Friday, June 26, 2009

She died in less than one minute

An interview with the doctor who tried to save Neda's life.

Quote of the Day

No display of ass-hattery will be judged excessive in the coming days. If Blair himself read a prayer at Jackson's funeral then led the congregation in an embarrassing dance, I would hardly wince.

I don't think he'll be coming back again

Margaret's anti-burglar policy. Do listen.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Cyber War

I recently passed a fairly arbitrary milestone with my hosting business: thanks to a DDOS attack from a botnet against one particular system, the number of malicious contacts with my servers passed the million per day mark. This did have a slight effect on performance until I introduced a new security layer.

This sort of thing is routine when it comes to online systems. Most of the time, it's just script kiddies. Use of a botnet suggests a bit more organisation, but needn't be more of a problem than the kiddies. Then, sometimes, someone who actually knows what they're doing comes along and has a serious pop at something.

It's debatable what the best response is. Generally, it's better not to get into a war with people. Years ago, I used to redirect attackers to the Disney website, especially the section that was dedicated to Mickey Mouse. That was immature. Now, I prefer to make systems handle the attacks silently, collecting data about the attacker. On occasion, I've tracked the attacks back to the individual concerned. What to do then depends on things like jurisdiction and the nature of the attack, but on the whole, even if it is possible to take action, I often think it's better to be dealing with an attack you thoroughly understand than to be waiting for the next tactic to emerge.

The Telegraph today reports:

Al-Qaeda is intent on using the internet to launch a cyber-warfare campaign against Britain, Lord West, the Security Minister, has warned.
It would be bizarre if they weren't. The report goes on:
As well as potential cyber-attacks from terrorists, Britain faces a real and growing threat from foreign governments such as China and Russia, and from organised criminal gangs, he said.
Well yes, that isn't news. It was quite widely reported, a year ago, that cyber attacks against Georgia coincided with Russian troop movements into South Ossetia. More recently, Iranian opposition geeks took down some pro-Ahmadenijad websites. This is just routine, nowadays.

Targets include key businesses, the national power grid, financial markets and Whitehall departments.

As part of attempts to beef up defences, a new Office for Cyber Security will be set up to co-ordinate Government policy.

Another new development will see the creation of a "cyber-forensics" team based at GCHQ, the Government's eavesdropping centre in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

The Cyber Security Operations Centre will constantly monitor, analyse and counter cyber attacks as they happen.
You mean... they haven't been doing this already?

Now I am scared.

Burka quote of the day

If I had been forced to wear a veil, I would certainly not be free to write this article. Nor would I have run a marathon, become an aerobics teacher or set up a business.

We must unite against the radical Muslim men who love to control women.

My message to those Muslims who want to live in a Talibanised society, and turn their face against Britain, is this: 'If you don't like living here and don't want to integrate, then what the hell are you doing here? Why don't you just go and live in an Islamic country?'
Saira Khan.

They'd have to choose the right Islamic country to live in, though. Burkas are banned in Tunisia and Turkey.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Secularism and the burka

If modern day Druids decided to stop poncing about in bedsheets pretending they are in Victorian paintings, and started trying to emulate what little we do know of the real historical Druids, they would start sacrificing people by drowning them. This would be a matter for the criminal law, though, not a crisis of secularism.

If a town in Yorkshire were colonised by the descendants of Aztecs, and they started ripping the still-beating hearts from the chests of virgins in the Old Market Square, we wouldn't be facing a crisis of secularism. It would be a matter for the criminal law.

If enclaves were established in European towns and cities, in which women were not educated, were treated as slaves and chattels, sold to men, forbidden social interaction, held powerless, beaten, raped and sometimes killed - even if these things were done in the name of a religion - it would not be a crisis of secularism. It would be a matter for the criminal law.

As Nicolas Sarkozy said, "The problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it's a problem of liberty and women's dignity. It's not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can't accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity."

Sometimes freedoms conflict. Where it is a voluntary act, the right to wear a burka is comparable to one of two things: the right to walk around in full bondage gear complete with dog collar and leash, or the right to walk around wearing a full Nazi uniform, complete with swastika armband.

Neither type of right trumps the imperative of eliminating slavery from our cities.

Ross was right about what secularism is, which is why I quoted a short extract from one of his posts. Sarkozy is right about the burka.

