Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Good Paperwork

As a general rule, I hate administrative paperwork. In fact, it seems to me to be one of the worst banes of the academic life. For reasons I have never quite understood, there are some people who seem to relish doing paperwork. They appear to find some sort of virtue in it. For the life of me, I cannot see why. It is most often boring, it seldom requires much careful thought, or creativity, and more often than not, it involves creating documents that nobody will ever read.

Today, unfortunately, was a day dedicated to paperwork. However, as opposed to it being a royal pain, it was actually quite exciting. The reason it was OK was because it was a day dedicated to putting together the request for my new computer.

We have many forms for things. These forms often require covering letters, supporting evidence and the like. Sometimes all these forms can produce bizarre results. One of my favorite of these concerns requests to send materials out by courier. This means doing a formal purchase request. Unfortunately, given the vast number of signatures such requests require and the huge number of offices that it has to pass through, such requests usually take a couple of weeks to finally get approved. Of course, this rather defeats the goal of using the services of DHL, FedEx and similar companies. As a result, it is easier to just pay for the couriers out of one's own pocket.

In my younger, less responsible days, I also used to have fun with our various forms. For instance, I sent in a formal travel request in the name of a very dotty senior faculty member requesting authorisation for travel "Back to Reality". Not many people knew it was me behind such antics, but those that did thought that it was a pretty good joke.

It turns out that requesting a new computer, as I did today, is an activity that also requires a plethora of forms and documentation. A normal computer is complex enough, but if one wishes to request a laptop, institutional paranoia is such that there is a whole special extra level of forms and justifications required. As I have done this many times before, it was pretty straightforward, as I was able to use the text that I have used on previous occasions.

Another quirk of our computer purchasing process is that we are supposed to order standardized models of machines. Needless to say, although this sounds sensible in theory, hopefully guaranteeing standard parts and the like, in practice the result is a complete mess. When I looked up the standard laptop today, I discovered that it is no longer sold by Dell! A few calls later, I was able to find out the newly approved standard models. I was actually quite impressed. At least one of them is not a bad machine at all. In fact, it is quite a bit better than my current machine.

Unfortunately, the new machine is not quite right for my needs. Some of my research work requires the use of software that is not too usual for a philosopher. This software puts particular and stringent demands upon computing hardware. Thus, I also had to provide a justification for why I should be able to order a machine that had more advanced features than the base model. This is where doing this paperwork got to be fun.

In addition to being able to design my dream system, using the Dell website, I also had to come up with detailed reasons for why I needed each of the enhanced features. This is the kind of paperwork that does actually require some creativity. Not only that, but one has to be able to make this justification in a manner that can be understood up the administrative food chain, often by people with few technical qualifications (e.g. Mac users). In other words, this requires some pretty sophisticated argumentative strategies. Of course, making arguments is one of the best fun things that one gets to do as a philosopher.

For these reasons then, this was a good kind of paperwork. As I carefully argued my case for a faster processor, doubling the memory and for a larger hard drive, I was also able to enjoy the very thought of what a joy this system will be, once I have set it up to my own taste. I just have to hope that this application meets with approval. I am pretty sure that it will, as I already have verbal approval. The next thing will be the long wait until the new system actually arrives. In the meantime, I have learned that not all paperwork is bad.

The CP

Monday, July 30, 2007

Small World

Today was my first day back in the office after my recent trip. As usual, there were piles of mail to be read and answered and all the usual detris that happens after being away. However, what was a little more interesting was some changes that have occurred during my absence.

The first change is that we have a new temporary secretary in our main office. It seems that our usual person has opted to take some time off, for medical reasons. I also discovered that during my absence, a colony of ants seem to have moved into my office. These are not welcome guests. I learned from the janitorial staff that ants are very common in our building. They were surprised that I had not been infested before. Thus, I was able to, as their first task, ask our temporary secretary lady to try and get someone in with dangerous chemicals to get rid of these critters.

A little later, I wandered across the hall, as I wanted to have a chat with the chair of the other academic unit that shares our floor. He was not around, but to my surprise it appears that this unit too has a new secretary. Perhaps a little more interesting is the fact that this is someone I know, who recently changed job. It is nice to have familiar faces around the place.

