Sunday, May 20, 2007

Blog attack

Sorry for not posting - I'm just so busy with my day job I can't spare the time for thinking through new posts properly.

Tim Worstall has a slightly different concern: what happens when newspaper attacks could mean a blogger loses his day job entirely. A Civil Servant called Owen Barder has been attacked by the Mail on Sunday over remarks made over a longish period of time in his blog.

From what I have seen (the blog is now offline), I'd personally lose little time in criticising Mr Barder's sentiments but the notion that he should be able to express these in a private capacity is, as Tim says, an absolute principle that should be defended as strenuously as possible.


I have to admit that I think this piece in the Mail is really rather extraordinary. As above, you can see that it's a mixture of gross distortions, garbled (and wrongly attributed) quotes and in general a hit job.

Which is really something that all of us other bloggers might want to start thinking about. If they hound Owen out of his job on the basis of the above farrago and tissue of innuendo and misquotation then that's rather going to be the end of this enjoyable pastime for most of us, isn't it? Anyone writing tens of thousands of words over the years is open to such an assassination of the character.
Quite. Because this is important, I have nipped in to help publicise this as widely as possible, and to link to Tim's post on this subject.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Let's hope it's plagiarised

Just when you think you have a few days to spend on some more interesting things, something blows up. Part of my emergency work has been upgrading a remote server from FreeBSD 5.5 through 6.0 to 6.2 - remotely. Think of upgrading a Windows server from NT to 2003, on a machine nearly 100 miles away with no CDs, just the internet connection. All done online. Can't be done. But it can with FreeBSD - and if you're really feeling good you can keep serving websites while you're doing it, with short breaks for four reboots.

FreeBSD is a superb operating system. It differs from Linux in lots of ways, but one is the license it is distributed under. Unlike the GPL (all derivatives must carry this same license and conditions), the BSD license boils down to: do what you like with this, but give us credit where appropriate. That's why Apple were comfortable using FreeBSD as the basis for OS X.

But this made me think of Mr Friedman, and this tribute from a news show when he died.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Good King Stephen?

Stephen (1135-54) is one of the least well known, and least well loved, of English Kings. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle said of his reign:

Men said openly that Christ and his saints slept
Stephen shares with John the distinction of having no subsequent heir to the throne named for him. As with John, there have been attempts to argue that Stephen's bad reputation is not entirely deserved.

Stephen's reign has tended, for the past couple of hundred years, to be referred to as a time of "anarchy". This isn't a very apt description, in fact, but there was a sort of civil war for some of his reign and the legitimacy of his claim to the throne has been questioned, though more since than at the time he was alive.

I've just started reading Donald Matthew's 2002 book about Stephen. Matthew has an interesting idea about why modern historians, as well as some medieval chroniclers, were either scathing or dismissive of Stephen but I will come to that later.

Setting the scene in the first chapter, and arguing that there has been a fashion for judgement, as well as analysis, in history, something of which Matthew does not really approve, he has this to say:
The use of history for moral purposes cannot be mocked as 'old fashioned', religious wishful-thinking. It goes back further than Christianity and has not yet been abandoned. The inclination not only to understand public affairs in terms of conflicts between the good and the bad, but to believe that the wicked should and can be punished for their evil deeds, if not by divine providence, then by the dedicated efforts of the righteous themselves still prevails, not least amongst popularist politicians. The determination to be proved right is so strong that even victory in war is no longer thought sufficient to resolve any doubts. It is now routine to have the moral worthiness of the cause and the war vindicated in the law courts by securing convictions of the enemy for war crimes. In any dispute, it is assumed that human judgement can and should be employed to establish which party was in the right and which wrong. The historian is not expected to confine attention to elucidating, as precisely as possible, what happened when and why. 'History' itself is somehow supposed to weigh up the evidence and pronounce judgement.
It seems to me that Matthews is touching on a serious and unusual point. This trend to legalise history, especially recent history, is perhaps an entirely bad thing. Is it not enough for one side to win, and to understand how this came about? It reached an apogee in the aftermath of the Second World War, with the Nuremberg trials, and we seem to have been plagued by a combination of paralysis of action and the continual establishment of impotent international legal institutions ever since. It might be better to act if something bad is happening, or you are threatened, then move on without the paraphernalia of ritual moral supremacy.

