Sorry for not posting – I’m just so busy with my day job I can’t spare the time for thinking through new posts properly.

Tim Worstall has a slightly different concern: what happens when newspaper attacks could mean a blogger loses his day job entirely. A Civil Servant called Owen Barder has been attacked by the Mail on Sunday over remarks made over a longish period of time in his blog.

From what I have seen (the blog is now offline), I’d personally lose little time in criticising Mr Barder’s sentiments but the notion that he should be able to express these in a private capacity is, as Tim says, an absolute principle that should be defended as strenuously as possible.


I have to admit that I think this piece in the Mail is really rather extraordinary. As above, you can see that it’s a mixture of gross distortions, garbled (and wrongly attributed) quotes and in general a hit job.

Which is really something that all of us other bloggers might want to start thinking about. If they hound Owen out of his job on the basis of the above farrago and tissue of innuendo and misquotation then that’s rather going to be the end of this enjoyable pastime for most of us, isn’t it? Anyone writing tens of thousands of words over the years is open to such an assassination of the character.

Quite. Because this is important, I have nipped in to help publicise this as widely as possible, and to link to Tim’s post on this subject.

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Just when you think you have a few days to spend on some more interesting things, something blows up. Part of my emergency work has been upgrading a remote server from FreeBSD 5.5 through 6.0 to 6.2 – remotely. Think of upgrading a Windows server from NT to 2003, on a machine nearly 100 miles away with no CDs, just the internet connection. All done online. Can’t be done. But it can with FreeBSD – and if you’re really feeling good you can keep serving websites while you’re doing it, with short breaks for four reboots.

FreeBSD is a superb operating system. It differs from Linux in lots of ways, but one is the license it is distributed under. Unlike the GPL (all derivatives must carry this same license and conditions), the BSD license boils down to: do what you like with this, but give us credit where appropriate. That’s why Apple were comfortable using FreeBSD as the basis for OS X.

But this made me think of Mr Friedman, and this tribute from a news show when he died.

Normal service will be resumed shortly.

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Stephen (1135-54) is one of the least well known, and least well loved, of English Kings. The Anglo Saxon Chronicle said of his reign:

Men said openly that Christ and his saints slept

Stephen shares with John the distinction of having no subsequent heir to the throne named for him. As with John, there have been attempts to argue that Stephen’s bad reputation is not entirely deserved.

Stephen’s reign has tended, for the past couple of hundred years, to be referred to as a time of “anarchy”. This isn’t a very apt description, in fact, but there was a sort of civil war for some of his reign and the legitimacy of his claim to the throne has been questioned, though more since than at the time he was alive.

I’ve just started reading Donald Matthew’s 2002 book about Stephen. Matthew has an interesting idea about why modern historians, as well as some medieval chroniclers, were either scathing or dismissive of Stephen but I will come to that later.

Setting the scene in the first chapter, and arguing that there has been a fashion for judgement, as well as analysis, in history, something of which Matthew does not really approve, he has this to say:

The use of history for moral purposes cannot be mocked as ‘old fashioned’, religious wishful-thinking. It goes back further than Christianity and has not yet been abandoned. The inclination not only to understand public affairs in terms of conflicts between the good and the bad, but to believe that the wicked should and can be punished for their evil deeds, if not by divine providence, then by the dedicated efforts of the righteous themselves still prevails, not least amongst popularist politicians. The determination to be proved right is so strong that even victory in war is no longer thought sufficient to resolve any doubts. It is now routine to have the moral worthiness of the cause and the war vindicated in the law courts by securing convictions of the enemy for war crimes. In any dispute, it is assumed that human judgement can and should be employed to establish which party was in the right and which wrong. The historian is not expected to confine attention to elucidating, as precisely as possible, what happened when and why. ‘History’ itself is somehow supposed to weigh up the evidence and pronounce judgement.

It seems to me that Matthews is touching on a serious and unusual point. This trend to legalise history, especially recent history, is perhaps an entirely bad thing. Is it not enough for one side to win, and to understand how this came about? It reached an apogee in the aftermath of the Second World War, with the Nuremberg trials, and we seem to have been plagued by a combination of paralysis of action and the continual establishment of impotent international legal institutions ever since. It might be better to act if something bad is happening, or you are threatened, then move on without the paraphernalia of ritual moral supremacy.

