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slagging off the bombers

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Today, in London, five people were convicted of plotting to bomb targets in and around London. Those would not have been suicide bombings; the modus operandi was taken from Timothy McVeigh’s bomb attack on Oklahoma city, with fertilizer-based bombs in vans triggered remotely. There are more details at BBC News.

One of the planned targets was the Ministry Of Sound, a famous London nightclub. Transcripts of conversations (also at BBC News) between the bombers go in to detail on why this might have been a target. Something about “slags” (loose women) i.e. moral judgment on the people in the nightclub. They drink alcohol, dance, have adulterous sex outside marriage; so they deserve to die, right? Quote:

… no one can even turn around and say ‘Oh they were innocent,’ – those slags dancing around…

This line demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of Western society; more specifically, the emphasis on individuals and individual responsibility. It starts with the way the role of governments has evolved.

Today, a Western government has strictly defined limits on what it controls. It does not have Carte Blanche to decide what is a crime and what is not, even if it sometimes seems that way. It responds to what it perceives as the “will of the people”, expressed though the members of Parliament, who talk directly to their constituents. There is a certain level of party-politics involved, where individuals do not get what they want, but the electorate will only tolerate so much of that.

Are drinking, dancing, or adultery crimes in Britain today? No, they are not. Your religion might say otherwise, or you may even look down your nose in secular disapprobation, but it doesn’t matter: in a representative democracy you, as an individual, do not get to impose your personal sense of right and wrong on others. In a country as large as Britain, that would make everyone guilty of something.

Now imagine that the bombing had taken place, and each of the victims was a “slag” in every sense, committing all of the “crimes” the bombers imagined them guilty of. Firstly, how would you get your message across? Press statement? Videos of guys in masks? Dangerous: a lot of smart people would be looking for you – mock them at your peril – and every piece of information that slips out builds up a picture that can lead them to you.

So you get your message broadcast on the BBC and Channel 4: what effect will that have? It’s not enough for you to say that the victims were “slags”; do you have proof? You do? Enough to convince their family. OK, but then how does it follow that they deserve to die?

In a civilized society, like it or not, “morality” is insufficient justification for someone to die. It might be in Pakistan etc., but you’re not in Pakistan, and there is no general desire to impose Pakistan’s Sharia laws on Britain. The accusations would not be accepted, because the accusers have no authority to pass judgments.

The response from the family and friends of the victims would drown out any accusations. Why? Because the right to life of an individual takes priority. Britain no longer has a death penalty, even for the most serious of crimes, and (reminder) the actions the “slags” are accused of not even considered to be crimes. Here parents don’t kill their children when they violate moral standards; they discipline them, instruct them, and forgive them. There is such a thing as an “ex-slag”.

It follows, logically, the Ministry Of Sound bombing would not have got the message to the people of Britain. It would been the senseless murder of people innocent of any crime under the laws of the society they live in. Had they lived elsewhere, they would have behaved differently. If you don’t understand how individuals can behave that way without the collapse of society, you have a lot to learn. Start with the Analects of Confucius – 500 years before Jesus, over 1000 years before Mohammad – and his advice:

  • The superior man governs men, according to their nature, with what is proper to them, and as soon as they change what is wrong, he stops.
  • When one cultivates to the utmost the principles of his nature, and exercises them on the principle of reciprocity, he is not far from the path. What you do not like when done to yourself, do not do to others.

Translation: coercion or violence will not change people; you have to deal with them as they are, and that works both ways.

Naturally, there are now calls for further inquiries in to the surveillance operations, to try to lay the blame for not catching these aspiring bombers sooner, and even the July 2005 bombers. You know what? I’m more than satisfied with the explanations, because it shows that surveillance is not 100% effective or comprehensive, and that there is still a chance of privacy in Big Brother Britain.

Once again I am reminded of The Fountainhead, by Ayn Rand:

Civilization is the progress toward a society of privacy. The savage’s whole existence is public, ruled by the laws of his tribe. Civilization is the process of setting man free from men.

Today, we need governments and police forces to protect us from the actions of the uncivilized. The ideal civilization would need no policing, from without or within; a society of individuals who would know what to do, and why they do it. It would carry no burdens of fear or guilt, and require no coercion; it can not be forced into existence, but can only come about through the open-eyes acceptance of education and self-enlightenment. I will not live to see such a world, not as long as parents burden their children with their unjustified beliefs.

Written by brian t

April 30, 2007 at 9:18 pm

london lowdown

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This morning, not long in to a two week holiday, I was idly wondering if I could justify a visit to London this weekend. I saw hotel prices weren’t too bad, and I could get a flight direct to London City Airport at a fair price, but I still needed a reason. A little browsing on the Time Out site for concerts showed an unusual number of Jazz gigs, tagged with the letters LJF: it’s the London Jazz Festival this weekend. That’ll do.