This first chapter ends well:
Historians, even of Stephen, may not be able to distance themselves completely from the preoccupations of their own age, but they must also try to observe the rules of their craft and test modern ideas against what the twelfth-century evidence clearly has to say about the reign. In other words, the sources must be coaxed into telling us what they really did witness, not tortured into confirming what we would like to believe.
Geoffrey Elton gave a talk to my school Historical Society once, titled "History, the essential study". He argued that history was this because it was a "bulwark against tyranny". The study of history teaches us to question authority, both in a strict and in a more general meaning of that word. A historian must never simply believe what he or she reads, but always ask who wrote it, what preconceptions, bias and distortions they might have introduced, deliberately or inadvertently, to their writing. History is not the process of memorising received wisdom and finding new ways to recite it, but rather of returning over and over again, each new generation and each new individual, to the sources and approaching them afresh, with scepticism and clarity unclouded by interference either from the work of past scholars or by the concerns of their contemporaries.

That is not a description of history as experienced by schoolchildren today. The subjects most studied seem to be World War II, the history of slavery, the history of the settlement of the Americas, all framed in tones of unmistakable morality which it is a crime - metaphorically at the moment in Britain but literally in parts in some European countries - to question or challenge. This is unhistory, and far from being a bulwark against tyranny it is a handmaiden to it, however well intentioned the reasons for this might be.

At the centre of this is the holocaust and, slightly less so, slavery. But the sources confirm quite plainly the truth of what happened. Failing to emphasise the sources and insisting on conformity to a received narrative actually weakens the very thing it is supposed to protect. Once made uncritical, children are just as easily persuaded of the International Jewish Conspiracy as of the Shoah. Only by making them return, whatever anyone tells them, to the sources can we be secure from the mass deceit that underlies all tyrannical government.

Which brings me back to Stephen. Henry I before him, and Henry II after him, were both energetic and reforming administrators and kings, especially Henry II. They did lots of the stuff historians like. They ruled. They governed. There were reams of legal documents produced. Pipe Rolls. Councils. Brilliant.

Stephen did little of this. He ruled, was admired and was acknowledged to have been a humane decent and honourable man. That hasn't been enough for modern judgements. Matthews puts it like this:
Belief in the virtues of strong government, and even more in the duty of all governments to commit themselves to 'reform' of some kind, is unmistakably modern. Its values are purely secular, taking no account of such earlier principles about rulership as respect for the established customs of the realm, for God and for the Church. No excuses for shirking the challenge of government are acceptable. Whereas medieval writers would have acknowledged that men, as inherently sinful, constantly thwart the most noble intentions and, as imperfectable, must fail to achieve their own ambitions in this life, modern confidence that rulers can do what they want and must be judged accordingly makes Stephen look inadequate for his office. Little attention has been given to establishing how much his subjects expected or required him to rule as his uncle [Henry I] had done.
Stephen seems not to have been very New Labour.

I'm warming to Stephen.


In a moment of pure genius, Jonz put a piece of prose from Lenin's Tomb, as usual explaining how everything is George Bush's fault, through the AOLer translator, which converts normal English into that of a 12 year old internet chatter.

Now, look at this. When you've bombed hospitals, destroyed cities, attacked the civilian infrastructure...
Deserves to be read in full.

Holocaust denial week

I know this is just an echo chamber post, but via lgf I am awestruck by the decision to invite a holocaust denier to holocaust memorial week. Step forward the Muslim Student Union at UCI:

Musa openly supports Palestinian terrorists and denies that al Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks. He is also a holocaust denier and an antisemitic conspiracy theorist

One for the Windows fans

Business as usual:

System administrators will have to prioritize between updating Exchange and DNS servers while leaving equally important server and application updates dangling, experts say.
Microsoft has released patches for 19 vulnerabilities, 14 of which are critical, hitting at holes in Excel, Word, Office, Exchange, Internet Explorer, cryptographic technology and the whopper of them all, the zero-day vulnerability in the DNS Server's use of RPC.

Michael Sutton, a security evangelist for Atlanta-based SPI Dynamics, said the "pretty high percentage" of critical updates on this Patch Tuesday is going to force a lot of system administrators to juggle updates, making decisions about which servers to update first. System administrators "can't take care of everything at once," he said. "You have to look at severity."

