Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Shedding Light on Fallujah

By now, you will probably have heard of - and if you are brave enough seen - the footage acquired by Italy's RAI showing the aftermath of white phosphorus deployment in Fallujah. The outcry that followed focussed on the irony of the launch of chemical weapons in a war started - ostensibly - to prevent their use.

At first the US (predictably) denied that WP had been used but were later forced to reverse this position.

But so what if they did? You may ask.

The use of white phosphorus on the battlefield is not new, or indeed always intended to harm. Nor is it banned by any treaty to which the US is a signatory. There are three ways in which WP may officially be used: It is used in flares to illuminate the battlefield, it is used to generate dense smoke-screens to mask troop movements - especially in urban environments - and it is also used in particularly unpleasant incendiary bombs. More detailed descriptions of these uses can be found at
None of these uses appears to meet the definition of a 'chemical weapon'.

It is the least obvious of these uses, however, which is most likely to be the problem: the smoke-screen. Though it seems unlikely that an army would deploy an obscurant which was acutely harmful to their own troops, here is what has to say about it:

Medical personnel should be prepared to treat potential reactions to military smokes once such smokes have been introduced to the battlefield. Exposure to heavy smoke concentrations for extended periods (particularly if near the source of emission) may cause illness or even death. Casualties from WP smoke have not occurred in combat operations.

White phosphorus fume can cause severe eye irritation with blepharospasm, photophobia, and lacrimation. Irritation of the eyes and irritation of the mucous membranes are the most commonly seen injuries. These complaints remit spontaneously with the soldier's removal from the exposure site. The WP smoke irritates the eyes and nose in moderate concentrations. With intense exposures, a very explosive cough may occur, which renders gas mask adjustment difficult. There are no reported deaths resulting from exposure to phosphorus smokes.
So far, not much worse than walking to the Neasden branch of Ikea down the North Circular. Bear in mind, however, that it would be illegal to pump car exhaust into an enemy installation, as it contains a toxic gas.

Phosphorus smoke is composed of particles or droplets of phosphorus pentoxide, upon the subject of which Oxford University's website has this to say:

Stable, but reacts violently with water, alcohols, metals, sodium, potassium, ammonia, oxidizing agents, HF, peroxides, magnesium, strong bases.


Toxic and may be fatal if inhaled, swallowed or absorbed through the skin. Very destructive of mucous membranes. Eye contact may lead to serious permanent eye damage. Corrosive - causes burns.
Not the same story really.

So what is the difference between the relatively benign fog of war and whatever it was that charred away the lips, noses and eyes of the women and children of Fallujah? The answer is proximity and concentration. There is a big difference between running through a drifting veil of stinging smoke in the open and cowering, terrified, in a basement while artillery pounds the street outside and a WP round goes of in your living room. Remove yourself from that exposure site if you can.

If you doubt, then you can always experiment with having a barbeque indoors next summer*.

While the US military continues to maintain that it does not use chemical weapons it is clear that this is merely a legal argument and not a rational one. At its least severe, WP smoke has deleterious effects very similar to tear gas or other choking agents which are classified as chemical weapons
. As an area-effect weapon - which it is, whether intentionally or not - it does not discriminate between civilians and combatants (lawful or otherwise).

Other clues as to the uses of WP can be gleaned from between the lines of "The Fight for Fallujah," in the March-April 2005 issue of Field Artillery magazine:

WP proved to be an effective and versatile munition. We used it for screening missions at two breeches and, later in the fight, as a potent psychological weapon against the insurgents in trench lines and spider holes when we could not get effects on them with HE. We fired “shake and bake” missions at the insurgents, using WP to flush them out and HE to take them out.

While I profess no battlefield expertise, I invite you to try to imagine how a fighter ensconced in a redoubt proof against the direct and indirect effects of an high explosive barrage might be 'flushed out' by WP rounds. If he cannot be reached by the blast and shrapnel of the HE, then what difference does the phosphorus make that would cause him to prefer to die by other means?

