It’s reported (e.g. here) that the Queen’s grandson wants all the royal family’s ivory destroyed.
I am reminded of the Taliban destroying the Bamiyan Buddhas. The act looks much the same: destroying priceless works of art. The motivation looks much the same too: the works are founded on something seen as absolutely unacceptable. Is there a difference?
I heard someone debating this on the radio today. A lady supporting the Prince’s line put the Endarkenment argument: by owning the ivory, the royal family is complicit in the slaughter of elephants to collect it. Just as consumers of sex and violence are complicit, and we must be protected from such depravity as Shakespeare …
Hmmm. Yes, it’s a good link. A close analogy between policing the ‘net, destroying the ivory, and destroying the Buddhas.
It seems the southwest is very largely cut off from the rest of England. And now it’s indefinite!
The main railway line across Somerset has been closed for some time, along with many roads. An inconvenience, but at least an alternative (much slower, single-track) line to London remains open. But now the serious problem has happened: the Dawlish/Teignmouth coastal stretch has dramatically collapsed. The BBC has some footage of it here, showing the waves crashing over what remains of the line. Right now they’re apparently not even running replacement buses: conditions on the roads are challenging too.
This has long been a disaster waiting to happen: that stretch is surely not maintainable (as many of us, including Yours Truly, have long been saying). Time to get that alternative Exeter-Plymouth line North and West of Dartmoor reinstated, not in many years but as a matter of urgency!
mod_form is one of my old Apache modules. It serves to parse a standard form, and make its contents available to application modules in Apache. One fewer wheel for application modules to reinvent.
Like many of my older Apache modules, I wrote it for my own applications, but released it as open source in case it might be of use to anyone. I hadn’t heard of anyone using it, but then I wouldn’t necessarily: I’ve seen my forgotten works pop up in a few different contexts, sometimes as-is, sometimes developed a lot further than I ever took them.
A day or two ago I got email from Peter Pöml, telling me that it is used by MirrorBrain to parse arguments. But this usage requires a patch: mod_form as-was consumes the data so they no longer exist for anything else that needs the unparsed data. A very simple patch: just copy the data before parsing and leave the original untouched.
The patched version has been in use since 2007. But now it seems Fedora packaged it un-patched for MirrorBrain, leaving potential breakage in unexpected places. Whoops!
Peter’s patch is simple and beneficial, and carries no risk of breaking anything. So I’ve just applied it: download it now and you’ll get Peter’s improvement. mod_form is not versioned (I never considered it important enough – maybe I’ll rethink if it’s being packaged in the mainstream) so it won’t be immediately obvious. Blogging here for the benefit of anyone googling the story.
POSTSCRIPT (Jan 10): Peter mailed me again. It seems my information was incomplete, and the Fedora package was patched after all. There’s also another patch (from SUSE) for Apache 2.4 per-module logging, which I’ll look at when I have time.
Our rail companies regularly do line maintenance and engineering work at weekends and holiday periods, when much of their market – above all commuters – is quiet. Works often mean diversion and delays, so for some years I’ve (wherever possible) avoided weekend rail travel.
This christmas/new year period is no exception: they’ve taken advantage of it to conduct some major works. But what has changed in the last couple of years is that the online timetables now take account of all planned disruption. So we can now plan a journey with reasonable confidence. If your journey is shown as running normally, it’s because you’re unaffected by works, not (as before) because the timetable is a work of hopeful fiction. My main reason to avoid weekend/holiday travel is nullified.
Other disruption is alas less predictable, and our recent weather has provided it. It’s been warm, wet and windy, and storm damage has led to disruption that the timetables cannot generally deal with. To their credit, national rail now make very creditable efforts to provide up-to-date information about unscheduled disruption such as weather, too. Today‘s weather forecast was – correctly – for more heavy rain and strong but not extreme wind.
So I embarked on the long journey home hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. Taking the first train of the morning at 7 a.m. at least leaves plenty of time. While not at risk of overcrowding, the early train was much busier than I had expected at that hour on New Years Day, and happily it was perfectly on time. The second train was less busy, and also perfectly on time. Disruption? What disruption?
The third and longest leg is the intercity route from London to Southwest England, which I joined at Westbury. Westbury is always a miserable station to wait at, and today’s weather certainly didn’t help when the train arrived something over ten minutes late, on top of the twenty minutes scheduled change. But once on the train I was compensated by the luxury of a nearly-empty carriage, and I accepted the explanation that it had been slowed for safety reasons. If there’s a landslip or a tree down on the line, you don’t want to hit it at 200Km/h! Later there was another stretch where we again slowed to a crawl. 15 minutes or so late in Plymouth, but one can’t blame them in the circumstances. My sister-in-law took nearly as long to travel one third of the distance by road!
What really impressed me was how the train passed through flooded areas. Extensive surface flooding on the Somerset Levels approaching Taunton was deep enough for the wind to whip up crested waves, and at a higher level than the tracks. Yet (presumably) by some miracle of engineering, the tracks themselves were clear of floodwater and the train was able to pass the stretch at speed.
