An irregular, irreverent, post-modern account of the surreal, the ordinary, and the bizarre happenings on and around the Felia lavender farm in Crete

Monday, December 31, 2007

Come off it Benazir baby

A woman who was seeking election to extremely high office in Pakistan has died. There is argument about how she died although this doesn't seem to preclude pinning her death on any number of groups and alliances.  She was garnering huge support from Western democratic governments not because she was a democrat herself but because she would, they believed, have looked favourably on their way of carrying on had she been elected. She paid lip service to democracy but that was as far as it went. She had already held high office in Pakistan and had made no impact in securing democratic structures or embedding democracy as the fundamental principle of the state. In truth neither the western democracies backing her nor the lady herself had any genuine interest in Pakistan transforming  to a democracy.

She was a woman whose time in power served only to swell her foreign bank accounts and to further ingrain corruption and autocracy into the systems of power in Pakistan. Her unholy alliance with the military junta should have warned everyone what to expect. Yet still the western press is churning out hagiographies to this unpleasant woman who could have improved things and chose instead to fill her pockets. It is of course historically the case that her party the PPP has never had internal elections nor has it ever really considered so doing. Democracy? Don't make me laugh! But it is her failing as a human being that has now come to light and that damns her irredeemably.

What mother would knowingly condemn her son to the life that poor Bilawal will now have? How caring is that? Not content with condemning her party to a leader of her choice (where was her democratic urge?) she imposes, from beyond the grave, a life he has not chosen. A life as a target.

So let us not mealy up our mouths with circumlocutions about her physical bravery or her potential. Let us examine her works both in power and beyond death. And let us rather condemn her works and thank our lucky stars that she no longer has a part (beyond the damage she has already done) in the future of poor Pakistan and the even poorer Pakistanis.

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Sunday, December 30, 2007

Text for nothing

First up time to come clean - yesterday's ultimate story was stolen. It was not in any real sense mine. It was a rewrite of a passage from Beckett's The Unnameable - a wonderful book littered with gems. It was rewritten because I had been reading this review of Daniil Kharms. There are some things that are sublime. I could no more improve it than I could shorten it.

HEADS UP - the blogella Black and White that I started some time back here will be resumed very soon. It got away from me for a while. I wrangled it. It got its head once more. I rode it and it threw me. I got back on and it threw me again. From here on in we go where it wants to go. Ballard here we come.

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

Ultimate story?

A young man - unextraordinary meets a usual young woman. They love and they marry in order to love more conveniently. He goes off to a war but we do not know what the war is about. Soon she receives a letter telling of his death at the front. She is distraught but soon falls in love again and marries another man in order to love more conveniently. The first man writes to say he is coming back - he never died. She goes to the station to meet his train. He dies of a heart attack as the train pulls in to the dull rural station - the anticipation has overcome him. She is distraught and trudges to her dull home. She finds the door is locked and so she peers in through the window where she sees her mother-in-law taking him down from a meat hook in the kitchen- he has hanged himself thinking he would lose her. Why was the door locked she wonders?

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Xmas morning Crete

It's Xmas morning on the blessed isle
and what gifts and blessings do we have
let me manifest them
as Masefield did his quinquireme.

We'll start with the heart and spiral out and up
I love the spiral but
only when it goes that way
left handed  - from core to skin, through pith and flesh

At he kernel,
in the heart
there is love
for ourselves and each other.

Without love the rest
is empty, heartless, meaningless -
no mystery, no superstition
no baby jesus to die for our sins required.

Our health we have
save for the odd joint that refuses
the occasional ache that confuses -
no wealth have we

and peace of mind
and minds in tact
and creativity
and intellects

A gilded cloak of oxalis nods
throughout the grove of olives clad
in silver and green and hung
with fat ripe olives green and black - oozing

a trough of zinnias with 4 half opened
a rose bush close by with
a half of a dozen yellow pink roses in bloom
that will be white in spring as they were last spring

and along from these
the mimosa
pushing out some dozen
or more
feathery white yellow flowers

the papery bracts of the bougainvilla
hanging purple on into winter cool
beside the prickly pear that
never cedes an inch

and winter sunshine
lighting it all with
golden light just
as it glints the pine of the old table in the kitchen

on the table sit
two glasses
brimful of slow releasing champagne
and a bowl of olives

it is enough
this manifest
there is more but
this is enough

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Monday, December 24, 2007


Especially for those of you who have been following the scandals here at Zoniana - the ultimate xmas toy

