The Samovar


“It’s a community urinalysis”
August 28, 2007, 11:45 pm
Filed under: Civil Liberties, Politics, Surveillance Society

This raises some interesting questions about government power and privacy (via Bruce Schneier):

Researchers have figured out how to give an entire community a drug test using just a teaspoon of wastewater from a city’s sewer plant.

The test wouldn’t be used to finger any single person as a drug user. But it would help federal law enforcement and other agencies track the spread of dangerous drugs, like methamphetamines, across the country.



Ideology posing as rationality
August 27, 2007, 11:37 pm
Filed under: Economics, Environment, Politics

One of the defining themes of the New Labour government is that it claims not to do anything ideological, but just “what works”. But in fact, it’s largely just a cover. They invent elaborate and confusing ways of evaluating options so that their preferred choice seems to be objectively the best. PFI/PPP projects are the usual example of this, but this extremely interesting (although a little dry) article shows they’ve been doing the same thing with their road building programme.

Studies show that new roads do not solve congestion – they just generate more traffic. They add to pollution and, of course, they raise Britain’s greenhouse gas emissions. Road transport already generates 142m tonnes of CO2 a year – about 25 per cent of Britain’s total. As the European emissions trading scheme puts an ever-higher price on carbon, those emissions could cost the taxpayer increasingly dearly.

The Treasury and Department for Transport know this, so why do their economists give their blessing to Labour’s £13bn roads programme?

The answer lies far away from public scrutiny in the arcane and biased rules under which proposed roads are assessed. These New Approach to Appraisal (Nata) rules were introduced by Labour in 1998…

Under Nata, road builders such as the Highways Agency and local authorities must submit detailed assessments of proposed transport projects to the government. These are meant to be balance sheets showing the costs, benefits and environmental impacts. In theory this is a good thing, but in reality the rules are designed to make road schemes look better than any greener alternative, every time.

Take section 3.5.11 of the Nata rules. This awards extra points to schemes that generate more traffic because more cars and lorries on the road mean more fuel sales – and hence more tax revenue for the government. By contrast, public transport schemes, which take motor vehicles off the road and so reduce fuel sales and tax revenue, have points deducted.

Then there’s the rule on journey times, where planners can claim that a road will bring economic benefits if they can show it will cut the average journey time of each user. Every minute saved for a car driver is valued at 44p – which can be offset against the cost of building the road.

Just how biased this system can be is set out in the Nata rules that assign lower values to other types of traveller. A minute saved on a cyclist’s travel time, for example, isn’t worth 44p but just 28p. A bus-user’s time is valued at 33p a minute. The implicit assumption is that cyclists and bus-users make less contribution to the economy than car drivers.

Read the article for more… 



je peux a du fayzan?
August 27, 2007, 2:14 am
Filed under: Frivolity

Submittable to icanhascheezburger? Sadly, the picture quality is a bit shit – mobile phone in a museum not really ideal.

jepeuxadufayzan.jpg



Le Samovar
August 27, 2007, 1:59 am
Filed under: Frivolity

Found on a recent trip to France:

lesamovar.jpg



Je vais à Paris
August 12, 2007, 1:38 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Yes, that’s right. I’m off to Paris from September for at least a year. I have a job at the École Normale Supérieure doing research in theoretical neuroscience.

overview-t.jpg

Click the picture for a wider view.

So I have a job, an apartment, now all I need to do is learn French…



Nobel Prize winning literature meme
August 11, 2007, 1:55 am
Filed under: Frivolity | Tags: ,

Normally I hate memes, but since I actually invented this one myself to do with friends, why not put it on the blog? The meme is simply to go through the list of Nobel Prize for Literature winning authors and mark which ones you have or haven’t read, and tot up your score.

The rule for prose is simple: one book is enough. For playwrights, having read or seen one play is enough. For poetry, use your own judgement. Do you deserve to count them or not?

My score was a pitiful 19/103.

