Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Dave Winer's Third Rail And Rape Culture

Who would not want to live in a world without rape culture?

Judging by his post on the rape allegations against Julian Assange, Dave Winer does, or at least thinks he does. His piece is an honest attempt at something relatively non-incendiary which - to be fair - manages to avoid many of the squares on the Assange Rape Apology Bingo card, though it does hit one or two them pretty squarely. Winer also makes it clear that he is open to discussion: at the end, he writes: "I look for charged issues like this one to explore, because these are the places where the greatest growth is available."

His writing has a utopian sheen to it, as if all the battles of feminism had finally been won and true equality in all things across genders had been achieved. Underlying the text is the idea that sexism is genuinely now a symmetrical two way street - that we live in a world where women were just as capable of discriminating against men as men are against women. And most importantly, he writes as if he has never heard of the idea of rape culture.

It is hard for men to accept the existence of rape culture. As a man it has been hard for me. It's not something men like to think about. We tend to see it as an attack on ourselves and we brush it away as such. But we are wrong to do so.

Men don't like to think about the fact that around one in four women will at some point get raped, or that the overwhelming majority of rapes go unreported, or that when a woman does report a rape she is always - 100% of the time - accused of lying, and must endure the kind of close examination of every detail of her life that makes it seem as if it is her, the victim - not the attacker - who is on trial, while study after study shows that false rape accusations are actually incredibly rare, or that the vast majority of rape cases do not end in a guilty verdict, or that the vast majority of rapists get away with it without being prosecuted, or that the vast majority of convicted rapists have committed the crime of rape multiple times before they are finally found guilty by a court, or that penalties for rape are often bizarrely weak, or that a large proportion of women who are raped know their attacker very well and are often in a relationship with them, or any of the other horrible facts about rape widely available online and backed up by study after study into the astonishing - to men and not to women - prevalence of rape among human beings.

Being human, since men don't like to think about those things, we tend not to think about these things. We forget about rape culture, because it is not something that we need to think about every day when we are just popping down the shops or meeting someone for a drink. We forget about rape culture because we can.

When Winer accuses some of 'condemning men in the cause of feminism', talks of 'simply flipping the genders', and says 'it's never as simple as one gender doing it to the other', he is going one step beyond forgetting about rape culture:
he is showing either that he has not heard of it or, if he has, that he does not believe it exists.

I have outlined my views on the Assange rape allegations before - once in this cartoon, and once in this longer post on the subject. I agree that Winer is quite right that it should be kept separate from Wikileaks, and that the timing of the whole thing stinks. But he is dead wrong about the context, and - which is key - he is also dead wrong about the presumption of innocence.

The presumption of innocence is incredibly important and should be maintained in rape cases just as with any other. But if there is to be a presumption of innocence for the accused, how much the more so should there be a presumption of innocence for the accuser.

In rape cases, the accuser is always presumed to be guilty of lying until proven otherwise. That's what makes them so difficult. That's also the reason that most rapists get away with it. Any woman accusing anyone of rape is always and immediately counter-accused of making a false claim. This idea is so deeply embedded in English speaking world that there is even a phrase for it: 'crying rape' - the assumption is - always - that the claim is false. In order to prove her case, the victim has to prove that she is innocent of 'crying rape'. This is why many rape victims never bother reporting the crimes against them in the first place.

This lack of presumption of innocence - for the victim - is the central plank of rape culture.

And this is why people are getting so exercised over the Assange affair. As with every other rape case ever in history, people - mainly men - are lining up to say that the women involved are liars and waving their bullshit detectors around proudly. That's exactly the problem.

In the case of rape, it really is as simple as "one gender doing it to the other". If there is one good thing that comes out of the Assange affair, it is that it has caused many people - including myself - who have previously either dismissed, ignored, or not been aware of rape culture - to really sit down and think about it a bit. Or even a lot.

If Dave Winer really is looking for the place where "the greatest growth is available", here it is. To eradicate rape culture, or at least start, is something that goes way beyond feminism. It is something which is only connected to feminism in the sense that it was feminists who first raised it and it is largely women who write about it; these women still find themselves not being listened to or dismissed - bizarrely and ridiculously - as 'sexist' themselves. But if we ever are to eradicate rape and rape culture, it will require men first to become aware of it and to work in some small way towards stopping it.

Then we'll finally have the world without rape culture that Winer believes he already lives in.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Friday, December 17, 2010

Assange and Wikileaks: The Best Way To Frame Someone Is For Something They Actually Did

Do you believe that more or less most women have been or will at some point be raped or sexually assaulted?

