Saturday, December 06, 2008

Recipe: Penne ala Irish Breakfast

I hesitate to call this a recipe, it's just something I did for the first time today without much thought for what would be "right" but it was pretty cool. I probably would have added a rasher if I'd had one.


  • pasta (I used penne because that's what I had).
  • 4 sausages - 160g (Dunnes' Simply Better or whatever you like yourself).
  • white pudding 50g (again Simply Better)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 2 dried chillies with the seeds removed (I might use 1 next time)
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes (Lidl I think, not that it matters very much)


  • Start the pasta cooking.
  • Fry the sausages in some oil (I used olive oil for no particular reason) until they are mostly browned. You don't have to worry too much because they're going to cook some more later.
  • Take them out and slice them into circles about .5cm long - maybe 10 or 12 slices per sausage.
  • Slice the garlic and fry it and the chillies in the pan for about 30s or a minute. I just let them fry in the little bit of oil that was in the pan from cooking the sausages.
  • Put in the tin of tomatoes and stir it up.
  • Put back in the sausages and stir it up.
  • Mash in the white pudding - you want it to break up into little grains and be spread all through the sauce.
  • Leave it cook some more, stirring now and then to make sure it's not sticking to the bottom of the pan. About 5 minutes of cooking seemed to do the trick for me.
  • Pour it on the pasta and eat it.

That's a nice spicy, tomatoey way of getting all the vitamins and goodness contained in an Irish breakfast. Maybe it should have a fried egg on top but I was never one for fancy presentation.

Monday, December 01, 2008

That's my daughter

Shortly before we went to Japan, we go some family photos taken - it would be unfair to Seán to only have nice baby photos of Ríona. The studio had various props, wicker baskets, dolls, chairs etc. At one point between poses, I heard Ríona crying. I turned around to find her with her head stuck in some railings. They were part of one the props, a little stand-alone fence that would be waist-high to a 6 year-old - something to lean on or whatever. Poor Ríona, I couldn't help laughing, especially when the photographer said, in a puzzled voice, "I've had that for 25 years and no one has ever done that".

Regrettably I am not a cruel enough father to take a photo before popping her head out from the bars, I actually didn't think of it at the time, I wish I had. I do plan to bring this up at her wedding though.

Japan - smoking

One afternoon I was flicking around TV looking for a cartoon or something to occupy Ríona for a few minutes. I found a cartoon, so we watched that for a few minutes. It wasn't by any means a toddler's cartoon, it was called "Gunlock (SaiYuki)" (there seem to be several seasons and variants of this anime, I have no idea which one I was watching). It's a retelling of Journey to the West (aka "Monkey Magic") with more modern characters, some guns etc. Although it wasn't a toddler's cartoon, it held Ríona's attention for while I got something else done. She seems to like any kind of cartoon at least for a few minutes.

The cartoon had some violence ("Daddy, boy fell over") but what really surprised me was that one of the main characters was smoking. He wasn't even a bad guy. I was just really shocked to see someone smoking in a kids show at 2pm.

It was actually pretty uncomfortable in Japan on several occasions, restaurants still have smoking sections, usually as big or bigger than the non-smoking sections and we sometimes had to settle for a seat in the smoking area. We even found one that didn't have a non-smoking section at all!

What's really odd though is that it's not like smoking is entirely acceptable in Japan either. In lots of places, smoking on the street is illegal and some streets had designated smoking areas. And in true Japanese style, people obeyed these rules. I saw plenty of smokers at the smoking areas and I can't remember seeing anyone smoking in the "wrong" part of the street.

Still it's better than China. A few years ago I was in Beijing airport and I went into a restaurant. "Smoking or non-smoking?". "Non-smoking", I said. "Sit anywhere you like", said the waitress. I was sleepless and jet-lagged at the time so I didn't notice how stupid this was. For a while I was the only customer but soon some more tables filled up, including a guy smoking right beside me. It was only then that I understood my conversation with the waitress. The question was purely cosmetic - probably just for foreigners - there was no non-smoking area in this restaurant, or certainly none that the waitress was willing to enforce. I wonder if I had lit up a cigarette would I have been told to put it out because my table was non-smoking?

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The snot hoover.

We arrived in Japan on Tuesday morning. All of us had colds, sniffles and coughs. Ríona had had hers for a week or two already.

On Friday, Midori decided it was time to get her checked out and brought her to a Japanese doctor. The doctor gave her antibiotics, cough syrup and aspirin. Japanese medical clinics all seem to include their own dispensary which is very handy but I wonder about the conflict of interests in terms of prescribing expensive drugs and also little things like aspirin, (maybe it's all regulated, I dunno).

The most exciting thing about the whole trip (and the bit I regret missing) was the doctor's use of a small vacuum cleaner to suck all the snots out of Ríona nose! You get to see what comes out in a glass jar too. Apparently she was not bothered by it at all.

So if that wasn't nasty enough, the doctor also told Midori that she should repeat the procedure herself. "How?", I asked, "by sucking her nose?". Apparently, yes, by sucking her nose, while giving her a bath for example. Just in case you haven't already run through the details in your head, you suck, nothing happens, you suck harder, nothing happens, harder some more... pop a torrent of hot, green snot shoots into your mouth, hitting you straight in the tonsils. Did you just gag? I know I did when I first thought about it. I imagine in real life that my mouth full of snot would quickly be followed by me puking up my own daughter's nose. Maybe if you're into live fish, sea-urchins' gonads and rancid soy-beans then it's nothing special.

Might be a good idea for Jackass...

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Get a SIP phone to work with openwrt on a linksys WRT54GL

Update: I've changed this to put the file in /tmp which avoids touching the flash memory for the pid file and also avoids the need to mkdir and chmod (which I typoed BTW) and thus allow siproxd to come back up automatically after a reboot.

I bought a WRT54GL today and get openwrt running on it with no hassle. More importantly I got my SIP router thing (a Linksys SPA3102) to work behind it (initially the SIP router was in front of it which is inconvenient in many ways).

To get the SIP thingy working (and also SIP clients on PCs in my home network) I just installed siproxd with

ipkg install siproxd vi /etc/siproxd.conf

The editing of the config file (like most of useful stuff in this post) comes from this page. I changed the following four entries

if_inbound = br-lan if_outbound = eth0.1 registration_file = /tmp/siproxd_registrations pid_file = /tmp/

the first two were the only ones that required any "figuring out". Then I started siproxd and set it to start at boot time too

/etc/init.d/siproxd enable /etc/init.d/siproxd start

After setting up the openwrt box, I just set the outbound proxy for my SIP router and other clients to be my openwrt box and that was that.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Is the govt's Lisbon study legal?

The govt survey into why Lisbon didn't pass is out. I haven't yet tried to find the original and I wonder what questions were on the survey. I assume it was along the lines of

If you voted "no", was it because you thought Lisbon would bring a) abortion, b) EU army, c) corporation tax harmonisation?
The point being to uncover why "no" voters voted that way.

There could equally have been a survey that went along these lines

If you voted "yes", was it because you thought Lisbon a) would help fight climate change b) necessary for Croatia's entry to the EU c) would give national parliaments to ability to stop bad EU laws?
but no such survey exists.

Is it legal for this government to spend public money on a survey whose sole purpose is to help turn "no" voters into "yes" voters without also spending or providing money for a similar survey to investigate the misunderstandings of "yes" voters and correct them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Mamma chin chin all gone.

Bathing Seán while Ríona is around always results in the following conversation, although tonight it got a bit surreal. "chin chin" is Japanese (and maybe Chinese) for "penis" by the way.

Ríona: [seeing Seán naked] chin chin! chin chin!
Dad: yes, baba's chin chin
Ríona: My chin chin?
Dad: no, you don't have a chin chin
Ríona: my chin chin all gone
Dad: yes
Ríona: mamma chin chin?
Dad: no mamma has no chin chin
Ríona: Mamma chin chin all gone
Dad: yes
Ríona: An pan man chin chin?
Dad: ehhh.. you'll have to ask mamma about that.

Monday, August 18, 2008

The end is nigh.

I was at a kiddies' playground at the weekend and I overheard one dad say to his angelic 3-year-old daughter, "now play normally, I don't want to hear you talking about taking anybody out". WTF is the world coming to?

I kept an eye out when she was near Ríona but didn't get close enough to check for the mark. I should probably have got her name so I could make sure I was on her side when the apocalypse comes!

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Creative Zen: useless for listening to podcasts, books etc

Summary: if you want an MP3 player for listening to podcasts, documentaries or anything where you might to resume from you left off then avoid the Creative Zen.

