Monday, May 29, 2006

Diego Garcia

John Pilger is justifiably upset by forty odd years of British Government lies and obfuscation over the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia and its people, the Chagossians (named for the Chagos Arhipelago). In return for expelling the Chagossians the British Government got a discount of five million pounds off the waste of time and money that were Polaris missiles. The campaign is, I believe, a valid campaign and compensation is in order for the mistreatment of the people.

Pilger's ire is raised by both the mistreatment of the Chagossians, and the fact the island became a U.S. military base used in the bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan.

I fully support the campaign of the islanders in seeking compensation for their removal, and the sneaky underhanded manner of the removal.

The question must be raised, is a small isolated population, 3000 miles from the nearest major hospital, really a viable long term community?

And another thing, here are some of the rules pertaining to Diego Garcia:
In accordance with current regulations, no type of attire with degrading or obscene comments may be worn on or brought to Diego Garcia. This includes pictures, phrases or slogans depicting drug paraphernalia, anti-war slogans, ethnic slurs or issues of a sexual nature. Biker, hippie-culture or mercenary magazines will be confiscated. All obscene or pornographic publications including pornographic videos will be confiscated. All videotapes brought to Diego Garcia will be retained by British Customs for screening. Tapes will be returned within 10 days. Prohibited material will be burned by British Customs
What is this hippie culture, of which you speak? Rullsenberg comments "I like the idea things are on video tapes still. So you can bring in dvds without inspection but not video tapes? What about a video playing iPod?"

Keep up with the programme Daddio. Hippie-ish culture indeed.

Cricket Lovely Cricket

Yesterday had a great day at Edgbaston.
Cricinfo Stat fact: England have once again come up winners at the Edgbaston - they now remain unbeaten at the Edgbaston for the last 5 test matches. It further substantiates the fact that the Edgbaston has been England's luckiest home venue - a fact that found a mention in S Rajesh's preview at the start of the test match. England have now won 22 of the 42 tests they have played at the Edgbaston - that's 52.38% of the games they have played here.
That being my first Test I'm luckier than the Edgbaston.

Friday, May 26, 2006


Sometimes you comes across a saying that just has to be dropped in a conversation.

Peace, love and freedom estas no son enchiladas.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

A Grand Day Out

This Saturday I went with Rullsenberg and some friends to Levellers Day in Burford, Oxfordshire. As my friend described it, "Idealism in an English country garden".

The day started with Tony Benn. I've seen Tony Benn quite regularly for over twenty years and it's always the same speech. To paraphrase "Redistribute wealth, ... , if you go back enough generations each of us, individually, has more ancestors than there were people alive therefore we are all cousins, ... , and wouldn't the world be better if we all just got along, ... , there's seventy seven nationalities in my grandkid's school, ... , it's a United Nations, ... , my grandkids know more about the world than I did at their age".

Next came Karen Chouhan, from the National Assembly against Racism, talking about identity, integration and how her son regularly gets stopped and searched by the police. All solid traditional stuff. All solid traditional polemic that describes the world as it is and not as it ought to be.

Then a speech from Salma Yaquoob. I wasn't making notes and can't readily recall what she said but she comes over as very intelligent, and is probably going to replace GG as Respect's only MP.

Then we went in a procession around the town of Burford lead by Cry Havoc Morris, and followed by a Woodcraft Folk contingent.

Meeting back outside the churchyard we sang the Billy Bragg lyrics to the Internationale. Enough to bring a tear to the eye!

In the pub we were sat by Cry Havoc Morris who serenaded us with music. Must admit I have a confession to make, and this will please Bagrec, I enjoyed the experience.

