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December 26, 2005

A Sailor's Lot: Forgotten by all but a ship of elves

There are few souls more deserving of attention than the mariner who works on Christmas Day.

As I sat on the cliffs by Astwood Cove on Saturday I saw a large blue car ship five miles offshore, leaving the island and very very slowly heading South West, away to the Caribbean, or maybe to Panama and then across to the Pacific... And I thought just how strange it might be to be at sea at Christmas, with a family (of sorts) but not your own...

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June 08, 2005

On the passing of time...

The time elapsed between Sept. 11, 2001, and today's writing (1,364 days) is only slightly less than the time between Pearl Harbor and the unconditional surrender of Japan (1,365 days).

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June 05, 2005

Creationism: God's gift to the ignorant

Science feeds on mystery. As my colleague Matt Ridley has put it: “Most scientists are bored by what they have already discovered. It is ignorance that drives them on.” Science mines ignorance. Mystery — that which we don’t yet know; that which we don’t yet understand — is the mother lode that scientists seek out. Mystics exult in mystery and want it to stay mysterious. Scientists exult in mystery for a very different reason: it gives them something to do.

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June 04, 2005

Globalization is broken...

Because America consumes more than it makes, it must borrow from abroad to finance its excess consumption. In a kind of vendor finance program, a few foreign central banks provide the financing by buying U.S. Treasury bills and other U.S. assets. Thus, globalization has evolved into a kind of pyramid scheme.
[Via Cardboard Spaceship]

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Why museums matter

Let me give you an example. In the museum we have a pyxis that was once a container for the Eucharist and stored in a church treasury. Yet it was made under the Ummayad dynasty, the Muslim rulers of North Africa and Granada until the late 15th century. It is decorated with birds and various animals set against a lush pattern of arabesques--intricate patterns of interlaced lines. Although this is a typical Islamic motif, it traces its origins to the vine and acanthus scroll ornament of the late antique classical world, and the pattern itself refers back on the other hand to early Syrian textiles.

[Via Arthur's Seat]

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May 29, 2005

It was 20 years ago today...

Heysel football disaster marked.

Amidst all the celebrations after Wednesday, we shouldn't forget.

Unfortunately, it seems almost everyone has.

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May 26, 2005

We are all teenagers now

I don’t know what the figures look like here, or where to look for them, but I think it’s probably true that everyone multitasks more than they used to, and some of us multitask virtually all our waking hours.

In short, we are all teenagers now.

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May 19, 2005

Isn't it ironic?

Consider the irony, most corporations in the USA pay very little tax when they make a profit, using all sorts of legal moves to avoid doing so. However, if they make a loss, they are very happy to pass it on the taxpayer.

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May 06, 2005

On the future of the middle classes...

There's a good chunk of the middle class that, although certainly nice people, hard working, reliable and whatnot, are not particularly bright, creative, or too fond of original thought, nor taking risks.

This class I see being bled white over the next few decades, as their niches dry up like summer puddles.

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May 05, 2005

Why I'll not vote

It’s none of my business. The main parties are targeting the self-interest of median voters in marginal constituencies. But I’m neither a median voter nor in a marginal constituency. What’s more, no party is targeting the self-interest of single people in good health on above-average incomes. Worse still, they are not even bothering to tell us why our interests shouldn’t count.

I did vote. Well, I did spoil my ballot.

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April 21, 2005

Spoil Your Vote

SpoilYourVote.co.uk - a vote for none of the above

A way to tell everyone that you're not apathetic, but unconvinced by the available choices. [via Johnnie Moore]

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April 08, 2005

Okay, We Give Up

Scientific American's oh so slightly sarcastic April Fool's editorial. Unfortunately, this isn't a joke.

In retrospect, this magazine's coverage of so-called evolution has been hideously one-sided. For decades, we published articles in every issue that endorsed the ideas of Charles Darwin and his cronies. True, the theory of common descent through natural selection has been called the unifying concept for all of biology and one of the greatest scientific ideas of all time, but that was no excuse to be fanatics about it... As editors, we had no business being persuaded by mountains of evidence.

Good journalism values balance above all else. We owe it to our readers to present everybody's ideas equally and not to ignore or discredit theories simply because they lack scientifically credible arguments or facts. Nor should we succumb to the easy mistake of thinking that scientists understand their fields better than, say, U.S. senators or best-selling novelists do. Indeed, if politicians or special-interest groups say things that seem untrue or misleading, our duty as journalists is to quote them without comment or contradiction. To do otherwise would be elitist and therefore wrong. In that spirit, we will end the practice of expressing our own views in this space: an editorial page is no place for opinions.

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April 03, 2005

Bill James on understanding reality

"I believe in a universe that is too complex for any of us to really understand. Each of us has an organized way of thinking about the world—a paradigm, if you will—and we need those, of course; you can’t get through the day unless you have some organized way of thinking about the world. But the problem is that the real world is vastly more complicated than the image of it that we carry around in our heads. Many things are real and important that are not explained by our theories—no matter who we are, no matter how intelligent we are.