I bought a Creative Zen (not a "Zen M" or a "Zen V", just a "Zen" - well done Creative on picking a name that is almost impossible to search for without finding all of your other products!). It's quite a nice little device, with a nice screen and a slick UI but unfortunately it makes we want to scream.

If you're listening to an hour long MP3 and you turn off the device, you'd expect it to resume the MP3 where you left off. You'd expect the same when you switch to the radio. Alas the Zen does neither of these. If you turn it off, it remembers for about an hour but then it turns itself off completely and when you turn back on you'll be at 0:00:00. Same when you switch to the radio or watch a video or god knows what else.

The Zen does have 10 bookmark slots but you have to go through a series of button clicks in order to mark your place and if you forget to do that before switching to the radio, tough luck.

It really is quite mind-boggling how such a basic bit of usability could have been left out. I assume they spent all their time making sure all of the album-art and other fluff worked properly. What's more frustrating is that my previous player was a creative MuVo, a far less sophisticated memory-stick style player that always remembered exactly where I was. I would have bought another if they weren't about 30 quid dearer than its video-playing cousin.

Worse still, I borrowed a Creative Zen Stone for a few days. It's a much simpler device than the Zen, much more like the MuVo except without the ability to plug directly into a USB port. In fact, the Stone seems to be pretty much identical to the MuVo in its functionality, including remembering where I am in the current track. At about half the price of the Zen, I'm really annoyed that I was tempted into buying the flashier model.

It seems to me that there are at least 2 development teams in Creative, one that does the video devices and one that does the audio-only. Unfortunately the video team don't seem to have looked at the audio devices when figuring out what matters.

While I'm complaining, I may as well point out that the Zen only works as an MTP device and cannot be used as a straight-forward USB disk and bizarrely, if you transfer an MP3 file using the linux MTP command-line tools, the Zen cannot figure out how long the track is and so you cannot seek forwards or backwards! So I have to Gonad or Gnomad or whatever it's called.

One slight bright point is that Creative's support responded quickly to my query, confirmed that the functionality was indeed missing and they had passed on my comments to the developers. Of course they could just be saying that but at least it was prompt!

Sunday, August 03, 2008

When will I learn...

When will I learn to wait long enough before eating pizza? I'm almost 34 years old and I still end up burning the roof of my mouth almost every time I cook pizza at home. I suspect the answer is never and I like to think that pizza night in the Shaolin temple leaves even the most enlightened wu-shu masters asking the same question.

Monday, July 28, 2008

An interesting maths proof (to me anyway).

This is a comment I left on a blog but the comment box had no preview button and my comment came out kinda mangled, so I'm posting it here.

First of all, it's a long time since I proved anything so I may be wrong. Secondly, the markup is probably going to be terrible, there seems to be no preview button and I can't find wordpress's help section for markup. Finally, apologies if this is straying too far from the original idea of proof automation but I think this answers the question of whether this is true for Complex also. I can't really claim that this proof is discoverable by pattern matching as it's not really an epsilon-delta proof. That said, if I haven't made a mistake, the problem becomes "easy" if you consider a compactification of R and maybe looking at compactifications is a reasonable strategy for theorem provers.

Anyway, I think you can capture all of the fiddly parts and the proof-by-contradiction inside the Heine-Borel Theorem instead of using the Baire Category Theorem, which seems to be a bit more heavy-weight.

The essence is to show that for any δ > 0, there is a single Nδ such that |f(nX)| < δ for X ∈ [0,1] and n > Nδ. The conclusion follows from the fact that any Real > Nδ is something in [0,1] times an integer at least as big as N and therefore |f| will be < δ for this Real too.

Let X ∈ Real. We are given that f(nX) -> 0 as n -> ∞. More formally, ∀ δ > 0, ∀ X ∈ Real, ∃ Nδ,X ∈ Natural such that |f(nX)| < δ ∀ n > Nδ,X. Since f(X) is continuous there is an open set, Oδ,X containing X such that |f(Nδ,X y)| < δ ∀ y ∈ Oδ,X (it is the inverse image of (-δ, δ)).

For a fixed δ, {Oδ,X: X ∈ [0,1]} gives us an open cover of [0,1] and Heine-Borel tells us that there is a finite subcover. This means we have a finite set of Oδ,X, each with an Nδ,X and we can take the maximum Nδ,X and call it Nδ. This is a Natural such that |f(nX)| < δ ∀ X ∈ [0,1], ∀ n > Nδ.

Now let X ∈ Real, X > Nδ. Let N = [X]+1, where [] is the greatest integer function and let θ = X/N. Note that θ ∈ [0,1] and N > Nδ. So |f(Nθ)| < δ. That is, |f(X)| < δ.

So all you need is the compactness of [0,1] and the fact that you can generate all of Real+ from [0,1] and multiplication by Natural. So it seems that is true for Complex or RealN etc. where you take x -> ∞ to mean |x| -> ∞ and you use [-1,1] instead of [0,1].

If Real itself was compact you could skip the scaling step entirely. I think rephrasing the question in terms of Real ∪ {-∞, ∞} makes it almost trivial but I must admit I'm going beyond what I can remember from my student days, I expect someone will tell me that rephrasing it like that causes something else to break.

I think it would be reasonable for a theorem prover to start by choosing a δ to aim for and use continuity to construct the cover of Real from the inverse images of (-δ, -δ). It would get stuck then and I don't know whether there is a reasonable automated bridge to the solution from there.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Nice beer

This is mostly just a note for myself, not knowing the first thing about beer and drinking less than a pint a month these days means my opinion may be "wrong" but I wanted to make a note of this beer so that I buy again next time I have a beer drinking opportunity.

While R<&iactute>ona was sleeping, I cooked some spicy tomatoey rib things (the butcher gave me ribs when I asked for belly and I found a recipe that seemed easy). Afterwards I had a bottle of quite nice beer. It's called Franziskaner (as in Fanciscan Monks I think) and is a weisse bier (funnily enough the photo on that page is the beer I drank so maybe it really is good). It was very easy to drink after my dinner.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I became a real parent today.

1 week after the birth of my second child I became a "real" parent. Ríona was in the buggy with her hand out, rubbing against things as she went. She rubbed against a dirty car tyre and got some nasty black stuff on her fingertips. I didn't want her to get that all over her clothes, so I did the only thing I could think of. I took out my hanky, spat on it a little and cleaned her.

Technically, the standard for "real" parenthood is to spit on a hanky and clean your child's face but that wasn't an option. I suppose I could have waited for her to rub her face with her dirty fingers. Maybe next time.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The lamest command never

While writing the preceding post, I was reminded of my time doing tech support at an ISP. Most of the customers were running Windows 95. I really wished that the authors of Windows 95 had just admitted how lame it was and included a "Close all programs and log on as the same user" option on the Logout menu, because that would have been the most popular choice, that or "Restart".

kf: the lamest command ever

Like everyone else (well, every unixy-one else) I find myself repeating certain tasks often enough that it's worthwhile creating a script to do it. The lamest of these scripts is kf. The script itself is not lame, it couldn't be simpler or more elegant. It's the fact that it exists at all that is lame. Why?

$ cat `which kf` killall firefox-bin

That's why. I've thought of just filing a bug on their bugtracker, saying that I shouldn't need such a script. It wouldn't be in the least bit productive but it would be satisfying in a pointless kind of way.

I guess I'll just have to wait for something better to come along. I hear Firefox 4.0 is going to be awesome.

P.S. I also have have ke for killing evolution when it decides to head off into the weeds. I keep trying out the other mailers and somehow they keep managing to suck even more than evolution.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Who is Rob?

In the prior post I mentioned Rob. Turns out that the mock-misogynism in that post isn't universally popular and Rob is not over the moon with me linking to him from it. I guess he feels it's important to keep on good terms with the humourless feminist segment of the secure linux boot cd burning, Lisbon treaty opponents who account for 90% of my visitors.

The problem is that I believe that the semantic web will, one day, get its thumb out of its arse and start working, so I like to link when I can. Hence this post, which puts the real Rob, one step removed from the offending article, while still preserving a trail.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Letter to the editor: final Lisbon

The letters page in the Indo has been 100% Lisbon for the last few days and I spotted one today that annoyed me enough to get back on the horse. Maybe it'll sneak in in time.

I'm sick of hearing about how Europe has been good for us because that misses the point - Europe with consensus and vetoes has been good for us but there's no reason to believe that Europe with majority rule imposed on the minority will be any fun for us at all.

