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March 2005

Training consumers

via Memex 1.1, this link to AT&T's 1920s' training film, 'How to use a dial telephone'. John Naughton writes about how 'technologies which once seemed strange can become so commonplace as to be invisible. It’s impossible to imagine a child growing up nowadays in Western society who did not instinctively know how to use a phone.'

But tonight, shopping for some drain clearing agent for our kitchen, I was struck by another aspect of consumer training: how informal some instructions (here dealing with a reasonably powerful corrosive) have become.

P3310249a

Household corrosives haven't become "invisible": they're too dangerous for that. There's something else here — a shift (and it has quite a history) in how much consumers can be assumed to know, how much they can, simply, be trusted and treated as (near) equals. (Democratisation at work, legal caveats permitting.)

And it also makes 'Buster' sound … well, cool. Instructions that advertise, even as they instruct …


Shark attacks

Ben Hammersley writes (Guardian):

Yahoo is the new Google. Google is the new Yahoo. Up is down, and black is white. This spring has been very strange. Google, it seems, has jumped the shark. It has been overtaken, left standing, and not by some new startup of ultra smart MIT alumni or by the gazillions in the Microsoft development budget, but by the deeply unhip and previously discounted Yahoo.

Simultaneously, one of my Gmail accounts leaps forward:

We're not in the plains anymore

Fonts
, bullets and highlighting, oh my! Gmail now offers rich text formatting. And over 60 colors of the rainbow. Discover a land of more than just black and white.

It is impressive.

Now, it may not be much to some folks, but it's a pleasure to use — and I'm like a child with a new toy: I've absolutely no idea how they can do this, but it's every bit as good as my machine-based programme's email composition window.

I suspect that every time we try to sum up the state of play, these sharks will shoot past us, leap-frogging (?) one another.

Update (1.4.2005 — and not an April Fool's Day spoof): now available across Gmail accounts. + Gmail announces (amongst other things):

Infinity

G is for growth
Storage is an important part of email, but that doesn't mean you should have to worry about it. To celebrate our one-year birthday, we're giving everyone one more gigabyte. But why stop the party there? Our plan is to continue growing your storage beyond 2GBs by giving you more space as we are able. We know that email will only become more important in people's lives, and we want Gmail to keep up with our users and their needs. From Gmail, you can expect more.

Footnote: Wikipedia on 'jumping the shark'.


All retro over paper

This posting at Design Observer by Momus has set me thinking about a lot of things:

… It would be easy to portray the progress of computers (this year they can do type! Now the web's doing radio! Hey, it's eaten TV!) as something rapacious, a sign of the enormous ambition of digital culture to be our number one metaphor for reality, our window on the world. And rapacious it certainly is, putting entire media industries out of business, stripping away craftsmen and middlemen alike. But that doesn't prevent digital media from exhibiting a certain nostalgia for the very things they're replacing. For instance, I've noticed computers getting strangely tender, lately, about paper.

Marshall McLuhan, were he around to witness it, would be nodding his head sagely at this weird digital nostalgia for the pre-digital. One of McLuhan's big ideas was that every medium, at the peak of its power, is inclined to forget that it's no more than a metaphor, a representation of reality. In its hubris, the medium wants to be reality. …

… Every new medium wants to be transparent, invisible, and everything else is opaque. … (Arjen Mulder, Mediamatic, 1999)

If transparency is all about power and ambition, opacity (the "revelation" that former media were in fact limited, metaphoric, media-like) can be winning, cute, full of flavour. For what is flavour but limitation? What is flavour but situation; the refusal to be everywhere, the failure to represent everything? The consolation prize for not being the Universal is getting to be the Particular.

… computers are freeing paper to be white stuff with marks on it. … The real thing, tired of trying to represent the whole world on its frail white pages, is currently having a great time just being itself. Paper has retired and is finally getting to spend some quality time with its family. And meanwhile we're paying warm tribute to its unique, irreplaceable qualities in the very medium that emulates and replaces it.

Computer-generated "paper metaphors" Momus links to: Pop-Up Computer, Parappa The Rapper, Paper Mario, Katamari Damacy, Pepakura Designer, Mojib Ribon, Hokusai Manga Construction Kit, OSUG. Five Star sites — hours of exploration ahead here.


del.icio.us

I was very heartened to hear from Joshua that he is committing himself full-time now to del.icio.us (quitting his job, taking on some outside investment and ensuring the continued independence of the service). That's a big step to take. He wrote:

After seeing my little project go from a small hobby to a large one and then consume all my waking hours, I've decided to quit my job and work on del.icio.us full time. … I am excited to finally be able to devote all of my energy to working on and improving this site, and I'll also be able to acquire some much-needed infrastructure. … I think what sets del.icio.us apart is the passion of the community that has organized around it, and I hope I can continue to rely on your ideas, help, and goodwill. Together we have made the site the success it is today.

