When will our leaders take responsibility?

“Let us say one thing. If we are wrong we will have destroyed a threat that, at its least, is responsible for inhuman carnage and suffering. That is something I am confident history will forgive.” (from Tony Blair’s speech to heads and spokesmen for major US corporations US Congress, Thursday 17 July 2003)

How much disgust can I express at a prime minister who comes up with a quote like this to justify a war? A letter in the Guardian today does a good job:

“Tony Blair is sounding more and more like a policeman who, having been found out being selective with the evidence, argues that the suspect was a career criminal and deserved to go down anyway.”

I would add that saying “history will forgive” us if we were wrong about Iraq having weapons of mass destruction (I use the words “us” and “we” consciously: I, along with every voter in Britain, share the blame for this disgrace) is the statement of a colossally arrogant man who believes that he has right on his side by definition. He claims he was right, but even if he is “proved” wrong, then history will overrule the doubters and call him right retroactively.

It’s the statement of a man who will not accept responsibility for his actions. Because all he has to do is wait out any crisis, and history will absolve him of any blame. It’s the statement of a zealot, spoken in the most seductive tones of the language of hate and atrocity.

History will forgive us. God will forgive us. Our reward lies in the afterlife. Kill the infidels.

No. I’m not an expert on forgiveness, but Abi and I have had many discussions on the matter. Forgiveness requires you to take responsibility for your actions, and to show remorse for them.

The Bush and Blair regimes are showing extreme determination not to take responsibility for the evils of their international policies. Despite the war supposedly being at an end, American and British servicemen are still being killed in Iraq. Hundreds of prisoners are still being kept in limbo in Camp Delta on Cuba with no charges having been brought against them. And back here in Britain, a top government scientist appears to have killed himself after being hounded as a scapegoat over allegations that he had spoken to the BBC in order to blow the whistle on certain “facts” in the government’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons capabilities.

Okay, so the foreign office appears to be doing something about some of the British prisoners at Camp Delta, but that still leaves hundreds of others that we are turning our backs on. If you have a British passport, then maybe we can help you. If not, then we’re quite content to let you rot.

This is not the position of a government that is even willing to acknowledge the possibility that they may be held to account over these human rights abuses.

As for the US position on Camp Delta, and how it enjoys special status because it lies outside the boundaries of US law… Fuck that. No, really. Camp Delta is controlled by the US military. Who controls the US military? The US Executive branch. Who can hold the US Executive branch to account for their crimes? The US Judiciary. The chain of responsibility is right there. Claiming that normal US laws about due process don’t apply in Guantanamo is tantamount to saying that the US military are a bunch of mercenaries who operate on their own recognizance, with no oversight, no charter, and no rule other than “might makes right.”

If that’s the case, what is there to stop them from holding the rest of the world to ransom over any perceived slight to their pride and supremacy? Or better yet, turning their sights on the US itself, and deposing its rulers?

I knew it was a mistake to start watching and reading the news again. It just makes me angry, depressed, and frustrated. It sickens me to see our so-called leaders deflecting responsibility to protect their own careers and the backs of their cronies. Unless they consider the possibility that they may be wrong, and take action to mitigate the consequences of their actions, history will not–can not–forgive them. Instead, they will be held up as a shameful example to future generations, a testament to lessons not learned, and a warning against the Sisyphean damnation of eternal repetition.

The significance of nuclear submarines

I suspect that many of you readers (yes, all three of you) will go “well, duh!” about this, but it was only last week that I figured out the significance of nuclear submarines. It’s the oxygen.

Diesel-powered submarines use combustion engines to provide power and charge the sub’s batteries. And just like every other combustion engine, they use a mixture of fuel and oxygen to run. Diesel fuel is stored on board, as is a certain amount of oxygen. But the crew on board use oxygen, too, and the engines use it up quickly. As a result, diesel subs have to surface regularly to refresh their air–both for the crew and for the engines.

Nuclear subs run on nuclear-powered engines. These engines use the heat of nuclear fission to drive steam turbines, which in turn charge the batteries. But this process doesn’t “burn” any fuel, and so doesn’t consume any (or much) oxygen. Which means that the oxygen stores on board can be used purely for for the crew. So a nuclear sub can stay underwater much longer than a conventional sub with the same amount of oxygen on board.

Body of Secrets by James BamfordThere’s also a matter of nuclear fuel being more compact than diesel, and nuclear engines being more efficient in their power output than diesel engines, but the real key is their ability to go stay under for longer. This provides a real strategic and tactical operational advantage. In the amazing book Body of Secrets, James Bamford describes how the USS Halfbeak, while on a spying mission off the northern coast of Russia, was forced to stay under water for just a matter of days:

“Eventually the oily air began turning thin and rancid. The captain passed the word to break out the carbon dioxide absorbent–cans of powder would be spread on bunks to help draw the deadly gas from the air. Nevertheless, the sub’s doctor warned that the oxygen levels were becoming dangerously low. Sailors, including Cassidy, passed out and had to be revived. Two large oxygen cannisters were placed in the central part of the sub, and it was suggested that those who felt faint should take a few deep breaths from the masks attached.”

Nuclear submarines can stay submerged for weeks rather than days.

Bamford’s book is a eye-popping must-read, and I’m only half-way through. I’ll write more about it once I’ve finished it.

Bad tech week

It looks like our CD burner has given up the ghost. I’d made a CD for Scott and Ange with some Alex photos and pictures from Ange’s 30th birthday party, but Scott told me last week that they couldn’t read it. I tried it in my computer, and it’s unreadable there, too. I tried burning some more discs today, and they’ve all come out as coasters. The shiny undersides of the discs are being discoloured, so the burner is writing something to them, but clearly not in a language that other CD-ROM drives can understand.

