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Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Still busy

I'm really making a hash of keeping this thing up to date!

Lots to talk about, such as the future of British nuclear power and protests which fail to get the point of free speech.


How a government had been brought down, partly by blogger activity, in the strange position where the scandal of corruption had nothing to do with the sitting Prime Minister.


And Vatican statements about gay priests: strange language choices and the weird notions of detractors of Catholocism.

So who knows maybe I'll be able to bang some posts out very soon...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Busy

Busy at the moment, lots to blog on but probably irrelevant by the time I get time to do so :-)

My wife's birthday tomorrow, she is too busy to think about it though.

cheers for now

Friday, November 18, 2005

Children in Need charity drive


Tonight, here in the UK, there is the 'Children in Need' appeal. Children in Need is the BBC sponsored charity. It is a worthy cause and I encourage you to donate.

However, I am not going to be pushing you for money here. Oh, no. Here it is me that will be handing over the cash. In a mirror of David's valiant efforts for Comic Relief, for the whole of today I pledge to donate £1 per comment to this post. So drop in and throw me some comments. Tell your friends and you can impoverish me in a communal spirit.

There is an undisclosed upper-limit since I am not made of money and I will ignore obviously crap multiple postings (i.e. same post twice, single word posts that form a sentence, that sort of thing).

Update: First comment, already I owe £1! Oh and Ade, I'm not that generous ;-)

Update2: I have changed the time on this so that it will stay on top for the day in case I publish anything else. Speaking of which.

Final Update: Thank you to those of you who supported this. In the end I got 10 comments from about 7 people. That translates to £10. Since this wasn't that much in the great scheme of things I decided to up the amount per comment to £10 and I have donated it already.

Spelling

I used to pride myself on my spelling and grammar. I am still happy with my punctuation skills, I even know when to use a semi-colon; however, I am less happy with my spelling skills nowadays. Things started going downhill a couple of years ago and have not improved.

There are two key features to my spelling problems. The first is the use of a keyboard. Simple spelling errors come from bad keystrokes and a peculiar effect that seems to be based on the difference in speed between my left and right hands. When I type words such as 'the' I tend to follow this pattern:


t: right hand
h: right hand

e: left hand

except that my left hand responds quicker to the command to depress the 'e' key than my right does to get to, and press, the 'h'. I am aware of this now and so often check my work for 'teh', though many still creep in (irony check - are there any in this post?). Additionally, I find it very hard to proof-read my own work, especially on a screen; I tend to read across the words as I know what I was trying to say and that is what I 'see' when I proof-read. For some reason this problem is exacerbated (I wanted to start that with 'ass') on a monitor.


The other problem is much more simple and yet complex at the same time: I cannot bloody spell anymore! Misspelled words just look wrong but I cannot for the life of me think how to correct them. This is linked to other problems that I seem to have: a drop off in my vocabulary; this was quite extensive when I was younger but now, not so much. This applies mostly to my speech. I often become highly frustrated searching for very simple words in ordinary conversation - this manifested a few years ago in my PhD viva voce when I struggled to think of the words 'perpendicular' ("not parallel!!!", I finally screamed) and 'gravity' ("you know, thingie!").
I do not understand what it is that has caused this fritz in my speech abilities but it appears to be persistent. I often find myself trying to say one thing and complete nonsense, made-up words, come spilling from my lips. I dread this happening in a conference talk. No one has said anything yet, but I fear it is just a matter of time.

Anyway, my wife told me off yesterday for the terrible spelling in my weblog. So from now on I am going to expend a little more effort to get things write.



;-)

Update: Oh great and now my use of paragraphs is taken from me by blogger. That should fix it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Torture

There is a long debate going on over at Cabal on the issue of torture.
It has somewhat strayed from the original thread of conversation and instead has turned to the State of the Union and possibly an argument over the meaning of imminent.

I want to go back into the depths of that discussion and pick up a point that Averroes made:

And, as someone suggested, the utilitarian arguments are tangential to the moral arguments. That being said, it always intereting to find those making moral arguments latch on to utilitarian arguments that suit their moral stance. A moral stance, of course, is held despite any utilitarian argument.

In fact, using utilitarian artguments to help the moral cause is in itself, and example of low moral values.

I understand where Averroes is coming from here, it is partly a sentiment held by many: it's wrong, end of story (e.g. Mr Drum). I do think that the last sentence above is an opinion, pure and simple and I would argue that it is an unsubstantiated sweeping insult for those who would make the utilitarian argument. Of course I am about to include myself in that list.

Via Kevin Drum, Matt Yglesias makes the case for the utilitarian argument. Go check it out, personally, once again I can see where he is coming from but I think the case is much simpler than that.

