Apr 2006

Boot Camp

I’ve got a bunch of work to do over the next few days, so blogging may be fairly light for a wee bit. Nonetheless, a news item caught my eye recently and I want to make a small comment on it. It’s the news that Apple are releasing a piece of software called Boot Camp which will allow Microsoft Windows to run on their computers. This is of little practical interest to me; I don’t own an Apple computer and doubt I ever will.

What I do find interesting, however, is the response by Apple users to this news. A comment on the BBC site reads… “What? Let Microsoft get a foothold on my lovely Mac? Never!” while others report being “appalled” at the idea. There are – of course – different reactions, but it is this hardcore group of Apple fanatics / Microsoft haters that intrigues me.

The first thing to note is that while Boot Camp is new, emulation is not. Mac users have been able to run Windows software (albeit slowly) for years thanks to Virtual PC. And PC users have been able to run Mac OS for years, thanks to VMware. On top of that, Microsoft have “a foothold” on a huge number of Macs already… Microsoft Office is a core application on that platform and – from the MS website – “The Macintosh Business Unit (MacBU) at Microsoft is the largest, 100 percent Mac-focused developer of Mac software outside of Apple itself.” So the implication that Boot Camp is somehow a new development allowing Big Bad Bill to get his greedy hands on pure-as-the-driven-snow Macs is wide of the mark indeed.

But as well as being plain ignorant about the history of cross-platform emulation and multi-platform software, the Mac fanatics also appear worryingly ignorant about the realities of corporate policy. And that – in this day and age – is more than a little pathetic.

There is no doubt that Microsoft has a virtual monopoly on the Operating System market. Between 90 and 95% of all personal computers on the planet run a version of Windows. This monopoly was arrived at through both fair means and foul and there are clear arguments against such a situation. Mind you, there are also arguments in its favour – a fact that tends to be dishonestly overlooked by Microsoft’s detractors. But on balance, such a monopoly is almost certainly A Bad Thing.

What irritates me beyond reason, however, is the implication that – had history been different, and Mac OS gained the upper hand in the 80s – that somehow Apple Computers would have “played nice”. Apple, just like Microsoft, is a public corporation. This means it has a legal obligation to maximise return on investment. If Steve Jobs – CEO of Apple – was presented with two business plans… one which opened up the Operating System market to dozens of competitors; the other which gained a massive foothold for Mac OS at the expense of those competitors but generated twice the profits for Apple Computers… he would be breaking the law if he chose the former.

Apple fanatics have a laudable sympathy with the underdog, as well as an eye for a particular design aesthetic (an aesthetic which – as it happens – leaves me cold). And it’s possible that there are particular pieces of software which make it easier to do certain things on a Mac than on a Windows PC. But painting Apple as “The Good Guy” versus Big Bad Bill Gates is at best a delusion… at worst consciously dishonest.

Why, for instance, is Apple at the forefront of the Digital Rights Management (DRM) process? A Mac user could spend a small fortune on music from Apple’s iTunes shop and store them all on their expensive new iPod. If – in a couple of years time – that same user exercises their right to choose another mp3 player (say an iRiver or a Creative), Apple will politely inform them that while they may have paid an awful lot of cash for that music, they can no longer listen to it. Yes, there’s third-party software that will surreptitiously rip out the DRM and allow you to transfer your music, but that’s certainly not to Apple’s liking. Steve Jobs wants to lock you into his products just as much as Bill Gates does. Jobs simply isn’t as good at it as Bill.

There’s no difference in intent. There can’t be. By law.

And of course, the other point about Apple is that despite being The Good Guys, they saw fit to shit all over the memory of Albert Einstein; one of the greatest minds in human history. Steve Jobs and Apple Computers used the face of a man, long dead and unable to object – who made clear during his life exactly how much he despised commercial endorsement – in order to flog more product. That alone demonstrates the fact that; just like every other corporation; Apple Computers is a craven, greedy and unethical organisation. And those who profess a loyalty to this corporate edifice are deeply misguided.

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Apr 2006

The shareef don’t like it

London Calling banned by SOCA
British anti-terrorism detectives escorted a man from a plane after a taxi driver had earlier become suspicious when he started singing along to a track by punk band The Clash, police said on Wednesday.

