corollary: Politics

Thursday, 21 June 2012

I, For One, Welcome the Prying Eyes of our Model-Aircraft-Flying Overlords

Listening to:

Bathtub Gin by Phish, from the 30 December, 2010 concert. (See Marco Arment on Phish for more on these guys.)

Flying a Quadcopter-Mounted Camera

This is super-awesome stuff (and the video is pretty typical I think; I’m sure there are lots of people doing just the same sorts of things all over the rich world). The technology is way cool, but it’s also amazing that the technology to do this is now within the hands of “ordinary people”.

(From this blog-post.)

It’s also all rather disturbing to imagine where this might end up. Yes, there are already some regulations in place (see the comments on the blog post). Yes, the little UAVs are still pretty large and obvious as they fly around. But when they get small and quiet, and so much harder for normal people to detect, will people be flying them around willy-nilly, completely ignoring the various regulations?

I get the impression that the rules in place today are there to prevent people getting hurt by largish objects crashing into them. But when the objects are not so large, the risk of physical harm is rather lower. It is then that society runs the risk of having the “less moral” destroying privacy by spying on people just “because they can”.

Certainly, things will get interesting. I have no idea how society will evolve to deal with this, but I’m pretty certain that it will need dealing with. I don’t imagine the technological clock will get dialled back, so the question becomes: “What will the counter-measures be?” People lock their doors to deter burglary, but society does a lot of other things too: it generally tries to teach its children not to steal, and it uses police forces and criminal punishment too.

Are there plausible technological ways of countering miniature flying spies? What will the laws look like? Will people respect them, or observe them mainly in the breach? What will that do to our own intuitions about privacy?

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

US Election Widget

Listening to:

Handel, Messiah. By the Gabrieli Consort and Players, led by McCreesh.

A Realtime Election Prediction Widget

The attached is the Intrade prediction market’s current view of the US election.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Privacy is such an out-moded concept

Listening to:

Bach, Duet in F major, BWV 803, played by Christine Jaccottet.

An argument for NoScript

If you go to this site, you can push a button that gets the site to analyse your browsing history, and then, using some simple statistics on web-site visitor patterns, determine your likely gender.

I had an 89% chance of being male.

You might feel justifiably concerned that your browser was willing to cough up this information. In particular, a remote site could extract this information without requiring you to first push a button. The information probably isn’t linked to you directly because we assume that the browser is only providing history and not any other details. However, if you’ve just signed up to a site with an e-mail address, then there is a link for free.

This leads me to recommend the NoScript extension for Firefox. This gives you much better control of the JavaScript that may or may not be running on your computer.

Friday, 18 July 2008

A US election site

Listening to:

Haydn, The Creation.

I can’t donate because I’m not in the US

This site is very amusing, and heart-warming too, because it looks as if the candidate is actually going to make his target.

Oh alright, I admit that I’d find it rather less heart-warming if the politician didn’t also seem to be espousing the right sort of message...

Friday, 2 March 2007

War-blogger’s retraction

Listening to:

El cuarto de Tula, a live performance from a Buena Vista Social Club sampler CD.

Retraction is always hard

This essay is an impressive piece of political recanting. One, because I totally agree with where the author ends up, and two, because such public admissions of error are so rare. Contrast with The Economist, which still claims that the decision to invade Iraq was right given the evidence available to the concerned governments (even if the information was bogus, and quite possibly concocted to please the people asking for it), and that invading Iraq went so wrong because of poor execution.

If they’d stuck to Afghanistan, where it does appear as if NATO intervention is improving things, how much more kindly we’d judge them.

Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Retractions left, right and centre

Listening to:

El Carretero, from the Buena Vista Social Club album.

John Howard is going to sell many of the Telstra shares the government owns, thereby pushing along its privatisation.

We found a combined shop and Post Office at the Lyneham shops open on Sunday. If only the parcels we had to pick up were delivered there!

Friday, 25 August 2006

Electronic voting

Listening to:

Schönberg, Verklarte Nacht.

At FLoC...

