppose there is actually one day to the process – where would the place?

Westerbeke: With a possible process we now deal not us. We first want to spend all resources to find those responsible for this crime. If you however ask the Netherlands, we would certainly ready to make those suspected of committing the process here.

SPIEGEL ONLINE: Unknown have been entered in the case MH17 about a German private investigator $ 30 million bounty. Will you also, launch a reward?

Westerbeke: So something is done more often in complicated cases. But currently we have no intention and it will certainly never go to 30 million. Incidentally, I caution anyone from making transactions with these people: No one knows who they are and what intentions they pursue.

See also:
MH17 prosecutor open to theory another plane shot down airliner: Der Spiegel
MH17 might have been shot down from air – chief Dutch investigator — RT News

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Accidental Renaissance – or intuition?

Rada-fight

Saw this photo on the Guardian – see Accidental Renaissance: the photos that look like Italian paintings. The author says:

“Currently doing the rounds on Twitter is the image below, taken from Facebook by artist James Harvey, whose tweet has been shared thousands of times. It depicts one of the fairly frequent brawls in Ukrainian parliament which, while undoubtedly ugly to fans of democracy and national stability, is beautiful on a purely aesthetic level.”

I can appreciate the good composition in the photo even without the description of it’s adherence to the Fibonacci spiral. But I am happy with the description if this sort of photo as a happy accident:

“A court photographer obviously didn’t have the kind of time Michelangelo did to compose his image, but its serendipity makes it even more magical. The hands that swarm in at the edges of the photograph give it a weirdly Renaissance quality too: in those paintings, hands do so much of the emotional heavy lifting – they supplicate, pray, and constantly reach for the divine.”

I think that composition comes naturally to an experienced and good photographer. They might not be consciously thinking about Fionacci spirals or the golden ratio but years of practice helps them recognise good composition and the “right moment” to push the shutter.

Let’s give the photographer some credit and attribute the results to intuition based on years of experience rather than a happy accident or serendipity.

Informed parents know water fluoridation is good for their children

Paul Connett is at it again. His latest project is aimed at manipulating the natural concern parents have for their children. He is using crude fear-mongering in the hope of getting parents to come out against community water fluoridation (CWF) – a social health policy known to be both effective and safe (see Calling All Parents).

zeditorial-parent-child

Image credit: Golisano Children’s Hospital

Sensible parents need to keep well away from this nonsense. If you have read his “statement” I offer instead the advice below as a counter to Connett’s rubbish. It is important for parents to learn the truth about this safe and effective social health policy so they can work together to counter attacks on it from ideologically motivated political activists like Connett.


1) Natural is not necessarily safe and “Nature” did not have “intentions for us.” Yes, mothers’ milk is low in fluoride, but it can also be deficient in other beneficial or essential trace elements. A brief scan of the scientific literature shows breast-fed children are prone to several microelement deficiencies. For example, Kodama (2004) and Domellöf, et al (2004) report deficient levels of zinc, selenium and iron in breast milk. Supplementation of breast-fed infants with micronutrients, including fluoride, is sometimes recommended.

2) Mild or very mild dental fluorosis is the only know negative effect of community water fluoridation. It is usually just cosmetic and often only noticed by a dental professional. Severe dental fluorosis is very uncommon in NZ, USA and most of Europe, but is usually caused by high fluoride intake from natural sources (eg in China or India), industrial pollution, consumption of fluoridated toothpaste, etc. Opponents of CWF often quote data for the common occurrence of mild dental fluorosis – but then describe it (or illustrate with photos) as if it were severe. See Dental fluorosis: badly misrepresented by FANNZ for an example of this misrepresentation.

3) CWF will not harm your child’s brain. Connett’s scare-mongering claims of CWF reducing the IQ of children are based on a selection of brief reports from areas of high natural fluoride in drinking water (Chio et al 2012). These are not relevant to CWF (Choi and Grandjean 2012). The reports are of poor scientific quality – mostly ignoring confounding factors like lead intake, breast-feeding and education which are known to influence IQ (National Fluoride Information Service 2013; Broadbent et al 2014). These reports also use data from naturally high fluoride areas in China and Iran where skeletal fluorosis and severe dental fluorosis are a problem.  More detailed studies at the lower concentrations used in CWF have not found any connections between CWF and IQ levels (Whitford et al 2009; Broadbent et al 2014).

