Tuesday, February 08, 2005
  Condi knows NFL Football

The Washington Post has a nice article about Condoleeza Rice’s longtime love for ‘football’ and her deep knowledge of it. It ends with her prediction for the Super Bowl: Patriots by 3 after a late field goal by Adam Vinatieri. She got the margin exactly right, and Mr Vinatieri did kick a field goal in the last quarter. Is that impressive or what?

(I put football in scare quotes because of the six football codes I am aware of, Gridiron least deserves that name. Soccer, the game most of the world calls “football”, is all about kicking the ball (or heading it after someone else kicks it). Australian Rules and Gaelic Football rely on a mixture of kicking and handballing (AFL) or throwing (Gaelic Football). Like NFL, Rugby Union and Rugby League allow laterals; unlike NFL, laterals and kick-and-chase tactics play a vital part in the game. End of snark.)
Friday, February 04, 2005
  It is said that the bards of ancient Britain kept troublemakers in line by threatening to write satirical poems which would destroy their reputations. (Like most of the things said about the bards and druids of pre-Roman Britain, this claim originated with a bunch of upper-class Englishmen in the 18th Century who, um, read too many soppy romances.) But really, can you imagine any alpha male being crushed by a mere piece of writing? I can't — or at least, I couldn't, until I read this.

As they say, Read The Whole Thing. 
Saturday, September 04, 2004
  Michael J. Totten wrote:

Why, oh why, did the Democrats have to pick Kerry? I voted for Kerry in the primary, too, but it wasn't my fault. By the time the primary election rolled around in my state the only choices remaining were John Kerry, Dennis Kucinich, and Lyndon effing LaRouche. Do those of you who had early primaries have any idea how irritating those choices were? Next time, think ahead a little more. You could have gone with Edwards or Lieberman and neutralized Bush's national security advantage. That's what you should have done if you wanted "anybody but Bush."
(As with everything Mr. Totten writes, read the whole thing.)

Lieberman would be well ahead of Bush now, even after the "bounce" from the RNC Convention. (BTW, why is it called a "bounce" and not, say, a "bump"?) I have heard that many Democrats dislike Lieberman because of a crucial event during the Florida kerfuffle 4 years ago. The story goes that the Democrat machine was all set up to reject as many of the overseas military ballots as possible using every technicality they could find when a reporter asked Senator Lieberman how that fit in with the Democrats' "Count every vote" line. He said (correctly) that it was not consistent, and that the Democrats would not oppose overseas military votes on technical grounds. Since there were about 2000 such votes and the count conducted by the New York Times, CNN, etc showed Bush winning by about 350 votes, a less morally fastidious approach by Lieberman would have made him Vice-President.

Can anyone tell me how much truth there is to this story?
Thursday, June 24, 2004
  Bio-engineered crops: a complex topic?

There's an interesting blog post on genetic engineering and intellectual property at a blog called Download Aborted. (What a great name!)
I posted the following lengthy comment there:

1. Using Percy Schmeiser as an example is a Really Bad Idea, because anyone who is ever worked with a canola crop knows he lied in court. Canola seeds are little black balls; they are not very aerodynamic. Over 90% of his crop was Roundup-Ready(RM). A wind strong enough to blow that much seed from a neighboring farm would also have removed the topsoil!

2. People who produce new varieties of plants using conventional breeding techniques can "patent" those varieties. There's a form of intellectual property called Plant Variety Rights, which is modeled on the patent system. It dates back to 1970. Some people believe the PVR system has significant flaws.

(Incidentally, canola was produced from a plant called rapeseed by conventional plant breeding methods.)

3. Here in Australia, not many farmers are using bio-engineered seeds for an interesting technical reason. Good farmers usually get their seed from plant breeders, who are continually improving their product using conventional breeding techniques. Bio-engineering and breeding both produce only a handful of seeds; you have to grow a crop with those seeds, grow another crop with the resulting seeds, and so on, until you have enough seeds to sell. This generally takes at least two years. Since the bio-engineers start with publically-available seed, the seed they produces will be two (or more) years worth of breeding behind the conventional seed — and those years of conventional breeding generally produce more advantages for farmers than the bio-engineering!