For those who don't know, Bill James is the father of scientific analysis in baseball - he was the first to argue that you could use statistics [well, numbers really, not a lot of baseball analysis is really statistical...] to better understand the game and what was actually going on. This approach of course was made famous to many via Michael Lewis' Moneyball. But the point James is making is that our attempts at understanding this are always, no matter how sophisticated they are, somewhat simplistic, by definition simplified, invariably abstracted. This is the point Virginia Postrel is working around in her latest NYT column that I mentioned yesterday.

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Rogers Cadenhead on open source and the ecology of software

Every time commercial developers create an innovative new software category, as Netscape, UserLand Software and Pyra Labs did in weblogging and syndication, open source coders follow behind with software that makes it harder to earn a living in that niche.

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April 02, 2005

On the link between bedsheets and inflation

Virginia Postrel: How Changing the Sheets Can Make a Hotel Room 'New'

The quality of goods and services is always changing, often for the better and often in intangible ways. If those changes take place at the same time that prices go up, it is hard to separate paying for greater value - for, in effect, a different good - from paying for inflation.

A good analysis of how many of the basic statistics we take for granted are built on a series of compromises and value judgements which disappear from view by the time we get "results".

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March 29, 2005

Lawrence Lessig in Edinburgh, April 2nd

Leading lawyers, journalists, and technologists, including Professor Lawrence Lessig, champion of the Creative Commons initiative, will debate the future of ideas and how best to promote creative work in a digital world, at a panel discussion as part of this year's Edinburgh International Science Festival.

[via Boing Boing]

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March 26, 2005

The new shock of the new

The first generation to experience a cultural innovation, and almost every generation is the first to experience something, usually takes it hard. There is no parental wisdom on offer. There is no ‘oral culture’ that records the misadventures of the previous generation. There is only a new imperative that has to be satisfied. (Personally, I believe this is the only way to explain the disco clothing innovations of the 1970s.)

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March 23, 2005

American Mania

Whybrow argues that in the age of globalization, Americans are addictively driven by the brain's pleasure centers to live turbocharged lives in pursuit of status and possessions at the expense of the only things that can truly make us happy: relationships with other people.

'In our compulsive drive for more,' writes Dr. Whybrow, 64, a professor of psychiatry and bio-behavioral science, 'we are making ourselves sick.'

See also Sex, not money, buys happiness, study says

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It's official - GM rapeseed bad for the environment

In other news, water still wet, sunshine still causing shadows.

The long-awaited final results of the GM trials for Britain's biggest crop, winter oil seed rape, show that wildlife and the environment would suffer if the crop was grown in the UK, in effect ending the biotech industry's hopes of introducing GM varieties in the foreseeable future.

For some reason [call me cynical... or illogical...] I am not convinced that the former necessarily leads to the latter.

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March 21, 2005

Dominic Dunne gets his comeuppance

Dunne apologises, pays undisclosed amount to Condit

In Dunne's first deposition in September, he conceded having been "hoodwinked" by one of his sources. He also acknowledged uncertainty about other sources for his public statements.

I've never understood the reverence certain parts of the US media have for Vanity Fair writer and professional talking head Dominic Dunne - particularly after he made a complete arse of himself over the OJ Simpson trial, claiming to be able to predict what the jury was thinking and then being proved a complete charlatan when OJ was aquitted.

Our friend didn't learn his lesson though [nor did the East-coast media], and resurfaced during the Gary Condit scandal, when Chandra Levy, a former intern of the US congressman, disappeared and Condit - her former boss/lover - was seen by many, including our mutual friend, as the [probable] murderer. [Funnily enough, Condit, in those post-Monica Lewinsky times, didn't seem too proud of having had an affair with an intern...]

Once again Dunne was busy pronouncing from on high, claiming to have insights gleaned from his usual 'authoritative' sources, or so it appeared. But as before, it turned out that Dunne was completely wrong, that Levy was the victim of a serial killer, and our mutual friend got himself sued by the alleged murderer.

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New frontiers in Nigerian spam...

I am writing in respect of a foreign customer of my bank with account number 14-255-2004/utb/t whose name is Chung Timothy who perished in a plane crash[Korean Air Flight 801] with the whole passengers aboard on August 6,1997. And for your perusal you can view this websitehttp://www.cnn.com/WORLD/9708/06/guam.passenger.list/

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A Few Tips to Cope With Life's Annoyances

When Seth Shepsle goes to Starbucks, he orders a 'medium' because 'grande' - as the coffee company calls the size, the one between big and small - annoys him

Ah yes, says the man who resents having to tell the, ahem, 'barista' that he wants a latte without foam, because as we all know a latte with foam is a cappuccino...

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March 19, 2005

There is no such thing...

as a free iPod

The firm says that receiving your free iPod depends on the following conditions: 'completion of offer terms,' 'completion of user survey' and 'participation in sponsor offers.'

