Bored? Some more stuff to read

Syndicate content
Updated: 1 hour 15 min ago

Manufactured Famine: How Europe Is Snatching Food from the World's Poor

1 hour 36 min ago
A new wave of food colonialism is taking food from the mouths of the poor.George Monbiot,

Manufactured Famine: How Europe Is Snatching Food from the World's Poor

1 hour 36 min ago
A new wave of food colonialism is taking food from the mouths of the poor.George Monbiot,

Brown: not "bonkers" enough

2 hours 11 min ago

I gather that some fat bloke who always refers to himself in the third person has suggested that Gordon Brown might be “bonkers.” Right-thinking people have condemned this.  My complaint is different. It’s that,  to paraphrase Niels Bohr, Brown is not “bonkers” enough.
Take first the jibe that Brown is “faintly autistic”. The National Autism Society says that one symptom of Aspergers is a love of routine. But this is just what politics should be: the routine application of simple rules of law, and the routine delivery of public services. As Alfred North Whitehead said, “Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them" - that is, by the application of routines. By contrast, one complaint I have about Brown is that he is insufficiently concerned with routine, but flits from headline to headline and from one ad hoc intervention to another.
Also, there’s some evidence that people who are slightly depressed have better cognitive functioning than what are absurdly called “normal” people. In particular, they are less prone to the illusion of control  and to the optimism bias. And extremely depressed people are too (pdf) pessimistic (pdf).
And these are good things in politicians. A policy-maker who recognized that he couldn’t always (or often) be on top of events,  and who knew that grand projects often end in failure would favour much more limited government than we have. Regrettably, however, Brown does not display these useful symptoms of depression.
So, perhaps, everyone - except Tom in this superb post - has got it wrong. The problem isn’t that Brown is bonkers. It’s that our political system not only expects its politicians to be always in control, but thinks it normal when they appear to be. If we define mental illness in Szaszian terms - as merely a deviation from the consensus - then there should be a little more of it.

Timmy Elsewhere

2 hours 13 min ago
Speccie. Three shorties today.Tim Worstall

Anonymity Fail

2 hours 35 min ago

Submitted by Michelle

Free Replacements for Paid Tools [Free]

2 hours 36 min ago

There might be no such thing as truly free beer, but in the world of computers and software, you can often brew your own substitutes to premium paid software and service with just a few double-clicks and some know-how. Aside from the dough you shell out for a computer and net connection, you can get a lot of neat stuff done without spending another dime, and we've highlighted a few of our favorite no-cost solutions and work-arounds to tools that normally go for a good bit of cash. Check them out, and chip in with your own cheapskate solutions, after the jump. Photo by Daquella Manera.

Mail2Web instead of MobileMe ($100/year) or Exchage

"Push" email, calendar updates, and contact syncing are pretty nice services that save you a fair amount of tap-wait-check time. Bigger offices provide the service through Exchange servers, Apple offers iPhone users push services through MobileMe, but mobile data-hounds can easily set up push email, contacts, and calendars for free with Mail2Web. While Adam highlighted the glories of free iPhone service, we've seen posts of Mail2Web working for Blackberry, Windows Mobile, and other smart phones. If you're just a standard mobile phone owner who'd like to get uber-important messages delivered quickly, you can use Gmail to push selected emails to your phone.

Gallery2 in place of Flickr Pro ($25/year)

If you crave anonymous approval and compliments on your scads of super-high-resolution photos—and not that that's such a bad thing—then there aren't many replacements for a Flickr Pro account. But if you really just want to share your vacation pics or artistic side with online friends and distant relatives, the free Gallery2 tool offers attractive presentation, slideshows, and serious customization. And you can run this bad boy from web space you already rent for your personal site, a dedicated home server, or just a computer you've installed the WAMP pacakage on. Check out our step-by-step guide to installing gallery2 if you're looking for full-size photo hosting without the price.

Free VPN/VNC in place of GoToMyPC ($20/month)

Services like GoToMyPC and those of its ilk do offer an easy-to-grasp setup and interface, but for the most part, they put a fancy face on free software and protocols, like VNC and VPN. If you're tech-savvy, you can help mom set up her home PC or Mac for those oops-I-forgot-that-file moments with Hamachi VPN (the Mac client is recently introduced, but works). If you or anyone you're helping are strictly Windows/IE users, Microsoft's Live Mesh service is a great file-syncing/retrieval tool, as we saw when it debuted (added bonus: it now supports Windows Mobile devices). If those solutions don't work, check out our guide to remote screen access and file-grabbing from any system.