Not familiar with Zoniana? - click here

Sunday, December 23, 2007


I don't do this very often and I want to keep the attributions in tact but simply pointing you to this piece would miss more of you than it would hit so i have copied the thing in it's entirety but sans ads here so that you can, if you have the mental toughness, read what our American allies are doing in our names. The article from Salon makes much of the fact that the victim was innocent but as far as I am concerned it would make no difference were he guilty - we simply should not be doing this and calling ourselves civilised. Put yourself in this man's place or that of his family and tell me you can condone this.

Inside the CIA's notorious "black sites"
A Yemeni man never charged by the U.S. details 19 months of brutality and psychological torture -- the first in-depth, first-person account from inside the secret U.S. prisons. A Salon exclusive.

By Mark Benjamin

Dec. 15, 2007 | The CIA held Mohamed Farag Ahmad Bashmilah in several different cells when he was incarcerated in its network of secret prisons known as "black sites." But the small cells were all pretty similar, maybe 7 feet wide and 10 feet long. He was sometimes naked, and sometimes handcuffed for weeks at a time. In one cell his ankle was chained to a bolt in the floor. There was a small toilet. In another cell there was just a bucket. Video cameras recorded his every move. The lights always stayed on -- there was no day or night. A speaker blasted him with continuous white noise, or rap music, 24 hours a day.

The guards wore black masks and black clothes. They would not utter a word as they extracted Bashmilah from his cell for interrogation -- one of his few interactions with other human beings during his entire 19 months of imprisonment. Nobody told him where he was, or if he would ever be freed.

It was enough to drive anyone crazy. Bashmilah finally tried to slash his wrists with a small piece of metal, smearing the words "I am innocent" in blood on the walls of his cell. But the CIA patched him up.

So Bashmilah stopped eating. But after his weight dropped to 90 pounds, he was dragged into an interrogation room, where they rammed a tube down his nose and into his stomach. Liquid was pumped in. The CIA would not let him die.

On several occasions, when Bashmilah's state of mind deteriorated dangerously, the CIA also did something else: They placed him in the care of mental health professionals. Bashmilah believes these were trained psychologists or psychiatrists. "What they were trying to do was to give me a sort of uplifting and to assure me," Bashmilah said in a telephone interview, through an interpreter, speaking from his home country of Yemen. "One of the things they told me to do was to allow myself to cry, and to breathe."

Last June, Salon reported on the CIA's use of psychologists to aid with the interrogation of terrorist suspects. But the role of mental health professionals working at CIA black sites is a previously unknown twist in the chilling, Kafkaesque story of the agency's secret overseas prisons.

Little about the conditions of Bashmilah's incarceration has been made public until now. His detailed descriptions in an interview with Salon, and in newly filed court documents, provide the first in-depth, first-person account of captivity inside a CIA black site. Human rights advocates and lawyers have painstakingly pieced together his case, using Bashmilah's descriptions of his cells and his captors, and documents from the governments of Jordan and Yemen and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to verify his testimony. Flight records detailing the movement of CIA aircraft also confirm Bashmilah's account, tracing his path from the Middle East to Afghanistan and back again while in U.S. custody.

Bashmilah's story also appears to show in clear terms that he was an innocent man. After 19 months of imprisonment and torment at the hands of the CIA, the agency released him with no explanation, just as he had been imprisoned in the first place. He faced no terrorism charges. He was given no lawyer. He saw no judge. He was simply released, his life shattered.

"This really shows the human impact of this program and that lives are ruined by the CIA rendition program," said Margaret Satterthwaite, an attorney for Bashmilah and a professor at the New York University School of Law. "It is about psychological torture and the experience of being disappeared."