Sigh. I suppose this means I get to petition Abi for a new CD burner, or a DVD-writer. Under normal circumstances I’d be going “yay!” but right now it’s just annoying. I don’t want to buy anything new. I just want to the stuff I already have to work properly.

Belkin 54g wireless gateway/routerI’m having a bad tech week, you see. I spent a large chunk of Sunday evening (and night) getting our new broadband gateway/router to work, when it should have been a fairly simple plug and play operation. Until now, our network contained two client computers connected to a file/gateway server, using wireless network cards and WinProxy for sharing and filtering our internet connection. We have now decommissioned the server, and have put the Belkin router in its place. The plan had been to use the wireless connections to link us all together, but unfortunately our wireless cards are way old (we bought them in 1999, before 802.11b got fashionable), and thoroughly incompatible with everything except themselves. So for the moment my computer is hooked up to the router with ethernet, and Abi’s laptop is daisy-chained to mine with the wireless cards. I’ve got my machine set up for internet connection sharing, so I’m acting as a pass-through between Abi and the router. Bizarre, but it works.

(To be fair to the Belkin, the gateway/router is a lovely piece of kit. If it hadn’t been for the compatibility problems it would have been a breeze to set up. Belkin have paid a lot of attention to the user interface of the setup and configuration program, and it’s very tidy and easy to understand.)

And finally there’s this piece of lab equipment that my parents use, which isn’t working properly, and I’ve been trying to figure out. I’ve been learning all kinds of things about COM ports and serial connections. But am I any closer to actually making the apparatus run smoothly? Er, no.

(And don’t even talk to me about the day job.)

Like I said, bad tech week. Fortunately I have Thursday and Friday off, and I’m going to visit soon-to-be-daddy Dave and my Grandma in Aberdeen. The thought of not seeing a computer for a couple of days is very relaxing. 🙂


Hottest weekend of the year so far. Saw “Hulk” with Alan on Saturday, took the bus out to Seton Sands and walked to Cockenzie Beach to watch Pablo and Richard kitesurfing. (Well, only Pablo was on the water…Richard was taking photos.) Then we all drove back into town, hooked up with Jess, and bundled out to the nearby pub, where much alcohol was consumed. (Too much, in my case… I keep forgetting that I am out of practice with drinking. When I got home, I unfortunately had to spend some quality time cuddling the porcelain teddy bear.)

Sunday hangover. Slept till 12. Hot again. First BBQ of the year. We had steaks, and also grilled some thick slices of aubergine, dipped in olive oil and liberally sprinkled with salt and pepper. Smoky and savoury on the outside, juicy and sweet on the inside. Yum!

Very hot again today. Went to work in my shorts. Didn’t get laughed at.

More coherent posting soon…maybe…

More spam

“This is one-time email only, you were not subscribed to any mailing list – you don’t need to unsubscribe. If this email offended you in any way, recieve my deepest apology.

There was actually no other way how to address you directly. Your email wasn’t harvested by any robot, I personaly visited and enjoyed your website and chose you as a person who might be interested in my [product].”

Yeah, right.

The Quiet PC, taken to extremes

I’ve taken yet another step on my continuing quest for a quiet PC. After bundling the guts of the PC into a specially muffled AcoustiCase, installing a Zalman Flower Cooler on the CPU, and another massive sink on the video card, what else could there be left to do?

Well, if you work on the assumption that all electrical equipment makes some noise, then the only way to get a completely silent PC is never to switch it on. Unfortunately that doesn’t actually make for a very useful piece of computing apparatus. The next best thing, though, is not to switch it on in the same room.

With the aid of a keyboard extension cable, a new USB hub (which acts as a USB extension cable, with added ports), and a very long monitor cable, my computer now sits on the other side of a nice, thick wall. It still makes the same amount of noise that it did before (which is very little, thanks to all of the earlier modifications), but it makes it somewhere else.

Which means that for the first time, it’s now really feasible to use my PC as a consumer music device: a stereo. Stereos don’t make any noise, except a very slight electrical hum. This is why “Media Center” PCs are doomed to fail–at least for the next few years. If your “Media Center” isn’t playing music, it has to be silent. Just “quiet” isn’t good enough. That means no fans at all. It’s got to be passive cooling all the way, unless you have the space and cash for a dedicated cabinet, or, like me, a convenient storage room on the other side of your living room wall.

Philips A3.300 stereo speakers + subwooferSo at the same time as getting the equipment to move the PC, I bought a set of Philips A3.300 speakers (2 flat stereo satellites + a chunky subwoofer). They don’t have the same depth and warmth of our old Mission 750 LEs, but for a set of mid-range computer speakers, they’re pretty good. They fill the living room with a crisp, clear sound that is great for radio and perfectly adequate for everyday MP3 listening. The big advantage they have over a full stereo set-up is that they don’t sit around on speaker stands waiting for a small toddler to knock them over.

I’m liking it a lot. We haven’t had music in our living room for about two years now, apart from the times we play music DVDs or cable radio through our TV, and the occasional cacophonic blast from the built-in speakers of my Iiyama monitor. But music is as central to my happiness as bread and pasta, and these new speakers are making me a very happy bunny.

Dave Matthews Band - Live in Chicago at the United Center 12.19.98Currently listening to: Dave Matthews Band – Live in Chicago at the United Center 12.19.98. Lovely.

(Next comes the whole question of what music/MP3 player to use on the computer…but that’s a topic for some other time.)