VirtualBox for Windows-on-Mac instead of Parallels ($80)

Our staff's Mac OS X contingent don't have anything bad to say about Parallels—in fact, they've occasionally sung its praises—but it isn't free, in the price or code sense. Sun Microsystems' VirtualBox, on the other hand, is open-source, free for individual use, and runs just about anywhere there's an Intel or AMD processor. The MakeUseOf blog has a guide to getting started with Windows on Mac, and Tux fans can follow our guide to running Windows apps seamlessly in Linux. No matter what the platform, VirtualBox might not offer as many value-added features, but it's surprisingly easy to get started with.

As noted before, we've detailed far more free alternatives to paid software 'round these parts than we can add up, but we'll throw out a few more can-work replacements for paid goods:

  • or Zoho (with Gears) instead of Microsoft Office: Let's just get it out there—if you're not the type who uses formulas or has half the menus memorized in Word, either of these suites work just fine for the average student, occasional letter printer, or pedestrian spreadsheet duty.
  • reQall instead of Jott: Because it's not that we don't love us some productive phone-to-webapp tools, but if you're just looking for a "note to self" service, reQall can replace Jott's main service, along with other free apps.
  • AVG and Avast instead of Any Subscription Virus Software: Because free trials lead to annoying nag screens, they run a bit lighter than paid versions, and you might not need one anyways.
  • Mozy free account vs. paid off-site backup: Because 2GB can fit your desktop contents and most of your actual documents, and you'd probably rather have your music, pictures, and videos on DVD.
  • GParted instead of PartitionMagic: Because GParted is free, works anywhere you can boot from a CD, handles most any format, and plays well in a system recovery CD.

That's just a primer to get anyone thinking about making the switch to free started. But we really want to hear what you use—either single, free applications or in combinations—that makes you feel great about not paying for something. Tell us all about it in the comments!

Kevin Purdy

Aw, dude.

3 hours 36 min ago

Aw, dude. That sucks.

yes. i haz been cwned.

picture: dunno source, via our lolcat builder. lol caption: mal

» Recaption This

Top Stories and Blog review - 28th August

3 hours 47 min ago
Getting what he wants

American politics
It’s turnout versus the news cycle
New media at the convention
Self made man
Bill Clinton bonds with Obama

DAILY BLOG REVIEW / by Aaron Heath

Chicken Yoghurt - Justin claims that Grant Wilkinson, the one-man Heckler & Koch who sold converted SMG’s to gangland scallywags, merely lacked ambition.

Freemania - Tom runs over the rule over the Tories’ latest anything but regulation! policy to stem obesity. He isn’t surprised businesses are delighted to welcome “responsibility deals”. Say what you like about the Tories, but never say they haven’t learned anything from New Labour.

Obsolete - septicisle, also considering the Tory theme of obesity, is more concerned with Andrew Lansley and David Cameron’s tone towards the working class. Maybe Cameron ought to aim his barbs at some of his more rotund backbenchers?

Left of Centrist - Bill Clinton delivers the perfect speech (to Barack Obama’s campaign).

Dreaming of Simplicity - Joe Biden delivers the perfect punch (to John McCain’s kidneys).

Same Difference - The Paralympic Games start next week. Can someone remind the MSM?

Harry’s Place - Is back.


Right, that settles it

4 hours 57 min ago
Roy Hattersley is in favour of a windfall tax. Clearly it’s an absurd idea that we can safely reject then. Two facts should dominate ministers’ consideration. The first is the size of energy company profits. For Shell, they amounted to £13.9bn in 2007-08 and £4bn in the second quarter of this year, a 4.6% improvement on 2007. Eh? [...]Tim Worstall

Illegal cocaine worth more than gold, platinum, and human blood

5 hours 39 sec ago

A group of scientists with too much time on their hands, over at the brilliant Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories website, have produced a guide to the monetary density of things, or in other words the value per pound of various commodities, from flour through to kobe beef, marijuana, human blood, gold, cocaine and antimatter. Are some drugs literally worth their weight in gold as Transform have claimed? - lets see....