Bashmilah, who at age 39 is now physically a free man, still suffers the mental consequences of prolonged detention and abuse. He is undergoing treatment for the damage done to him at the hands of the U.S. government. On Friday, Bashmilah laid out his story in a declaration to a U.S. district court as part of a civil suit brought by the ACLU against Jeppesen Dataplan Inc., a subsidiary of Boeing accused of facilitating secret CIA rendition flights.

Bashmilah said in the phone interview that the psychological anguish inside a CIA black site is exacerbated by the unfathomable unknowns for the prisoners. While he figured out that he was being held by Americans, Bashmilah did not know for sure why, where he was, or whether he would ever see his family again. He said, "Every time I realize that there may be others who are still there where I suffered, I feel the same thing for those innocent people who just fell in a crack."

It may seem bizarre for the agency to provide counseling to a prisoner while simultaneously cracking him mentally -- as if revealing a humanitarian aspect to a program otherwise calibrated to exploit systematic psychological abuse. But it could also be that mental healthcare professionals were enlisted to help bring back from the edge prisoners who seemed precariously damaged, whose frayed minds were no longer as pliable for interrogation. "My understanding is that the purpose of having psychiatrists there is that if the prisoner feels better, then he would be able to talk more to the interrogators," said Bashmilah.

Realistically, psychiatrists in such a setting could do little about the prisoners' deeper suffering at the hands of the CIA. "They really had no authority to address these issues," Bashmilah said about his mental anguish. He said the doctors told him to "hope that one day you will prove your innocence or that you will one day return to your family." The psychiatrists also gave him some pills, likely tranquilizers. They analyzed his dreams. But there wasn't much else they could do. "They also gave me a Rubik's Cube so I could pass the time, and some jigsaw puzzles," Bashmilah recalled.

The nightmare started for him back in fall 2003. Bashmilah had traveled to Jordan from Indonesia, where he was living with his wife and working in the clothing business. He and his wife went to Jordan to meet Bashmilah's mother, who had also traveled there. The family hoped to arrange for heart surgery for Bashmilah's mother at a hospital in Amman. But before leaving Indonesia, Bashmilah had lost his passport and had received a replacement. Upon arrival in Jordan, Jordanian officials questioned his lack of stamps in the new one, and they grew suspicious when Bashmilah admitted he had visited Afghanistan in 2000. Bashmilah was taken into custody by Jordanian authorities on Oct. 21, 2003. He would not reappear again until he stepped out of a CIA plane in Yemen on May 5, 2005.

Bashmilah's apparent innocence was clearly lost on officials with Jordan's General Intelligence Department. After his arrest, the Jordanians brutally beat him, peppering him with questions about al-Qaida. He was forced to jog around in a yard until he collapsed. Officers hung him upside down with a leather strap and his hands tied. They beat the soles of his feet and his sides. They threatened to electrocute him with wires. They told him they would rape his wife and mother.

It was too much. Bashmilah signed a confession multiple pages long, but he was disoriented and afraid even to read it. "I felt sure it included things I did not say," he wrote in his declaration to the court delivered Friday. "I was willing to sign a hundred sheets so long as they would end the interrogation."

Bashmilah was turned over to the CIA in the early morning hours of Oct. 26, 2003. Jordanian officials delivered him to a "tall, heavy-set, balding white man wearing civilian clothes and dark sunglasses with small round lenses," he wrote in his declaration. He had no idea who his new captors were, or that he was about to begin 19 months of hell, in the custody of the U.S. government. And while he was seldom beaten physically while in U.S. custody, he describes a regime of imprisonment designed to inflict extreme psychological anguish.

I asked Bashmilah which was worse: the physical beatings at the hands of the Jordanians, or the psychological abuse he faced from the CIA. "I consider that psychological torture I endured was worse than the physical torture," he responded. He called his imprisonment by the CIA "almost like being inside a tomb."

"Whenever I saw a fly in my cell, I was filled with joy," he said. "Although I would wish for it to slip from under the door so it would not be imprisoned itself."

After a short car ride to a building at the airport, Bashmilah's clothes were cut off by black-clad, masked guards wearing surgical gloves. He was beaten. One guard stuck his finger in Bashmilah's anus. He was dressed in a diaper, blue shirt and pants. Blindfolded and wearing earmuffs, he was then chained and hooded and strapped to a gurney in an airplane.