Do you believe that most men tend to underestimate the ubiquitous reality of rape and immediately question any allegation of rape outside of the stranger-attack jump-in-the-alley context? That victims of rape must expect to undergo such a humiliating and debilitating process from police and lawyers in order to get justice for the crime committed against them that many simply do not bother? That rape and victims of rape are routinely joked about and trivialised both in mainstream media and popular perception to the extent that there appears to be such a thing as 'rape culture' - a culture where all but the worst and most violent rape offences are effectively condoned and, where possible, brushed under the carpet for the sake of protecting the offender at the expense of the victim?

If you believe these things, it will be clear to you that the allegations against Julian Assange - like all rape allegations - must be taken very seriously and that he must go to Sweden to answer them in court.

Do you believe that there is something deeply rotten at the heart of most, if not all Western democracies?

Do you believe that the secret services of Western democracies effectively operate outside the jurisdiction of the law and are quite prepared to do absolutely anything - including murders, smear campaigns and honeytraps - to further their own ends? That even democratic states such as the US and the UK will do whatever they believe they can get away with behind the scenes - regardless of international or domestic law - in order to further their own interests? Do you believe that the culture of secrecy in government is the key factor protecting this kind of behaviour, and that Wikileaks is the first organisation to truly strike a blow against this culture of secrecy, something that has genuinely scared the living daylights out of powerful individuals, governments and institutions across the world, and that has caused them to react accordingly.

If you believe these things, it will be clear to you that the rape allegations against Julian Assange are nothing but a particularly blatant honeytrap smear campaign designed to stop his active participation in Wikileaks, and hold him in place, either in the UK or Sweden, until grounds can be found to extradite him to the US, where the life expectancy of his activity in Wikileaks, if not his actual life expectancy in general, will be pretty short.

It will be clear to you, that is, unless you also believe in the first set of things, in which case, like me, you've probably spent the last little while with your head on fire, trying to balance the two sets of ideas.

The circle has been squared by several writers: Johann Hari, Cath Elliott, Amanda Marcotte, Laurie Penny and Kate Harding have all written excellent essays attempting to explain why - given the existence of rape culture - there are serious problems with all attempts to pre-emptively defend Assange against the rape allegations even in the face of the explicit, public, US-led threat to 'get him' at all costs.

Other writers - people that you might perhaps have thought would have known better - such as Craig Murray, Michael Moore, John Perry Barlow and Naomi Wolf, have written defences of Assange that all have one thing in common - they trivialise these specific rape allegations in order to defend Assange.

The problem has perhaps best been summed up by Katrin Axelsson of Women Against Rape, whose letter to the Guardian on the subject is here. The key phrase is this: there is a long tradition of the use of rape and sexual assault for political agendas that have nothing to do with women's safety.

If you support Wikileaks but don't accept the existence of rape culture, of course, sorting out the Assange case is easy - it's all a honeytrap smear campaign straight out of the CIA Dirty Tricks textbook. If you do accept the existence of rape culture, however, you'll realise that misguided ideas about what is and is not acceptable behaviour and what is and is not rape are so widespread - even among those ostensibly committed to social justice - that it is not in any way reasonable to rule out the possibility that Assange actually might have done it. After all, the best way to frame someone you want to frame is for something they actually did. The full power of the State will - not wrongly - get behind you in seeing the person you want eliminated put away.

That's the chilling answer to Craig Murray's litany of political whistleblowers who mysteriously have subsequently faced allegations of sex crimes - such things are so widespread that it's perfectly possible that all those allegations are actually true: in a world where most sex offenders get away with it, only those who also act against the interests of the State are in trouble.

If you're paranoid about what organisations like MI6 or the CIA might do to people who they see as enemies, don't think for a single moment that they would bother wasting time setting up a brand new honeytrap for a guy they already knew to be a little bit off when it came to the boundaries of consensuality in sex. They'll just use that knowledge instead - even if - purely hypothetically - both women involved were actually big supporters both of Wikileaks in general and Assange in particular.

Two final points. Firstly, the underlying mechanism and philosophical underpinning of Wikileaks has now effectively been open-sourced. There already exist other organisations based on the same principle: in order to force so-called democracies to operate with just governance, it is necessary to provide whistle-blowers a method for safely and anonymously leaking secret and damaging documents which can then be sent to the press and publicised. To that extent, while it is clear that Wikileaks specifically has yet to release every document in its possession, its major mission has been accomplished. Kill Assange tonight, and you will still have a constant stream of no-longer secret documents being released from now until the heat-death of the internet.

