Friday, August 28, 2009

Mali Does a Good Thing

So Mali is planning to change its laws regarding marriage and a few other aspects of family life, and there are some parts of the Mali population who are not happy with the changes.

First, the change. The current law states that a wife must obey her husband. The new law states that once married husbands and wives owe each other loyalty, protection, help and assistance. Most people I know would chalk this up as a win for women's rights and the cause of equality.

Now alas, a some of the Muslim majority in Mali do not like this. They much prefer things the way they are, because that's the way things are. Not surprisingly, most of those opposed to the changes are men, but not all.

I do see a few good things in the situation. Mali's justice minister definitely gets things. He knows his country has a secular government, and acknowledges that to enshrine religious rules in law is a bad thing.

The other good point is the fact that the High Islamic Council has decided to use the soap box and the ballot box, rather than going straight for the ammo box. They are speaking out against the proposal, and encouraging Muslims to vote against parliamentarians who vote for the measure. They seem to be having some effect, because the President has sent the law back to the parliament for reconsideration. I hope they do the right thing and send it back to him.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Second Korea Fails to join the Space Race

A few days ago South Korea launched a rocket that was, in the words of the South Korean government, a partial success. The rocket, part Russian and part South Korean, was meant to place a satellite into orbit, but failed to do so.

Naturally this brings up comparisons with North Korea, whose own failed attempt to launch a satellite earlier this year caused concern around the world. The biggest difference is the reaction of the two countries to their failures. South Korea openly admitted that the launch failed to meet its aim of putting a satellite into low Earth orbit. North Korea is still insisting that their satellite is up their orbiting the Earth and broadcasting Korean songs despite the fact that the rest of the world watched it crash into the Pacific. The South Koreans definitely have the more mature approach.

It's good to see South Korea is keen on developing a space industry, and this is a big step following getting their first astronaut (or should it be cosmonaut since she went up with the Russians?) last year. I look forward to seeing further developments.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Interesting Legal Situation

An interesting situation has arisen in England in the past few days regarding the Video Classification Act of 1984. This is the act that requires videos to be classified before they can be sold and that you can't sell videos to people who are too young to watch them.

It seems that because the government at the time didn't follow all the procedures required for it to become a law, the law never actually came into effect. This in practice didn't cause many problems because everyone was acting as though the law was real, and movies got classified and most people didn't try to sell porn to children, so all went well.

Even now don't expect an apocalypse of unclassified movies being sold to anyone. Businesses have agreed to follow the laws requirements on a voluntary basis until new legislation is passed later this year.

The tricky part though is that a number of people have been prosecuted under this law and found guilty and punished. The government has dropped all current prosecutions, but is claiming that existing convictions under the act can not be challenged. This is where I strongly disagree with them. If there was no law, there can not have been a crime. While it is regrettable, if we are to have the rule of law, then the convictions should be overturned.

This is also a reminder that there should be more scrutiny of the process of lawmaking. This law is not exactly the most important of laws, and fixing the problems that have occurred won't be too difficult. But imagine if something big were to be found not to be a law. Like murder, or even worse, taxes. Imagine what it would do to the government if it were found out that there was no tax law for 25 years. Everyone would jump on that demanding their money back. The government would be so screwed.

There should also be more active review of laws. This mistake was picked up by the Digital Britain scheme, which is something to do with improving internet access in the UK. If there had of been someone regularly reviewing the existing laws it may have been picked up earlier.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

District 9

On Sunday I went and saw District 9 with some friends (bonus points for organising something social). I quite enjoyed the movie. It was not a feel good movie, but presented a harsh reality showing the depths people can sink to. It is not a movie to entertain, but a movie to make you think (although I've read a few things that show that some viewers didn't quite get that).

None of the human characters are particularly noble. Wikus is a bureaucrat who thinks he's doing something good does so through the eyes of petty racism, and does not question the things he does. He makes jokes about burning egg sacs, threatens kids to get the parents to sign eviction notices, and making fun of the poor conditions the aliens endure. The best that can be said is that he is not intentionally bad, he's just not thinking about what he does.

Others are not so nice. The higher ups at MultiNational United (really creative name there, although I had an interview today with a company owned by United Technologies Corporation, so perhaps it is art imitating life) are blatantly trying to exploit the aliens, and have no qualms using an alien as a target while trying out weapons, or dissecting Wikus to learn what has happened to him. This is made especially heartless given that the boss who orders this is Wikus' father-in-law.