I set out my feelings about Steve Mallett's clone of del.icio.us, del.irio.us, here, in the del.icio.us discussion group. There are a number of issues that Steve Mallett's initiative and approach raise (many more than are covered in my contribution to the debate), but the notion of civility or propriety seems to me to be important and I was pleased that Stephen O'Grady concurred with this (as I understand him) over at tecosystems.

We are also having to come to terms with the emotional attachment people form to their social software tools. I don't think I did make the point any better than Clay Shirky did, nearly a year ago now (and in another context), but Stephen's gloss on my comment goes to the heart of this aspect of the del.icio.us/del.irio.us matter:

It's interesting to me that the code behind social-software can come to be as beloved as the community that it supports; as David Smith notes, Shirky has written of this before, but Smith says it best I think:

It's hardly surprising that some of us who have come to use del.icio.us a great deal might feel just a little affronted, on Joshua's behalf more than anything else, at such a naked act of appropriation.

Net net, if you were think(ing) that community members don't care too much about the bits, think again. What's more, potential users or partners of del.irio.us may have to contend with an irritated (and numerically larger) population of del.icio.us users in the future.

Anil Dash has written at least a couple of times about civility and the weblogging community:

I wonder if there's any other steps we can take to raise the standards of the weblog community so that we can expect more civil behavior. It's clearly an issue that can only be solved by cultural change, but I find surprisingly few people who even see this as a problem, let alone any who want to see change.

The problem extends to embrace more than weblogging, of course: in this case, we have been forced to ask, 'What are the acceptable limits to cloning?'.

In the meantime, all strength to Joshua. I think he's right to talk about 'the passion of the community that has organized around' del.icio.us — the warm response he's been receiving to his news will have left him in no doubt of this. Ride the wave!


The importance of table manners

via 3 Quarks Daily, this interview by Greg Ross, managing editor of American Scientist Online, with the economist, Paul Seabright. It says and suggests so much in a short space:

It can seem extraordinary that the vast complexity of human cooperation—from road traffic patterns to markets, the Internet and the systems that keep our houses and cities safe—should rest on nothing more solid than social convention, as though civilization were founded purely on table manners. I may think my property is secure and my life reasonably protected, but that is only because the rest of the world has agreed, for the time being, to let them be so. And what people have agreed to respect today they can agree to violate tomorrow. Yet it is just as remarkable how robust many of our conventions turn out to be in practice. Partly this is because conventions govern our reactions to people as roles and not just as individuals … Partly it is because the hydra of social life has too many heads to be easily incapacitated: The conventions that sustain our physical security are not coordinated in one place, such as the U.N. or the Pentagon, but are the result of billions of individual decisions concerning how we react to neighbours, friends and colleagues. …

(Taking the risk of trusting each other) doubtless took place many millions of times, and led to millions of unrecorded tragedies. … Two things must have tipped the balance: need and familiarity. Need because many isolated hunter-gatherer groups lived a very precarious existence, with starvation perpetually threatening, along with other costs of isolation, such as inbreeding. Of those that took the risk of reaching out towards strangers, many must have regretted their temerity. But those that succeeded—perhaps only a few of those that tried—thrived and spread, and became the ancestors of everyone alive today. What helped them to win the trust of strangers would have been to play upon familiarity—behaving in ways that are like the ways we behave towards our family and friends. That's why we smile at strangers, just as babies smile at their mothers. That's why we invite strangers to eat with us, because the common table is the centre of family existence. Mastering the mimicry of family interaction must have helped enormously to interact safely with unfamiliar people. …

Some turning points in our social evolution seem luckier than others. Agriculture was independently adopted at least seven times in different parts of the world, suggesting that prior conditions made it highly likely, if not inevitable. And agriculture, by making us sedentary, made it more or less inevitable that we would evolve some kinds of institution to mediate our dealings with strangers. It also allowed for the increases in population that enabled us to colonise a wide variety of habitats and thereby become less dependent on the vicissitudes of nature in the woodland savanna where we first evolved. On the other hand, the mutations that made modern Homo sapiens so very different from our hominid ancestors and cousins seem very contingent indeed. …

A single act of violence can frighten millions or billions of us. On the other hand, terrorists are skilful symbolic manipulators, often making us afraid in ways that bear little relation to objective risks. In today's world you are 20 times as likely to die from a stranger's infectious disease as from a violent act. … This doesn't take away from the seriousness of terrorism, but it underlines how keeping it in check requires initiatives in the realm of ideas and not just of surveillance and repression.