I was at the FLoC 2006 conference over the last ten days or so. While there I saw David Dill give an invited talk about electronic voting. I was struck by the analogy he drew to describe almost all current electronic systems.

When using an electronic system, it is as if one goes into a voting booth to find that one has to dictate one’s votes to a man behind a curtain who says he will fill out and deposit your vote in the ballot box, but that you will not see any of this happening.

No matter how much faith you might have in the implementors of the system to have implemented it correctly, and to have defended it against possible attacks (i.e., no matter how much faith you may have in the man behind the curtain), such a system fails to be transparent. And transparency is the great virtue of traditional paper systems: everyone gets to see the democratic algorithm in action at all of its stages, and to check that it is being performed correctly.

Monday, 31 July 2006

The Post Office

Listening to:

The Beach Boys, California Girls.

The national post provides a dreadful service here in Australia. They are not open on Saturdays (even the banks, remarkable for the awfulness of their service, are open on Saturdays); they seem to under-staff their offices, resulting in tediously long queues all the time; and they don’t seem to allow stamps to be sold elsewhere. Perhaps the PO should just be privatised. (But John Howard’s government is obsessed with Telstra, which it hasn’t managed to privatise after a decade of trying, so my hopes aren’t high.)

Wednesday, 29 March 2006


Listening to:

Beethoven, 6 Minuets, WoO 10, played by Mikhail Pletnev.


Paul Ford summarises the week’s news:

A poll found that Americans trust atheists even less than Muslims, recent immigrants, and lesbians, and a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, found that confident, self-reliant children tend to grow up to be liberals, while whiny, annoying children tend to grow up to be conservatives.

Monday, 13 February 2006

Cartoons and freedom of speech

Listening to:

Eric Clapton (with Cream), Let it grow.

Sounding off

First a couple of well-written opinion pieces:

  • Russell Brown makes a good argument as to why the media should back off a little, and how many of the people calling for publication of the cartoons seem to be doing so precisely because they want to be offensive. And Brown is consistent here: in another post, he reacts to what Abu Hamza (recently imprisoned in London) is supposed to have preached, with “Well, fuck him”.
  • Christopher Hitchens makes a good argument too: that freedom of speech is all about the right to be offensive, and that if you are only allowed to speak if you won’t offend, then you don’t have freedom of speech at all.

My take is that the Danish newspaper shouldn’t have published the cartoons in the first place (though arguing that they weren’t even very funny as some seem to is feeble: political cartoons are often deliberately not funny; an editorial cartoon is not like Peanuts). Further, re-publishing the cartoon where the motive is simply to continue to offend is noxious. On the other hand, republishing to show solidarity with fellow journalists who have been threatened with death, and with diplomats who have had their embassies torched, is perfectly reasonable. To be cowed into silence because of the fear of trade sanctions from the like of Iran, or because of threats, is to, excuse the melodrama, give into the terrorists.

The fact that Iran is hosting a competition for maximally offensive cartoons about the Holocaust is just proof that the government there doesn’t get it. The point of the Danish press is that it prints what it likes without jumping to do the bidding of its government. Iran will really compete with the West when it stops imprisoning and murdering its own journalists.

Friday, 4 November 2005


Listening to:

Haydn, The Creation.

Some links proving that the world is going down the gurgler:

  • John Wilkins on how the Australian government has been concerned to keep the text of a proposed new law from the public.
  • Nelson Minar on the way in which manufacturers of colour printers are causing those printers to secretly hide “watermarks” in the printer output, recording when the printout was made, and the serial number of the printer doing it.
  • Paul Myers on the correlation between religiousness and levels of criminality.

Monday, 17 October 2005

The ACT city-state

Listening to:

Ella Fitzgerald singing Remember by Irving Berlin.

I saw a headline in today’s Canberra Times saying something like “Stanhope reckons ACT can inspire others as sustainable city-state”. Of course, the word “sustainable” suggests that he was saying something about the ACT’s environmental credentials. But I wondered about its general ability to inspire as a city-state within Australia.