While I was chatting and catching up with this individual, I was surprised to see some other people I knew, who I had not seen in a while. This is a young and bright academic couple who were with us for a while, but then disappeared off, to do post-docs. I had rather assumed that they would not bother coming back, but it seems that they have. This is good news. They are proper academics, who publish, unlike many of the ersatz faculty that haunt my institution.

We naturally got chatting, mostly catching up and swapping gossip. Then, to my surprise, they mentioned that where they had been for their post-docs, there was somebody who knew me. This puzzled me a little, not least because for the life of me, I could not remember where they had been, other than the fact that it was a much fancier place than our institution. I do know quite a few people around the place, but it is not too common for me to know people outside my own area of study. So, this was a bit of a puzzle.

Initially, they could not recall exactly who it was who knew me. Oh well, I thought, another of life's little mysteries. Perhaps this was someone I got into a scrap with at some interdisciplinary conference that I go to from time to time. However, on the face of it, this did not seem too plausible, due to the field of study concerned. Then, they remembered!

It turns out these folks had been sharing a working environment with one of my favorite bloggers, the venerable Tenured Radical! This was just too weird. They talked very highly of the Tenured Radical, in her real life persona. Somehow, I am not really surprised. However, upon making this discovery, I immediately thought of the title of the academic novel Small World, by David Lodge. This is indeed one.

The CP

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Surviving A Lightening Strike

I got an e-mail recently from a person who could not manage to leave a comment here, for some reason. My guess is that they did not have the ever evil JavaScript enabled. However, in the e-mail, they asked about my experiences following my recent lightening strike, that I mentioned here. As this has been a somewhat instructive experience, I think that it is worth a little bit of discussion.

When my house was hit by lightening, there were a number of less than good consequences: My TV was fried, my Tivo became a glorified paper weight, my laptop power supply was toast, along with the Ethernet card on the motherboard and finally, my wireless hub went the way of all flesh. Basically, it was a bit of a mess. I have now recovered from all this and, in an odd way, things have not turned out too badly. Hopefully, what happened to me may be instructive to others faced with a similar situation.

Computer Issues
The most immediate and obvious problem concerned my laptop. Without my computer, work had to be put on hold. I was also worried that my unbacked up data might also have been gone. As I was out of the house when the strike occurred, the fried power supply was the first concern. While I was away, the batteries on the laptop had run out. Without power, there was no way to assess the rest of the damage.

So, my first action was to call Dell and ask for a replacement power unit. At the time, I had not figured out that the problem was caused by lightening. However, as my machine is still under warranty, they sent me the new power supply in a couple of days. I really like the fact that their support is '24/7'.

By the time the new power supply arrived, I had realised that the problem was not just a faulty unit, but more serious. Once the machine had power again, I was happy to know that the entire motherboard was not gone, but the Ethernet card was dead. My unbacked up data was also intact, to my great relief. So, I called Dell again and they sent me new parts to make the machine work properly again. Although actual events were a little more involved than this description makes it sound, once again Dell deserve credit for getting my machine back up and running. I am now a big fan of warranty programs.

When the guy showed up to fit the new motherboard (the Ethernet card is built onto the motherboard), I shared with him my suspicion that the cause was a lightening strike. He was kind enough to tell me that, although there were all new parts, the machine should not be trusted -- it could become unreliable any time. I also talked to our head University hardware tech. He confirmed this judgement. Thus, I was able to make an application for a new laptop. This application has been successful. Thus, I should be getting a new machine soon. It will be much better than my current machine -- a faster processor, with multiple cores, a bigger hard drive, even a better kind (for Dell experts, it will be a Latitude, rather than an Inspiron). This was the first plus from getting hit by Thor's bolt from the sky. However, it was not the last.

My TV was a total loss. However, as I do not have a huge mega-screen horror, for about one hundred and fifty bucks, I was able to get a replacement. The new TV is also much more up to date and will not have to quit when things go all digital. It also is stereo and has better connections for the satellite box, Tivo and all that stuff, so it is certainly better than the last one. It turns out this was the only major expense from this whole experience, for reasons that will become clear (hopefully) below.