Secondly, those who are aware of the existence of rape culture have an enormously long way to go in order to persuade people - even on the progressive wing of politics - that such a thing even exists. There's an awful lot of eye-rolling going on on feminist blogs at the moment; an awful lot of 'I really can't be bothered to explain any more.' And that is understandable. But there's an awful lot of explaining left to do.

Because most guys - even on the left - don't yet get it.

Most guys don't yet know that more or less most women have been or will at some point be raped or sexually assaulted.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Monday, December 6, 2010

Did You Read That Really Annoying Column This Weekend

Well did you?

I don't mean Charlotte Metcalf's piece in the Mail about how hard it is to afford Christmas when your income has dropped to £26,000 a year. That was not annoying at all: I found it hilarious. What annoyed me was Christina Patterson's attack on Wikileaks and Julian Assange in the Independent, to which the rest of this post is my response, also posted on the Independent website as a hideously over-long comment. I've edited it a bit to remove the parts that don't fit with it being a blog post rather than a comment. You might want to read Patterson's piece first, if the below is to make sense.

The claim that Wikileaks has put the lives of Afghani (and other) informants in danger by releasing their names has been widely repeated. I have repeatedly looked for and failed to find evidence for this claim. All I can find is articles like Patterson's, which repeat the claim but provide no evidence.

Meanwhile, the US and its allies continue to pursue their wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in which thousands of entirely innocent men, woman and children have been and continue to be maimed or killed. No further evidence need be released for this to be an unarguable statement of fact, whether you support the wars, and believe these deaths to be acceptable collateral damage, or whether you oppose the wars, and believe such deaths not to be acceptable.

These wars, moreover, which some claim to be illegal, have been entered into or continued by politicians who, according to Patterson, are 'accountable to the people who elect them'. One would expect, in that case, given that the wars continue, that the wars have widespread support. Yet they manifestly do not: polls differ but all show that while there is a good deal of support, there is also a good deal of opposition; some show that there is more opposition than support.

Some might conclude from this that perhaps our politicians aren't quite as accountable as Patterson suggests.

Given that Assange and Wikileaks have acted and continue to act in a way that the Pentagon and the CIA do not like, it is no surprise that there have been many clear statements of intent from members of the US government to have him stopped, and the site shut down. As such, Patterson's response to Assange blaming "the Pentagon, and the CIA" for the rape charges seems highly disingenuous.

"I thought that that was the kind of thing that someone would say if they had something wrong with their head," she writes, as if, rather than threatening his life and his project, both the Pentagon and the CIA had in fact released statements to the effect that if they ever met Julian Assange they would clap him heartily on the back, shake his hand and buy him a drink.

Some might think that Patterson's response is the kind of thing that someone would say if they were being highly selective with their facts in order to construct an argument.

Finally, Wikileaks being a project involving at root a general infrastructure for supporting the release of information that various Powers That Be would prefer not be released, it seems both churlish and ignorant to call it 'just a website'. I don't know about Christina Patterson's, but my website does not do that. Even the Independent's website is only capable of doing such things up to a certain degree: one of the points made by many people examining Wikileaks is that it and other projects like it fill a necessary journalistic gap left by the often over-cosy relationship between press, politicians and business leaders.

That makes the conclusion of Patterson's article on Wikileaks somewhat tenuous, given that several if not most of the points in the argument leading up to it turn out not to hold. "Freedom of information," Patterson concludes, somewhat out of the blue, "is quite likely to make people less free."

Power without accountability is indeed dangerous, which is why politicians abusing that power and avoiding that accountability are currently being attacked by men and women with websites who would like to make people more free and to remove power without accountability. Those men and women are naturally quite secretive, since they are taking direct aim at very powerful organisations that want to keep us less free.

It is true that 'what some people called "freedom of information"' is 'quite likely to make people more paranoid', but only some people, specifically, those people in government who are engaging in behaviour that needs to be kept secret in order to continue. That sounds a lot like 'power without accountability' to me, and if there is one thing that Christina Patterson and I can agree on, it is that power without accountability is dangerous.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Chomsky, 9/11 and Conspiracy Theory - Do Not Be Deceived

The following headline is going round and round the internet: "Noam Chomsky: No Evidence that Al-Qaeda Carried Out the 9/11 Attacks"

It seems to me to be pretty misleading if not downright wrong.

Chomsky is very careful in what he says about everything, and if he were really saying that there was no evidence Al Qaeda carried out 9/11 he would have been quoted directly as saying so. I don't think he did: if such a quote exists, I cannot find it.

