Monday 31 October 2011

Five days off, five days on

There’s the rub, all that lovely time away followed by a period reintegrating myself into society. Following The White Ribbon I watched The Road, which I’ve seen a few times before having read the book a while back. It’s a film I like more and more, in the same way I ‘like’ The Elephant Man; both have me teary-eyed at the end. My procrastination meant there would be no festival of film, but there were the occasional moments of quality and that’ll do; I’m trying not to feel too guilty that I can’t remember what I did with the remaining time. I ate too much, but I exercised too. A little, though since I dragged Little Miss R on a regular walk and without too much complaint, there’s hope for me yet. And I’m back at work reminding myself how it all works. I ask that question a lot.

Friday 28 October 2011

Loose ends

Another three-day break from everything, where I unexpectedly found myself looking after Little Miss R - I hadn't realised it was half term. This might have meant a curtailed film program were it not for the distraction of YouTube and iPlayer and every other high-end consumer of my broadband allowance. As it turns out, I find I don't watch nearly as much as I can, and my reading is equally abject. I am without purpose, wandering up and down the TV schedule unwilling to commit; I even gave up on Tilda Swinton, that’s how bad it got.

Today however, I kicked the malaise. Not through the last episode of Hidden, a conspiracy thriller from the BBC conjuring an old trick; appear more than you are through leaving key questions unresolved. My temporary redemption came through a drama altogether different, unsettling and at first unsatisfactory. The White Ribbon doesn’t provide a neat resolution either but there is, I realised on reflection, a strong message. Michael Haneke described it as a film about "the origin of every type of terrorism, be it of political or religious nature", but it’s not nearly as indulgent as that might sound. Violence corrupts; rarely has this been expressed so well.

Thursday 27 October 2011


Imagine Yugoslavia as an example. A federation of republics bound together largely by autocracy - dictators tend to get their way - and then by a rotating presidency; that last bit sounds familiar, I’ll bet they even had a single currency. Then they had civil war.

War - what is it good for, apart from (as Harry Hill reminded us on the weekend) ITV drama serials? German chancellor Angela Merkel raised the danger in a speech to the Bundestag yesterday, strong arming them into approving measures to improve the Euro bailout fund. “Nobody”, she pointed out “should take for granted another 50 years of peace and prosperity in Europe”; which sounded remarkably similar to my father’s response to a query on the purpose of the EEC. My Dad - and I’ll grant, the chancellor - have a point. 25 years ago I had to concede there were advantages to a common market; bringing nations closer together in a way that is to the benefit of all, reduces the chance of conflict.

Merkel however would go further. “If the Euro fails, Europe fails” she tells us. And because she had the courage to raise the bloody history of our continent, no-one has the nerve to question whether the medicine will avoid a repeat, or achieve the opposite - well, she started it! There must be far gentler ways to bring the people of Europe together - and I’d question whether it requires government. It’s usually governments that cause these things in the first place.

Monday 24 October 2011

Opportunism knocks

Given the perilous state of the European economy, I’m finding it difficult to be enthused by a referendum on EU membership. Euro-sceptics see this as a best chance in a generation to ditch an unloved institution, so I can imagine how it might make sense to push the issue now, but I can also see problems in this approach. Though it’s a crisis largely of the Euro’s making, there is a problem with the world economy too; in such times people are as likely to develop a herd mentality as they are to strike out with confidence on their own.

This is the wrong time to decide. There are economic advantages and there are regulatory pitfalls - I’m being polite - we don't yet know how these will be changed by the closer financial integration that will form part of the Eurozone recovery. The “loss” of the AV referendum earlier this year was seen as putting the issue of “electoral reform” on the backburner for a generation. Imagine a narrow vote for maintaining membership, used as an excuse for doing the same. Let’s wait until people know what it is they’re voting for - or against - rather than have them base it on a guess.

Sunday 23 October 2011

Any man's death

Society was up in arms about Murdoch being pied, but torturing and murdering Gaddafi is ok, something wrong with that picture.
Well quite, there would be something wrong with that picture if I thought it accurate. However, I’ll pass on this straw man and note the rather disturbing inference that for many, trial and execution by the state would have been preferable. There were three possible outcomes:
  1. Gadaffi executed on the spot.
  2. Gadaffi put on trial and then executed.
  3. Gadaffi put on trial at an international criminal court.
It would seem strange to intervene for the sake of one, when unwilling to do so for the thousands of Benghazi; so I’m assuming the non-interventionists - those who objected to NATO involvement - would continue to proclaim the need for Libyans to handle their own affairs. That leaves two possibilities, both with the same result, and though both are objectionable, in the light of last Friday’s indignation I ask myself which is worse - the blood lust captured for all the world to see, or the quiet rational heart that would deliberate - and then kill.

Saturday 22 October 2011

Am I not Conservative?

Conservative party logo
Against my better judgement I queried “those who want to stay in [the EU], are not Tories”, describing it as “an extraordinarily narrow perception of what it means to be Conservative”. I could have phrased that better, but was still surprised with “no, sonny, it's MY interpretation - or do you want to control that, as well as my ability to vote on the EU?” to which another added “'s actually not as narrow as you might want to believe, if you're a TRUE conservative”.