Stanhope is the ACT’s chief minister, and won my approval when he put a draft of the federal government’s proposed anti-terrorism legislation on his web-site (here). John Howard packed a bit of a sad about this one, but it’s not as if Stanhope is revealing state secrets. This legislation, or something like it, is going to be on the publically available lawbooks soon enough. Indeed, Howard wants this to happen as soon as possible, and seems to be objecting to Stanhope’s actions on the basis that letting people get a good look at the bill might just lead to them coming up with unanswerable objections to all its infringements of our human rights.

But what the ACT really needs to be an admired city-state far and wide is better book shops.

Monday, 16 May 2005

How not to be an Australian

Listening to:

Schubert, piano sonata in B flat, D.960. Played by Alfred Brendel.


The Australian Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs is going through a bit of a sticky patch at the moment. Earlier this year, it was revealed that an Australian citizen of German extraction had been detained in one of Australia’s desert detention centres for (“bogus”) asylum seekers. The citizen, Cornelia Rau, suffers from schizophrenia and was picked up by some state agency. She, in a confused state of mind, claimed to be German, and not Australian. The authorities (including the federal department, but also a Queensland department) had her locked up in this detention centre for 10 months. Someone then realised that she was mentally ill, tracked down some details and eventually got Rau released.

Within the last fortnight, another disturbing story has come to light. Another Australian citizen, Vivian Young, originally from the Philippines, got disastrously mixed up with the Immigration authorities. She was also mentally unstable, but it’s not clear that she necessarily claimed to be foreign. Indeed at one point, she definitely claimed to be Australian. Nonetheless, having been picked up from a hospital, where she’d been admitted after a fairly serious head-and-spinal injury, she was then deported to the Philippines. This happened in 2001. Later, in 2003, the department realised its mistake, but proved unable to find Young. This despite the fact that Young had spent all of the two intervening years in the same hospice. She was only found last week because another Australian in the Philippines saw something about her on the television.

Something dramatic really has to happen at the Department. The Minister, professionally unsympathetic Amanda Vanstone, could offer her resignation for a start.

Wednesday, 3 November 2004

The Economist on the election

Listening to:

Bach, Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C major, BWV 564. Played by Peter Hurford, from a big (17 CD) box set of the complete organ works, London 440 410-2.

An election verdict

The Economist reckons it’s a contest between the incompetent and the incoherent. Not so surprisingly, given the tone of its reportage over the last few months, it plumps for the incoherent.

Wednesday, 27 October 2004

The US election is upon us

Listening to:

Louis Armstrong, Mahogany Hall Stomp.

Not long now. The election is on Tuesday. Here are a couple of interesting sites for following poll data:

  •, lots of raw data available if you dig into the site, including information on Senate races too.

  • From the LATimes, a neat tool to look at current data, and then play through scenarios where you get to pick who wins the various states and their electoral college votes.

Isn’t it weird that the left-wing party in the US is associated with the colour blue, and the right-wing party with red?

Tuesday, 29 June 2004

Good on the Supreme Court

Listening to:

Beethoven, cello sonata no. 2 in G minor, op. 5 no. 2. Played by Richter and Rostropovich.

At stake in this case is nothing less than the essence of a free society. Even more important than the method of selecting the people’s rulers and their successors is the character of the constraints imposed on the Executive by the rule of law. Unconstrained Executive detention for the purpose of investigating and preventing subversive activity is the hallmark of the Star Chamber. Access to counsel for the purpose of protecting the citizen from official mistakes and mistreatment is the hallmark of due process. Executive detention of subversive citizens, like detention of enemy soldiers to keep them off the battlefield, may sometimes be justified to prevent persons from launching or becoming missiles of destruction. It may not, however, be justified by the naked interest in using unlawful procedures to extract information. Incommunicado detention for months on end is such a procedure. Whether the information so procured is more or less reliable than that acquired by more extreme forms of torture is of no consequence. For if this Nation is to remain true to the ideals symbolized by its flag, it must not wield the tools of tyrants even to resist an assault by the forces of tyranny.

Justice Stevens, quoted in SCOTUSblog

Salon has a good summary.