ItemPrice per pound All purpose flour $0.52 Zinc $0.80 Lead $0.85 Bottled water $1.00 Pennies $1.81 Copper $3.50 Nickels $4.54 Nickel $9.00 Bulk hemp fiber $12 Dimes $20 Quarters $20 Turkey feathers $26 Maine Coon Cat (Pet quality ~20 lbs) $50 Dollar coins $56 Uranium (as U3O8) $65 Kobe Beef Filet Mignon $112 Kopi Luwak $160 Human Blood $181 Silver $197 Printer Ink $322 Peacock feathers $410 One Dollar Bills $454 Two Dollar Bills $907 Lottery Tickets (California $1 scratch-offs) $907 Saffron $1,000 Marijuana $2,000 Five Dollar Bills $2,268 Industrial diamonds $2,300 LZR Swimsuit $2,495 Palladium $4,287 Ambergris $4,500 Ten Dollar Bills $4,536 Twenty Dollar Bills $9,072 Any object brought to ISS At least $10,000 Gold $12,000 Platinum $20,679 Fifty Dollar Bills $22,680 Cocaine $22,680 Hundred Dollar Bills $45,359 Rhodium $77,292 Good-quality, one-carat diamonds $11.4 M LSD $55 M Antimatter $26 Quadrillion
So there you have it. Cocaine is worth way more than gold, platinum or sending stuff into space by rocket, whilst LSD, a pound of which will set you back a cool $55 million dollars, is second only in cost to a pound of antimatter that, at $26 Quadrillion, will cost you more than all your pocket money (even if you save up for absolutely ages).

Marijuana/cannabis, it turns out, costs more that uranium, human blood, and saffron, as well being more than ten times as expensive as silver.

It should, of course, be pointed out that the ridiculously inflated prices of illegal drugs are specifically due to the fact that they are illegal rather than reflecting intrinsic value or production costs. The risks carried by the producers and suppliers are translated into inflated prices, their blatant profiteering pushing prices still higher - often by several 1000 percetange points. Unlike saffron, for example, which is laboriously produced from individual dried stigma of the saffron crocus, marijuana is laughably easy to produce in large quantities for almost no cost. Similarly, cocaine would probably cost no more than asprin to produce, were it a more conventional legally regulated product. This graphic reproduced in the recent UKDPC report on drug markets illustrates the point:

Going by these estimates, cocaine at its farmgate price (still arguably inflated over legal production) would be about $600 a pound, putting it just above peacock feathers, and somewhere between 1 and 2 dollar bills. To put this in perspective the mad scientists estimate that illicit cocaine currently costs the same, by weight, as 50 dollar bills. So curiously enough it turns out that one gram of cocaine costs $50, and a $50 bill weighs one gram. All the drug dealing gangsters will laugh at that; prohibition for them is quite simply a license to print money.

Lets just hope no-one finds a way of smoking antimatter.

Titan prisons:letter to Jack Straw from the Criminal Justice Alliance

5 hours 14 min ago

Rt Hon Jack Straw MP
Secretary of State for Justice
Ministry of Justice
102 Petty France

28 August 2008

Dear Secretary of State for Justice

On the day that the Government's consultation closes, we are writing to you to highlight our opposition to the building of Titan prisons.

The Government's proposals to build three Titans, each housing around 2,500 prisoners, would cement this country's position as the prison capital of western Europe, while squandering billions of pounds of taxpayers' money which could be better spent elsewhere. The proposals ignore evidence that smaller, local prisons work better than large ones, raise serious concerns about the wellbeing and safety of prisoners and prison staff, and would put at risk relationships between prisoners and their families.

The Government cannot build its way out of the current crisis in the prison system, as you have previously acknowledged, and further expansion of the prison estate would be damaging both socially and economically. Instead of rushing headlong into an expensive prison-building programme, the Government must shelve its plans for Titan prisons and instead focus on addressing the causes of the growing prison population.

The evidence is clear; Titan prisons are not the solution to the prisons crisis. As members of the Criminal Justice Alliance, a coalition of organisations working in the criminal justice system, we urge you to abandon these misguided proposals for Titan prisons before they become a reality.