What it doesn't say is that the offer terms will expose you to reams of spam and marketing solicitations, that the user survey is actually a lengthy marketing ploy, and that the sponsor offers needed to qualify for that free music player will almost certainly cost you money.

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The myth of abstinent virginity

Just like with Bill Clinton, the definition of abstinence apparently depends on a very particular definition of sex...

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March 15, 2005

The many uses of a concrete tent

Need a Building? Just Add Water

A pair of engineers in London have come up with a 'building in a bag' -- a sack of cement-impregnated fabric. To erect the structure, all you have to do is add water to the bag and inflate it with air

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March 11, 2005

Good advice on men...

[It's from the bottom letter on the page, btw...]

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March 08, 2005

Pretoria renamed

Its new name, Tshwane, means 'we are the same'.

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March 06, 2005

Strangely, the U.S. Army is struggling to find recruits...

If the military fails to attract enough recruits and America maintains a large commitment in Iraq, the nation may have to consider some form of conscription, said Cato Institute defense analyst Charles Pena. 'This is getting dicey'.

File that under: Not surprised. [Both the shortage of people who are willing to get shot at and the increasing chatter about some form of draft, which right-wingers can now talk about now that the US election's over...]

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Taking the right to buy to extremes...

Mr Li... called for an end to the EU's arms embargo, but said

Excellent news - no need to drop the embargo then is there?

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February 24, 2005

Now this is a speech worth listening to...

Highlights of MP Brian Sedgemore's resignation speech:

As we move towards a system of justice that found favour with the South African Government at the time of apartheid and which parallels Burmese justice today, if hon. Members will pardon the oxymoron, I am reminded that our fathers fought and died for liberty — my own father literally — believing that these things should not happen here, and we would never allow them to happen here. But now we know better. The unthinkable, the unimaginable, is happening here...

How on earth did a Labour Government get to the point of creating what was described in the House of Lords hearing as a ‘gulag’ at Belmarsh? I remind my hon. Friends that a gulag is a black hole into which people are forcibly directed without hope of ever getting out...

Have we all, individually and collectively, no shame? I suppose that once one has shown contempt for liberty by voting against it in the Lobby, it becomes easier to do it a second time and after that, a third time...

Many Members have gone nap on the matter. They voted: first, to abolish trial by jury in less serious cases; secondly, to abolish trial by jury in more serious cases; thirdly, to approve an unlawful war; fourthly, to create a gulag at Belmarsh; and fifthly, to lock up innocent people in their homes. It is truly terrifying to imagine what those Members of Parliament will vote for next. I can describe all that only as new Labour’s descent into hell, which is not a place where I want to be.

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The joy of wrong numbers

You know what happens when you have a phone number that’s only one digit off from the number for Sprint’s collections department?

You get a lot of deadbeats calling up some random dude in Massachusetts begging him to not disconnect their service. Stewart Woodworth says he’s logged something like 8,000 misdialed calls from Sprint customers over the past 2 1/2 years, and after Sprint refused to change their number he recorded an outgoing message on his voicemail that says: ‘Pay your Sprint bill or your service will be shut off. It’s that simple. If you don’t pay your Sprint bill, you might as well take your Sprint phone and throw it in the trash. Even a person with your limited intelligence should be able to figure that out. Go ahead – write a check. Hang up the phone, write a check, jerk.’

Given that my telephone number is one digit off from Lothian Regional Transport's Lost Property number, I get lots of strange calls from people looking for things.

Given that my telephone number is also one digit off from the London Street Sauna, I also get lots of phone calls from people who won't admit what it is that they're looking for...

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No sex please, we're British...

A would-be MP who admitted to having 'worked as a tart' has been kicked off a shortlist of candidates by Labour:

"I am not ashamed at all. I have worked as an encyclopaedia salesman in Germany - I'm more ashamed of that."

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Phil Agre on Conservatism

What Is Conservatism and What Is Wrong with It?

From the pharaohs of ancient Egypt to the self-regarding thugs of ancient Rome to the glorified warlords of medieval and absolutist Europe, in nearly every urbanized society throughout human history, there have been people who have tried to constitute themselves as an aristocracy. These people and their allies are the conservatives.

The biggest problem I have with Phil Agre is that he just doesn't post enough...

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January 21, 2005

A Billion Monkeys

I love the Internet. Thanks to it, we Billion Monkeys photomaniacs can exhibit our favourite snaps and have them enjoyed by whoever in the world cares to enjoy them, without forcing intolerable slide shows upon our friends and relatives.

Er, that'd be me, in a nutshell...!

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January 13, 2005

"Famous" pair face Big Brother boot

Er, is anybody actually watching this?

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Hoover's other job

History's other great relief effort

Apparently Herbert Hoover wasn't quite the useless muppet that we've all been brought up to believe.

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January 10, 2005

Not dead...

just busy coughing.

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December 28, 2004

"A new year begins--

piled on nonsense"

Pinched from Overlawyered: Thanks for the haiku

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November 06, 2004

Additional adiposity

Nice to see the fat-american meme is showing no sign of dying out any time soon...

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