For an example of how "good for Europe" does not always mean "good for Ireland" you just have to look at ECB interest rates over the last 10 years. The low rates caused an unsustainable property boom in this country and made property speculators and landlords wealthy while making housing unaffordable for many. Now that Europe needs higher rates, our boom has turned to bust and there will be no soft landing.

I'm sick of hearing how this treaty is mainly about streamlining - if this treaty wasn't about giving away sovereignty, there would be no requirement for a referendum. The EU could streamline itself left, right and centre without needing the Irish people's say-so. For example, as I understand it, the treaty of Amsterdam amended the same treaties as Lisbon does and required no referendum in Ireland because it didn't touch sovereignty.

Anyway, there's too much there to have any hope of being printed, here's what I sent.

Those pushing for a "yes" to Lisbon are fond of pointing out the EU
has been great for Ireland - and it has. Directives have come from
Europe that our government has agreed to but would never have put
forward itself. They are like medicine - sometimes unpalatable but
good for us in the long term.

What the "yes" side always gloss over is that these directives have
all been negotiated with the knowledge that each country has a veto.
This has ensured that we really do get something that's good for
everyone, not something that's a cure for the bigger nations and a
poison for us. The Lisbon treaty changes this.

By removing vetoes, the treaty does not just "streamline" the EU's
decision making, it fundamentally changes it. We will not get the same
end result, just with less red tape. It will be a different end
result, one which may not be good for us in the short-term or the
long-term but which we will be powerless to reject,

You have to be careful not to anthropomorphise children

Just wanted to put that out there.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Excellent article on Lisbon Treaty

I've been rather pissed off with the Independent however this anti-Lisbon article by Alan Ruddock really does a great job of expressing most of my reasons for voting "no". I won't try to summarise, just read it.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Dodgy bits of the Lisbon treaty: the "expanded" role of national parliaments

All posts on Lisbon

Update: I spoke to someone from the Dept of Foreign affairs on the phone this evening who confirmed my understanding. They also said that they felt the FAQ answer was not misleading, that the answers on that page were supposed to be shorter with less detail. That the detail they chose to omit renders the entire thing pointless was not an issue for them.

I keep hearing about the expanded role that national parliaments will have if Lisbon is ratified. As far as I can tell it is at best a figment of the imagination of the "yes" campaigners.

This is from the Dept of Foreign Affairs Lisbon treaty website

The Reform Treaty will give the National Parliaments of EU Member States a direct input into European legislation. All proposals for EU legislation will be sent directly to National Parliaments. The Parliaments will have the right to offer “reasoned opinions.”

If a sufficient number of National Parliaments object to a particular proposal, it can either be amended or withdrawn. This “yellow card procedure” is designed to give National Parliaments an important role in ensuring that the Union does not exceed its authority by involving itself in matters which can best be dealt with at national, regional or local level.
This "yellow card procedure" is what is focused on by "yes" campaigners as the fabulous new power that parliaments will have. It seems great, it seems like if enough parliaments get together they can stop bad legislation coming from the EU. The problem is, the circumstances under which they can stop something.

National parliaments will not be able to stop legislation that they don't like or that they think would be damaging to the EU or undemocratic or just generally a bad idea. There role is "ensuring that the Union does not exceed its authority by involving itself in matters which can best be dealt with at national, regional or local level". It's spelled out more clearly on the Referendum Commission's website

The parliaments may send a “reasoned opinion” to the EU institutions on whether draft legislation complies with the principle of subsidiarity. There is also a Protocol on subsidiarity which requires that draft legislative proposals are justified on the basis of subsidiarity and proportionality.

If enough national parliaments vote to send a reasoned opinion the draft legislation must be reviewed.


The review does not mean that the proposal must be withdrawn. If the proposer (usually, the Commission) wished to continue with the proposal, it must set out a reasoned opinion on why it considers that the principle of subsidiarity has not been breached.

According to this, parliaments can only object when a law breaches the principles of either subsidiarity (some things are better handled by the individual countries) or proportionality (any EU laws must achieve the goal of the treaties with the minimum of side-effects or restrictions on the member states). If enough parliaments feel the proposal breaks these principles then the EU must either change the proposal or explain why it thinks it's right and the parliaments are wrong. Either way, the proposal continues on, unless more 50% of parliaments objected, in which case either the European parliament or the Council of Ministers can kill it (by a majority vote). The full details of this are laid out (fairly clearly) in Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality (full treaty available in all EU languages from this page).

So basically the "expanded" role of the national parliaments is that they get to point out when the EU is doing something it's not allowed to do. I'm not sure who policed this previously, maybe it required someone to take a case to one of the European courts but basically this is a nonsense power. If you were to listen to the "yes" campaign you'd believe the parliaments would be able bounce back any laws that they don't like. This is simply not true.

While I'm at it, Lisbon gives the EU power in lots of new areas, areas which are currently under the power of national parliaments. So no matter how you slice that, Lisbon is reducing parliaments' roles in all of these areas. Giving them the ability to act as a speed bump in the very limited circumstances I've described does not change that and certainly doesn't justify their role being described as "expanded".

For completeness I should also point out that parliaments have a new veto power. Various areas currently require unanimous agreement by member states but in the future these can be changed to qualified majority if all member states agree (interestingly the reverse, going from majority to unanimity is never possible). If this ever happens, parliaments can veto it. Of course this would require the rather unlikely situation where a prime-minister agrees to switch to majority but his national parliament vote against him. Again if you consider that, before Lisbon, it was impossible for any area to change from unanimity to majority, describing this veto as an "expanded" role is nonsensical - previously this power resided with the parliaments (or in some countries with the people) so again this is actually a reduction in the parliaments power. It's a bit like if you (parliament) and your partner (prime minister) have a joint bank account and then someone (EU) says "I'm taking your name off the account and putting my name on it but don't worry, you now have an expanded role - if I ever try to take your partner's name off the account, you're allowed stop me."

Interestingly, other pages on the Dept of Foreign affairs completely leave out the fact that parliaments can only object on grounds of subsidiarity and give the impression that they can object for any reason:

The Treaty gives a new role within the EU to national parliaments. All proposals for EU legislation will be forwarded to national parliaments for their consideration. National parliaments will have a period of 8 weeks in which to vet proposals and offer opinions on them. If enough national parliaments object to a proposal, it can either be amended or withdrawn. Any national parliament can block moves to increase the number of policy issues that can be decided by majority voting.
it's possible that I'm misunderstanding something but give that this contradicts other pages on the same website and also the Referendum Commission's description, this seems incorrect. I am waiting for a call back from the dept. with clarification. Update: they called me back, I'm correct, they don't think it's important.

So, there you go, war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength and reduced is expanded. It's funny, if this role for parliaments didn't exist at all, I probably wouldn't care. What I care about is that the "yes" side are lying about it and selling it as something it really isn't.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cinema trip: Doomsday

I went to see Doomsday on Thursday night. It wasn't as bad as the review led me to expect. I was supposed to go see Caramel but I missed the start time because Sichuan House was really busy and my excellent Kung Po chicken took ages to arrive.

Doomsday is mostly silly but good fun, Rhona Mitra looks nice and the depiction of Glasgow, 25 years after after law and order breaks down, almost makes this a documentary.

George Orwell: Politics and the English Language

Turns out my quotes are unreadable in Google Reader, presumably because they rely on the style-sheet. That sucks. I should bother the reader people about that.

A few years ago, I listened to a pretty good PARC forum, The Paradox of Political Language by Geoffrey Nunberg, University of California, Berkeley. In it he mentions Orwell's essay, "Politics and the English Language". I can't even remember if it played a big part or a small part in the talk but I decided I should read it.

Searching on Google now finds me lots of copies of the essay but for some reason, at the time, I didn't do that (or maybe it recently went out of copyright, I don't know). So off I went and bought "Orwell and Politics", a collection of his writings on politics.

It's got lots of interesting stuff in it and you pick up all manner of information about life in Britain before during and shortly after World War II. Stuff that you really wouldn't get in history class (if you took it!). There are lots references to odd political groups and the many Nazi-sympathizers that there were, seemingly quite a common thing before the war - those fascists were doing a fine job of keeping the wheels of industry and commerce turning and making sure the plebs didn't get above their station. There is also a lot of criticism of the blind support for Russia which was apparently quite common among intellectuals at the time.

It's got a copy of Animal Farm in it, including the original preface on "Freedom of the Press" which ironically did not make it to the press. In fact a repeated theme in the book is that while speech in Britain was quite free, with the major press owned by the rich, the political discourse of the time was completely distorted - a situation which has only really gotten worse with the further consolidation of the media and the increasing dependence on advertising for revenue.