Yours sincerely

Lucy Gampell, Director, Action for Prisoners' Families

Davlin Brydson, Chair, Association of Black Probation Officers

Angela Clay, Chairman, Association of Members of Independent Monitoring Boards

Emma Norton, Bindmans LLP

Denise Marshall, Group Co-ordinator, Birth Companions

Christopher Jones, Chair, Churches' Criminal Justice Forum

Clive Martin, Director, Clinks

Dr Katherine Rake, Director, Fawcett Society

Professor Mike Hough, Director, Institute for Criminal Policy Research

Rob Allen, Director, International Centre for Prison Studies

Deb Coles and Helen Shaw, Co-Directors, INQUEST

Sally Ireland, Senior Legal Officer (Criminal Justice), JUSTICE

Gareth Crossman, Policy Director, Liberty

Paul Cavadino, Chief Executive, NACRO

Harry Fletcher, Assistant General Secretary, NAPO

Chris Thomas, Chief Executive, New Bridge

Andy Keen-Downs, Director, pact

Colin Moses, National Chair, Prison Officers’ Association

Juliet Lyon, Director, Prison Reform Trust

Pat Jones, Director, Prisoners' Education Trust

Alan Hooker, Director, Prisoners' Families and Friends Service

Paula Harvey, Programme Manager, Quaker Crime, Community and Justice Group

Joyce Moseley, Chief Executive, Rainer Crime Concern

Sebastian Saville, Executive Director, Release

Harriet Bailey, Chief Executive, Restorative Justice Consortium

Paul Corry, Director of Public Affairs, Rethink

Baroness Linklater, Chair, Rethinking Crime and Punishment

Kevin Ireland, Interim Chief Executive, Revolving Doors Agency

Fran Sainsbury, RSA Prison Learning Network

Sean Duggan, Director of Prisons and Criminal Justice Programme, Sainsbury Centre for Mental Health

Lucie Russell, Director, SmartJustice

Gary Kernaghan, New Business Director, SOVA

Steve Rolles, Research Director, Transform Drug Policy Foundation

Bobby Cummines, Chief Executive, UNLOCK

Suzanne Sibillin, Director, Women in Prison


5 hours 18 min ago
Right Now for Faro, Portugal Save Location if (getUserPreferences("5") && getUserPreferences("5")Tim Worstall

Statistics, statistics

5 hours 25 min ago
Bryony love? while the average age to lose your virginity in the 1980s was 17, today a quarter of young people are sexually active before they turn 16. Averages are just that, averages. It’s entirely possible that when the average age of virginity loss was 17 that 25% of people lost their cherry before they turned 16. [...]Tim Worstall

Religion Fail

5 hours 35 min ago

Submitted by Richard J


5 hours 45 min ago
I'm sure that Hugo Chavez has done some good. Much more bad than good probably, but some good. And Ken Livingstone is certainly not totally evil. But when the two of them get together it is very implausible that it is good news for the world on average. Though if Mr Livingstone spends a lot of time in Venezuela, that will be pleasant both for him and for Londoners, I am really quite puzzled what...Guy Herbert (London)

Keep Track of Presidential Race from Many Perspectives - perspctv

5 hours 47 min ago

Keep track of what's getting reported about the presidential race in somewhat realtime with perspctv. It's a nicely done news dasboard that updates on its own showing updates from CNN, Twitter, and the Blogosphere. It also shows poll results, predictions, daily reach, and search volume.

They've got charts (above); they've got maps:

they've got timelines:

and they've got widgets:

In essence, it's a news aggregater, but it's a really good one and a great dashboard for you election junkies.

[Thanks, Iman]

Mushrooms ground jet

5 hours 59 min ago
Or something. The latest Ryanair incident happened as a Boeing 737-800 jet was passing over German airspace on its way from the Hungarian capital to Dublin on Monday night. A man was said to have complained of a swollen neck after the liquid dripped onto him from luggage [...]Tim Worstall

Working lives

6 hours 5 min ago
The average mother works five-and-a-half hours a day at a paid job but also spends 45 minutes preparing meals and 31 minutes shopping for groceries. Daily household chores account for 42 minutes and running errands for the family takes another 23 minutes. The school run takes 36 minutes and ferrying children [...]Tim Worstall


6 hours 19 min ago
Two of the most important paintings in Britain could be lost to the nation unless £100 million is found to keep them. Let ‘im flog ‘em. At least one of the greatest of the moderns, Lucian Freud - recently crowned the world’s most expensive living artist - has testified to the impact upon his own life and [...]Tim Worstall

Israel/Palestine - let’s have a sane debate

6 hours 22 min ago

In all the long years I have taken an interest in politics, I have never come across any debate remotely as characterised by wilful distortion, obfuscation, over-emotionalism, deliberate bad faith, polarisation, ill-tempered malicious mudslinging and widespread playing of the man rather than the ball than the Israel/Palestine issue.

