Monthly Archives: December 2004

Downtown Manchester is Blanketed With These Posters

Downtown Manchester (UK) seems to have one of these posters on every block:

They all advertise HungryRats.com, and are part of a campaign to educate Manchester residents about rat control — especially not throwing food where rats can get to it.

They're spooky posters, and it is probably an effective campaign, but how can the rats be “getting closer” if they are already close enough to eat your discarded food?

Posted in UK | 1 Comment

Common Market, But No Common Sense of Humor

The Guardian runs its annual story about the German fascination with an ancient 18-minute British comedy sketch featuring Freddie Frinton called “Dinner for One”. (As far as I can tell the Guardian runs some version of this story almost every year, always saying that no one in the UK has ever heard of the skit….)

At 7.40pm on New Year's Eve millions of Germans gather reverently round their TV sets to watch Dinner For One – an 18-minute British comedy sketch featuring Freddie Frinton as drunken butler James and May Warden as his elderly aristocratic boss Miss Sophie.

….

Since it was first shown in 1963 the sketch has achieved a cult following in Germany. It is one of the country's most successful TV programmes – no mean feat given that it is shown in a language that most Germans don't actually speak. But nobody in Britain has ever heard of it.

It's an amazing example of cultural non-comprehension: the Germans think the UK sketch is so funny that it has become a major Christmas tradition, complete with (optional) drinking game. The British, well the English anyway, don't think the sketch is particularly funny and can't understand why the Germans think its such a riot. The Germans can't understand why the English don't understand just how funny it is. Both nations conclude that the other nation lacks a sense of humor. (Or humour.) There's no question that the British (and especially English) sense of humour is quirky: witty repartee, check, funny skits (think Monty Python), check, jokes, nope. But although there is much to admire about Germany, I would have to say that German humor is to me about as inscrutable as it gets. There's a certain taste for slapstick, a form of 'humor' I always think is too mean-spirited to be funny. There are a few jokes, but I hardly ever get them. And otherwise its just not funny.

Here's the full script of 'Dinner for One', complete with the famous final lines as Frinton carries Warden up the stairs:

“Same procedure as last year, Madam? – Same procedure as every year, James.”

Posted in UK | 3 Comments

Shorts

Since I'm in the UK on a slow link, here's a linkdump:

Posted in Etc | 4 Comments

The Administration Treats Torture As the New Normal

The people on the ground believed for some strange reason that their authorization to torture came straight from Rumsfeld and maybe even the White House. What on earth could have given them such a strange idea? See the Washington Post and the New York Times.

The new documents include several incidents of threatened executions of teenage and adult Iraqi detainees

Smart pundits are now predicting that Rumsfeld is being kept around to take the fall in six to twelve months for both the torture and the failure of the Iraq war. Meanwhile, even relatively mainstream inside-the-beltway types such as Matthew Yglesias now view the prospect of a war crimes prosecution with weary equanimity:

Laura Rozen looks at the latest developments on the torture front and remarks that it “is not1 at all inconceivable that some day not too many years off Rumsfeld and Bush will face arrest if they travel abroad for command responsibility for war crimes, like Pinochet.” Indeed, not only is it conceivable, I think in some ways it has to be regarded as expected at this point. I only hope the good judges of the rest of the democratic world recognize that it would be counterproductive to hand down indictments before this crew has left office, as such action would only inflame the embers of brain-dead nationalism that have done so much to get them re-elected.

The really interesting thing about the spate of stories we've seen over the past two weeks isn't so much that widespread torture was taking place (we knew that already) but that large swathes of the security and intelligence establishment issued various protests. It's testament both to the basic integrity of most of America's security professionals and to the utter moral depravity of the people in the Bush-Gonzalez-Rumsfeld-Wolfowitz-Feith-Cambone chain that this happened. In a decent world, Al Gonzalez would face some rough questions about all this at his confirmation hearings, but I don't think we live in that world.

This tired acceptance, this learned helplessness, in the face of wrist slaps for the unlucky grunts (much more than a few bad apples—we're talking pattern and practice here) and non-investigations of the guilty is itself tragic.

“What the documents show so far was that the abuse was widespread and systemic, that it was the result of decisions taken by high-ranking officials, and that the abuse took place within a culture of secrecy and neglect,” [ACLU lawyer Amrit] Singh said.

Much as it pains me, the failure of all three branches of our government to deal with this in a timely way seems like the strongest argument yet for the International Criminal Court—clearly even our domestic checks and balances are not up to the task. The military's internal nonjudicial punishments meted out for, say, graphically threating to kill detainees, are vastly insufficient for what are clear war crimes.

Posted in Guantanamo | 14 Comments

How I Shrank the Blog Spam

Many ISPs, including mine, are having major problems with comment spam straining their servers. I can report that two simple fixes have blocked a HUGE fraction of my MT 2.6x comment spam: closed comments on all posts more than a month old, using the close comments plugin, and I rewrote my comment templates to require users to preview comments once before posting. Combined with my usual MT-Blackllist list, the results are dramatic. Not 100% blockage, but at least 97% of the stuff that used to get through isn't. And much of what remains is weird spam — links to non-existent web sites … which I presume are being groomed for sale once they get high googleranks. (And lots of these are in the .de TLD for some odd reason.)

Posted in Discourse.net | 1 Comment

Is Class Bloggable? How About Private Chats?

Yale Law Student Will Baud puts the cat among the pigeons: should (can) professors limit what students say about them in blogs? FWIW, my view is that class is bloggable, but that it's bad taste to blog any private conversation, whether with a professor or anyone else, without that person's consent. Smart students will, however, consider that people, yes even professors, may figure out who they are, and modulate their remarks as they would in any other signed communication. Plus, once you post something, it's pretty much up there for ever.

I certainly feel very constrained, maybe the word is “shy”, about posting much personal stuff here. Pretty much anything that mentions my family I clear with my spouse.

Posted in Blogs | 4 Comments

Leading UK Lawyer Won’t Take Part in Detention Cases

The Guardian reports that Ian MacDonald QC, one a relatively small number of British barristers allowed to represent suspected terror suspects before the UK Special Immigration Appeals Commission , has announced he will not longer take those cases following the House of Lords ruling that the detentions are illegal. The Guardian speculates that many, perhaps all, of the other barristers with similar status will follow suit, putting a real spanner in the works. Once again, the British lawyers are ahead of us.

Posted in UK | 3 Comments