Anyway, I have been slowly making my way through the book (I bought it in Dec 2006) and have now reached "Politics and the English Language". Of course I had read it already, back when I first bought the book but I decided I might as well read it again. Most of it feels completely unfamiliar to me. I recognised some stuff at the start but the rest is like I'm reading it for the first time. I don't know if I was distracted when I read before or if my memory really is that bad. Maybe it's just one of those things that you get more from each time, like The Naked Gun :). Anyway, the purpose of this post is to record what I thought were some great bits of that essay. They are as true today, as they were in Orwell's time, maybe moreso.

The word Fascism has now no meaning except in so far as it signifies "something not desirable." The words democracy, socialism, freedom, patriotic, realistic, justice have each of them several different meanings which cannot be reconciled with one another. In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. It is almost universally felt that when we call a country democratic we are praising it: consequently the defenders of every kind of regime claim that it is a democracy, and fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way. That is, the person who uses them has his own private definition, but allows his hearer to think he means something quite different. Statements like Marshal Pétain was a true patriot, The Soviet press is the freest in the world, The Catholic Church is opposed to persecution, are almost always made with intent to deceive. Other words used in variable meanings, in most cases more or less dishonestly, are: class, totalitarian, science, progressive, reactionary, bourgeois, equality.

Add to this list "terrorism" which now means "what they do to us" but definitely not "what we do to them".

I am going to translate a passage of good English into modern English of the worst sort. Here is a well-known verse from Ecclesiastes:

    I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here it is in modern English:

    Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

This is a parody, but not a very gross one. Exhibit (3) above, for instance, contains several patches of the same kind of English. It will be seen that I have not made a full translation. The beginning and ending of the sentence follow the original meaning fairly closely, but in the middle the concrete illustrations -- race, battle, bread -- dissolve into the vague phrases "success or failure in competitive activities." This had to be so, because no modern writer of the kind I am discussing -- no one capable of using phrases like "objective considerations of contemporary phenomena" -- would ever tabulate his thoughts in that precise and detailed way. The whole tendency of modern prose is away from concreteness.

I think it was the octopus in the following paragraph that made me want to write this post.

By using stale metaphors, similes, and idioms, you save much mental effort, at the cost of leaving your meaning vague, not only for your reader but for yourself. This is the significance of mixed metaphors. The sole aim of a metaphor is to call up a visual image. When these images clash -- as in The Fascist octopus has sung its swan song, the jackboot is thrown into the melting pot -- it can be taken as certain that the writer is not seeing a mental image of the objects he is naming; in other words he is not really thinking.

I have highlighted the most important sentence in the next paragraph.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

Orwell is blowing the whistle on the powerful hiding their crimes behind inoffensive euphemisms. 50 years on and such euphemisms are still being coined, accepted and regurgitated by the media. Instead of parroting them until they enter common parlance, an honest, responsible media would confront those who use them and make such phrases unutterable. Every time someone is allowed to say "extraordinary rendition" instead of "kidnap and torture" or "collateral damage" instead of "innocent civilian deaths", they have been let away with a deliberate lie. I wonder would war be less acceptable to voters and less comfortable for warmongers if they could not avoid "calling up mental pictures" of their crimes?

Has the gap between "real aims" and "declared aims" ever been as big as today? I like this image anyway.

When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink.

This is also as true today as ever.

Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

The Cure.

Orwell gives several pieces of advice on how to write well (I have cut and pasted paragraphs from various sections of his essay). The first one here really strikes a chord with me after all my recent letters-page activity.

People who write in this manner usually have a general emotional meaning -- they dislike one thing and want to express solidarity with another -- but they are not interested in the detail of what they are saying. A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?

Orwell is not unwilling to criticise use of the "not un-" construction, a construction I myself am not unguilty of using from time to time.

One can cure oneself of the not un- formation by memorizing this sentence: A not unblack dog was chasing a not unsmall rabbit across a not ungreen field.

His final list of rules.

I think the following rules will cover most cases:

(i) Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.

(ii) Never us a long word where a short one will do.

(iii) If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

(iv) Never use the passive where you can use the active.

(v) Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

(vi) Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

These rules sound elementary, and so they are, but they demand a deep change of attitude in anyone who has grown used to writing in the style now fashionable. One could keep all of them and still write bad English, but one could not write the kind of stuff that I quoted in those five specimens at the beginning of this article. 

The result

It is a little depressing to examine Orwell's list of "worn-out and useless" phrases that he would like to send to the dustbin.

One cannot change this all in a moment, but one can at least change one's own habits, and from time to time one can even, if one jeers loudly enough, send some worn-out and useless phrase -- some jackboot, Achilles' heel, hotbed, melting pot, acid test, veritable inferno, or other lump of verbal refuse -- into the dustbin, where it belongs.

I have no idea how popular or novel they were at the time but sadly for Orwell, it would be hard to find an edition of a newspaper today that didn't feature one or more of "Achilles' heel", "hotbed", "melting pot" and "acid test". I think "jackboot" is only missing because there's nobody to use it against, which leaves "veritable inferno" as the only one to have been extinguished (pardon the pun). It's not that I myself dislike these phrases, I grew up with them and they seem perfectly natural to me but I presume they were relatively new in Orwell's time. They were badly- and over-used enough for Orwell to list them in the conclusion of his essay and almost all of them not only survived but flourished.

Finally, I must admit that I have not (and will not) go back over my previous postings and letters to the editor to see how well I measure up by Orwell's standards. I know I put considerable effort into shortening and to-the-pointening some of the letters to increase their chances of publication, although it didn't always work. Hopefully though, by writing this post, his wisdom won't just slide out of my head again like... an Achille's heel sliding out of a jackboot, into a veritable inferno.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Proof by taxation

A little story

One day your boss says, "Great job, we want to give you a bonus, were you planning a holiday this year?". You say "well actually, I wanted to go here", you show him a website, "but I can't afford it". "How much is it?". "1000 euro", you say. "Great, we'll pay for that". "Thanks boss!". Happy days.

Later you realise that if they just give you 1000e you'll have to pay tax on that. The tax rate is 40% so that's a 400e tax bill, you still can't afford the holiday.

You head up to your boss's office and explain the problem. He's still in a great mood and says, "Don't worry, we'll pay your tax bill too". "Wow but there's another bit of a problem, I'll have to pay tax on that extra 400 too. 40% of 400e is 160e, I still can't afford it". You boss is looking less happy now and gets out a piece of paper. "Right, we'll pay all your tax, no matter what" and starts writing down some figures 1000 400 160 64 25.60 10.24 4.096 1.6384 0.65536 you hear him mumbling as he starts adding them all up. Suddenly Joan, his secretary, who's been quiet all this time blurts out "1666e and 66c". You both stare at her in amazement then after a lot more mumbling the boss says "my total is 1666e and .23c but I suppose if I added a few more lines to the sum it'd probably be 1666.66. How did you get it Joan?"

"Well, tax is 40% so he gets to keep 60% of anything you pay him. So the final amount in his pocket is the what you give him times 0.6 . So you're looking for a number that when you multiply it by 0.6 gives you 1000. So 1000 ÷ .6 is the number you're looking for because when you multiply that by 0.6 the two .6s cancel out and only the 1000 is left and 1000 ÷ 0.6 is 1666.666666666...", says Joan.

So what we have proved is that 1000 + 1000 x 0.4 + 1000 x 0.4^2 + 1000 x 0.4^3 + ... = 1000 ÷ 0.6 . There was nothing special about our choice of 40%, so replacing 0.4 with r (and 0.6 by 1-r) and dividing out the 1000 on both sides gives 1 + r + r^2 + r^3 + ... = 1 ÷ (1 - r) Of course there are other ways to prove this but, I like my proof by taxation because it feels like it explains why they are equal.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Israeli Refuseniks

Here's a very interesting article on Israeli soldiers, pilots etc who have refused to serve in the occupied territories. There are many quotes and they are fascinating. There are pilots who have refused to commit any more "crimes" or "state terrorism" by carrying out air-strikes on populated areas. There are prestigious elite commandos and ordinary soldiers who have spoken out against the use of the Israeli army for immoral purposes.

Some rambling thoughts.

It is bizarre that there is a country which is exercising such brutality on one hand but on the other is civilised enough that it is possible for these soldiers to do what they are doing. They are, of course, punished for their disobedience but the punishments are not extreme. And although their tales are depressing, it is somewhat hopeful that these people exist and their numbers are growing.