First of all I am not arguing that if torture worked it would be okay to use it. From my own moral standpoint it is never permissable in the cold light of rational thought or discourse. I can understand why someone might use torture in a state of heightened emotions; say they believed the life of their children depended on it. However, I would not excuse them or condone them even though I might understand them.

Now the disclaimer is out of the way I will get to the meat of my point. Simply put, if you are arguing with someone who thinks that torture is okay (with whatever qualifications) you are already arguing with someone who clearly follows a different moral code to yourself. Unless you can think up some fantastic words that I can't I find it difficult to believe that you can convince someone that something is wrong based on a discussion of your morals. In fact I seem to recall Averroes stating that it is wrong for government to impose a moral code on anyone - it is not its function; I could be wrong. In that case, you are immediately on the backfoot. Remember that this is state-sponsored torture that we are talking about here. The moral argument, in that frame of reference, should not be allowed.

So if you cannot convince someone that torture is wrong based on the moral argument should you give up and admit defeat, perhaps saying 'oh well, I tried and I did not compromise my values'? No you have to get inside your opponent's head and work out why they think torture is worth pursuing so that you can counter that view. One clear point is the argument that for the majority of cases torture just doesn't work. To not use this argument when it is clear that simply appealing to the moral argument is not going to work could be construed as an example of one's 'low moral values'. if one truly believes that torture is morally wrong, is not one obliged to use every trick possible (within the bounds of your moral code) to put an end to it?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Carlson starts lucid, ends in strange conclusions

I don't make a habit of reading Tucker Carlson. In fact I did not know he had a blog or column on the MSNBC website. However today his was one of the links on the MSNBC front page under the title 'NBC News Highlights' and so I took a look.

Seems he had a guest on to discuss a theory that the events on 9/11 were an inside job caused by bombs not planes. This is hardly a new accusation but it is still clearly doing the rounds. It seems the interview did not go well.

I was first drawn to this quote:
When one of my producers first told me about him, my first thought was: Stephen Jones is insane. And he may be. On the other hand, he does have a legitimate job and a responsible-sounding title. He's not living in the park, or writing me letters in crayon. How crazy could he really be? In the interest of open-mindedness, we booked him.
Now this just shows off Carlson's elitism. Look pal, just because you have a job and good sounding job title it does not mean that you can not be a crazy person. Give the privileged the opportunity to be maddies as well!

Anyway, I digress. Apparently an overwhelming majority of viewers who bothered to write in thought this guy had some credibility:

But the overwhelming majority wrote to thank me for my "courage" in putting him on, and to complain that we didn't give him more time to explain the conspiracy.

In other words, a lot of people seem to think it's possible that the U.S. government had a hand in bringing down the World Trade Center buildings.

Now of course Tucker knows exactly what those emailed said and I suspect that his interpretation is correct but what he says in the second paragraph does not necessarily follow from the first. From the information that Carlson passes to us it could be that a lot of the 'overwhelming majority' were simply praising the courage in putting a 'nut' on TV and/or drawing attention to the fact that these conspiracy theorists are out there peddling their wares. We are left to fill in the blanks that those people that wrote in actually believe in the possibility of the US government involvement. I just mention this as an example of sloppy journalism - making a broad accusation based upon information that is only partially offered to the reader so that we fill in the gaps.

Tucker then goes on to say:
If you really thought this - or even considered it a possibility - how could you continue to live here? You couldn't. You'd leave the United States on the next available flight and not come back. You'd have no choice. Continuing to pay taxes to a government capable of something so evil would make you complicit in the crime.
Whoa!! Slow down there boy. He starts with a simple and legitimate question and then immediately leaps into an answer that fits his worldview. He thinks that way so it must be the way it is. I can understand this but it is a little unfair. What follows this is even worse:

So of course most of the people who wrote to say they think the government might have been behind 9-11 don't really think the government might have been behind 9-11. For whatever reason, they just like to say so. Which as far as I'm concerned makes them phony and irresponsible.

Holy crap! What a fantastic conclusion based upon no evidence other than his own beliefs. He has just branded these people liars on the basis of his own opinion of how one should react to a certain thing. He has not considered other possibilities such as these people might be wanting to change the government and punish them and as such this could only be done from within the country. Nope, his view trumps all others.

I would like to point out that I do not believe the conspiracy theory, I just wanted to point out a piece of sloppy analysis which is touted as a 'NBC News Highlight' not as a 'NBC News Opinion'.


