November 28th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

A phrase I never expected to read:
seat-of-the-pants jurisprudence

Burma, BBC, UNSC

October 12th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

The UN Security Council has issued a statement on Burma. OK. a statement is better than nothing, but it’s basically just meaningless words that will be ignored by the Burmese junta.
But you wouldn’t get that from the [BBC report]( They say:

The statement – which, unlike a resolution, requires the consent of all 15 council members to be adopted – was issued by Ghana’s UN Ambassador Leslie Christian, the council’s president.

Yep, they totally skip the detail that a resolution actually, well, resolves something. Reading this report, you could easily get the idea that a statement is more significant than a resolution (it’s unanimous, right? that has to count for something…).
Aren’t journalists supposed to cut through all the bureaucratic, procedural crap for us, so that we can have an idea of what’s going on without having to understand diplomatic doublespeak?

October 1st, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

Sy Hersh is supposed to have incredible knowledge and attention to detail, right? Writing about the newly elected government of Britain’s Prime Minister, Gordon Brown” must really help that reputation.

August 25th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

[The Yorkshire Ranter]( is well worth reading, for the incidental comments as much as for the main thrust of the posts. His [Review]( of a history of the AK-47 nicely explains:

Mikhail Kalashnikov’s background as the son of kulaks exiled to Siberia, and his running away to join the engineers – he fled the penal colony and jumped a train, eventually landing an apprenticeship in the Turk-Sib railway yards. This is something a lot of people fail to realise about the Soviet Union; as well as a bureaucratic tyranny, it was (especially up to the 1940s) a continent on the move, full of transients and orphans and bastards and geniuses.

February 6th, 2007 § 0 comments § permalink

Finally, I’m now back with broadband, a [room of my own](’s_Own), and enough free time to read the news. There might actually be another post here inside the next couple of months.
I’m now in Berlin, tryng to learn German and drifting around Kreuzberg. I’m here for at least the next three months, although I might extend that if Berlin continues to rock as much as it has for the week I’ve been here.

October 28th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

This medieval bestiary feel very much like the etymologies in Sanskrit works like Yaska’s _Nirukta_. Both of them shift between what we’d now think of as etymology (i.e. finding plausible historical roots for words), and a more alien sense that the word, through etymology, somehow captures the entire nature of the thing described. I suppose in the West this goes back to the “Platonism without Plato” that drives medieval scholasticism, and there is something pretty similar in India.

The he-goat is a wanton and frisky animal, always longing for sex; as a result of its lustfulness its eyes look sideways – from which it has has derived its name. For, according to Suetonius, hirci are the corners of the eyes. Its nature is so very heated that its blood alone will dissolve a diamond, against which the properties of neither fire nor iron can prevail.

Also, like all these books, it is a very pretty thing.

Child abuse, Skinner style

October 12th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Wow. Drop what you’re doing, and go read this article:

The only thing that sets these students apart from kids at any other school in America – aside from their special-ed designation – is the electric wires running from their backpacks to their wrists. Each wire connects to a silver-dollar-sized metal disk strapped with a cloth band to the student’s wrist, forearm, abdomen, thigh, or foot. Inside each student’s backpack is a battery and a generator, both about the size of a VHS cassette. Each generator is uniquely coded to a single keychain transmitter kept in a clear plastic box labeled with the student’s name. Staff members dressed neatly in ties and green aprons keep the boxes hooked to their belts, and their eyes trained on the students’ behavior. They stand ready, if they witness a behavior they’ve been told to target, to flip open the box, press the button, and deliver a painful two-second electrical shock into the student at the end of the wire.

Now, this is already astoundingly nasty stuff. The justification is that these are severely disabled children who would otherwise be locked up, drugged to the eyeballs, or killing themselves. I can’t accept it – because I wouldn’t want anybody to have that power over anyone, certainly not in such a regimented system – but at least I can see the defence. Only, read on and it gets far worse:

Sometimes, the student gets shocked for doing precisely what he’s told. In a few cases where a student is suspected of being capable of an extremely dangerous but infrequent behavior, the staff at Rotenberg won’t wait for him to try it. They will exhort him to do it, and then punish him. In these behavior rehearsal lessons, staff members will force a student to start a dangerous activity – for a person who likes to cut himself, they might get him to pick up a plastic knife on the table – and then shock him when he does.

And worse:

New York state inspectors concluded that “the background and preparation of staff is not sufficient,” that JRC shocks students “without a clear history of self-injurious behavior,” and that it uses the GED “for behaviors that are not aggressive, health dangerous, or destructive, such as nagging, swearing, and failing to keep a neat appearance.”

