Archive for October, 2003

A Microsoft employee has been fired for blogging a picture of Apple Macs being delivered to company HQ in Seattle. This is the post at issue. God knows what’s wrong with them. Despite the dull techie Windows vs Mac wrangles, Microsoft have been selling software to run on the things since I were a lad (literally), and own a great mass of them. They announced that he’d committed “security violations” – the trendy excuse for any injustice – and zapped him instantly. They could do this because (of course) he was a temp and therefore has fewer employment rights than a lab rat (I paraphrase). And that’s the real issue.

BBC story

Apparently, researchers at Berkeley have concluded that 800 megabytes of information is produced for each person on the planet every year. That’s doubled since 1999, when they last checked. The conclusion is of course dependent on many other factors – just what is information? Does printing many copies of the same book create new information? But it’s a good infofart anyway. And it reminds me of my own General Theory of Information, which runs as follows: The volume of traffic expands to fill the communications available. Seems obvious enough, especially as talk is free.

As with all the best maxims, though, it’s the consequences that count. If you increase the communications capacity, the traffic will grow – not necessarily instantly, but it will do it.

We can assume that the increase in traffic is value-neutral – there is no reason why worthwhile messages will be any better communicated than nonsense. There can only be so many facts, valid judgments, relevant statements, truthful comments and the like around at any given moment. Obviously this will vary over time, but I’m quite sure it’s fixed in the short run. There is no comparable limit on the generation of rubbish, though – after all, it can’t be any harder to get it wrong than to get it right, the number of possible misconceptions and imaginings is infinite, and people appear to have a natural tendency to erroneous beliefs. Add the moderate but important contribution of propaganda and deliberate lies, and you’ll see the full implications. Even if the total quantity of valid information does increase with capacity, it will increase less rapidly than the quantity of bullshit in the system. Increase the capacity, and the gap will be filled by more rubbish than wisdom.

The only exception is the case where genuine stuff didn’t get through because of low capacity. In this case, an increase will clear the backlog – but even so, a greater increase in capacity is needed to clear a given amount of information due to the generation of nonsense.

From the last issue of International Affairs, I see Air Marshal Sir Timothy Garden’s review of the invasion of Iraq. How wonderful…reviewing a war like a book…I digress, though. On the question of propaganda, Sir Tim is moved to the following remark: “A total of 158 air missions dropped 31,800,000 leaflets. The US analysis equates this to 120,454 rolls of toilet paper, which may be an early indication of how effective this technique was seen to be.” Indeed. Seeing as back then they were willing to drive pickup trucks with 23mm guns on to within 20 yards of M1A1 Abrams tanks (that was how one of the tanks was lost in Nasiriyah – in a sandstorm, admittedly, but brave as hell), and now they are blowing up Red Cross staff and themselves in ambulances packed with high explosives – the propaganda must be beginning to work..

Link

I noticed on a bulletin board that someone saw the Northern Lights from an Edinburgh-London flight at the latitude of Manchester on Monday. Almost a pity not to be up north..

“The compass variation at the Lerwick geomagnetic observatory in Scotland changed by 5.1 degrees in only 25 minutes at about 0630 GMT.

Japan’s space agency has announced that its Kodama communications satellite has been affected by the flare. It has been shut down with the hope it can be reactivated when the storm has passed”

The compass variation shifted by 5.1 degrees..what power!

Link

This is the same chap who recently shocked the Russian and Ukrainian press by threatening to bomb the Ukraine at a press conference on a minor border dispute in the Straits of Kerch. I wonder whether that had something to do with it..or perhaps he was trying to embarrass Putin? Still, it’s very depressing to be obliged to support someone like Khodorkovski, whose record is as dodgy as only an oligarch’s can be – just because they are all that is left as a check on the power of the secret state. Russia under Yeltsin was industrialised (but de-industrialising) anarchy, and it has since become a police democracy. Although the constitution looks – if you screw your eyes up – vaguely like a democracy with a powerful centralised state and strong executive presidency (France, for instance), practice is very different and the political quality of Russia has probably gone backwards. The key now is the complex of the presidential administration, the FSB, the “power ministries”, and the friendly oligarchs like Mikhail Fridman. Those ministries, though, are becoming more and more identical with the president’s power structure.