This first chapter ends well:

Historians, even of Stephen, may not be able to distance themselves completely from the preoccupations of their own age, but they must also try to observe the rules of their craft and test modern ideas against what the twelfth-century evidence clearly has to say about the reign. In other words, the sources must be coaxed into telling us what they really did witness, not tortured into confirming what we would like to believe.

Geoffrey Elton gave a talk to my school Historical Society once, titled “History, the essential study”. He argued that history was this because it was a “bulwark against tyranny”. The study of history teaches us to question authority, both in a strict and in a more general meaning of that word. A historian must never simply believe what he or she reads, but always ask who wrote it, what preconceptions, bias and distortions they might have introduced, deliberately or inadvertently, to their writing. History is not the process of memorising received wisdom and finding new ways to recite it, but rather of returning over and over again, each new generation and each new individual, to the sources and approaching them afresh, with scepticism and clarity unclouded by interference either from the work of past scholars or by the concerns of their contemporaries.

That is not a description of history as experienced by schoolchildren today. The subjects most studied seem to be World War II, the history of slavery, the history of the settlement of the Americas, all framed in tones of unmistakable morality which it is a crime – metaphorically at the moment in Britain but literally in parts in some European countries – to question or challenge. This is unhistory, and far from being a bulwark against tyranny it is a handmaiden to it, however well intentioned the reasons for this might be.

At the centre of this is the holocaust and, slightly less so, slavery. But the sources confirm quite plainly the truth of what happened. Failing to emphasise the sources and insisting on conformity to a received narrative actually weakens the very thing it is supposed to protect. Once made uncritical, children are just as easily persuaded of the International Jewish Conspiracy as of the Shoah. Only by making them return, whatever anyone tells them, to the sources can we be secure from the mass deceit that underlies all tyrannical government.

Which brings me back to Stephen. Henry I before him, and Henry II after him, were both energetic and reforming administrators and kings, especially Henry II. They did lots of the stuff historians like. They ruled. They governed. There were reams of legal documents produced. Pipe Rolls. Councils. Brilliant.

Stephen did little of this. He ruled, was admired and was acknowledged to have been a humane decent and honourable man. That hasn’t been enough for modern judgements. Matthews puts it like this:

Belief in the virtues of strong government, and even more in the duty of all governments to commit themselves to ‘reform’ of some kind, is unmistakably modern. Its values are purely secular, taking no account of such earlier principles about rulership as respect for the established customs of the realm, for God and for the Church. No excuses for shirking the challenge of government are acceptable. Whereas medieval writers would have acknowledged that men, as inherently sinful, constantly thwart the most noble intentions and, as imperfectable, must fail to achieve their own ambitions in this life, modern confidence that rulers can do what they want and must be judged accordingly makes Stephen look inadequate for his office. Little attention has been given to establishing how much his subjects expected or required him to rule as his uncle [Henry I] had done.

Stephen seems not to have been very New Labour.

I’m warming to Stephen.

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In a moment of pure genius, Jonz put a piece of prose from Lenin’s Tomb, as usual explaining how everything is George Bush’s fault, through the AOLer translator, which converts normal English into that of a 12 year old internet chatter.

Now, look at this. When you’ve bombed hospitals, destroyed cities, attacked the civilian infrastructure…



Deserves to be read in full.

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Business as usual:

System administrators will have to prioritize between updating Exchange and DNS servers while leaving equally important server and application updates dangling, experts say.
Microsoft has released patches for 19 vulnerabilities, 14 of which are critical, hitting at holes in Excel, Word, Office, Exchange, Internet Explorer, cryptographic technology and the whopper of them all, the zero-day vulnerability in the DNS Server’s use of RPC.

Michael Sutton, a security evangelist for Atlanta-based SPI Dynamics, said the “pretty high percentage” of critical updates on this Patch Tuesday is going to force a lot of system administrators to juggle updates, making decisions about which servers to update first. System administrators “can’t take care of everything at once,” he said. “You have to look at severity.”

Sutton said he’s advising people to first focus on the Exchange and Domain Name System updates, given that those vulnerabilities will leave companies the most exposed to attack. ” [It’s a] challenge; when you have 14 criticals, you’re putting some things secondary that are still top priorities,” he said.

An exploit for the DNS RPC (remote procedure call) interface vulnerability was discovered in the wild in April. Within a week of its discovery, four new malicious programs popped up, each trying to take over systems by prying open the DNS hole.

The DNS remote code execution vulnerability affects server-grade operating systems, including Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003, and only those that have the DNS service enabled, such as Domain Controller, DNS Server or Microsoft Small Business Server configurations.

