The Null Device
I'm currently listening to some MP3s by The Bran Flakes. They're pretty amusing; a combination of twee electro-pop and post-ironic bulldada, combining beats and loops with samples of old children's records and various other spoken-word. In particular, the MP3 of "Record On Sex / Go Go Up" is worth a listen, sampling a somewhat creepy sounding sex-education record from (I'd say) the 1950s or so, with a somewhat menacing Patriarchial Authority Figure telling an alarmed-sounding Little Girl about erections and menstruation, before the whole thing turns into bootywhangular beats. Insane.
U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft is at it again. First he planned to establish an informer network exceeding the East German Stasi in coverage, and now he intends to establish detention camps for U.S. citizens deemed to be "enemy combatants". In normal times, such a plan would trigger immediate congressional hearings and reconsideration of his fitness for office; but these days nobody wants to be "unpatriotic" enough to question.
Putting paid to the clichés of alien god-emperors or insectile hive minds, a Professor of Psychology in California reckons that alien civilisations would have democracy. Prof. Albert Harrison of the University of California Davis claims that any civilisation having developed the technology to send signals into space is likely to have evolved to democracy, or something like it. Though I suspect that that involves too many assumptions of the aliens being humanlike, and not all that far from saying that they're likely to have reality TV, fast-food franchises and sports-utility vehicles, because we do.
I'd also doubt the assumption that democratic alien civilisations would be likely to be friendly and peaceful towards Earth if we ever make contact. Democracies aren't automatically peaceful; in fact, in the appropriate conditions, a democracy can become an irrational mob baying for the blood of real or imagined enemies. If enough of the alien populace was persuaded (by a pliant media or an influential orator, or some equivalents thereof) that Earth posed a threat, I suspect they'd be likely to vote to asteroid-bomb us out of existence before we do the same to them.
Of course, how alien psychology and decision-making (including perception of risks, aggression, altruism and such) would work would depend on the evolutionary conditions that shaped their neurology, much as human psychology depends on the hunter-gatherer condition.
More evidence that we're living in the age of George W. Bush: BBC bans atheists from "Thought for the Day" radio slot. (via Pagan Prattle)
The story of how a team of math geeks from MIT hacked Las Vegas blackjack, developing a team-based card-counting method that raked in huge profits and evaded the casinos' usual countermeasures -- for a while, anyway. (via Plastic)
According to this article, many prominent Britons, from diplomats and generals to academics and cultural figures, oppose invading Iraq. (via Charlie's Diary)
"Regime change, yes, but then what? There is no credible person to take over from Saddam Hussein. The Iraqis in exile are the most ghastly corrupt group you could imagine."
"How can we contemplate invading a country and deposing its leader without a UN resolution, without the support of its neighbours, without that country having committed an explicit new act of aggression, without unequivocal evidence that it is successfully developing weapons of mass destruction, and without the foggiest idea what to do with that country afterwards?" said Prof Blakemore.
Richard Dawkins, the writer, biologist and professor of the public understanding of science at Oxford, was also firmly against any US assault: "Obnoxious as Saddam Hussein undoubtedly is, it is not obvious that he is more of a danger to the world than 'President' Bush and his reckless handlers... It would be a tragedy if Tony Blair, a good man who has so much to offer this country, were to be brought down through playing poodle to this unelected and deeply stupid little oil spiv," he said.
(Mind you, it's from that notorious left-liberal rag, the Grauniad. I wonder if The Times could come up with a similarly comprehensive list of eminent proponents of war in Iraq.)
Microsoft discontinues free fonts, because they come with Windows XP and MacOS (the two legitimate operating systems) already, and thus in Redmond's book, there is no legitimate reason for anybody to not have them. So unfortunately, Penguinheads and the like will have to make do without Comic Sans from now on. Oh, the humanity. (via cos)