Bias in the media/BBC

This old canard pops its head up every week. Earlier today whilst pro-actively performing some work-avoidance I came across this article from March. I think it is generally very interesting and hits some of the marks head on. Generally an honest analysis of bias in the BBC in the ongoing 'bash-the-lefty-BBC' battle (my opinion there). To summarise: yes there is bias, no it is not institutionalised, yes they try to combat it as much as possible.

Do we sometimes get overstep the mark? Undoubtedly.

Do some reporters approach stories with particularly defined values or prejudices? Almost certainly.

But is the bulk of BBC output motivated by a desire to campaign and persuade? No, most certainly not.

Evan Davis, BBC Economics Editor


Vanity Publishing

This from a report by the BBC's Torin Douglas:

To sceptics, the blog is simply vanity publishing on a vast scale, allowing the world and his wife to witter on about their mundane lives without the benefit of a good editor
.

Is this true?
The article goes into details about the BBC response to blogging and is generally positive about the concept, but when you get right down to it, the vast majority of blogs are little more than vanity publishing, it is true. Why do we blog? Well we want to share our thoughts, our opinions or some gossip or news that we have heard. There may be more to it than that but I think that for the majority of bloggers it is that simple. We think that someone out there will find what we write interesting; someone will want to know what we have to say and we might influence them to say something as well. We might even think that we can influence the way that some people think. It is quite clear from some blogs that the writers think that their opinions are massively more important than others - these tend to be political blogs. :-) Overall it is pure vanity on our part. It is a wish to spread the word to the masses, but it is our word that we want to spread, or at least the word that we think is worth spreading. Yet, here is the rub: is that such a bad thing? If a blog has an audience it means that our vain perception that someone is interested in what we say is correct. In that case the fact that it is a project in personal vanity becomes secondary to the fact that we can reach out and communicate with other people. We are at least entertaining some people on some level. Of course we then have to worry about the main issue for blog-sceptics:

More dangerously, with none of the traditional journalistic checks, it spawns errors, hoaxes and downright lies which can be right round the world before the truth has its boots on.

This is also true. Though of course, I suspect it speaks mostly to political blogging, which makes up a very small fraction of all of the blogs out there, but could be argued to have the largest impact on journalists. We must rely on the integrity of the bloggers and their fact checking abilities when reading what they say. Of course is this any different to relying on the integrity of journalists and editors? At least with them we have systems like the Press Complaints Commission and public opinion to keep them honest, with bloggers there is little or no official watchdog beyond the threat of legal action. Feedback can be given in comments or email and this can be an effective tool for arguing with a blogger if you don't like what they say. However, since the bloggers control comments it is a simple matter to delete or block complaints, or even not to have comments at all, so this may not be the most effective method with bloggers who are already displaying dishonest tendencies.

It all comes down to trust. Perhaps the same thing that makes us bloggers will keep us honest: few people like to be thought of as dishonest, it offends us by appealing to our vanity.


Blogroll update

Time to update the Blogroll.

So, who is in and who is out?

Who is hip and who is old hat?

Well, basically, continuing my theme of being a sycophantic Hubris fan-boy, I have added INDC Journal to my blogroll since Hubris is now posting there.

Sadly, I have decided to remove Ilyka Damen and A Small Victory. Both sites have shut up shop; Michelle has moved onto pastures new and varied as you will see from her old page and Ilyka Damen is possibly somewhere out there, posing as a man writing a blog. Personally I hope she comes back soon as I can't be arsed whether a blogger is a man or woman, I just want to read the blog.

There is another blog on the list that has become largely moribund and is under close watch. No activity in the near future and the plug is pulled - you know who you are!

Now, a questions to my readers (in the hopes I might get some comments):

What blogs that I do not blogroll should I be reading and why?

If you offer suggestions I will gladly respond to each and everyone.

US retains control of t'internet

story here

I am shocked and outraged that the US has once again used its position as the world's only superpower to foist its own arrogant views on the rest of the world. I am in favour of national pride as much as the next man but the jongoistic attitude of the States in everything it does is an affront to the rest of the world. The internet is a resource for everyone and for the US to claim ownership and try to control our freedom of information is yet another example of its empire-building mind set. Lest face it, they want control of everything since they clearly cleave to the 'might-makes-right' philosophy. And another thing....

Oh, really, who cares who 'owns' the internet. Seriously, if it isn't broken, don't fix it.

I never really understood what the other countries and blocs such as the EU were worried about (with the exception of Iran - I got their problem alright). Perhaps things might change in the future and it may become necessary to rethink the status quo, but as things stand there is no problem.

Let it be.