It can only be the smoke.

Leaving aside the ommission of WP smoke from the schedules of the Chemical Weapons Convention, the following is clear:

If the US Military fired phosphorus munitions into Fallujah, then they indubitably used chemical weapons against civilians.

*Only don't, because it would be very stupid.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Power over the Atom.

When oil availability falls to a level where domestic energy costs rise too high, many nations will begin to turn to nuclear energy.

But what about nations forbidden by the US from owning nuclear facilities?

One may speculate that they will ultimately be forced to buy all their electricity from US owned and operated plants, either extraterretorially or built and run in militarised US enclaves within their borders.

Just as now, where world energy supplies are controlled by OPEC, in the future, nuclear power will be controlled by America and it's proxies.

Monday, October 03, 2005


I think it worth mentioning that I am currently between employers, and am open to any interesting suggestions.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Cluster Munitions

57 protesters have been arrested following demonstrations against the Defence Systems and Equipment arms fair in London. Disturbingly, two protesters, who entered the venue, were arrested under recent anti-terror legislation. This is the first time that the new terror laws have been applied to legitimate protesters.

Chief among the campaigners complaints was the availability at the trade fair, of cluster munitions from Pretoria-based Denel. This despite the organisers' assurances that there would be no cluster weapons, or torture devices present.

A cluster bomb or shell is a delivery system which scatters 200 explosive devices over an area of around 80,000m2. They are usually described as having an anti-armour role. In fact, many different configurations are available, including anti-personnel warheads.

Theoretically, they are no more malign than any other weapon. However, the individual sub-munitions have a failure rate of 5 to 15%. This means that for every cluster bomb deployed, there may be up to 30 unexploded bombs which remain within the target area in exactly the manner of land-mines.

It has been suggested that this design fault remains uncorrected because it allows cluster bombs to be employed as a weapon of area-denial where political circumstances render the deployment of land-mines problematic.

Just like land-mines, unexploded cluster munitions often lie dormant, long after the conflict in which they were launched has ended or moved on. Their presence renders any area, be it urban, rural or wilderness treacherously dangerous for the local inhabitants. Their disarming is both perilous and expensive – an expense not included in the purchase price.

Too often, the cost of the aftermath, in lives as well as money is born by local communities.

It is tempting to wonder if, were the manufacturers to be made responsible for the retrieval of all faulty munitions sold, would the weapons remain so cost-effective for long?

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

So Soon it Begins, Eh?

Civil rights group Liberty said it hoped to go to the High Court to challenge what it saw as a police decision to ban protesters using the "emergency powers".

Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti said the terror laws were "very draconian emergency powers" to be used in "very extreme situations" - but now appeared to have been used possibly to quell protest.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Function vs Purpose

It is, perhaps, because the old aristocratic ruling class has now, almost entirely, been replaced by the new merchant princes, that the concept of the state as an institution has so fallen from favour in latter decades.

To the aristocrat, the state is the structure which sustains and legitimises their position. To the market-devoted merchant, it may more often be seen as a shackle, hampering the accretion of private wealth.

And so we begin to see the gradual usurpment of many public functions by private institutions. The justification of this is usually that private companies are capable of 'efficiencies' which elude the public sector. In truth, this usually means the ability to pay wages that would embarrass a public body. Moreover, the dividends of these 'efficiencies' are rarely if ever passes on to the public, but rather to the shareholders of the company.

If this is so easily seen, then why are these policies being so ardently pursued? The answer lies in a general failure to distinguish between function and purpose.

Take the example of a supermarket. A supermarket can be seen to have many functions: it acts as a distribution hub for food and clothing, it gives producers access to consumers, it provides employment in its catchment area and it makes profits for its shareholders. Which of these, then, is its purpose? This we may divine by discovering which of its functions cannot be removed. A fully automated shop might well do away with the provision of employment. A shop that could obtain goods without suppliers surely would do so. If a shop could legitimately take the consumers' money without supplying goods, then that would be the only industry. If you take away the profits, however, there will be no shop. To make profit, therefore, is the purpose of a supermarket, no matter what other tangental functions it may also perform.