Sutton said he's advising people to first focus on the Exchange and Domain Name System updates, given that those vulnerabilities will leave companies the most exposed to attack. " [It's a] challenge; when you have 14 criticals, you're putting some things secondary that are still top priorities," he said.

An exploit for the DNS RPC (remote procedure call) interface vulnerability was discovered in the wild in April. Within a week of its discovery, four new malicious programs popped up, each trying to take over systems by prying open the DNS hole.

The DNS remote code execution vulnerability affects server-grade operating systems, including Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003, and only those that have the DNS service enabled, such as Domain Controller, DNS Server or Microsoft Small Business Server configurations.

Still, warned Symantec, based in Cupertino, Calif., enterprises and small businesses "should ensure [that] they update their systems with the patch since this vulnerability has already been exploited." A successful exploit would completely compromise the computer.

In the distance...

... I hear the sound of senior policemen starting to weep, softly. They like graphs.


A reader tells me that at the time of the shooting [to death of a police officer] (6am Sunday 6th May) there were a grand total of seven officers with no air cover and no dog cover on duty in the whole of the Shropshire division, which has a population of 289,000 people, most of whom I admit, probably weren’t about to shoot a police officer. Naturally, I can’t vouch for any of this, but from my own experience, (and I admit that West Mercia might be totally different) it doesn’t seem too wide of the mark.

The solution to officer safety doesn’t lie in giving officers guns. It depends on both the government and senior officers accepting that policing is about more than file building, detections and graphs that go in the required direction.


More cartoon fun from the Religion of Perpetual Outrage:

The county jail where a Christian minister handed out anti-Islamic cartoons announced it will hire an imam for its Muslim inmates.

The Rockland County Jail also said it will provide religiously appropriate food.

Rockland Undersheriff Thomas Guthrie said Tuesday that the imam will work one day a week, joining the jail's priest and rabbi.

The Christian chaplain, the Rev. Teresa Darden Clapp, was suspended with pay last month after inmates complained she was passing out anti-Islam booklets.

In the cartoon panel stories, a tract titled "Men of Peace?" said Islamic fundamentalists who commit terrorist acts are not "bad Muslims" but "very good Muslims" who act in accordance with their religion.[1] Another tract, titled "Allah Has No Son," said Allah is not God, Muhammad was no prophet, and the Koran is not the word of God.[2] Both stories end with people being convinced Islam is false. In one, a Muslim converts to Christianity.[3]

Local Muslims have called for Clapp's dismissal, and the county requested an independent investigation.[4]
1. That is certainly the view of the jihadists, and it's a significant view among especially younger western Muslims.

2. These are just conventional Christian beliefs.

3. Conventional Christian hopes.

4. Conventional Muslim reaction, and conventional appeasement where none was necessary.

All very conventional, then. If the provision of halal food and the appointment of an Imam were appropriate, they were appropriate anyway and not as conciliation for this incident. This sort of appeasement is very damaging, and there is no similar gesturing when the offense comes from Muslims.

But I have every confidence that the Imam appointed will show the conventional sensitivity to Christian and secular sensitivities.

Egyptian medicine

There's evidence of systematic and effective medicine in Egypt a millennium before Hippocrates:

The research team from the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at The University of Manchester discovered the evidence in medical papyri written in 1,500BC...

"When we compared the ancient remedies against modern pharmaceutical protocols and standards, we found the prescriptions in the ancient documents not only compared with pharmaceutical preparations of today but that many of the remedies had therapeutic merit."

The medical documents, which were first discovered in the mid-19th century, showed that ancient Egyptian physicians treated wounds with honey, resins and metals known to be antimicrobial.

The team also discovered prescriptions for laxatives of castor oil and colocynth and bulk laxatives of figs and bran. Other references show that colic was treated with hyoscyamus, which is still used today, and that cumin and coriander were used as intestinal carminatives.

Further evidence showed that musculo-skeletal disorders were treated with rubefacients to stimulate blood flow and poultices to warm and soothe. They used celery and saffron for rheumatism, which are currently topics of pharmaceutical research, and pomegranate was used to eradicate tapeworms, a remedy that remained in clinical use until 50 years ago.

Bear necessities

My first night camping in Alaska, twenty six years ago, I heard what sounded like an express train coming through the woods outside my tent. It stopped suddenly, and there was quiet again. Then a rustle. Then quiet.

