The Samovar


Is that a bomb in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?
February 24, 2007, 2:02 am
Filed under: Terrorism

Via Bruce Schneier’s excellent entry “Is Everything a Bomb These Days?” comes this story:

SANTA FE, New Mexico (AP) — Three CD players hidden under a cathedral’s pews blared sexually explicit language in the middle of an Ash Wednesday Mass, leading a bomb squad to detonate two of the devices.

Authorities determined the music players were not dangerous and kept the third one to check it for clues, said police Capt. Gary Johnson.

The CD players, duct-taped to the bottoms of the pews, were set to turn on in the middle of noon Mass on Wednesday at the Roman Catholic Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi.

The recordings, made on store-bought blank discs, featured people using foul language and “pornographic messages,” Johnson said. He would not elaborate because of the ongoing investigation.

Absolute. Fucking. Genius.

I can’t decide what the best bit about this story is, but maybe it’s that they decided the CD players were safe and then blew up just two of the three. I still can’t get my head round that.



An equation
February 17, 2007, 3:08 pm
Filed under: Mathematics

WordPress has just included equations so here is the major result of my PhD thesis:

\displaystyle \mathrm{Tr}_{A^nB}^\prime(\mu_{A^nB})=\frac{-i n^3\mathrm{Tr}_{A}^\prime(\mu_A)}{\pi^2}+O(n^2)



A new way to scupper ID cards?
February 15, 2007, 12:14 pm
Filed under: Civil Liberties, Politics

From the BBC

Greenpeace has won its High Court bid to make the government rethink its programme to build a new generation of nuclear power stations.

The basis for this is that the public consultation was not full and fair

“There could be no proper consultation, let alone the fullest consultation, if the substance of these two issues was not consulted on before a decision was made,” said the judge.

“There was therefore procedural unfairness and a breach of Greenpeace’s legitimate expectation that there would be the fullest consultation before a decision was taken.”

Could we do the same for the ID cards consultation? You know, the one where the government ignored 5000 responses against it and reported that a majority were in favour.



CIA torture manual
February 14, 2007, 2:20 am
Filed under: Politics, Torture

Via an article on CiF, the manual “Human Resource Exploitation Training Manual” on psychological torture techniques, used by the CIA to train the Contras in Nicaragua in 1984. Read also the National Security Archive page for some background about the documents.  What’s startling is the handwritten corrections on the manuscript, part of a sort of PR campaign:

The 1983 manual as declassified included numerous revisions made by CIA apparently in July 1984 in the wake of public revelations about a CIA “assassination” manual used by the Nicaraguan contras.  The revisions added a full page following the table of contents labeled “Prohibition against use of force,” and overwrote in hand-printed letters most of the manual’s references to “coercive techniques.”  For example, the 1983 sentence on the second page of the introduction read “While we do not stress the use of coercive techniques, we do want to make you aware of them and the proper way to use them.”  The 1984 revisions overwrote “do not stress” with the word “deplore” and replaced the phrase “the proper way to use them” with the phrase “so that you may avoid them.”

Shameless.

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10 dimensional spheres are odder than you might think
February 14, 2007, 2:14 am
Filed under: Mathematics

Read this blog if you want to know why (it’s not at all technical and it’s quite amazing).



Holding pattern
February 9, 2007, 1:33 pm
Filed under: Politics, Religion

Still in a holding pattern until I get time to write some serious and interesting entries. Until that time, I recommend these two:

  • Feminism and Islam on Pickled Politics. Article by a feminist Muslim that among other things touches on the distinction between what the Quran says and contemporary interpretations discussed in my last entry.
  • Sortition: the solution on Stumbling and Mumbling. Sortition means election by lottery (think juries), and Chris proposes it as a way to elect members to the House of Lords. This is an idea I’ve often advocated, but it doesn’t get much serious discussion. Chris gives a pretty clear and straightforward argument in favour of it.
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Andrew Brown on religion
February 4, 2007, 10:17 pm
Filed under: Politics, Religion

Some interesting reading on religion, particularly the difference in what the words of religious texts say, and what people understand by them. The crucial paragraph as far as I’m concerned is (my emphasis):

The really important thing about the meaning of religious texts is that it is communally determined. As the American anthropologist of religion Scott Atran says, it isn’t poetry. Believers decide together what action the text demands, and then they do it. The decision is binding on everyone.

I’ll be returning to this theme when I get round to writing my big post about religion and anarchism.