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Apr 2006

John Reid

Note: This essay was about twice as long as it currently is. Unfortunately (depending on your point of view) there was a big cut’n’paste farrago resulting in the second half getting deleted. This means there’s a whole chunk of the argument just missing, as well as the dissection of much of Reid’s speech. It’s way too late to rewrite it tonight, and I’m almost certain I’ll not have the enthusiasm for a rewrite in the near future… so you’ll have to make do with half an essay. I think I made a couple of relevant points in the first half though.

The blogosphere… or leastways, the bit I flap about in, has lately been buzzing with talk of John Reid’s recent speech to the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies (RUSI). The mainstream media (MSM) have covered it of course, but predictably with little gusto. Thankfully, as the MSM become less and less relevant – all parroting the same corporate line, shifted slightly left or right depending upon the pretensions of the editor – it provides space for truly fine writers to fill (rather than truly adequate copywriters). Unpaid writers who are willing to spend the time and energy to genuinely educate and inform their readers. To critique and analyse an issue, rather than providing a 500 word puff-piece in return for a paycheque. Bloggers who – by virtue of having a smaller, but more interested readership – don’t have to dumb down a point or follow an editorial policy that always has one eye on advertising revenue. So on the issue of the Defence Secretary’s disturbing speech, I recommend you check out the following pieces…

Dr. Reid has responded to the mild criticism he received from some elements of the MSM by pathetically mewling about being taken “out of context”. This was a familiar cry up until a few years ago. But since the late 1990s, it’s generally been possible for anyone interested to get hold of a complete copy of a recent speech within a few minutes. The internet has – in some respects – turned soundbite culture on its head. Context can be fully restored by those who choose to do so. Sadly, I’m not sure many people do. Anyways, it clearly isn’t a lesson that John Reid has learnt too well. The full text of his speech is – by itself – more damning than anything being said about him in the MSM.

Now, the speech is quite long and – by and large – pretty dull. But I still feel it’s worth a read-through for those interested in the topic. Because the juicy bits are really juicy. He clearly – albeit euphemistically – calls for torture and internment to be accepted as valid weapons in The War Against Terror. That a man with such beliefs is Defence Secretary tells you all you need to know about the current British government. This is a morally bankrupt regime and – viewed objectively – bears chilling similarities to the recently deposed regime in Iraq.

Both are willing to kill (and support the killing of) non-combatants en masse in order to achieve their stated political aims. Both are willing to wage pre-emptive war against another nation to further their political agenda. And now it seems, both will use indefinite internment without trial and even torture to achieve ends it deems as worthy of such tactics. Reid wants to be able to legally rip out fingernails and teeth. To legally boil people alive. And what’s more, he wants to be able to choose who merits such treatment without fear of any consequences to himself.

Dr. Reid begins his lecture by pointing out that he’s not a lawyer…

I am not myself a lawyer but, as a practising politician, I understand how law continues to evolve in response to real changes in the world.

This immediately got me thinking; “If he’s not a lawyer, then I wonder what he is? What’s he a doctor of?” A couple of clicks later and it turns out that he’s an historian. BA and MA in history, PhD in Economic History (I valiantly resist the urge to go off on a tangent about how “economic history” is a redundancy).

The guy is a comic genius though… moments after drawing my attention to the fact that he’s an historian, he launches into some of the most absurd historical revisionism I’ve ever heard. It seems he takes his own maxim seriously…

I always believed socialists, or indeed any rational person, should be revisionist on principle.
Dr. John Reid

Can anyone tell me exactly why the following analysis of where The Geneva Conventions (the basic international laws which cover warfare) came from might be considered a tad opportunistic…

For centuries conflict between tribes, cities and states was completely unbridled and savage. Very gradually, mankind developed a range of conventions that they applied to constrain and moderate what is in essence a brutal activity.

Eventually, these agreements became rules, which became laws. Much has been achieved in current legal frameworks. But warfare continues to evolve, and, in its moral dimensions, we have now to cope with a deliberate regression towards barbaric terrorism by our opponents.

Uh-huh… subtle isn’t it? Despite his protestations, politics has clearly made the man more lawyer than historian. Reid is – I believe deliberately – casting The Geneva Conventions as simply the latest iteration in an ongoing process to define the rules of warfare. He is drawing an imaginary line from Sun Tzu through Hugo Grotius in the 1600s and then to the first Geneva Convention in 1864. It’s incredibly misleading. And, as I say, opportunistic. By spinning this web of false history, Reid paints The Geneva Conventions as merely a set of rules which require constant updating as war evolves.