It seems to me that it is a lot harder to stand up like this, against your peers, your commanders and maybe even your subordinates than it would be to just continue following orders. Especially if you have been doing something for several years before you conclude that it is wrong. People rationalise their own actions in all kinds of ways and seem to want to continue doing the same thing even though they know on some level it is wrong because to change now is to admit that you were wrong all along.

That said, the pilots said they had noticed a change in the character of their missions in the last few years, "We believed in the purity of our arms and that we did all we could to protect unnecessary loss of life. Somewhere in the last few years it became harder and harder to believe that is the case." . I suppose it is easier to change allegiance when the object of your allegiance changes first.

BBC's coverage of Palestine

Media lens has a very interesting article on the pro-Israel bias in the BBC's coverage of the conflict. Most interesting was the quote from the BBC's correspondent Jeremy Bowen,

"There were no interviews yesterday with grieving families because as the death of the Reuters cameraman showed, it was very dangerous to move around. They may well surface in the next few days. Very little video came out of Gaza yesterday. In a piece I did the night before last I interviewed the father of an 11 year old boy, Riad al Uwasi from al Burej camp, who was killed last week. When he was killed it was impossible to get to al Burej, which is where the Reuters cameraman died. When things were calmer, it became possible, until the next incursion."
and Jonathon Cook's comment
"It is a terrible irony that, precisely because Israel has created an environment in the occupied territories in which it can unleash so much violence so unpredictably, journalists are increasingly fearful of venturing there to tell the human stories of the Palestinian casualties behind the simple numbers. It is, of course, equally ironic that, because life inside Israel is relatively safe, journalists can easily humanise the stories of the far smaller number of Israeli casualties. Unfortunately, Bowen and most other journalists fail to appreciate this irony or to act in useful ways to counter its effects on their reporting."

I keep trying to think about how and when I will explain this kind of thing to my offspring.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Copying an audio CD in Linux

Note for myself, the most straighforward way seems to be

mkdir $cdname
cd $cdname
# probably want--rspeed=something here too, I didn't do that and it went quite slowly
cdrdao read-cd -v 1 toc
#swap cds
cdrdao write -v 1 toc
It's surpisingly slow to read the CD. While trying to find a solution to the speed problem, I stumbled upon some more detailed instructions (which doesn't solve the speed problem but has some more examples).

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Dodgy bits of the Lisbon treaty: energy policy

All posts on Lisbon

This is in response to a comment on another blog. The Lisbon treaty isn't dodgy on energy policy per se, what's a bit dodgy is that this is not the first time someone is claiming that Lisbon is important for energy policy when, as far as I can tell, it changes nothing.

So here, side-by-side are everything the EU treaties say about energy, before and after Lisbon. Before is taken from a consolidated copy of the treaties after Nice published by and after is taken from a consolidated copy of the treaties after Lisbon published by the Institute of European Affairs (why I have to do the crappy work of putting this together is yet another reason to dislike the entire treaty process).

Article 3

1.   For the purposes set out in Article 2, the activities of the Community shall include, as provided in this Treaty and in accordance with the timetable set out therein:

(a) the prohibition, as between Member States, of customs duties and quantitative restrictions on the import and export of goods, and of all other measures having equivalent effect;


(u) measures in the spheres of energy, civil protection and tourism.
2. Shared competence between the Union and the Member States applies in the
following principal areas:
(a) internal market;
(i) energy;
No text
                                        Article 122
1. Without prejudice to any other procedures provided for in the Treaties, the Council,
   on a proposal from the Commission, may decide, in a spirit of solidarity between
   Member States, upon the measures appropriate to the economic situation, in
   particular if severe difficulties arise in the supply of certain products, notably in the
   area of energy.

Article 154

1.   To help achieve the objectives referred to in Articles 14 and 158 and to enable citizens of the Union, economic operators and regional and local communities to derive full benefit from the setting-up of an area without internal frontiers, the Community shall contribute to the establishment and development of trans-European networks in the areas of transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructures.

2.   Within the framework of a system of open and competitive markets, action by the Community shall aim at promoting the interconnection and interoperability of national networks as well as access to such networks. It shall take account in particular of the need to link island, landlocked and peripheral regions with the central regions of the Community.
                                     Article 170
1. To help achieve the objectives referred to in Articles 28 and 174 and to enable citizens
   of the Union, economic operators and regional and local communities to derive full
   benefit from the setting-up of an area without internal frontiers, the Union shall
   contribute to the establishment and development of trans-European networks in the
   areas of transport, telecommunications and energy infrastructures.
2. Within the framework of a system of open and competitive markets, action by the
   Union shall aim at promoting the interconnection and interoperability of national
   networks as well as access to such networks. It shall take account in particular of the
   need to link island, landlocked and peripheral regions with the central regions of the
No text
                                   TITLE XXI
                                         Article 194
1. In the context of the establishment and functioning of the internal market and with
   regard for the need to preserve and improve the environment, Union policy on energy
   shall aim, in a spirit of solidarity between Member States, to:
    (a) ensure the functioning of the energy market;
    (b) ensure security of energy supply in the Union; and
    (c) promote energy efficiency and energy saving and the development of new and
        renewable forms of energy; and
    (d) promote the interconnection of energy networks.
2. Without prejudice to the application of other provisions of the Treaties, the European
   Parliament and the Council, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative
   procedure, shall establish the measures necessary to achieve the objectives in
   paragraph 1. Such measures shall be adopted after consultation of the Economic and
   Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.
   Such measures shall not affect a Member State’s right to determine the conditions for
   exploiting its energy resources, its choice between different energy sources and the
   general structure of its energy supply, without prejudice to Article 192(2)(c).
3. By way of derogation from paragraph 2, the Council, acting in accordance with a
   special legislative procedure, shall unanimously and after consulting the European
   Parliament, establish the measures referred to therein when they are primarily of a
   fiscal nature.

The treaty adds new text - the first piece of new text is so vague as to be meaningless. The second piece of new text sets out the goals for the energy, which had not been set out before. As far as I can tell there are 0 new powers or abilities added in the field of energy. Despite not having the goals set out before the EU managed to agree a policy last year exactly along these lines, to combat climate change and provide energy security (see my letter for details and link). How did they manage to do that before ratifying Lison? I can only assume it's because we don't need Lisbon for the EU to do this.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Global Research Network. Hmmm...

I sometimes read the postings of Stephen Lendman and find them to be interesting and sane. I poked around his blog where he mentions the Global Research Network (feed).

So far I have only listened to 1 show (hour 1, hour 2) of GRN and I have mixed feelings.

If you were to judge it only by the commercials you would run a mile. They're all for about fear, impending doom and financial freedom. They reminds me of the contents of my spam folder except they're audio and actually paid for. I guess they pay the bills.

The radio show itself is not terribly slick either, Michel Chussodovsky, the host of the shows I've listened to, seems to be taken by surprise by the commercials and has to cut the guest off in mid flow, he is also a little abrupt with his guests, cutting across them to get his own feelings in. It's not in such a bad way, I suppose, he's usually in agreement with the guest but it's in contrast with other shows like Democracy Now or Electric Politics where the hosts tend to be a bit more focused on letting the guest say what he wants to say and muting their own views (which tend to be mostly expressed through their questions I guess). It's not a major thing but I notice it for some reason.

Finally, the content is interesting, if a little further towards the Gnomes of Zurish style conspiracy stuff than I'd like. The first hour is about F. William Engdahl's new book Seeds of Destruction. It was interesting stuff about genetic manipulation, terminator seeds (seeds which grow into plants whose seeds are sterile, so the farmer must buy new seeds every season instead of just using a small amount of the harvested seeds from last year - also here), patents on genes, the switch to only offering terminator seeds for food-aid. It also strayed towards tinfoil-hat territory a little. Nothing outright insane but much as I dislike Bill Gates, I don't think his foundation is aimed at repression of the poor - but what do I know?

I think I have to listen to a few more before coming to a conclusion. Also it's somehow Canadian, although they have yet to mention Mr Chip Hatflaps :)

k-12 mathematics is horrible

So says Paul Lockhart in Lockhart's Lament, a paper on how the US maths curriculum for kids kills creativity and enjoyment of maths. A lot of good points in there. I have no experience the US system so I don't really know if it's the same as the Irish or quite different. It's a good read anyway.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Listing the rational numbers

Here's a nice series of posts about how to list every rational number in its lowest terms, with no repeats (ie. only include 2/5 not 4/10). The key is to make a tree with 1/1 as the root and for each node i/j, put i+j/j as the left child and i/i+j as the right child. It's all laid out very clearly in the series of post which is based on a terse maths paper.