Now take the example of a publicly run Health Service. It too provides employment and gives pharmaceutical companies an interface with the consumer, but the function without which it would not exist is to provide healthcare to the citizenry according to need. If it did not supply healthcare, then the supply of public funds would be cut off. The provision of healthcare, free at point of use, is the purpose of a public health service.

Contrast with this, then, with the case of public health provision by private institutions. Yes, it fulfills all the same functions as the public body, but its purpose, once again, is to make profits for its shareholders. Functions, such as treatment of rare or expensive illnesses which conflict with this purpose will soon be abandoned. Given the nature of government contracts, it is doubtful whether, should the provision of healthcare cease, that the supply of public money would likewise be cut off.

Another favoured mantra of the British government is that the consumer now demands 'choice' in healthcare. Given that it is usually used as a code to mean that the wealthy should not have to subsidise the healthcare of the poor, it is hard to hear the word spoken by any politician without hearing Thatcher's ophidian sybilants.

The private sector brings no choice to the citizen, or 'consumer' as we now are. Take, for example, the case of Patientline. Patientline was awarded the contract to supply entertainments and telecommunications to the bedside of every in-patient across huge swathes of the UK's National Health Service. The system commended itself to the NHS administration as it would eliminate the need for the nursing staff to maneuver bulky payphones to the patients' bedside. Since the use of mobile celphones is prohibited in UK hospitals, the contract represents a complete monopoly.

The quality of the service is acceptable. However the fees were very high. Phonecalls to patients cost more than a call to Australia. The fee for entertainments was more than the standard rental fee for a 60cm television and Sky TV subscription.

Patientline, rather than bringing choice to the consumer, has gained the power to hold the sick, the infirm and the elderly incommunicado, unless their family can afford to pay these - quite literally - extortionate rates. They have no choice.

Again, the purpose of the old method was to allow patients to contact their family. The purpose of Patientline is to make profits for its shareholders. The new system benefits only those consumers with sufficient income to pay the fees. Not one penny is paid back to the NHS.

So, though politicians are always easily convinced by their friends in industry that only function is of importance and that the purposes of the market may be substituted for the purposes of the state, ask yourself:

Do you wish to put your life in the hands of any organisation who's core purpose is to give as little as they can for as much as they can take?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

On Communism

The main argument against communism seems to be that citizens enjoy a lower standard of living than the average subject of capitalism. Since, once subsistence is achieved, poverty is purely relative, this problem is a product of capitalism's absurd excesses. Capitalism is dependent on a very high burn rate and constant expansion. In a finite world, this can only end in tears. In the absence of capitalism, the perception of poverty would not exist.

As for the shortages that plague command economies: are we not subject to shortages of housing, medical staff, sports fields and even water now?
The prosperity of the capitalist economy is an illusion, dependent upon ephemeral conditions of plentiful oil and expanding markets.

Arguments about civil liberties are a red herring, as the only significant freedom denied one by a communist state, is the freedom to be a capitalist. Conversely, under capitalism, citizens are routinely denied the right to be communists and the right not to be exploited. In the absence of capitalism, the restriction of freedoms necessitated by security would be obviated.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Unthinkable

An interesting viewpoint in Lenin's Tomb regarding the London bombings.

the essence of which is reproduced here:

Ask yourself: [cui] bono?

The idea that it was Al Qaeda presupposes that an Islamist group, sufficiently well funded and organised to commit what is described as a sophisticated attack is also stupid.

The best strategy for Al Qaeda would be to isolate the US from any potential allies. A way to do this would be to attack only the US and not its allies causing their electorates to dissociate their fortunes from those of the Americans.