The issue of the Tivo was a little more tricky. This was a gift from someone who is technically challenged. Thus, it was never too good a fit, but I had still got used to having it. I was glad to be rid of the original in some ways, as the gift giver had become a thorn in my side, due to their mental illness issues. However, when I called Tivo to ask about warranty issues, they were not helpful. They told me that they could replace my unit, but it would cost me one hundred and fifty dollars. I was not too happy about this. After some thought, I decided to write the unit off and cancel my subscription. When I called Tivo to tell them this, things changed (this is a point to pay attention to). The Tivo people decided that, when threatened with cancellation, they could in fact replace my machine for free. All I had to do was send them back the old one (cost, just twenty dollars).

This turned out to be the second big win from the lightening strike. When the new Tivo arrived, it was the same model as the original, but had several fancier features, like dual tuners and a proper Ethernet connection, rather than just a dubious wireless one that had been on the original. As they say in Soccer "Score!".

Wireless Hub
I had not really paid too much attention to the wireless hub. I do not really use it too often. For the most part, I directly connect to my modem, via an RJ-45 lead. As the modem survived the lightening, I assumed that the hub had as well. In addition, all the blinky lights seemed to be working OK. However, with the new Tivo, with an RJ-45 connection on it, I needed to use the hub to give me multiple net connections, in addition to the single one on the back of the modem. It was when exploring this that I figured that the hub was dead. The folks at Linksys were very helpful in diagnosing the problem. When they had deduced that the unit was a goner, they immediately offered to replace it, for free. All I had to do was send them the old one. I was especially surprised about this, as I could not find the original receipt. This did not phase them in the slightest.

Putting it all together
Now, I have the new hub, I can connect to the network either by cable, or wirelessly. This is great. Better yet, I now have my Tivo attached to the network. This means that I have a whole bunch of additional features enabled, which I did not have on the old unit. The other thing which is really cool is that using a neat bit of software that I was able to download from the Tivo website, I can now transfer recorded programs onto my laptop for viewing there. This is going to be really useful when travelling overseas, especially. Unfortunately, the software only seems to work under Windoze, which is a shame (I prefer my Linux partition), but this is a small price to pay for the additional functionality.

Basically, the only major cost from the lightening strike was to replace the TV. As the old one would have stopped working when everything goes digital, this is not really too bad a hi9t. In addition, the new TV has many more features than the old one, and is generally more up to date, despite costing about the same amount.

There are some pluses too. I will be getting a new laptop, as a result of the lightening. This is a very big plus indeed. It can be quite tricky getting a new machine, as equipment money is tight. I was provided with a perfect excuse and so will end up ahead of the game. Also, my Tivo is now much fancier than it was. So, overall, I think that I have come out pretty well from the lightening strike. It seems that being prepared to play a little bit of hard ball at times can pay dividends (especially with Tivo). So, although it has taken a bit of effort, overall, getting hit by lightening has ended up being quite a positive experience, in an odd kind of way. This is certainly not the outcome I would have predicted. It also shows the benefits of having good warranty programs on all one's kit.

The CP

Friday, July 27, 2007

The Wanderer Returns

I have returned from my travels. They were interesting and fun. The British floods certainly added a dash of 'color' to my adventures. I also discovered how poor and expensive Internet access can be in some parts of the world, even in ostensibly 'civilised' places. Paying a high price to access e-mail, on a rather old Mac, which has a keyboard with keys that have been put in the wrong place must rate as an all time low point. However, I was able to have some quite athletic fun when away from the machines.

Unfortunately, upon my return home, I discovered a problem. It seems during my absence, my refrigerator broke down. I now live in a house with a cooler for keeping things cold. This is something that I will have to do something about very soon. At least this proves that philosophers, combat, or not, are afflicted by the same kinds of woes as other folks.

On my travels, I was able to manage to get a research meeting with a couple of old friends. These kinds of events are always fun. We began with a curry and then retired to a pub. After several pints, we had mapped out a research strategy that, even in the more sober light of the following day, looks very promising. I hope that it pans out. It was also nice to just spend time with friends, swapping gossip and news.

I think that this is one of the things that makes academia most rewarding. One builds up relationships over years that are close and lasting. They may begin professionally, but can later blossom into deeper friendships. As a bonus, great research work can also be yielded by such liaisons. Although such friendships are often maintained by phone and e-mail, getting together face to face from time to time, is a wonderful bonus.