The day ended with a show by Robb Johnson and Leon Rosselson, which sometimes irritated and sometimes entertained, according to my own prejudices. A song that particularly irked was Rosselson's "My Father's Jewish World", with its line "It's not a nation, not a religion, this Jewish spirit is still unbroken". The final clause, "this Jewish spirit is still unbroken", has merit and is beyond dispute, it's the first two sections that irked. That bit about "not a nation, not a religion". Is he appealing to the romantic ideal of the diasporic citizen of the world, which has a certain idealistic charm or is he denying any right to a Jewish nation? I think it's the latter. And that is wrong. In a world of nations everyone has a right to a home nation except the Jewish people. That is unforgiveable.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Nation states falling off the map

It's easy to draw a map and forgot which country's which. Well, it is for the geographically challenged Guardian.
A map of the states of former Yugoslavia showed Bosnia (minus Herzegovina), Montenegro, and Macedonia. The rest was wrongly labelled Yugoslavia. That area should have shown both Serbia and Croatia. In addition, Slovenia should have appeared to the north-west (Tiny nation with colourful past set to witness final break-up of the Balkans, page 29, yesterday).
That must be some geography department they have at Farringdon Road.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Intellectuals and Tyrants

Ian Buruma argues for a Left that does more than fly flags from cranes for visiting leaders.
Last year a number of journalists, writers and showbiz figures, including Harold Pinter, Nadine Gordimer, Harry Belafonte and Tariq Ali, signed a letter claiming that in Cuba “there has not been a single case of disappearance, torture or extra-judicial execution since 1959 . . .”

[Cuban novelist Reinaldo]Arenas was arrested in 1973 for “ideological deviation”. He was tortured and locked up in prison cells filled with floodwater and excrement, and threatened with death if he didn’t renounce his own writing. Imagine what it must be like to be treated like this and then read about your fellow writers in the West standing up for your oppressors.
Isn't it amazing that intelligent people like Ali, Pinter, Gordimer and Belafonte can even think that there "has not been a single case of disappearance, torture or extra-judicial execution". Wouldn't it make a better case to argue it is not a matter of policy but if it happens those responsible are treated with due legal process? That stops your argument being trashed by a single counter example.

Discussing the Venezuelan leader Buruma writes
Chavez is the Latin American version of a new type of authoritarianism (Thailand’s Thaksin Shinawatra is the Asian version), built on a mixture of showbusiness, intimidation, paranoia, huge wealth, and public handouts to the poor. The ideal is democracy by referendum, stripped of messy party politics or independent courts.
In a line that won't please some people, Buruma likens Chavez to Berlusconi, in their appeal to populism.

Here's Buruma's conclusion
The left has a proud tradition of defending political freedoms, at home and abroad. But this tradition is in danger of being lost when western intellectuals indulge in power worship. Applause for autocrats undermines the morale of people who insist on fighting for their freedoms....But when democracy is endangered, the left should be equally hard on rulers who oppose the US. Failure to do so encourages authoritarianism everywhere, including in the West itself, where the frivolous behaviour of a dogmatic left has already allowed neoconservatives to steal all the best lines.
"We oppose our country's foreign policy." "He opposes our country's foreign policy." "Therefore we are batting on the same side." Such is the argument that passes for politics on the flag-waving left.

[Thanks to Harry's Place]

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Today's the day

On this day in 1979 the Federated States of Micronesia came into being with ratification of their constitution.

Three cheers for the Federated States of Micronesia.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Certe, toto, sentio nos in kansate non iam adesse

With this title I introduce the much awaited Normblog poll results. The top five states are
  1. California
  2. Wyoming
  3. Louisiana
  4. Tennessee
  5. Mississippi
You'll have to wait for the songs.

And that title, I just thought it was so fitting. For those who think Latin is what they speak in Latin America "Certe, toto, sentio nos in kansate non iam adesse" translates as "You know, Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore". Or, at least that's what this brilliant website says it means.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Democratic Vistas

Raekha Prasad describes the contradiction of Indian democracy.
It granted political equality - the principle of one man, one vote - to a society without the principle of one man, one value.
This describes a necessary pre-condition for a thriving democracy. You can't have a successful democracy without some degree of social and legal equality (I'd also argue for a greater degree of economic equality).

Friday, May 05, 2006

Election by the Longest Pencil

A councillor in the UK has been elected by choosing a longer pencil than his opponent. After three recounts the returning officer gave the candidates a choice of two hidden pencils and the rest is electoral trivia.

Cloak of Invisibility

If you had a cloak of invisibility when would you use it?