… the capacity for violence is quite close to the surface in most of us, especially in men. When I read about soldiers who commit atrocities in wartime, for instance, I wonder how likely I would have been to act differently.  The fragility of our defenses against our violent nature makes it all the more important, obviously, to strengthen those defenses we have (including through social condemnation of violence). But we should not be naively surprised at the consequences when we place young men in situations from which most of the social defenses against violence and aggression have been removed. …

… I have become more conscious of how strange it is that we should ever expect modern society to work at all.

Paul Seabright's book, The Company of Strangers: A Natural History of Economic Life, is clearly a "must read". The AS interview is prefaced — he's 'traveled widely, especially in Eastern Europe and Asia. He currently lives in southwest France, where he teaches economics at the University of Toulouse'. Even in my lifetime, UK culture has often seemed to be dominated by an insularity of outlook and unthinking confidence in our institutions and customs — until quite recently. The opening up of Europe — the sudden access to Mitteleurop, the abandonment of traditional, policed border-crossings — is having a profound impact on UK self-consciousness.

Biology/evolutionary psychology meets economics, meets social studies, meets anthropology, meets … Terror — so much here.


DIY: Biomimetics

Back on 16 March, whilst driving, I heard a new Radio 4 programme, 'Designs on Nature', discussing rapid prototyping machines. The Royal Society trailed the programme:

First of three programmes in which Mark Stephen discovers how biologists are stealing nature's tricks, refined by many millions of years of evolution. A special branch of science called biomimetics is emerging that trains the next generation of scientists to tap this living laboratory for cutting edge, technological solutions.

The programme discussed "von Neumann machines", a term often used to refer to devices capable of self-replication. I think I'm remembering accurately that the researcher at the centre of the programme is Adrian Bowyer (Bath University) and his research project is the RepRap Project. He has a one page (pdf) summary of his project here.

A web search threw up another blogger, Toni Ertl, who had heard the programme:

There was a group working with devices called 'rapid prototyping' machines. These construct 3 dimensional objects by operating like ink jet printers, building up layers of solid material over many passes of the print head. A recent breakthrough was the ability to create items with electrical conductors embedded in the construct, allowing items made to have more than a simple mechanical function. The team were planning to develop the idea to the point where such a rapid prototyping machine could make parts to build another rapid prototyping machine.

Bath University has issued a press release (doc) which begins:

A revolutionary machine which can make everything from a cup to a clarinet quickly and cheaply could be in all our homes in the next few years. Research by engineers at the University of Bath could transform the manufacture of almost all everyday household objects by allowing ordinary people to produce them in their own homes at the cost of a few pounds. The new system is based upon Rapid Prototype Machines, which currently are used to produce plastic components for industry such as vehicle parts. The method they use, in which plastic is laid down in designs produced in 3D on computers, could be adapted to make many household items. However, conventional Rapid Prototype Machines cost around £25,000 to buy at the moment. But the latest idea, by Dr Adrian Bowyer, of the University’s Centre for Biomimetics, is that these machines should begin making copies of themselves, which can then go on to make further copies of themselves, until there are so many machines that they become cheap enough for ordinary people to buy and use in their homes.

Dr Bowyer is working on creating the 3D models needed for a Rapid Prototype Machine to make a copy of itself. When this is complete, he will put these on a website for all owners of an existing conventional machine to download for free and begin making copies of his machine. When each copy is made, the new machine can be sold to someone else, who can in turn copy the machine. As the number of the self-replicating machines – there are thousands of conventional Rapid Prototype Machines in existence – grows rapidly, so the price will fall from £25,000 to a few hundred pounds. …

Dr Bowyer said that he would publish the 3D designs and computer code for the machine to replicate itself on the web over the next four years as they are developed, until the entire machine could be copied. He said that he has not taken out a patent and will not charge for creating the design for the machine. “The most interesting part of this is that we’re going to give it away,” he said. “At the moment an industrial company consists of hundreds of people building and making things. If these machines take off it will give individual people the chance to do this themselves, and we are talking about making a lot of our consumer goods – the effect this has on industry and society could be dramatic.”