However, now it is time to get back into the domestic swing of things. There are chores to be done and bills to be paid. I will also get back into regular blogging. It is interesting, looking at the connection logs from my time away, how many people have been dropping by this blog, even while I was away. As some of the visitors are 'regulars' I recognise from their point of origin, I want to thank all you folks for your loyalty. Now, though I have to first begin by unpacking...*groan*.

The CP

Sunday, July 22, 2007

British Flooding

On my travels, I find myself in the UK at the moment. I am staying in a small village in Oxfordshire. Unfortunately, this means that I am staying in the heart of the area that has been subject to all the flooding. Fortunately, the village I am staying in is quite high up, several hundred feet above the river Thames and the other rivers that have been causing all the problems.

Although I am not directly influenced by the floods where I am staying, indirectly things are more problematic. A town 4 miles away has over 400 houses under water. Also, all the roads are closed. This is a pain, as this is an important center of population in these parts. I had hoped to go to Oxford tomorrow, but that does not look feasible. Several rivers may burst their banks tonight and make any journey impossible. To make matters worse, more rain is predicted for tomorrow.

The attitude that people are taking about all this is quite interesting. It is probably best described as being 'laconic'. I am just hoping that enough things get sorted out by Tuesday, so that I can have the important research meeting that is planned for that day. With the roads and train in chaos, getting to London could prove quite exciting. Again, we shall have to see what happens.

I will be back to regular blogging, hopefully, by the end of next week. Of course, this is assuming that I can find a way to get to the airport, though all the water. I'm sure that things should be fine. The big message here though is that despite all the hysteria on the TV, although things are quite bad, they could be a lot worse. Nobody has been killed by the water just yet. Compared to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, this is nothing. Although some places are in a bad way, even though I am sitting in the center of the flood 'blast zone', things are still pretty much OK.

The CP

Sunday, July 08, 2007

On The Road, Off The Air

Tomorrow, I begin my travels for this Summer. For this reason, this blog will be 'going dark' until the end of the month. When I travel, I have a bad habit of going to obscure and somewhat quirky places. These are the places I like. Unfortunately, one consequence of this is that Internet access can be somewhat hit, or miss. I suspect that this will happen on this trip too. So, check back late this month and I should be back on-line. If I get lucky, I may be able to post on my travels, but there are no guarantees.

As always seems to be the case before hitting the road, things have been hectic the last few days, as I have been getting ready. The web site I have been working on went 'live' today. Unfortunately, last night a code crisis arose. I was up until 4am fixing it, but it all worked out well.

There has also been all the last moment academic stuff. There is a conference proposal that is due on the 15th of this month. It took a fair bit of effort, but that got done too. I am pretty happy with it, also. Let's hope that it is accepted. In addition, there is also the mundane domestic stuff: paying bills, arranging cat sitters, getting laundry done. Of course, there was also the obligatory out-of-the-blue last moment, but crucial paperwork that suddenly had to be done. This is now all completed.

Today has been a day of organization and packing. I am fortunate in so much as I was taught to pack by an expert. Indeed, I have even packed for expeditions. My bags are packed and I am ready for the off. So, I will wave all you blog readers a fond farewell, until I return. I hope that you have fun. I will try to, also.

The CP

Friday, July 06, 2007

Creole Computing

Today turned out to be quite interesting. I think that I have mentioned here before that I have been helping a friend of mine who is running for State office. My main job has been to work on his web site. He is an excellent candidate, a thoughtful, intelligent and funny man. He is a great person to have as a friend. However, the web site got a little 'exciting' today, as his candidacy announcement is coming very soon.

Today, his wife an I went through final editorial changes on the site. It is really nice to work with someone with an eye for detail, punctuation and all the things that I am not always good at, when hacking code. She also produces excellent text to fill out the site.

I really wish I could share this site with you, as it has turned out to be excellent. I am very proud of it! The code is clean and slick. It loads incredibly fast, which is important, as some of the voters in the relevant district may only have dial up connections. Take my word, it is a beauty!

Unfortunately this evening, we ran into an interesting technical problem. It turns out that the plan was originally to host the site on a new server. What complicated matters was that it turned out to be rather difficult (as in, impossible) to redirect people from the old site (my friend had an older site, at the same address), to the new one. In technical terms, this was a DNS change problem.

This evening, I went over to my friends house. We worked on the problem. By a little judicious hacking, I was able to back up his old site and the upload the new site to the original server. In the meantime, his wife continued to edit the content. It was a fun evening of hacking. We drank a couple of Martinis. We chatted. We laughed. Although it took a while, the new site is up and running and looks just great!

