If business meetings were conducted like blogs...

This is hilarious - what would a business meeting be like if it were conducted like a blog?

It does show the problems with internet discussions. Via Blogpower.


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The myth of victims' rights

Many blog inches have gone to discussing the case of Learco Chindamo, the murderer of Philip Lawrence. The opposition to Chindamo's being able to stay in the UK could be charitably described as shrill. Kris Stoke Newington's entire post reads
Hang on. This killer does not have a British passport and because of his murder conviction can never get one, yet somehow it is his “human right” to remain in the UK at the end of his sentence?!
It is all a little bit like The Daily Mail. Fortunately, the Ministry of Truth has pointed out some of the Mail's, ahem, oversights. Iain Dale asks a simple question in response to the Human Rights Act being cited in allowing Chindamo to remain in the UK - "What about THEIR human rights?" - what about the human rights of the family of the victim, Philip Lawrence.

There is an immediate and very strong answer from none other than Tim Worstall:

[H]e [Chindamo] won an argument under the Human Rights Act that he was entitled to respect for a family life and that removal in his case would be disproportionate. But this was secondary to his case under EU law. Under articles 27 and 28 of the EU Citizens Directive 2004, which took effect last year, an EU citizen can be expelled only on grounds of public policy, public security or public health.
So all the criticism of the Human Rights Act in this case is misplaced.

Nevertheless, people are attacking the Act more and more often and the ghastly spectre of victims' rights has started to rear its head. There are some things that should be called victims' rights; amongst these are effective investigation by the police, speedy resolution of the case, support from the counselling part of the police, financial compensation and keeping the media at arms' length; not all of these apply in every case, and there may be more.

Victims do not, IMHO, have rights against the person who committed a crime and their rights to appropriate treatment and sensitivity certainly do not extend to the penal process. This is for three reasons.

Rights are not zero-sum; that is to say, there is no logical necessity for the duty of care that state owes a victim of crime resulting in that person having rights against the criminal. Put another way, we do not demand 'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth' or 'a lifetime of vengeance for a life cut short'.

Secondly, victims are not special. In the case of Chindamo, I fail to see, if he is such an unpleasant character (which I dispute based on the evidence available) why I should be pleased that the problem is removed to Italy. I do not see why, judicially, a second crime on a person should be feared any more than a first crime on second else.

Thirdly, they lead to unacceptable variations in the law. If someone were to steal a Snoopy stuffed toy, you might say that it was a minor offence. If someone were to steal my Snoopy stuffed toy - my companion since birth - I would be devastated and probably be demanding blood. If I, or I think any person other than a dessicated calculating machine, were the victim of crime, they would immediately become biased to such a point that they could not make a neutral decision; they are partial.


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Microsoft admit Office is too expensive

Microsoft are offering a version of Office to South African consumers that can be rented on a monthly basis as the US$700 price tag is beyond the reach. No matter what the monthly rent (US$30), it will be more than the price tag of OpenOffice.org - zero.




Forgotten Heroes

I'm going to start a weekly post on people I consider to be forgotten heroes; that is to say, people who I think should be remembered more than they are for their efforts. I often find myself fascinated by the motivations of the heroic failures, the honestly wrong and and the tireless campaigners for unpopular causes, so many of those may feature in these posts.

Some of the people I'm thinking of writing on are the author of Lazarillo de Tormes, Simón Bolívar, Sydney Silverman and Anton Praetorius. If anyone would like me to include someone else, do drop me an email.




The perils of modern living, #273

If a former high school teacher adds you on Facebook, can you say you went to school with them? It's technically accurate but does add a few years to me that I'd rather not have added.



Atom RSS

I've set up Atom, a site feed, on my blog. The URL for the feed is http://unoriginalname38.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default.




Cakes and Ale

Graf von Straf Hinderberg has an interesting, if somewhat morose, post on modernity and the fairy gold of materialism. Showing that the King James Bible has a beautiful turn of phrase, von Straf links to Ephesians 6:12:
For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.
The quote attributes our lethargy to malign influences from our leaders; I'm afraid that my answer to the phenomenon is rather different.
After a time, you may find that having a thing is not so pleasant as wanting it. It is not logical, but it is often true.
As spoken by Spock in Amok Time.



Petitions and Habeas Corpus

I have to disagree with Iain Dale that petitions on the Number Ten website are pointless. The comparison I would make is with habeas corpus, and more particularly habeas corpus ad subjiciendum. As I understand it, habeas corpus provides for someone being detained to be brought before a judge (in a court of law) for determination as to whether their detention is legitimate. Its logic of operation is that by bringing a case in front of a judge, justice will be done; the guarantor of the judge's honesty (and I cast no aspersions on the integrity of the judiciary) is that everything is conducted in public.

The same logic applies to public petitions of Parliament 'for the redress of grievances'. Many petitions attract little note; others attract millions of signatories. The point is to place on record an opinion that something is amiss. I feel that a Government should take note of petitions; if it does not, it can miss a substantial strand of opinion that may lead, in extremis, to its own downfall. Whether or not the Prime Minister looks at petitions on a regular basis is somewhat irrelevant. I am quite sure that the Number Ten staff do - viz Benn Wegg-Prosser's comment on Iain's post - and while an exhortation for the PM to "stand on his head and juggle ice cream" may be described as light-hearted and not needing a response, a certain petition dealing with road pricing, which finished with close on two million signatures, attracted a reply from the PM and continued debate in the press.

It's not just the 'big issues' that attract attention. Quite a lot of photographers were labouring under the misapprehension that restrictions on photography in public places were going to be brought in as a response (or so I read) to concerns about paedophiles and paparazzi. In order to put the matter to bed, every Government department was asked if they were considering any such proposals. They were not, as it happened. Perhaps not the most significant of victories unless you happen to be a photographer.

I will forgo the usual stuff about 'public participation' and 'having your voice heard'; for the process to work, it is dependent on attention being paid to public proceedings. Here, top political bloggers, like Iain, owe a duty as members of the fourth estate to pay attention to petitions and to the answers that the Government of the day provide. Criticise either by all means, but don't decry the process. Sunlight remains the best disinfectant.


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Karl Rove's last ride

Karl Rove, Deputy Chief of Staff to President George W Bush, said in his resignation interview with the Wall Street Journal that
"he believed Mr Bush would leave behind two lasting pillars of future foreign policy - that harbouring a terrorist makes a nation as guilty as the terrorist, and the act of pre-emption.

While he predicted a Democratic nomination for Hillary Clinton, he did so with a swipe, saying of the Democrats: "They are likely to nominate a tough, tenacious, fatally flawed candidate."

which are some interesting takes on the past few years.

Firstly, harbouring a terrorist makes a nation as guilty as the terrorist. What exactly does 'harbouring' mean? If it means actively supporting or sheltering terrorists, you can see the logic. If, however, it means 'failing to take all possible action' - which seems to be the implication - it changes things somewhat.

Should we insist that Pakistan march through the north of its territory, where some governmental actors are doubtlessly 'sheltering' people who are, at least, associated with terrorism? How does it impact on Saudi Arabia? Should the UK have marched through Northern Ireland, going to door to door to drag out everyone with a possible connection to terrorism, from Loyalist and Republican sides, including the UK military personnel who were involved

The answer, according to Mr Rove, is pre-emption. That is a dangerous proposition indeed. An argument can be made that Afghanistan was not pre-emption, as the Afghan government of the day had not merely tolerated the existence of the Taleban but aided and abetted their actions. It is rather more difficult in the cases of Iraq and Lebanon. In the former case, the pre-emption meant acting without evidence. In the latter case, it meant overriding the concerns of a sovereign state. Either way, the precedent is worrying as it opens an avenue for other countries to take pre-emptive military action, over the heads of a country that is dealing with a terrorist problem just because America (or any other country) doesn't like the way it's being dealt with.

As to Hilary, she is far from a shoe-in for the Democratic nomination. I wonder exactly what the fatal flaw is and whether it can be any worse than a President who, with no real ideas of his own, assumes the ideas of those close to him as his own.


Update 2130:
Other people who have commented on this topic include Tiberius Gracchus, Vino and Bloggerheads .

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Join Dave C for a day at the races

'Dave' Cameron is at pains to distance himself from his Eton, Bullingdon Club and generally upper-class past. Fair enough - politicians shouldn't be burdened by their past lives. Unfortunately, West Midlands Conservatives have found a wonderfully inclusive way of raising funds. They're going to the races for a day.

[t]he Party Leader, David Cameron MP will be attending along with other members of the Shadow Cabinet as well as senior MPs and MEPs from around the country
at Uttoxeter Racecourse. That racecourse does have certain dress requirements:
Please note our dress guidelines; for all enclosures we recommend smart casual clothing.
And in the Premier Enclosure (for which the West Mids Tories have "negotiated a significant discount on Premier badges purchased in advance by Party members, or supporters", such awful clothes as "football or rugby shirts, ripped jeans or shorts will not be permitted".