4. But third-world farmers do get much better yields from bio-engineered crops. Because few third-world farmers can afford pesticides, bio-engineering pest resistance into crops can greatly increase production. In fact, stopping third-world farmers from using GM seeds is causing millions of unnecessary deaths from starvation.

Intellectual property is a difficult issue. (It's made a lot worse by the way that big spenders can influence the U.S. Congress.)

The Patent, Copyrights and PVR systems all have flaws. And the Australia-USA Free Trade Agreement slightly increases the deleterious effects of those flaws on Australians: instead of being indirectly affected because of the economic power of the US, the FTA would, if passed, require our legal system to conform to US practices.

If you came here expecting any answers to these problems, I'm sorry: I haven't got any. (You may notice that I haven't even tried to analyse them, let alone propose solutions!). But I can point out one simple truth: keeping third-world farmers from using GM crops is causing much unnecessary death and suffering. Maybe we should do something about that? 
  I'm back ...
Why no blogging for so long? (1) Illnesses. (2) Looking after my brother's farm while he recovered from a Golden Staph infection. (3) Moving 400km from Melbourne back to the family farm. (4) Unplanned changeovers to a new computer. 
Thursday, September 04, 2003
  "The world cannot be at war since war is wrong"
I found this gem amongst a dense (so to speak) thicket of childish lefty trolling in the comments on this item from Tim Blair's blog.

We seem to have a failure to communicate here. In fact the two sides are existing in different worlds and cannot understand the other.

For one side the world is at war. Or, more accurately, militant Islam (supported by moderate Muslims) has been at war with Christendom for the last 20 years. 9/11 was just the high-point of the Islamic offensive. Thus considerations of strategy, tactics, and so forth are the main topics of discussion.

For the other side the world cannot be at war since war is wrong. Thus the discussions are about why we are not at war, why this is all illegitimate aggression, and so on.

So, when one side listens to the other it hears things that make absolutely no sense! Thus, the other side must be involved in a conspiracy or idiots or whatever.

Alas, no amount of talking is going to cross this divide, I have decided. Time and time only will tell. I know where I stand, the world is at war. And while you may not be interested in it, it is interested in you.

There are young men out there who would happily kill all of us commenting here, irregardless of our opinions.

Exactly right.

Like the comment reproduced in my previous posting, this comes from "Lancer", who appears to be a Ph. D. student in history at North Arizona University. If his thesis is as good as these comments, it will be terrific.

  Fear of the Future
Michael Totten has posted an article entitled The Graphic Left which has attracted a lot of comments, including this, from "Lancer":

Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are critical in this war. But it is going to be a long war, likely into the 2020s given the demographics of the region.

We could not put pressure on Pakistan while we needed their support in Afghanistan. A favorable Afghan government will give us, in a few years, a solid base of operations to begin to put pressure on Pakistan (and Iran).

We could not lean on Saudi Arabia while US troops were present to contain Sadddam Hussein. Now that he is gone, so are the US forces (officially as of 25 August). Iraq, in a few years, will be a great base of operations to pressure Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran.

Bothered by all this talk of the future and future conflict? You are not alone, but the greatest revulsion of the future comes from those folks who created the "art" Michael posted. They fear what is to come, because they now realize (with the collapse of the Soviet Union) that it will not be the utopia they had hoped for.

This fear is understandable for we are likely in the midst of an epochal shift. Robert J. Bunker sees it as a shift from nation-states based on mechanical energy to something else. Philip Bobbitt believes the nation-state, which was to take care of its citizens, is becoming a market-state, whose job is to provide opportunities for its inhabitants. Fear of the future has a long history in human affairs. Heck, communism grew out of a dislike of the shift from animal to mechanical energy in the mid-19th century, positing a future that would be a return to a (mythical) communal past!