For maybe five minutes the sounds continued, just beyond the canvas. Then the creature moved off. The next morning, I found bear tracks the size of dinner plates in the soft ground around the tent and under the tree where I had stashed my food. You don't share a tent with food in bear country, if you've any sense. The bear had obviously tried to get at the cache up in the branches, and pretty much ignored me. That could easily have saved my life.

Grizzly bears are shy creatures, though I did meet someone who watched one chase a moose through his garden as he sat eating breakfast. That's rare, but not unknown.

On Sunday, a resident of Homer, Alaska, filmed a grizzly bear killing a moose in his driveway, and eating the heart. Don't click if you're too squeamish.

Be concerned for $35

The website of the Union of Concerned Scientists tells us:

Scientists are concerned that engineered organisms might harm people’s health or the environment.
Really? Scientists are concerned about that? I suppose it depends on your definition of scientists, and the UCS has a broad definition. You can become a concerned scientist for just $35 - there are no other qualifications, and they'll even send you a mouse mat if you join. Scientists use computers, you see.

In fact, while there certainly are scientists among its members, the UCS is just a giant-papier-mache-heads left wing lobby group, one that has the almost admirable cheek to complain about political interference in science while carrying on Frankenstein mob-style campaigns against genetic engineering. Oh, and global warming.

Here's an insight into their campaign tactics:
For almost four decades, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) has manipulated the high reputation of “science” to serve the low ends of politics. It has done a good job of cherry-picking scientific facts to stir up public fears to advance its agenda. This time it is promoting alarmist claims about global warming by leveraging the prestige of the “concerned scientist.”

The credulous media usually fall all over themselves to defer to UCS every time the group takes a political position. For instance, when it issued a report in 2004 criticizing President George W. Bush’s handling of science policy, the union was described as “a scientific advocacy group” (New York Times), “a group of scientists” (Reuters), “an independent Cambridge-based organization” (Boston Globe), and a “nonprofit ... advocacy group in Cambridge, Mass.” (Newsday). After all, who but concerned scientists would pass judgment on President Bush and conclude that he was a scientific ignoramus manipulating science in order to advance a partisan agenda?

That UCS is a highly partisan operation -- well funded by left-leaning foundations and Hollywood celebrities and happy to ignore established scientific methodologies for its own purposes—is apparently not newsworthy. The group has a long history of being just plain wrong on many scientific issues, and its current agenda conforms to the extremes of environmentalist ideology. Moreover, UCS is neither representative of the scientific community at large nor is it a gathering of top scientists. Instead, a cadre of senior staff whose credentials are steeped more in Washington policy-making than in scientific research rides herd over a grassroots membership from all walks of life.
Read it all.


Yahweh Ben Yahweh, a preacher's kid from Oklahoma who grew up to lead a black supremacist group that terrorized South Florida in the 1980s — demanding that his followers kill "white devils" and return with a body part as proof of the kill — died quietly in his sleep Monday, his lawyers said. He was 71.

"Yahweh will be remembered and mourned by the millions of people that he touched through prayer and teachings," his lawyers, Jayne Weintraub and Steven Potolsky, said in a statement issued Tuesday.
From Fox News


The bullish press comment about Ubuntu Linux continues, this time from Ziff Davis/UPI:

With companies and individuals everywhere failing to find the wow in Windows Vista, Apple's OS X riding iPod sales and snarky commercials to steady growth, and long-time Microsoft partner Dell announcing plans to market a Linux desktop to the mainstream, it seems certain that the days of Microsoft's desktop monopoly are numbered.

Granted, that number is probably a large one, but as evidenced by eWEEK Labs' tests of Ubuntu Linux 7.04, the state of the Linux desktop - not to mention that of other Windows alternatives - is too strong to hold off heterogeneity forever.

Ubuntu Linux 7.04, which Dell has chosen to headline its desktop Linux foray, has made impressive strides toward claiming a spot on mainstream desktop and server machines, both by piling up advances made across the Linux and open source community, and by building in advances of its own.

Snazzy desktop

Just to put Vista in perspective, have a look at this desktop system for Linux. Note, multiple virtual desktops have been a feature of Unix Window managers for years now. They allow you to set up desktops for different tasks or sets of tasks and switch between them at will. I generally run between six and eight of them.