If you beleive that Al Qaeda is as organised as we're led to beleive, then you must beleive that they have thought of this too. Why consolidate your foes?

On the other hand, as Raymond so rightly points out, Western elements have very much to gain from it.

Don't knock Raymond. Every society comes to a point, now and again, when someone must think the unthinkable. Let Raymond save you the trouble.
And, truly, we must always be willing to think the unthinkable, because sometimes the unthinkable is done.

Cheers, Tony

So, tell me again: We went to war in Iraq to make the world a safer place?

I feel so much safer now. Thank you Tony.

Moral Equivalence

Compare the experiences of the British and the Iraqis in this 'War Against Terror':

In both cases, a foreign people, of whom they know little and with whom they have no real argument, have come from afar and killed them with bombs.

The only difference is scale and I challenge anyone to make a moral distinction there.

Clearly it is not right that Islamists should bomb our cities. How, then, can it be right for us to bomb theirs?

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Difference Between Communism and Capitalism

Whilst hanging around in Lenin's Tomb the other day, I was privileged to witness a convocation of weighty intellectuals from across the world engaged in erudite contention.

Two broad coalitions strenuously pursued the conclusion that their favoured sociopolitical paradigm could beat up the other side's favoured sociopolitical paradigm.

The main comparator was, by unspoken consensus, to be the historically recorded number of people that had died under each system, virtue being inversely proportional to the number of dead. It was a no score draw.

This seems a poor way to pick your politics.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Dot Dot Dot . . .

Dot: The US Department of Homeland Security is desperate for warm bodies to pose for some budget-justifying je t'accuse moments. Soon, US domestic opinion will turn against the demonisation of Arab-Americans and the searchlight will be turned abroad.

Dot: The USA is pressuring Blair's government to ensure that Blair's ID card database is seamlessly compatible with their own.

Dot: The Menwith Hill surveillance base which the US uses to watch Europe digitally scans all emails and telephone conversations.

Dot: Blair's government has signed an asymmetric extradition treaty with the USA. Under its provisions, the US can apply for the extradition of any British subject without supplying prima facie evidence of any wrongdoing.

Join the dots.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Leaches in Modern Medicine

My father is in hospital and I'm furious. Patientline gouges patients' families £0.49 per minute to speak to them on the phone. I pay less than that to talk to my sister in Australia. Patientline also supply TV. 16 channels of not-very-much for £3.50 a day. Thats around £100 a month! For around £60 you could rent a widescreen TV and Sky World Top Entertainment Package. How can they justify charging almost twice as much as that?

Patientline keeps all of this revenue under the terms of their PFI contract. The NHS sees not a penny. While Patientline is only one of many so-called Patient Power providers. Once an NHS Trust has signed a contract with Patientline, the patients themselves are offered a familiar PFI choice: Like it or, alternatively, lump it. The actual consumer does not have a choice of service provider.

This is how PFIs generate wealth and 'prosperity'. Seizing a captive market and milking it - steadily squeezing money from the pockets of the poor and needy and pumping it into the pockets of the wealthy. Of what benefit is this to either the citizen or the consumer?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

On Chavs

Chavs are not a new phenomenon, as much of the media might have you believe. The rise in prominence of the 'chav' is little more than a new generation of middle-class yappers discovering gthe existance of the Working Classes.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Status Bloody Quo

Well, here we are and here we are and here we go, as the chaps did sing. The votes are cast, the ballots boxed and the officers returned. GE2005 is all over, bar the leadership struggles. The Tory buzzard is flapping a broken-winged spiral to lord-knows-what fate. Some envisage a phoenix-like metamorphosis into, perhaps, New Conservatives (or 'Neo Cons' for short). Others see it splitting between the centre-right and the UKIP tendency. Fingers crossed.

Labour has suffered the appropriate kick in the nuts that it was gagging for, but largely for the wrong reasons. An anti-war vote is all very well but where did the anti-PFI vote go? Hopefully, Labour's centre of gravity will be drawn Leftwards by the success of Respect and independents.