Fortunately (and because I’d checked the tide tables) we passed the coastal stretch around Dawlish/Teignmouth at low tide. A few hours later those stormy-weather waves would’ve been breaking over both the track and the train.
 [I fell asleep writing this. Just returned to it Jan. 3rd, but read Jan.1st for "today".]
Who can I rape today, to make the angels rejoice?
This month I have, as one does, found myself singing a few carols. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they’re a seasonal fixture for any singer. On the whole it’s not a bad thing: some pretty tunes, a lot of nostalgia, and occasionally something with musical interest. Though of course it becomes really nasty when muzaked through a sound system into a public place.
One of these was a new setting of the words of “the angel gabriel”. Unfortunately the setting is about as dreary as they come, and being slower than the well-known tune, I couldn’t help noticing those words. Glad tidings of …. well, of the Droit du Seigneur. The right of the feudal lord to first claim on a new bride’s virginity. I can’t claim to know the history of such rights, beyond the fact that Enlightenment artists like Mozart and da Ponte took the p*** out of it wickedly, and their 18th century audiences would presumably have known what they were talking about – just as a modern audience understands about slavery or Harper Lee’s Mockingbird.
Is the Droit du Seigneur in fact a form of rape? By modern standards, there can be little doubt. Rape no longer implies violence or even coercion: rather the definition centres on a notion of consent. A notion fraught with such difficulties as to raise questions over whether consent can exist if a woman is too drunk to know what she’s doing, or is mentally disturbed. But I think the Droit du Seigneur looks much more clear-cut: where there is compulsion, there cannot be valid consent. So when the carol says:
Then gentle Mary meekly bowed her head
To Him be as it pleaseth God she said
she is – in modern terms – merely paying her taxes with good grace. The alternative of struggling vainly against the inevitable would be akin to mounting a legal challenge to your tax bill: futile and self-destructive.
OK, the Christmas story is a Droit du Seigneur, which is in turn a pretty clear case of rape in today’s terms. And we celebrate it unthinkingly. One silly carol may be negligible, but the whole culture surrounding it is not. We all know this story. We teach it to our children from infancy, so by the time they grow old enough to understand or question it, it’s become second nature to them: so deeply rooted that they wouldn’t think to examine it, regardless of whether they believe in christianity, or in any part of the christmas story as historical.
Much of the world is celebrating rape today, and the angels are rejoicing.
 Bear in mind that Virgin Birth was perfectly common in biblical times. It was only much later that the word Virgin took on its modern meaning precluding the sexual act.
 Could a man being similarly drunk or disturbed work as a defence?
I’ve been trying to buy a new toy. Since (recently) first reading about treadmill desks, I’ve realised that’s exactly what I need to benefit both my productivity and my physical condition. Sitting at a desk has never really seemed a sensible posture (and difficulty with some desks and chairs is one of the main reasons I gave up working in a regular office). Standing for any length of time is no solution: it’s uncomfortable and fatiguing. But walking, yes, I can walk for many hours and enjoy it, and I’m at much less risk of back pain than in a chair.
Having googled for vendors in the UK, I found very few candidates. Amazon selling this one at £805 seemed far and away the best candidate, so I ordered one. But at checkout, it told me Delivery: 3-5 days, leaving a serious risk they’d try to deliver while I was away from home.
OK, I’ll try asking support about how flexible delivery is: can I order today but arrange delivery sometime later when I’ll definitely be around? I select “Pre-order queries” from amazon’s chat menu, and type my opening question:
Me: Hi, if I place an order today, but your delivery folks give me a time when I won’t be around, how easy is it to change it? I’m away for a week.
After some time, I get a non-reply:
Ankush:Hello, my name is Ankush. I’ll be happy to help you today.
Me:Do you have my question?
More time, and another non-reply:
Ankush: [me] yes I have you question and I will also try my best to give you a resolution so for that may I have your order number?
Dammit, not only has the idiot not read my question, it seems Amazon’s system has completely ignored my careful selection of “pre-order questions”. I repeated (cut&paste) my original question, but after several minutes more gave up in disgust. OK, postpone this order.
Last night I returned to the browser tab where I had my Amazon order: 3-5 days from now will be just fine. I note the price now shows not as £805 but £840, and curse a little. But I proceed to checkout …
… where it now wants a whopping £1500. So this delay due to Amazon’s sick joke of “support” is going to cost nearly double. Soddit, I might just have paid £1500 for a life-changing gadget, but I’m sure as hell not paying Amazon £695 for messing me around!
So, back to google: can I find any other options? There’s another potential candidate here, but does it really exist? I tried ‘phoning them today to ask about it: they promised to get back to me but haven’t, so it’s not looking promising.
Where else can I look?
