Colin's Journal: A place for thoughts about politics, software, and daily life.

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January 12th, 2003

War with Iraq

I’ve not previously written anything about the upcoming war with Iraq, mostly because I hadn’t yet developed a view other than a purely instinctive one. That instinctive reaction was to be against going to war, primarily because of how the case for doing so has been put across. The poor, and so far unsupported, attempts to link Iraq to Islamic terrorism put me off the idea completely because it seemed that Bush and Blair were simply looking for any possible excuse to justify a war against Iraq.

Looking beyond the cobbled together excuses that were initially attempted there are some more serious arguments as to why a war with Iraq may be justified. The top two reasons, in my mind, to go to war with a country are:
1 – The other country poses a threat to you
2 – What is happening inside that country is repugnant to your sense of morality
These reasons then need to be compared against the cost of pursuing a war, in terms of lives lost or damaged, and in terms of political/social results. If, as in the case of North Korea, there is good justification on both fronts for an offencive, you still may not pursue that route because of the cost of doing so.

In the case of Iraq it’s the first reason that concerns me the most, although not as someone living on the American continent, but rather as a European. With the expansion of the EU to include Turkey, Iraq would suddenly have a border with the EU, and if Iraq had the opportunity to develop nuclear weapons then it would have very serious consequences for the security of the EU as a whole. The recent attempt by the UK to justify an attack on Iraq on the basis of the second point, that the Iraqi regime is a horrible and brutal one, has not been taken too seriously because there are so many other countries that would fall into this category. It’s only when the brutality of another country reaches a very high level indeed that we feel the need to act – the cost otherwise is seen as to large (military intervention is never a clean business).

My opinion is that the best way to prevent Iraq from threatening others is to maintain intrusive weapons inspections, based on the best intelligence that the west can gather. If it’s found that Iraq is determined, despite constant inspections, to develop weapons that the rest of the world has prescribed as being unacceptable, then force should be used. This opinion is based partly on the costs that are likely to result from an invasion of Iraq. If the example of Afghanistan is taken, it seems that following a take-over of Iraq we can expect a weak government that can not even provide law and order within the country. This situation is not only dangerous in the long term, it’s also morally repugnant – to take over a country and leave it a lawless mess should be unacceptable.

January 12th, 2003

A few enhancements

Last night I noted that I should add a spell checker to my weblog program, and now I have. The code is fairly simple, no custom dictionaries, or other fancy features, just: replace, replace all, skip, and skip all. The actual spell checking is done by aspell, with the python classes controlling it through a pipe.

Additionally I’ve put up a “favicon”, one of those little icons that can sit next to bookmarks. It’s very hard to draw anything visible at that size – and my drawing skills are somewhat lacking – so I’ve gone for a simple OF logo instead. I find it easier to find bookmarks that have these icons for other sites that I use, so hopefully someone, somewhere, will also find this one to be of benefit.

January 10th, 2003

Free music every day

It’s nice to be able to get a free piece of music every day. The quality, and bizarreness (is that a word?) of the music doesn’t matter, so much as the opportunity to listen to something that you will certainly not accidental hear on the radio during your day. The only show that I can imagine ever playing any of this stuff would be John Peel, and it’s rare these days that I get to listen to his shows.

So, in case you haven’t already discovered it elsewhere, take a look (and listen) to otisfodder.

Note to self: I must integrate a spell checker into my weblog software….

January 7th, 2003

Politicians versus independent experts

The Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes reckons in this BBC article that politicians should not set minimum sentences for crimes, only maximum sentences. The article is about the recent proposals to set a minimum sentence for carrying a gun at 5 years, except in exceptional cases. Simon’s argument is that it should be up to judges and magistrates to ensure that the sentence given matches the severity of the crime, not for politicians (who can obviously only make laws based on their concept of an average case).

If parliament sets a maximum sentence for a crime it says, in effect, that judges and magistrates can not be trusted to set a tariff that fits the severity of the offence in all cases. It also says that regardless of how seriously a particular offence was committed there is a limit to the punishment that society thinks should be attached to it (reflected through our elected representatives). Sure then it is only reasonable that parliament can set a minimum sentence, that society can say that no matter how trivial the infringement a certain level of punishment is required?

There is a trend, commented on by others, of trying to keep politics out of large chunks of decision making processes. This trend is aided by such examples as the independence of the central bank to set interest rates, which seems to be now universally seen as a success. However there are very definite limits to when and how this can be applied. In the case of monetary policy it is easy for parliament to instruct a group of people to target a particular inflation rate, and to give them the tool of interest rates with which to aim for this target. It is not possible for parliament to give senior judges and magistrates the target of reducing crime and then given them the tool of sentencing by which to achieve this objective. Unlike with monetary policy, there is no consensus on how crime behaves given different sentencing regimes, and so the structure of sentencing options are innately political in nature.

January 7th, 2003

Apple releases a web browser

I’m sure it’s everywhere by now, but Apple have released a beta of a new web browser for MacOS X. It’s called Safari and I haven’t seen it in action yet, because it only works on Jaguar onwards (that’s 10.2). The rendering engine is from Konqueror, so this is great news for the KDE project because it’ll no doubt lead to some significant improvments in the quality of the software as bug fixes are sent back by Apple.

January 7th, 2003

Back home

I’m back home, feeling tiered but refresh from my holiday. I’m not sure I’ve felt refreshed from a holiday before, I normally feel sad to see it go and normal life take over, but this time I actually feel like I want to get on with normal life.

Every now and again a country will be pursuing something that seems so small, in comparison to what is happening in the rest of the world, that it stands out. Here’s a classic example from Bjørn Stærk: “Yesterday, for instance, a man threatened to crash a plane into the building of the European Central Bank in Frankfurt. Meanwhile, three Norwegians are scheduled in court to dispute a a $350 fine for hurling paper planes at the American Embassy in Oslo, over a year ago.”

January 4th, 2003

Network computing

It’s remarkable that I can use my computer remotely from around the world (as shown by this post) via a simple modem connection. I’ve used vnc before over a high speed network connection, where you can use the GUI of one machine on another, and barely notice the difference between the remote and the local version, but it’s another thing to do this over a modem connection. The display is certainly slow to update, but the fact that it’s usable at all is a feat of software engineering. If the whole screen, uncompressed, was sent with every key press then a chuck of data 768K in size would need to be sent over the modem connection. With a connection of about 3.8K per second it would take nearly two and a half minutes just to send the one snapshot of the screen. As it is typing this the delay is roughly one second for the text that I type to appear on the screen in front of me!

As network connections around the world improve the user experience of using a machine across ~3500 miles of ocean will get better, but given the restrictions that a modem places on us, we have already achieved an extremely good result. (BTW If you wish to try this your self then use TightVNC for use over a modem – the ordinary VNC requires too much bandwidth for bearable modem use).

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Copyright 2009 Colin Stewart

Email: colin@owlfish.com