Dr Bowyer's 'machine could … make a complete set of plates, dishes and bowls out of plastic, coloured and decorated to a design. It can also make metal objects out of a special alloy that melts at low temperatures which allows it to produce printed circuit boards for electronics'. It would 'not be able to produce glass items or complex parts such as microchips, or objects that would work under intense heat such as toasters. But a digital camera could be made for a few pounds, and a lens and computer chip bought separately and added later. The machine would be useful for producing items that are now expensive, such as small musical instruments.'

Dr Bowyer's own (pdf) summary says:

In addition to having the capacity to create wealth exponentially (within resource limits), a self-replicating RP machine will also be subject to artificial selection. This is because the CAD designs for the machine have to be supplied with it for it to copy itself. Most people will use those designs as they stand; a few people will improve them. Some improvements will be made public on the Internet and will therefore spread, coming to predominate over less-good earlier designs. This is a close analogue of Darwinian evolution selecting better genotypes (the CAD designs) that construct better phenotypes (the machines themselves). Note in particular that a not-so-good machine can make a better machine to a new design if that is available.

It is not the intention of this project to profit by protecting any of the intellectual property generated. To be most useful, a self-replicating rapid prototyping machine has to be made as freely available as possible. Therefore it is intended to make all the results public, both by publishing a paper on them in the Rapid Prototyping Journal (ISSN 1355-2546) at the end of the project, and by releasing all of them — including all CAD designs — free under the GNU Public Licence on the Internet.

I was reminded of this Radio 4 programme (after it had almost been driven from my mind by a busy end of term) by Matt Jones writing today:

As one of the speakers at eTech on the coming fabrication revolution said (I think it was Saul Griffith), the design of objects, tools, devices, artifacts (and architecture?) is going to go through the same waves of democratisation, demystification and down-right gawdawful design as graphic design did with the advent of affordable desk-top publishing technology.

(I'm also now unable to get out of my mind that picture of The Whole House Machine at work — via 3 Quarks Daily.)


Yahoo! 360° Beta

A while back, I blogged about Marc Canter's DLA idea and Tom Coates on the sense of strain in weblog-land. Now Marc Canter has reacted just as I did when I started reading about Yahoo!'s new initiative:

Over the coming days people's impressions will be revealed on this hybrid social network/blogging tool. Just to be clear. This is what I call a DLA (digital lifestyle aggregator.) No they didn't get completely right- but it does successfully combine these two latest technology aspects - which each have been hailed as new 'spaces' (marketplaces, trends, what have you.)

But to me - they both were destined to be together. I can remember insinuating that to Joi, Barak and Anil and getting blank stares. I sure hope they realize NOW that all software is about people - and just proving a dinky old "about me" page - ain't gonna cut it.

It's great that SixApart gave LJ a new home - but EVERY 6A product has to have the notion of relationships, personae, meta-data, messages, groups, the commons, etc. But that would come AFTER they provide basic WYSIWYG editing.

Yahoo! 360° Beta is not perfect, as Marc says, but it's an exciting development and I hope 6A is taking notice.


Jonny Greenwood's passions

The 2005 Ether Festival closed with two concerts (Sunday and Monday) by the London Sinfonietta working with Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke of Radiohead. Radiohead's news site commented:

Right at the core of Ether are the collaborations between the London Sinfonietta, the UK's prime contemporary chamber orchestra, and electronic musicians from the underbelly of pop. … this year's collaboration has had to anticipate demand by occupying two nights. It will feature works by Messiaen, Ligeti and Penderecki, extending a line of thought right back to the heart of the last century. The Messiaen work will be a performance of a movement from his Quartet for the End Of Time, in an arrangement for six ondes Martenots. … Middle Eastern music has had an enormous impact on Jonny, as is clear from the twisting harmonic structures of Radiohead; intriguingly he has also invited the Nazareth Orchestra, which is formed from Arab and Israeli musicians, to participate in the event. They will perform compositions associated with the singer Oum Kolthoum, who was known as the almost mythical voice of the Arab world of the 1930s and '40s.

Running order: Ligeti, Ramifications; Messiaen, La Fête des belles eaux; Dutilleux, Ainsi la Nuit 'Miroir d'Espace'; Greenwood, Piano for Children (world premiere); Dutilleux, Ainsi la Nuit 'Litanies'; Abdel-Wahab/Shafiq Kamel, Enta Omri; Dutilleux, Ainsi la Nuit 'Nocturne 2'; Greenwood, smear (London premiere); El-Atrash, Tuta; Penderecki, Capriccio; Dutilleux, Ainsi la Nuit 'Litanies 2'; Radiohead, Arpeggi and Where Bluebirds Fly.