Tuesday, 3 February 2004

Star Wars comes to Australia

Listening to:

Mozart, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

I’m not talking about the missile defence scheme, though John Howard does seem to be quite keen on the idea (see this amusing spoof web-log). No, I’m whinging about the awful pronunciation the vast majority of the media give to the name Nauru. (This is often in the news because it’s where Australia has dumped a number of its recent boat-people.) Almost all of the journalists I’ve heard here pronounce it Na 'roo, with the stress on the second syllable. I hear this and can’t help but think of the Star Wars planet Naboo, home of Jar-Jar Binks. How hard would it be for these guys to learn that it should be something much closer to 'Now roo? Sheesh.

Friday, 8 August 2003

Bali bombing death penalty

Listening to:

Arthur Sullivan, overture to The pirates of Penzance.

A man behind the Bali bombing that killed more than 200 people was found guilty yesterday and sentenced to death. Despite the fact that Australia doesn’t allow the death penalty, a number of politicians here have made rather approving noises about it. For example:

Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer has hailed the sentence as a strong and decisive message that Indonesia is determined to pursue terrorists. “We’re very grateful to the Indonesians for the strength of their response,” he said. “This is obviously very good in terms of sending out a strong message from Indonesia that it's determined to fight terrorism.” (ABC online)

The same ABC article suggests that Simon Crean, the Leader of the Opposition doesn’t approve of the sentence to the same extent (My view is that he should be thrown in jail and the key thrown away but the courts have determined otherwise - I won't be seeking to interfere with it.) but the radio news this morning made him sound as one with Downer and Howard.

I certainly think it’s noxious hypocrisy to approve of a result that Australian law forbids.

Thursday, 7 August 2003

Tax, voting, Milton.

Listening to:

The Beatles' “White album”.

Wrong kind of sunshine nobbles British trains.

I’ve sounded off to almost everyone I know in person about this, so now I’ll bore you with it too: in the UK I could vote in national elections because I was a citizen of a Commonwealth country. In Australia, I can’t vote in the elections. In the UK, filling out a tax form was optional for people who didn’t have anything too exotic in their circumstances. (Tax was deducted automatically from salary and interest payments.) In Australia, I must fill out a horrendously complicated tax form. Feh.

The quote in Tuesday's entry is from Milton’s Areopagita. It continues:

I know they [books] are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous Dragons teeth; and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet on the other hand unlesse warinesse be us'd, as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm'd and treasur'd up on purpose to a life beyond life.

Wednesday, 25 June 2003

Heavy HP5; NZ's PM + cruise missiles; book theft

Listening to:

Telemann, concerto for trumpet and violin in D major.

The latest Harry Potter book came out on Saturday morning here. I expect it will find its way onto my list eventually. Pity the poor posties in Scotland who had to deliver it though.

A story from New Zealand which massages a cultural stereotype: home handyman builds cruise missiles in his garage. More seriously, an interview with NZ's prime minister, Helen Clark from The Economist. From my somewhat detached perspective in Australia, she seems to come across very well.

Finally, just in case my readership is not a subset of Jamie's, his links to a cool story about book theft and secret passages.

Thursday, 17 April 2003

US behaving badly; NICTA CEO

Listening to:

Abba, The definitive collection.

I’d normally aim to write on Friday, but I will be on an Easter holiday tomorrow, so I am writing early.

An honourable soul has stepped in to get my Diplomacy game going again. I wouldn’t have disbanded the army in Ukraine myself, but you can’t have it all.

A couple of depressing stories about the powers taken up by the state in the US:

  • In Portland, OR, the police are happy to look through your garbage, but figures of authority were less happy when these journalists did the same to them.
  • Again in Oregon, Mike Hawash, a US citizen, is being held in prison without being charged for any crime, and has been there since 20 March. Oh yeah, he’s also an Arab-American. Luckily for him, he also has some well-connected friends, so that his story is getting some publicity.

I (along with a room full of others), met the new NICTA CEO this morning. He is Mel Slater, recently of Motorola.

Thursday, 27 February 2003

A miscellany

Listening to:

Haydn, symphony no. 51 in B flat major, Hob. I:51.