4) There is ample evidence fluoridation is beneficial to your child’s teeth. This is not surprising because fluoride is a natural and normal constituent of the bioapatites your teeth and bones are formed from. At optimum concentrations it strengthens them and helps prevent their corrosion by acidic foods, etc. Be wary of anti-fluoridation propagandists claims of studies showing no beneficial effects of CWF. These usually refer to situations where children receive other forms of fluoride such as fluoride oral rinses, fluoridated salt or milk, or topical fluoride varnish dental applications. Some propagandist also attempt to claim that the general improvement of oral health in developed countries in recent years without CWF “proves” it is ineffective. This improvement arises from improved diet and personal dental hygiene as well as improved care by dentists. These positive effects are usually in addition to the benefits of CWF and this becomes obvious when communities with and without CWF are compared in the same country.

5) Fluoride in water and food, as well as that in toothpaste, is beneficial . Development of permanent and baby teeth occurs in the first 4 years of life. Incorporation of optimum amounts of fluoride into the tooth enamel at this stage, even before teeth erupt, helps reduce tooth decay throughout life. Even after tooth eruption the existing teeth benefit from the fluoride which transfers to saliva from food and water. This helps to maintain a concentration of fluoride in saliva which reduces the demineralisation of the tooth surface by acid derived from acid food and drink and from bacterial action on carbohydrates. It also helps the remineralisation of the tooth enamel as the acid concentration in saliva reduces with time. The beneficial role of fluoride with existing teeth is mainly due to this surface, or topical, effect. However, fluoride concentrations in saliva decrease rapidly with time so CWF is important because regular consumption helps to maintain concentrations. Consequently CWF supplements brushing teeth with fluoridated toothpaste which, by itself, cannot maintain concentrations through the day.

The beneficial effects of CWF results from both ingestion (particularly during tooth development in young children) and maintenance of an effective concentration of fluoride in saliva protecting existing teeth against decay throughout life.

CWF is a proven safe and effective social health policy. It works for everyone because it doesn’t need individuals to remember to use mouth-rinses, take supplements or make applications to their teeth. Once in place we can forget about it and it still works.

For these reasons parents should support community water fluoridation. They should also be very wary of ideologically driven activists who use scare-mongering and misinformation to raise fears. Parents naturally have their child’s best interests at heart. Unscrupulous activists can take advantage of that. But informed parents can protect themselves from emotive propaganda.

Informed parents will reject Paul Connett’s latest fear-mongering campaign.

References

Broadbent, J. M., Thomson, W. M., Ramrakha, S., Moffitt, T. E., Zeng, J., Foster Page, L. A., & Poulton, R. (2014). Community Water Fluoridation and Intelligence: Prospective Study in New Zealand. American Journal of Public Health.

Choi AL, Grandjean LC (2012). Harvard Press Release: Statement on fluoride paper.

Choi, A. L., Sun, G., Zhang, Y., & Grandjean, P. (2012). Developmental fluoride neurotoxicity: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Environmental Health Perspectives, 120(10), 1362–1368. Retrieved from

Domellöf, M., Lönnerdal, B., Dewey, K. G., Cohen, R. J., & Hernell, O. (2004). Iron, zinc, and copper concentrations in breast milk are independent of maternal mineral status. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 79(1), 111–5. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14684406

Kodama, H. (2004). Trace Element Deficiency in Infants and Children — Clinical practice —. Journal of the Japan Medical Association, 47(8), 376–381.

National Fluoride Information Service. (2013). NFIS Advisory A review of recent literature on potential effects of CWF programmes on neurological development and IQ attainment.

Whitford, G. M., Whitford, J. L., & Hobbs, S. H. (2009). Appetitive-based learning in rats: lack of effect of chronic exposure to fluoride. Neurotoxicology and Teratology, 31(4), 210–5.

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Putting vaccination risks into context

Picked this graphic up on Facebook last night.

Some people seem hesitant to discuss vaccination in the comments so hopefully this gives them the excuse they need.

Really drives the message home, doesn’t it?

Fluoride – friend or foe: a lecture

A quick announcement for Waikato readers.

The Hamilton fluoride referendum deadline is next weekend. If you are still trying to decide how to vote, or just want to get more information on fluoride, this would be a great lecture for you.

It is next Tuesday evening, at Waikato University. One of the Current Issues lecture series organised by the Waikato Branch of the Royal Society of New Zealand.

Everyone is welcome.  Here are the details:

Fluoride – friend or foe

Dr Graham Saunders, Senior Lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry, Waikato University.

Room L.G.01, Gate 1, Waikato University

Tuesday October 8, 2013, at 7.30 pm.