Flight records show Bashmilah was flown to Kabul. (Records show the plane originally departed from Washington, before first stopping in Prague and Bucharest.) After landing, he was forced to lie down in a bumpy jeep for 15 minutes and led into a building. The blindfold was removed, and Bashmilah was examined by an American doctor.

He was then placed in a windowless, freezing-cold cell, roughly 6.5 feet by 10 feet. There was a foam mattress, one blanket, and a bucket for a toilet that was emptied once a day. A bare light bulb stayed on constantly. A camera was mounted above a solid metal door. For the first month, loud rap and Arabic music was piped into his cell, 24 hours a day, through a hole opposite the door. His leg shackles were chained to the wall. The guards would not let him sleep, forcing Bashmilah to raise his hand every half hour to prove he was still awake.

Cells were lined up next to each other with spaces in between. Higher above the low ceilings of the cells appeared to be another ceiling, as if the prison were inside an airplane hanger.

After three months the routine became unbearable. Bashmilah unsuccessfully tried to hang himself with his blanket and slashed his wrists. He slammed his head against the wall in an effort to lose consciousness. He was held in three separate but similar cells during his detention in Kabul. At one point, the cell across from him was being used for interrogations. "While I myself was not beaten in the torture and interrogation room, after a while I began to hear the screams of detainees being tortured there," he wrote.

While he was not beaten, Bashmilah was frequently interrogated. "During the entire period of my detention there, I was held in solitary confinement and saw no one other than my guards, interrogators and other prison personnel," he wrote in his declaration. One interrogator accused him of being involved in sending letters to a contact in England, though Bashmilah says he doesn't know anybody in that country. At other times he was shown pictures of people he also says he did not know.

"This is a form of torture," he told me. "Especially when the person subjected to this has not done anything."

In his declaration, Bashmilah made it clear that most of the prison officials spoke English with American accents. "The interrogators also frequently referred to reports coming from Washington," he wrote.

After six months he was transferred, with no warning or explanation. On or around April 24, 2004, Bashmilah was pulled from his cell and placed in an interrogation room, where he was stripped naked. An American doctor with a disfigured hand examined him, jotting down distinctive marks on a paper diagram of the human body. Black-masked guards again put him in a diaper, cotton pants and shirt. He was blindfolded, shackled, hooded, forced to wear headphones, and stacked, lying down, in a jeep with other detainees. Then he remembers being forced up steps into a waiting airplane for a flight that lasted several hours, followed by several hours on the floor of a helicopter.

Upon landing, he was forced into a vehicle for a short ride. Then, Bashmilah took several steps into another secret prison -- location unknown.

He was forced into a room and stripped naked again. Photos were taken of all sides of his body. He was surrounded by about 15 people. "All of them except for the person taking photographs were dressed in the kind of black masks that robbers wear to hide their faces," Bashmilah wrote in the declaration.

He was again examined by a doctor, who took notations on the diagram of the human body. (It was the same form from Afghanistan. Bashmilah saw his vaccination scar marked on the diagram.) The doctor looked in his eyes, ears, nose and throat.

He was then thrown into a cold cell, left naked.

It was another tiny cell, new or refurbished with a stainless steel sink and toilet. Until clothes arrived several days later, Bashmilah huddled in a blanket. In this cell there were two video cameras, one mounted above the door and the other in a wall. Also above the door was a speaker. White noise, like static, was pumped in constantly, day and night. He spent the first month in handcuffs. In this cell his ankle was attached to a 110-link chain attached to a bolt on the floor.

The door had a small opening in the bottom through which food would appear: boiled rice, sliced meat and bread, triangles of cheese, boiled potato, slices of tomato and olives, served on a plastic plate.

Guards wore black pants with pockets, long-sleeved black shirts, rubber gloves or black gloves, and masks that covered the head and neck. The masks had tinted yellow plastic over the eyes. "I never heard the guards speak to each other and they never spoke to me," Bashmilah wrote in his declaration.