See eg the Press TV page on this: http://www.presstv.ir/detail/149520.html

They would have provided a money quote had there been one. They did not. Compare the headline to the text.

Rather, what Chomsky is actually saying - which is far more important - is that there is no evidence the Bin Laden, quite specifically, was behind 9/11, and that as such, the war on Afghanistan - ostensibly a response to 9/11 - is therefore without basis and illegal. That's the important bit, not the conspiracy theory sidetrack.

Take eight minutes to watch Chomsky's takedown of 9/11 (and Kennedy) conspiracy theories here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m7SPm-HFYLo

His point is compelling: in the end, who cares? The important thing is not whether or not an extremely unlikely-to-be-successfully-hidden conspiracy - 9/11 as an inside job - was pulled off. The important thing is all the obvious shit that various governments of the world, particularly the US, actually are pulling off, quite overtly and directly, all the while being very happy that much energy on the left is diverted into did-they didn't-they bullshit around this or that alleged conspiracy. The real conspiracy is the stuff that is actually happening right out in the open, which, sadly, many people are prone to being diverted away from by bullshit conspiracy theories.

See also this long interview with him: http://www.chomsky.info/interviews/200408--.htm

The important quote relevant to this discussion is this, towards the end: "The best book on that is by a British investigator, Jason Burke, called Al-Qaeda. He confirms in detail what Eqbal predicted. He reviews a whole series of acts in the development of al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda is not an organization; it’s a loose network of very loosely affiliated, mostly independent organizations that have a kind of a similar ideology. He calls it a network of networks. And as Eqbal predicted, it became a major symbol and bin Laden himself became a major symbol as a result of these bombings. Before, it hadn’t been."

If Chomsky anywhere denies that the people who carried out 9/11 were Al-Qaeda, I cannot find it. As a loose network of loosely affiliated independent organisations 9/11 could have been masterminded by any one of many Al-Qaeda groups. Which one is not so important. What is important is this: if there is evidence to show that it was Bin Laden's group specifically, Chomsky does not have it. Nor do the FBI. Or anyone. And as such, the war in Afghanistan has no basis or justification.

It does not look to me like Chomsky is finally coming out and saying 'Al-Qaeda were not behind 9/11'. Instead he is making a much more important and perhaps more subtle point - that Bin Laden, specifically, was not directly behind 9/11. What is important is not who was or was not behind 9/11 - rather it is that our governments continue to pursue an illegal war in Afghanistan (among other places).

Chomsky's key point on all this is as follows: conspiracy theories are incredibly convenient to those in power, as they divert attention from the shit they are really pulling, right out in the open.

Do not be deceived.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I Can Quit Myspace Any Time I Like

Quit Myspace Day was on the 24th October this year. Did you quit? Are you thinking of it?

If you didn't hear about it, Quit Myspace Day came into being with this superb article written last year by music industry academic Andrew Dubber. In it he outlines the root cause of the one thing about Myspace on which everyone can agree - it's a bit rubbish. He also gave them a year to clean their act up, failing which, he declared that there should be a Quit Myspace Day where we all up and leave.

Due to the flocking nature of social networking, Myspace has, as Dubber puts it, every fricking band on the planet, to say nothing of a large proportion of the promoters, studios, merchandisers and other ancillary music types. With the right strategy it could be the best music site in the world, both for musicians and music fans. But it is not.

Instead of choosing to leverage that userbase in order to provide a service focussed on the needs of the music world, the Myspace strategy seems to remain bound up with general social networking, deals with major labels, TV tie-ins and the sale of advertising. Or something. All I know is that whenever I log on there is an awful lot of complete crap I have to mentally filter out in order to find the bits which are useful to me.

Dubber expands on this in his excellent follow-up piece, in which he examines the case of drummer, songwriter, and - during the day - Myspace Music Project Manager, Steve Clark. Clark, apparently, has been championing Dubber's ideas within Myspace, but, frustratingly, has been getting absolutely nowhere. It's pretty clear why not: their business model has nothing to do with music. It's about advertisers. Users aren't the customer, the advertiser is.

From this perspective, there is no need to actually supply the user with anything more than a bare minimum of what they might want - just enough to keep them there. They already have the critical mass of users - even if it is just "every fricking band on the planet" plus ancillary types, that's still a very large number to woo advertisers with. And as Dubber admits, in the section of his follow-up where he lists the remaining advantages that Myspace has to offer, this weight of numbers does give excellent SEO. A completely new band setting up both a Myspace page and a website may find that it takes a long time for their site to start appearing at the top of search results for them; not so with the Myspace page. This alone is not to be underestimated as a feature.