Those on the radical left are scared of the future and their fear leads to anger, anger at those who would dare show them the future and make them deal with it. (Explains a lot of European anti-Americanism too.)

We, if I may lump all of Michael's readers together, do share a concern with the future, but not the anger. We have, I think, adopted a position, to paraphrase George Orwell, that the future has to be faced, not feared. This does not mean that we should abandon all thought and support one position. That is what the radical left has done and it does not work. We must be more responsible than that.

While I'm still thinking this one through, it seems to make an important and valid point.

When I first started following politics in the 1970s, the reactionaries were all on the right. It's been disconcerting to see the left getting more and more reactionary over the last decade or so. The fear of change is almost palpable. That's very close to fear of the future, if not identical. Hmmm.

Tuesday, August 26, 2003
  Why Tony is angry
Still on One Nation: Why did Tony Abbot put so much effort into fighting them? Because David Oldfield co-founded One Nation while purporting to work for Abbot, in his electoral office. His paychecks came via Mr Abbot, but he was starting up his own party which would compete directly with the Liberals ... when Abbot found out about his, he was extremely angry. Looks like he translated his anger into action.
  Why Tony is angry
Still on One Nation: Why did Tony Abbot put so much effort into fighting them? Because David Oldfield co-founded One Nation while purporting to work for Abbot, in his electoral office. His paychecks came via Mr Abbot, but he was starting up his own party which would compete directly with the Liberals ... when Abbot found out about his, he was extremely angry. Looks like he translated his anger into action.
  Stupidity and Ignorance
In all the recent media coverage of Pauline Hanson, I have only found one journalist who addressed the obvious question:
Why did Oldfield, Etteridge and Hanson structure One Nation as a tightly controlled corporation rather than as a proper political party?
The answer should be blindingly obvious to anyone who knows anything about Australian politics: to keep the League of Rights (see below), the LaRouchies and other nut-jobs from taking over the party via branch-stacking.

Andrew Bolt got it right. Everyone else either never asked the question, or didn't want to tell their audience the answer.

Worse still, a senior political journalist [link lost, sorry] described One Nation as "Extreme Right" only last Friday. Rubbish. One Nation were stupid and racist, but not anti-semitic. They didn't deny that the Nazis murdered six million Jews or blame "Internation Bankers" (a traditional codeword for Joooos) for the world's economic problems. So they are not part of the Extreme right. (Indeed, like a lot of populist movements, they are a strange mixture of left and right. Of course, the traditional left-right scale is obsolete, but we are still waiting for something better to replace it.)

My conclusion: Hanson and Etteridge were demonstrably stupid but almost all Australian journalists are distressingly ignorant.
  About One Nation
Is it compulsory for Australian political bloggers to say something about Pauline Hanson
and David Etteridge getting 3 years in jail for fraud in setting up One Nation?
Nah, surely not ... but I'll say something anyhow ...

If you want to know anything about One Nation beyond the media's prolific but shallow coverage, read Off the Rails: The Pauline Hanson Trip (Allen & Unwin, Sydney, Australia, 1999) by Margo Kingston. Yes, that Margo Kingston. But it's the best book available about One Nation -- I would even call it the only useful book about them. Margo did include a few pages of Serious Political Analysis, but they can easily be skipped.

In Googling for that link, I found out that (1) Steve Edwards posted a good description of this book in June. and (2) there is now a second edition.
Thursday, August 21, 2003
  I'm not dead
... I've just got a lingering case of the 'flu. (Ab)normal blogging will resume when I recover 
Tuesday, August 12, 2003
  Michael Totten's blog has an excellent discussion going on in the comments on this article.
Why is this worth pointing out? Well, political discussions in which people from a variety of political positions make thoughtful contributions are extremely rare. I know, because I've been looking for them ... All too often, comments on politics degenerate into bad-tempered tribalism — for instance, lots of childish leftists (and no, that's not a tautology) seem to think it clever to fill the comments of Tim Blair's blog with ad hominen attacks.
So congratulations to Mr Totten for attracting such a classy bunch of readers! 
Saturday, August 09, 2003
  A Loss of Control?
Here's something Bob Bunnett wrote in a comment on one of Tim Blair's posts:

PS: By the way, one of the reasons I reckon why so many leading left ideologues are shrieking with impotent rage about our deplorable lack of “morality” is that they have lost the capacity to exert control through shaming.