In the comments I found a link to another paper which comes at this using matrices and relates this tree with another previously known tree that also lists the rationals. It's a fairly readable paper too but a bit more technical.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

My Lai massacre

Interesting article on the My Lai massacre. The court martial found that the task force commander had wrongly made no clear distinction between combatants and non-combatants and this kept the blame from rising too far up the chain of command. The article's author obtained a copy of the top-level directive which governed this type of action. It basically said that if an area was temporarily controlled by the Viet Cong then you should be careful not to kill civilians so as to avoid embittering the population. In areas sympathetic to the Viet Cong - "accepted VC bases" - there are no civilians so they could "kill anything that moved".

Friday, April 11, 2008

Spitzer, The Fed, Banks and Bush

Greg Palast is always good fun. In this article he talks about the sub-prime crisis and the massive bailout given to the banks (but not the home-buyers) hit by it. Makes me really glad I don't live over there but it's not like anyone's immune to the goings on.

I wonder did all of the ratings agencies rate the sub-prime junk as AAA or just a select few. Are they now out of business? Do their customers have a right to sue for negligence. It's not that AAA rated stocks must never go boom but an unafforable loan to someone who can't pay it back is exactly the opposite of AAA.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Letter to the editor: Lisbon treaty and energy security

The interesting thing here is that what Sharon Keating said appears to completely untrue. I assume that anyone writing a pro-Lisbon letter actually has a reasonable grasp of what the treaty contains. There are reasons to vote No that are independent of the content of the treaty - it's unreadability, the process by which it came about, the undemocratic nature of its ratification in many countries - but the same is not true for voting Yes. So if Sharon has read and understood the treaty, getting its content on energy completely wrong is presumably deliberate.

There is another possible explanation for getting the energy details wrong. If you only read the Lisbon treaty, it appears to be inserting several new paragraphs on energy. If you look at the Nice treaty then you can see that they were mostly there already. The actual change is much smaller than you'd think from the "delete this, insert this" in Lisbon. So maybe Ms. Keating just made an honest mistake but then you have to wonder if she actually knows what she is saying "Yes" to!

She also massively distorts what I said in my letter so I'm not inclined towards the innocent explanation.

Sharon Keating claims that the Lisbon treaty gives the EU new legal powers to address energy security. Wading through the treaties myself I find that this is just not true.

The EU has had competence in the area of energy since at least 1992 and Lisbon doesn't change that at all. The Maastricht treaty promoted the building of trans-European energy networks, including reference to the special needs of islands on the periphery of Europe.

Lisbon clarifies the EU's energy policy goals but all these and more are already included in the European Energy Policy, agreed at the European Council meeting in March 2007 (available at

The only new item is that the European Council "'may decide, in a spirit of solidarity between Member States, upon the measures appropriate to the economic situation, in particular if severe difficulties arise in the supply of certain products, notably in the
area of energy".

This is so vague that it's impossible to know how and when this would translate into concrete action and seems completely irrelevant to the original question of how Lisbon will attract inward investment.

This treaty does nothing for energy security that the EU is not already doing. It provides no "new legal powers".

Finally, I never said that we should vote "No" and "casually sit back". All along, I have simply been asking the advocates of Lisbon to provide any evidence at all for their claim that Ireland will lose foreign investment if we vote "No". I'm still waiting,

The following sources were used to construct this letter, the Maastricht treaty, the Nice treaty (I also found a copy of this that had been nicely marked up to show what the Nice treaty actually changed but I closed the page so I don't have the link to hand, I think it was from EU Observer), the Europa energy policy page which has a link to the agreement containing the European Energy Policy which I found about from this report on European energy policy

It really is a lot of work to correctly argue against the twaddle that the Yes people come out with. It's far too easy to get wild claims published and careful refutations are difficult to make short and interesting.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Renaissance Hedge Fund and Black Swan talk

Interesting article about the Renaissance hedge fund and it's founder, Jim Simons. There was a reference to him in a Long Now talk (MP3, summary. by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who wrote The Black Swan. I haven't read the book but the talk is well worth a listen, the guy is quite funny and he takes quite a few shots at economists. He says his next book take shots at many more classes of academic!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

(Slightly wacky) Film about Lisbon Treaty

I watched End of Nations- EU Takeover & the Lisbon Treaty. This 82 minute report on the Lisbon treaty is quite interesting and has valuable information in it. It's illustration of the new voting rules leave France and Germany with enormous power in comparison to other nations is quite good. Also the comments by Anthony Coughlan are very interesting. Kathy Sinnott also some good stuff including a few anecdotes on what democracy means to some some eurocrats.

Unfortunately the whole thing is not helped by the fact that the makers have quite a bit of time for the more extreme conspiracy side of things - including an advert at the end for Alex Jones' latest "documentary" - the same Alex Jones who believes that 9/11 was a conspiracy involving tens of thousands of people who for some reason are all keeping quiet about it.

It's a pity they wouldn't release a "respectable" version of it, just containing the good stuff.

Letter to the editor: Confused about Lisbon Treaty

Looks like I forgot to post this letter on the blog. It was published a few days after I sent it. There was a reply and I followed up. Feels like I end up writing a letter every night when I get home from work!

I need some help on the Lisbon Treaty. Apparently we have to vote Yes or foreign businesses will stop investing in our country. They wouldn't do that if there weren't good business reasons.

So could someone please tell me what exactly in the Lisbon Treaty will make Ireland more attractive to foreign investment but will not make other EU countries equally more attractive?

If your answer involves phrases like "Ireland at the heart of Europe" please keep it to yourself, I've read enough of that already, 

Letter to the editor: Lisbon treaty and competitiveness


Paul Nolan thinks I missed the point with my question on the Lisbon treaty  (letters April 2nd). I did not. I asked a very focused question in an attempt to get a waffle-free answer and it worked. Thank you.

Mr Nolan tells us that Ireland's competitiveness versus other European countries will not be changed by the Lisbon treaty. We will still be the highly-educated, English-speaking, low-tax, gateway to Europe even if we vote "No".

With that question resolved, I would like to ask the other half of the question. What exactly in the Lisbon treaty will make Ireland and Europe more attractive for foreign investment versus the rest of the world.

Mr Nolan raises this issue himself and says, "the Lisbon Treaty includes a number of specific provisions" to make Europe "a better place to invest and do business". However he does not say what they are.

It is exactly this kind of answer, a serious sounding statement but no details, from the "Yes" campaign that has driven me to ask such narrowly focused questions.

As before, waffle-free answers please. Being "at the heart of Europe" might give politicians a warm fuzzy feeling but I suspect it doesn't do much for the shareholders of large companies,

Update: there was a pretty poor reply to this to which I have responded.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Dodgy bits of the Lisbon treaty: more intellectual property

All posts on Lisbon

It has been pointed out to me that Europe already has a say on IP issues and that this is not new. This is true, I followed and contributed a little effort to the software patent battle (that page contains the marvellous example of what European democracy can involve - 'When Brinkhorst spoke at the Council's "public session", the microphones were switched off. Thus we do not know what he said.'). I also recently asked some questions recently about Charlie McCreevy's new scheme to extend the duration of copyright for session musicians. Apparently this scheme will give them more money while not costing anybody anything - a modern day economic miracle of the loaves and fishes. One of my questions, yet to receive a reply, is about the "empirical studies" which back up this economic miracle.

So yes, Europe already has a hand in IP but that does not mean I have to be happy for that to be formalised and set in stone, particularly in the current form where there is no rationale, principles, social bargain or even a mention of the limited duration of an IP monopoly and certainly nothing about fair use.

Interestingly this seems to apply to the entire commercial section. I'll write about that too if I get a chance.

Funnily enough, I don't know whether your IP rights beat my rights to freedom of expression under the new human rights stuff. I presume this has been worked out before in a court somewhere but it doesn't seem to be included in the documents.

Letter to the editor: Facts on global warming

A long letter, maybe too long to print. I tried to write it for easy chopping


I'd like to thank Dick Keane for rising to the challenge and
presenting tangible claims in contrast to the rhetoric of other
climate change sceptics.

He is correct that CO2 is a very small part of the Earth's atmosphere.
He is also correct that there is far more water vapour in the
atmosphere (although NASA's Earth fact sheet puts it at 25 times
greater than CO2 in contrast to Mr Keane's 100). Neither of these two
facts justify his claim that CO2 is therefore "almost completely
irrelevant as a greenhouse gas".