Yet their site remains butt-ugly, brain-numbingly frustrating and awkward to use. It's an embarrassment when compared with what is offered by the likes of Bandcamp and Soundcloud, newer services aimed squarely at meeting the needs of online musicians and doing so incredibly well. The best you can say about the recent changes on Myspace is that they are not quite as clunky and awkward as they used to be, but that's only because they had such a piss-poor starting point. Simple things are still hard; hard things are impossible. It is still the opposite of how it should be.

Myspace did not clean their act up in the given year, so a few days ago, as I type, Dubber posted this: the time has come. Der Tag. Quit Myspace day. There was a hashtag - #quitmyspace - on twitter, which made interesting following. A few people did quit. Others, like myself, mused about it and did nothing.  Mostly, nothing much seemed to happen.

Trombonist Andy Derrick wrote an interesting blog post opposing the idea. It is not at all clear that Derrick understood a single word of Dubber's writing about Myspace - the most charitable view is that he didn't read any of it, though why he felt the need to be so rude about Dubber is another mystery. However, Derrick does make one good point: while the advantages of staying on Myspace aren't nearly as good as they should be, there is equally no particular advantage in leaving. His key point is this: "promoters will happily look at a myspace page to find suitable acts to book, they just want to hear the music."

The people he is talking about have never heard of Bandcamp. They don't care about Soundcloud. They aren't interested in the future of music on the internet - they don't want to know any more about the internet than they absolutely have to, and they are quite happy that way. They just want to find a band to book, and being as it does (mostly) still have every fricking band on the planet, they see Myspace as the catalogue. They use Myspace as a verb.

I too did not quit Myspace. The next day I got an email there out of the blue from a promoter I have never met, offering me a gig at a venue in Camden which I wouldn't mind playing in. Mind you, the same email was spammed to about fifty other bands, so I don't feel particularly special or anything.

That's Myspace for you all over.

It's a reverse tragedy of the commons. I'd love to quit Myspace, knowing that I wouldn't damage myself in doing so. But until everyone else does, I risk shooting myself in the foot. Those who have quit all seem to have one thing in common - they are doing fine without it. I'm not. And if all it takes for the occasional random gig to get chucked my way is for me to not delete my account, that makes sense to me. Even if I only take some of those gigs.

I'd like to quit myspace, and maybe one day soon I will. But I'm going to wait. In the meantime, in the spirit of Dubber, I would like - redundantly - to declare today, and every day, Not Using Myspace Any More Than Absolutely Necessary day. I can quit any time I like.

Honest.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Friday, October 8, 2010

Facebook Apps Steal Your Phonebook - Do They Also Corrupt It?

If you haven't already, go and read this article by Charles Arthur in the Guardian, where he explains how Facebook apps on the Android and iPhone platforms now copy your entire phonebook back to Facebook without asking or notifying you.

So even if you have not given Facebook your number yourself, all it takes is one Facebook friend who has both your number and a smartphone, and they'll get it anyway. Regardless of your privacy settings, they'll then give it out to anyone else you have friended on Facebook, so long as they have managed to match it up correctly.

The privacy issues are obvious. What about the data integrity issue? The Guardian article already covers the problem of incorrect matching, which is bad enough. But what they do with people like me who are a bit slack about deleting old defunct numbers?

Say I have an old non-working number for Alice, who I haven't been in touch with for years anyway. My friend Bob is still close to her, and so he does have her new number in his contacts list. We both log into Facebook on our phones. Facebook grabs Alice's old number from me, which it has not seen before. Since Facebook thinks this is a new number, it helpfully updates Bob's phonebook with it.

Unless Bob's phone is smart enough not to trust Facebook and adds the new number as a secondary rather than overwriting the old one with it, Bob has now lost Alice's actual number.

Does anyone know what happens in this case?

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

HTC Desire Gripe #1 And Solution - Call Confirm

I've just got my shiny new HTC Desire phone. It's my first touchscreen device and while it is utterly gorgeous in many superficial ways there are numerous issues with the way the thing actually works.

(Boy do I feel old right now.)

The worst thing so far is the number of people I have called by mistake. It is not a large number, but it is a non-zero number, and as such, unacceptably large: that sort of thing has never happened to me before with any previous handset. Here's how it happened.

It didn't take long to copy my contacts over from my previous phone, as I had already backed them up to the PC. That was easy and quick. After I had done so I found numerous numbers in my contacts list that I had no idea I had - these appear to have been automagically gathered from Facebook.