I plan to take in one major concert, and two or three smaller free gigs, starting at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday evening, when Lol Coxhill does some “Commuter Jazz”. The major concert is Dave Holland’s 60th birthday bash at the Barbican. Before that, a day out in the country, or at least Ascot, with my camera and a raincoat. Throw in some shopping at markets and in the West End, and that will pretty much take care of the weekend.

The India trip is confirmed from the business standpoint, all but the last flight from Bangalore back to Dubai. Oddly, the visa isn’t ready yet, or at least they haven’t called me, so I’ll go an chase it up on Friday, before I head for the airport. If they find a reason to refuse me one, well, that will get me out of going. I’m not particularly against going, just not enthusiastic about it. Still, I can’t reasonably refuse, so I guess I’m going. Could be worse.

Written by brian t

November 14, 2006 at 9:26 pm

Posted in london, music

musings

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The heatwave of the last week officially broke today, the temperature dropping to around 22°C outside, but the humidity and lack of a breeze makes it just under 29°C indoors tonight, according to my thermometer. I have no idea if I’ll get any sleep tonight, but I’ll sure have a go.

Tuesday night I got back from an excellent long weekend in London, meeting up with old and new friends. The newest were aged five and two, whom I had last seen seen back when the youngest was just two weeks old. I knew he wouldn’t remember me, and I’m not really sure whether his brother did, but it hardly mattered. Within five minutes of meeting up they had me face-down on the floor, gleefully whacking me over the head with the toys I brought them.

I helped take them around Oxford Street, Holland Park, and the Natural History Museum, where they got to see dinosaurs outside of books for the first time – a fairly eye-opening experience. Another first for me: the first time I’d tried to navigate a push-chair around London, through pedestrians and traffic, in and out of the Tube system. A decent workout, part of the job of being a Honourary Uncle, I suppose!

It was the first trip this year where I had nothing to complain about: no queues at for the check-in machines (hand luggage only), no flight delays except a few minutes after landing back in Dublin at a gate the airside staff weren’t expecting. I was concened about I might handle the heat but, as I found in France last month, my worries were unfounded. It was a good thing I carried a spare shirt, though – no deodorant would have kept me smelling good by the time I got the plane home, otherwise.

My friends were staying in the five-star Landmark Hotel in Marylebone, while I was at a much less exotic location just around the corner, but I got to hang out in their well-appointed room, and join them for full English breakfasts in the atrium restaurant.

On the last night, the hotel played a part in one of those strange episodes of good luck that make a nice change from the usual. We were up in the hotel bar until 3AM, solving the world’s problems over drinks. Back at my own hotel, meanwhile, the faulty fire alarm was waking up the guests, and I was spared the indignity of being one of the woozy, half-dressed unfortunates I encountered as I breezed in on a wave of Cognac, just in time for the all-clear to be given!

Just to underline how good things are going at the moment: the new Muse album is the best thing I’ve heard all year, and I’ve just taken advantage of their pre-sales codeword to get very good balcony seats at the Point Theatre this coming November. The tickets go on sale to the rest of the crowd tomorrow, but I got mine, oh yes.

Written by brian t

July 21, 2006 at 12:06 am

Posted in london, music, travel

april foolish

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april fools @ st pauls #4Two weeks without a post, for two good reasons. Work is one of them: when I’m at work, I’m really at work, with little time for much else, or energy to do much afterwards. Never mind that my job is being advertised in India today, quite literally: we have been told we will probably lose 30% of our staff this year, and we expect the figure to be more like 50%.

The other reason is related to travel. At the beginning of this year I thought there would be little travel this year, but it’s turning out rather differently. The photo above is from a quickly-organised trip to London last weekend, for shopping, and to meet up with some old friends. We did something I had never done in eight years in London: visited St. Paul’s Cathedral. Once past the “tourist trap” – £9 to get through the door! – it was actually fairly interesting. It’s not hard to see how the dome was designed to instil feelings of awe and submission in Christians, through innovative use of space and acoustics.

The crypt was interesting, with its memorials to all manner of soldiers and nobles. I was surprised to see one to my namesake, 1st Baron Roy Thomson of Fleet, the Scots-Canadian media baron with the clout to get my family its own tartan. Then, the 530 steps up to the Golden Gallery, with its amazing views of London. I’ve added some pictures to my image gallery, follow the link behind the picture above.

The next trip is in ten days’ time, to Portugal, a few days holiday that includes a wedding of a colleague from work. I’ll be staying in the northern resort of Esposende, and hoping the weather plays fair with me, something not guaranteed in that part of the world at this time of year. Rather than fly to Porto via Stansted on RyanAir, I’ll fly direct to Lisbon by Aer Lingus and take the train up the coast to Porto.