He was interrogated more. Bashmilah recalls an interrogator showing him a lecture by an Islamic scholar playing on a laptop. The interrogator wanted to know if Bashmilah knew who the man was, but he did not. It was in this facility that Bashmilah slashed his wrists, then went on his hunger strike, only to be force-fed through a tube forced down his nose.

The CIA seems to have figured out that Bashmilah was not an al-Qaida operative sometime around September 2004, when he was moved to another, similar cell. But there was no more white noise. And while his ankles were shackled, he wasn't bolted to the floor with a chain. He was allowed to shower once a week. He was no longer interrogated and was mostly left alone.

Bashmilah was given a list of books he could read. About a month before he was released, he was given access to an exercise hall for 15 minutes a week. And he saw mental healthcare professionals. "The psychiatrists asked me to talk about why I was so despairing, interpreted my dreams, asked me how I was sleeping and whether I had an appetite, and offered medications such as tranquilizers."

On May 5, 2005, Bashmilah was cuffed, hooded and put on a plane to Yemen. Yemeni government documents say the flight lasted six or seven hours and confirm that he was transferred from the control of the U.S. government. He soon learned that his father had died in the fall of 2004, not knowing where his son had disappeared to, or even if he was alive.

At the end of my interview with Bashmilah, I asked him if there was anything in particular he wanted people to know. "I would like for the American people to know that Islam is not an enemy to other nations," he said. "The American people should have a voice for holding accountable people who have hurt innocent people," he added. "And when there is a transgression against the American people, it should not be addressed by another transgression."

-- By Mark Benjamin and published in Salon

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Total nutjob

So - he voted in favour of abortion - regularly. He asked God to give him the OK to invade Islamic Iraq.

And now he has publicly declared himself a delusional psychotic by converting to RC.

So tell us Tone, what happened? So what went down? You woke up one day and suddenly decided that transubstantiation was right and the symbolism of communion was ridiculous? That abortion was wrong - as was contraception? It became clear that the ordination of women was an aberration? And that active homophobia was a good idea? If it was that you thought the Pope's God had been right over Iraq and yours was wrong then I suggest you go back to your new faith's take on Hitler - wrong on that one oh infallible one. Or is it that notion of infallibility that hooked you? Still I suppose when you get tired of being middle east peace envoy (guffaw) you can become the 2nd British pope. That's my boy Tony - always an eye for the main opportunity and not prepared to let principles get in the way.

Boy are we well rid of him!

Buzzard moments

Well we didn't get the clear day that had been forecast but we did get a drier day and were, for our perseverance, finally rewarded with a big moon rising through a clearing sky. Who knows but that tomorrow might be that clear day we have been waiting for. I did manage another buzzard moment though. Another? What do you mean another? Well two days ago as I was coming down from setting that night's stove I arrived at the edge of the sun terrace (no sun just a dull drear sky hanging everywhere) just as two buzzards separated. They had been flying west wingtip to wingtip but as they saw me appear the southernmost bird peeled off to the south and the remaining bird the ever so slightly larger of the two passed not five feet in front of my popping eyes and about on a level. Close enough that I could make out the individual feathers glistening.

And today's encounter? Suffice to say that today's encounter was equally unexpected and just as spectacular. Gill was down in Lav1 weeding and pruning and I was in the carage  chopping kindling when the dogs began to bark an alarum.  Thinking that it was a cat from next door making its annoying way home via the stairs I let things but the barking continued. I ventured out to shoo the offending feline on its way and without checking the dogs I ran round to the stairs where I had assumed the mog was making moggy delay and thus infuriating our noble canines but, like Mother Hubbard, when I got there the staircase was bare and so the poor doggies had no fun watching me wave my arms and make strange shooing noises. But when I turned back I noticed, I should have checked before, the girls were barking still but they were barking down between the olives. Suddenly a buzzard came flying low out of the  shadow . So low that he was only marginally airborne. And as he came direct toward me I saw why he was not properly skybound - hanging from his impressive talons there dangled a medium sized rat. The rat was struggling and the buzzard was all aflap - it was a natural struggle and it was clear that the rat was fighting for his life. The buzzard achieved proper take-off not 12 feet away and passed above my head with his snack firmly secured and ominously still. The struggle was over.