I also got to meet Windoze Vista for the first time. I was not impressed. Although I am forced to use XP for some jobs, I mostly prefer Linux as my main operating system. I will make sure that I don't get Vista, when I get a new computer.

However, the interesting thing about today was how I was able to do something very concrete and useful for my friend. I am certain that many of the silly people who waffle on about race and related matters on their blogs did nothing similar. As I have said before, "actions speak louder than words".

The CP

Thursday, July 05, 2007

More On Mercenaries

A couple of days ago, I had a brief discussion about the complexities that surround the notion of being a 'mercenary'. It seems this is a current problem. It is perhaps because of this discussion that this blog got a visit from a machine owned by the CIA, according to the connection logs.

Yesterday, there were a number of news stories about members of the US military who took their oaths of citizenship on Independence day. This surprised me a great deal. I was not aware that non-US citizen's were able to join the military. However, it seems that this is surprisingly common. Indeed, the military even seem to be happy to boast about this. I find this very strange and perhaps a little worrying.

However, given the numerous recent reports about the misdeeds of army recruiters (see here, here and here for example), one must wonder of the exact methods used to entice non-US citizens to join the military.

When I was in high school studying history, it was not uncommon for armies to employ foreign nationals in their service. Often times, these would be specialised companies of bowmen, or other kinds of specialist. However, my high school history books made it quite clear that these individuals were mercenaries. What puzzles me, is why the US military do not consider these individuals also to be mercenaries? I guess they cannot, due to (a) The Anti-Pinkerton Act, which prohibits this and (b) the fact that these individuals acting as additional cannon fodder is to the advantage of the US.

With this in mind, it seems that now would be a good time to share a video I found on YouTube. This video should be essential viewing for anyone, whatever their nationality, who is considering join the military. Peace.

The CP

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

NOT(Independence Day)

Independence Day is not a holiday I keep, for a variety of reasons. Last night, I ran into someone I know who has a similar attitude. They are a member of the Ojibwe First Nation, thus the whole event is highly equivocal to them. However, as we were talking, we both almost simultaneously recalled a joke e-mail that circulated in 2000, just after the Presidential election debacle. After a little bit of hunting, I was able to find a copy of this e-mail on an old hard drive (I actually found several copies). So, for fun, I thought that I would share it here today. No offence is meant by this. I just wanted to share with those of you who may not have seen this before. It still makes me laugh.

The CP



To the citizens of the United States of America,

In the light of your failure to elect a President of the USA and thus to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective today. Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchial duties over all states, commonwealths and other territories. Except Utah, which she does not fancy. Your new prime minister (The Right Honourable Tony Blair, MP for the 97.85% of you who have until now been unaware that there is a world outside your borders) will appoint a minister for America without the need for further elections. Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire will be circulated next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown Dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

You should look up "revocation" in the Oxford English Dictionary. Then look up "aluminium". Check the pronunciation guide. You will be amazed at just how wrongly you have been pronouncing it. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'favour' and 'neighbour', skipping the letter 'U' is nothing more than laziness on your part. Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters. You will end your love affair with the letter 'Z' (pronounced 'zed' not 'zee') and the suffix "ize" will be replaced by the suffix "ise". You will learn that the suffix 'burgh is pronounced 'burra' e.g. Edinburgh. You are welcome to respell Pittsburgh as 'Pittsberg' if you can't cope with correct pronunciation. Generally, you should raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. Look up "vocabulary". Using
the same twenty seven words interspersed with filler noises such as "like" and "you know" is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. Look up "interspersed". There will be no more 'bleeps' in the Jerry Springer show. If you're not old enough to cope with bad language then you shouldn't have chat shows. When you learn to develop your vocabulary then you won't have to use bad language as often.

There is no such thing as "US English". We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take account of the reinstated letter 'u' and the elimination of "-ize".

You should learn to distinguish the English and Australian accents. It really isn't that hard. English accents are not limited to Cockney, upper-class twit or Mancunian (Daphne in Frasier). You will also have to learn how to understand regional accents - Scottish dramas such as "Taggart" will no longer be broadcast with subtitles. While we're talking about regions, you must learn that there is no such place as Devonshire in England. The name of the county is "Devon". If you persist in calling it Devonshire, all American States will become "shires" e.g. Texasshire, Floridashire, Louisianashire.

Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as the good guys. Hollywood will be required to cast English actors to play English characters. British sit-coms such as "Men Behaving Badly" or "Red Dwarf" will not be re-cast and watered down for a wishy-washy American audience who can't cope with the humour of occasional political incorrectness.

You should relearn your original national anthem, "God Save The Queen", but only after fully carrying out task 1. We would not want you to get confused and give up half way through.

6. You should stop playing American "football". There is only one kind of football. What you refer to as American "football" is not a very good game. The 2.15% of you who are aware that there is a world outside your borders may have noticed that no one else plays "American" football. You will no longer be allowed to play it, and should instead play proper football. Initially, it would be best if you played with the girls. It is a difficult game. Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to
play rugby (which is similar to American "football", but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like nancies). We are hoping to get together at least a US rugby sevens side by 2005. You should stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the 'World Series' for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.15% of you are aware that there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. Instead of baseball, you will be allowed to play a girls' game called "rounders" which is baseball without fancy team strip, oversized gloves, collector cards or hotdogs.

7. You should declare war on Quebec and France, using nuclear weapons if they give you any merde. The 97.85% of you who were not aware that there is a world outside your borders should count yourselves lucky. The Russians have never been the bad guys. "Merde" is French for "5hit". You will no longer be allowed to own or carry guns. You will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous in public than a vegetable peeler. Because we don't believe you are sensible enough to handle potentially dangerous items, you will require a permit if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.

8. July 4th is no longer a public holiday. November 8th will be a new national holiday, but only in England. It will be called "Indecisive Day".

All American cars are hereby banned. They are crap and it is for your own good. When we show you German cars, you will understand what we mean. All road intersections will be replaced with roundabouts. You will start driving on the left with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables. Roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.

10. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips. Fries aren't even French, they are Belgian though 97.85% of you (including the guy who discovered fries while in Europe) are not aware of a country called Belgium. Those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called "crisps". Real chips are thick cut and fried in animal fat. The traditional accompaniment to chips is beer which should be served warm and flat. Waitresses will be trained to be more aggressive with customers.

11. As a sign of penance 5 grams of sea salt per cup will be added to all tea made within the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, this quantity to be doubled for tea made within the city of Boston itself.

12. The cold tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all, it is lager. From November 1st only proper British Bitter will be referred to as "beer", and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as
"Lager". The substances formerly known as "American Beer" will henceforth berefered to as "Near-Frozen Knat's Urine", with the exception of the product of the American Budweiser company whose product will be referred to as "Weak Near-FrozenKnat's Urine". This will allow true Budweiser (as manufactured for the last 1000 years in Pilsen, Czech Republic) to be sold without risk of confusion.

From November 1st the UK will harmonise petrol (or "Gasoline" as you will be permitted to keep calling it until April 1st 2001) prices with the former USA. The UK will harmonise its prices to those of the former USA and the Former USA will, in return, adopt UK petrol prices (roughly $6/US gallon - get used to it).

14. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not adult enough to be independent. Guns should only be handled by adults. If you're not adult enough to sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist then you're not grown up enough to handle a gun.

15. Please tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us crazy.

Tax collectors from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all revenues due (backdated to 1776).

Thank you for your cooperation.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Fake Crying And An Anecdote

Today started with a fascinating e-mail discussion with an overseas colleague about some interesting new results that were recently reported in developmental psychology. The report can be found here. It seems that babies as young as six months old can engage in deceptive behavior. The results seem to be quite solid. However, this is quite a surprise, as up until now it has been assumed that such deception did not appear until much later.

One thing that these results are likely to do is fire up the age old debate between the nativists and the non-nativists. My correspondent, who has nativist tendencies and is an expert in this field, suggested that it was improbable that a baby would have time to learn deceptive behaviour so fast, while also learning to grasp and all the other stuff. Thus, they suggested that this behavior must be genetically determined, or predisposed. Unfortunately, I have far fewer nativist tendencies, having read the first book of John Locke's, Essay Concerning Human Understanding at an impressionable age. In this, Locke soundly attacks the nativism of Descartes. I think that this should be a fun debate. It is one we have engaged in before.

