“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” Abraham Lincoln

Archive for November 2007

Happy Birthday Harry’s Place.

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It is the fifth birthday of Harry’s Place blog, this Saturday and I wish them well.

Although Harry himself has taken a back seat the blog continues and still raises many interesting issues, whilst I don’t find myself in absolute agreement with many of them, it is good to read a different point of view and mull over the arguments.

Harry’s Place provides a fairly free and easy environment and unlike other blogs does not require registration, enforce a strict moderation policy or suffer from capricious administrators.

In many ways Harry’s Place fulfils a niche, as do most blogs, reflecting the interests and predisposition of their owners, so at any one time the topics may vary from the goings-on amongst the minuscule British Left, the invasion of Iraq, the aftermath, the Brown Government to the incoherent thoughts of some politicians or “community leaders”.

And in all of it there is open debate, an energetic exchange of opinions, some views are obnoxious, repetitive and even xenophobic, others are orientalist and patronising, still more are humanistic, universal and point to the fact that not one group or one person knows all the answers, all of the time.

The participants at Harry’s Place are diverse, stretching across many continents, many occupations and many preoccupations, but when it works well the debates are intelligent, compassionate, informative and humorous, and that’s all you can ask for.

Of course, Harry’s Place has its critics, and being the Internet the detractors are never short of invective, but it is noticeable that very few of them choose to make their points at HP and debate them openly. Instead they snipe from afar, which really isn’t the point when it comes to having a candid and interesting exchange of views.

If you want a sterile debate or the accolade of “nodding dogs” then HP is not for you. HP is a virtual pub where you might not like the customers or even the publican, but there is debate and the clientele is often amusing, thoughtful and provocative. So if you like to think, reason or discuss current affairs then HP might be the place for you.

Written by modernityblog

24/11/2007 at 14:56

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Got Enough Conspiracies?

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Bookforum often has a wonderful mixture of linking and their page on The Best Conspiracy Theories is no exception:

“From Skeptic, an article on answering public questions on UFOs and aliens. An article on 30 years of Close Encounters: Spielberg, Hynek, and UFOs. A new issue of Skeptical Inquirer is out, including a model UFO debunking: A review of War of the Words: The True but Strange Story of the Gulf Breeze UFO by Craig R. Myers; an article on the (non)mysterious orbs; and is this article on conspiracies part of a conspiracy? In the world of conspiracies, Elvis is alive, Paul McCartney is dead, and the government that couldn’t prevent the 9/11 attacks continues masterminding elaborate, highly complex schemes. From Wired, an article on the best conspiracy theories (Lizard-People are running the world!) From Jewcy, not all respected academics have found that psychics and spirit mediums are quacks; a look at YouTube’s top psychics; communicating with the dead: In upstate New York, mediums promise access to the afterlife — can you say hello to your deceased father? An interview with Eric Nuzum, author of The Dead Travel Fast: Stalking Vampires from Nosferatu to Count Chocula”

Written by modernityblog

17/11/2007 at 21:26

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The Only One?

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I must be the only one that never comments on Britteny Spears, but this item on the New Humanist blog is funny:

” Britney Spears offends Catholic Church

As if she didn’t have enough problems already, troubled pop star Britney Spears has gone and offended the Catholic Church with the artwork for her new album, Blackout. Two photos from the CD booklet show a scantily-clad Britney appearing to seduce a Catholic priest in a confessional booth, in one case sitting on his lap.”

Written by modernityblog

15/11/2007 at 21:06

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Modernity Blog on audio

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Your greatest fears have been realised, through advanced technology we can offer you ModernityBlog in full audio!

Simply click on this button and you should be able to hear each of the most recent posts, rendered to you via text-to-speech technology, scroll down for the MP3s.

If it all works well, I will explained later on how I did it.

Written by modernityblog

14/11/2007 at 23:43

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Art for Art’s Sake

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Forget the Tate modern, ignore the Guggenheim in Bilboa and definitely skip the Met in New York, the place to be is Peru, according to an Associated Press report:

“LIMA, Peru (AP) — Carbon dating tests and excavation of a colorful pre-Incan temple indicate that it was built thousands of years ago by an advanced civilization, a prominent archaeologist said in comments published Sunday by a Peruvian newspaper.

Unearthed in Peru’s archeologically rich northern coastal desert, the temple has a staircase leading to an altar that was used for worshipping fire and making offerings to deities, Walter Alva, who headed the three-month excavation, told El Comercio.

Some of the walls of the 27,000-square-foot site — almost half the size of a football field — were painted, and a white and red mural depicts a deer being hunted with a net.