There are two big sporting events on at the moment featuring NZ national teams. One is the cricket world cup. NZ are doing reasonably at this. They lost to Sri Lanka and conceded a game to Kenya by refusing to play them in Nairobi, but have beaten South Africa, the West Indies and Bangladesh. The other event is the Americas Cup. Here a NZ boat is defending the cup against a Swiss boat, but has gone down 0-3 in the nine race series. Definitely a very bad start, but this article convinced me that I didn’t particularly care if NZ won or lost.

I found this piece from Salon quite interesting (you may need to click through an ad to get to read it). It’s a report by a US reporter about the anti-war protest marches in London on 16 February. For all that Salon is a left-wing publication, its journalist doesn’t seem quite in tune with what he’s told by the sample of protestors he interviewed. Still on the war, this “rant” by Mark Rosenfelder seems a reasonable summary of arguments in both directions. Mind your head doesn’t explode.

Another optical illusion. Your head might not explode, but it seemed to be quickly inducing a headache in me.

Finally, a neat piece of counter-propaganda from the US’s National Center for Science Education, Project Steve. I particularly liked its tongue-in-cheek endorsements.

Tuesday, 15 October 2002

Copyright law and coincidences

Listening to:

Handel, suite no. 3 in D minor, HWV 428. Beautifully played on the piano by Murray Perahia.

It turns out writing the article about working for Google Answers caused the librarian in question to lose her researcher status there.

I enjoyed this account of going to the Supreme Court in the US to hear arguments about repeated copyright extensions on the part of Congress being unconstitutional. It seems pretty unlikely that the Court will find in favour of the extensions being unconstitutional but you never know. It's certainly interesting to hear that the Court sounds convinced that the extensions are bad. Sadly, bad doesn't necessarily mean unconstitutional.

And I leave you with the truth behind global climate change: all coincidence!

Thursday, 15 August 2002

US politics

Listening to:

Handel, sonata in D minor for recorder and continuo.

I have what I think is a perceptive quote from Tony Judt, reviewing Joseph S. Nye Jr.'s The paradox of American power in the New York Review of Books, vol XLIX, no. 13 of 15 August 2002:

What gives America its formidable international influence is not its unequaled capacity for war but the trust of others in its good intentions. That is why Washington's opposition to the International Criminal Court does so much damage. It suggests that the US does not trust the rest of the world to treat Americans fairly. But if America displays a lack of trust in others, the time may come when they will return the compliment.

All I'd say in addition is that the concept of noblesse oblige is pertinent. As the world's great superpower, the US has a responsibility to behave well, and be seen to do so. (Full text of Judt's essay.)

Finally, a less serious take on American politics.

Friday, 12 July 2002


Listening to:

Bach, Cantata BWV 182, Himmelskönig, sei willkommen (King of Heaven, thou art welcome).

Rants as promised.

On drugs: this is a perfect subject for the generation of hysteria. On Wednesday, even the Today programme was one-sided. It had a social worker on who was walking around an estate in Brixton pointing out the down-and-outs: heroin and crack addicts. I want to know why no-one queried the belief that this had anything to do with relaxing the policy on marijuana. Nor did they have anyone on to point out that alcohol and smoking are a much bigger problem among young people than illegal drugs. Sheesh. Roll on legalisation so that the issue turns into one about health rather than crime. Here's the anncouncement of the policy change that stirred up all the fuss. (Gotta love the URL!)

As for the Common Agricultural Policy: boy! (Background article from the Guardian.) I think the fact that last year's foot and mouth outbreak inflicted bigger losses on the tourism industry than agriculture is a pretty good indication that the farmers aren't as important as they might like to think. A friend suggests that Britain's long-term aim should be the complete reforestation of the island. Sounds pretty good to me.

Of course, Europe is not the only place where this happens. The US plans to give its farmers $8 billion more than it was already planning to. How many farmers are there in the US anwyay? This page (from the US Dept. of Agriculture) suggests that there are fewer than 3 million people working in agriculture, and this one says there were just over 2 million farms in 1996. So on top of any existing support, they're all getting an average of $4000 extra each. Why doesn't every small business in the country get $4000?