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Friday, December 21, 2007

Design for the other 90% or 95%.

Given my recent musings on design it was interesting today to come across a quote from Paul Polak, who started International Development Enterprises  about 25 years ago to aid the rural poor -  "Most of the designers in the world spend all their time working to solve the problems of the richest 5 [percent] or 10 percent of the world's customers," he said. "Before I die I want to see this crazy ratio reversed." he added. Hear hear say I.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if, at this time of supposed good will to all men, some of the giants of design pledged one year or more of their career to such design?  As I've said before great designers work well within constraints and the constraints imposed in designing for the poor provide a real challenge. If Bill Gates can put his tiny hand into his huge pockets philanthropically why could the uber meister of the design led and highly profitable Apple not do the same thing but in a design led series of initiatives? Who better to marshal the world's top designers?  Come on Steve - step up to the ockey and do your best.

Full inspiration article here.

If, on the other hand, you want to see an example of really pointless design look at this or even this.

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Thursday, December 20, 2007

Esme saddles up one of Laz's hobby horses

A dear friend wrote recently in response to my post on the Blasphemy  Law and raised the point that perhaps the law in question, since it is hardly used these days, is not problematic. On a purely practical level the argument appears attractive but a deeper consideration contradicts that  simple idea. In this particular case there are two issues to contend with: firstly while the law is on the statute book I, and many like me, are de facto criminals; and secondly the fact that the government, the police forces and the crown prosecutors seldom use the law does not preclude the general public from using it.  The most recent uses of this ridiculous piece of archaic nonsense have tended to be privately brought cases (see the first section of this article) and so you see we are still subject to its use as a weapon by any religious zealot with the malice to wield it.

But back to my horse and thanks for saddling her up. Legislation and the houses of parliament. Plural remember, houses not house. Commons and Lords. A legislating chamber and an amending chamber. And, as far as it goes that's fine but let me make a case here for a third house or chamber. Anybody who knows anything about databases, and let's face it the statute book is only a database of laws, recognises 3 major activities against data - create, amend and delete, We have the create function - the commons, and doesn't this last clutch of members just love passing new laws?  Amend - go t that one  covered with the half reformed Lords (don't get me started on the composition of that place). You see where I'm going with this? Where, oh where, is the delete function? And that, at least in part. explains why so much rubbish law remains on the statute book.

So let's have a third chamber whose job it is to riffle through all extant legislation and delete or repeal all the bad laws and the laws that are never, or rarely. used. If a database is not cleaned and pruned and reorganised as a matter of regular and rigorous course then it eventually become both inefficient and or ineffective. Sounds a lot like the pass that the UK statute book is in to me. Such a house could begin with a couple of fairly simple heuristics and clean a whole swathe of accreted legal plaque from the legal system within a few short and productive years. Pick your own: The Dangerous Dogs Act? - a bad law badly drafted and enacted - DELETE; the Act of Succession? - a privileging law and against the spirit of freedom of religion - DELETE; The Blasphemy Law? - nuff said - DELETE.

I am not saying that it would be a simple matter to select the people we want to entrust such vital work to but I would suggest as a starter that ALL politicians should be automatically disbarred from standing  for such office.


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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Xania harbour in winter

Xania harbour is one of those places that we tend to avoid like some sort of dire communicable disease in the summertime. It's a tourist trap and swarms with badly dressed. loud, 'travellers" smelling of sweat and suntan lotion. The cafe and taverna owners overcharge because they can. Music and overloud televisions blare day and night. The place is a beautiful looking foul bedlam.

Xania has a picturesque setting and the most beautiful venetian harbour with a lighthouse and a disused mosque. The worldwideweb is littered with photographs of this amazing spot - in all weathers and all seasons - just enter "Xania harbour" into Google's excellent image search engine and feast your eyes.

For us though Xania harbour in winter is a glorious location. With a wide horizon it is possible to see the weather fronts moving across a constantly changing sky.  The mass of the tourist have gone and the place is taken over again by he local who sit behind sophisticated plastic sheeting that covers in the fronts of the tavernas and cafes drinking coffee and chewing the fat. The food quality rises dramatically and the menus shrink - fresh food is back in fashion nowadays.

