Thursday, March 23, 2006


I'm off on a big holiday for the next three weeks so posting will be even more infrequent than normal.

When I get back there may be some pictures. There may be some serious writing. There may be some humorous writing. There may be some jokes. If you laugh it's a joke. If you smile it's humorous. If you do neither it's serious.

Let's see if I can deliver.

To the land of the long white cloud I go.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


Co-ops either thrive or they collapse owing to the tyranny of structurelessness, personality clashes, power struggles and general life issues. Gary Younge writes on his experience in one of the U.S.A's longest running food co-ops.
The co-op has its own newspaper - the LineWaiter's Gazette - and its own social calendar. It also has its own disciplinary system, meted out by the Orwellian-sounding Hearing and Deciding group, which can expel people for, among other things, "extremely uncooperative behaviour". The group rarely meets, but the fact that it exists shows how seriously the co-op takes its own rules. When one friend's father died she called to warn the co-op that she was going to miss a shift. When they insisted she do two make-up shifts to compensate, she objected. Only after several objections that went all the way to the top did they finally and grudgingly relent. "OK," said the person in charge. "But you only get one death in the family." Members have been known to call the co-op to report that friends are lying about disability and the size of their households. Little wonder that in 2004 the Village Voice voted it the "best place to experience how communism leads to fascism".
But people can only ridicule it because it exists and it exists, in no small part, because it has been prepared to enforce its own rules. With more than 13,000 members and a turnover of $25.6m (£14.7m) last year, it is the largest and longest-standing wholly member-owned and operated food co-op in the US. This is no small achievement in a city where people are supposed to seek anonymity and convenience rather than obligation and community.
You are glad that some things exist. Some things, by their very existence, make the heart beat faster and gives one faith in people, community and all those buzz words that make you feel at one with the world. But I can still understand how Gary Younge's membership lapsed.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


I suppose it's unfair to pick on the antics of morons, but let's do it anyway. The school board in the prosperous Upper St Clair district of Pittsburgh have dropped the International Baccalaureate from the High School curriculum because it was "anti-Christian, un-American and Marxist" and, this is where the charge of xenophobia comes in, the IB tests "were developed in a foreign country". At least the students, and parents, are not taking this lying down:
There was uproar at the Upper St Clair high school in a prosperous suburb of Pittsburgh last month when board members governing the local school district voted 5-4 at a heated meeting to throw out the IB.
In the interests of balanced editorial, I would like to point out there are morons on both sides of the debate.
Since the vote, one of the board members who opposes the IB and calls its internationalist, pro-egalitarian ideals "Marxist" has received death threats.
So the IB, has avid supporters of its ideals who are prepared to kill for them. That's some course.

The ACLU is joining with parents to sue the school. Interestingly the federal government,from PotUS down, is all in favour of the IB.

Is local politics like this the world over?

Sunday, March 12, 2006

More on Sudan

The Archbishop of Canterbury fails to consider the crisis in Sudan. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees cuts its staff in Sudan by almost half. Nick Cohen says
You cannot exaggerate the seriousness of the withdrawal. The African Union's peacekeeping force in Darfur is understrength, ill-equipped, badly led and wholly unable to do the job. The Islamists in Khartoum are threatening to set al-Qaeda on the UN if it sends in its own troops. Meanwhile, Sudan is aiding rebel forces in Chad and Chad is aiding rebel forces in the Sudan. War between the two countries is a possibility.
There is further information and comment over at the splendid Sudan Watch.

This page (as quoted by Sudan Watch) is also a useful source of information.

Also see the United Nations System in Sudan. Note how frequently this site is updated. Last posting I can see is July 2005. That's eight months ago. And as we all know nothing has happened in Sudan since. Give them the benefit, they have more important things to be doing than updating a website.

There is better coverage here at the United Nations News Centre. On Friday, 10 March
Mr. Annan said the UN looks forward to working with the AU and the Sudanese Government in “ensuring that there is effective security on the ground in Darfur that would allow the humanitarian workers to continue their work, ensure protection of the IDPs (internally displaced persons) and ensure access to the needy.”

He said that full details were not yet available, but it appeared that the AU and the Government have at least agreed to a six months extension of the force, and to work with the UN on transition.

