Thursday, February 22, 2007

A risk they're prepared to take

I was reading this bit by Norm, and I remembered the bit at the end of Dumb and Dumber, where the cop is explaining to Jim Carrey's character that, even though they had put him in danger, he had been safe, because he was wearing a bulletproof jacket. So Jim Carrey's character thinks for a bit, and says "What if he'd shot me in the head and not the chest?" and the cop says "That's a risk we were willing to take".

That's kind of how I see all these people who are so anxious for Israel to "give Hamas a chance" and take the first step, end the boycott, etc. Like, don't worry that these people continue to talk about liberating the entirety of "occupied Palestine", we're sure it'll turn out alright in the end.

Except, if they're wrong, nothing will happen to them. Just to Israel. Which makes a slight difference, I think.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Print this post and grow more trees

I've been getting a snide little footer in some of my emails recently:

Do you really need to print this email? Please consider the environment and save a tree.

Which makes about as much sense as saving wheat by not eating bread. Paper manufacturers plant trees so that they will have something to make paper out of: cutting paper consumption will thus lead to fewer trees being planted. So if you love trees, print this post! And anything else you want to print.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cause for complaint

According to The Economist, a report by the Arab Association for Human Rights and the Centre Against Racism has accused airport staff at Ben-Gurion Airport of discriminating against Arabs.

I'm very happy to see that Arab organisations are taking an interest in human rights and racism. Maybe I should contact them, to tell them about an experience I had recently. I met with an employment agent to discuss job opportunities, and he started to excitedly tell me about a very lucrative position in Bahrain. Then he suddenly stopped, probably having noticed my yarmulke, and said, "Sorry, I've just realised that wouldn't really work, now, would it?" Because of course anyone with an Israeli passport, or even just a stamp of entry into Israel, would be denied entry into most Arab countries. How's that for discrimination? A bit stronger than so-called harassment by airport security, I would have thought. (And as anyone who has been to Israel can attest, airport security is pretty stringent for everybody, Arab, Jew, Gentile, it doesn't matter.)

So maybe this Centre Against Racism could help! Maybe they could get newspapers like The Economist to highlight this pretty blatant racism. Or how about the law in Jordan which specifically denies citizenship to Jews? I'm sure they'd be up in arms against that.

Wouldn't they?

Leander Kahney is an idiot

Not that it's news, I suppose, but his latest bit of Jobs-hate is just laughable. In an article entitled "Steve Jobs, Proud to be Non-Union", which sounds like something to be proud of in my books anyway, he's in full swing, displaying a masterly lack of sense.

The teachers' unions, Jobs believes, are ruining America's schools because they prevent bad teachers from being fired.

Well? Isn't that what any sane person believes? Apparently not:

I know for a fact that Jobs' ideas about unions are absurd, he's-on-a-different-planet bullshit.

Hmmm, tough talk. Let's see some facts:

But don't you love it when a billionaire who sends his own kids to private school applies half-baked business platitudes to complex problems like schools?

Would those be the same half-baked platitudes which have seen Apple's stock price go up like a rocket? But of course, building and selling simple little things like iPods and MacBooks are nothing compared with the complex problem of, um, teaching kids to read and write. (How long have we as a civilisation been doing that? Three thousand years? More?) In fact, it's such a complex problem, more and more Americans are doing it themselves, at home. Just like those Americans building their own MP3 players and laptops at home.

And don't you love it when some smug journo slips in the "sends his own kids to a private school" bit. Hello, moron: that's the whole point. Private schools are run to give a good education, by hiring the best teachers. That's why people who can afford to, send their kids to them. By restoring choice to parents who cannot afford to do so, you could get some of the same benefits in the public school system.

Jobs has also been a long-time advocate of a school voucher system, another ridiculous idea based on the misplaced faith that the mythical free market will fix schools by giving parents choice.

Ah, isn't it wonderful to dismiss realities you don't like by labelling them "mythical"? And why isn't Steve grateful to the State which created his company and anointed him CEO? That's what happened, right? Because there's no free market? And who are these stupid parents to want choice, anyway? Choice is fine for choosing a Big Mac or a QuarterPounder, but education is too important to be left to their simple little minds; only the State in its infinite wisdom can decide for them.

Well, Leander, here's a suggestion: why don't you emigrate to the socialist holy land, Sweden? Whoops, scratch that: Sweden has a school voucher system! The horrors!