We sat outside a fish taverna at the eastern end of the harbour yesterday afternoon and ate. Imagine the spread: one plate of fava sprinkled with roughly chopped onion and a sprig of basil; one plate of stamnagathi (a strong wlld green) prepared in olive oil and served with fresh lemon; a mixed plated of braised rice celery with radish; a plate of small individual dakos (half a dozen rye rusks soaked with oil and topped with crushed tomato and mizithre cheese. Those were the starters and were followed by a plate of golden, crisp fried potatoes, individually cut from starchy white potatoes grown on the Lassithi plateau, a plate of freshly caught sardines, a plate of tiny battered fish looking for all the world like whitebait but not, tastier and fresher; and finally a plate of grilled octopus that was still in the sea yesterday, boiled till malakos (firm) and then grilled brown with the tiny tentacle ends curled and carbonised. No, not finally - a plate of lemons quartered and a basket of crusty bread completes the meal. Oh yes and a carafe of local white wine and a bottle of water.

There are three of us and we eat in the sunshine as we watch the rolling slide show of clouds moving over a constantly heaving sea beyond the harbour. A couple of hours slip by in pleasant conversation and the temperature cools slowly, the clouds begin to grey. The light drops a notch - evening cannot be far. By the time we are done with the meal and the scarps have been stowed safely in a plastic bag for the dogs' super later, when the owner has brought complimentary raki (tsikourdia)  and halva it is coming on to a fine drizzle - we move inside and linger over the end of he experience (so much more than just a meal). We sit in company now and watch the early evening clear again before paying up the bill (42 euros) and strolling around the harbour and its winter defences now in place one last time before heading home.

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Sunday, December 16, 2007

Arms and mankind

Turkey yesterday violated international law and the sovereign borders of its neighbour Iraq. Where is the international condemnation? I suspect that if Canada sent a couple of dozen bombers over the US indiscriminately bombing civilians and suspected "terrorists" there would be some outrage.

The US has exempted itself and its citizens from all international justice by refusing to sign up to the international criminal court. It impedes the progress of international law at every turn.  And this while passing itself off as the world's policeman.

It vetoes every attempt within the UN to bring international law to bear upon Israel which itself regularly violates its neighbours' borders.

Why should we be surprised that Turkey's latest illegal incursion into Iraq goes unremarked?

Some other facts

The United Nations and all its agencies and funds spend about $20 billion each year. That works out at about $3 for each of the world's inhabitants.

It is estimated that yearly, over 1 trillion dollars are spent on military expenditures and arms worldwide.

As of August 31, 2007,  the United States owed UN contributions of $785 million (68% of the regular budget arrears).

Though barred by Congress from selling offensive weapons to Cyprus itself, in 1997 alone the U.S. sold (or allowed American corporations to sell) more than $270 million worth of weapons to Greece and nearly $750 million worth to Turkey.

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Friday, December 07, 2007

Do dogs plan?

Because we cannot communicate with dogs by language we deny them, and reserve unto ourselves, as a species, certain specifically soi disant  "human" traits. Consider the following: in the course of a normal evening Bridey will sit on Gill's lap. When she does this Molly comes and lays beside Gill to have her belly rubbed. This evening Gill was at her computer, Molly was hogging the sofa, and Bridey was mooching around unsettled. Bridey looked at Molly and slowly wandered around to stand beside Gill. She intimated that she wanted to get up on G's lap and looked across to Molly. As soon as Gill moved her chair to make way for Bridey Molly left the sofa and made toward Gill in anticipation. After a delay of perhaps a second or two Bridey ran to the sofa and settled herself smack in the middle of it and looked back at Gill and Molly.

Planning? It looked a lot like it to me.

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Blasphemy, Blasphemy, they've all got it in for me

There is a petition here - The Downing Street petitions site that I have recently signed - I urge you to do the same. The petition calls on the government of the UK to repeal the Blasphemy Law that has come down in UK law from the canon law into common law. For those who want a fuller understanding of the operation and scope of the law itself this Wikipedia entry will enlighten.

