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Monthly Archives: July 2016

Today, you didn’t know you wanted to hear the Game of Thrones theme performed on hard drives and scanners. I’ve seen this kind of thing done before (it’s a whole genre — here is the Dr Who theme song for eight hard drives) but this one is interesting because it simultaneously displays the code driving the music.

Think about the amount of time it took for someone to assemble the sounds, build the program, write the code in the minute detail of the arrangement he’s created, complete with percussion and bassline

. What I love about this is that it gets you to think about the minute detail, the care and thought that goes into every operation our computers make. Somebody has spent weeks and weeks slaving over every line of code in the program you are using to read these words. Everything you see around you is an idea someone had in their head, made visible, audible. This video makes you see and hear that work in a delightful way.

That seems, by the way, to be one of the loving staples of nerd culture: spending absurd amounts of energy to make something bizarre, something not really economically “worth” doing.

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liberty-leading-the-peopleThe word terror is originally French. It comes through the latin terrore, meaning a great fear, but comes down to the Romance languages through Old French terreur. In French history, La Terreur is a terrible period, where the French Revolution ate its own children. A hundred thousand people were estimated killed, guillotined, executed by firing squad or run through in the street by angry mobs. A great, paralyzing fear spread throughout the populace.

It meant a period in which the mobs turned on the individuals, where the sacred life of the few meant nothing to the greater passions of the revolutionary fervor and the ambitions of the powerful.

Waking this morning to the crushing news out of Nice, dozens upon dozens of festive people, mowed down while celebrating the Bastille day of that same revolution, I think my only reply to this can be a resolve not to be afraid. Not to be terrorized.

The terror in Nice is the terror of the French Revolution stood on its head. The individuals attacking the crowds, the political ambitions and anomie of the radical losers vented in fury on unsuspecting people going about their day.

Terrorism is a political act of violence. The violence impacts civilians, but its ultimate target is the state. The people killed are means to ends. It is the ultimate instrumental devaluation of human life: not just to be killed for no good reason, but your death made a public spectacle, a show, to change the minds of others.

Terror is meant to change you, to strike great fear into you and thereby change the actions of the state. Indeed, it already has, as Hollande has resolved to increase the amount of airstrikes in Syria and Iraq. It does change you. Terror has struck close to me, close to the people I love. It changes you, pulls you along on a massive psychological current of trauma, fear and pain.

But, as has been said so many times, the lesson we never learn: terror wins when it changes the actions of the state and strikes fear into the populace. That was the point of La Terreur, to make fearful the opponents of the terrorists. And that was the point of the murderer in the lorry yesterday. Winning against terror is not first and foremost stopping the next assassin. Winning is stopping the next one from changing our minds.

It is a fundamental attack on those very values of the French Revolution which La Terreur has always spat upon. I say like the revolutionaries: liberté, egalité, fraternité – ou la mort!  I am not going to be afraid. I am not going to change because of a deluded loser in a lorry. I hope my beloved France thinks the same. Nous t’aimons, France. 

Three years on WordPress today. Yea! Let’s keep building this place up. 1871_proof_three-cent_nickel_reverse

Here are some of my plans for the future:

I want to write more posts, and that also means more shorter posts, link + commentary. I want to build my readership back up (it declined signicantly after a long hiatus). If you like what you are reading here, check out my Greatest Hits, follow me on Twitter or do what I’d most like for you to do: follow the blog, share hand-40513_960_720a piece that you’d like on email or social media. I don’t tell my friends about this blog, so the only way anyone ever finds out about it is if people like you – yes, you – spread the word. And leave comments – what I like most about this place is hearing from the readers.

I love to hear feedback — tweet me @PunchingSomeone or drop me an email at writinglikepunching at gmail dot com. All feedback welcome and appreciated. Love you all.

This tweet by the libertarian blogger Guido Fawkes (who is not under any circumstances to be taken seriously) got under my skin. It perfectly illustrates a common fallacy among political activists both left and right in most countries I’ve been to.

The fallacy goes something like this: if I can show a reporter to have a political point of view, his stance of neutrality is thereby nonsense. He is a partisan hack pretending to neutrality. A spectator columnist, making the same mistake, even straight out goes so far as to call BBC journalist Ed Ram, who tweeted the tweet above, a “hack”. 

Finding out that journalists have detectable opinions is like investigating to discover that journalists have brains, a heartbeat or are wearing clothes. Journalism is produced by well-informed humans and well-informed humans have opinions. Of course they do. And opinions congregate and create cultures. The BBC culture might very well be leftist or rightist or whatever, that’s not for me to say.  What matters is what goes on the air, what gets printed, what reaches the audience. (The data there seems to suggest a slight conservative bias in air time, but that’s not that important to me.)

What people like Guido Fawkes and the Spectator hack above seem to just fundamentally not get is that neutrality isn’t something journalists ever attain. It’s not a personal quality. It’s a professional technique. It’s something you learn. You create methods and organisational and editorial checks on reporters to ensure that you are pursuing and reporting news neutrally and without your own biases leading you.

The BBC tweet above (which appears to have since been taken down) can be interrogated about the extent to which it shows a culture of open hostility to a specific minister in the Tory government, but to be honest, I’d be surprised if the BBC did not have hostile attitudes to John Whittingdale, who wanted to shrink the Beeb to the size where he could drown it in his bathtub. (Though, to be fair, he did have some good ideas about inclusiveness.) The point is that it quite simply isn’t the journalist’s opinions you need to look at, it’s the output of the media they produce. If anything, I think the BBC is being too impartial.