Kahney then goes wittering on about the real crisis in education being caused by the awful disparities in income in the US, as evidenced by a crackpot UNICEF report which was comprehensively demolished by The Times. The UN, lying. I know. Who'd have thought?

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You can't make this stuff up

What happens when you deliberately destroy your country's once-strong, food-exporting farming infrastructure, condemning millions of your people to years of starvation? Why, you become the front runner to lead the World Food Programme.

But I suppose that's what happens when "democracy" means letting a bunch of kleptocratic thugs run Africa as though it were their own personal fief, all in the name of emancipation. And unfortunately South Africa is heading down the same path. All the democrats and anti-racists cried foul when cynics branded the first non-racial elections in Zimbabwe as "one man, one vote, once." But unfortunately the cynics were right. And for South Africa, I fear it's just a question of time. If they really cared about the welfare of Zimbabweans they would force Mugabe out. By pretending all is well, they are making clear what their priorities are: solidarity with a dictator, because he is black. But then again, racism's only bad if you're white, I suppose.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Being bad effectively

You may be familiar with some of the techniques that are advocated for being more effective in getting things done: for example, if you feel overwhelmed by a task and therefore keep putting it off, one technique is to do a deal with yourself that you'll just work on it for ten minutes, then stop if you want to. Usually, you won't want to: once you're over the initial hump of resistance, you actually get into it, and start to have fun (or at least build up some momentum).

Another way is to plan what needs to be done minutely, splitting it up into very small sub-tasks, each of which leads to the next. It's a lot easier to start a small, easily-done task, than a huge job that will probably take days to complete.

It occurred to me recently, while analysing why I ended up doing something I didn't actually want to do, that my Evil Inclination is already pretty adept at doing this, but to a bad end, obviously. So if I decide that I don't want to go out drinking, but would rather stay in and get some work done, the obvious course of action when the friend I usually go drinking with phones up is to not answer the phone. But the Evil Inclination will say, "Oh, just talk to him. You don't have to go. Just talk." So I do. Step one along the path.

Then my friend will say, come on down, the gang's all here. And the Evil Inclination will say, "Just one drink. Then you can leave. Easy!" And there's step two.

And of course the momentum builds up, and I end up staying till closing time, and that's the end of the evening. I end up doing what I decided I didn't want to do, and every step of the way the Evil Inclination says "Don't be afraid of taking the next step. You can stop whenever you want!" Which is true. But unlikely to happen.

So I guess the trick is to catch out the Evil Inclination, and tell it that there is no point in taking the first step: if you've decided not to do something, there's no point in flirting with it. Don't do it. At all. Not even the first step. In fact, especially not the first step.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Some good global warming science for a change

An interesting article in The Times about new evidence for the solar hypothesis, which posits that fluctuations in the solar wind affect cloud formation by influencing the influx of cosmic radiation, which in turn affects temperature. An experiment has confirmed a key element of the hypothesis. Now this is real science: come up with a theory and then test it. Interestingly, it was difficult to find funding for the experiment. With all that money going to the pseudo-science that is climate modelling, you'd have thought they could have spared a few bob for the real kind. But I guess science is out of fashion now: much easier to climb on the funding bandwagon. Time was, science fuelled technological progress. Now the new faithful have managed to pervert scientists into supporting their neo-Luddite, anti-tech pseudo religion. Marxism is dead. Long live environmentalism- the new hope for destroying capitalism! (And getting people to behave the way we think they ought to.)


Screenwriting on a Mac

I've been trying to complete my Great Movie Script for a while now, and one of my excuses for the lack of progress has been the state of screenwriting software for the Mac. Well, free software, to be precise: I don't want to shell out a couple of hundred for Final Draft just yet, it'd be too much like inviting failure.

I tried this "free" Word template that I had already paid for with my TV licence fee money, but typically for a forced purchase, it doesn't work very well on the Mac version of Word, and the Beeb have no plans to improve said compatibility (I suppose there's only so much you can do with a few billion pounds, after all, and Israel-bashing doesn't come cheap; one must prioritise). And then there's the fact that it's for Word. Yuck.

I had been wishing that someone would do a plugin for my favourite editor, BBEdit, when ironically enough I discovered that someone had done just that for the Other Mac Editor, namely TextMate. And I'm starting to think that TextMate is pretty good for HTML editing as well: I'm loving the tab-completion feature.