Sometimes it seems that enough straw men have been erected in this connection to populate a medium-sized city of the damn things, complete with commuter suburbs.

Trade union activists find themselves circulating hyperlinks to articles on the website of a well-known Ku Klux Klan boss, while the leader of one far left group feels constrained to defend every action of Israel’s rapacious and corrupt ruling class, even to the point of offering carte blanche in advance of planned aggression.

If the purpose of argumentation is actually to achieve political clarity – and it is sometimes hard to believe that other motives are not also in play – than it would probably be helpful to establish some basis of agreed facts as basic parameters for further discussion.

In that spirit, let me offer the following hard-headed, call a spade a spade, generally leftist take, which I hope avoids the pitfalls of automatic identification with the nationalism of either the state of Israel or its enemies.

Naturally, I think all of my assessments happen to correct. But unlike some people, I am willing to listen to other viewpoints, and even willing to be persuaded I am wrong if I hear a superior argument. Why else have a comments box?

(1) Yes, Israel does brutally oppress the Palestinians. Some of those sympathetic to Israel remain in denial on this score. Others adduce reasons why this should be the case, including of course Palestinian terrorism against Israelis. But this is the basic issue of right and wrong on which all else rests, and socialists can have no other starting point. Palestinians deserve human and democratic rights.

(2) Yes, other countries oppress national and ethnic minorities too. Turkey seeks mercilessly to crush the Kurds, China occupies Tibet. Insert your own list here. Consistency demands that Israel is not – as the often-repeated phrase has it – uniquely demonised. But it should not be uniquely soft-soaped, either. Socialists should not play favourites among ruling classes. We are against national oppression. End of chat.

(3) Israel exists. It has been there for over 60 years, and had a population of 7,282,000 as of May 2008. Whatever the sins of their forebears, these people have human and democratic rights too. Let’s leave counterfactual stuff as an agreeable parlour game for history buffs, eh?

(4) Yes, Israel does have extensive influence and support in Washington. There. Said it. So does that make me a closet believer in the Zionist Occupation Government theory? Hardly. The matter is well documented, not least by messrs Walt and Mearsheimer, two serious scholars patently not motivated by conspiracy theory. What’s more, other influential groups – neoconservatives and Christian Zionists – use their clout in ways that suit Israeli purposes.

(5) Zionism is no more inherently racist than any other stripe of nationalism. Yes, I have read Herzl’s The Jewish State, and have to say I found it a work of no special profundity. But racist it wasn’t. Now, if you were to engage me in late evening philosophical discussion – over a bottle of decent single malt, to generate maximum loquacity on my part - on the Marxist understanding of the nature of nationalism in general, then I would say that it is a reactionary phenomenon and that hopefully humanity will one day be able to leave such childish nonsense behind. But that is not going to happen in our lifetimes. In the meantime, drop the stickers that place an equal sign between the Star of David and the swastika, please; they are simply gratuitously offensive.

(6) Any solution has to be hacked out round a negotiating table. As I observed above, 7.2m people now live in Israel. They will resist any attempt at conquest, and if push comes to shove, they’ve got nukes. The only circumstance in which they will agree to be driven to the sea is when they happen to fancy a daytrip to the beach and go by taxi.

(7) That means talking to Fatah. Oh, and Hamas. Just as there could have been no solution to the conflicts in Ireland and South Africa without the IRA and the ANC being brought onside, it will be necessary to sit down with groups currently branded terrorists by the West. It is for the Palestinians to choose who will be their representatives. It is regretable that they should select paid-up believers in the Protocols of the Elders of Zion rather than the Palestinian section of the Fourth International, but that is who they have chosen.

(8) Only a democratic secular state is going to work. Palestine is not a particularly prepossessing piece of real estate. All proposals for a two state solution essentially amount to calls for the establishment of one or more bantustans. There is only room for one viable state, and it is essential that it not be confessionally-based. Obviously, an elaborate system of safeguards, checks and balances will need to be built into the constitutional arrangements. But hey, if we can keep Belgium unified, anything’s possible.

There. Now, am I right or am I right?