Fluoride is the small ion that is grabbing attention at the moment. For the synthetic chemist it is plagued by contradiction: Aggressive when naked, but docile when wet. It is responsible for fluorosis, but also endows teeth with resistance to decay.

The talk will present:

  •  The chemistry of fluoride
  • The reasons for its harmful and beneficial properties
  • How fluoride is introduced to water
  • The misconceptions and misinformation.

Graham Saunders is a graduate of Oxford University. He has a research background in fluorine chemistry spanning over two decades. His past work has included using highly reactive fluoride compounds, fluorine gas, and making additives for water treatment. His current research interests include breaking extremely strong carbon―fluorine bonds and using the unique properties of the fluorine atom for highly water repellent surfaces.

Room L.G.01 is in L block. Entry is easiest through either Gate 1 on Knighton Rd or Gate 8 on Hillcrest Rd. A campus map is available at http://www.waikato.ac.nz/contacts/map.pdf. There is no charge for this event.

See also:

Similar articles on fluoridation
Making sense of fluoride Facebook page
Fluoridate our water Facebook page
New Zealanders for fluoridation Facebook page

Talking sense about morality

Here’s a great blog post by Jerry Coyne outlining a scientific approach to morality (see How should we be moral?: Three papers and a good book) it gives a summary of his current ideas and a reading list of papers and a book which have influenced him.

I go along with Jerry’s conclusions but I would add a couple of things  to his summary:

  1. I agree that there is no such thing a objective morality – but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. I think we can show an objective basis for morality. We can understand how some of our values have an objective basis (others may not) and this is important in our evaluation of moral codes.
  2. I think we should extend our understanding of an instinctual morality model (as opposed to a rational one) beyond the simple proposition of an evolutionary origins of our instincts. We need to see that the instincts or intuitions driving our moral feelings or emotions can also develop, or evolve, via cultural mechanisms. I think this is important to understanding of the moral zeitgeist, the way that our moral codes tend to change over time.

An objective basis for morality?

There is a difference between objective morality – which implies some sort of moral truth existing independently of humanity – and objectively based morality. This latter implies that there is a basis for our morality – the nature of our species – which means that we generally come to the same moral conclusions. Our morality is not just a matter of personal choice.

I see the simplest basis of morality in the simple facts of life itself. Living organisms, even the most primitive, have the property of valuing life and its continuation. Without this basic biological value such organisms would not survive and reproduce. Just imagine a simple organism which ignored indications of nutrients in its environment and had no ability, or “desire,” to reproduce. Natural selection would soon have put paid to it.

While initial organisms may have had simple physical and chemical mechanisms putting biological value into effect evolution eventually led to development of neuronal structures and brains. Biological value could be expressed as instincts and emotions.

Evolution of social animals provided requirements for a finer structure to biological value. The interactions between organisms became more important and this finer structure became represented in the instincts and emotions of social animals – including humans.

Long story short – I see an objective basis for human morality in human nature itself. The fact that we are a sentient, intelligent, conscious, social and empathetic species.

Hijacking human instinct

Of course, there is not necessarily a direct line between our evolved instincts, objectively based in biological and social value, and the morality we profess.  Jonathan Haidt described his useful theory of foundational moral values in his recent book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (see my review in Human morality is evolving). While some of our moral codes related to life, care, harm and well-being are related to foundational human values involved with life and its survival – biological and social value – others are not. Or at least they are driven by instincts which have been hijacked. For example instincts of purity may well be related to survival and life, but moral codes related to sacredness, racial superiority and religious purity (unrelated to life and survival) rely on the hijacking of such instincts.

So while I assert that there is an objective basis for some of our morality – especially that related to life, care, harm and well-being –  some of our morality may well not have a genuine objective basis, even though it utilises basic human instincts.

Moral learning and moral zeitgeist

A simple instinctive model of morality, relying on evolved instincts and not conscious deliberation, really doesn’t explain how and why human morality changes. It doesn’t explain the moral zeitgeist.

I think it’s necessary to include both rational consideration as well as instinctive, emotional reaction, to explain this. As Jerry said, our “instinctive judgments are largely a product of evolution.” But it doesn’t stop there. Our intuitions, and hence our emotions, are produced unconsciously, without delineation, but over time they are influenced by our conscious deliberation and learning.

When we learn to ride a bike, or even to walk as a toddler, our actions are deliberate. We consciously consider them and put them into effect. But with learning these actions no longer need conscious deliberation. They are incorporated into our unconscious brain and carried out automatically. Just as well – imagine that adults had to continue all the conscious activity the toddler uses when they start walking. With all the inevitable conscious mistakes. Just imagine grown-ups walking along the footpath, but every so often falling on their backside like a toddler! Because the process of walking had not been learned and incorporated into their unconscious.

