Tuesday, 28 June 2005

Worlds apart

I've just been rereading Worlds apart by Richard Cowper, a delightful book that sadly seems to have been out of print since it was first published in 1974. I managed to get hold of a second-hand copy in 2002, having read a library copy many years before.

It tells the story of George Herbert Cringe, "parent, breadwinner, and Junior Science teacher at Bagshot Road Comprehensive School", who cherishes two fantasies in his miserable life: one is relatively modest, realistic, and achievable; the other is totally fantastic but very charming. Both fantasies unexpectedly come true for him, though only rather briefly.

The book paints a vivid picture of how a certain type of downtrodden Englishman lived in the late twentieth century, and an equally vivid picture of life on the remarkable and wonderful planet of Chnas — which is a figment of George's imagination, but refuses to stay that way.

In a sense, this is a minor book; but it's a great minor book. I come out of it with much sympathy for poor George and a wistful regret that I'll see no more of Chnas and the Chnassians.

I also feel much sympathy for Richard Cowper, who wrote this lovely book and probably earned next to nothing from it.

Saturday, 18 June 2005

The salmon of doubt

I've rather belatedly got around to buying and reading The salmon of doubt (2002), an assortment of writings found on Douglas Adams's computer after his unfortunately early death in 2001. There are eleven chapters of an unfinished Dirk Gently novel and a considerable collection of short non-fiction articles on various subjects.

For anyone who likes Adams it's well worth reading. The extra fragments of Dirk Gently's life are sometimes funny, while the non-fiction articles are pleasantly readable and tell you more about Adams than you can get from his fiction.

I'm glad to have the book. But it's a pity he's dead. He wasn't very prolific, as authors go, but he was a memorable character and a nice guy. And only a couple of years older than me.

The world mostly thinks that his best work was The hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy. He thought his best work was Last chance to see, a non-fiction book about endangered species. I think his best work was Dirk Gently's holistic detective agency.

EU budget blues

As a Spanish taxpayer, I have no personal interest in preserving the "British rebate", but I think the British government is right in principle to refuse to give it up until EU budget contributions are calculated using a fairer system.

I'm surprised that the German government doesn't agree with this: it seems to be the biggest net contributor, so it would have the most to gain from a fairer system.

Chirac's hypocritical posturings merely confirm that he's a cretin who represents France at its worst.

All subsidies are foolish and wasteful, and the Common Agricultural Policy in particular should have been terminated a long time ago. Any countries that want to subsidize their own farmers (or any other industry) should pay the cost themselves.

Friday, 10 June 2005

Drug bust in Bali

Recently a young Australian woman (Schapelle Corby) entered Bali with marijuana in her luggage and was sentenced to 20 years in jail. She said it was planted there without her knowledge. Maybe, maybe not. Whether she's innocent or guilty isn't really the point as far as I'm concerned. Consider instead:

  • Even if her story isn't true, it could have been. Would you want to get 20 years in an Indonesian jail because someone planted stuff in your luggage?
  • A 20-year jail sentence is way over the top for an amateurish attempt to smuggle marijuana (and other drug smugglers have got death sentences!). I'm not a marijuana user, but as far as I know the stuff's no more harmful than alcohol or tobacco.

Seems to me it's quite rational to avoid taking holidays in places like Indonesia because of this kind of story. Sure, it probably won't happen to you; but if it does happen to you, you'll regret it powerfully.

Speaking as a libertarian, I don't believe that buying, selling, or using drugs should be illegal in any case. It's your life: what you do with it should be up to you. It should be illegal to force people to take addictive drugs, and it should be illegal to give them to children. That's all.

As The Economist has repeatedly pointed out, criminalizing the drugs trade has been a disaster, just as criminalizing alcohol was a disaster when it was tried in the USA. It just becomes a tremendous boost for organized crime.

Thursday, 9 June 2005

Bye-bye Norton Antivirus

When I bought a new computer last year it came with Symantec's Norton Antivirus, which I've continued to use since then. However, as it's now coming up for renewal, and as reviews suggest that I could do better, I decided to try the ZoneAlarm Security Suite, which CNET is quite enthusiastic about.

So far ZoneAlarm seems to be working fine, and I suppose I'll pay for it when the 15-day free trial runs out.

As with Norton Antivirus, it offers the (recommended) option of scanning files whenever they're run or opened, but this seems excessive to me and I always turn it off. I scan incoming e-mail and every now and then I scan the whole hard disk. That should be enough, and so far it has been enough.

ZoneAlarm's junk mail filter works only with Outlook or Outlook Express, but I use Eudora and it has its own junk mail filter, so that's OK.

Tuesday, 7 June 2005

The crucifix fetish

Not long ago I attended a wedding, in a nice little white-painted church on a wooded hilltop. The sun shone from a clear sky, and far below, sailing boats moved slowly over the blue sea. A perfect day for a wedding, and all went well.

Inside, the church was cosy, but as I looked around I saw one thing that didn't seem right for the occasion. Here we were celebrating a happy event, and all around the walls were paintings and carvings of someone being tortured to death.

Doesn't it seem odd to you that Christians are so obsessed with The Crucifixion that they need to remind themselves (and the rest of us) of it constantly? There was nothing unusual about it in that time and place: many other people must have died in the same way.

If Jesus returned today, wouldn't he be disconcerted that his modern-day followers remain fixated on the manner of his execution? "Hey, folks, there was nothing special about it, really. Why don't you focus on the positive things I did and said during life? Why surround yourselves with images of pain and death?"

Fortunately I don't often have occasion to go into a church. When I do, I must say that the decoration strikes me as bizarre. What would you think if you went into someone's house and found it all clean and neat but decorated with paintings of people dying in pain?

Wednesday, 1 June 2005

The computer that won't wake up

Recently I've been having trouble with my computer's on button. I started having to press it about six times to get a reaction. This increased to more than twenty times.

The computer is in warranty. I called Dell, and yesterday someone came to fix it. He replaced the power supply unit. All seems well now.

So, just in case it happens to you: it's the power supply.