As if that wasn’t enough, I have a “two birds, one stone” trip to Denmark at the end of May: after visiting the reboot 8 conference, I’ll be visiting friends on a farm for a weekend. The farm is quite some way from Copenhagen, in the middle of the island of Fyn (Funen), a hundred kilometers away. The conference is all about “Web 2.0”, something I am still profoundly sceptical about, especially when it comes to privacy matters. I can’t help wondering just what I’m missing, so this will be an opportunity to find out.

Since my job security is clearly limited, I know I have to look beyond my normal hardware / operating system interests in the IT world, and even beyond that.

It’s now well after 2AM, and much as I’m enjoying the live baseball on cable TV – Japan flattening Cuba in the World Championships in San Diego – I have work on Monday, and need to stick to a sensible circadian rhythm, for the next week at least. After that, only the day of my return flight from Portugal requires an early start, and I can sleepwalk through that connection.

Written by brian t

April 9, 2006 at 2:48 am

monday moaning

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The hotel was cheap, at least – £35 per night, which is remarkable for London, but that rate was part of a “getaway” rate I found. I paid the price in other ways, though. The hotel was in Harrow-on-the Hill, which looked accessible, but I hadn’t been aware that the main Tube line there was subject to disruption, as I have described already. At least Harrow has another Tube station, Harrow & Wealdstone on the Bakerloo line, which was operational if slow.

I can’t see me going back there, however, for a few reasons. First, it’s an old hotel with paper-thin walls and creaky floorboards. When any of my neighbours in the horizontal or vertical planes were up and about there was not much chance of sleep. On Saturday night the bar below played disco till midnight – no later, thankfully – after which my neighbour crashed into his room. How do I know it was a man? No woman I ever met, or would want to meet, wields such a basso profundo snore. At least the TV had a headphone socket, which kept me sane until I was so tired I didn’t care about the noise.

I’m flying back later tonight, loaded with luggage that is holding a surprising amount of computer components for its size. Packing that lot was a bracing intellectual exercise for a Monday morning. The cleaners were rapping on my door before 8AM, and breakfast was annoying. The waitress interrupted me to ask “is everything OK”, which is a moronic thing to do. (If there’s a problem, you’ll be the first to know, girlie. Go back to terrorizing that gentle old lady: so what if the table is “set for lunch” before 9:30AM, why does she have to move around just to save you a little work?) I told the receptionist about this as I was checking out, though I doubt you’ll hear about it – I’m just a grumpy old man who has spent too long in “customer service” to expect any consideration from anyone. Right?

Luggage means there’s not much wandering about to be done today, which makes the easyEverything internet cafe a fine place to be at £1 an hour (a promotional offer at the Trafalgar Square branch). After I finished blogging on Saturday night it became a little hairy; bottles of vodka were being passed around, and before long a few of them nekulturny Bolsheviks were falling-down drunk, no exaggeration necessary. Climbing over the tables, singing folk and metal songs (think “Beserker” from Clerks) and looking like they were about to assault other customers; I walked out before too long. I could handle myself against a couple of drunk Russkis, but the best way to win a fight is not to get in to one in the place, that would have been totally pointless and a massive inconvenience.

Written by brian t

February 28, 2005 at 11:42 am

Posted in culture, internet, london

easyMoney

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Saturday Night in London, and here I am at the easyEverything Cafe, blogging. Not to worry, this won’t take long, before I head back out to do something more interesting. Or not. The local Russian mafia are holding a loud meeting just behind me, and I have no idea why they might choose this venue, apart from the fact that it’s open to the public and is was quiet. A couple of mohawk-ed punkski have just joined them, to even louder greetings and salutations. I can hear talk of Rammstein and other metal bands, so it’s probably more social than familial.

This is what I might call an expensive day: I haven’t quite totted up the damage yet, but I have the guts of a new computer to carry home with me on Monday. It starts with a Asus A8N SLI motherboard, AMD 64 3200+ (socket 939) CPU, and a MSI NX6600GT graphics card, and 1GB DDR400 (PC3200) RAM, followed by a 200GB Maxtor DiamondMax 10 SATA HDD, a new PSU, and a front-mounting card reader with audio ports. I needed a new bag to carry some of it home in, and also a camera bag, so I have a new LowePro Computrekker AW to boot.

The motherboard is bleeding-edge, but the other parts are not: I could have paid a lot more for extra performance, but I was seriously shocked by the prices of the NVidia 6800-based parts. It takes a serious gamer to pay more for the graphics card than for the rest of the PC, and a serious gamer I am not. It’s a SLI board, meaning that I can pick up another identical graphics card later, when the prices drop, to gain 50% extra performance. If I feel I need it.