Message in a petrol-filled bottle

Here's an interesting perspective from CNN:

France's defeated Socialists called for an end to post-election violence Tuesday after anti-Sarkozy protestors took to the streets for a second night, leaving cars burned and store windows smashed in Paris as well as unrest elsewhere.

While the unrest has been small-scale, it sent a message to Nicolas Sarkozy: He may have won the presidency, but he hasn't won over the many French who consider him -- and his free-market reforms and tough line on crime and immigration -- frighteningly brutal.
The rioters consider Sarkozy to be brutal?

Monday, May 07, 2007

On the money

Chris Rock. If you're a conservative, you're stupid. If you're a liberal, you're stupid. If you've made your mind up before hearing what happened, you're stupid.

Death to animators

There are calls for the murder of a 70 year old Iranian cartoonist, Nooredin Zarrin-kelk, who is said to have ridiculed the chador (a sort of unpegged tent some women wear in Iran):

The incident led to organised protests by state backed fundamentalist Baseej students, who once again exploited the situation in favour of their recent demand for a second "cultural revolution".
If you follow the link, you'll see there is such a thing as a free lunch, at least for state backed fundamentalist students who organise spontaneous demonstrations.

Palestinian kids are having fun with the new Mickey Mouse-like character Farfur on Hamas TV.

OK, it's genocidal supremacist fun, but at least they're not wearing tents. Sample dialogue:
Farfur: “We are setting with you the cornerstone for world leadership under Islamic leadership. Isn’t it so, Saraa’?”

Saraa’: “Yes, our beloved children.”
Ah, those golden days of carefree childhood... They even have songs:
The hostess explains to Farfur that one must aspire to memorize the entire Quran… "Because we want to lead the world, so [therefore] we want to memorize the [entire] Quran."

[The girl Harwa recites a song:]
"We liberated Gaza by force
From your death…
The people firmly stand
In their fire is a flame
Rafah sings "oh, oh"
Its answer is an AK-47
We who do not know fear
We are the predators of the forest."

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Blogger ate my post

Well, my long post about the media reaction to the French election result was eaten by blogger, which displayed a warning that I might have a virus or spyware on my computer.

It's Linux, you dolts.

Conjoined twins

Is Tony Blair best understood as the most completely conjoined twins that medical science has ever failed to record? The question occurred to me when I saw this photo at NHS blog Doctor:

Meet Vinnie:

And The Joker:

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Shirley Caesar

I'm an atheist, but when she finally breaks into song, I'm a believer...

(PS Have been very busy, hopefully post tomorrow)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Mid life crises

I'm with Dillow on this one.

It's only now that we've grown older that we've learned that "wealth and greatness are mere trinkets of frivolous utility" (Theory of Moral Sentiments, IV.1.8). What matters is shagging and guitars.

Public sector failings

This would not happen in a private company:

The Old Bailey was told that a wall protecting a "lethal void" in a block of flats in Manor Park, east London, had been left in a dangerous condition for five months.

Six workmen called on five occasions but failed to carry out repairs.
Each time a workman had been sent, the job was not found or the wrong type of maintenance employee was sent.
And so a 13 year old boy fell to his death. Newham Council has been fined £125,000.

So Newham tax payers had to pay for four wasted expeditions by workmen, plus a six figure fine.

If Councils must manage housing stock, they should employ no workmen at all. They should contract the work to private companies, which would have to pay the costs of sending the wrong workmen, and which would cease to get work if they didn't do the jobs in a timely and cost effective way.

But it would be far better if they did not manage any housing stock.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Iranian Union leader kidnap attempt

Azarmehr reports:

After the May Day protests in Tehran yesterday, Mansoor Ossanlou, the Bus Drivers Union leader was approached by three plain clothes agents in the Haft-Tir Metro station, who tried to kidnap him. Ossanlou's companions however alerted the public to what was going on and consequently the plot to kidnap Ossanlou was foiled with the help from the public.

Ossanlou and his companions immediately lodged a complaint in the courts, but the court official, Dargahi, responded by saying "I am against your syndicate and you should join the official Islamic unions", and rejected their complaint.

Reagan Diaries

Ronald Reagan's diaries are being published. I think he was one of the very great Presidents, but he was also one of the funniest, with a dry wit evident even in serious remarks:

Wed. Feb. 11 • Intelligence reports say he Castro is very worried about me. I'm very worried that we can't come up with something to justify his worrying.

