September 29th, 2014 § § permalink
The Scottish independence campaign was, and is, a massive popular movement.
But the post-referendum devolution wrangling is a depressing case of gerrymandering writ large.
So the tories want “English votes for English laws”, because they reckon they can get a majority in England more often than not. Labour want regional devolution, to stop the Tory South-East imposing itself on the rest of the country. Meanwhile the (non-Scottish) voters don’t care — and who can blame them, given the way all parties treat them?
Also: Alex on how this will get decided in a back-room deal during wash-up
September 25th, 2014 § § permalink
Somebody asks whether it’s worth submitting trivial patches to the Linux kernel, considering that it makes work for somebody else to merge them. Linus’ response is perfect:
To me, the biggest thing with small patches is not necessarily the patch itself. I think that much more important than the patch is the fact that people get used to the notion that they can change the kernel – not just on an intellectual level (“I understand that the GPL means that I have the right to change my kernel”), but on a more practical level (“Hey, I did that small change”).
So please don’t stop. Yes, those trivial patches _are_ a bother. Damn, they are _horrible_. But at the same time, the devil is in the detail, and they are needed in the long run. Both the patches themselves, and the people that grew up on them.
September 20th, 2014 § § permalink
Another good bit from the Etymologicon [previously]. This time, why brackets are named after codpieces. The ever-more-elaborate codpieces in medieval armour were called braguettes.
Then came an architect fixated on groins
What do you call the bit of stone that bulges out from a pillar to support a balcony or a roo? Until the sixteenth century nobody had been certain what to call them; but one day somebody must have been gazing at a cathedral wall and, in a moment of sudden clarity, realised that the architectural supports looked like nothing so much as Henry VIII’s groin.
So the supports became known as braguettes, which first became brackets in a dictionary compiled by Pocahontas’ lover. Then, because a double bracket looks a bit like [, the word was transferred onwards to name a piece of punctuation
September 4th, 2014 § § permalink
The Anglophone media has recently been making
noises about European governments making ransom payments to kidnappers.
It’s interesting that this has taken on the status of accepted fact — while, as far as I can tell, no European government has officially confirmed it. On the one hand I’m pleased that the media has the courage to report government actions without a press release. On the other, I’m a little nervous about how much this seems down to co-ordinated briefing by American officials. True it may be, but it’s apparently a truth only reported when it suits the powerful.
At the very least I’d hope that European journalists would browbeat officials into either confirming or denying the American (and British) official claims of ransom payments.
ETA: This New York Times article on the topic is pretty impressive, though, and obviously based on a lot of research.
September 3rd, 2014 § § permalink
The slow progress of oil tankers makes for a nice change from the jackhammer pace of news. Disputes about Kurdish oil exports have been pottering along for months, following the movement of a few tankers around the world.
So we have the SCF Altai, which has apparently been running oil between Ceyhan and Israel since June.
And across the Atlantic there’s the United Kalavrta, which has been loitering off Texas while Iraq and Kurdistan slug out ownership rights in court. Once the court ruled against Iraq, the tanker promptly turned off its tracking beacon, and is now presumably unloading as quietly as possible.
September 1st, 2014 § § permalink
Germany has, after much soul-searching, decided to supply weapons to Kurds fighting against ISIS.
It must be slightly awkward, then, to discover that ISIS already have German weapons
Eliot Higgins identifies these as HOT anti-tank missiles, made by a Franco-German consortium called Euromissile. 1000 of them were sold to Syria in the late 70s — officially by France, though Germany was deeply involved in the manufacture, and would have been consulted about the sale.
Embarrassingly, these HOT missiles are close cousins of the MILAN missiles, which Germany will now be giving to the Kurds. So Germany, usually one of the better-behaved arms exporters, gets the cachet of arming both sides with more-or-less the same weapons. Oops.
In fact, selling these to Syria was controversial at the time in Germany. Not only did it break Germany’s rules on not arming “areas of conflict” — but since the conflict in question was between Syria and Israel, it caused strong protests from Israel. The German excuse was that, despite their German components, these were a French responsibility:
Government sources said missile exports to France were legal, provided the necessary government export permit was obtained, but once the items were in France, there was no ban on the re-export of the items to third countries.
This fit into an ongoing pattern by which Germany used France as the scapegoat for its weapons sales:
In a government agreementconcluded in 1972 Bonn and Paris agreed to interpretand apply their countries’ weapons export law “in the spirit of German-French cooperation.”
A little after this sale, Germany went even further in sidestepping responsibility:
Under SPD [Social Democratic Party of Germany] Chancellor Helmut Schmidt the Federal Government stipulated in 1982 that German parts for “Roland,” “Hot,” and”Milan” that were incorporated in the weapon in France “will be treated as goods of French origin.” They simply turned into French parts that are not subject to German export control. Thus, German consciousness remained unburdened.
[based partly on research by Charles Lister and Brown Moses]