Disappointingly, the Liberal Democrats are to reconsider their mildly redistributive tax policy. Should this be the case, then their one distinguishing divergence from the status quo would be extinguished. It is almost as though, having failed to capture the hearts and minds of disaffected Labourites in sufficient quantity, they are to try groping in the political darkness for dissaffected soft Tories.

Know, however, that Lib Dem policy is not dictated to the party from the top down as with other leading brands. Lib Dem policies must be voted through by the members themselves at their party conferences. Many old-school Liberal Democrats may feel that it is the task of parties to persuade the electorate that their policies are correct, rather than the reverse.
None of this would need to happen under a system of proportional representation.

The real tragedy, of course, is that nothing at all has changed. The agenda remains closed - how to make the world a safer place for capital to run free. In his more nihilistic moments, Quixotematic fears that the agenda will remain unchanged, sans force majeur.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Green with ENV

The ENV Bike and its adaptable Core fuel cell is, perhaps, the most exciting thing to happen in personal transport since the Model T. Fuel cells look like being the only way in which the internal combustion hegemony may be challenged. The Core cell, however, is flawed in its reliance on pure hydrogen as an energy carrier.

Hydrogen is not a fuel. No it isn't - listen.

A fuel is something which may be gathered, like wood, coal, crude oil, camel dung or uranium and may have energy extracted from it, usually by a thermal process. Admittedly, if free hydrogen could be harvested in useful quantities it would be a fuel, by this definition, but free hydrogen doesn't stick around long in nature.

'But what about the hydrogen in seawater?' I hear you ask. 'Theres any amount of hydrogen in water: H2O, see'.
So there is, but it takes a lot of energy to prise it away from the oxygen and due to thermodynamic inefficiencies, you will always get less energy out when you oxidise the hydrogen than you used to get it in the first place. The use of hydrogen in fuel cells is no different from winding a spring. You will probably end up burning something to wind that spring, too.

True, if you use electricity from sustainable sources it may be a very green spring but still an energy store, not an energy source.

Now, if you take the hard line that humans can use no more energy than is actually incident on the surface of the planet, then the only useful fuels are those derived from biosphere carbon (as opposed to geosphere carbon). Fuel cells can be designed to derive their hydrogen from methanol and its worth remembering that there is more hydrogen in a bucket of methanol than there is in a bucket of hydrogen.

Quixotematic looks forward to the day when the ENV or something like it is really available as an affordable personal transport option.

I have just stumbled across the Vectrix which fits the bill much better.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Ho, and also Hum

So. That good old standby moral panic and folk-devil cannabis is being rolled out again for a ritual, election-time kick around the pitch.

Do not be conned for one moment into believing that this is about public health. A moment's reflection can turn up any number of socially accepted substances and behavours which pose a far greater threat to both physical and mental health. The medical data upon which the current hoo-haa is hung is not a scientific study. It is an observed correlation between disclosed cannabis use and diagnosed schizophrenia. Anyone with an O-Level in Statistics can tell you that causality cannot be inferred from correlation. Thats without even going into the relationship between ethnicity and both cannabis use and the epidemiology of schizophrenia.

It is worth observing, though, that virtually all the cannabis users that your average Psychiatrist will ever knowingly meet will be in his consulting room. Drug use will almost certainly be a component of their presenting condition, though whether as a cause or a symptom is a matter of opinion.

It is also worth remembering that virtually every bit of 'scientific' evidence that the American or British governments have ever cited as a rational reason for persecuting pot-heads has turned out to be a lie.

At the end of the day, to the tokers themselves, the whole episode is just another in a long line of big yawns. When weed was Class B, everyone took all reasonable measures to avoid getting arrested for possession and left dealing to wide-boys and gangsters. When it was downgraded to Class C, everyone took the same measures to avoid getting their stash confiscated and
left dealing to wide-boys and gangsters.