Ignoring the “TRUE conservative” - how do you respond to that - I described to the first how I saw it as “the rights of the individual over the state - that'd mean accepting (not necessarily agreeing with) alternate views”. To which he replied “try as I might, I cannot even attach any parts of your reply to the topic”. Mine was a poor description. What I’d have liked to say was that to decide who’s in and who’s out based on that criteria - one that in my experience has very little to do with Conservatism - seems a little prescriptive, and not unlike the actions of the European body he would decry. However there didn’t seem much point in pursuing this, so explained my reply had been my interpretation - in response to his - and apologised for any offence.

I am ambivalent about the EU, as I am the referendum. I preferred the EEC; that is I could appreciate the idea. There are euro-enthusiasts, euro-sceptics and those who are certain of their dislike. I’ve always thought of the Conservative party as the broad church eschewing narrow dogmatic expressions. I’m aware that won’t chime with some, certainly not the “other side”; yet if we do believe in the individual then it seems logical to expect a wider range of views. And since, unlike one of my correspondents, I lived - and voted - through the Thatcher years, I feel as qualified as any to stake a claim.

Friday 21 October 2011

Nonplussed one

I can’t believe I’m spending so much time on this; it’s a little bit obsessive. I noticed recently that the “share” part of “Recommend on Search, Share on Google+” had stopped working on the blog. What am I talking about? Why the Google +1 button of course!  For a while I assumed it was tinkering by the people at Mountain View, and then took a look yesterday because, even if it’s never used, you want to know it would work in the unlikely event of a click.

It was tinkering - at least, I think it was - though not in the way I’d thought. I assumed the code behind the button had changed whereas I discovered a run-time error in the JavaScript, and only because I happened to look using IE. How can I get Chrome to indicate there’s been a JavaScript error without spitting all over me; an extension no doubt?

Cue a bit of tinkering, moving the script to the bottom of the HTML before the </body> tag - where I realised it should be, but to no avail. Then out of curiosity I removed the script altogether. I expected to lose the button since without the script how would it be generated, but there it was. What’s more, the “share” part of the button’s function was now working. So all I have are the <g:plusone> elements and Blogger, a Google property after all, does the rest; until they change it back again. Stay tuned for more exciting adventures.

Tuesday 18 October 2011

No borders

There’s so much happening, so much I could write about or get “off my chest”, yet by the time I find myself at a keyboard the moment has escaped and I can’t quite remember what, only that I was, excited by something or other. Am I mellowing in my golden years or is this senility; I think we know the answer. I feel I should write it down before anything else slips away.

Liam Fox spent last week hogging the headlines, resigns, and lingers on. The opposition saw a chance to stick in the boot - I grant, it is their job - and suggested amongst other things a mandatory register for lobbyists. This would be the register that Ed Miliband and his friends voted against whilst in power, never mind the dubious assertion that a lobbyist is a clearly identifiable entity. I saw one over the top comment demanding a ban, but at what point does a constituent asking for help become an evil lobbyist asking for the same? The difference between help and lobbying for favourable treatment is entirely subjective. One suspects a continuation of the bad business meme warping so many minds.

Writing of which, how are my Occupy chums doing in London? I shall afford them the honour of capitalisation. I commented on their counterparts - the inspiration for across the world “life isn’t fair” protests - in Wall Street not so long ago. This lot seem equally cluttered in thought, though I should credit them for a limited nine-point statement. Mercifully brief, unsurprisingly vague, it’s full of the usual anti-capitalist nonsense neatly tying in various other complaints - well you might as well let it all out. There are those on the left who want banks to fail, and those on the right, strict free market capitalists who want the same; albeit for different reasons, unlikely bedfellows, neither persuaded by the lessons of Lehmans.

You’d have thought all this would be enough to occupy my mind - see what I did there - but no; the end of capitalism as we know it has been eclipsed by something far more exciting. I removed the border on images, this after a brief flirtation with shadows - though I haven’t entirely forsaken that guilty pleasure. I’m all grown up, the blog feels more mature, except for the content, but you can’t have everything.

Sunday 16 October 2011

A time of pestilence state quite simply what we learn in a time of pestilence: that there are more things to admire in men than to despise.
In-between the usual weekend tasks - the shopping, the exercise, trying to find something to fill the empty hours - I conceded a need to finish The Plague, which seems an odd thing to say about a book I liked so much. I was curious as to whether a work of fiction from a key philosopher of the last century would manage to be more than intellectual exercise. I found it written with that same intelligence, clarity and genuine compassion for the trials of man I found in Sisyphus, with not a drop of wasted sentiment. Two observations: The by now familiar non-judgemental nature as evidenced by a refusal to condemn Cottard, a black marketeer who most would portray as villain, but of whom Tarrou is moved to describe as “that man, who had an ignorant, that is to say lonely, heart”. Second is the character Tarrou, who might be described as hero, though I can imagine much discussion over who fills this role best, or even whether - given this is Camus - such a role can be filled. He appears to embody some of the themes for which Camus would eventually find himself estranged from his contemporaries. In confiding to Rieux, Tarrou describes a changing relationship with his revolutionary friends:
...once I admitted the arguments of necessity and force majeure put forward by the less eminent, I couldn’t reject those of the eminent. To which they retorted that the surest way of playing the game of the red robes was to leave to them the monopoly of the death penalty. My reply to this was that if you gave in once, there was no reason for not continuing to give in. It seems to me that history has borne me out; today there’s a sort of competition who will kill the most. They’re all mad over murder and they couldn’t stop killing men even if they wanted to.
Obstinately humanist, what a superb writer Albert Camus was. I look forward to The Rebel.