I argue, that the conscious moral deliberations of individuals and society produce the same sort of learning. These deliberation may be active – as, for example, our current discussion of marriage equality. Or the learning could be almost passive. Exposure to our culture. I think many people have unconsciously shifted their attitudes towards working mothers, racial integration and homosexuals because of their exposure to TV shows, books, and life itself, where these modern moral attitudes are accepted.

Incorporation of this moral learning into our subconscious means that  homosexuality, for example, no longer automatically provokes our instincts of purity and disgust. Or meeting an atheist no longer causes us to react out of disgust or respect for authority.

So while our day-to-day moral functioning relies on these intuitional reactions and not logical consideration, these unconscious intuitional reactions have been modified by our learning and exposure to cultural changes.

Moral progress?

On the one hand, that moral attitudes related to care, life, harm and well-being can have an objective basis in biological value, in the very nature of life, means we have ways – both emotional and logical – at arriving at common agreement on what is “right” and “wrong.” On the other hand, although our morality is instinctive or intuitional and not rational (at least in common day-to-day activity) the deliberate intellectual consideration of moral issues, as well as our passive exposure to a culture which is changing because of that deliberate consideration, means that we are capable of moral learning. Of adjusting our automatic moral reactions over time. Of making moral progress.

And I think we can conclude that this has happened on issues such as human rights and discrimination – even if not uniformly and evenly.

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A load of science

If you are into science videos this will interest you. It’s a collection of 100 science lectures given by top scientists.

They are divided into the following groups:

  • General,
  • Science and engineering,
  • Biology and medicine,
  • Chemistry,
  • Physics and astronomy,
  • Earth and environment,
  • Technology and computer science,
  • Science and the future,
  • Science and business, and
  • Miscellaneous

Some are several years old – but they look interesting. And they certainly cover a range of interests within science.

Thanks to Shirley Zeilinger for pointing me to 100 More Incredible Lectures From the World’s Top Scientists.

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Moral behavior in animals

Observing moral behaviour in other animals helps elucidate the evolutionary underpinnings of human morality. In this lecture Dr. Frans B. M. de Waal shares some surprising videos of behavioral tests, on primates and other mammals, that show how many of these moral traits all of us share.

Frans de Waal: Moral behavior in animals | Video on TED.com.

de Waal’s first book, Chimpanzee Politics: Power and Sex among Apes
(1982), compared the schmoozing and scheming of chimpanzees involved in power struggles with that of human politicians. Ever since, de Waal has drawn parallels between primate and human behavior, from peacemaking and morality to culture. His scientific work has been published in hundreds of technical articles in journals such as Science, Nature, Scientific American, and outlets specialized in animal behavior.His latest books are Our Inner Ape
(2005) and
The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society
(2009).

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December ’11 – NZ blogs sitemeter ranking

Here are the rankings of New Zealand blogs with publicly available statistics for December 2011.* Please note, the system is automatic and relies on blogs having sitemeters which allow public access to the stats. There are now over 260 blogs on the list, although I am weeding out those which are no longer active or have removed public access to sitemeters.

I have listed the blogs in the table below, together with monthly visits and page view numbers for December, 2011.

Meanwhile I am still keen to hear of any other blogs with publicly available sitemeter or visitor stats that I have missed. Contact me if you know of any or wish help adding publicly available stats to your bog.

You can see data for previous months at Blog Ranks


*This month has involved a bit more work because of the change in year – particularly with statcounter blogs. Hopefully I have not had any senior moments. But if you find a mistake please let me know and I will correct it.


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2012 Global Atheist Convention – Melbourne

The organisers of the 2012 Global Atheist Convention in Melbourne have announced that tickets will go on sale from September 1st. If you are planning to go I recommend an early purchase as they did sell out quickly last time. And successful as the 2010 Convention was this one is shaping up to be even better.

Convention organisers are announcing confirmed speakers one at a time – The latest is Ayan Hirsi Ali who is certainly going to be a crowd drawer. She is one of my heroines.

Photos of the other speakers so far announced are below. Click on the individual photos to go to their details.

Daniel DennettRichard DawkinsSam HarrisChristopher HitchensAnnie Laurie GaylorLeslie CannoldPZ MyersLawrence KraussEugenie ScottPeter SingerCatherine DevenyDan BarkerFiona PattenLawrence LeungKylie SturgessTanya SmithAyaan Hirsi Ali