I was curious, so I tried scrolling through my whole (now rather large) list of contacts to see how many new numbers there were. I didn't get very far through the list before I called someone at random. A friend, thank god. I hung up immediately, as it was a bit late to call that person really, but I knew I could explain if I had to. Still embarrassing though

Like a fool I went back to scrolling through the list - how stupid of me to want to scroll through my contacts list on my own phone - why would anyone want to do that? Of course, it happened again, this time with someone whose number I happen to have but who I really really did not want to miscall at 1am UK time. Or ever.

This was now seriously, seriously embarrassing. I was feeling physically sick at this point.

I was lucky, as I only miscalled UK numbers. It could have been much more costly than mere embarrassment: now, via the black magic of Facebook, I have phone numbers in there from internet friends all over the world. I really can't afford to miscall Australia.

Here's why it is so easy to call people by mistake on the HTC Desire: the touchscreen action required to scroll through the contacts list - sort of drag your finger up and down on it - is incredibly similar to the touchscreen action required to call someone in the list. Tapping a list item does not merely select it - it actually goes ahead and calls that number.

This is a serious problem.

The sensible fix would be to make it so that tapping a list item just selects it. If I want to call someone I'm happy to press the big green 'Call' button. I can't find a way to turn the call-on-select feature off, and I can't understand why it is there, unless it is a deliberate and cynical ploy to get lots of people to make lots of potentially costly random unwanted calls to friends, family and random people they happen to know on Facebook.

Android being android, there is an app that fixes this - it is called 'Call Confirm', and I just installed it. It intercepts the 'select to call' thing on the phone and brings up a dialog box saying 'Really Call Y/N'. Great, problem solved.

But this problem should not have been there in the first place.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Quantum Chess May Or May Not Be Chess (It Isn't)

I've played chess all my life. I'm a pretty average strength club level player and like many experienced players I've always enjoyed chess variants. This quantum variant is an interesting idea (each non-king piece has a dual identity in pseudo-quantum superposition, changing state on black squares - see the Wired UK article on it) but I'm not really sure about a couple of the implementation details. My feeling, after one game, is that too many of the normal chess rules have been abandoned.

Firstly, the board is oriented differently to normal chess, with a white square in the lower left hand corner and the white king on the left hand side. That may have been a deliberate design decision but setting the board up that way is also a typical beginner's mistake and it is not the decision I would have made. I've not come across another 8x8 board chess variant that does this; it doesn't inspire confidence.

I played and won a game before having read over all the rules and was quite enjoying it until I had a piece captured by the king while it was protected by a quantum knight on a white square in the knight state. To win the game I had to actually capture the king. This astonished and disappointed me.

Finally reading the rules page I found that major rule changes have been made in addition to the quantum piece variance rule: moving into check is allowed, there is no requirement to move out of check, and checkmate does not exist; capturing the king is the win condition. There is no mention of the non-standard board orientation. Additionally, en passant and castling have been removed.

I can't see why any of these extra changes have been made. Castling could easily be retained, substituting 'piece that starts in corner' for 'rook'. En passant could easily be retained, perhaps with the proviso that it only applies if both quantum pawns remain in the pawn state. Simply abandoning these rules comes across as lazy more than anything else, but they are not game-changers, so to speak.

Changing the rules about check and checkmate, however, is a very big deal. Checkmate is the object of the game of chess; the rules around check play an enormous part in all aspects of standard (and variant) chess strategy. Remove check and checkmate and, to me at least, it is just not chess any more.

I can see that there is a hard question which arises when devising quantum chess rules: what do you do when a piece in a quantum state may or may not be giving check? Surely the game would work just as well if a straight answer either way was arbitrarily given to this question as a further rule. Given that a single move can consist of touching a piece and putting it in a quantum state that gives check, it would make sense that the rule be 'a piece in an indeterminate state cannot give check.' After that, normal rules of check and checkmate can apply. You would then have an actual chess variant.

In sum Quantum Chess is a fun idea but the thing that makes other chess variants such as exchange, mini-chess etc work, for chessplayers, is that as much as possible of original chess is retained - the variant rules add spice but the game itself remains intact. This game may use a chessboard and chess pieces but without check and checkmate it just doesn't feel like chess any more, and I am left feeling slightly cheated.

It's a shame because right now I'd really like to play a version of quantum chess using these piece changing rules that actually also retains the rules of chess. A further variant might be to have the pieces change state on every move, not just on black squares. Why not?.

(An earlier draft of this appears, without formatting as one of the comments on the Wired UK article.)

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Scrapping NHS Direct Is Hard To Swallow

A couple of years ago, I had a bad case of tonsilitis.