[crossposted from [my livejournal](]

October 3rd, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m temporarily turning off comments on this blog, because of the ridiculous amount of comment spam I’m getting right now. No promises about when they’ll come back; probably when I’m sorted out enough to put a bit more content around here.


August 26th, 2006 § 1 comment § permalink

Long time no show.
Apart from getting ready to leave Cambridge and become a hobo, I seem to have spent a lot of the past few days squeeing over steampunk. There’s Neal Stephenson’s Diamond Age on the one hand, and Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky on the other.
I adore the almost Heath Robinson aesthetic of massive machines patched together from scraps of metal. It makes everything seem functional, compared to the gleaming, polished steel of most futurism.
The thing that bugs me is: where on earth does the ‘punk’ come in. Cyberpunk as a genre stripped out all of the politics and most of the rebellion, but there was at least a glimmer of connection between the cyber and the punk. But what politics there is in steampunk is a hearkening-back to empire, occasionally scattered with a bit of affection for the people being destroyed by it. Steampunk made with real punk: there’s something I’d enjoy reading.

Unsorted links

June 6th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

Last week, I planned to force myself into writing daily updates here, and it just isn’t working. It’s a pity, because I’m sure I’d be a lot happier if I forced myself to do something every day. When I’m in a foul mood I tend to gnash my teeth at politics, and I need a bit more coherence to write about anything else. It does help to know that nobody’s reading, though!
Anyway, today has been a crappy day and so I’m taking the coward’s way out: a collection of interesting links, with no theme beyond the usual focus on Iraq and the former Soviet bloc.
In the Atlantic, Fred Kaplan has a [subscription-only article]( about Enduring Bases in Iraq – nice to see that meme gradually picking up steam, and moving into the mainstream.
[Chernobyl]( means ‘wormwood’ in Ukranian. That gave an apocalyptic flavour to the disaster, because Revelations says:

“And there fell a great star from heaven, burning as it were a lamp, and it fell upon the third part of the rivers, and upon the fountains of waters. And the name of the star is called Wormwood: and the third part of the waters became wormwood; and many men died of the waters, because they were made bitter.”

Much talk of Russia [using energy sales for political ends](; so what’s new? Ditto for [Uzbekistan closing down NGOs](
New Eurasia is doing cross-regional commentaries on [HIV]( and on [Islam as a political force](
And that’s it. Now I’m going to post this, crack open a can of beer, and mope!

Bridge-city of Zeugma

May 9th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

[Zeugma]( is such a fantastic name for a city; I’m disappointed not to have run into this one before. Ho-hum, yet another mostly-ignored corner of the ancient world then.
Also, the BBC finds underground pyramids in Bosnia, including one with a 2.4-mile-long underground tunnel. That’s pretty huge, no?

Technical woes

April 16th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

As Francis has helpfully pointed out, large chunks of this blog are defunct – including comments, individual entries, and all the archives. I’ve not worked out why yet, but bear with me and eventually things will be back to their usual semi-functionality.
UPDATE: I’m still not sure what was causing this, but I’ve turned off dynamic publishing and now things are mostly working. Let me know if you find things still broken.

A plan

March 28th, 2006 § 1 comment § permalink

I’m reading far too much in English, and far far too much of that is the standard boingboing/slashdot/oreilly/bbc stuff. It’s interesting, but each day it’s the same few dozen pages as every other geek in the western world is poring over. That needs to change, or I’m going to end up with the same stunted, arrogant, inane perspective as everybody else on teh interweb.
So now I’m throwing my cap over the wall. I’m going to spend tomorrow cruising round the web, one country at a time. I’m going to look for the funky weird shit that would be slashdotted to hell if it was in English, and I’m going to blog about it. Who knows, I might even learn something.
Before that I intend to spend tonight dancing, drinking, and chatting entirely in English with the assorted goths of Cambridge. I may even find it in my heart to say some nice things about the Christians, who are currently being bullied by the rest of the goths in a disturbingly playground style.

Movable Type

March 7th, 2006 § 0 comments § permalink

After far, far too much wrangling, I’m pretty much done with the rejigging of this site. In brief: WordPress is enticing, but for some reason hellishly buggy with my setup. Movable Type gives me scary-looking licenses to accept at every turn, feels like a lumbering corporate monster, and lacks any kind of grace – but it works. Works, that is, apart from when you want to import old posts from somewhere else. A few comments are gone, but I can live with that.

