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Archive for February, 2008

Why Fight the Losing Battles?

Tuesday, February 26th, 2008

“The only kinds of fights worth having are those you’re going to lose, because somebody has to fight them and lose and lose and lose until someday, somebody who believes as you do wins. In order for somebody to win an important, major fight 100 years hence, a lot of other people have got to be willing — for the sheer fun and joy of it — to go right ahead and fight, knowing you’re going to lose. You mustn’t feel like a martyr. You’ve got to enjoy it.”

I.F. Stone [wikipedia.org]

Ignorance is not a defence

Wednesday, February 20th, 2008

“It was a small amount. Back home I would not even get prosecuted.”

DJ Grooverider, Radio 1 Presenter, quoted in Radio 1 DJ jailed on drug charge [bbc.co.uk]

But your not back home. And ignorance if the law is not a defense. Even if I agree that Marijuana should be legal to posses and smoke, I still have to abide by the laws. I have to accept that if I am caught in violation of those laws I will be punished. This is especially important to remember when traveling as you are subject to the laws and punishment of the land. You don’t take your laws with you. As my passport says:

6. Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs of the countries to which you are traveling. While in a foreign country, you are subject to it’s laws.

Yea; while in a foreign country, you are subject to it’s laws. I think most Americans should remember the case of Michael Fay [wikipedia.org] the American teenager who got caned in Singapore for theft and vandalism. I think Singapore made a mistake in reducing Fay’s sentence from 6 strokes to 4 when Clinton requested clemency, it sets a bad precedent. While citizens may protest the actions of other countries, governments need to uphold a higher principle. Governments can make statements and in some cases are right in seeking diplomatic action to prevent or to stop actions being taken by another government but the situation needs to pass a basic level to warrant the attention of an entire government. The caning of a single teenager who willfully broke the law and was sentenced under due course of the law should in no way be an issue for an entire government.

The case of DJ Grooverider falls below the threshold for government action in my opinion. The crime committed was illegal in both countries and while the British penal system may have regarded the crime as a minor offense not worth of jail time the crime was not committed in Brittan.

I don’t have any pity for DJ Grooverider. You do the crime, you do the time. Even if both the crime and time are dependent on where you are.

Law Development Life Cycle

Friday, February 15th, 2008

“If I were writing laws such that I wanted everybody to agree on how to interpret them, I would use the software development life cycle: First, have lawmakers (analogous to “developers”) write drafts of the laws. Then a second group (the “test case writers”) would try to come up with situations that would be interpreted ambiguously under the law. Then a third group, the “testers”, would read the proposed law, read the test case situations, and try to determine how the law should be applied to those cases, without communicating with the law writers, the test case writers, or each other. If there’s too much disagreement in the third group on how the law should be applied, then it’s too vague to be a proper law. The only laws which made it through this process would be ones such that when they were finally passed, most citizens (the “users”) could agree on how to interpret them, in cases sufficiently similar to the ones the test case writers could come up with.”

Bennett Haselton, quoted from Next Year’s Laws, now out in beta! [slashdot.org] Read on Slashdot [slashdot.org].

The whole article is worth a read, don’t let the computer programmer jargon in the quote scare you. Some of the comments are quite insightful too and worth a read. I like the idea of the double blind test for laws that Haselton describes but as one of the comments points out, it is impossible to predict how a law will be read in the future, which is why we have courts and lawyers in the first place. But I think looking at the Software Development Life Cycle [wikipedia.org] is helpful here too; it is impossible to fully predict how the users of your software (or any other product) will use the product or what changes will be desired in the future. The SDLC does not end when the software goes into production, if the software works there will no doubt be updates, if it does not work there will be updates or new software or the software will die. Maybe we should not just use the double blind test when a law is written, maybe when the courts need to step in the law itself should be subjected to possible change and modified so that it meets up-to-date test cases.

The God Delusion

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008
Author
Richard Dawkins

The God Delusion

The God Delusion is a good book. It is a bit too hostile for me at some points but Richard Dawkins [wikipedia.org] spends a chapter of the book on why he is so hostile and his position is well thought out and researched (the opposite of religion, which is what he is arguing against)

Being an Atheist I agree with almost everything Dawkins says in the book, even if some of his conclusions make me uncomfortable. Mostly I feel uncomfortable with is idea that society and we as individuals should not respect others religion and religious customs. His logic as to why we should not respect others religious beliefs and practices and his evidence to support this is convincing to me but I have a lot of good friends who have various religious beliefs and I don’t find it hard or inconvenient to respect those beliefs.

I think there are two reasons I am uncomfortable with this central point made by Dawkins in the book:

One is that I am non-confrontational in nature (people who I disagree with at work might find this a shock but work it is true.) I respect other peoples irrational beliefs just as I respect other peoples sexual practices (in so far as they don’t harm other, unwilling people, like children or non-consenting adults.)

My second objection to Dawkins’ lack of respect of peoples religion is that as a vegetarian I want others to respect my choice not to eat meat and not to use leather or other animal products. I am happy to debate this point with others, but I don’t want to force my beliefs on others. I prefer Ghandi’s ideal that ‘you must be the change you wish to see in the world.’

Dawkins does point out that (western, liberal) society has a special ‘respect’ for religion outside of how it deals with other personal choices and that this is wrong because many of the choices people are vocally disrespectful of they disagree with because of their religious choice. We allow these people their ravings not because of our belief in free speech but because of our belief that it is automatically wrong to criticize a religious belief. This point, backed up by examples in the book makes it difficult to disagree with the idea we should challenge and be hostile to religious belief. This all scares me that there is some sort of Secular Inquisition or Anti-religious Revolution (descended from the French Revolution) foreshadowed in Dawkins’s book. If the western, liberal world embraces Dawkins’s ideas there will be no debating a clash of civilizations. It would be a fact of dealing with any group that defined itself by it’s religion.

I learned a good deal from the book and found it well written and engaging. The fact that the conclusions make me uncomfortable does not imply the book has a problem but that I need to consider my own stance more so I can be comfortable either agreeing or disagreeing. A good book that should be read by a great number or people both those inclined to agree and those who reject it’s basic assumptions outright.

Clean up

Monday, February 11th, 2008

IMG_0656

The mess that is Chinatown after the crowds leave the night of Chinese New Year. At midnight everything goes on sale, and at 3 AM the clean up begins as an army of trash trucks, street sweepers and workers push down the streets. By 6 AM all memory of the month of hawkers and stalls is gone and Chinatown is as clean as it will be for another year.

See the whole photoset here [flickr.com].