Tag Archives: politics

My del.icio.us bookmarks for January 1st through January 3rd

  • Banking disaster man honored by the Queen – The man who lost the personal data of 25mm people is rewarded with a CBE. Does that make any kind of sense? Anywhere other than the civil service he’d lose his job!
  • Paris and Berlin ban cafe smoking – Definite progress. Does the reference to Nazi policies in Germany prove that Godwins Law (“As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one.”) also applies to the real world?
  • The Electric Car Conspiracy … that never was – Interesting film. Given the spread of Smart cars here I have to think that there would be consumer demand for electric cars, which only leaves the conspiracy…

My del.icio.us bookmarks for December 26th through December 30th

  • Ex-BBC DJ Greening dies aged 44 – Kevin Greening was the best thing to happen to the Radio 1 Breakfast Show for years. Shame he only lasted a year. Very sad to hear of his premature death.
  • The Megapixel Myth – More on the myth that more megapixels makes better pictures.
  • Ban helps more smokers quit habit – It wasn’t until I went to The Netherlands last week that I remembered how nasty and smoky British pubs and restaurants used to be.
  • The more pixels, the worse the images – The mega-pixel race has been hurting consumers, and is one of the reasons that I’ve been more than happy to stay with “only” 6MP on my Canon EOS 300D.

When is a pencil and paper better than a computer?

In this article in MacUser Howard Oakley notes that a number of schools have recently banned the use of wireless networks due to the unknown effects of the radio waves used. He then connects this with the declining number of people taking science subjects at those same schools and their ability to understand the likely risks of said networks.

It’s an interesting piece, but what I find interesting is that as the general populations understanding of how the world works dwindles, so our reliance on high technology increases1.

One incredible thing is that sometimes we start moving to a highly technical solution despite there being little advantage in it. Or at least as far as I can see, the advantage is that it is digital and new.

My favourite example is that of electronic voting machines. It’s easy to point and laugh at all the problems that they’ve been causing, particularly in the recent elections in the US. But despite the problems, despite every indication that they often choose who wins an election rather than the electorate, there is still a drive to increase their use.

The main thing that I want to know about the voting machines is this. What problem are they solving? What part of the old system was so broken that it required a complicated, flawed and unreliable new system?2

Some say that the current system is inefficient or labour intensive or slow. Unfortunately, as far as I can see, that’s either untrue or by design. The system needs to be both anonymous and yet track fraud, two ends of the privacy spectrum. The model in use is similar to public key cryptography in that working out who made a particular vote is not impossible. In fact, in principle, it’s very easy. But unless you have plenty of time to manually check thousands of ballot papers it’s going to take a while. This is by design.

Similarly, the effort required to count the votes in the first place is also a benefit. It makes it more difficult for any individual to have a dramatic effect on the final outcome. This is a good thing.

And slow? It’s simple to make quicker: throw more people at it. That makes it quicker and reduces any inherent bias.

I love new technology and gadgets, I’m fascinated by how they work and the effect that some of them have on society. But in the end, you have to use the right tool for the job. And the right tool does not always have an embedded computer.

  1. As this article asks, in relation to decreasing interesting in science degrees, “do they just totally not care about where things like web search and MP3 codecs and 3D graphics and peer-to-peer protocols come from”? []
  2. It’s also worth noting that before the new electronic machines, the US had problems. Remember the “hanging chads” problem with Bush’s first election? That was a flaw in a method of automatically counting votes. []

Notes on CRAP Alert

I enjoyed writing my CRAP Alert post yesterday. Very cathartic. But there are some serious points in it and while I might be overstating the case when I spell them out here, I think it’s worth doing just to be clear.

The truth is I genuinely do support the right of people to publish this kind of information. I am against pretty much all forms of censorship and am very much in favour of giving people good information so that they can make an informed decision themselves.

In the case of CAP Alert the thing that I dislike is the absolute nature of their criticism1 and their insistence that what they are doing is in any way objective. The numerical aspect is of dubious value — are you a better person if you swear only five times rather than ten? — and the commentary is no more objective than what I?ve written here. Using a checklist does not make things absolute, just as referring to a book does not make your morals any more sound than mine.

The checklist approach also fails to distinguish between scenes that condone “bad” behaviour and those that condemn it. Similarly, films often lose points if the protagonist questions authority. But is it always wrong to question authority? Certain historical precedents say not. Nothing is black and white.

More significantly, the “objective” nature of their commentary is undermined when they completely misunderstand the plot of the film. My favourite is for their write-up of American Beauty, in which they commend a “redneck” Marine Colonel for arguing against homosexuality while simultaneously failing to note that it was he who was gay and not his son. Kind of important to the plot, yet they claim it did “nothing for the script.” I wonder if the reviewers actually see the movies in question.

Naturally violence in real life should not be encouraged and there is such a thing as too much in a movie. I am not terribly keen on the recent spate of vigilante endings of some of the more violent Hollywood movies. But I don?t necessarily think that people genuinely take it as advice to take the law into their own hands. It?s more a case of lax story telling than lax morals. On the other hand, the CAP blanket ban on nudity betrays their puritanical roots. I find it hard to believe that it is the cause of any of the ills of the world.

Ultimately, CAP is ripe for ridicule not because of what it’s trying to do — while I do not agree with their values I wholeheartedly endorse the idea of reviewing films for specific demographics — but because in an effort to push their politics on their readers they frequently miss the mark.

  1. Which is no doubt seated in their moral objectivism rather than my more relative stance. []

Catholic threat on slave rights law

The Catholic Church today caused widespread controversy when it issued a statement urging the Government to overturn a law made two hundred years ago.

Clive Adams, standing outside Saint Johns Cathedral in Norwich, read the statement: “The Catholic Church is unable to comply with the Slave Trade Act, the 1807 Act of Parliament abolishing slavery throughout the British Empire. This law is incompatible with the teachings of the Bible and we cannot in clear conscience operate under such restrictions. We ask the government to consider an opt-out clause in revised legislation.”1 Adams, an unpaid volunteer reporting to Cardinal Michael Osborn, denied that he himself was a slave.

The church suggests that past ill treatment of slaves was merely due to an incorrect interpretation of the Bible. “Sentiments of kindness and understanding vastly outnumber passages advocating beating servants and selling your daughter.”

The release also notes that the Blair administration has already repealed the Slavery Abolition Act in 19982 and suggested that it wasn’t such a stretch to go “as far as common sense leads us.”

The government has not officially commented, although some senior members of the Cabinet are rumoured to have suggested that passing new legislation might be easier if MPs “be obedient to them that are [their] masters.”

  1. In case it’s not absolutely obvious, this is a parody on the recent story that the Catholic Church is, with some support in the Cabinet, seeking an opt-out of equality legislation on religious grounds. []
  2. This is actually true — Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1998 — although staunch Catholics should note that this does not mean that Slavery is legal. []