Curiously, an executive presidency with the powers of a head of state, an interior, foreign and defence minister was last suggested in democracy by one Jörg Haider in his book “The Third Republic”. (The republic he meant was of course Austria, not France) Not the best example.

A Fistful of Euros: Life outside of Europe

From the same lot, this is amusing..

“The Bible does not predict the establishment of the State of Israel, nor does it predict that the Antichrist will attack it when there is peace with the Palestinians. Yes, I’ve read the entire Bible. I even used to go to Sunday school. Whatever it is you think you’re reading there, it isn’t there. Frankly, if there has to be peace in Israel for the world to end, I wouldn’t start cashing in my stocks yet anyway.

I don’t care what Jesus would do; I worry too much about about what George W. Bush would do. And, I will accept Jesus Christ as my personal saviour when you accept that you’ve been brainwashed by your cult.

Yes, I’m from Europe and no, I don’t like Heineken. I also don’t drink Coors because I don’t like the taste of horse urine in a can.

France and Germany have virtually identical policies towards Iraq and it’s the US that has softened its stance, not the other way around. Yes, it is entirely fair that the US should pay nearly all of the bill for rebuilding Iraq, because if you broke it, you have to fix it.

They’re euros, not euro-dollars. And they’re not worth eighty cents, they’re worth a buck fifteen. Get used to it.

I don’t care if you were in Vietnam, you’re still a drunk redneck in a pick-up truck.”

Got that?

A Fistful of Euros

Well, it finally happened. Letter number 25 arrived a day after IDS demanded that the plotters move by Wednesday. (not that he had any way of preventing them from writing in after Wednesday, but let that pass) Now we will all have the free entertainment of a Tory election. They aren’t really very good at elections – after all, the original tories existed to limit the franchise and support the King – and last time around they managed to have an election that neither chose nor rejected anybody. It’s usually only the Swiss who do this sort of thing, but then they mean it. The important bit is, naturally, what becomes of British democracy in the event of the strange death of Conservative England. Can a democracy fly with only a left wing? Especially in a country as rightwing as Britain. We’ve got to admit that – just look and listen to them!

I really wonder what the country would be like without Tories – would the Labour Party, or at least the Blair content of it, swing to the right and become something like a European christian democratic outfit, as Roy Hattersley frequently accuses Blair of being? That would imply a large Liberal Democracy to the left flank, overlapping on many economic issues but well to the left on the liberal/authoritarian scale, privatisation and foreign policy. And they would doubtless pick up the defectors from the new new Labour. Or would some of those go to the hard left? Even if the Blair party would probably be capable of gathering much of the conservative camp, surely the tribal right of the Conservatives would reject and struggle on as a rump (Real Tories?). Or would they go BNP? There are simply too many Conservative voters around for the right wing to remain empty. If Labour and the Liberals were to stay where they are on the spectrum and compete, they would be disenfranchised, easy meat for a British Le Pen phenomenon.

A vision of the future – a discredited Labour party sprawled over the centre, the Blair team following instinctively their Bill Clinton/Dick Morris 1995 triangulation obsession to the right, the party pulling left, Brown and Robin Cook competing for the spiritual leadership of the Left, a much bigger Liberal party to the Left – and a 30%+ BNP or similar block. Horrible, isn’t it? Especially as whatever Tory representation was left would very likely be partly in sympathy with the fascists. I’ve always enjoyed the spectacle of Tories suffering, it’s a gut Labour instinct that survives resignation, disillusion, betrayal – but we really have to worry about the social structure without them. Perhaps in the end the best thing would be the departure to the Right of some people in the Labour Party and greater pluralism in parliament. In a proportional representation world, you could imagine the Tory divisions resolving themselves into a Stahlhelmfraktion of Tebbitite diehards and a liberal, business-conservative grouping, as well as a big Lib Dem representation and a Green presence at the other end. It might make politics more complicated, but it would at least make for balance. Maybe the answer to the challenge of realignment is to have more realignment.