I have commented on this before but, before Howard, dissent against elite left wing opinions was often able to be effectively controlled by “shaming”, or the prospect of shaming, in the the all-pervasive PC culture existing at that time. Howard's greatest gift to Australian political culture has been to consign this to the dustbin of history. People feel much more free to express what they really think politically - and that is a damn good thing. True freedom of speech. But it has made the custodians of PC incredibly angry - how dare the hoi polloi depart from the one true path that we have decided is best!

Worth thinking about. (And well written, too.) Mr Bunnet's blog,, is worth visiting. I've added it to my “recommended reading” list.
  Ugliness we should not ignore
Some people on the left of politics have accused politicians such as John Ashcroft and John Howard of being “right-wing extremists”. Such claims would be instantly and universally laughed at if people knew anything about the hateful and hate-filled world of the genuine far right. (Why do the mainstream Australian media pay so little attention to these whackos? If you know, please e-mail me.)

As my own small contribution to the cause of reason, I hope to post some essays on the Far Right in Australia. (Describing the Far Right in America is way beyond my capabilities!) For some details of the League of Rights, scroll down.

Aside: left-wingers have sometimes adopted the credo that “there are no enemies to the left”. Those on the right have rarely made the same mistake, because the far right are so gut-churningly monstrous.

Update (12/8): the best website about the US Far Right that I know of is Militia Watch. Unfortunately it is a little dated; its author, Mark Pitcavage, changed jobs in 2000 and stopped work on the site. Nevertheless I recommend it for those with strong stomachs. (If you want to see something really weird, take a look at the doctrines of the “Christian” Identity movement.) 
Thursday, August 07, 2003
  A Genuine Conspiracy
Do you get sick of all the conspiracy theories around these days? So do I. Nevertheless, here's another one, about a sinister right-wing plot to take control of a significant fraction of the Australian government. Only this isn't just a theory: it really happened. My father helped defeat it.

The plotters were a secretive group called the League of Rights. They are basically Nazis without the good points: they have the same ideology (blame everything on the Jeeeews) they sneek around in the shadows whispering their poison into the ears of anyone who will listen, whereas the Nazis at least staged some dramatic spectacles and shouted their hatefilled propaganda out loud. IIRC, the League actually started before WW2 as an Australian facist movement. In the 1950s they conned the CIA into giving them a million US dollars “to fight communism”, but their attempts to expand beyond their small and largely rural base failed.

To understand this plot, you need to know about a rather strange feature of Australian politics: there are two right-of-center parties who usually govern in coalition, and those coalition governments are stable. (Coalition governments are quite common, but stable coalitions are extremely rare.) The two parties are the Liberal Party, who get roughly 40% of the vote at most Federal elections, and the National Party, who represent farmers and other rural interests and get nearly a tenth of the national vote. Naturally the Liberals play a dominant role in the coalition governments, except in Queensland where the Nationals have sometimes outpolled the Liberals. (The state of Queensland is the exception to many — perhaps even most! — statements about Australian politics.)

In the late 1970s and early 80s, the League tried to do to the Nationals what a Trotskyite organisation called Militant Tendency was trying to do to the British Labour Party. They got lots of people to join party branches and vote plotters into leadership of those branches, then used the branches they controlled to put their people into regional committees, and so on, moving up the heirarchy towards the top positions in the party.

In Britain, the Trotskyites nearly gained control over the Labour Party. They were able to get it to adopt some very Leftist policies, but that backfired badly: the swinging voters rejected Labour, giving Margaret Thatcher several election victories. Later, Neil Kinnock spent much of his time as leader of the Labour Party getting rid of the Trots. Then Tony Blair took over and moved the party platform sharply center-wards. Now Mr Blair has 2 wins from 2 elections, and it is the Conservatives who are in disarray.