After visiting a few computer fairs, I was surprised to find the parts I wanted at sensible prices in a shop on the Tottenham Court Road: I went in to a couple to check prices, and came out of one with the main parts (motherboard, CPU, graphics). I could have shaved a few pounds off by shopping around some more, but it wasn’t worth it, and the shop had the advantage of secure credit card facilities (Chip + PIN).

There is some bad news, on the other hand: I appear to have done some damage to my new camera. It was probably before I left, when I was charging batteries: when I finished charging one set I yanked them out the charger and put them in the camera, and started charging the other set. They were still hot, and it seems that one or more of them expanded in the confined space. The heat warped the battery cover a little, so now I can’t open it to check or replace them.

The electronics are still OK, the camera powers up with a “low voltage” warning. Further inspection will have to wait until I get home, but a few attempts with some cheap jeweller’s screwdrivers have done nothing, and I’m not prepared to do any more damage without the proper tools. I can always send it back to Pentax for repair on my own tab, since I probably violated the warranty by using hot batteries.

The trip to the Focus 2005 camera show is off, at least by train, since there won’t be any for half the day, due to engineering works. I’ll try the coach station, to see if I can do it by road, but I don’t expect much. Oh well. I have plenty I can do tomorrow. There’s a Joseph Beuys exhibition at the Tate Modern, which will be a start.

At least today went well, and this evening I treated myself to a Chicken Teriyaki Bento at the Tōkyō Diner, but I should be getting back now. My head hurts and there’s no Tube to Harrow-on-the-Hill this weekend, because of the work on the new Wembley Stadium complex, but at least there’s a main line train today, which is less frequent but much faster. They won’t even have that tomorrow, but they might be running the train into Paddington, rather than Marylebone. There will be buses too, which might work on Sunday’s less-crowded roads. Ah, London. ‘Night.

Written by brian t

February 26, 2005 at 8:28 pm

Posted in london, technology

the february of technology

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How technology has moved in the last few years gives me some pause for thought today, along with the effect imposed by the way technology is packaged.

I’m off to London early Friday morning, on a RyanAir flight that costs less than one night in the hotel I’ll be using, and it’s not exactly an expensive hotel either. As I like to do, I’ll be hitting the “computer fairs” on Saturday, on the prowl for cheap parts. I have a list of my own, but also a request from a colleague to pick up an USB2 external HDD, something friendly like a Maxtor OneTouch II, not the pile of parts I would choose for self-assembly. If I read the prices right it will be about £120 for a 250GB drive in a package with software, a little more for the 300GB model. I might even pick one up for myself too.

Doesn’t sound like much? When I was a lad… I wasn’t feeling this old. It’s the “OneTouch” aspect that appeals to my colleague: hit the button on the box and the supplied backup software kicks in and backs up your data. I saw one in action last year and can confirm it does work as advertised. There’s some initial configuration to do, but could the user interface be any simpler? This is what I mean by packaging: making things accessible.

I would say that we, as a technological race, are emerging from a particular phase in our development: one where the technology itself was the driving force, where the aim was to get functionality out there to everyone at a low cost. We can do that now, way beyond our wildest dreams, we don’t need more power. My Compaq notebook PC is heading for the three year mark, and the hard drive has just been replaced, but it’s still incredibly powerful. (The new Western Digital hard drive slotted right in. At first I thought it had failed to start up; it was just beautifully quiet.)

Current mobile phones are a case in point. They can be miniaturized to a point where they are unusable; my last phone, before I gave up on them three years ago, was so small the microphone was halfway up my cheek, and I was moving the phone from mouth to ear during a conversation. The keypad was so small that two of my large fingers could hardly squeeze across a row of three keys, text messaging was not something I used too much. I’m not alone in worrying about cellphone usability, and so the flip phone, with the microphone in a better position, is becoming more popular. Even Nokia are doing some now, after swearing they would not. A few even have usable keyboards for email work.

I may come back from the UK with parts to revitalize my old PC, to take it from the current Pentium II 450MHz to a firebreathing AMD 64 3500+ with 1GB or more RAM and a PCI Express interface to a powerful NVidia 6800GT graphics card. (The latter might be a bit too expensive, so a 6600GT will suffice.) Do I need this much power? Of course not; it will be a total luxury to run games such as Microsoft Flight Simulator at maximum resolution with all the graphic enhancements enabled, which I can’t do at the moment. New games such as Doom III require this level of power, even though I’m not a serious gamer by any stretch of the imagination.

The point is that I can afford to do this now, and it’s a good time; a few months ago the hardware situation was far more volatile, with many new product introductions muddying the water with unavailable or pricey configurations. (“Q: Should I wait a month and pay £100 more for a 20% graphics performance improvement on some games?”) Now that the Xmas rush is over, things are looking more sensible. I’ll need to carry the suitcase and the rucksack this time, as well as my credit cards.

Written by brian t

February 23, 2005 at 11:18 am

Posted in london, technology