Scarier still are the figures in this story from the Economist. Back in Europe, EU Commissioner, Mr. Fischler proposes to limit the subsidy payments to individual farmers at euro300,000 ($298,000) a year. They're complaining about being limited to a measly $300k per annum?! Think how much money would be saved if they were told that they could farm without any subsidies, or put on the dole. Sheesh.

Friday, 14 June 2002

Bumps, elections and politicians

Listening to:

An extract of Mahler’s symphony no. 6. This is on the tail end of a BBC Music Magazine CD. The main part of the CD was a couple of works by Scriabin, but the magazine now also includes a few extracts from what it thinks are the best new releases. This is what Gramophone magazine has always done, but I much prefer having a magazine that comes with a CD containing complete pieces of music. Extracts can at best be a minor aid to the text of a review.

And now the news:

  • The Catz boat bumped yesterday, so I will rejoin them in fine form I'm sure. Around us, it's curious that (looking at the chart should make this clear), Jesus VI are now in position to bump Churchill IV again, after bumping them once already (on Wednesday).
  • NZ is going to have an election soon. Helen Clark announced that it would be two months earlier than expected, on 27 July.
  • In the UK, the world's concerns seem to be almost taking a back seat to a ridiculous story about whether or not Tony Blair tried to lean on the officiating bods at the Queen Mother's lying-in-state so as to get himself a more prominent place in the public's eye. The media reported this story, and the PM's office made a complaint to the Press Complaints people, claiming it was all a horrible lie. But then, it seemed that they couldn’t prove it wasn’t, and the Press Complaints lot dismissed the complaint. For a government supposedly suffused with spin-doctors, they seem pretty good at cocking up their press relations on a regular basis.

    But then, as a junior minister called Douglas Alexander (and he sounded Scottish too) sensibly pointed out on the Today programme, there are rather more important things going on. The politicians blame the media, and the media blame the politicians, but I really do think that they, and the consumers (i.e., the public) too, have to share the blame for the supposed trivialisation of public discourse.

Wednesday, 7 November 2001

Election turnouts and syndication

Listening to:

Prokofiev, symphony no. 4 in C major, op. 112.

Electoral Matters

After the headlines this morning at 7:00, the Today programme had an interview with an MP from a committee on revitalising Britain's democracy. People reckon there is a problem because turn-out for the last general election was the lowest since 1918. The government is going to do all sorts of “mechanical” things, like investigate the possibility of internet and telephone voting. The MP said that we still use a system that Gladstone would recognise, pencils on paper in polling stations.

At the same time, the government is due to announce its plans for the reform of the House of Lords today. Apparently, it wants to have no more than 20% of its members directly elected. The rest will be appointees. If you’re a power-crazy politician in the House of Commons that can’t stomach the idea of elected politicians in another House, outside of your direct control, I reckon you should make members of the Lords be chosen for life by lottery. It would make for a representative sample, and if this sort of thing was good enough for the Athenians why shouldn’t it be good enough for us?

Of course, what they didn’t touch on, but should have, was the possibility of proportional representation. If people knew that their votes would actually contribute to the election of members of Parliament, they might be more inclined to go out there and do it. Consider my constituency, Cambridge. The results for this constituency show that 23000 votes were wasted; they weren’t cast for the winner of the seat, so tough luck. (Anne Campbell won the seat with 19000 votes.)


In other news, I’m pleased to announce that I’m now a syndicated columnist. This site for the “senior community” has started to put selected book reviews of mine up in their book review section. I wonder if I should ask them to link back to these pages as well.

Tuesday, 23 October 2001

Calculating π and the war on terror

Listening to:

Shostakovich, symphony no. 8 in C minor, op. 65.

Still reading:

James Joyce, Ulysses. I read three sections over the weekend: Aeolus (in a newspaper office), The Lestrygonians (Bloom looks for lunch), and Scylla and Charybdis (Stephen Dedalus argues about Hamlet and Shakespeare’s life in the library). I’ve now read nine of the eighteen sections.