You can have a news desk whoop and cheer and be perfectly neutral in output. My question will be: is that whoop apparent on the front page the next day? In the ledes? The angles? The stories? The pictures? That’s the question the critics need to answer. And they don’t want to, because it’s much harder and demands much more actual, you know, work and thinking. Easier to just have your prejudices confirmed, sling mud at some journalist and get on with your day.

17000098855_6e590c6c3b_o_dTheresa May is safely behind the keyless door with no door handle of No. 10 Downing Street. This is bad news, not least for those of us who distrust the authoritarian impulses of the right.

Her first speech in particular is really interesting, and should be looked on with horror by the British left. The Guardian has an annotated edition here with interesting comments on the union bit and the one nation Disraeli thing.

All the same, this is the most radical speech from a Tory prime minister since John Major described his dream of a classless society. He was thwarted by a party to whom nothing was more important than Europe. May must hope that they have learned from history.

Here’s the whole thing, with my thoughts on it below:

I have just been to Buckingham Palace where Her Majesty the Queen has asked me to form a new government and I accepted.

In David Cameron I follow in the footsteps of a great modern prime minister.

Under David’s leadership the government stabilised the economy, reduced the budget deficit and helped more people into work than ever before.

But David’s true legacy is not about the economy but about social justice.

From the introduction of same-sex marriage to taking people on low wages out of income tax altogether, David Cameron has led a one-nation government and it is in that spirit that I also plan to lead.

Because not everybody knows this but the full title of my party is the Conservative and Unionist party and that word unionist is very important to me.

It means we believe in the union, the precious, precious bond between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – but it means something else that is just as important.

It means we believe in a union not just between the nations of the United Kingdom but between all of our citizens – every one of us – whoever we are and wherever we’re from.

That means fighting against the burning injustice that if you’re born poor you will die on average nine years earlier than others.

If you’re black you are treated more harshly by the criminal justice system than if you’re white.

If you’re a white working-class boy you’re less likely than anybody else in Britain to go to university.

If you’re at a state school you’re less likely to reach the top professions than if you’re educated privately.

If you’re a woman you will earn less than a man.

If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand.

If you’re young you will find it harder than ever before to own your own home.

But the mission to make Britain a country that works for everyone means more than fighting these injustices. If you’re from an ordinary working-class family, life is much harder than many people in Westminster realise.

You have a job, but you don’t always have job security. You have your own home, but you worry about paying the mortgage.

You can just about manage, but you worry about the cost of living and getting your kids into a good school.

If you are one of those families, if you’re just managing, I want to address you directly. I know you are working around the clock, I know you’re doing your best and I know that sometimes life can be a struggle.

The government I lead will be driven, not by the interests of the privileged few but by yours. We will do everything we can to give you more control over your lives.

When we take the big calls, we will think not of the powerful but you. When we pass new laws, we will listen not to the mighty but to you.

When it comes to taxes, we will prioritise not the wealthy but you. When it comes to opportunity, we won’t entrench the advantages of the fortunate few, we will do everything we can to help anybody, whatever your background, to go as far as your talents will take you.

We are living through an important moment in our country’s history.

Following the referendum, we face a time of great national change. And I know because we’re Great Britain we will rise to the challenge.

As we leave the European Union, we will forge a bold new positive role for ourselves in the world and we will make Britain a country that works not for a privileged few but for every one of us.

That will be the mission of the government I lead and together we will build a better Britain.

This speech is very, very bad news for Labour if followed up by policy to match. Corbyn’s left wing Labour would do better against the shamelessly redistributing government of David Cameron. If Theresa May is actually intending to go centrist on economic impulse – which is the strategic move to pull in a country like the UK – then Labour might be in more trouble.

Though they’ll be delivering more fairness and more redistribution with Corbyn’s economic agenda, they’ll also (I hope) refuse to address the regressive impulses of racism and conservative values which are still strong in the Labour electoral constituency. With Labour tacking left, that might make the Tories more interesting to a lot of centrists. With Scotland going to the SNP (or, for that matter, to the EU), that might create long-term strategic troubles for Labour.

I’m hoping that Corbyn and the members manage to clear trouble out of the house soon so they can bunker down for a long fight to the next general election. It’s going to be a long uphill fight, but if they win, we’ll get the Britain we all need, not least the Britons.

What a striking and terrible thing this is: The Republican National Committee voting to declare that coal is a clean energy source, against all known science. This is what terrible policy looks like. It is not tense discussions and principled debates. It is a group of bored, banal people in a sweaty room. People who are tired as hell and just want to get through the day and go back to their air-conditioned rooms in the Hyatt Hilton and change their shirts and have a glass of sparkling mineral water.

Bad policies are made by people who don’t care. Who so thoroughly accept the false premises of their ideology that they don’t bother to discuss them. It is a room full of people being told the Earth is flat, and who then raise their hand to give their ayes, with barely contained yawns.

The world ends with a bunch of people who don’t care, don’t know, aren’t bothered to consider the fact that they are contributing to the end of the world. For them, it’s just another day at the ofice.

Questioning your own dogma and searching out opposing viewpoints is an act of public virtue. Citizenship, as Lawrence Lessig once remarked, is a public office. These men and women have ceased to perform it.