Incidentally, what isn't challenged enough is the question of some Asian male attitudes. If members of the Ku Klux Klan started threatening and attacking white women who went out with or wanted to marry men from other ethnic backgrounds, we'd have a front-page headline campaign from the Guardian and the BBC. It's no different when Asian men behave in a comparable way.

UPDATE: Credit where it is due: given that I'm implicitly critical of them in this post, it's good of someone at the BBC to link to it from the Reaction from around the Web section of the Today Programme website. (The link will disappear pretty soon, of course).

Monday, June 22, 2009

Remember her

like this:

Ross understands...

... secularism:

Secularism should mean refusing to grant any special place in public life to religion or religious institutions, not actively preventing religious expression.

UPDATE: I've clarified what I think about secularism and the burka here.

I think...

... therefore I am.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Which dystopia?

I had to wait a long time before being able to embark on 1984. Agreeing with all that the critics have written of it, I need not tell you, yet once more, how fine and how profoundly important the book is.

The philosophy of the ruling minority in 1984 is a sadism that has been carried to its logical conclusion by going beyond sex and denying it. Whether in actual fact the policy of the boot-on-the-face can go on indefinitely seems doubtful. My own belief is that the ruling oligarchy will find less arduous and wasteful ways of governing and of satisfying its lust for power, and that these ways will resemble those which I described in Brave New World... Within the next generation I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience... The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency. Meanwhile, of course, there may be a large scale biological and atomic war—in which case we shall have nightmares of other and scarcely imaginable kinds.
Aldous Huxley, in a letter to George Orwell. It might be that while Orwell observed brilliantly a form of tyranny that appeared in the twentieth century, Huxley was closer to the mark in the longer term. His worry about nuclear war was very much a concern of the time he was writing in, and he was not immune to the hyperbole of ideas like "narco-hypnosis". But "infant conditioning" and "suggesting people into loving their servitude"? Absolutely.

Huxley was also correct, I think, in associating licentiousness with practical tyranny. I have no idea why this is - sexual liberty is a form of liberty, of course. Perhaps licentiousness is not. Or might it be that prescribed, approved forms of licentiousness are not?

UPDATE: And when it comes to "[tyrannical] change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency", that really has proved to be true. It has been very effective in Britain over the past ten years to combine the putting in place of very inefficient systems with a perpetual drive for efficiency that mandates the perpetual augmentation of those inefficient systems.

Another green eyed woman

I also know that Iran’s women stand in the vanguard. For days now, I’ve seen them urging less courageous men on. I’ve seen them get beaten and return to the fray. “Why are you sitting there?” one shouted at a couple of men perched on the sidewalk on Saturday. “Get up! Get up!”

Another green-eyed woman, Mahin, aged 52, staggered into an alley clutching her face and in tears. Then, against the urging of those around her, she limped back into the crowd moving west toward Freedom Square. Cries of “Death to the dictator!” and “We want liberty!” accompanied her.

There were people of all ages. I saw an old man on crutches, middle-aged office workers and bands of teenagers. Unlike the student revolts of 2003 and 1999, this movement is broad.

“Can’t the United Nations help us?” one woman asked me. I said I doubted that very much. “So,” she said, “we are on our own.”

Full employment

Following on from my last post, about Anatoly Movchan's account of the struggle over competing views of human rights, after WWII, up to the 1970s, another disputed right was the right to work.

In practice, it's hard to distinguish a right to work from a duty to work, and Movchan was more candid about this, the consequence of a state policy of full employment, than anyone I have ever read:

When reports from socialist countries were considered, some Western experts and members of the Human Rights Committee tried, both privately and officially, to argue that dealing with the problem of human parasites who sponge on other people is a phenomenon characteristic only of socialism, and that authorities who seek to prevent it are guilty of violating the relevant Covenant provision prohibiting forced labour.

UPDATE: I should perhaps have added that Movchan had the measure of these Western experts:
in accordance with Art. 8 of the Covenant, "any work or service which forms part of normal civil obligations" is not included in the term "forced or compulsory labour."
There we have the splendour of international jurisprudence, encapsulated in one short phrase. If it is a "normal civil obligation" for you to be sent to a labour camp, then it is not in conflict with the United Nations Covenant that prohibits coercion to forced labour.