How many people does anyone seriously believe want to use cannabis but do not because it is illegal?

The only change Quixotematic noticed at all was the smell of (some quite good quality) gear on the platform of London Bridge station at around 6 o'clock each evening. There has been no significant change in either supply or demand and even the Government admits that this is true.

Hopefully, the present nonsense is just a pre-election maneuver, designed to keep socially conservative and ill-informed (though disproportionately opinionated) swing voters from bolting to the right field and will quietly subside to the comfortably ambiguous status quo when Labour are returned to government.

Quixotematic is not a drug evangelist.

Cannabis may well be as carcinogenic as car exhaust, tobacco smoke, acrylamide or a thousand other environmental toxins.

Cannabis should no more be used by children, who's nervous systems are incompletely formed, than should nicotine, alcohol, caffeine, or Playboy magazine.

Adults, though, should be
allowed to make informed decisions regarding cannabis as well as these.

More sanity from JD over at British BullBlog. (
High time for common sensi, Sat March 19)

Friday, March 11, 2005

Tony's Terrible Terror Bill

Many are shocked and concerned by today's 'anti'-terror bill. People can't quite believe what they're hearing and are wondering why this is being done. A few suspect that this is not about Al Qaida at all. The new legislation applies not only to Islamic extremists but to anyone whom the government chooses to define as a 'terrorist'.

It is easy to see how a bomb-throwing-Islamic-fundamentalist and a bomb-throwing anti-vivisectionist-fundamentalist might legitimately be tarred with this brush but what about a tyre-slashing anti-vivisectionist-fundamentalist? How soon before non-bomb-throwing anti-globalisation-activists are smeared by it also? Before long, anyone who once subscribed to The Aberdeen Anarchist or joined a Reclaim the Streets march will be sporting a radio tag.

Even if you have faith in this government, what about the next one? The one after that?

Monday, March 07, 2005

Penal Dysfunction

The government of Tony Blair, who aparently rejects ideology, certainly embraces dogma with a passion. Despite the fundamental flaws of logic inherent in the business model, they are still determined to privatise the construction and administration of our prison system.

Some still fondly believe that the role of prison incarceration is to punish and to reform. Others believe that the funds required to achieve rehabilitation would be better spent on the more deserving and only the function of deterrent punishment should be aspired to, as it must surely reduce crime and recidivism.

Under the public model, either of these is at least possible.

A privately provided service requires other outcomes.

A private prison relies for its profitability on a steady stream of inmates, in as high a volume and concentration as is sustainable. Businesses rely on repeat custom, so recidivism is actually in the interests of the private penal industry. Privatisation will inevitably lead to the very minimum standards and conditions as inmates are merely warehoused. A bare minimum will be spent on any educative or rehabilitative facilities and staff. The fiduciary duty of the Directors to the Shareholders will guarantee this. The more tax money spent on a public system, the greater the quality of service and calibre of staff. The more tax money paid to private providers, the greater the share dividend.

The only way to ensure a different outcome would be to pay providers only for the inmates who do not reoffend upon their release.

red pepper on outsourcing public services.

Saturday, February 26, 2005

Tarzan of the Apes.

Seeing Tarzan goes to India on Channel 5 today, I was reminded of the astonishing lengths to which the studios went to keep black faces off the screen. The movie scripts always showed Tarzan as a white man who, even dissociated from colonial resources, was still the only one who could tame Africa, or defend it. Africans, when they appear, are portrayed as child-like; to be befriended or punished as they deserved.
It occurred to me that all the films should really be remade (the original text notwithstanding) with a black actor in the lead role.
Jane can still be white, if you like.
Then again, a portrayal of a black man, straight out of the jungle, raised by a family of apes, who goes about with his shirt off, carrying a knife and shacking up with white women might attract unlooked-for criticism.