Friday 14 October 2011

Rigging the search

Is it coincidence, arrogance or unbelievable stupidity? If it is to defend itself from accusations that Google search algorithms show a bias towards Google services, how does it explain Google+ managing to rank so highly? Logged in to my Google account, if I search my name (yes, I know) then my Google+ profile, which I post to only occasionally, often appears right at the top; if “I’m Feeling Lucky” then it has the sense to pick the ‘true’ result, which is my blog. Even logged out and disconnected from my web history, clearing the cache or anything else I randomly think of, using other browsers for example, a search on my name will still place Google+ above more frequently used services such as Twitter or Facebook.

I can imagine an argument that defends the artificially enhanced rank when logged on, though think it poor design; however I can’t see how any objective search would return these results. As a lone example it’s hardly a tipping point, they understandably want a slice of the Facebook action, but search should be solely about returning what is most relevant to the user. If it fails in this, then I can go elsewhere. Google ignores that at its peril; it’s a lot easier to change search engines than social networks.

Wednesday 12 October 2011

The King is dead

My name is Phil Ruse; it has been eleven days since my last post. That’s a rate I was at when I first started this nonsense; so either there’s nothing I have to say or there’s nothing left to say... which might be the same thing, not sure about that. Or perhaps I can’t be bothered. I might edit that bit out, at least I’ll take out the “just”; in the bin with “it’s a fact” (it never is), “in my opinion” (it always is) and a growing collection of other aberrations. I wonder if this will undergo the usual vigorous editing, a savage excision to the point of what’s necessary, and lose its intent in the process. I know, you couldn’t tell, and I should probably stay away from the subject of necessary. I shall therefore pluck random events from the news and hope it doesn’t sound too desperate.

Steve Jobs is dead, long live Steve Jobs. I knew he was ill, but when he resigned from whichever position he resigned from, I didn’t realise how ill. There is a lot about Apple I don’t like, or of which I’m deeply suspicious. I loathe the walled garden, the “money for nothing” results of their app store; you make the software, Apple takes the money, OK, a percentage, but still… And a predatory approach to patents which I acknowledge is partly defensive; you can be quite sure that if Apple were playing nice, some idiot patent trolling company in Texas would be doing it to Apple. I’m not sure the technology was always as revolutionary as reported, but the user experience certainly was; Apple replaced the idea of reading the manual (remember rtfm?) with querying why you should need one.

The former CEO of Apple might well have been one of those filthy rich types incurring the wrath of the Wall Street occupation, but since no-one really knows what they want, including the protesters, it’s difficult to say. I’d hazard not, because the Apple chief made his money in smartphones and other tangibles that simple folk can understand. I have some sympathy, because I am simple too; yet for every Steve Jobs we need a Ross Perot for those shiny objects to see the light of day. Some investors, financiers, bankers (whatever you want to call them) become very rich on the back of this, sometimes without risk and yes, this does seem unfair. But if this is all you’re saying (“things must change” isn’t saying anything) then who are you arguing with? Complain about unequal taxation by all means, but don’t dilute the message with a general anti-bankers polemic.

The excellent – and frighteningly prolific - Norman Geras wrote an interesting post defending such protest and while the points raised are certainly valid I can’t help but trip to the next step – there’s always another question - what is the alternative? I’m not enamoured with those systems that have tried, as their method restricts that greatest of freedoms, freedom of choice. I stumble to Churchill’s description of democracy as “the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried”, and wish I could be so polite.

Saturday 1 October 2011

Plus one more

There’s probably a road map of which I’m unaware, but the +1 button seems to be suffering a mini identity crisis; only recently did I discover it now encapsulates the Share (to Google+) function too. That is, +1 allows you to “recommend on Search, Share on Google+”, unless you’re already in Google+ where it only recommends on search, likewise (for some unexplained reason) if you use the Chrome browser extension. In other words, it’s inconsistent.

Also, I’m not convinced by the UI. The design forces you down the route of Recommend and Share, rather than allowing you to choose, which in itself would cause problems. Yes, I could Share and then undo the Recommend, but that sucks. Then there’s the Share function itself, so subtle as to go almost unnoticed, though I suspect familiarity will make it second-nature, and remind myself that I like understated - it’s not like they’re Microsoft. However, even if the +1 button is Google’s preferred route for sharing content, the current design requires one click too many. Does this mean we can expect a dedicated Share button in the future?