It is true that they are that. But they are not “merely” that. The first Geneva Convention was drafted and signed thanks to the work of the remarkable Henry Dunant, founder of The International Red Cross. It essentially laid out rules for the treatment of injured or sick people during wartime. Later conventions covered the treatment of civilians during wartime and the treatment of prisoners of war.

These are not merely iterations of the rules of war. They constitute both a moral and legal code. A vital difference. And it places a strict obligation on those who wish to act in a legally and morally responsible manner.

Furthermore, what Dr. Reid chooses to overlook is that the modern Geneva Conventions aren’t merely a further iteration of the codes of behaviour which preceded them. They are the result of a four-month long convention in 1949 in which the nations of the world; horrified by the recent world war and the Nazi regime’s treatment of certain groups, and perhaps equally horrified at the thought of a future filled with nuclear bombs; gathered together and set down the moral code by which all future conflicts had to be settled.

This wasn’t “tweaking the rules” in order to take into account the new technology of warfare, or the particular tactics employed by The Enemy. This was an understanding that the barbarism of Germany in the 30s and 40s must never be allowed to occur again. It made a clear statement of right and wrong. The rules Dr. Reid seeks to have tweaked, amended or weakened are precisely those rules put in place by humanity to stop people acting like the Nazis.

Reidy then uses a transparent bait and switch. Of course, says he, “our values – of law, democracy, restraint and respect – are at the core of our national beliefs, and even if – as some suggest [yes, you John, you suggest] – they create a short-term tactical disadvantage, they represent a long-term strategic advantage”. Got that everyone? Even though our laws against boiling people alive may present short-term difficulties for those who wish to boil people alive; in the long-term, it’s a good thing we have them.

But within two paragraphs he’s saying…

Historically, of course, laws have always been adapted to better suit the times. When they have become out-dated, or less relevant, or less applicable to the realities of the day they have been modified or changed. This is true of all laws, domestic or international.

See it? See the switch? The first paragraph talks about “our values – of law, democracy, restraint and respect”. The second one is only talking about “laws”. All we’re doing is changing a few “less relevant laws”. It’s as if he’s saying that a law permitting state torture would have no effect on “our values – of […] democracy, restraint and respect”. Surely he’s not that stupid is he? One of the classes I took when studying philosophy was “Discourse”… Dr. John Reid (an anagram of “John did err” incidentally) would have been laughed out of the room for that one.

That is why I pose three questions about the international legal framework. Put simply, in today’s changed circumstances are we convinced that it adequately covers:

  • the contemporary threat from international terrorists?
  • The circumstances in which states may need to take action in order to avert imminent attack?
  • Those situations where the international community needs to intervene on grounds of overwhelming humanitarian necessity in order to stop internal suppression — mass murder and genocide — as opposed to external aggression?

Before I go any further I want to tackle one of the phrases used by Dr. Reid in the above snippet. Can you guess which one? That’s right…

“today’s changed circumstances”

When Reid says “today’s changed circumstances”, he doesn’t literally mean “today” of course. That would be silly. No, he means “September 11, 2001”. He even says so later in the speech. “September 11, 2001 was”, apparently, “a date which exposed how much [our view of the world] needed to change”. Except it really wasn’t. We’re certainly living in changed times since that day, but entirely thanks to the reaction of western governments. Al Qaeda launched a deadly attack on several buildings and aircraft in the United States. That much is true. But it was us who changed the world. Try not to forget that. As Einstein once remarked, “The release of atomic energy has not created a new problem. It has merely made more urgent the necessity of solving an existing one.”

To me, September 11, 2001 represents a terrible missed opportunity. The problem of radical Islamic terrorism existed prior to 9-11. On 9-12, however, I’d argue that it was at its lowest ebb. Sympathisers are the lifeblood of terrorist organisations. On September 12th 2001, the sympathy of the entire world was with New York. The images we all saw on our screens hit at an emotional level that negated politics for most of us. Those photographs of the young firemen rushing up the stairs into – what we know to be – certain death… I cried my eyes out.