  • 2006 – Orhan Pamuk
  • 2005 – Harold Pinter
  • 2004 – Elfriede Jelinek
  • 2003 – J. M. Coetzee
  • 2002 – Imre Kertész
  • 2001 – V. S. Naipaul
  • 2000 – Gao Xingjian
  • 1999 – Günter Grass
  • 1998 – José Saramago
  • 1997 – Dario Fo
  • 1996 – Wislawa Szymborska
  • 1995 – Seamus Heaney
  • 1994 – Kenzaburo Oe
  • 1993 – Toni Morrison
  • 1992 – Derek Walcott
  • 1991 – Nadine Gordimer
  • 1990 – Octavio Paz
  • 1989 – Camilo José Cela
  • 1988 – Naguib Mahfouz
  • 1987 – Joseph Brodsky
  • 1986 – Wole Soyinka
  • 1985 – Claude Simon
  • 1984 – Jaroslav Seifert
  • 1983 – William Golding
  • 1982 – Gabriel García Márquez
  • 1981 – Elias Canetti
  • 1980 – Czeslaw Milosz
  • 1979 – Odysseus Elytis
  • 1978 – Isaac Bashevis Singer
  • 1977 – Vicente Aleixandre
  • 1976 – Saul Bellow
  • 1975 – Eugenio Montale
  • 1974 – Eyvind Johnson
  • 1974 – Harry Martinson
  • 1973 – Patrick White
  • 1972 – Heinrich Böll
  • 1971 – Pablo Neruda
  • 1970 – Alexandr Solzhenitsyn
  • 1969 – Samuel Beckett
  • 1968 – Yasunari Kawabata
  • 1967 – Miguel Angel Asturias
  • 1966 – Shmuel Agnon
  • 1966 – Nelly Sachs
  • 1965 – Mikhail Sholokhov
  • 1964 – Jean-Paul Sartre
  • 1963 – Giorgos Seferis
  • 1962 – John Steinbeck
  • 1961 – Ivo Andric
  • 1960 – Saint-John Perse
  • 1959 – Salvatore Quasimodo
  • 1958 – Boris Pasternak
  • 1957 – Albert Camus
  • 1956 – Juan Ramón Jiménez
  • 1955 – Halldór Laxness
  • 1954 – Ernest Hemingway
  • 1953 – Winston Churchill
  • 1952 – François Mauriac
  • 1951 – Pär Lagerkvist
  • 1950 – Bertrand Russell
  • 1949 – William Faulkner
  • 1948 – T.S. Eliot
  • 1947 – André Gide
  • 1946 – Hermann Hesse
  • 1945 – Gabriela Mistral
  • 1944 – Johannes V. Jensen
  • 1939 – Frans Eemil Sillanpää
  • 1938 – Pearl Buck
  • 1937 – Roger Martin du Gard
  • 1936 – Eugene O’Neill
  • 1934 – Luigi Pirandello
  • 1933 – Ivan Bunin
  • 1932 – John Galsworthy
  • 1931 – Erik Axel Karlfeldt
  • 1930 – Sinclair Lewis
  • 1929 – Thomas Mann
  • 1928 – Sigrid Undset
  • 1927 – Henri Bergson
  • 1926 – Grazia Deledda
  • 1925 – George Bernard Shaw
  • 1924 – Wladyslaw Reymont
  • 1923 – William Butler Yeats
  • 1922 – Jacinto Benavente
  • 1921 – Anatole France
  • 1920 – Knut Hamsun
  • 1919 – Carl Spitteler
  • 1917 – Karl Gjellerup
  • 1917 – Henrik Pontoppidan
  • 1916 – Verner von Heidenstam
  • 1915 – Romain Rolland
  • 1913 – Rabindranath Tagore
  • 1912 – Gerhart Hauptmann
  • 1911 – Maurice Maeterlinck
  • 1910 – Paul Heyse
  • 1909 – Selma Lagerlöf
  • 1908 – Rudolf Eucken
  • 1907 – Rudyard Kipling
  • 1906 – Giosuè Carducci
  • 1905 – Henryk Sienkiewicz
  • 1904 – Frédéric Mistral
  • 1904 – José Echegaray
  • 1903 – Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson
  • 1902 – Theodor Mommsen
  • 1901 – Sully Prudhomme


Question about protest
August 10, 2007, 11:38 pm
Filed under: Activism, Politics

A question I wrote to myself. Any ideas?

Forms of protest that were effective in the past are not effective now because they are expected, dealt with and integrated into standard procedures. In the past, it might have been enough to point out how many people were being killed or hurt because it wasn’t expected. Now this tactic fails – a newspaper won’t print that sort of news. This is justified on the basis that news has to be ‘new’ and this sort of thing isn’t new. The real dynamic underlying it is that news media is run in the interests of the wealthy and powerful (through direct and indirect influences), and they are better resourced to modify their tactics than protestors. Public relations companies specialise in exactly this sort of thing. An example is the global warming debate – the tactic of the oil companies etc. is to get across the idea that there is reasonable doubt by continually promoting new deniers heavily. Each one gets shot down but the overall impression is of a debate when in fact there is none. The question is: can we design new forms of protest that get around this? (A new tactic.) Or, can we address the fundamental dynamic that stops the long term effectiveness of protest?

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