I've been rather ill for a few days, but have been getting better. Today it's been variable - ups and downs. I'm currently in an 'up' and decided to catch up on the world. I stumbled upon this article which contains the lovely quote:

We have become overly focused on the fairness of what the government does to terrorists than the danger of what terrorists might do to us.

Hmm, rather missing the point of due process there. These people, as guilty as they may ultimately be, are still suspects - they have not been shown to be guilty. They have been locked up with the key thrown away without any recourse to law as we know it.

The article also says:

The government ought to conduct a triage and determine which detainees present no serious threat or are innocent of any charge

Yep. That's going to happen. 'Sorry we locked you up for more than seven years without trial, you're totally innocent, off you go'.

For the US Government, that's a massive lawsuit waiting to happen.

No, what'll happen is that people will be released in a drip-like fashion in such a way that the stain on their record isn't removed - but just that there was 'insufficient evidence to charge'. They'd be released on the understanding that their home countries monitor them, or take responsibility for them.

I'd be amazed if any of them ever got through US customs once released as a true innocent would (though I'd be even more amazed if they wanted to). In this way the US can save face: "We know they're bad'uns" without ever having to test that accusation with evidence.

I am not suggesting for one minute that everyone in Guantanamo is innocent. Just as I'd hope that those with the "hang 'em high" tendency would admit that not everyone in there is guilty just because they're in there.

What I'm saying, and what the article is saying, is that whilst I don't think the US will start putting its house in order anytime soon(*) natural justice demands that it does - that it takes the risks of lawsuits for wrongful incarcerations and undertakes due process. If it did wrong, as I'm sure it knows it has, then it needs to be a nice grown up superpower and put things right.

If the US is serious about reducing terrorism in the future, Guantanamo Bay should go, it's a clarion call for Al Qaeda - just as internment was for the IRA.

(*) (though Bush could conceivably do this over the summer if it looks like a democrat might have to deal with the aftermath - cynical, moi?)

Stock Market Collapse

So, the sky is falling in, blood on the streets, brokers leaping from buildings in a single bound.... The world is shouting 'sell'.

I think to myself two things: 'What's fundamentally changed in these businesses compared to last week?' and 'buy'.

I don't mind (other than psychologically) if the price drops further - I'm buying for the next 40 years..... though it's nice to buy at the bottom, the only way to reliably do this is to be lucky.

If I'd have bought something last week, I'm even happier to buy it now. If I'm holding something, I'm happy to buy more (if I can!)... what's better? Two cans of baked beans for 20p, or two cans for 10p? Everything else being equal, the latter. So it's a bit amazing to see joe public happy to buy shares when they're expensive, but scared when they're cheap.

Essentially, the share price is (short term) governed by emotion, long term by results. The trick is to buy good business from panicky investors, and then wait, or alternatively be really, really, good at spotting the way they're about to panic and buying the emotion - the latter is virtually impossible to do reliably, in my opinion.

The long and short of it is that I quite like periodic market tumbles, as long as they happen when I've got some cash!

Unfortunately, that isn't really the case right now.

Papal Infallibility

15 years ago, the church apologised for the trial of Galileo. This in itself should have given the hint that Papal infallibility isn't what it was.

The current Pope has just gone back on that, saying the trial was 'reasonable and just'.

It's a Papal showdown!

Both Popes can't be right (you can't apologise if you've done nothing wrong, and you can't have done something wrong if your action was reasonable and just)... yet, both are infallible.

Does not compute.... warning... error.... *BAA-boooom!*

Crazy Like a Fool (What about it, Daddy Cool)

Here's a headline you don't see every day:

Georgia has drafted in 1970s disco icons Boney M in its battle to regain control over the tiny separatist region of South Ossetia.


They are to perform a concert to "show the South Ossetian separatists that life would be better and more fun if they returned to government control."

You couldn't make it up....