BBC NEWS | Business | Crash victims cheer rail overhaul

Well, it’s finally happened – Network Rail has renationalised (well, I’m going to admit it even if the government won’t) all maintenance of the railways. The workers’ flag is deepest red… How odd, anyway. Like Christmas coming early for a lot of people. Puts the PFI arrangements for the Tube in a very bad position – how can (say) Jarvis be considered reliable on the tube but not on the main lines? And that’s all gooood.

A Fistful of Euros has this article on the slow progress and near-zero profile of the European intergovernmental conference that is currently struggling to agree the final text of the EU’s new constitution. According to another blogger quoted by Fistful, EuroSavant, a tougher and more power-political approach to the Constitution might have been more effective – for example, agreeing the text between the 15 current members and presenting it as part of the accession terms to the 10 new members. I can’t say I agree – apart from the obvious implications in terms of democracy and fairness, nothing could have strengthened the hand of the various, more or less nasty Europhobes like Andrzej Lepper in Poland or Meciar in Slovakia more. People in the candidate states are worried enough about the terms of entry being dictated by the west without it being any more true than it already is.

Further, I was moved to leave a comment to the effect that European integration had always been deliberately low-key – a process founded on practical and incremental measures of concrete co-operation. Like electricity supply, it’s one of those things that’s working when you don’t notice it. I don’t think it would have lasted if it had been more politically dramatic, and I have the strong impression that the EU is at its least effective when it’s at its most demonstrative. The fanfares tend to be followed by farts. Recall M. Jacques Poos’s pronouncement that “The hour of Europe is at hand!” immediately before the union failed to do anything of use about Yugoslavia, or the lavish ceremonies attending the renewal of the Franco-German treaties this year while the union was tearing itself apart over Iraq, constitutional reform and agriculture. Closer to home, British prime ministers tend to make grand statements about Europe just before collapsing into the latest crisis with a burst of evil-smelling tabloid gas. The historic event of Germany being represented at a European Council meeting by France was somewhat devalued by the fact that nothing was decided at the meeting.

To return to the constitution, I am moving towards the view that perhaps the mistake has been to organise it like this. The two-stage process always presented the danger that the “conventionnels” (the conventionists? the convened?) would deliberately fudge or work in bad faith in the knowledge that national and institutional interests coul be re-asserted in the IGC, as well as the prospect of a workable draft being hacked to death or drowned in waffle once the diplomatic circus of an IGC got going. It might have been better to beef up the convention with more elected members and make its final document the final text. The ratification could have been national or perhaps by referendum. More drama, I know, but perhaps more simplicity.

By the way, who is this?

“Minister,” you see, implies a sovereign state – and we don’t want to give any support to the notion that this Constitution will in any way create a sovereign state.”

You might be surprised. It’s the Czech foreign minister Cyril Svoboda talking about the proposed European foreign ministership. Remarks like this, of course, are what keep High Euroscepticism going – the enduring fantasy that a Tory government could somehow create (just like that!) a Eurosceptics’ Europe without any real institutions by allying itself with (the exact allies change under pressure) “the Scandinavians” or “the new members”. Remember Iain Duncan Smith’s “Prague Declaration” earlier this year. Of course you do. Go on. What, you don’t remember? The problem is, of course, that the new members want to join the EU. They don’t want to join some second-class outfit on the fringes – it looks far too much like the various ideas put forward to stall them in the 1990s. (the European Confederation, anyone?) And in fact Mr. Svoboda’s position is far closer to Tony Blair’s than anyone in the Conservative Party but (perhaps) Ken Clarke. It’s not the thing he objects to, note, but the name.

Not that it will put the backbench Bismarcks like David Heathcoat-Amory off their pipes, though. Now, I suppose, they like this idea even more because Don Rumsfeld has made it sound American and exciting.

George W. Bush or Chimpanzee?

Highly amusing link





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