The only noble character in the piece is Christopher Johnson, the main alien character. He has spent twenty years trying to get his people off Earth, and was almost ready when Wikus messed up his plans. He is willing to help Wikus when he sees what has happened to him. He also stands in contrast with pretty much all of the other aliens shown (except for his son and accomplice), who don't show much drive or sense. I wonder if he is perhaps a member of the leadership group that was speculated to have died out in the opening to explain why the aliens arrived in the condition they were in.

The action sequences are pretty good, and the weapons are awesome, though quite brutal. The conclusion is a bit ambiguous, but this works well with the whole making you think thing.

Knowing about the real life District 6 adds more to the understanding of the film.

District 9 is the second best movie I've seen this year (only Watchmen beats it) and is the closest to something not adapted from a previous work I've seen in a long time (it is based on a short film by the same production team so it's close enough for me).

After the movie we had dinner at a Turkish restaurant on Southbank which was really good (I really like Turkish food. It's a good combination of meat, simple salad, and some bread and some rice. Pretty much my ideal meal.) Overall it was a good evening out.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Some Thoughts on the American Heath Care Debate

The big issue in American politics right now is health care reform, and a lot of stuff is going on related to this. I want to comment on a few things that have happened.

First, is this little clipAll I can say is "Well done, Sir, well done." The level of hyperbole that has come up at some of these town hall meetings is huge, and some of these people need to just shut up rather than asking questions to score points and fear monger. They should also think before using words like Nazi, especially when asking a gay Jew why they support Nazi policies.

Next is people bringing guns to these meetings. Sure, it can be reassuring to have a gun, it can give you a feeling of power, but are you really that scared of rational debate and your fellow citizens? There have been several cases of people bringing guns along to town hall meetings held by Barack Obama. It's not clear if the people were allowed into the meeting with the guns, but they were definitely allowed into the area outside the venues. And Fox News then goes and puts these people with guns up on TV to show just how crazy some of them are. This also shows a big change from the previous administration. How do you think the Bush government would have reacted to people bringing guns to their events? Given how they reacted to signs and t-shirts, I wouldn't have wanted to find out for myself.

The whole "Death Panel" fiasco is another highlight for those who enjoy seeing stupidity run free. Starting with the woman who writes her own comedy bits, Sarah Palin, who recanted her claims the next day, but had unleashed a beast that just will not die. The relevant piece of the legislation merely allows for people to get reimbursed for talking to their doctor about options for family members who are in a fatal condition. It's just letting you talk to your doctor. No one but you is making the decisions. And in another piece of irony, this piece of the bill that is getting so many Republicans upset was introduced by a Republican. If I were a cynical, suspicious bastard I'd think it was introduced to provoke some outrage.

Finally, there is the reluctance from a great swath of the American people to even consider the idea of making sure everyone has adequate health care as something worth doing. Given the problems of the current system it seems clear that reform is needed, and yet they don't want to do it.

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Writing time: 20 minutes
Time since last post: a week or so
Current media: Leverage

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Good Idea, Bad Idea

Good Idea: Take a basic premise of an old tv show, add depth, subtlety, great production values all round, and create a great new tv show.

Bad Idea: Riding on the coat tails of the previous, make a movie that ignores all the good stuff and goes back to the original.

This comes following the news that Glen Larson, the creator of the original series of Battlestar Galactica is going to make a new movie that will be another reimagining that more closely follows the original.

This I think is a bad idea. Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see a Battlestar Galactica movie, but I want a new Battlestar Galactica movie. A movie following the original series is going to have some major problems. First, a lot of people will show up expecting the new show, not the old one, which will cause a lot of people to be disappointed. Second, both the new and the old show were products of their times. The ethos of the original series does not resonate today like it did thirty years ago. Finally, there is also the fact that this seems a blatant move to cash in on the new series. Without the new series, there is absolutely no chance that this movie would be considered. The new series has an incredible amount of popular support which will be squandered by this film.

Glen Larson may have the legal rights to make this film but that doesn't mean he should do so. The reasons above show why doing so will be detrimental to the franchise overall. Glen Larson and Bryan Singer might make a truckload of cash, but at a cost.