It was a striking evening, reviewed (rather luke-warmly) in the Telegraph. Radiohead Television was screened (video, animations and music from Hail To The Thief amongst other pieces) and throughout there were live, sonic-generated visuals. My (very inadequate) photos are here. Lubna Salame sang Enta Omri with great passion, and passion was the key to the evening that seems to have eluded the Telegraph reviewer. As the entertaining (and to me, unknown) man who introduced the concert said, this was an evening united by, stemming from Jonny Greenwood's passions. Listening to these diverse pieces, we were surely also "listening" to various Radiohead pieces, hearing influences and echoes. The final piece, where Salame and Yorke sang together and Jonny Greenwood played one of the six ondes Martenot, brought everything together — revealing the evening as something quintessentially bound up with what makes Radiohead the innovative band it is.

Footnotes and follow-ups:

My musically far more knowledgeable friend, Dickon (he that really should have a blog of his own), points out that the sound of the ondes Martenot is not unlike the Glass Harmonica, for which Mozart (for example) wrote (Dickon's had me listening to Adagio in C for glass harmonica, KV 356/617a). Pictures of glass harmonicas, and more about their origin and design, can be found here.

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Making sense of limits

Rowan Williams (Easter Sunday address), focusing on ageing and mortality but lending his remarks a wider range of reference:

'Quite a lot of our contemporary culture is actually shot through with a resentment of limits and the passage of time, anger at what we can't do, fear or even disgust at growing old … A healthy human environment is one in which we try to make sense of our limits, of the accidents that can always befall us and the passage of time which inexorably changes us' … He says an 'unhealthy' environment is one where people look for 'someone to blame and someone to compensate us, and struggle to maintain fictions of our invulnerability to time and change'. The Archbishop will say the message of Easter offers a new vision of life by proclaiming that 'we shall not find life by refusing to let go of our precious, protected selves.' BBC News

Listening to the extraordinary voice and songs of Antony and the Johnsons, originating out of the alternative cultures of New York, I came across the above and then these articles in the latest issue of the LRB:

  • Here's Jenny Diski, reviewing The Insider: The Private Diaries of a Scandalous Decade by Piers Morgan, on Tony Blair and Piers Morgan (the disgraced former editor of the Mirror):

Blair comes out of this as Morgan’s twin brother. Mirror images you might say. Blair, like Morgan, promises and evades, sulks and blames others. He cajoles, whines, ducks out of sight and makes threats based on his position. Blair and his advisers might as well be Jordan, Fergie and Patsy Kensit flirting with Piers in the hope of getting more of the right kind or less of the wrong kind of coverage. They might as well be editors of tabloid newspapers offering perks to their mates and doom to their enemies. I had thought that the obsession with celebrity and PR was just the idleness of the newspapers and television providing what was easiest to sell for an audience who wanted what was easiest to absorb. I imagined that there was some more solid substance beneath the mental lassitude. But it seems from these diaries that it is actually the way the world is. It is the real world. I do live in cloud-cuckoo-land. Politics and reality TV are one and the same at present, if the Piers Morgan experience is anything to go by. Popularity is the only thing. Numbers are what count. Getting elected, getting the paper bought by as many people as possible, is all that matters. The readers are always right whether or not you think them repulsive, racist and ignorant, so policies and front pages will be tweaked to give them what they want. There’s no point in having unpopular policies, I remember being told by Paul Boateng before the 1997 election: Labour would never get into power to put them into practice. What he didn’t go on to mention was that if you have popular policies that get you into power, you have to keep them, in order to stay in power – that votes are the same as newspaper circulation figures and profit margins. He was the one who told me I lived in cloud-cuckoo-land.