I went to the doctor, got prescribed antibiotics, went home and tried to rest.

Over the next couple of days, it got a bit worse, and I began to find
it hard to breathe. But I'd seen the doctor, it was all being treated,
and I told myself not to worry.

One morning, still ill and in a bit of a panic, I used the self-help
symptom guide on the NHS Direct website.

To my extreme surprise it told me to call an ambulance. Immediately.

That's why I'm not dead now.

(My tonsilitis had become quinsy: you can read the full story here:
http://fitconniptions.livejournal.com/12686.html )

David Cameron wants to scrap NHS Direct as a cost cutting measure:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11120853

If NHS Direct had been scrapped a few years ago, I would be dead today.

That's why, for what it's worth, I've signed the petition to try and
get Cameron to change his mind on this:
http://www.savenhsdirect.co.uk/

Perhaps you would like to sign it too.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Why The Gaza Flotilla Attack Proves That I Am Right About Israel / Palestine

There can be no doubt that Israel's botched attack on the humanitarian activist flotilla marks a significant turning point in the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. Yet commentators from both sides, as well as those trying to take a more balanced view, have all missed the most important point. What the attack shows, plain as day, is that my own opinions on the issue are the only correct ones, and everyone else is painfully wrong. The failure of everyone else to see how right I am can lead only to tragic consequences.

First, a little historical background. The side of the conflict that I support comprises nothing but honourable and courageous men and women. They are motivated by nothing more than a desire to defend their own families and rich culture. Their cause is right and these people are completely justified in every action, no matter what they do. By contrast, the other side is composed entirely of amoral murderous thugs who will stop at nothing to achieve their ends. Far from achieving a just settlement and a lasting peace, these thugs are only interested in perpetuating the cycle of violence and brutality.

I will admit that there are some innocent casualties on the other side of the conflict, and this is to be regretted, but let us look more closely. Just how innocent are they? It is clear that these people are giving succour to what is nothing more than terrorism, plain and simple. Their losses frankly pale into insignificance when compared to the tragedy of the truly innocent lives that are blighted daily on the side that I support. These are just ordinary people trying to go about their daily business in the face of increasingly vicious and brutal violence.

That violence must stop and it must stop now. Of course, until it does, it is hard to see how the side that I support can be blamed for responding to violence with violence. Everyone has the right to defend themselves.

This is the context in which the flotilla attack must be understood.

It should by now be blatantly obvious that every account of the attack given by the other side of the conflict is nothing but a pack of lies designed to pull the wool over the eyes of the international community. This will not work. The facts of the matter are plain – yet again it is those on my side of the conflict that have been brutally wronged. It is hard to understand how anyone cannot see this. The voices of those who support the other side of the conflict would be tiresome were they not so dangerous. The result is business as usual, as a cowardly British government and utterly ineffectual UN capitulate to those voices in an entirely predictable way. This is nothing more than a recipe for more violence and bloodshed.

The biased reporting from the BBC should come as a surprise to no-one. Time and again they give those on the other side of the conflict an easy ride. At the same time they twist the words of those speaking for my side in order to make them look ridiculous, belittling the importance of our just cause. This is an insult - the facts of the situation are clear and easily found on Google. Yet the BBC seems to ignore facts, preferring instead to act as if they are actually part of the other side's own propaganda machine. Is this what we pay our licence fee for?

The newspapers are no better. Only yesterday the Guardian printed an editorial article in the Comment Is Free section of its website which made me more angry than anything I have read on this subject in weeks. Unbelievable though it may seem, this article was actually trying to defend the indefensible. The piece made it seem as if the side of the conflict which I do not support had some kind of justification for its actions. There may be merit in this kind of thing as an abstract thought experiment, but not at a time like this when lives are at stake. It is sad to find such sheer moral bankruptcy from a paper with a once proud tradition.

There is a sense of urgency here. I call upon everyone who supports the other side of the conflict to stop doing so immediately and to realise that actually it is my side of the conflict who are in the right and who have always been in the right. Only in this way can peace finally be achieved in the Middle East.


(After adequacy's classic article here)

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Monday, May 24, 2010

Music You Will Probably Like - Rena Jones / Steve Lawson

I've been looking for ambient / downtempo type good stuff on Bandcamp and there's no shortage.