Still, warned Symantec, based in Cupertino, Calif., enterprises and small businesses “should ensure [that] they update their systems with the patch since this vulnerability has already been exploited.” A successful exploit would completely compromise the computer.

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… I hear the sound of senior policemen starting to weep, softly. They like graphs.


A reader tells me that at the time of the shooting [to death of a police officer] (6am Sunday 6th May) there were a grand total of seven officers with no air cover and no dog cover on duty in the whole of the Shropshire division, which has a population of 289,000 people, most of whom I admit, probably weren’t about to shoot a police officer. Naturally, I can’t vouch for any of this, but from my own experience, (and I admit that West Mercia might be totally different) it doesn’t seem too wide of the mark.

The solution to officer safety doesn’t lie in giving officers guns. It depends on both the government and senior officers accepting that policing is about more than file building, detections and graphs that go in the required direction.

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More cartoon fun from the Religion of Perpetual Outrage:

The county jail where a Christian minister handed out anti-Islamic cartoons announced it will hire an imam for its Muslim inmates.

The Rockland County Jail also said it will provide religiously appropriate food.

Rockland Undersheriff Thomas Guthrie said Tuesday that the imam will work one day a week, joining the jail’s priest and rabbi.

The Christian chaplain, the Rev. Teresa Darden Clapp, was suspended with pay last month after inmates complained she was passing out anti-Islam booklets.

In the cartoon panel stories, a tract titled “Men of Peace?” said Islamic fundamentalists who commit terrorist acts are not “bad Muslims” but “very good Muslims” who act in accordance with their religion.[1] Another tract, titled “Allah Has No Son,” said Allah is not God, Muhammad was no prophet, and the Koran is not the word of God.[2] Both stories end with people being convinced Islam is false. In one, a Muslim converts to Christianity.[3]

Local Muslims have called for Clapp’s dismissal, and the county requested an independent investigation.[4]

1. That is certainly the view of the jihadists, and it’s a significant view among especially younger western Muslims.

2. These are just conventional Christian beliefs.

3. Conventional Christian hopes.

4. Conventional Muslim reaction, and conventional appeasement where none was necessary.

All very conventional, then. If the provision of halal food and the appointment of an Imam were appropriate, they were appropriate anyway and not as conciliation for this incident. This sort of appeasement is very damaging, and there is no similar gesturing when the offense comes from Muslims.

But I have every confidence that the Imam appointed will show the conventional sensitivity to Christian and secular sensitivities.

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There’s evidence of systematic and effective medicine in Egypt a millennium before Hippocrates:

The research team from the KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology at The University of Manchester discovered the evidence in medical papyri written in 1,500BC…

“When we compared the ancient remedies against modern pharmaceutical protocols and standards, we found the prescriptions in the ancient documents not only compared with pharmaceutical preparations of today but that many of the remedies had therapeutic merit.”

The medical documents, which were first discovered in the mid-19th century, showed that ancient Egyptian physicians treated wounds with honey, resins and metals known to be antimicrobial.

The team also discovered prescriptions for laxatives of castor oil and colocynth and bulk laxatives of figs and bran. Other references show that colic was treated with hyoscyamus, which is still used today, and that cumin and coriander were used as intestinal carminatives.

Further evidence showed that musculo-skeletal disorders were treated with rubefacients to stimulate blood flow and poultices to warm and soothe. They used celery and saffron for rheumatism, which are currently topics of pharmaceutical research, and pomegranate was used to eradicate tapeworms, a remedy that remained in clinical use until 50 years ago.

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My first night camping in Alaska, twenty six years ago, I heard what sounded like an express train coming through the woods outside my tent. It stopped suddenly, and there was quiet again. Then a rustle. Then quiet.

For maybe five minutes the sounds continued, just beyond the canvas. Then the creature moved off. The next morning, I found bear tracks the size of dinner plates in the soft ground around the tent and under the tree where I had stashed my food. You don’t share a tent with food in bear country, if you’ve any sense. The bear had obviously tried to get at the cache up in the branches, and pretty much ignored me. That could easily have saved my life.

Grizzly bears are shy creatures, though I did meet someone who watched one chase a moose through his garden as he sat eating breakfast. That’s rare, but not unknown.

On Sunday, a resident of Homer, Alaska, filmed a grizzly bear killing a moose in his driveway, and eating the heart. Don’t click if you’re too squeamish.

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