Some people have asked me what it is that I find objectioable about this archauc piece of legislation ans why it should be removed from the statute book. Let me count the ways.

IT LIMITS freedom of speech - one of the fundamental human rights to which I subscribe. If I publicly scoff at the notion of trinitarianism (a very strange piece of theological sophistry that teaches that god the father, god the son and, god the holy spirit are separate and yet indissoluble), if I deny that the Xtian religion is true or, if I assert that the "Holy Scriptures" do not have divine authority then I am breaking a law (the Blasphemy law) which overrides not only my right to freedom of speech but has previously been adjudged to override my protection under the Act of Toleration (itself a privileging law). For this reason alone The Blasphemy Act must be repealed.

IT PRIVILEGES one set of beliefs over and above any other set. It is an odd law indeed that protects a creed or set of beliefs and is in that manner reminiscent of Sharia law. That it is the only UK law that protects a belief set rather than individuals or groups it privileges. Science has no such protection under law - and nor should it have. No self respecting belief should be so fragile in its adherence to its tenets that it cannot argue those beliefs in public nor should it seek parliamentary protection or privilege.

IT PRIVILEGES one set of religious beliefs over and above all others. In this it is not unique, in UK law there are several similar laws that afford unique privileges to this set of beliefs and the church to which they belong. It is widely and mistakenly believed among British "subjects" (another UK legal nicety that is far from nice) to have been enacted to protect the Xtian faith and that it continues so to do. In point of fact it protects the Church of England and its dogmas, its behaviours and its priesthood at the expense of every other religious faith. When Muslims wanted to use this bizarre piece of legislation against Salman Rushdie it immediately became crystal clear that Islam is not protected by its strange contingencies. Given that this law has been used in past times to prosecute Quakers and Freethinkers, Unitarians and atheists, it is clearly a piece of legislation that has no place in a modern, rational, post enlightenment society.

Enough of this nonsense. Let us have away with this ridiculous 17th century import from church law. It would be a good first step on the road to disestablishing the Church of England and bringing the separation of religion and state that most modern democrats see as fundamental a little closer,

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Design part 2

Having opined that the beauty of a good design mirrors that of a good mathematical solution I'd like now to turn my attention to the similarity between poetics and design. Inasmuch as poetry is the literary form that most bounds itself with constraints as a precondition schema I find that it is a good analogy for real world design. How often I have heard people studying design or even having recently graduated from design courses bemoaning the fact that design in the real world does not give full voice to their creativity when what they really mean is that the number and degree of constraints attaching to real world briefs deny them the flights of fancy that are gratuitously used to expecting? Time without accounting I am afraid. For me the constraints are what make any brief a genuine challenge rather than a fantasy. All design graduates should really understand this before they are allowed to complete their courses. A precondition.

To understand how central constraints are to the design process It is enlightening to identify where constraints might arise in any design brief and in order to do that I shall mix and match from several assignments to illustrate my point. Major constraints may be explicitly stated within the brief but seldom all constraints. Many of the minor constraints will be implict and easily enough winkled out. However, it is not unknown for some of the biggest constraints that the designer will need to address not only to be implicit in the brief but for the client not even to recognise them. This is particularly true of software design briefs (if a design is even undertaken) and is one of the main reasons that so many software projects overrun both timescales and budgets. And there dear reader you have 2 of the major constraints of any design job - time and money. Both of those key limitations are too often treated as unrealistically elastic by the arrogant designer.

There are usually 3 areas where constraints will be present: those that limit the design process itself - time, money, technology available etc; those that impinge on the the manufacture of the object - the aforementioned plus materials, tooling, cost per unit etc.;and; those that are determined by the lifetime operation of the object designed - typically all of the foregoing plus things like, throughput, speed, cost per use, ecological impact, durability, adaptability, aesthetics, fit to environment and any extreme conditions under which the object needs to operate. Without wishing to be exhaustive, and I am not convinced that I could be not matter how long I worked on this short article, I hope it is now clear that the constraints on a design will often outweigh the look and feel of the object designed by a very long stretch.

I may come back to this topic and discuss some of the joys of design as a discipline. We shall see.