Wed. Nov. 18 • Today was the big day—the speech to the world at the Nat. press club. It really was to the world. I'm told it was the largest network ever put together—all of Europe, China & I don't know how many other places. It has been wonderfully received worldwide except for Russia—Tass [tass, Russian news agency] is screaming bloody murder. I asked Russia to join us in total elimination of all medium range nuclear weapons in Europe. Funny—I was talking peace but wearing a bullet proof vest. It seems Qaddafi put a contract on me & some person named Jack was going to try for me at the speech. Security was very tight.[This was after he had been shot]

Tues. Dec. 22 • Met with the Polish Ambassador & his wife. It was an emotional meeting. They have asked for asylum here. He is defecting because of what the Polish govt. (ordered by the Soviets) are doing to the Polish people.

I go on TV tomorrow nite. It's supposed to be a Christmas message but I intend to deliver a message to the Soviets & the Poles. We can't let this revolution against Communism fail without our offering a hand. We may never have an opportunity like this one in our lifetime.

Fri. April 2 • Last night I called the Pres. of Argentina—talked for 40 min. trying to persuade him not to invade the Falkland Islands (property of U.K. since 1540 or so). Argentina has been trying to claim them for 149 years. I got no where. This morning they landed some 1000 or so men. Population of islands is only 2000 almost all English. Now we learn there is a possibility of oil there.
There are ten pages of this at Vanity Fair, and five volumes of the book.

A strong, straightforward man committed to beating communism did just that: he beat it. That's all it would take to eliminate the scourge of Islamism from the world. But Reagan had been talking about communism for decades before he became President. There's nobody like him in sight at the moment.

Stone him!


The President of Iran has been accused of indecency after he publicly kissed an elderly woman who used to be his school teacher.

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was photographed and filmed by state media stooping to kiss the woman’s hand and then clasping her arms in an embrace, at a ceremony yesterday in honour of Iranian teachers’ day.

According to sharia law, it is forbidden for a man to have any physical contact with a woman to whom he is not related.

“The Muslim Iranian people have no recollection of such acts contrary to sharia law during Islamic rule,” seethed the ultra-conservative Hezbollah newspaper, on its front page.
Meanwhile, the Spirit of Man plots his overthrow:
You see, the potential to overthrow the fascist Islamic clerics from inside of Iran is huge. No foreign military intervention is needed to topple this inhumane theocracy. All needed to achieve this goal is to encourage workers, students and teachers to do the job themselves and get the world and their people rid of this crazy regime. But how?

It may sound a bit like a far-fetched fantasy but it is do-able and I'd say it here: All needed to help unite these elements (workers, students, teachers) to oust the mad mullahs is to convince American government to spend the money it spends in Iraq in one day instead in Iran which can be equivalent to the salaries of thousands of those elements who are willing to break the back of mullahs by going on widespred strikes but don't do so out of fear for their families and the fact that their children, husbands or wives need food and supplies to survive the daily life.
Workers protested along with students and teachers this past Tuesday and it's showing that the need to move these people to the right direction is being felt more than ever. The United States government is the only possibility we've got to get rid of the regime in terms of having external support for our men and women who are suffering inside of Iran and many count on the US as a honest broker in this thing. We should not let this golden opportunity go this time!

Voting Tory

Peter Briffa is right. There are still good reasons to vote Tory tomorrow:

Tories are promising tax and spending cuts up and down the country if they win

Genocide awareness

Stephen Pollard points to an unmasked face from Hamas:

Oh Allah, vanquish the Jews and their supporters. Oh Allah, count their numbers, and kill them all, down to the very last one.

Universal franchise

Postal vote fraud in council elections three years ago might have been more extensive than was previously thought:

... in the two wards that were the focus of the investigation there has been an 80 per cent drop in the number of postal voters, while in four other wards where there were also claims of fraud the numbers have fallen by more than half.

The sharp fall off followed an audit by West Midlands Police and Birmingham City Council to check if existing voters knew they were registered.
You can't have an almost universal franchise. It's like something being "fairly unique". Either it is universal or it isn't. By expanding the postal voting system as they did, Labour made a simple decision: they would boost their own votes at the expense of the universal franchise. They knew full well the consequence would be fraud and the loss of voting rights for some women.