The BBC article does highlight that this whole non-issue has overshadowed the more critical discussions on how developing nations can make use of 'the digital revolution' to benefit their growth and development.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Weekend

I was going to post on the 'Tony Blair loses vote' fiasco, but you know what? It's Friday, I have friends coming over tonight and more coming tomorrow and it promises to be a cracking weekend. So on that bombshell I leave you with these thoughts:

  • I hate Blair, but even I don't think that losing a parliamentary vote is reason to resign. In fact I think it should be more common place as all whips should be withdrawn. That would be representation!
  • Blair should grow up and apologise for the hideous and offensive rhetoric he peddled before the vote. It smacked of the whole 'If you are not with us you are with them' argument. Try treating the British public with some respect, arse-wipe, most of us may be morons but we put you in power.
  • The contenders for the leadership of the conservative party are in danger of seeming like decent human beings!
  • This is a good thing. I think. Well, as good as it gets when messing with the tax code further. There will be more on this next week...

Today was the day to remember. Seems we still do.

See you next week.

Subversion of our youth.

I watched the Mr. Men as a child. I collected the books as well. But now I am disgusting disgusted (Freudian Slip?) to find out that all this time I was being subverted by a fringe part of society. Forget the Teletubbies, this is worse! Ten times worse.

Right under our noses, the Mr. Men have been promoting a so-called alternative lifestyle. They have been quietly pushing the concept of cross-dressing on our impressionable children. Who knows how many they have already corrupted.

I offer exhibit A:

Need I say anymore? For God's sake! they aren't even trying to hide it!!!!

Drawing

I used to love to sketch. When I was a kid I was always happy when I had a pencil in my hand and I was scribbling away drawing the crzy pictures in my head. I remember one that consisted of the various Mr. Men working in a submarine. I digress.

I carried my love of drawing on through school and even learned how to paint a bit, though I was never as good with a paintbrush as I could be with pencil, charcoal or pen. I was actually very good (no false modesty here). I worked in graphic design offices for work experiences and took A-Level art with the complete intention of going on to do art at college. Why didn't I? I visited a couple of art colleges and had a look at what was on display.

I turned my back on it then and I have to admit that since the end of my A-levels I have done very little in the way of drawing. A bit, here and there, during my university days but often it got pushed to the back of priorities.

Now I work very hard. When I am not working I am blogging (not much I know), writing or playing Halo. Oh yes and spending quality time with my wife ;-)

Ihe other day, on a whim, I picked up an A5 sketch pad and a box of black pens. I started to draw again. I drew a vase of flowers from the couch and some rough sketches of my wife who was asleep next to me. I enjoyed doing it immensely. I hope that this will give me the impetus to keep going and to do some more.

Everybody needs a hobby.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Oh. My. God! - The irony, the blessed irony.

According to the BBC Tony Blair has said there is a:

"worrying gap between parts of Parliament and the reality of the terrorist threat and public opinion"

Does the man even listen to himself???
It is gratifying to know that he is suddenly so interested in public opinion; something he has consistently ignored since deciding that we needed to go to war in Iraq.

What a Moron.

Blair defeated

As you are all probably well aware by now, Tony Blair suffered his first defeat in the Commons yesterday. Other votes have come close but this was the first time that the Labour rebels have scored a hit on the PM.

I am glad that the 90 day detention plan was defeated. I agree that our police force needs more time to deal with potential terrorist detainees but the 90 days suggested by Blair was ridiculous. For starters it is a number that was apparently plucked by Blair and the police from out of their arses. As far as I am aware (I could be wrong) there was no in-depth study of the actual time necessary to detain to complete an investigation, or even to get enough information to warrant a legal extension. The measure was badly thought out and badly presented.

Put it into context. Ninety days is a long time for someone without a conviction to be detained. That is about three months or a quarter of a year. A big chunk of life whichever way you slice it.

I think that Blair is guilty of hubris; I don't think he can envisage a time when his party is not in control and following the ideals he himself sees as self-evident. This is dangerous in a leader. Massively so. Any introduction of a law with the potential for draconian abuse must be considered long and hard by any democracy. We might not see any harm now, since we know that 'we' would never abuse that law. But what about a government in 10 years time, or twenty years time? It's a dangerous step.

Anyway I am hardly confident that powers would not be abused now. Lets face it, if a pensionable aged heckler at the Labour party conference can be detained under terrorism laws... well, it doesn't bear thinking about does it?

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

How does it work?

So how does the ecosystem work?

For the past week of so I have been a 'crawly amphibian', now today I am back down at 'Flippery fish'. But the 'crawley amphibian' came on the back of a period of low posting and even lower hits. Now my hits have gone up again as i have been posting more. So is it all just about the links? In which case is it just because people who link to me have not updated recently?

UPDATE: So now I am back up to crawly amphibian. Confused...