  1. I’ll no longer be updating the old blog on Blogsome. It’s a good service, but I needed something that I could integrate with the other bits and pieces here, and that I could customise. Not being able to add in custom themes and plugins was a big downside with Blogsome, even if it made total sense in terms of security and stability
  2. I have started up a little side-blog, so I have somewhere to put things that don’t deserve a full post to themselves. When things drop off the front page sidebar here, you’ll be able to find them here
  3. Also for things that don’t deserve a full post, I’ve put recent links from [my page]( on the left. is something I’ve found continually useful over the past year, and I find my links there more interesting than most of what I’ve actually blogged.
  4. I’m going to look for a way to get my rough notes back up here, possibly as a wiki. There’s some useful stuff there amidst the dross.
  5. I’ll try to resist the tempation to fiddle and tweak, but it is so tempting. I’m sure there’ll be trendy things appearing and vanishing from the sidebars every now and again, and perhaps I’ll even adjust things so they work better. You never know.

The Washington Post has had

March 5th, 2006 § 1 comment § permalink

The Washington Post has had a clutch of good articles on Iraq recently.

On the aftermath of the destruction of the mosque in Samarra, the US claims that the problems are over. , as do (mostly unnamed) “Iraqi politicians and Western diplomats“. Good news, except that these aren’t really people I trust to tell me how well things are going in Iraq. And 1300 deaths isn’t something you can ignore this easily. At least there is something on the human effects of the curfew

And then there’s a worrying article, titled “An End to the Soft Sell By the British in Basra“. The gist is that over time the British are losing their “softly softly” approach (softness being strictly relative in the first place). But it’s the incidental comments that are disturbing: the murder rate in Basra has doubled since November, the military are leaving their bases less and less, the police forces are little more than a cover for sectarian militias.

Finally, 1/3 of US veterans of Iraq have reported mental problems. That’s a huge number, especially considering the likelihood that a good few will be suffering but not willing to see a psychiatrist.

It’s a hard life being a journalist

March 5th, 2006 § 1 comment § permalink

A decent enough human-interest piece on the difficulties of being a female journalist in Iran. But it’s spoilt by the introduction:

Women living and working in Iran, particularly those working for the foreign media, are finding all kinds of difficulties strewn in their path, writes Frances Harrison

Is she (or whoever wrote that sentence) really claiming that female journalists have a harder time than other women in Iran? The article itself shows how she managed to use her status as a journalist to get past sexist restrictions, by threatening not to report things she wasn’t allowed to see.

airships over moscow

March 5th, 2006 § Comments Off § permalink

I want to see a photograph of this – Moscow police are going to start using airships to monitor traffic.

Online RPGs affect players’ perceptions

March 4th, 2006 § 1 comment § permalink

Online RPGs affect players’ perceptions of reality. People who play a MMORPG think that assaults with weapons are more likely than those who don’t play. There’s the start of a discussion on whether the same might apply to positive ‘cultivation effects’ (which is apparently the appropriate jargon). The next question is whether you could rejig the rules of a game in light of this – and whether you should.

Looking East

March 3rd, 2006 § 1 comment § permalink

Today I’ve had my head in Russia. From time to time I’ve attempted to find some interesting Russian-language blogs, and I’ve more or less failed. Turns out the reason is that they’re all using Livejournal. Now the question is just how to find the fascinating LJs amongst the teenage breakups and blow-by-blow personal diaries.

Meanwhile, I’ve turned up some odd and interesting Russia-related bits in English. A Soviet cartoon character reinvented as an Olympic mascot Panic-buying of salt, because of fears that Ukraine would stop exporting salt to Russia. Nobody from the Ukrainian government actually said that, or anything close. Just some Russian official worried publicly about the possibility and – Wham! – salt prices go up twenty times.

And how did I not notice that there’s a new BBC documentary series about the role of the oligarchs in Russia?

Edit two minutes later: or rather, there was a documentary about oligarchs. It’s presumably finished in the three months since that article was written. Have to rewatch this film instead (the DVD arrived a couple of weeks ago, as part of my christmas bonus from work, and it’s sitting on the shelf for a rainy day).

third-country nationals in Iraq

February 27th, 2006 § 1 comment § permalink

From corpwatch, an excellent piece on the (mis)treatment of foreign workers employed by US contractors. The usual nastiness – people working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week for $1.56 per hour, workers left without protection or even protective clothing, recruiters lying about which country people would be taken to.

But unlike with, say, mistretment in sweatshops, here the Filipino workers are working next to highly-paid US contractors. I wonder what impact this has on the Americans – I’d imagine it being pretty hard to avoid at least some uneasiness at being treated so much better than your colleagues.

Also, these Third Country Nationals are presumably being brought in because Americans don’t trust Iraqis. That is, any Iraqis working on a base are suspected suicide bombers in the making. So you give jobs to outsiders who won’t be trying to get the USA out of Iraq, and you leave Iraqis unemployed.

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