I was particularly interested in the baby result, as it may provide an explanation of something which happened a while ago and which has puzzled me ever since. When I was a young parent, my daughter would wake up between 3 and 4am, hungry. As my milk never really came in (this is a joke!), I did 'output behavior', that is to say, diaper changing at these times. However, once something curious happened on one of these midnight exercises.

On one occasion, I had finished the 'clean up' phase and was about to start the loading of the child into a new diaper. As I was about to start, my daughter started to smile and make a noise that sounded like a laugh. The next thing I knew there was a large stream of pee filling up the new diaper , before it was even properly attached. Needless to say, I was not thrilled by this, but went back into clean up mode. When I got to the end, exactly the same thing happened a second time -- the smile, the giggle/laugh, the stream of pee into the brand new, as yet unattached diaper. At the time, I could have sworn that this was my little girl having fun at my expense.

Of course, I rejected this as preposterous, as a well educated philosopher, who was up to date on all the modern thinking. Now, in the light of these new results, I may have to revisit this conclusion.

I sent my developmental expert friend some questions about these events. Unfortunately, due to the fact that we operate in rather different time zones, I will have to wait until tomorrow, to get a response. However, this does really rather nicely illustrate the point that it is vitally important to keep up to date on research. It is a bad habit of some of my philosophical co-workers to simply ignore the evidence. This I believe to be a mistake.

The CP

Sunday, July 01, 2007

What Is A 'Mercenary'?

It seems that a very unseemly, but highly amusing, spat has been developing over the Support Security Services contract in Iraq. In fact, this spat has all the hallmarks of a modern American classic. It involves, of course, Iraq, government contracts and large companies. There are injunctions and court cases. All good all American stuff.

It turns out that this contract is up for renewal. The contract is worth $475 million. However, it seems that there is a problem. The problem is caused by the 1893 Anti-Pinkerton Act and a man called Brian Scott. The Anti-Pinkerton Act is a law that prohibits the U.S. Federal government from hiring mercenaries. However, Brian Scott has filed suit, arguing that the contract violates this act.

Although the democratic discussion boards have been full of gleeful comments, Scott is no tree hugging peacenik hippie. He is an ex-serviceman who wants to bid on these contracts, but believes that he is prevented from doing so by the law. So, this raises the rather interesting question: what is a 'mercenary'? This is an interesting question, that even the Military appear to be somewhat confused about.

The General Accounting Office has attempted to defuse the situation by ruling that the contracts do not violate the law. The argument offered is that, as a previous Court decision refused to define "mercenary, quasi-military forces", then there is no reason to think that the contract violates this. However, it seems that not all judges are persuaded by this reasoning.

I will skip over the legal stuff, but instead will return to the question at hand. It is clear that this is a topic of interest to the military. See for instance, the discussion in The Military and The Constitution: A Legal History in Military Law Review, 136 (1992).

One thing that is certainly worth mentioning is that the Blackwater Company, who is also a bidder on this contract, comes up as a suggestion when a Google search is done on the term 'Mercenary'. However, what is more interesting is what the Military itself has to say.

An interesting example can be found on page 29 of The Military Law Review, 89 (1982). There one Professor Mallison opines that,

"As I understand Article 47 of Protocol I, dealing with mercenaries,
and its very interesting negotiating history, any competent
combatant who has a good lawyer doesn’t need to be a mercenary.
The definition of “mercenary” is so narrow, and there are so
many exceptions to it, that only a very incompetent combatant, with
a wholly incompetent lawyer, or perhaps not one at all, is going to
come within this narrow conception."

That seems to make things quite simple: nobody with a good lawyer is a mercenary! However, this is not the only remark of interest. In the November 2003 edition of The Army Lawyer, on page 31, note 78, Evan J. Wallace, in a paper entitled "Afghanistan, Quirin, and Uchiyama: Does the Sauce Suit the Gander" we find the following,

"By definition, mercenaries are motivated by a desire for private gain."

However, given that this claim was made in the context of a discussion of Al Qaeda, perhaps it does not count. After all, why should there not be different 'definitions' for different sides in a war? Well, I can think of at least one reasons why varying definitions should not be permitted -- consistency! However, maybe this is just a philosopher thing. Any which way, what happens with these contracts should be pretty amusing to watch!

The CP
Listed on 
BlogShares web stats Site Meter