“I would also hope that, between now and the time that the UN takes over, measures will be taken to strengthen to the African Union forces which would also be transitioning to the UN forces,” he said, adding that donor countries are being asked to give the AU mission, known as AMIS, “all the support they need to be able to continue the operations until we get there.”

The Secretary-General warned against any stagnation. “I don’t think we can afford a gap, nor can we afford any further deterioration of the security situation, and so it is urgent that we give them the support they need,” he said. “It is urgent that we find ways if possible of strengthening them as we build up to an expanded force and a transition to the United Nations.”
Let's hope that's more successful than recent U.N. operations.

Sudan cannot be allowed to become forgotten.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Easy Targets and Bureaucracy

I know it's too easy to mock bureaucracy and management and we should really know better but this is a good try.
One day William was at home in his workshop when there was a knock at the door. Imagine his surprise when there, large as life on his front doorstep, stood the Queen! "Hello good citizen William," she said. "I am undertaking a new project at the castle and I am in need of fine furniture. I have heard great things of your woodworking skills, and have come to ask if you would carve me a chair for the royal bedchamber. It must be a great chair, the very finest you can create, and free from all imperfection. We must ensure quality. I'm sure you will not let me down. I bestow upon you three days in which to complete your task." William bowed low as the Queen departed.

On the first day, William set about finding the very finest wood with which to make the chair. He was just about to venture out into the forest when there was a knock at the door. It was the Queen again, holding a sheaf of parchment in her hand. "Oh William, you cannot begin your task until you have completed this Project Initiation Document. I know that you are a great carpenter, but imagine what might happen if your goal objective parameters were left undefined. I cannot allow such a threat to quality". And so William spent most of the first day preparing the Project Initiation Document, consulting with the village elders whenever he got to a particularly difficult part of the 18-page form. Just before sunset he finally found time to go out and collect some wood, but it was a bit scrappy and not up to his usual standards.
Go read the whole piece. Try and think of an industry that is not so plagued by needless forms and collection of information and I'll buy you a pint*

*Subject to us serendipitiously meeting. Usual terms1 and conditions apply.

1Whatever they are.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Usability Made Interesting

Usability can be such a bore. There are so many longwinded expositions that just meander on and on and on and on and on and on and on and you get the idea. This cuts through to what it's all about. Here's a snippet.
Something is usable if it behaves exactly as expected. Tattoo this on your forehead. Backwards, so you can read it in the mirror.
And if your world behaves exactly as expected you are one happy bunny.

The Glib, the Bad and the Ugly

Terry Jones writes a piece that argues for letting tyrants sneer. (Well, that's an implication, he actually argues against any action in Iraq which amounts to the same thing).
The archangel is said to be ticked off with [Terry Jones]'s ability to provide glib answers without even thinking.
So saith the archangel.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bravery and Pol Corr

Shuggy lambasts Gary Younge's piece on "bravery" in the media.
Here's Shuggy:
You 'collaborate' with the imperialist occupier because you believe even the faint possibility that a secular liberal democracy may be established represents a better prospect for Iraq than anything on offer from the schism-perpetuating Jihadists, the ex-Ba'athists and the ultra-nationalists that dominate the insurgency. You didn't support the war yet you are willing to risk your own saftey by taking this chance. For this you are brutally-murdered, probably by ex-Ba'athists. In the West, those who you might have expected to defend your corner, those who wear their solidarity with the world's oppressed on their sleeves, don't say anything. Not a damn thing. Rather, they find something 'understandable' in the motivations of the fascists who cut your throat like a pig.
There's more of this excellent post. Go and read it.

It was the phrase "a country that posed no threat" that got me. The leadership of said country posed a threat, "clear and present danger" and all that to the people of said country. Younge is supporting a fundamentally right-wing position that national sovereignty is sacrosanct. What goes in inside national borders is no-one's business but the country itself. That's an isolationist and fundamentally selfish attitude, like all those people who write into the Independent and Guardian saying the Iraq war has made their lives more dangerous. Well how dangerous was life for people in Iraq before the war? At risk of being taken to Abhu Ghraib and tortured, raped and made to endure any number inhuman acts? It's that attitude of my life is hunky dory and screw everyone else.