Here's two albums I really enjoyed and highly recommend:

Indra's Web by Rena Jones, which I only found last night but which is the kind of thing you don't realise you've been missing listening to until you find it - sort of drum and bass meets classical and jazz and it all Just Works. Listen:

For The Love Of Open Spaces, by Steve Lawson and Theo Travis is one of a number of albums involving Steve Lawson I have downloaded and have been listening to repeatedly for some while now without even beginning to tire of them:

If you like that, there's a bunch more over at music.stevelawson.net - it's all good. By which I mean, I've listened to it all and it's all good.

Please to enjoy.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Shochu Bar

This game is lovely.

The Shochu Bar (via jayisgames) is a short, unashamedly sentimental room-escape type game about a melancholy woman pottering about on her own in a flash Japanese bar. It might be too cloying for some tastes, but the graphics and music are nothing short of lush and the puzzles not too complicated.

A highly pleasant diversion on a Friday evening.

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Filesharing Is Not A Problem - A Response To Sarah Teather MP on #debill

Dear Sarah,

Thank you so much for taking the time to write to me. No need to apologise for the delay - I understand that your workload must be particularly heavy at this time and I very much appreciate that you were able to find a moment to write to me on the subject of the Digital Economy Bill (now Act).

I am glad that the Liberal Democrats chose to vote against the bill and I agree that the way it was railroaded through without adequate consideration was by itself good reason to vote against. However, I would like to suggest to you that there are serious issues around the substance of the parts of the bill regarding filesharing. In particular your assertion that filesharing is 'a serious issue that has been waiting a very long time to be addressed' is controversial.

There are those - including many ordinary musicians like myself - who argue that filesharing is not a problem at all.

Ben Goldacre has written an excellent piece which demonstrates that the figures on which the assertion that filesharing is a problem is based are themselves highly problematic:

* http://www.badscience.net/2009/06/home-taping-didnt-kill-music/

To (partly) summarise Goldacre: any research that equates a download with a lost sale is fundamentally flawed. I have yet to see any research from the BPI that does not do this. It is obvious that people download far more than they would ever be able to buy - falsely assuming otherwise is part of why figures for lost revenue as a result of filesharing are grossly exaggerated.

Downloaders often delete much of what they download and buy legal copies of the rest. In this way, some downloads can lead to greater sales. That is not wishful thinking - here is some hard research showing that those who download more also buy more:

* http://www.marketingcharts.com/interactive/study-p2p-music-downloads-increase... - summary
* http://strategis.ic.gc.ca/epic/site/ippd-dppi.nsf/vwapj/IndustryCanadaPaperMa... - paper

The industry has got it wrong on filesharing, and it is a tragedy that artists unions have uncritically taken the BPI line. Musician Steve Lawson has explained to the MU why attacking the internet will hurt him and other musicians:

* http://www.stevelawson.net/2010/04/my-letter-to-the-musicians-union-about-the...

He is not alone. Writer Nathaniel Tapley is deeply concerned about the bill and the Writers Guild support for it:

* http://nathanieltapley.wordpress.com/2010/04/09/why-my-union-is-wrong/

During such debate as there was in the Commons last week, it was repeatedly claimed that the filesharing parts of the bill were aimed at protecting artists. In fact, as Cory Doctorow points out, industry figures show that artists are making more than ever:

* http://www.boingboing.net/2009/11/13/labels-may-be-losing.html

This may explain why Mo McRoberts' open letter to MPs supporting the bill was signed by so many artists and musicians:

* http://nevali.net/post/501647501/an-open-letter-to-sion-simon-pete-wishart-david

That letter contains assertions that far from being damaged by filesharing, the UK music industry has research to show that it is currently growing. Here is some of that research:

* http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20090723/0351345633.shtml - summarises PRS research
* http://www.prsformusic.com/creators/news/research/Documents/Will%20Page%20and... - PRS research
* http://www.bpi.co.uk/press-area/news-amp3b-press-release/article/2009-is-reco... - this is from the BPI themselves

Certainly business models are changing in response to technology and there will be winners and losers over time. Of course large-scale commercial piracy must be tackled - though I believe that it is already well covered by existing law. New legislation on filesharing that cuts into basic freedoms and which could actually damage the real digital economy needs more than scrutiny - it should be thrown out in the absence of actual hard evidence that filesharing is actually a problem in the first place.

I know you are extremely busy right now - you have an election to fight and there are many other issues which are of equal or greater importance than the Digital Economy Act to deal with. For what it is worth, following your letter, I am planning to vote for you in Brent Central and will encourage like-minded others to do the same - this is the most important issue to me at the moment and Dawn Butler, your only serious opponent, actually voted for the bill.

Cheers and wishing you all the best for the election,

Wayne

Posted via email from I Am Taking My Ball And I Am Going Home