Alva said the temple was apparently constructed by an “advanced civilization” because it was built with mud bricks made from sediment found in local rivers, instead of rocks.

“This discovery shows an architectural and iconographic tradition different from what has been known until now,” said Alva, who discovered and is the museum director for another important pre-Incan find, the nearby Lords of Sipan Moche Tombs.

The carbon dating tests, conducted in the United States, indicate that the site is 4,000 years old, he claimed.

The oldest known city in the Americas is Caral, also near the Peruvian coast, which researchers dated to 2627 B.C.”

Written by modernityblog

14/11/2007 at 00:53

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Don’t Forget Burma

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We’ll all guilty of it.

In a world dominated by the 24 hour media and always looking for the “next new thing” we tend to forget about people across the world, until recently on our TV screens, who are still struggling for basic human rights and freedom.

A new web site is starting up Don’t Forget Burma, and we shouldn’t until every last one of the military dictators is kicked out and placed on trial.

Also, see Burma Watch

Written by modernityblog

12/11/2007 at 01:23

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The New Statesman has a review of the Israeli film, Beaufort:

“Beaufort, now being shown in London at the Jewish Film Festival ahead of UK-wide distribution next March, is set in the dog days of Israel’s 18-year occupation of South Lebanon. It tells the story of the last unit to withdraw, quaking with fear as the Hezbollah rockets rain down. Given that the Israel Defence Force assisted with the production, it is very off-message.

Israel has its share of left-wing film-makers. But few have made films about fighting and even fewer have enjoyed commercial success. Yet 135,000 (in a country of only 7 million) went to see Beaufort in its first two-and-a-half weeks. The Jerusalem Post, a conservative daily, dubbed it “Israel’s first great war movie”. An Israeli official describes it as “Israel’s Platoon”. But Beaufort’s success also reflects something in the national mood. Its location, and its portrait of the futility of an unwinnable war, has struck a chord with audiences reeling from last summer’s fighting.

Listen to the review here

Written by modernityblog

10/11/2007 at 16:15

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Remploy, the Next Step?

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The incompetent management at Remploy at it again, having deferred a decision to close many of the Remploy factories after considerable pressure earlier this year.

According to BBC News, instead of closing 43 factories, the management only wants to close 28.

I am lost for words to express my disgust at the Brown government on this issue.

Written by modernityblog

10/11/2007 at 01:39

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Open Thread on the “Armed Struggle”.

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I was down to blog about technology and web TV, but a discussion has come up at Dave Osler’s on the merits and otherwise of the “armed struggle”.

Should people support the indiscriminate bombing of civilians?

Should people support pub bombings?

Or the massacring of innocent civilians in shoe shops?

Not exactly difficult questions, but it does seem amongst the younger generation, or some of them, there is an admiration or a willingness to excuse such atrocities.

I can’t quite understand it myself, but I suspect it is part of the decline of mass politics and glorification of the individual, be that a teenager shooting children in a school, a rebellious student blowing up a tube train, or in the case of discussion at Dave Osler’s “the struggle against imperialism

So roll up you supporters of the “armed struggle”, gives your views

Written by modernityblog

09/11/2007 at 02:51

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Academic Boycott of the Guardian?

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The Guardian and Observer have digitised much of their historical archive of past newspapers, so scholars, students, academics and just the plain interested can search over a hundred years of newspapers, for free.

To view the raw newspapers costs a few pound, but to the historical researcher it’s probably worth it.

However, this causes a dilemma for those academics and political activists that strictly support a boycott of Israel, because the firm doing the hard work, of turning yellow page copies and microfilm into digitised images with a search facility, is an Israeli one, based in Tel Aviv.

So I hope that those sterling and principled individuals will not compromise their beliefs and use this “Israeli” technology, but they probably will, as they use mobile phones and computers often which were partly developed in Israel or when they visit hospital use treatments which were developed in Israel.

I suspect that the boycotters will momentarily forget their boycott of Israel and use that wonderful digital archive at the Guardian!

Is that the whiff of hypocrisy in the air?

(Hat tip: Engage)

Update: There is a freebie one-day pass up until the 30th November 2007, which I missed but Jim at Shiraz Socialist so ably spotted.

Written by modernityblog

07/11/2007 at 20:28

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Historian’s Den in Greater Surbiton

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It is a brave historian that has a blog, not only will such a historian’s work and scholarly output be scrutinised for inconsistencies and errors, but their blog is another source of potential criticism.

So you have to be fairly daring to put yourself in this position, Marko Attila Hoare has done just that.

Greater Surbiton is Marko’s new blog.

He is a clever fellow and very knowledgeable on the Balkans, I recommend it.