I don’t know what America could have done to best capitalise on the immense goodwill shown towards it by the world back then. But it’s safe to say that what they did do was horribly counterproductive. Islamic terrorism hit British shores as a direct result of UK involvement in US policy. The same is true for Spain. Both Iraq and Afghanistan are in flames and global anti-American feeling is higher than it’s ever been. The people who declared and are running The War Against Terror are patently doing it wrong. They’re making matters far worse. And when those same people suggest that the changes they have wrought in the world require the abandonment of “our values – of law, democracy, restraint and respect”, then it’s probably a bad idea to give them free rein.

Besides, it’s probably a wee bit dodgy for Dr. Reid to be bandying around Geneva Conventions. After all, he may be itching to change them to better suit his desires to rip the fingernails from suspected terrorists, but as of now they are still a legal force to be reckoned with. Leastways in theory. The 4th Convention (the one dealing with the treatment of civilians) states the following…

Persons taking no active part in the hostilities, including members of armed forces who have laid down their arms and those placed hors de combat by sickness, wounds, detention, or any other cause, shall in all circumstances be treated humanely, without any adverse distinction founded on race, colour, religion or faith, sex, birth or wealth, or any other similar criteria.

To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b) taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court, affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.

Convention IV | Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, 12 August 1949.

It’s really quite specific with all that “shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever”. So a prize to the first person who can square that clause with the use of cluster bombs.

Like Reid, I am not myself a lawyer but, as a practising human being, I understand that a society which condones torture is a society that has lost its way. The man has clearly spent too long fighting monsters and didn’t heed Nietzsche’s advice to ‘take care lest he thereby become one’.

As Defence Secretary it is John Reid’s job to defend the country and – by extension – its values. It is not acceptable that he seek to alter those values so he can better protect them. Anyone suggesting such a plan is clearly unable to do the job, and must be removed from it as soon as possible.

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Apr 2006

Energy Futures… doh!


Or words to that effect. After negotiating Dublin’s shamefully inadequate public transport system and reaching the venue (the Mansion House in Dawson Street) for the Energy Futures seminar with almost 10 minutes to spare, I put my hand into my back-pocket to retrieve my wallet, and the 25 euro entry fee.

It was at that point that I realised I’d left my wallet at home and the change in my pocket was just sufficient for the bus out of the city and back to Rathcoole. So there will be no report on the seminar from me… no feedback on Dr. Campbell’s doubtlessly fascinating lecture… and no contribution to the discussion group, which even as I type is probably getting underway.


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Apr 2006

Condi got me thinking

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (her parents named her after an oil tanker, or so I’ve been told) visited the UK last week. According to one news source, the visit was a “PR nightmare”. What truly staggers me is the idea that UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw – who hosted the visit – could have expected anything else.

The UK government is in power by default, not because they are popular in any sense of the word. They are – in fact – deeply unpopular. Not only that, but the current US administration, of which Rice is a well-known figurehead, is easily the most reviled that there’s ever been. On top of all that, Blackburn – Straw’s constituency and location of the visit – has a very substantial Islamic community; many of whom – rightly or wrongly – view the current American government as waging a war on Islam. Anybody living in the real world would see the inevitability of “a PR nightmare”.

I’m also bemused that – given all this background – Straw would choose BAE systems fighter-jet factory as the first stop on this diplomatic visit. It’s the sort of touch you’d add to a political satire that would tip it over the edge and make it feel ham-fisted…

Secretary of State visits UK in current political climate. First stop… fighter-plane factory. Gaze lovingly and approvingly at weapons of death recently used to drop bombs on Iraqi people. Next stop… deliver speech in which you admit to “thousands” of “tactical errors” during the war in Iraq. Final stop, meet some Muslim community leaders and get reported as “shrugging off” the anti-war protests.

Rice is often listed as one of the intellectual heavyweights of the Dubya administration. Of course, one only has to look at the company she’s in to realise this could be being said in jest. Y’know, the way you’d point at a mentally feeble aunt in a family known for its stupidity and call her “the intellectual heavyweight of the bunch”.