  • To be closely followed by John Lanchester, reviewing David Blunkett by Stephen Pollard:

In a few weeks from now, Labour will have been in office for eight years, and we will be in the middle of an election campaign which seems certain to win it at least four more. The party’s record in government evokes a range of responses on the left – from mild gloom to clinical depression, from irritation to rage, from apathy to horror – but one of the most consistent things it provokes is disorientation. This is a Labour government? This is what we were looking forward to for those 18 years of Tory rule? War, tuition fees, house arrest, wholesale subservience to American foreign policy, talk of services being ‘swamped’ by refugees, the deliberately manipulative use of fear, the introduction of ID cards, the suspension of habeas corpus – and these are the good guys. What happened? …

There is no contradicting Blunkett’s talents, or his determination, even his heroism. He is one of the most remarkable people ever to have achieved high office in Britain. This makes his record in office all the sadder. Here are some of the things Blunkett did. He announced a state of emergency, as he legally needed to do to suspend the rights of the Belmarsh internees; prevented the publication of the names of the detainees, the nature of the evidence against them, and the nature of the charges; declared that concern for civil liberties in the current climate was ‘airy-fairy’; announced the abolition of the double jeopardy principle that defendants can’t be tried twice for the same offence; advocated extensive use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders, which among other things employ hearsay evidence of a kind hitherto forbidden in English law; extended the abolition of the presumption of innocence, by allowing judges to tell jurors in certain types of case about the defendant’s previous convictions; announced that the children of asylum seekers would be taken into care when the parents had exhausted all chance of appeal; spoke of his wish to ‘open a bottle’ to celebrate the death of Harold Shipman; announced new restrictions on demonstrations outside Parliament; extended the powers of Police Community Service officers to tackle beggars, and angrily denied that this meant people would be being arrested for dropping crisp packets; said that failed asylum seekers would be put to compulsory unpaid work in return for the right to claim benefits. … No home secretary since Roy Jenkins, and hardly any before him, has presided over an extension of our liberties. Blunkett did not buck this trend. At a time when, it turned out, Britain needed a home secretary with a keen understanding of the balance between liberty and security, we instead got an instinctive authoritarian who seems to have no conception at all of the importance of liberty.

… it’s going to be a strange election. Labour looking likely to win will cause people to be tired of Blair, which will cause a swing towards the Tories, which in turn will cause a swing back to Labour. Either party’s strongest issue will cause a backlash in favour of the other party. And we have a couple of months of this still to go. Invited to choose between a sensible but unelectable party of the centre, a nasty and (please God) unelectable party of the right, and a party of the centre right whose only function is to get elected, it’s hard not to wonder: is this what democracy is meant to be like?

  • And then there's Rory Stewart's appraisal of the state of affairs in Iraq ('No foreigner really knows what is going on in Iraq') in a review article entitled 'Degrees of Not Knowing'. And Thomas Jones on Michael Jackson:

… the contradictions of being both a star and a human being, in terms not only of what constitutes the good – dying young v. living an ignominiously long life, for example – but also of the expectations of the crowd, who want their (our) heroes to be above common human frailties, but all the same can’t help probing for weaknesses, and are both sorely disappointed and gleefully reassured when we find them. This isn’t a new phenomenon – look at Ovid’s Metamorphoses, full of unedifying and salacious gossip about the sex lives of the gods (who are explicitly compared in the poem to Rome’s ruling elite) – though there may be more appetite now than there used to be for scandal about those who are famous only for being scandalous.

British politics and public life seem very, very mediocre right now: not a lot here about recognising limits, errors, truth … I'm going back to Antony's haunting, unworldly voice and riddling songs (part proffered, part withheld) which evoke a world I can believe in — something both about limits and loss, in the midst of a troubling sense of transcendence and ecstasy:

When the swan flies to heaven
Soaring through the utmost fear
There's a feeling that lingers in the afterwards
Will you ever return?                                           ('Twilight')


Iraq: II — WMD

Geoff Holland emailed me yesterday:

In case this is of interest, here is an article just published by Irene Gendzier, Professor of History and Politics at the University of Boston, who specialises in the Middle East. This prelude to her latest book mentions our campaign in Britain to hold the US accountable for supplying Iraq with the materials which fuelled its biological weapons programme.

There are now 122 MP signatures on the current House of Commons Early Day Motion 'Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention and Iraq' (EDM 303), tabled by Austin Mitchell MP. In the Scottish Parliament, where the same Motion has been tabled (S2M-2050) by Chris Ballance, 19 MSPs have now signed.

Many thanks to all who have supported the campaign by asking their MP or MSP to sign and in many other encouraging ways. If we have achieved nothing else, at least a few more people have given thought to this vitally important matter. For example, there have been more than 31,000 hits on the campaign website and there are now numerous links to this site on other websites.

Considering the level of concern expressed by MPs in Westminster (and by MSPs in Edinburgh), I would just add that I regard the wholesale lack of interest on the part of the mainstream news media in Britain as pathetic. That no national newspaper has ever so much as mentioned this issue is shameful, unless, of course, the hand of Government is upon them.

Quite.