Monday, February 21, 2005

Wacky Race for Number 10

It looks very much as if the Great Election Race has begun. The usual cast are all there lined up and yearning to be First Past the Post. But it looks like being a rather wacky race thus far. Picture the cartoon: there's Michael Howard in the Creepy Coupe, engine sputtering and knocking; there's Charlie Kennedy in the Ring-a-Ding Convert-a-Car, with Professor Pat Pending at the wheel.

But where are Dick Dastardly, and his loyal Media Advisor 'Muttley'? They have made a cunning head start, in a helicopter no less, by cleverly not telling anyone else the race has started. Last seen passing through Gateshead.

Of course nothing prevents Howard and Kennedy hawking their wares around the popular media and hanging out with June Sarpong (if only someone would ask them, dammit!) but Labour 's rush for the starting line has left the other mob looking distinctly stalled.

Of course, by contrast, the only certainty in the original was that Dick Dastardly would not win.

Taking the PPP

Talk of PFI puts me in mind of the occasion when, upon returning to primary school in the New Year, one of my cohort airily announced that he had received a sweet-making machine for Christmas.

We were agog.

The prospect of a limitless supply of sweets, unfettered by the ineffable agenda of one’s parents was a heady one. How did it work? We were dying to know.

Well,’ he explained, his face contorted with the effort of recollection. ‘You put sweets in at the top…’

At which point I felt that I had spotted the flaw in the whole concept, especially when he seemed unclear as to whether one need also insert sweets in the bottom.

Public services are still funded from the same pool of tax revenue. No more money is actually injected in to the system by PPP. Under the publicly owned system you have, theoretically, an organisation who's raison d'etre is to provide the optimum level of service at the most sustainable cost and value for taxpayers' money. Under a privately owned system, you have an organisation who's raison d'etre is to divert the greatest amount feasible of taxpayers' money into it's shareholders' pockets. Under the public system, a provider must fund from their budget facilities, staff, development and contingencies. The Private system must extract - from the same amount of money – all of the aforementioned, with the addition of a dividend to shareholders and inflated private sector Directors' salaries. The maths is not hard: something has to be squeezed to achieve this and, if reports of poor hygeine maintenance in our hospitals are to be believed, we can see this happening already.

Even if the government were now to grant a cash transfusion to our anaemic public services, it would only be after 'investors' had hollow fangs sunk firmly into their deepest veins.

More sanity here.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Linux for the home user

I'm annoyed that Linux is so difficult. Much twaddle has been bandied about in the popular computing press about Linux as a replacement for Windows for the home user. "There is no reason you should ever need to open the console or mess with any DOS-like weirdness" they're saying. True enough, straight from the box, many Linux distros will give you all the office and media tools that you will regularly need. It's great in a corporate environment, where hardware has been chosen with Linux in mind, there is noodle-for-hire on retainer and everyone connects to the web over a LAN. For the untrained home user, who is perforce his own SysOp, it is a different animal. You just try getting your USB ADSL modem or cheap inkjet printer working! 3D acceleration? dream on.

Now don't misunderstand me. I enjoy being patronised by Microsoft's 'helpful' and friendly interface as much as the next thinking person. What Windoze does have in it's favour, though, is a huge library of drivers that will probably run just about any PC you install it on. When you do need to download a driver from the manufacturer's site, you need merely double-click on the filename and it extracts itself and installs. Not so, Linux. For example, SuSE 9.0 has in its library drivers for the ATi Radeon 9000, 9200, 9300, 9400, 9500 and 9700. Guess which model I own? Where it is possible to find Linux drivers for your hardware, they will not be supported by the manufacturers, who may go as far as denying their existence, even when you've just downloaded them from their website. There will be instructions, of course, posted on the many Linux fora. Many many instructions, each new set subtly or radically at odds with last. And there will indeed be much DOS-like weirdness.

I look forward to the coming of the day when a non-Microsoft OS is my boot-up of choice - I so loathe homogeneity - but Linux is still too much of a wild frontier for anyone who cannot commit the time and head space required to learn its obscure secrets.