Blair need have no worry about his legacy. He killed the universal franchise before it reached its hundredth birthday.

Steve Bell in today's Guardian:

Steve Bell is a moral cripple.

Because they're unprincipled leftists?

Azarmehr asks:

When I was a student, it was rightly inconceivable for a British university to have invited a promoter of Apartheid in South Africa to bolster the image of that regime, so I am lost for words as to why the Islamic Republic continues to receive such opportunities from the British academics?

Feynman lectures

If you can't be bothered to read all the way to the bottom of the previous post, click here and watch a master at work.

The worst and the best

Inayat Bunglawala writes about Sharia courts and, though he's slightly absurd, he has at least one point:

Today's front page headline "Now Muslims Get Their Own Laws in Britain" may sound familiar. That is because it is. The Express has simply done a rehash of other front page stories it has run on exactly the same theme. I wrote about this "dual system" being utter nonsense at the time.

The fact is that under English law people are free to devise their own way to settle a dispute before an agreed third party. The Shariah courts that exist do not - at all - deal with criminal issues which are a matter for the British courts, they entirely deal with civil matters such as marriage and divorce. The arrangement is entirely voluntary and the two parties have recourse to the UK courts at any time should they wish.

The British Jewish community has a similar - but more widespread and established system of courts - known as Beth Din.
So the allegation that there is a dual system is nonsense, although there is, er... a dual system.

But yes, there is a Jewish equivalent, and in fact there are equivalents in other religions including Christianity. This is a case of multiple wrongs making a wrong. But it's inevitable. I think the Express is wrong to single Islam out over this issue. Sharia is unusually disgusting in many ways. The word of a woman is worth less than that of a man. The criminal punishments are Iron Age. But the principle Bunglawala enunciates is a good one: if Judaism or Catholicism can do it, Islam should also be able to, insofar as it doesn't bring the Moslems involved into conflict with British law. This principle of reciprocity is one reason why the Lords Spiritual need to be abolished.

I think another principle emerges here. The fact that some Islamists, even if they constitute 20% of the Muslim population, are attacking everything that is enlightened and civilised doesn't mean we should discriminate against 100% of Muslims. We'd all feel better, Express headline writers included, if there was a proper recognition of the attacks, and a proper response - not the State funding of Islamist shills like the MCB and Mr Bunglawala. A deluded, sophist response to overt attack is going to generate a counter-reaction.

Having said that, we're still left with the fact that Muslims, even Muslims who aren't Islamist, are, in fact, Muslims. That's not going to change. If other religions can follow religious legal practices, then they should be able to do so as well. Rather than chase an arguably non-existent gender pay gap, genuine discrimination against women in immigrant communities should be attacked rigorously, even if it occurs in religious courts, and even if those religious courts are not Muslim.

To get the taste of that out of our mouths, I refer you to a competition being run by Discover Magazine to explain a scientific idea in two minutes or less. The shortlist for explaining string theory can be found here.

If you're interested in accessing genuine knowledge, the internet really does represent a quantum leap forward, even for those ideas and events that predate it. One of the really hugely enormously impossible-to-understatedly marvellous opportunities this includes is the chance to watch a series of lectures given by Richard Feynman a quarter of a century ago in New Zealand.

Feynman had tried to explain the principles of quantum electrodynamics, the field for which he won a Nobel prize, to his friend Alix Mauntner in casual conversation, but was unable to. So he promised her he'd work out a series of lectures that would explain it to an intelligent layman. She died before he completed this, but the lectures survive, and were brought out in book form.

But Feynman was one of the great teachers and lecturers. If you haven't ever seen these lectures, please consider watching them. They can be accessed online here.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Linux on Dell

If reports of a death can be exaggerated, so can reports of a birth. Linux advocates have been predicting the rise of their favourite kernel for years but, almost as the sound of the advocacy has faded, Linux penetration has been rising quietly and inexorably. The advocates don't need to shout so loudly now. They are getting somewhere.

About 8% of the readership of this blog use Linux, but from a less refined sample the figure might be lower. That's still double what you would have expected two years ago. Although Wal Mart has been shipping computers with Linux pre-installed for years now, and despite aborted attempts to do so by Hewlett Packard a couple of years ago, it's still hard for the average consumer to find a machine with Linux ready and waiting when they buy.