Of course TextMate isn't free: but if I buy it for web editing, then the screen stuff comes free, right? Only I'll have to come up with another excuse for not writing. Either that or finish the script.

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Sunday, February 11, 2007

Like apartheid? Don't make me laugh

It's sad that while supposed intellectuals and people who ought to know better sign up to the ridiculous "Independent Jewish Voices", a Muslim can see the realities in Israel with far greater clarity than bandwagon-hopping Jews. I mean, how hard is it to find this stuff out? How long does it take to mentally compare apartheid South Africa with Israel?

Oh wait; I know what you're going to say. She's an Uncle Tom, a traitor to her own people. Unlike the noble IJV, who are brave dissenters, standing up for a view of Israel that is held by only, what, 90% of the British media? For which they face no threats of death; unlike Ms Manji and anyone else who dares to point out the uncomfortable truth about Islam.

It could be our choice

Norm has a problem with a refinement on one of the arguments traditionally advanced to explain the existence of evil. The argument is that free will requires a genuine choice: a creature incapable of acting evilly cannot choose good in any meaningful sense. The question is why, if in the World to Come, when we will be free of pain, suffering etc, can we be in such a state then but not now: it seems possible that G-d can reconcile free will with goodness then, so why not now?

The refinement goes as follows: G-d follows a rule which says that no creature can have that state imposed on her without first going through a probationary period where some level of personal choice is allowed; that probationary period is life in this world.

Norm rightly asks why the rule only applies to moral state, and not to physical characteristics which are clearly imposed without consent. It seems an arbitrary distinction to make.

There are two things which immediately spring to mind. The first is, the physical characteristics can be completely arbitrary, because the physical world is an illusion, like the Matrix: our true self is the soul. Imposing arbitrary physical characteristics is simply one of the many clues that G-d leaves to enable us to see through the illusion.

The second thought is that, on the view that our souls are eternal and exist in the World to Come both before and after our journeys on Earth, our physical characteristics are chosen by ourselves, before we come down from the eternal world to the physical world. So that our lives in the physical world are journeys voluntarily undertaken, in order to achieve growth (which is not possible in the eternal, unchanging world) and so we choose our physical characteristics and circumstances in order to work on some particular aspect of growth in character.

The second thought obviates the need for the refinement of the argument. On this view, life in the World to Come is free of pain and evil because it is free of any change whatsoever, it is frozen and static. To achieve any movement or growth, one needs to descend to the physical world. Unfortunately, growth is not automatic: one may fail in the challenge one has set oneself. One may end up doing evil instead of transcending one's self-imposed physical constraints.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

A pretty bad Jewish joke

Norm on the Independent Jewish Voices launched with such fanfare yesterday. Not much to add really: except continuing amazement that these people have the chutzpah to characterise criticism of their viewpoint as "oppression", when non-Muslims (and even non-Sunnis) in the Arab world cannot even practice their religion except in secret. Ha. Aha.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Security in Vista

This is probably just a coincidence, but shortly after Bill Gates' frankly laughable accusations against OS X security (broken on a daily basis?? Yeah, right. Whatever.) the new Mac ads poke fun at Vista's heavy-handed security model. I haven't used Vista, but the satire rings true for anyone who has tried to open an Office document containing a macro: Microsoft's idea of "security" is to shield themselves from responsibility by asking you if you want to allow the potentially risky action, without giving you any information that would allow you to make a meaningful choice. So you can choose yes, and get what you have to get done, done: if a virus is unleashed as a result, Microsoft can shrug and say "we warned you". If you choose no, you're safe, but you can't actually do anything - but Microsoft can say it's made you "secure".

Sunday, February 04, 2007

More things I've been doing

At the risk of the blog turning into "what I'm doing workwise"... (but then again, why not?), I've been doing some affiliate marketing for a little while now, with varying degrees of success. But one area that has been quite successful is magazine subscriptions.

I started promoting magazine subscriptions via a new website, Discount Magazine Subscriptions, from late November last year, and I must say it went quite well, making a tidy little chunk of cash from all the people buying subscriptions as gifts.

Quite surprising were the top sellers for me: by far and away the most successful was Woman and Home subscriptions, although Good Food Magazine subscriptions, National Geographic subscriptions, Red Magazine, New Scientist, The Economist, and Delicious Magazine also put in good showings. Oh, and Gardener's World.

Things have obviously quietened down a bit in the new year, but there's still some activity. I've got a few other things on the go, though, will talk about those a bit later...