Different gases have different properties, including different greenhouse
properties. Despite its relative rarity, CO2 is still a major greenhouse gas.
Water vapour is indeed the greatest greenhouse contributor and probably
contributes 2 to 4 times more than CO2 but CO2 is far from "irrelevant".

The other important point is that the amount of water vapour in the
atmosphere is relatively unaffected by human activity. If we add extra
water to the atmosphere it soon condenses and falls as rain. CO2 in
contrast stays in the atmosphere until it is extracted by photosynthesis
or absorbed into the ocean.

Finally, Mr Keane says that it is "warmer oceans", not human activities
over the last 150 years that have caused the observed increase in CO2.
There are two problems with this.

It is indeed harder for CO2 to dissolve in warmer sea-water, however
over the industrial period, the oceans have been a net
absorber of CO2. This could only happen if the level of CO2 in the
atmosphere from other sources was enough to overcome the effect of the
warmth and force the oceans to absorb even more.

Secondly, all the oil, coal and gas we've burnt neatly accounts for the
increase in CO2 that we've seen. To suggest that something else caused
the increase begs the question, "what happened to all that we released?".

Nature spent hundreds of millions of years extracting a vast amount of
carbon from the atmosphere and burying it as fossil fuel. The idea
that we can release it all back into the atmosphere over a couple of
centuries with no side-effects is extraordinary. As such it requires
extraordinary evidence to back it up. This evidence has not been

The sources of my data are The Royal Society's report on ocean
acidification, NASA and,

I got the information on total human CO2 emissions from and I also used thier comparison of the relative strengths of greenhouse gases

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Dodgy bits of the Lisbon treaty: self-amending

All posts on Lisbon

One of the big complaints of the "No" crowd is that the Article 48 of Lisbon treaty (again is still down so linking to Libertas's copy of this article) makes the EU treaties self-amending. The result being that this is the last referendum we'll ever need, from now on the EU can change itself without consulting us.

This appears to be wrong although I still think there is an element of dodginess. Here's what we're getting.

Article 48

An Article 48 shall be inserted to replace Article 48 of the TEU:
"Article 33

1. The Treaties may be amended in accordance with an ordinary revision procedure. They may also be amended in accordance with simplified revision procedures.

Ordinary revision procedure

2. The government of any Member State, the European Parliament or the Commission may submit to the Council proposals for the amendment of the Treaties. These proposals may, inter alia, serve either to increase or to reduce the competences conferred on the Union in the Treaties. These proposals shall be submitted to the European Council by the Council and the national Parliaments shall be notified.

3. If the European Council, after consulting the European Parliament and the Commission, adopts by a simple majority a decision in favour of examining the proposed amendments, the President of the European Council shall convene a Convention composed of representatives of the national Parliaments, of the Heads of State or Government of the Member States, of the European Parliament and of the Commission. The European Central Bank shall also be consulted in the case of institutional changes in the monetary area. The Convention shall examine the proposals for amendments and shall adopt by consensus a recommendation to a conference of representatives of the governments of the Member States as provided for in paragraph 4

The European Council may decide by a simple majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, not to convene a Convention should this not be justified by the extent of the proposed amendments. In the latter case, the European Council shall define the terms of reference for a conference of representatives of the governments of the Member States.

4. A conference of representatives of the governments of the Member States shall be convened by the President of the Council for the purpose of determining by common accord the amendments to be made to the Treaties.

The amendments shall enter into force after being ratified by all the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

5. If, two years after the signature of a treaty amending the Treaties, four fifths of the Member States have ratified it and one or more Member States have encountered difficulties in proceeding with ratification, the matter shall be referred to the European Council.

Simplified revision procedures

6. The Government of any Member State, the European Parliament or the Commission may submit to the European Council proposals for revising all or part of the provisions of Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union relating to the internal policies and action of the Union.

The European Council may adopt a decision amending all or part of the provisions of Part Three of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The European Council shall act by unanimity after consulting the European Parliament and the Commission, and the European Central Bank in the case of institutional changes in the monetary area. That decision shall not enter into force until it is approved by the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements.

The decision referred to in the second subparagraph shall not increase the competences conferred on the Union in the Treaties.

7. Where the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union or Title V of this Treaty provides for the Council to act by unanimity in a given area or case, the European Council may adopt a decision authorising the Council to act by a qualified majority in that area or in that case. This subparagraph shall not apply to decisions with military implications or those in the area of defence.

Where the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union provides for legislative acts to be adopted by the Council in accordance with a special legislative procedure, the European Council may adopt a decision allowing for the adoption of such acts in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure.

Any initiative taken by the European Council on the basis of the first or the second subparagraph shall be notified to the national Parliaments. If a national Parliament makes known its opposition within six months of the date of such notification, the decision referred to in the first or the second subparagraph shall not be adopted. In the absence of opposition, the European Council may adopt the decision.

For the adoption of the decisions referred to in the first and second subparagraphs, the European Council shall act by unanimity after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament, which shall be given by a majority of its component members.".

First of all, anyone who writes 'An Article 48 shall be inserted to replace Article 48 of the TEU: "Article 33 ...' needs help and this is the type of thing that makes me really object to this whole thing on grounds of comprehensibility but that's for another post.

The key to this seems to be that both revision procedures (ordinary and simplified) state that any revisions must be approved "by the Member States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements". So it seems pretty clear that nothing can change that would go against our constitution without a referendum. The "No"s appear to be legally wrong here but there is dodginess here indeed.

In the past, all amendments to the EU treaties have been put as referenda due to the "Crotty Judgement" which I gather said that we can't transfer sovereignty in any area to the EU without a referendum. The implication being that all the treaties involved some transfer of sovereignty. Of course not everything in the all the treaties involved that but they come as a package so we got a referendum even on the parts we could have passed in the Dáil. We could have chopped out certain parts of them and avoided the referenda. In fact they chopped out some parts of the Constitution to make Lisbon and thus avoided a referendum in France and Holland. [Updated: This is not actually the case, there was no need for a referendum in France first time around but they had one anyway, the changes between the EU Constitution and Lisbon were arguably trivial - the government just decided not to have a referendum the second time around - fuck you democracy!

It's likely we would have a referendum on all future EU treaties too - they are such a pain to get organised that the EU stuffs as much as possible into them. The result is that they will probably always contain something somewhere that requires a referendum. There's also the fact that people are just used to it and as I said in the previous post, if we passed an EU treaty without a referendum, people would be somewhat miffed.

Article 48 solves that "problem". From now on, the EU can quietly and quickly amend the treaties in lots of ways without the need for a treaty and therefore without triggering a referendum in Ireland. Only certain kinds of changes will require a referendum and those changes will no longer be bundled along with all of the others. From my vague understanding of Crotty, it would only be changes which add new areas of competence to the EU that would require a referendum. Changes in policy would not.

Article 48 would not allow the EU to start regulating religion or abortion for example (TBH I'm guessing but these seems like two areas we're fairly sure on) because it doesn't currently have powers in those area. It does however have power to regulate the environment and so Article 48 would allow the EU to switch from liking the environment to hating the environment (to pick an exaggerated example) with no referendum in Ireland - of course they would still need to get it past the national parliaments (unanimously or in qualified majority, depending on the area) but that's not as strong a situation as we have now.

So Article 48 is not the what the "No"s claim it is, however it seems like it really does change what say The People will have on the contents of future EU treaties compared to the say we have had in the past. Since I haven't heard anyone discussing the points I make here, just lots of "yes it is", "no it isn't", I consider it dodgy on 2 grounds

  1. The "Yes"s are dismissing this as not changing the status quo - yet another black mark against the "Yes"s and by association against the treaty.
  2. The real implications of this are not being debated at all, only the caricatures, it could actually be pretty undesirable - I'm not sure - which is good enough reason for me to say "No".

Dodgy bits of the Lisbon treaty: majority voting

All posts on Lisbon

For this point I am inferring things from the FAQ's on the Dept of Foreign Affairs' pro-treaty explanatory website (pro-treaty might be arguable but they certainly have a shiny-happy take on all of it). I simply could not be arsed trying to dig this stuff out of the text of Lisbon and the post-Lisbon version (I've had trouble finding a definitive pre-Lisbon version of the treaties being amended, the ones I can find are unclear whether they're before or after Nice).

We are moving from unanimous to majority voting in various areas, this is supposedly to allow work to get done. I don't think there's anything dodgy about this, you either agree with it or you don't.