Reality TV

In the UK, we've had a spate of mind-numbing, lowest common denominator TV - which tends to fill the so-called newspapers with trivia. We have 'Big Brother', 'Love Island' and all sorts of other trash TV. (Fortunately, though I've avoid these - it's become easier to do so as the saturation coverage has become less pervasive) In India, they've aspirational 'reality TV': 'Scholar Hunt' is a show where people show their academic credentials to compete for a University place in the UK. A world apart.

This speaks volumes. In the UK, the 'popular culture' values 'celebrity' whilst disregarding the importance of Physics, Chemistry, Maths etc. Indeed, these subjects are often seen as something which isn't aspirational - In India, it's reversed. Over the long term, India has the right set of priorities.

Where are the scientific role models for children? Where is the modern Johnny Ball on TV? I used to love shows like 'Think of a Number' and 'Think Again'. Johnny Ball was one of the figures who helped to inspire an interest in science for me (along with 'the Charlie Brown book of Questions and Answers'!)

Come back to TV, Johnny!

Scholar Hunt, if done well, could transfer to the UK, perhaps with UK students competing for am expenses paid place at Harvard, Yale or MIT - in parallel with Indian students competing for a place at Warwick, Oxford, Cambridge or Birmingham (my old University, great place). The trick, of course, would be to ensure that the candidates were not seen as 'nerdy' - which would be the big temptation in the UK market - and that's exactly what should be avoided. It's a format which could work - annually, the students could be followed to show how they'd been getting on, and so each year you could look at the new candidates, and have a programme showing 'whatever happened to...'.

The main thing would be to keep it aspirational - to show that knowing things is enjoyable, useful, and is something which doesn't (necessarily) make you uncool. Every time (especially on American shows) I see some knowledgeable teenager, invariably they're presented as a social pariah, a nerd. Not good.

(The Charlie Brown Thing: I got this when I was about five, it must have been around 1978 - every year, a new book came out - I think there were about five of them. By the time I hit ten, these books were falling apart, I loved 'em!)

Update: The BBC has an article on the show, along with an interview with the winner, Arvind Aradhya. Meanwhile, back in the UK, it looks like Science exams are to be made easier again so that more people can get a warm fluffy glow by fooling themselves that they've got a deep understanding. If an examination doesn't adequately test those sitting it, the qualification achieved is devalued. Slashdot has noted the science examination story.


When I see a headline which reads like this one from the Times of India, India among top 13 countries in scientific papers - surely I can't be the only one whose first reaction is 'so, you're at Number 13, then?' After all, who gets the number 10 slot and says 'we're in the top 13?'

If you've spotted other examples, please let me know.

How Taxes Work

How Taxes Work . . . This is a VERY simple way to understand the tax laws. Read on — it does make you think!!

Let's put tax cuts in terms everyone can understand. Suppose that every day, ten men go out for dinner. The bill for all ten comes to £100. If they paid their bill the way we pay our taxes, it would go something like this:

The first four men — the poorest — would pay nothing; the fifth would pay £1, the sixth would pay £3, the seventh £7, the eighth £12, the ninth £18, and the tenth man — the richest — would pay £59.

That's what they decided to do. The ten men ate dinner in the restaurant every day and seemed quite happy with the arrangement — until one day, the owner threw them a curve (in tax language a tax cut).

"Since you are all such good customers," he said, "I'm going to reduce the cost of your daily meal by £20." So now dinner for the ten only cost £80.00.

The group still wanted to pay their bill the way we pay our taxes. So the first four men were unaffected. They would still eat for free. But what about the other six — the paying customers? How could they divvy up the £20 windfall so that everyone would get his "fair share?"

The six men realized that £20 divided by six is £3.33. But if they subtracted that from everybody's share, then the fifth man and the sixth man would end up being PAID to eat their meal. So the restaurant owner suggested that it would be fair to reduce each man's bill by roughly the same amount, and he proceeded to work out the amounts each should pay.

And so the fifth man paid nothing, the sixth pitched in £2, the seventh paid £5, the eighth paid £9, the ninth paid £12, leaving the tenth man with a bill of £52 instead of his earlier £59. Each of the six was better off than before. And the first four continued to eat for free.