In Australia, Coalition governments usually appoint National Party parliamentarians to ministries such as Agriculture, Transport and Trade. Hence a Coalition win could have given the League political control of those ministries. However, the League would have had to infiltrate and take over the National Party without alienating the Nationals' voters — a difficult task, way beyond the League's minimal political skills. Also, they would need the Liberals to either fail to notice the take-over (extremely unlikely) or to knowingly go into Coalition with neo-Nazis (also unlikely). And even if they did control some ministries, the bureaucrats would never have implemented the League's policies. So the League were stupid to expect their plot to achieve anything much.

In any event, the Nationals soon recognised that they were being subverted and counter-attacked by vigorously recruiting non-league members. (The Nationals ended up with more members than any other Australian party!) It was several years before the League's infiltrators were chased out of the National Party — and the “Joh for PM” campaign brought lots of them back out of the woodwork. ((Joh Bjelke-Petersen, long-time leader of the Queensland National Party, launched a crazy and futile attempt to take over leadership of the Federal coalition in the late 1980s. Fortunately, he failed, but he did keep John Howard, our current Prime Minister, from winning the 1987 election.))

As is so often the case, the truth is a lot less dramatic than the fictions. This conspiracy story, though true, is full of messy detail and there was never any real danger, whereas the Afghanistan pipeline and “Vince Foster was murdered” stories, to pick just two conspiracy stories, are simple and intriguing [um, inadvertent pun there]. Believing in conspiracy theories gives you a wonderful sense of superiority based on being one of the few who Know What Is Really Going On, and also provides a wonderful excuse for ignoring real-world events. Nevertheless, conspiracy theories, like urban myths, have to be appealing as stories in order to spread widely. That is why they are (almost?) always fiction

[Reposted with slight improvements Sat 9-Aug-2003] 
Thursday, July 31, 2003
  About This Blog

(I'm still learning how to drive Blogger. Can you tell?)

I started this blog to get practice in writing reasonably good English in a reasonably short timeframe. It's a bad sign when even a clumsy paragraph takes an hour to write ...

I intend/hope to publish a series of programmer-friendly articles about Unicode, possibly including:

A Short History Of Computer Character Sets

Where Unicode came from

A Short History Of Writing Systems

Alphabets, Syllabaries and Ideograms

What is a Character?

Or wchar_t considered dangerous
Combining Marks, Surrogates and other complications

Unicode Normalization Forms

The orthodox way to compare two Unicode strings

Encoding Characters

UTF-8, UTF-16 and UTF-32.
Why older character sets are now just subset encodings of Unicode

Storing Unicode Text

In files, just use UTF-8 or UTF-16.
In memory, ... that's a tricky one

Programming with Unicode

Why you really want to use a library: pango, ICU, etc

I would also like to write about the lessons of the Self project, which advanced the state of the art in language design (an object-oriented language classes), run-time systems, optimization of highly object-oriented code and user interfaces. Although this project ended nearly 10 years ago, their ground-breaking optimization techniques are barely known, and that's a shame.
  About My Surname
Frequently-uttered Answers:

That's Cee Haich I
you'll need to write smaller
Ell Ee Bee
write really small
Oh Arr
really, really small
Oh You Gee Haich
2.Yes, it is a long name.
3.English. From Norfolk, actually.

According to the late Reverend Colin Chittleborough, my seventh cousin ((I loved writing that)), "Chittleborough" is a modernised form of "ce-etol beorgh" (in my own, unreliable, phonetic rendition), which meant "stronghold near water". The "borough" part comes ultimately from an old German word, bergen, to protect, which became beorgan in Old English. From this, burg or burh came to mean a city, as in Hamburg and Magdenburg in Germany, presumably because the cities were protected (by walls?). The English words burrow (where rabbits etc live) and borough both derive from bergen/beorgan. In England, "borough" came to mean a town with legal protection, not part of any shire and having its own charter.
Wednesday, July 30, 2003
  Had to Happen

Before Harry Potter and Hoggwarts, there was another series of books featuring
an adventurous English schoolboy ...