Written by modernityblog

07/11/2007 at 15:58

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Revolution In The Air?

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A revolutionary change is about to occur, precipitated by educationalists, a non-profit organisation will bring about radical change in the market.

What is that radical change? eee PC and its emulators

The low-cost laptop from Asus is about to revolutionise the laptop market. Hot on its heels are cheap laptops from Intel and Everex.

The agent of change was not the marketplace but a simple small laptop aimed at the Developing World: the OLPC initiative.

In response to this project several manufacturers have suddenly realised that they can produce a viable laptop for a couple of hundred pounds, not the thousands that they often charge nowadays.

The advent of Asus’s eee PC is most welcome as it is bound to lower the cost of computing, make it more accessible and help with the take-up of technology across the world.

The eee PC is scheduled for release in the UK around mid November, but is already being released around the world and here are some reviews and videos of this intriguing laptop.

Written by modernityblog

06/11/2007 at 14:36

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Worrying Trend

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AS 1964-2007

Engage has highlighted an ADL report which indicates a very worrying trendy in the US, an increase in antisemitic attitudes:

“The 2007 Survey of American Attitudes Towards Jews in America, a national telephone survey of 2,000 American adults conducted October 6 through October 19, found that 15% of Americans – or nearly 35 million adults – hold views about Jews that are “unquestionably anti-Semitic,” compared to 14% in 2005. Previous ADL surveys over the last decade had indicated that anti-Semitism was in decline (graph). Seven years ago, in 1998, the number of Americans with hardcore anti-Semitic beliefs had dropped to 12% from 20% in 1992. The survey was released at the annual meeting of the League’s National Commission.”

Written by modernityblog

04/11/2007 at 21:21

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Saudi and Sandy

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The visit of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia to Britain should remind us of Sandy Mitchell’s experiences, the Guardian reported sometime ago:

“Sandy Mitchell stands in the doorway to the living room of his house in west Yorkshire. He raises his right arm above his head and places it against the door frame. “I stood for nine days like this with my hand chained up,” he says. “Every now and again somebody would come into my cell and prod me to make sure I was awake.” Mitchell, 49, is describing how he was held in a 5 x 8ft cell at the Mabatha interrogation centre in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. He is a well built man, but there is a timidity in his eyes that distinguishes him from any Glaswegian I’ve ever met, as if he’s had his natural vivacity beaten out of him.

“There was a thin mattress over there,” he says, pointing to a spot a few feet away. “But I couldn’t get to it because I was chained up. All during the night I would be tortured. They punched, kicked and spat at me, and later hit me with sticks. They used an axe handle to beat the soles of my feet. I would have confessed to anything to stop the pain.”

Outside, it’s a fine May morning in Sowerby Bridge, one of the former mill towns strung along the Calder Valley. In the front garden, Mitchell’s Thai wife Noi is planting sweetpeas. Their six-and-a-half year old son Matthew is flourishing at school, and there is another baby on the way. It’s a lovely house, I say. “My MP Alice Mahon got it for us. Worked her magic for us with the council. We’re going to put some flagstones in the back garden and grow some trees at the back to give us more privacy.”

Mitchell had no hopes that he would get out of Saudi alive, still less that he would be able to piece his life together like this. For 32 months between December 2000 and August 2003 he was jailed in Riyadh for a murder he did not commit, the car bombing of a British engineer called Christopher Rodway in November 2000. Mitchell was tortured until he confessed, forced to read his confession on TV, tortured again to ensure he wouldn’t recant, and then sentenced to death in 2002 after a 10-minute secret trial. ”

The New Statesman looked into the Whitehall cover up:

“The victims of Saudi repression are, of course, mainly the Saudi people themselves, but expatriates living and working there have also been targeted. When a Briton, Christopher Rodway, was murdered in a car bomb in November 2000 scapegoats were found among his compatriots. Sandy Mitchell, Bill Sampson and Leslie Walker were among those arrested for the murder and for further bombings, although they had nothing to do with them. They were tortured and forced to sign confessions dictated by their captors. The “confessions”, videoed and then televised, ludicrously claimed that they had been acting on the instructions of named officials of the British embassy. At a sham trial (condemned later by a UN special rapporteur), the confessions were rubber-stamped by the judges. Sandy and Bill were sentenced to execution by crucifixion.”

The British political classes will go to almost any lengths to suck up and placate the Saudi monarchy, they couldn’t give a damn about the likes of Sandy Mitchell.

Human rights are a mere after thoughts for Whitehall mandarins and politicians, nothing will interfere with the skulduggery and dodgy deals with the House of Saud.

Written by modernityblog

01/11/2007 at 23:35

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