The Samovar

Destroy All Adverts!
January 30, 2007, 11:15 pm
Filed under: Activism, Business, Economics, Internet, Manifesto, Media, Politics

I don’t know if the nature of advertising has changed fairly recently, or if my view of it has just undergone a phase change, but over the last year my anger at the all-pervasiveness of advertising has dramatically increased. I wonder if the time has come for a campaign against advertising? So here is a tentative manifesto for such a campaign:

The case against advertising

  1. Adverts are crass and invasive – every surface is covered in adverts, they are broadcast louder than the programmes on TV, etc.
  2. The reliance on income derived from advertising distorts culture, news, and consequently politics
  3. Advertising distorts the market and encourages monopolies and oligarchies: big companies can afford to spend so much more on it than small companies
  4. It drains resources away from society without producing anything of value. Just think of the talented and creative people that could be producing something valuable who are instead thinking of ever new ways to bias our judgements.

What can we do?

  1. Prefer to buy products which you have not seen advertised.
  2. Get your news, television and so forth from advertising-free sources. For example, The New Standard and the BBC for news. Download TV programmes and films from the internet rather than watching them on TV.
  3. Use pop-up blockers and advert blockers on your web browser.
  4. If you suspect that you are the subject of a viral marketing campaign, absolutely refuse to buy anything from the company involved. This most insidious form of advertising has to be dealt with in the strongest manner possible.
  5. Mute the adverts when you watch the TV

I’m doing all of these. Any other suggestions?

Schneier on ID cards
January 30, 2007, 10:46 pm
Filed under: Civil Liberties, Politics

Worth reading to find out how the Americans are dealing with their sneaky governments…

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The Doctor
January 30, 2007, 10:43 pm
Filed under: Politics

Today I received my PhD (in absentia), so I am now officially Dr Dan. I’m also a member of the Laboratory of Natural Intelligence, which has a pleasing ring to it.

Blog for choice
January 22, 2007, 11:03 pm
Filed under: Politics, Religion

Via philobiblon, it turns out that today is Blog for choice day (according to some American feminist website).

This year’s topic is a simple one: tell us, and your readers, why you’re pro-choice.

For me, the argument comes down to this observation:

  • Destroying a recently fertilised egg is obviously not murder.

Some religious people will disagree, and perhaps some non-theists too.  For me though, this observation clinches it. There is a debate about how long you can leave it before you shouldn’t be allowed to abort it, but this is a separate (and more complex) issue. On this, I’ll only comment on the fact that some people think the test should be whether or not the baby could survive outside the mother’s body, and that therefore we should be revising the time frame as medical technology improves. This argument is completely at odds with the observation above. There’s no reason why medical technology shouldn’t evolve to the point that a recently fertilised egg alone could ‘survive’.

And that’s it. That’s why I’m pro-choice.

I will be making a comment on the religious aspect of it in a planned future entry, but it’s a bit complex and I can’t be bothered to write it out carefully now.

January 14, 2007, 10:28 am
Filed under: Politics, Religion

Been busy working, but a few things that have come to my attention over the past few days from two blogs that are well worth subscribing to:

Bruce Schneier writes about choosing good passwords, describing the scary software that can test  350,000 passwords per second and can find 25% of them instantly, and 50% of them within a few hours or days. Quick summary:

So if you want your password to be hard to guess, you should choose something not on any of the root or appendage lists. You should mix upper and lowercase in the middle of your root. You should add numbers and symbols in the middle of your root, not as common substitutions. Or drop your appendage in the middle of your root. Or use two roots with an appendage in the middle.

Not Saussure quotes the Telegraph:

Muslim mothers who do not speak English at home are stunting their children’s literacy levels, one of the Government’s most influential education advisers said last night. Sir Cyril Taylor, the chairman of the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, said that the failure of parents to speak English at home was a key reason why some schools were at the bottom of newly-published-league tables.

Not Saussure does a perfect job of demolishing this argument so I don’t have to. What interests me about this is that it’s another example of how being anti-Muslim is becoming more and more socially acceptable. This is something that should concern us all.

When did your nation become civilised?
January 7, 2007, 1:16 am
Filed under: Politics

I’m not sure mine has entirely, but it wasn’t even close until recently.

Of course, standards of civilisation change over time and we can hope for a time when people will look back at how we behave today and see us as barbaric (and not just technologically). For the purposes of this entry though, I use my own standards of civilisation and hope that it overlaps considerably with others’.

In 1918 women were first given the vote in the UK (but only if they were over 30 and with a certain minimum amount of property), and it wasn’t equalised with men until 1928. In the US women were given the vote in 1920. In Switzerland, they didn’t get it until 1971. I think disenfrachising half your population pretty much automatically disqualifies you from civilised status. Black people didn’t get the vote in the US until 1965 and even today face more difficulties in voting than white people (cf. Florida 2000).

In 1965 the death penalty was abolished in the UK except for treason and piracy and was completely abolished in 1998. In the USA the death penalty is still practised. Again, I would argue that this is inconsistent with a civilised society.

Bringing us up to the present, in Britain courts can hear evidence obtained by torture; people can be detained without trial; etc. In the USA torture has been effectively legalised. Torture and secret detentions without trial are not the behaviour of civilised societies.

It was recently reported that the proportion of women in parliament in the UK is lower than in Iraq, Afghanistan and Rwanda (a slightly misleading statistic for various reasons, but I’ll leave this point).

So, if the UK and USA are civilised countries at all, they certainly weren’t before 1965 and in many ways they still aren’t. I suggest that we bear this in mind when we consider the actions of our government in Iraq and Afghanistan, and maybe others in future. Not, I hasten to add, because we shouldn’t be in favour of civilised societies and that we should just accept and tolerate uncivilised behaviour, but because our own grasp of what is civilised is still rather shaky, and because our history shows how enormously laborious and difficult a state it is to achieve.

Suppose for example, the USA invades Iran and sets up a secular government which bans stem cell research there (currently something that Iran does rather a lot of, and which has the potential for huge medical breakthroughs with enormous consequences). A victory for civilisation? It’s not straightforward.

I went to Wales
January 6, 2007, 4:49 am
Filed under: Politics


It’s not all mud in Wales though, there was even time for some cozy geekery…


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