Note also, that the advocate of full employment's only concern is whether forced labour is prohibited by the Covenant. He has no doubt it is appropriate for "human parasites".

An old alliance

Nick Cohen is wrong here:

Earlier this year, the dictatorships which dominate the United Nations’ comically named Human Rights Council tried to pass a motion stating that defamation of religion should everywhere be a crime. For obvious reasons, Islamic states pushed the new blasphemy law and abused the language of liberty as they attempted to justify the punishment of Muslims and non-Muslims who criticised or mocked orthodoxy.

Strikingly, states that 20 or even 10 years ago would have been their enemies rushed to their side. Putin’s Russia, which has been engaged in the dirty war against the Islamists of Chechnya, supported the assault on dissent. As did Cuba’s communist atheists, the supposed socialists of Ch├ívez’s Venezuela and the Brezhnevian relics from Belarus. The promise of an attack on the liberal values of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience produced a united front.

As he sat in his condo, nursing his grievances and watching his Mel Gibson movies, James W von Brunn may have seemed a relic of the fascist movements of the 20th century. But in his grubby, instinctive way, he was groping towards the new authoritarian alliances of the 21st.
This is not a new alliance.

The United Nations Human Rights Committee has a lower profile than the Council and has been meeting for far longer:
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and its first Optional Protocol allowing individuals to submit complaints to the Human Rights Committee were adopted by the General Assembly on 16 December 1966 and entered into force on 23 March 1976. The Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, was adopted on 15 December 1989 and entered into force on 11 July 1991.

The Human Rights Committee was established to monitor the implementation of the Covenant and the Protocols to the Covenant in the territory of States parties. It is composed of 18 independent experts who are persons of high moral character and recognized competence in the field of human rights. The Committee convenes three times a year for sessions of three weeks' duration, normally in March at United Nations headquarters in New York and in July and November at the United Nations Office in Geneva.
The Soviet delegate to this committee in the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s was Anatoly Movchan, and in 1982 (English translation in 1988) he published a fascinating little book called Human Rights And International Relations, an account of the history of the field of international human rights from the Soviet perspective.

From the beginning there were clashes between different world views. For example, the Soviet Union argued that international treaties should exempt ideas of which they disapproved (fascism) from provisions guaranteeing freedom of expression. Capitalist countries rejected these suggestions, Movchan explains:
on the grounds that the notions "fascism" and "organisations of a fascist nature" were allegedly "vague and obscure". Incredibly, that "argument" was advanced in 1947, two years after World War II, unleashed by fascism, had ended...
Movchan's book shows, in example after example, how from the very start the Soviet Union sought alliances for the battle over human rights, and from the start found them with developing countries, especially from Africa and from the Islamic world. This alliance, which had formed by the 1970s, is what we also see at work in the Human Rights Council.

It is an old alliance, and has consciously set itself against the values of the capitalist West for more than three decades now.

(See also here for Movchan on the right to work.)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Rational self interest

In this week's Normblog Profile, Matthew Yglesias replies to one question as follows:

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to combat? > That selfishness is more rational than benevolence.
But who puts forward this thesis he wants to combat? It seems like a reference to Adam Smith's famous suggestion that:
It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we can expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.
This is a widely misunderstood passage. It does not say "It ought not to be from the benevolence...", nor does it say "It would be less rational were it to be from the benevolence...". It says, quite simple, "It is not from the benevolence". This is not a recommendation, nor approval, nor a comment on rationality. It is an observation of fact.

People behave self-interestedly. They just do. They do in every type of social, economic or political system. Self-interest varies, it isn't always economic (status, for example, can be important and can work counter to economic self-interest), it isn't the only factor in human behaviour, but it is always a motivational force in people. And it happens to be the main reason why the butcher bothers to go to work.

Moreover, there's no suggestion in this passage that the tradesmen cannot or do not behave benevolently. It simply says that they don't go to work out of benevolence.

People - like me - who feel Smith was right in this passage are not trying to combat benevolence or advocate selfishness. We're simply observing that, in the human economy as in the natural world, lots of small acts of self-interest combine to form a rich and robust ecosystem.

John Lee Hooker

And Van Morrison. Glorious - had to share it:

Sunday, June 07, 2009

When the wheels

Long silence... but you should hear this: