The biggest problem with Libertarian thinking


Posted: 2010-06-18 13:05   |  More posts about america idiots politics words

A member of reddit, quag7, contributes to a thread entitled "I am a registered Libertarian, but it seems the party has lost its way" in /r/Libertarian. Reposting here in full. Thanks to Hugh for bringing this to my attention:

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Bloody Sunday


Posted: 2010-06-15 20:21   |  More posts about ireland music news politics religion the troubles

Today, the Saville Report into the events of Bloody Sunday was published. You can read it in full here. British Prime Minister David Cameron summed up:

  • No warning had been given to any civilians before the soldiers opened fire
  • None of the soldiers fired in response to attacks by petrol bombers or stone throwers
  • Some of those killed or injured were clearly fleeing or going to help those injured or dying
  • None of the casualties was posing a threat or doing anything that would justify their shooting
  • Many of the soldiers lied about their actions
  • The events of Bloody Sunday were not premeditated
  • Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, Sinn Fein, was present at the time of the violence and "probably armed with a sub-machine gun" but did not engage in "any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire"

The inquiry ran for 12 years at an ultimate expense of £195M. Its findings have been widely greeted positively.

What I post today is not directly connected but certainly not unrelated: a debate -- I use the term loosely -- between Fintan O'Toole of the Irish Times and members of the Wolfe Tones, an Irish rebel music band who have enjoyed a long, successful career. Fintan contends their music and their style of performing are inherently racist and filled with hate-speech, while the Wolfe Tones assert that... Well, that Fintan is lacking a sense of humour, that his knowledge of the history of The Troubles is lacking and that he shouldn't be able to consider himself Irish.

While even after having watched it countless times, to me it is completely obvious who wins this farce of a "debate", the Youtube comments tell a different story:

In any event, here is the "debate", in full:

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Rise of the Robots


Posted: 2010-06-12 02:58   |  More posts about america computers politics robotics science war

A good, short blog post from the wonderful ginandtacos blog on the increasing prevalence of unmanned vehicles in war, ending with a very sobering thought:
Won't it be great when the military can send in the tanks without having to put crews in harm's way? Yes and no. The fewer casualties, the better. But what becomes of our reluctance to send the military galavanting around the sordid parts of the world once American casualties are taken out of the equation? We have almost no restraint as it is. I shudder to think of how easily Presidents and legislators will make the decision to go to war when the attitude of "We can just send robots to do it!" becomes entrenched. We saw what the advancements in design of cruise missiles in the 1980s did to the Executive Branch; if someone's acting up, just lob a dozen Tomahawks at them from a few hundred miles away. It became the easy way to intervene without actually making a commitment or putting Americans at risk. Collateral damage isn't much of a deterrent to our political class. UAVs are another step in that direction, a step toward a future with more remotely operated and even autonomous means of doing the dirty work. It's great that technology allows more American soldiers to come home alive and in one piece, but if we remove the U.S. body count from the decision-making process the only restraints on waging war will be common sense, morality, and logic. Yeah, let's start taking bets on how well that works.

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A Strange Echo from History


Posted: 2010-06-04 18:20   |  More posts about israel / palestine conflict news politics

Acclaimed Filmmaker Adam Curtis writes of a strange echo from history, drawing parallels between the recent news from the Middle East and an attempt by members of a Zionist terrorist group in the 40s to try to break the English blockade of Palestine. He shares with us a documentary film from the BBC archives:

As you watch the film - it raises complex reactions and thoughts in your mind. But it is ironic that, although the two events are in many ways completely different, the Israelis are now preventing Palestinians and supporters of Hamas from doing what the Israeli defence organisation - the Haganah - tried to do over 60 years ago. From 1945 the Haganah, along with the Irgun, had been carrying out a terror campaign against British soldiers in Palestine. Then in 1947 they organised the Exodus operation as an attempt to break the British blockade.

It is absolutely essential viewing. Read his blog post and watch the documentary now.

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Boston.com Big Picture Cataloguer


Posted: 2010-05-12 20:02   |  More posts about art code computers internet media photography politics

I'm a big fan of The Boston Globe's photojournalism series, The Big Picture. So much so, in fact, that I decided to dedicate a few hours this week to building a program that would not just download the entire series, but add caption metadata to each photo, since many are informative and look very nice in Picasa, for example.

Now, I'm happy that the application is stable enough to release to the world in the Code section of my website.

Since I don't want people to be hammering The Boston Globe's servers, I've made the script wait a fraction of a second between each request, and since I don't want people to be able to disable this functionality, unfortunately only binaries will be available for the time being. Windows binaries are available already, OS X and Linux binaries to come in a few days.

Indeed, if those at The Boston Globe have a problem with how the program operates, they need simply contact me and we can come to an agreement, but I've worked hard to make sure that the program contacts their servers as little as possible.

Bug reports will be automatically submitted through this website too, but if you have any unforeseen problems (e.g. a crash or a hang), email me with as much information as possible (text describing the "Traceback" printed before the crash, what album/photo the program was working on, etc).

What can you do once you've got the entire 2GB collection of photos downloaded? Well, you can simply look through them at your own pace and comfort, or indeed choose to create a montage screensaver from them (although be warned - a screensaver that fades from a beautiful Antarctic landscape to a bloody photo of a victim of the war in Afghanistan might not be exactly what you had in mind.)

But in any event, hopefully it'll be of some use. Enjoy!

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Rette deine Freiheit


Posted: 2010-01-05 22:19   |  More posts about art censorship computers design digital rights germany internet politics words

At the moment in Germany, there is fierce opposition growing against plans by the CDU to implement internet censorship under the guise of attacking the spread of child pornography. A movement championed by the German Piratenpartei has dubbed ex-minister for family affairs Ursula von der Leyen "Zensursula", a portmandeau of Zensur (Censor) and Ursula, and is referring to the CDU's plans as Stasi 2.0, a nod to the brutal secret police which operated in former East Germany.

Not only is there to be a secret list of blocked websites, such as exists in Australia, but the government is pushing for more data to be collected from citizens and retained for a long period of time.

A video which caught my attention a while back was entitled Du bist Terrorist (You are a terrorist). With soft ambient music playing, and deceptively pleasantly designed imagery, the two-minute video parodies the Du bist Deutschland ad-campaign with a soft, reassuring voice informing you of what the German government has in store for you, in terms of heavier and more invasive surveillance -- because You are a terrorist.

Earlier this week I found that the same people had created a new video in the same vein, entitled Rette deine Freiheit (Save your freedom). The video focuses much more on the coming internet censorship in Germany than just data retention and physical surveillance.

Since there was no English translation available, I decided to translate it and re-upload to Youtube. The result is below:

The translation is by no means perfect, but at least it's something. There were a few tricky problems with it:

  • Einfach wegschauen: Literally "simply look away", the video describes this as the method tried-and-tested by members of families with a history of domestic abuse. I was going to translate it as "simply look the other way" in its first instance, since this is the closest phrase in English that pertains to such a situation. However, this doesn't exactly capture the double-meaning employed in the video, since it implies wilful ignorance which isn't quite applicable to what the government is doing, so I decided to settle on "simply block it out". I'm not sure I'm happy with this, however. Suggestions?
  • In the sentence, "In Prävention, Therapie und Personal investiert hätte dies vielen Opfern helfen können: Reinste Verschwendung", the meaning that is sarcastically implied is that the money that could be invested in preventative measures, therapy and personelle is much better spent on building an internet block. I don't think I captured this very well.

In any event, there's likely to be an official translation soon (I just saw an "Englisch (bald verfügbar)" notice at the top of the official page now -- perhaps my emailing asking for a transcript of the video got them in a rush) and these issues will cease to be.

One last thing -- if you are interested in learning more about the situation in Germany regarding internet freedom and the child pornography scare, I'd not only urge you to visit the links above, but also this shocking, but morbidly fascinating account of one techie's work in the murkiest of subcultures. Thankfully, he doesn't go into detail about actual child abuse, but instead details exactly how child pornography rings work, using the internet and computers.

Put simply, it proves what anyone with a clue already knows: current proposals for internet censorship will have absolutely no impact whatsoever on paedophiles and child pornographers and will only serve to infringe the rights of normal, law-abiding internet users.

Thanks to Áine and Patricia for help with one or two minor parts of the translation.

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Don't hold your breath for tolerance.


Posted: 2009-10-17 02:25   |  More posts about gay rights idiots media news politics

In the past week, Stephen Gately, former member of Irish boy-band Boyzone, died. Jan Moir of the Daily Mail wrote an incredibly repulsive article on the subject and Charlie Brooker responded indignantly.

Meanwhile, a Ugandan minister of parliament has proposed legislation to enforce a penalty of death for the "offence of aggravated homosexuality."

Well then.

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An anecdote


Posted: 2009-09-30 21:28   |  More posts about censorship football funny oddities politics religion sports

A few weeks ago, I was asked to act as a proxy and present a paper on language evolution at a conference on artificial intelligence and life taking place in Budapest. The presentation went well, considering I'd only had a week or so to read up on what is an enormous subject I'd never studied before.

Later on, in the evening, I had been walking about the town, looking for a suitable place to have dinner when I came across an Irish pub which I decided to have a few drinks in later that night, after having eaten. A match was on that night between Manchester Utd and Besiktas for which they had the projector screen out and all. Upon entering, I attempted to take a seat at the bar, since I had absolutely no interest in the match, only to be chaperoned to the pub audience and told I must be seated with everyone else, in front of the projector screen.

It quickly became apparant that I was the only Irishman in the building: the staff were all Hungarian, there was a group of Americans closest to the screen, then directly in front of me a group of about four Englishmen, and to my left a group of about eight Turks, men and women, who were occasionally chatting to three Danes seated beside them, having dinner. Those Turks immediately to my left were rather friendly and chatty, and after a while we had exchanged pleasantries and stories explaining why and how we had wound up in an Irish pub in Budapest of all places.

One hour and many beers later, and not a goal had been scored. I grew more and more impatient, and the Turks (for whom this game seemed to mean an awful lot) grew more and more raucous. Then, out of nowhere, a shot on-target rebounded off the goal-posts. As it seems, the drink had affected my prior apathy towards the whole event, and I let an annoyed roar of "JESUS!" out of me. One of the Turks turned to me and said with a smile, "Don't you mean Mohammad?" I responded, "Ah yeah, he's pretty good too, just don't draw any funny pictures of him, ye?"

The Danes exploded in laughter.

The Turks went completely silent, staring straight ahead at the projector screen.

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The inane ramblings of non-talent Lily Allen


Posted: 2009-09-22 02:08   |  More posts about digital rights internet music politics

Lily Allen has set up a blog for musicians opposed to peer-to-peer filesharing to contribute their thoughts to. I only made it through her most recent blog post tonight, but if that's anything to go by, we're in for some more quality stream-of-unconsciousness ramblings from her in the future:
Apparently there are a lot of younger people at the record labels who do understand digital and want to come up with new ways everyone can get to music, but everytime they try something new it fails to win through against the ‘free’ stuff available unlawfully from file-sharing. So the fact there’s nothing in place to stop file-sharing is actually preventing the industry develop new ways of getting music to people, as well as harming new artists. I 'd also like to stress that the music business is not just made up of artists and record company execs,. ALOT of people seem to think that the record labels are to blame for this whole thing because they have been overcharging the consumer for too long, while this may be partly true, i wouldn't  want to  be seen as supporting file sharing, even if it does mean reaching a bigger audience and earning money from ticket sales . People are losing their jobs as a result of illegal downloads.  In the same way that all those people lost their jobs at car factories last year, because people stopped buying cars. The music industry is now facing destruction because people have stopped buying music. For every car sold in the UK , a small piece of that profit will go to the designers of the cars, there are thousands ands thousands of other people working in the motor industry that need to be paid too. If we stop paying for a product, the industry supporting that product falls apart, as we have seen over the past few years. i hope that made sense....

Sounds like a presentation a 15-year-old would make for an Economics class in high school. Instead of even paying a single thought to the incredible exposure peer-to-peer sharing has given emerging and underground artists in countries they would never have dreamed to have reached, she assails this practice as being the final nail in the coffin for such musicians.

Same story as always, then... But told by an incredibly inarticulate girl who produces utterly shit pop music and will no doubt further embarrass herself on the blog in the future. Stay tuned, innit?

(Speaking of the which, first person to code a Text-To-Mockney-Speech utility for the sole purpose of reciting the garbage on this blog wins a grand prize. Get working.)

Update: thanks to Hugh, I came across this post on Torrentfreak, which tells us that:

The debut post on the blog includes a criticism of 50 Cent, who just a couple of weeks ago had the temerity to suggest that piracy and file-sharing are all part of marketing music. However, aside from the critique of Fiddy, the rest of the blog post – put there by Lilly herself – is someone else’s work. Arrr mateys, Long John Allen lifted the entire post from another site – Techdirt.com – effectively pirating the work of the one and only Mike Masnick. “I think it’s wonderful that Lilly Allen found so much value in our Techdirt post that she decided to copy — or should I say ‘pirate’? — the entire post,” Mike told TorrentFreak on hearing the shocking news. “The fact that she is trying to claim that such copying is bad, while doing it herself suggests something of a double standard, unfortunately. Also, for someone so concerned about the impact of ‘piracy’ I’m quite surprised that she neither credited nor linked to our post. Apparently, what she says and how she acts are somewhat different. Still, Lilly, glad we could help you make a point… even if it wasn’t the one you thought you were making,” Mike added.

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Ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia to be fined for speaking their own language


Posted: 2009-09-01 23:05   |  More posts about linguistics media news politics words

Daniel Tencer has posted his English translation of an article in Gazeta Wyborcza from Warsaw, Poland, which describes a new law which imposes a fine of five to ten thousand euros for publicly speaking Hungarian in Slovakia:

Ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia are planning to protest today in the city of Dunajska Streda against a law they say violates their basic human rights. Under a penalty of five to ten thousand Euros, as of today it will be a crime in Slovakia to use the Hungarian language in public places. As the Hungarian weekly Heti Világgazdaság states, every Hungarian doctor in Slovakia will from now on be required to speak Slovakian with their patients, even ethnically Hungarian patients, even if neither party wishes it so. [Explanatory note: There are 550,000 ethnic Hungarians living in Slovakia. They are there because after the Austro-Hungarian Empire collapsed in World War I, the Allied Powers drew the borders of Hungary in such a way as to marginalize the Hungarian nation. A full 3.3 million Hungarians were left out of Hungary, and have been living as minorities in Slovakia, Romania, etc. for the past ninety years.] The protest marks the culmination of several nightmarish weeks in Hungarian-Slovak relations, during which time the Slovak government refused entry to the Hungarian prime minister, and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences declared the new Slovak language law a violation of fundamental human rights.
It's always a thorny issue when governments get involved in mandating and prescribing the use of language in their respective societies, but it's surprised me that such an incredibly racist law brought in in Eastern Europe has gone almost completely unnoticed in the news media -- especially when one considers the background to the Hungarians' presence in Slovakia.


Edit: Ah. Literally minutes after I clicked "Publish" (I didn't know my blog was that closely watched! ;) ), a story about this appeared in the third most prominant position on the BBC News website.

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