The world’s favourite Elder Statesman dies. The world’s media are filled with his story, and (for a change) the volume of coverage does seem merited. What can I add to miles of newsprint? Probably nothing meaningful, nor should I try. History is being written, but I am no historian. But there seem to be crucial questions none of the media care about. Can we draw lessons from Mandela’s story for the present and future? Where might the next Mandela come from?
Let’s brush over his achievements. The figurehead for his people’s struggle, and their first black president elected by a process we can recognise as democratic. The achievement that really reflects credit on him is to have brought about that democratic change without a bloodbath, and indeed with an extraordinary level of goodwill that didn’t just evaporate as soon as something got tough.
What’s altogether more interesting is the context. What made Mandela as a great figurehead and eventual president was surely his long imprisonment. Yet he was imprisoned as a terrorist, and that was real. His imprisonment was prolonged by his consistent refusal to renounce violence, and it was former president de Klerk who had the courage to make the first move, and release a man publicly committed to violence against his country. That must have been as unthinkable for some at the time as it would be now to release Michael Adebolajo (having first convicted him) and enter into dialogue with him.
Of course they did release Mandela, he rewarded them by negotiating in good faith, and the rest is a history much happier than those of so many newly-created or liberated countries. Perhaps there was a greater force at work than any individuals: the force of history. For history was firmly on Mandela’s side, and many elements of his story (though not their combined whole, nor I think the happy outcome) were matters of historical inevitability. The force of history is perhaps the most crucial difference between Mandela and his era’s other high-profile leader of an oppressed people, Yasser Arafat, who did renounce the violent struggle and make many other compromises yet never achieved a happy outcome.
Where is today’s Mandela?
If history is to be of use, we need to be able to draw lessons from it. Are there other potential Mandelas out there perhaps ready to step up to the mark and bring other conflicts to a resolution? I don’t see any obvious candidate, but then I wouldn’t expect to. Even if the media and supporters draw the world to a candidate – as they did with Mandela – we would still be faced with a profile of a candidate who could be anything from a great statesman to a complete nutter.
What about de Klerk’s role: the incumbent in power who can seize a moment in history and make that critical first move towards reconciliation with his historic enemy? People in power are easier to see: after all, we’ve heard of them. Those in conflict, fighting terrorists, holding political prisoners, should in principle have a great prize for the taking if they can identify a Mandela amongst their enemies.
Those fighting the so-called War on Terror must be prime candidates, and should be looking hard for their Mandela in Guantanamo Bay and such places of ill-repute. Yet as of now we appear to be firmly in denial: there is no force of history ready to thrust a peace process on us. Perhaps a real candidate for the Mandela role could have been Hakimullah Mehsud, so recently on the point of entering peace talks before someone killed off that process?
When Mandela was tried and imprisoned, he had a public and media spotlight which led eventually to his elevation and his country’s reconciliation. Those who assassinate their enemies, or kidnap and hide them forgotten are denying themselves that prospect. The contrast between due process – however harsh – in Apartheid South Africa and denial of any such process towards some (not least the Pashtun people as a whole) today is indeed disturbing.
 Commonly described as “the Taliban” in reports of conflict, especially when they’ve been killed.
Those of us who have encountered Serco in a professional capacity will find their contribution to today’s news entirely unsurprising. No more new big contracts from HMG pending the outcome of a big fraud investigation.
The question that glares out is, what took so long? And the answer surely must be a change in attitude somewhere in government. Or more likely, the civil service, who would no doubt thwart the government if they chose to do so. Someone has finally stopped turning a blind eye.
I expect the cloud hanging over G4S is of a very similar nature. And if HMG is really clamping down on abuse of the outsourced-public-services gravy train, there could be a lot more to come.
If this is down to HMG making a serious effort to repair leaks in the public purse then let us applaud and encourage them. They have the advantage that these big companies are unlikely to get much media support, as so easily happens in cases like legal aid or housing subsidies that purport to support “ordinary people” or “the poor”. But at the same time, we must be mindful that any pot of public money is a corruption-magnet, and that which is not cut is sure to find its way to some new rottenness. Just as the outsourcers didn’t invent the gravy-train, but just displaced bloated trade-union-centred rottenness of the pre-Thatcher era.
Text message from my brother. His missus has sprogged, I have a new niece. Mother and baby doing well. Another welcome to the world.
Born Saturday morning, news reaches me the day before by means of the timezone difference. Mildly amused by this phenomenon, but why do my unbidden thoughts turn to Umberto Eco ahead of H G Wells or other conventional time travellers?
OK, I’ve been investing a few years. But this morning I’ve learned a rookie lesson.
The hype about Royal Mail being so heavily oversubscribed suckered me in to subscribing for it: a self-fulfilling prophecy. So far, so good.
But instead of applying direct, I applied within my ISA. So now I’m a hostage to my broker: I can’t go to another broker to dispose of them (well, would you want to hang on to 227 shares?). And both Hargreaves Lansdown’s website and their phone lines are unavailable, probably due in large measure to heavy demand to trade those shares.