I seem to remember Michael White mentioning that one G. Fawkes, Esq, (aka Paul Staines) has a tendency to wear rugby shirts when all about him are in suit and tie. Perhaps that'll stop Fawkes doing his Tory Totty routine.

Just so that no-one can accuse me of hypocrisy, I am also a Dave C and went to a public school.


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Computer nightmares

Someone forwarded me a list of the twenty-five worst tech products of all time from the US magazine, PC World. AOL, RealPlayer and Windows ME are all there. They publish various other (quite amusing) lists. OK, it's pretty geeky, but they raised a smile.

Top Ten...

...Worst Web Sites1
...Most Annoying Windows Features

...Worst Viruses
...Most Annoying Tech Products
...Worst PCs of All Time

and, of course, the Top Twenty-Five Worst Tech Products of All Time.

Unfortunately, I owned (before a geeky awakening) a Packard Bell PC or two. Packard Bell are damned as a whole in the number one slot for Worst PCs. In fairness, I never had any problem with the Windows 95 version I had. The WinME version was a different story...

If anyone, though, knows where you can buy old Packard Bell cases, let me know. They had some interesting designs to them and I wouldn't mind using one for an up-to-date computer.


1 - amusingly, as MicroSoft has two entries, this one also appears on the MSN website



Chickenhawks revisited

I talked here about my dislike for the word 'chickenhawk' following on from posts from Matthew Sinclair and Tiberius Gracchus. It is an ad hominem attack and fails to engage with the arguments, cheapening debate on all sides.

Beyond that, it opens up people opposed to (a given) military intervention to an obvious counter-charge. If 'we' say that 'they' can't support a war because they don't know what they're talking about or are being hypocritical, 'we' open ourselves to a similar argument. If the charge is that 'they' always support war to appear macho, 'we' are always cowardly and we cannot criticise the mode of argument as 'we' have just used it ourselves. If 'we' want to say that 'they' are all for military adventuring because 'they' have no idea, not having been in the armed forces, of what combat is like or (more importantly) what it can achieve, the opposite can be said about 'us' - that 'we' don't know what threats 'we' are actually facing or what can be done about them on the ground and so shouldn't comment.

Some of these issues are canards. A private might have a very good idea indeed of what the business end of an enemy's rifle looks like but have no conception of the strategic or political implications of returning fire. You can perfectly well comment on military matters without having been a member of the armed forces, but engaging in the chickenhawk debate means you can't have a serious discussion about what's going on.


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Akehurst on Johnson on Johnson

Luke Akehurst has a great post with a selection of, ahem, interesting quotes from Boris Johnson. Do take a read. If Boris can make Luke like Ken, the Hon. Member for Henley must be dire indeed.


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What happened to the Smashing Pumpkins?

The Smashing Pumpkins have a special place in my heart - the first CD I ever bought was Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. Just goes to show that I was both cool and pretentious at a tender age. I'm listening to the new album, Zeitgeist, and it's OK, but not up to Mellon Collie or Siamese Dream. The first track, Doomsday Clock, is fine in its own way but feels over-produced. Some tracks come over as, well, pretentious - Bleeding the Orchid, for instance - and those tracks that sound more like the Pumpkins I'm used to - Tarantula - suffer from the same over-polishing, losing the grittiness in Billy Corgan's voice that used to be so distinctive.

Album cover for Zeitgeist by the Smashing PumpkinsSome of the later songs are, frankly, bizarre and I cannot get my head around them. Perhaps the tone of the album is set by the cover and the title, Zeitgeist. The 'spirit of the age' is the Statue of Liberty standing with water rising about her. I don't think Corgan sings well about politics. Three songs, United States, For God and Country and Pomp and Circumstances, taken together give the impression that Corgan wants to be positive about the USA but can't because of recent events.

United States runs
Revolution blues
What will they do to me
Freedom shines the light ahead
I'll lead the last charge to bed
I said my last rights
I don't have to run scared no more
which sounds very different from "despite all my rage/I am still just a rat in a cage" of the days of yore. Corgan changes further in For God and Country:
You can't deny God and country
We're fighting for our lives
You can't deny God and country
Our souls are so aligned
In this time of God and country
We'll take you on our side
It's all right
My soul is so alive
With God and night
With God and country
My soul is so alive
Which could be ironic save for the last line - "my soul is so alive" - which suggests to me that the security of a position, regardless of the position, and the approval of a peer group is comforting in a difficult time.