What seems dodgy is what happens once the treaty is ratified. The areas which only require majority voting can change. I deduce from

13. What role does the Reform Treaty give to National Parliaments?

The Treaty gives a new role within the EU to national parliaments. All proposals for EU legislation will be forwarded to national parliaments for their consideration. National parliaments will have a period of 8 weeks in which to vet proposals and offer opinions on them. If enough national parliaments object to a proposal, it can either be amended or withdrawn. Any national parliament can block moves to increase the number of policy issues that can be decided by majority voting.
that it will not take a referendum for us to switch from unanimous to majority in any area.

Update: See my post on the "expanded" role of national parliaments for why this FAQ answer paints a rosier picture than is actually the case.

This fact seems like a pretty important point but if you were to read

7. Does the Treaty involve giving up national vetoes in many areas?

The Treaty does not involve changes in areas of sensitivity to Ireland such as taxation and defence. Unanimity is preserved for all decisions in these areas. This means that all Member States must agree to any new proposals in these areas.
There will be an increase in the number of areas in which decisions can be taken by Qualified Majority Voting (QMV). Most of these are of a technical character or relate to areas where the union has only limited competence. Examples of new areas where QMV applies are: the procedure for entry into the euro; administrative cooperation; internal EU financial regulations; humanitarian aid operations; and police cooperation (where Ireland is not obliged to take part but has the right to participate in individual measures).

In a 27-member Union, it is essential be able to take decisions by a majority vote if Europe is to function efficiently.
You would think that unanimity is guaranteed for key areas but leaves out the fact that any of these areas can be dropped by a Dáil vote.

So, am I wrong? Are there subtleties in the full text that invalidate my conclusion here or does this just come from the self-amending nature of (the famous article 48).

To describe the ability to block such a change as a new role for national parliaments is correct but a little misleading, the possibility never existed before, so this is not something used to be for the EU to decide but has been ceded to national parliaments. It's something that would have required a whole new treaty and presumably a referendum but is now just a vote in the Dáil.

To put it another way, this is not a transfer of power from the EU to national parliaments, it's a transfer of power from The People to national parliaments (at least in Ireland).

I don't even know if I object to this in itself but I do object to it being portrayed as the opposite of what it really is.

There is one other point here that appears to be relevant at first glance but I think isn't. This power might already belong to the national parliaments. It might not actually require a referendum to change one of these voting areas right now. Since the power has already been ceded to the EU, accepting changes to the manner in which decisions are made might be within the power of the Dáil anyway and so I'm wrong above to say that this is a power that used to belong to The People. I don't think this matters in for 2 reasons:

  1. It doesn't make the Yes side's explanation of the changes any less dodgy.
  2. After all the "no this treaty isn't self-amending", any attempt to amend this treaty or alter the voting arrangements that isn't put to a referendum (whether legally required or not) would result in uproar if not bloodshed.


I caved in and searched the treaty. This may or may not be Article 333 in the final text (sorry no better link, seems to be down at the moment)

                                     Article 333
1. Where a provision of the Treaties which may be applied in the context of enhanced
   cooperation stipulates that the Council shall act unanimously, the Council, acting
   unanimously in accordance with the arrangements laid down in Article 330, may
   adopt a decision stipulating that  twill act by a qualified majority.
This is in the "enhanced cooperation" section which seems to be the bit about adding more rules/powers. So basically we can give up unanimity on anything (interestingly we don't seem to be able to get it back or switch something that's currently majority to unanimous).

Friday, March 28, 2008

Question on Lisbon treaty

I found this Europa site that answers some questions on Lisbon. They also allow you to ask questions. Here's what I asked. I'll update when it's answered.


in your Q&A section you say that the Lisbon treaty is not easier to read because

"Changes to the EU's Treaties have always come about through amendments to previous Treaties: this was true of the Single European Act, as well as the Treaties of Maastricht, Amsterdam and Nice. The Treaty of Lisbon uses the same technique. The Union's two main Treaties will be renamed the Treaty on European Union and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. The two Treaties will have the same rank.

A consolidated version of the Treaty will be published on 15 April on the web and on 9 May on paper version."

but this was not true of the constitution. The Lisbon treaty is a modified version of the constitution - modified so that a referendum is no longer necessary in most countries.

So, is there actually a reason why Lisbon treaty could not have been written as a consolidated piece of text, replacing prior treaties.

Specifically, is there a significant legal difference in how countries must treat a treaty which replaces prior treaties and one which amends them?

Dodgy bits of the Lisbon treaty: intellectual property

I've set aside some time today to look at the treaty and I'll record the "highlights" as blog postings.

All posts on Lisbon

Before addressing the dodgy bits, I should say that there are some presumably non-dodgy bits and even some that are important. The most cited one being voting reform. I'm prepared to believe that the voting system doesn't work well anymore with all those extra countries. I also think that maintaining our influence in the EU is one area in which I'd trust Fianna Fail to get a good bargain for Ireland.

If the treaty was just the necessary reforms I don't think I'd have a problem with it. It's the extra stuff that is riding along that seems to benefit certain lobbies, eurocrats and superstatists that makes me want to vote no. I see no reason why I shouldn't make them rip that all out and try again with just the necessary reforms.

Anyway, here's the first bit that seems to be for the benefit of a lobby group

It looks like we're getting intellectual property for it's own sake. Compare this with the US, for example, where they can grant intellectual property rights only in ways that promote progress. Even this is still subject to abuse but challenges to IP laws have been taken and won based on these limitations. Under the Lisbon treaty if the EU thinks that it'd be a great idea for patents and copyrights to last forever and to cover far more than they do today, that seems to be within their power under this treaty.

Section 84:

84) The following new Article 97a shall be inserted as the final article of Title VI:


In the context of the establishment and functioning of the internal market, the European Parliament and the Council, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, shall establish measures for the creation of European intellectual property rights to provide uniform protection of intellectual property rights throughout the Union and for the setting up of centralised Union-wide authorisation, coordination and supervision arrangements.

The Council, acting in accordance with a special legislative procedure, shall by means of regulations establish language arrangements for the European intellectual property rights. The Council shall act unanimously after consulting the European Parliament.".

Compare with the US constitution

Clause 8. The Congress shall have Power To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

It also adds some other similar things into other sections on Common Commercial Policy. This gives the EU the right to negotiate and enter into international treaties on IP and other things. Given that these tend to be written by industry and their lobbyists they are far more oriented towards the comercialisation and extension of IP rather than the other side of the "copyright bargain".

As far I can tell, none of the other treaties mentioned IP at all.

This would presumably pave the way for further bullshit like Tesco can't sell Levi's jeans imported from non_EU countries without the brand owner's consent.

I have no problem with centralising control of IP with the EU, I can see harmonisation and streamlining benefits but your intellectual property is my intellectual restriction and so there must be limits and justifications for it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Letter to the editor: Confused about the Lisbon treaty

I'm sick of the shite that passes for debate on the Lisbon treaty.


I need some help on the Lisbon treaty. Apparently we have to vote yes
or foreign businesses will stop investing in our country. They
wouldn't do that if there weren't good business reasons.

So could someone please tell me what exactly in the Lisbon treaty will
make Ireland more attractive to foreign investment but will not make
other EU countries equally more attractive?

If your answer involves phrases like "Ireland at the heart of Europe"
please keep it to yourself, I've read enough of that already,

Published a couple of days later.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Letter to the editor: climate change


as usual Robert O'Sullivan includes no actual facts or arguments in
his letter on climate change (Mar 24th), just flippancy and vague
references to unnamed "think-tanks" who are supposedly raking it in
from climate change "codology". The great advantage to this form of
"argument" is that it can't be contradicted because it contains no

The only point of interest is his statement that we need not worry
because "the planet will take care of itself as it has done for
billions of years". I'm not sure Mr O'Sullivan gets the full
implications of what he is saying.

There is no reason to think that the planet will take care of us while
it's taking care of itself. In fact the exact opposite seems likely.

Neither nature nor this planet have our interests at heart. There is
no reason to believe that we can release gases, destroy forests and
drain aquifers on an industrial scale with no consequences.

There is certainly no reason to believe that the planet can equitably
sustain the 9 billion humans projected for 2050 without either a huge
change in our impact on the environment or a huge fall in living
standards for many. At the moment it is those whose standard are
already lowest who are bearing the brunt.

Yes the planet will take care of itself but we are responsible for
taking care of ourselves,

Published 2 days after. Funnily 2 comments (one by another Fergal) on the original letter say pretty the same thing between them.

Dick Keane took up my challenge for facts and I replied.