If it’s not a piss-take though, and she really is one of the sharper tools in that particular shed, then maybe she could answer this question… “what, in practical terms, is the difference between a regime that outlaws all protest and a regime that ignores all protest?” Being told that we are “lucky” to live in a democracy and have the right to protest is easily the most patronising thing a politician can say. It ignores the fact that “luck” has nothing to do with it, and that the “right to protest”, like all such rights, has been wrestled – spilling blood, sweat and tears – from those in authority by the protesters. She is paid by the people in order to serve the people. It’s time she thought about how lucky she is that we, the people, have given her the right to step down from power without the aid of a guillotine. The protesters are lucky to have their rights? I think not. Especially not when members of the ruling class feel comfortable patronising or ignoring them. Let them eat cake, eh Condi?

Much is said of her childhood prodigiousness… the fact that she graduated from university whilst still a foetus. And then people say that she’s a “concert pianist”. But they forget to point out that’s actually one and the same point. She went to university on a piano scholarship.

Don’t get me wrong… I’m a music geek, and excellent musicians impress the hell out of me. I have a deep and abiding respect for anyone who can make genuinely beautiful music. But it doesn’t automatically make you an “intellectual heavyweight”. And it certainly doesn’t mean you’re a good choice for Secretary of State. I believe, for instance, that Prince is one of the handful of most talented musicians to have ever lived. I would nonetheless question the wisdom of putting him in charge of US foreign policy.

I suspect he’d do a better – albeit weirder – job than is currently being done, but I still don’t think Sign ‘O’ The Times merits that level of power. Call me old-fashioned, but there you have it.

Yes, yes, yes, I’m sure Condoleezza isn’t a one-trick pony. No doubt her intellectual talents extend beyond good keyboard skills. But they clearly can’t extend much beyond, given the complete shambles being made of the world by herself and her mates. To be wrong-headed is one thing… but Rice and her gang (and I include Straw, Blair and all the other nuLabor running-dogs in that) aren’t merely implementing the wrong policies / policies I disagree with, they are doing it with truly historic incompetence.

Maybe the world would be worse if smart, competent people were implementing the bad policies. But it wouldn’t be half as frustrating. Watching complete morons do a dreadful job is excruciating for most of us with half a brain. Watching them do it knowing that your personal safety may depend upon the quality of their work makes it that much worse.

For Rice to heap praise (as I’m certain she did) on weapons makers, and then introduce the world to a new euphemism for murdering innocent people with those weapons* whilst “shrugging off” those who object, is almost as incompetent as conducting a war on an abstract concept; the repercussions of which have been wholly disastrous. It displays a complete inability to grasp the consequences of her actions, or else – more chillingly – a psychotic disregard for those consequences.

Either way it must surely, in a sane world, be grounds for excluding her from power. Her and all her incompetent / psychopathic friends. Sadly, the American people are the only ones who can possibly do this… the only ones who can get rid of the people currently raining death and destruction down wherever they choose, using the money and the legitimacy conferred by the US population. I say “sadly”, because the American people really aren’t doing a great job of holding their politicians to account. Dubya can get away with all those dodgy electoral shenanigans in Florida, then lead America into an illegitimate shambles of a war and still get returned to power.

It beggars belief.

Of course, the UK re-elected nuLabor and here in Ireland we’ve had an eternity of centre-right corporate politicians running the show. So this isn’t unique to the American people in any way. But the bigger you are, the harder you fall. When America is run by imbeciles or crazies, then tens of thousands of innocent people, half a world away, die horrible deaths. It’s just not acceptable. And there’s a moral responsibility to put an end to it.

* Clearly a decision has been made that the phrase “collateral damage” has been worn out. A memo was circulated… party-line is now to refer to the murder of civilians as “tactical errors”.

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Apr 2006

Energy Futures

Energy Futures is an organisation which describes its primary objective as “raising public awareness regarding the scale of our fossil fuel dependency and the impact of a possible global energy shortage on the Irish economy”.

It is due to be launched on Wednesday this week (April 5th 2006) at two events; a business forum and a public seminar. I plan to attend the public seminar and will doubtlessly have something to report later in the week. One of the speakers is Dr. Colin J. Campbell, founder of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil and Gas (ASPO), and one of the main drivers of the peak oil debate.

I’d recommend anyone who might be in Dublin on the evening of April 5th to attend what will undoubtedly be a fascinating seminar. It takes place at:
The Round Room,
The Mansion House,
Dawson St.,
Dublin 2.

It starts at 7:30pm, runs until 10pm, and costs €25 on the door. Maybe see you there?

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