I've heard similar news about a possible Buffy movie that will be made without Joss Whedon, about which I'm also doubtful. The continuation of the franchise without the involvement of the creative heart behind it might make a buck, but it will disappoint the fans and lose some of the faith they have in the franchise. I'd like to see something that lives up to the high level of quality set by the series already, rather than something that shares the name and nothing else.

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Writing time: 20 minutes
Time since last post: 1 day
Current media: South Park

Saturday, August 15, 2009

For the Future

This new train service from Islamabad to Istanbul via Iran (the Triple I perhaps) looks as though it could be a great train journey sometime in the future when things in that region are calmer all round. I'm also going to wait until the time it takes is less than the 14 days it's currently going to take.

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Writing time: 5 minutes
Time since last post: almost a week
Current media: None

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Ekka Time

Yesterday I went to the Ekka. This is the third or fourth time that I can recall going to the Ekka (twice as a kid I think, and once while at university). Being a poor unemployed slob though, my method of acquiring entry was not the usual payment of cash. As I am at the moment somewhat richer in time than money, I got a free ticket by volunteering at an ice cream stand raising funds for the Prince Charles Hospital.

My shift started at 5, but I arrived much earlier so as to have a chance to enjoy the show. I was however disappointed by the show. It was a lot smaller than I remember it being, and very little caught my interest. The food pavilion had a lot of stuff I don't like, and the one thing that caught my eye, some apple tea, did not taste anything like the apple tea I had in Turkey despite the vendor's claims. The animal displays were lame and not surprisingly reminded me of the smell of a farm. Sideshow alley has got all picky, with most games now having lots of rules like no leaning, no bank shots, etc, or being race type games where everyone pays and only one person wins a prize (and in the case of draws no one wins), and rides are no fun just on your own. Showbags, once objects of desire and full of awesome, now seem lame and horrendously overpriced.

After two or three hours of wandering around aimlessly, I found a spot in the stands and read for a while and wrote up some more of my travels, before having an expensive dinner. Working at the ice cream stand wasn't too bad, and I did get some free ice cream as well. I started out working the cream gun to finish up the ice creams (they have a pretty good assembly line going), but spent most of my time working out front selling the ice creams.

One good thing happened on my way out as well. While I was passing the krispy kreme donut stand a man leaving the stand yelled out they were giving out free donuts. I paused and asked the people at the stand if he was kidding. They said yes, and I accepted that and was about to move on, when they said I could have some donuts anyway, which I didn't turn down. I'm still not sure if he was kidding or not.

I caught the train home and got back just in time for the late showings of Buffy and Angel on Sci-fi, although I did miss Stargate SG-1.

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Sunday, August 02, 2009

A Question About Arrow's Impossibility Theorem

Arrow's Impossibility Theorem is a theorem about voting methods that says that any voting method devised cannot have all of the following properties
  • unanimity, if everyone prefers A over B, then A will be ranked higher than B.
  • independence of irrelevant alternatives, if everyone prefers A over B, if asked to choose between A, B, and C, A should still rank higher than B regardless of how C is ranked.
  • transitivity, if everyone prefers A over B and B over C, then A should be preferred over C.
  • non-dictatorship, there should be no individual whose choices determine the overall results for society.
Now, I certainly agree that the first three are essential for a good voting method, put I'm uncertain against the fourth. Obviously, having a voting system that just follows the choices of one voter is a bad idea, but this is not the way the criteria is generally considered. The proofs I've read through has shown that if one starts changing voters preferences in a systematic but arbitrary way, there will be some voter who when they change their vote, the final result will change as well, and this voter in fact acts as a dictator.

The existence of such a dictator does not seem to be such a big problem. This is not a dictator who gets to decide the outcome. This is a dictator who is the straw that breaks the camel's back. Also, it is impossible to determine beforehand which voter will be the dictator. Finally, in a real election, there will generally be many people whose vote matches the final outcome, but that does not mean that only their vote determined the result.

Given that I don't really see why the existence of such an arbitrary dictator is a big problem, it does detract from the significance of Arrow's Impossibility Theorem. It's interesting, but not really relevant to anything (admittedly true of much of maths on first sight). If I were to design a voting method, I'd be more concerned about the transitivity property, which is much more troublesome just on its own.

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Writing time: too long (I got distracted by cartoons)
Time since last post: (also too long, I'm going to try and write more, do something constructive with my unemployed time, and also get around to finishing my travel stuff)
Current media: I just turned the TV off