When the only computers on the shelves run Windows, that's what people buy. When a manufacturer has to pay a license fee for an operating system whether or not it ships it with a computer, it's going to ship it. The "per processor" licenses were just one of the techniques MS used to develop and enforce a monopoly, and they've paid the fines that went with the territory. Examination of the accounts of the Canopy Group led some to speculate that Microsoft had paid a quarter of a billion dollars in an out of court settlement to Canopy's then subsidiary Caldera (no longer trading under that name, and deeply unworthy of a link, for one reason or another...) over restrictive practices relating to DOS. That's the same kind of figure Microsoft paid into Apple stock to settle litigation over GUI design "inspiration". But so what? By the time they had paid out, tens of billions had been earned. Breaking intellectual property and anti-trust laws can be profitable in an industry that moves so fast that by the time you have come to court, the issue is irrelevant.

Of course, this has led to them being detested, especially by people who know about computers in detail. This famous rant is technical in places but explains what the main body of complaint against this particular corporation consists of. It includes this metaphor:

Picture this: you buy a newly-built house from a real estate company. As soon as it starts to rain, you discover that the roof leaks. When you complain about it, the real estate company either ignores you or they tell you that this kind of roof is a brand-new innovation; the sort of house they used to sell never had such a beautiful roof. Instead of fixing your roof they promise that the next house they'll build won't leak. Eventually they complete their next house, three years or so behind schedule, and you have to pay a hefty price for it... only to find that it comes with a patched roof, and now the water seeps through the walls instead. The new house has an extra wing added to it that you didn't ask for, but as soon as you enter it the floor collapses, and if you try to save yourself you find door jammed.
Why have people put up with this? Well, some didn't. The spread of internet access and the Free Software Foundation allowed computer scientists all over the world to collaborate on programming projects, and so many were so annoyed at the state of the computer market that they developed an operating system entirely for free. No, they developed several operating systems for free. And the application software to go with it. It has been an unprecedented effort. In no other industry have top flight industrial and commercial products that rival or exceed those made by the world's top corporations been developed voluntarily by academics and professionals in their spare time.

If you're not a computer dork, just think about that for a moment. That's how bad Microsoft has been.

The state of the market has had some stability for the best part of a decade now: computer engineers choose Unix, or Unix-like systems like Linux. Consumers use Windows. Designers, the stylish cogniscenti, and people who understand fabrics, use Macs.

But that might be about to change:
Computer maker Dell has chosen Ubuntu as the operating system for its range of Linux computers for consumers.
Michael Dell, the founder, chairman and chief executive of Dell, is himself an Ubuntu user. He has the operating system installed on a high-end Dell Precision M90 laptop he uses at home.
So do I. I use FreeBSD for servers, OpenBSD for security, FreeBSD or Ubuntu Linux for desktops and laptops, Mac OS X for servers, laptops and desktops and NetBSD for my digital watch. NetBSD runs on almost any piece of electrical equipment...

I haven't owned a Windows computer for years, and I don't want to again. Windows is nowhere near as bad as it used to be, in fact Vista is less than five years behind the opposition and with the latest Internet Explorer can even display png graphics properly. But it seems like a hell of an expensive way to compromise my personal security and privacy while making perfectly good equipment run surprisingly slowly.

So good for Dell, but don't underestimate the behind the scenes arm twisting that has gone on to try to stop them doing this. Microsoft plays hardball, and it has needed a player as big and secure as Dell to take this step properly. WalMart isn't exactly a minnow, which is why they've been able to do it, but Dell is bigger in computers.

It's actually overdue. Linux isn't difficult to use. It's a hell of a lot easier to diagnose and fix if there's a problem. It's vastly more secure. You can do everything you can do with Windows, including running Windows itself and Windows software - emulation of hardware allows virtual machines to be run on the desktop, inside which you can run Windows proper, and software emulation allows many Windows programs to be run just like any other program.

But Windows can't run all the ten thousand odd programs I can install with just a broadband connection and the patience to select what I want from a list.

I feel hamstrung with Windows (Mac OS X is also a form of Unix, so that's cool). But the real reason I avoid it is one of principle. I'm a free marketeer. I detest what MS has done to subvert and cripple the market. They have set back computer technology by years.

But the market has responded. And the market will have the last laugh.