I would, though, support Younge in saying that people who start sentences with "I know it's not very PC ...?" need taking to one side and kicking. Most people who set out to challenge PC attitudes and shibboleths are not being "dangerous", they are just out and out racist bigots.

Friday, March 03, 2006

This is not my beautiful house ...

How did I get here. Letting the water hold me down. Like Dale Arden, Rullsenberg shouts "We have two days to ..." come up with our desert island discs. Let's make a start.
  1. It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) - Bob Dylan
  2. When I first heard this song I was doing my O-Levels and it hit me that all was pointless. The first song to really speak to me. The first song to welcome in my adolescent angst.

  3. A Fairytale of New York - The Pogues and Kirsty McColl
  4. First heard this on the jukebox Combermere Arms in Wolverhampton. Drowning my sorrows while working in a crap job (accounting, if you must ask). I just played it over and over until I sensed I was beginning to annoy people. So I stopped. But I still love how it all fits together.

  5. Can U Dig It - Pop Will Eat Itself
  6. The song that made pop culture pop culture. And, yes, Alan Moore does know the score.

  7. Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler) - Marvin Gaye
  8. Just moved me to tears. This is as good as music got in the 70s.

  9. Man in The Dark - David Thomas and Two Pale Boys
  10. Dancing at the Rescue Rooms with Lisa and George. Pass the Remy Martin.

  11. This Charming Man - The Smiths
  12. That opening. That riff. "Punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate ..." Jangly guitar pop at its best. The urgency. The splendour. At Portsmouth Poly. On Top of the Pops almost the night before they played the Union. Could I get tickets. Feck as like. Did I tell people I'd been for years after? Course I did. But I didn't. I was seeking C-O-O-L by association. Life taught me that C-O-O-L never hits on those who seek it; "it droppeth as the gentle rain" on those who just are. Dancing madly, arms aloft; doing the indie boy dancing to the consternation of Rullsenberg who expressed concern I was going to knock someone over and get twatted. Ah. Dancing madly. With Rullsenberg (who was still concerned but not indifferent).

  13. Born To Run - Bruce Springsteen
  14. That small town ambition thing. Getting out of small town nowheresville. Listening to Born To Run while reading On the Road. Such was my youth. Well, a summer.

  15. It Was A Lonely Day In Selma, Alabama* / Freedom - Mingus Big Band
  16. Heard this with Rullsenberg in Fez under Time Cafe in New York City. A great Thursday night coming at the end of a great week. It was our first trip to New York. To follow the jazz connection we even stayed in Hotel Ellington. Coming out we needed food and more drink. The city that never sleeps let us down. Maybe it was us but our hosts, grad students at Columbia, had opinions about which places it was safe to venture into, and those places that weren't safe. It took a long time wandering those streets to get food and drink. And the service was still crap. But the week was as splendid as it gets. New York was wonderful. The company was amazing. And the following night we went to the magnificent NuYorican Poets Cafe, where I bought the t-shirt from the Fat Man, but that's another story.
    *Scroll down for a splendid description.

Free Radical

Found this interesting post on the word "radical". It turns out he's against it.
A radical attitude is totally close-minded. It usually believes that its position is the correct one, that it has the Truth inside its pocket and that it has a "right" or a "duty" of combating against the opposite, contrary positions because they are "wrong". A radical attitude sometimes doesn´t care if its struggle becomes violent (terrorism and dirty wars against terrorism are radical attitudes). Even a "soft" radical attitude is maybe very passionate, and, by being like this, it loses a good part of rationality, a lot of clarity in its ideas and objectives, and a lot of aiming in its struggle...
Here's the obligatory attack against radical chic.
And I am getting very tired of seeing people self-labeled as "radical" and "left-wing minded" comfortably seated in a pub, wearing a Che Guevara´s shirt and drinking expensive artisanal beer and talking about "saving the world" while my colleagues and me are putting our lifes under risk, right here and right now, working inside favelas.
Maybe this is a very Latin American problem: we´re tired of words, because we´ve listened them (promises + good ideas + promises + good ideas...) for centuries, but we are still in the bottom of a big hole full of shit. Nothing has changed.
He ends with a call to ACTION.
Because we are being defeated and we´re getting really tired.
Note to self: must dig out my old copy of Raymond Williams's Keywords.

(Via:Reasons to be Impossible via Rullsenberg)