Did you know that you can get good estimates for the value of PI by just looking at your own files? It’s all down to number theory and the ratio of relatively prime pairs of numbers to non-prime pairs. (A number x is relatively prime with respect to y if x and y have no common factors. For example, 10 and 21 are relatively prime, even though neither of them is prime.) See this neat page for more details, and Real Code. (The same guy’s site includes a very good description of his PhD research; I’d like to write something similar about mine.)

Some “war on terrorism” links:

  • The Onion is generally a pretty good source of satire. This issue is from 26 September, and is very good, including headlines like US vows to defeat whoever it is we’re at war with and God angrily clarifies “Don’t kill” rule. More recently, this piece makes the civil liberties argument very well (though perhaps laying it on a bit thick).
  • The Boston Globe finds evidence that private security firms, the airlines and the FAA were all getting a bit cosy about security responsibilities at Logan Airport before 11 September. For example, on the possible forms of security tests:

    “We didn’t want everyone testing us without knowing what to look for exactly,” Bibbey, the Logan manager for Globe Aviation Services, said in an interview. “We don’t need people improvising test pieces to purposely make people fail.”

  • The LA Times on the Arab TV channel Al Jazeera, and how it is providing a valuable service.
  • Finally, a discussion from the Washington Post about civilian casualties as a result of bombing Afghanistan.

Thursday, 18 January 2001

Negative reviews and hunting

Listening to:

Shostakovich, violin concerto no. 1 in A minor, op 99. This is dramatic and exciting music, with a great part for the soloist.

A lost comic:

General Protection Fault. Good title (it’s the phrase that comes up when it all goes horribly wrong on Windows machines), and reasonably drawn. Fairly interesting characters, and the mandatory talking animal (a slime mold actually) doesn’t often feature. Set in a computer company, and sporadically amusing. Far too interested in telling long, soap-like stories than keeping the reader consistently amused. Takes its supernatural elements (demonic secretary, and strange jester figure) far too seriously.

A recent movie:

East is east. We saw this on DVD last year, and were very disappointed. What the hype would have had us believe was a touching, humourous but gritty look at life growing up in a Muslim family of Pakistani origin (with an English mother) in the north-east of England, was in fact poorly written, full of unpleasant stereotypes, toilet humour and generally quite unfunny. Not recommended. (IMDB page.)

Yesterday the House of Commons in the UK voted (by over a 2-1 margin) to ban hunting with dogs in England and Wales. There’s a good chance that the bill will fail to make it into law because the House of Lords will stall it until the next election, which is expected in May. The main opponents to the abolition of hunting call themselves the Countryside Alliance, and have a website. Interestingly, there is another Countryside alliance website out there. It has a .com domain-name, and the material is American. Most interesting of course, is the fact that it’s an animal rights site; see for example their FAQs on hunting and fishing.

Wednesday, 8 November 2000

US electoral system

Listening to:

Shostakovich, symphony no. 7 in C major, op. 60 Leningrad. I’m listening to the recording I recommend in this discussion of the symphony.

Well, it looks as if George W. Bush has won the US Presidential election. The US has a funny system for electing its President. (Some official documentation is available on the Federal Election Commission's pages.) Rather than have the whole population just vote for the candidates directly, they have to vote to elect candidates in an electoral college on a state-by-state basis. The members of this college then choose the President.

Each state of the union is responsible for the election of its Electors and in a couple (Maine and Nebraska) the procedure is different from the rest. Thus, the system does not require the states to use the “winner-take-all” model whereby the slate with the most votes in a state gets all of that state's Electors. Nonetheless, this is what happens in 48 states, and this strongly encourages a two-party system, which you may or may not think is a good thing.

There hasn't been an election since 1888 when the most popular candidate didn't actually become President. Contrast this with what happens in parliamentary elections, where governmental majorities are quite easy to form even though the number of people voting for the opposing party may be greater.

Finally, I do think that the careful separation of concerns achieved in the Federal system, whereby the Executive has no necessary connection with the Legislature is a nice design.

Friday, 29 September 2000

Maps and Racism

Listening to:

Schumann, piano trio in D minor, op. 63.