Existence and Being There

I was looking for information on the java class fileloader and I saw the name Martin Heidegger.

What's the Chauncey of that happening?


Doesn't it make you ashamed that some people choose to vote for a neo-nazi party like the BNP?

Info on Info

This piece details how easy it is to get hold of someone's details given a snippet of information.
We logged on to the BA website, bought a ticket in Broer's name and then, using the frequent flyer number on his boarding pass stub, without typing in a password, were given full access to all his personal details - including his passport number, the date it expired, his nationality (he is Dutch, living in the UK) and his date of birth. The system even allowed us to change the information.

Using this information and surfing publicly available databases, we were able - within 15 minutes - to find out where Broer lived, who lived there with him, where he worked, which universities he had attended and even how much his house was worth when he bought it two years ago.
So, there's a booming market in paper shredders. Get one, or a gerbil. Or is this just another media inspired panic?

New anti-terrorist legislation and id cards mean an awful lot of personal information will be stored at various government agencies and often outsourced to private companies. New passports, and id cards, will store information and have a tiny antennae to transmit the information to an electronic reader at, for example, passport control. The official line is that this will only be read at short distances. However a more powerful reader could pick up the information. Experts agree that the encryption used is not as strong as it could be and will be cracked before long.

The Guardian makes the point that this all down to the U.S. Yet another problem blamed on the U.S.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

States of Indecision

Yonks ago Norm asked for a list of favourite states tied by a song. Never one to turn down a pointless task I've whittled through the list and come down to:
  • Alabama
  • Ohio
  • Nebraska
  • Utah
  • Wisconsin
The lyric comes from the Pere Ubu song Postcard. Here's the important bit:
I sent her two postcards
They came right back
I sent her two postcards
Big wheel from Detroit, Michigan
A lake freighter from Chicago
A cow wearing a stetson, Montana
A chicken farm ranch from Utah
Utah was a good state for that sort of thing
It's Salt Lake City
Salt Lake City is a very good thing for that sort of thing
In fact it's one of the best things
for that sort of thing
that I've ever run into
In case you haven't twigged it's the line about Utah was a good state for that sort of thing.

Fat Man and the Trolley

Why do some philosophical thought experiments just seem so unreal?

This piece asks:
[A] runaway trolley car is hurtling down a track where it will kill five people. You are standing on a bridge above the track and, aware of the imminent disaster, you decide to jump on the track to block the trolley car. Although you will die, the five people will be saved.

Just before your leap, you realise that you are too light to stop the trolley. Next to you, a fat man is standing on the very edge of the bridge. He would certainly block the trolley, although he would undoubtedly die from the impact. A small nudge and he would fall right onto the track below. No one would ever know. Should you push him?
So just before you leap you get a flashback of all the stodgy meals left uneaten and you either cease to exist or become an amnesiac or repress it so much that you fail to know, in any meaningful sense, what you did. How else to understand "No one would ever know". Oh, possibly that should be "No one [else] would ever know"?

Does turning philosophical thought experiments into opinion polls make them more relevant? It probably cuts through the crap often cited that "everyone, without hesitation, would do option A (whatever option A is)" where option A is often just a rationalisation of the prejudices of the writer.
One major flaw with thought experiments, especially in ethics, is that they are rarely tested on people. The sample size is minuscule. The philosopher will simply assume that most people think that one option is right (or wrong).
Quantifying a non random sample of a population will tell you little more than the split of opinions across a society at a particular moment. It will do litle to prove the universal applicability of any moral imperative.

Monday, May 01, 2006


It comes as a shock when you find school mates dying. It's that first intimation of mortality. That first chance to stand up to reality. And it's disturbing. Obviously sadder for the person's parents and loved ones but even though I haven't spoken to them in years it's still a sad day.

Today I discovered that Martin Gilks, drummer in the original Wonder Stuff, died in a tragic motorcycle accident in Tooting on the 3rd of April. He was definitely one of the best drummers in 80s/90s indie and even if you disagree, he was one of the good guys.

This site contains memories and condolences. Pay a visit.