You then have "Pomp and Circumstances", which runs:
What was once new now gone
What was once praised now wrong
As they go, we can say we know
But what do we know
But warm sunshine and graves
Don't we see
What's bitter to taste
which, coupled with United States seems to be hoping that there well be some sort of revolution, perhaps to kick Corgan et al. out of their collective reverie. I hope that the personification of that revolution is not Hillary Clinton or another Democrat as that would suggest a dreadful naivete.

Aside from the fact I disagree with what I think is meant, it isn't said well. Nevertheless, I enjoyed listening to the album. It is well made and thoughtful. It just didn't resonate with me in the way that Mellon Collie or Siamese Dream did.

OK, I admit it. I didn't buy Mellon Collie. I gave the money to my Mum to buy it for me.




MS Office 2007

My work computer came with MS Office 2007 pre-installed. I have decided to go back to using OpenOffice.org for two reasons - the ribbon and the 'docx' OOXML file implementation. That and the fact that it reeks of EEE.

Firstly, the ribbon. Nice idea, but it doesn't work. It's not intuitive and adds an extra click to any function that isn't displayed on the 'home' tab. Its attempt to get people to use styles is positive, but the way it's been implemented is, frankly, rubbish. It took me about twenty minutes to work out how to make my styles the default settings and it wouldn't let me delete the ones that were getting in the way.

There is no option (that I could find) to go back to a drop-down menu. I think I'm pretty handy with a computer and pretty good at adjusting to new systems (I managed going from MS Windows XP to Ubuntu without any problems) and it's taking me more time than I'd want (at work, when deadlines are sometimes tight) to adjust. If it's bothering me, I should think it'd bother less geeky computer users even more. As The Register says:
Training is one reason, with users apparently requiring "more intense" coaching than expected. Forrester reportedly said most business users will need up to three hours formal training, which will be followed by a drop in efficiency for up to four weeks as they adjust to their new environment.
Secondly, file saving. The default format to save a Word document in is now .docx. This is meant to be an implementation of an open standard. It is, however, Microsoft's version of an open standard - it can't be easily opened by older versions of Word and there is already an open standard, OpenDocument.

Microsoft's OOXML has a few problems. Well, more than a few. There is a comprehensive list here. Do take a read - they're all very good reasons why OOXML should not be adopted as a global standard, particularly when OpenDocument is already being used 'in the field.

Lastly, the Office Genuine Advantage kill-switch and the shrink-wrap license mean that Microsoft are up to their old tricks. ZDNet sums it up well:
We spent 40 minutes just skimming the 10,379-word End User License Agreement and stopped before we could understand it all. Here are some of the highlights: You're allowed to install Office 2007 software on two computers; you must agree to download updates whenever Microsoft decides you need them.
I'm fairly negatively disposed towards Microsoft anyway, but the changes from Office 2003 to 2007 would not convince me to upgrade, particularly when the free OpenOffice.org comes with a database programme as standard and the OEM MS Office does not.


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Well done, Vodafone

Vodafone have pulled their adverts from Facebook after their skyscrapers appeared on the BNP group profile. I don't know which one, as there are three BNP groups on Facebook. The full story is on Media Guardian.



The Daily Telegraph on Charlie Gillett

I'd like to recommend this article in today's Daily Telegraph on Charlie Gillett by Peter Culshaw. Mr Culshaw sings the praises of Charlie Gillett, the hugely influential host of World of Music on the BBC World Service and, until his illness last year, of the Sound of the World on BBC Radio Four. I started listening to World of Music when I bought a digital radio and then found Sound of the Worldand it is, I think, the best music programme on any radio station. It is always varied and always entertaining and has introduced me to artists that are prominent on the 'world music' scene that I had never heard of, not least Tinariwen and Ali Farka Toure. When I did a radio show, Ozymandias is Back, at the LSE Students' Union's radio station, PuLSE, I frequently pinched songs that Gillett had played a couple of nights before.

Culshaw does point out that the UK music industry is Anglophonic in a way that the Spanish is not Hispanophonic or the French Francophonic:
The conservative nature of British radio disappoints him. "If you think of how other aspects of life have changed - the number of foreign players in the Premiership, the diverse range of global restaurants in the high streets - radio here is pretty xenophobic." He is puzzled that multi-million selling artists such as Spain's Manu Chao or Cesaria Evora from Cape Verde are so rarely played on Radio 1 or 2.
In other countries I've been to, there is at least music sung in English as well as the native language or languages and frequently other tongues as well.