Maps and Racism

An interesting piece on how to demonstrate racism to school children by teaching them to discriminate on the basis of eye colour. It further includes a link to a site selling copies of the Peters Projection maps. These are neat maps, which have the property of presenting the correct areas (one square inch anywhere on this map represents an equal number of square miles). (Another Peters map site.)

Of course, it’s not just the projection you choose that has potential political significance, it’s what you decide to put in the middle of the map. The Peters one puts Africa and Europe in the middle, and cuts through the Pacfic and Bering Strait. Maps I saw when I lived in Canada quite ridiculously put the Americas in the middle of the map, cutting Asia in half at about India. In New Zealand, maps are currently centred on New Zealand, smack bang in the middle of the bottom of the expanses of the Pacific. The cut is then down the Atlantic, at cost perhaps to Iceland and Greenland.

Monday, 22 May 2000

Mahler, Forster and Fiji

Listening to:

Mahler Das Lied von der Erde. This famous piece is not typically counted as one of Mahler’s nine symphonies, but it is really symphonic in scale and character. It was written after the death of Mahler’s four year old daughter, taking as texts some supposedly Chinese poems in German translation. The overall theme of the poems is of the beauties of the earth and its eternal cycle of death and rebirth. I found that it took me a while to “get” this music, but I now think it’s one of my favourite works by Mahler.

Still reading:

Howard’s End by E. M. Forster. The novel is developing apace. It’s hard to believe that the impending marriage between Margaret Schlegel and Henry Wilcox will be a glorious success, but at least Margaret’s personal emotions and feelings seem to make a deal of sense. She is much more successfully drawn than Lucy Honeychurch.

A coup in Fiji

There has been an attempted coup in Fiji. I lived for over two years in Nadi as a young child, and started school there. I can’t really remember much from that time, and certainly wasn’t aware of the tension between the native Fijians and the Fijians of Indian descent. There has already been one coup in Fiji, led by Sitiveni Rabuka in 1987, and the thought of another one plunging the country into chaos again is very disheartening.

However, this “coup” doesn’t seem to have the support of the army, and the President there seems to be holding firm, despite the fact that much of the rest of the country’s top politicians are being held hostage in the Parliament in Suva. For example, there are press releases from the real government at the official web-site.

Friday, 5 May 2000

Local Elections

Listening to:

Mozart, piano trio in C, K 548. Sprightly, ebullient music.

Democracy in Action

I’ve yet to see a copy of the I love you virus. But then, I don’t use a Windows machine, so it wouldn’t have affected me in any case. It’s clearly kept David Chess busy; his log entry for yesterday is very short indeed.

England had a bunch of local elections yesterday. It was good to go to the polling station and feel that one was doing one’s bit for democracy. By virtue of Commonwealth citizenship, I am even able to vote in the UK’s national elections; which is just as well in terms of supporting democracy because I can no longer vote in New Zealand elections, having lived away for too long.

There doesn’t seem to be an official elections result page for these elections on the Web. The newspapers have results (Cambridge council is now controlled by the Liberal Democrats), but not in any particular detail. I have no idea whether or not the particular councillor I voted for got in or not. The council’s page hasn't been updated yet.

Our towels were still damp from swimming on Wednesday, so we decided to skip it today. The shame, the shame!

Wednesday, 1 March 2000

Barbarism in the USA

Listening to:

Beethoven, string quartet, op 130 in B flat.

The news this morning on the radio included a story about a six year old shooting a class-mate in Michigan, USA. Yet more evidence to my already suspicious mind that American gun laws are farcically bad.

I hoped to be able to find some sort of reaction on the NRA's web-site, but their news sub-page required plug-ins that I didn't have.

So, instead I’ll just sound off about how barbaric the US situation seems to be. The US has the world's largest prison population, it's happy to see people bearing lethal weapons, and it executes more people than any other nation apart from China. Grr, now you've got me onto the death penalty as well. I suspect I’m about to get all incoherent, so I’ll just leave it at that, except to point you at an Amnesty International web-site, where you can read more about this sort of thing to your heart’s content.

I don’t live in the US after all. Some proportion of those who do clearly manage to lead happy and satisfying lives. Many people would prefer to live in the US than elsewhere.