But once outside the restaurant, the men began to compare their savings. "I only got a pound out of the £20," declared the sixth man who pointed to the tenth. "But he got £7!"

"Yeah, that's right," exclaimed the fifth man, "I only saved a pound, too . . . It's unfair that he got seven times more than me!".

"That's true!" shouted the seventh man, "why should he get £7 back when I got only £2? The wealthy get all the breaks!"

"Wait a minute," yelled the first four men in unison, "We didn't get anything at all. The system exploits the poor!"

The nine men surrounded the tenth and beat him up. The next night he didn't show up for dinner, so the nine sat down and ate without him. But when it came time to pay the bill, they discovered, a little late what was very important. They were FIFTY-TWO POUNDS short of paying the bill! Imagine that!

And that, boys and girls, journalists and college instructors, is how the tax system works. The people who pay the highest taxes get the most benefit from a tax reduction. Tax them too much, attack them for being wealthy, and they just may not show up at the table anymore.

Where would that leave the rest? Unfortunately, most taxing authorities anywhere cannot seem to grasp this rather straightforward logic!

via Snopes and Division of Labour, following a post from a Drunken Wasp

France a remis la Legion d'honneur à Amitabh Bachchan

Amitabh Bachchan un acteur indien a gagné la Legion d'honneur. Bachchan 'est une véritable légende vivante dans son pays avec quelque 140 films à son actif'. Aussi, Bachchan était le presenteur de कौन बनेगा करोड़पति - Kaun Banega Crorepati. C'est le versionne indien du 'Qui veut gagner des millions?' Amitabh Bachchan, an Indian actor has won the Legion of Honour. Bachchan is a veritable living legend in his country with some 140 films to his credit. Also, Bachchan was the presenter of कौन बनेगा करोड़पति - Kaun Banega Crorepati. This is the Indian version of 'Who wants to be a millionaire?'

(If there are errors in the French or Hindi, please let me know).

Barack Obama

It's odd how one can be in complete ignorance of something, and then all of a sudden several references are seen. On the BBC website today I saw an article about Barack Hussein Obama, and then in the newspapers - essentially this guy could be a serious contender for the democratic nomination in 2008.

Now, I do some random browsing at home and come across a story about how he had a joke at a reporter's expense and essentially embarrassed him in front of an intern that the reporter was trying to impress.

He took the time to ring up the reporter to apologise (the call was taped, reporters do that sort of thing). The call was played on an NPR show called 'Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me' (which seems like a sanitised HIGNFY for americans from the 60 seconds that I've looked at it!)

The guy said 'Man, I am calling to publicly apologize for messin" up your game. I felt terrible. I didn't know there were any ladies around.' --- I'm not too sure about the 'publicly' part. How did he know it was not going to be a private call?

Regardless of the ins and outs, it's interesting how I'd never heard of this guy this morning, but have now seen him in at least three different places today (including on a website which I'm pretty sure doesn't source info from UK media!)

Edit: 2008.... and he's the new president.

Old School Textbooks

In the states they have elections for people to run the school boards. In Oklahoma the Republican candidate has suggested a use for old school text books. Rather than ship them to disadvantaged areas in Africa, South America or Asia, if elected, he said he would put thick used textbooks under every desk for students to use in self-defense.

He has observed the increase in school violence, and his solution is that students use books as body armour. Of course, he has missed the point that money could be saved by actually using the thick text books for reading...

As Pharyngula says:

He has a video of himself firing an arsenal at various books. It's brilliant: he's going to appeal to all the gun-nut voters, all the voters who hate books, and every idiot in Oklahoma. That's a big slice of the population.

One flaw: true Republican patriots might wonder why he isn't shipping all his excess bullet-stopping books to Iraq to protect our troops.

My first thought was 'Is it April already?' - this is simply insane. It is also very, very funny.

Oh, and in the video we learn that a thick calculus book isn't quite enough to stop a shot from an AK47.