11Oct

On Re-Reads

I wonder how many people ever get around to re-reading books. I recently had the opportunity to go over China Miéville’s Iron Council, and this time discovered so many more layers. And I’ll admit that my reading tastes have matured, as have I (well, a bit at least…), and was able to dig deeper, to actively see where the prose was working in a different way to his other books, to understand more about what the book was about.

In the internet age, there seems to be a need to tick-off as many books as we can read. Reviewers list huge numbers of titles in a not-quite-official-competition that they’ve blasted through in a month, and I stand in sheer amazement. Of course, some have the gift of speed reading, and can assiduously take information in at a very fast rate.

But that aside, I do ask myself: Why not take time with a book? Why not read luxuriously, and dig under the surface a little? Why rush through book after book looking for quick-thrills? You’ve spent money on the thing, so why not make it last—you might even find that authors or books you previously didn’t like, or didn’t appreciate fully, are suddenly seen in a new light. Your old favourites might no longer make the cut against slower reads if there’s not much under the surface. You might even get to re-read a book and see the layers and complexity and character idiosyncrasies you missed the first time. Authors such as Gene Wolfe and China Miéville and M John Harrison suddenly become clear-cut gods above mere mortals, under further scrutiny.

Just thoughts really.

10Oct

Protests In London / Tony Benn

Tony Benn on the Capitalist Casino.

For the first time in my life, the public are to the left of a Labour government and common sense points us in a direction quite different from the one we have been following since 1979 when Thatcher set out to destroy the trade unions, cripple local authorities and privatise our public assets which we need now more than ever.

In 1945, the nation realised that the problems of peace required the same intensity of commitment as the problems of war.

And with the disastrous experience of Iraq and Afghanistan that argument, too, is beginning to register again and people are asking why we waste so much money on those illegal, brutal and unwinnable wars and on new nuclear weapons when people are losing their jobs and facing repossession of their homes.

The case for peace and socialism is intensely practical and, put like that, will command wide public and electoral support as it did then, in 1945, and could again do now

And so it begins. Very interesting to note the lack of coverage in the UK press about this…

[youtube:http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=Ws5NNZKn7Zs]
8Oct

Dude Sits In Window To Plug Ebook

See for yourself.

Not against people reading digitally in the least—anything that keeps people reading is good—but I think this is yet another shameless plug to convince people to convert to a device the majority of readers don’t much care for. The iPod didn’t have to try to convince, because everyone wanted one anyway.

Anyway, Sony Dude could be sitting there with a Betamax for all I care. Is it me, or are the latest ebook readers still horribly Eighties-looking devices? Get with the revolution, kids. Oh, and unlock your damn DRM while you’re at it.

6Oct

Worrying Rise Of The BNP

It’s not entirely a surprise that in times of economic despair and when the end of the world is nigh, “facism” in the UK is seen to be gaining more of a following.

The BNP is a growing force in Britain. In May’s local elections it averaged 13.9% in the 612 wards it contested across the country, while in London it polled 130,714 votes in the London assembly elections. Locally, its results have been even more startling. It averaged 41% in the wards it contested in Barking and Dagenham in 2006, and this year it averaged 28% in Rotherham and 27% in Stoke-on-Trent.

Next year the BNP could win the Stoke-on-Trent mayoral election and has a strong chance of gaining several MEPs in the European elections, particularly in the North West, West Midlands and Yorkshire and Humber constituencies. Victory here, with the respectability and finances the job carries, will transform the BNP into a major political force.

What worries me is that the BNP was gaining popularity when the economic climate was good, in the “boom” years. It’s real moment of progress is yet to come.

It’s easy to take council elections for granted. They generally tend to be ignored, or populated with bizarre candidates or even stranger voters. And because of the low turn-out, you’re bound to see minority parties do well. It is difficult to really gauge the success of this far-right party from such results, but suffice to say they are bringing in significant numbers of votes.

So, should we not be concerned that the BNP has successfully marketed itself to the middle classes? The party might traditionally focus on immigration issues (that were once frequently in the news), and would in fact shamelessly lie about them while they were at it in order to gain votes. But in times where the two main political parties are two sides of the same coin, the BNP has gained success with voters who, quite accurately, don’t feel there is democracy anymore—not in the true sense. Middle class voters didn’t feel their voices were being heard. Then things like this begin to happen. And much of the nation was appalled when the BNP pushed for free speech as if they stood for all that was righteous and democratic. Their veneer of “respectability” has clearly being infecting more affluent areas over the past few years. It is a dangerous situation to be in.

Given the current and very blatant failures of capitalism, one can only be concerned that the BNP will develop their newfound cross-class appeal. As I said at the start, it is no surprise that, when the shit hits the fan, people turn to the extreme parties, perhaps. Given that this will add weight to the years of lying and negative propaganda, (here are some truths) on capitalizing on hatred and racial tensions in the news, and even going on tours to try to justify racism, the rise of the far-right in the UK is, disturbingly, far from at its peak.

A little education is in order for much of the population in the UK.

5Oct

Intelligent Computers

Don’t these scientists know when to stop tinkering on this subject?

Can machines think? That was the question posed by the great mathematician Alan Turing. Half a century later six computers are about to converse with human interrogators in an experiment that will attempt to prove that the answer is yes.

In the ‘Turing test’ a machine seeks to fool judges into believing that it could be human. The test is performed by conducting a text-based conversation on any subject. If the computer’s responses are indistinguishable from those of a human, it has passed the Turing test and can be said to be ‘thinking’.

It’s only a matter of time….

2Oct

Yeasayer

Insane. But I like them; especially from about 2:30 on the second video.

[youtube:http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=okxAi06PTAU]

[youtube:http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=noqvVasGJN8]

2Oct

On Somalia

Something else to be aware of.

On Christmas Day 2006, Ethiopia invaded its neighbour, Somalia. The aim: to drive out a coalition of Islamists ruling the capital, Mogadishu, and install a fragile interim government that had been confined to a small town in the west. But Ethiopia was not acting alone. The US had given its approval for the operation and provided key intelligence and technical support. CIA agents travelled with the Ethiopian troops, helping to direct operations…

In a rare moment of candour earlier last year, the US special envoy to Somalia, John Yates, admitted to fellow diplomats that their strategy had failed. “We set the agenda and then we lost control,” he said. One diplomat present at the meeting said the US was finally beginning to realise that the insurgents were winning.

Somalia is now experiencing its worst period of violence in two decades. The daily battles between Ethiopian-backed government forces and the insurgents have had a devastating impact on the population.

More than 600,000 people fled Mogadishu last year. Around 200,000 are now living in squalid impromptu refugee camps along a 15km-stretch of road outside the capital. According to UN officials it is the largest concentration of displaced people anywhere in the world. Those same officials now consider Somalia to be the worst humanitarian catastrophe in Africa, eclipsing even Darfur in its sheer horror.