You can listen to Charlie Gillett on the World Service online.





Responding to a video entry on the Huffington Post by one Max Blumenthal, Tiberius Gracchus and Matt Sinclair have been discussing the word 'chickenhawk'. Unfortunately, they are both barking up unfortunately chosen arboreal plants.

Tiberius makes a mistake which, to be frank, is unworthy of him. The video he bases his opinions on is biased (not necessarily bad), one-sided and takes a half-dozen interviews, presumably selected to make the interviewees look foolish, and presents them without any justification or evidence as representative of all Republicans.

Tiberius says:
The point though is that within Republican students and Republican commentators is a kind of resurgent masculinity- that going to war proves that you are manly and stand up for your principles- that not supporting a war in another country, like Iraq, is proving you hold 'girly' opinions or that you are a weedy academic. That war is good for its own sake- that all problems can be solved through the use of military force. It isn't in my view incumbent on Republicans to go to war to prove their credentials to advocate war- but I think they lay themselves open to the chicken hawk accusation by using these militaristic arguments- by demeaning those that oppose their justifications as traitors, by saying that support for war is a token of courage.
If Tiberius' point is that Fox News is a cheerleader for neoconservativism, I think he could have made it rather more elegantly. If he is saying that there is a resurgence of virtù, I fear he is mistaken. There has always been a vulgar jingoism in some parts of any western polity that has had populist appeal. Any war calls on these sentiments, and it is as much the failure of the 'liberal' side of the media to make serious argument against the position taken by some 'conservatives' or the strength of Fox News that leads to its apparent preponderance at the moment.

The video in question is no better than the people it seeks to attack, being very much in the Michael Moore school of polemic film-making. Even down to the appeal to the flag with serious voice over at the beginning, it is not calculated to make an argument so much as to make an ad hominem attack; a logical fallacy. If some well-known members of the polity make the argument that it is 'girly' not to support the war, it behoves others to say that the line of reasoning is flawed; that past experience has shown that wars like this end in failure and don't achieve what is intended; that there are better ways of protecting the 'homeland'.

Going through the video, there are lots of points made by the attendees at the Republican College Convention that could be torn apart pretty easily. However, Blumenthal covers a speech about abortion1 and the chairperson of the convention talking about how many important people he's met. If this were an American policy-style debate, there would be howls of 'topicality'.

Matt replies by missing the obvious rebuttal (which, in fairness, is made in the comments section); that there is no longer a draft. There is no obligation to go to war, and so no avoidance of it. Equally, there are plenty of ways of serving a war effort without fighting on the front lines, the notable example being the Bevin Boys -
about one in ten conscripts were sent down the mines and did not come back up until 1948.

Quite why Matt goes on to talk about pacifism is beyond me. Talking about foreign policy and taking a moral risk on war is fine, but he misunderstands pacifism. There is no moral risk of war from a pacifist point of view; it is an immoral certainty. Wars are fought, from a non-pacifist point of view, to stop further wars. it is a common pacifist theme that wars cause wars and the way to prevent future wars is not to fight this one.

Answering in turn, Tiberius says:
Matt is right there is a moral cowardice in pacifism as well- but the most moral cowardice demonstrated recently has been from the advocates of war who imagine that war is costless and beneficent- it isn't and we should remember and honour the soldiers, and remember that when we go to war, for myself and Matt we are advocating that people take the supreme risk without ourselves being willing to take that risk. It is moral cowardice to face up then to the deaths and distress consequent upon our policy- that is what the word Chicken Hawk means to me.
While I am not a pacifist, to say that there is cowardice in pacifism seems to be to be gross ignorance of the facts. Certainly, some people will have claimed to be pacifists out of fear, but a great number have put up with ostracisation, poverty and imprisonment, often in worse conditions than the troops on the front line that they sought to avoid joining, for their convictions. There are plenty of examples on the Peace Pledge Union website.

Tiberius ends by saying "that is what the word Chicken Hawk [sic] means to me". I wrote here about how far-right or fascist are not useful terms as they are so emotionally loaded and caught up with distracting intellectual baggage that they cannot be used as descriptors. The same applies to the term 'chickenhawk'. I'd much rather that people addressed the arguments and not the argumentor.

Last, but not least, the music played in the background of the video clip is 'Fortunate Son' by Creedence Clearwater Revival.


1 - which has a frankly bizarre argument - if 40,000,000 abortions had been carried out over the last fifty years, we wouldn't need all those illegal immigrants.

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