Now you can read the story of
Molesworth at Hoggwarts online!

(Molesworth is the hero narrator of Down With Skool, How to be Topp, and Molesworth's Guide to the Atomic Age, all by Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle.) 
  Chris Muir is back!

And Day by Day is in top form.

Speaking of great daily comic strips, Get Fuzzy has been particularly good lately.
Saturday, July 26, 2003
  Our Leaders Weren't Honest About Iraq

Were George W. Bush, John Howard and Tony Blair honest and forthcoming concerting the intelligence they received about Iraq?


And that's a good thing.

For a national leader to be open and forthcoming about most intelligence information would be stupid, because it would destroy the source of that information.

Worse than that: our leaders usually cannot even tell us about anything their intelligence services accomplish. Why? Well, if you or I know about it, so do the people involved, and the accomplishment is much less useful. In fact, public disclosure often turns a success into a failure!

Thus the normal political processes in a democracy do not function well with regard to intelligence matters, because the people who know what they're talking about cannot say much, leaving the arena to people who (1) don't know what they they're talking about or (2) don't care whether the things they are saying have any basis in reality (or both!)

(Most democracies handle this problem by delegating oversight to a parliamentary committee of some sort. This solution has some serious problems, but seems better than all the alternatives ... like democracy itself.)

The moral: set your skepticism level to "ultra-high" when politicians and commentators talk about intelligence matters. 
Friday, July 25, 2003
  The End of an Era?

Since the 17th century Treaty of Westphalia, international politics has been governed by the principle of national sovereignty as the "prime directive". (That Treaty arose out of the horrors of the Thirty Years War. There is a science fiction novel, "1633" by Eric Flint, which conveys those monstrosities quite well.) This developed into the idea that moral principles that might apply to national politics do not apply to international politics. In fact, professional diplomats often believe fervently that applying "domestic morals" to international affairs is itself immoral! (They would also call it naive and stupid.) Hence the tendency for dictatorships of all stripes to claim that critics who report their misdeeds are "infringing their national sovereignty": any such infringment is an international problem, and therefore more important to many senior diplomats than domestic incidents in third-world nations (though, of course, those diplomats will privately regret such incidents).

I hope you can tell that I find this attitude revolting and deplorable.

Now this Westphalian consensus seems to be breaking down. Bill Clinton gravely wounded it when the US intervened in Bosnia and Kosovo. Kofi Annan (of all people!) has criticised it as outdated. The current US administration is battering it in two ways.

(1) Creating (or even just trying to create) a democracy via "regime change" is a clear breach of the most fundamental Westphalian principle.

(2) The "Bush Doctrine" (of pre-emptive action whenever the US sees no other good way to protect itself) is also counter to orthodox Westphalianism.

Of course, this raises a big question: what will replace the current "system". (One proposal: a United Nations in which only
democracies get first-class membership.)

I strongly recommend the writings of Professor Martin Shaw, an English academic on these issues.
Christopher Hitchens is also good, especially his attacks on Kissengerian
Miscellaneous musing from Chris Chittleborough, Australian farmer's son, computer programmer and chronic information junkie

Email Chris

Recommended Reading
Tim Blair
Bob Bunnet
Christopher Hitchens
Andrew Sullivan
Michael J. Totten

Glossaries's Blog Glossary
The Hacker's Dictionary

07/20/2003 - 07/27/2003 / 07/27/2003 - 08/03/2003 / 08/03/2003 - 08/10/2003 / 08/10/2003 - 08/17/2003 / 08/17/2003 - 08/24/2003 / 08/24/2003 - 08/31/2003 / 08/31/2003 - 09/07/2003 / 06/20/2004 - 06/27/2004 / 08/29/2004 - 09/05/2004 / 01/30/2005 - 02/06/2005 / 02/06/2005 - 02/13/2005 /

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