Some MoD FOI responses

I’m enough of a FOI nerd to occasionally delve into the collection of released information at What Do They Know. Here are a few that caught my eye from the MoD:

  • Of the UK military trainers in Iraq, none speak Arabic or Kurdish
  • The Minister of Defense can classify civilian aircraft as military. He apparently has not done so; this request would be worth repeating in a few years.
  • Service personnel AWOL — overwhelmingly an army issue, with spikes in 2007 and 2010.
  • List of MoD InfoSec policies
  • Gulf war veterans furious that the drugs they were given were ‘voluntary’
  • UK military assistance to Ukraine. Helmets, goggles, first aid kits and laptops
  • The MOD has only recorded 6 cases of sexual harrassment in the last 5 years. This seems to be a case where reprhrasing a question can have a different result — there were at least 253 reports of rape and sexual assault in the 4 years to 2013

Objects on trial

Wikipedia’s article on

In Rem Jurisdiction

is a thing of beauty. It’s about the situation where the defendant in a court case is an object rather than a person. Some of the case names are poetically bizarre:

  • United States v. Approximately 64,695 Pounds of Shark Fins

  • United States v. Thirty-seven Photographs

    , one of many obscenity cases prosecuted in this way

  • United States v. Forty Barrels and Twenty Kegs of Coca-Cola

    , one of my favourites. The prosecutor tried to argue that Coca-cola was ‘poisonous or deleterious’ because of the added caffeine, and that it was misbrande because it didn’t contain cocaine. This case is likely part of the reason that coke still includes coca leaf extract, to avoid charges of misbranding

  • United States v. One Package of Japanese Pessaries

    , in which the US tried to seize birth control from the mail on the grounds of it being “

    obscene matter

  • United States v. Article Consisting of 50,000 Cardboard Boxes More or Less, Each Containing One Pair of Clacker Balls

Sharon Stone, Leon Trotsky, and a lobotomy

Recently I realised how far Trotskyism has fallen. Two smart, educated companions failed to associate an ice-pick with Leon Trotsky. Instead, they associated the ice-pick with

Basic Instinct


Comrades, not only have Trots been obliterated, but the world has forgotten to associate mountaineering tools with a thousand tasteless Stalinist jokes.

Unfortunately, sexy Hollywood homicide isn’t a direct replacement for communist infighting. Sharon Stone, it turns out, used

the wrong kind of icepick

. It turns out that fancy-pants Americans don’t even call an ice-pick an ice-pick, lest they confuse it wih a silly thing for cutting ice.

Icepick, Trotsky version

Icepick, Basic Instinct version

This other icepick, though, did at least lead to me reading some shudder-inducing articles about the

icepick lobotomy

. The name alone makes it sound horrific, but the reality was even worse:

transorbital lobotomy involved taking a kitchen ice pick, later refined into a more proficient instrument called a leucotome, and hammering it through the thin layer of skull in the corner of each eye socket. The pick would then be scrambled from side to side in order to damage the frontal lobe. The process took about 10 minutes and could be performed anywhere, without the assistance of a surgeon.

Over the years, Freeman developed a reckless enthusiasm for the operation, driving several thousand miles across the country to carry out demonstrations at asylums and hospitals. An instinctive showman, he sometimes ice-picked both eye sockets simultaneously, one with each hand. He had a buccaneering disregard for the usual medical formalities – he chewed gum while he operated and displayed impatience with what he called ‘all that germ crap’, routinely failing to sterilise his hands or wear rubber gloves. Despite a 14 per cent fatality rate, Freeman performed 3,439 lobotomies in his lifetime.