Category Archives: Blog

The Beeb and Gaza

There’s now a very public fuss about the BBC’s unfathomable decision not to air an appeal requested by the Disaster’s Emergency Committee because of reasons of  impartiality. So, I wrote the following:

Dear sir/madam,

RE: BBC decision not to air DEC Gaza appeal

I was surprised and frustrated to learn that the BBC have refused the request by the Disasters Emergency Committee to air an appeal for funds to help those in desperate need in Gaza.

The BBC response was that your concerns were about the delivery of aid to a volatile situation and about impartiality.[1] The first issue appears to be one on which the DEC is better qualified to make a decision than the BBC. If the aid agencies involved believe it is possible to deliver aid then they should be supported – especially because it is often in volatile and dangerous situations that aid is most urgently required. The second issue is clearly within the BBC’s remit. However, the DEC insists it is an apolitical organisation working on humanitarian grounds.[2] The simple fact is that thousands of people are newly impoverished and homeless, with urgent need for access to clean water, food and medical supplies. Regardless of the political situation I strongly believe that the BBC should take the small step of airing an appeal – along with all other broadcasters – to help relieve the suffering of these people. This action would fit very well with the BBC’s privileged position as a license-funded, public service organisation.

Thank you for your attention in reading this letter. I would be very grateful if you would reply with answers to the following questions:

1. Why does the BBC feel it is in a better position than DEC to decide on the dangers of delivery of aid?

2. How exactly would airing this appeal damage the BBC’s credentials for impartiality?

3. Will the BBC reconsider this decision?

Yours sincerely,

Dr Kevin Gillan

[1]BBC, ‘BBC defends Gaza appeal decision’ at:

[2] Guardian, ‘BBC refuses airtime to Gaza aid appeal’ at:

Ubuntu-eee on the eee PC 901

So a new year’s gift to myself for 2009: an Asus eee PC 901. After a quick play with the Xandros-based operating system that came pre-installed I decided to give the eee-specific Ubuntu distro a whirl. Despite the claim on their wiki that it would work ‘out of the box’ for the 901, there were a few issues with my installation (Ubuntu Hardy Heron v 8.04.1 on Asus model no. EEEPC-BK006) that I’ve resolved with the help of posts on the wiki and the eeepc users’s forum. So, largely because I might need to do it again, here’s my step-by-step guide on how to get the thing running as I like it:

UPDATE: ubuntu-eee, used in the description below, has rebranded itself as easy peasy. It seems to contain more license restricted software than the standard ubuntu installation and looks pretty swish. But ubuntu are clearly pushing their own netbook-remix so I’ve installed v9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope) from Ubuntu’s main site. Where necessary I’ve updated the advice below for that, and added tips on Firefox and Mobile Broadband. Incidentally, Ubuntu Netbook Remix on the eee-pc absolutely rocks.

Another UPDATE: As the Ubuntu versions have rolled on and got a bit bigger and slower I’ve now moved to lubuntu 11.04 for the occasional-use eeePC. It feels nice and quick for the kinds of simple jobs I’m doing with it.

N.B. I’ve mostly included eee-pc specific things here – there are other necessary steps with Ubuntu (like making flash work properly, and getting drivers to play .mp3 files). These all relate to using software with restricted licenses, but that software is available and works very well and Ubuntu now generally offers wizards to do these things which should pop up when you need them.

  1. Install the OS
  2. Recognise removable drives (N.B. Not necessary since Ubuntu 9.10)
  3. Wifi (N.B. Not necessary since Ubuntu 9.04)
  4. Webcam
  5. Make bluetooth work and enable other devices to push files via bluetooth
  6. Password lock after standby (N.B. Not necessary since Ubuntu 9.04)
  7. Make ‘home’ key show desktop
  8. Install eee-control
  9. Install Launchy (N.B. Gnome Do is probably preferable since 9.04)
  10. New fonts
  11. Firefox 3.5 (N.B. Not necessary since Ubuntu 9.10)
  12. Mobile Broadband

Continue reading Ubuntu-eee on the eee PC 901

Oil and Political Terror

It might not be the biggest surprise to learn that the presence of oil in a country has an effect on that country’s political character, but its rare to see the ‘resource curse’ described as clearly as in the graph below.

Source: Bennie, Lynn, Patrick Bernhagen, and Neil J. Mitchell. 2007. “The Logic of Transnational Action: the Good Corporation and the Global Compact.” Political Studies 55(4):733-753.

N.B. The political terror scale, originally developed by Freedom House, is based on data from Amnesty International and the US Department of State’s country reports. 1 stands for respect for human rights, 5 indicates widespread government killing, torture, political imprisonment and disappearances.

Pre-emptive Self Defence Becomes Ubiquitous

Not surprisingly, since it began with the ‘leader of the free world’, the idea that if you feel a bit nervous about someone you should whack ’em straight away is now becoming an excuse for more everyday violence. Aussie rugby star Willie Mason described yesterday the exchange of abuse with Stuart Fielden on the international rugby stage after which Willie concussed his opponent with a right hook. He explained “I saw his right hand cocked and thought he was going to throw it. I thought I’d hit him first before he hit back.” Well, if that logic is good enough for international relations maybe its good enough for rugby. Mason’s brief helpfully added that his client shouldn’t be punished simply for being the better fighter – showing the kind of sharp legal mind that might, in some company, win rapid promotion. Interestingly, this court wasn’t buying it. (report)

In my day, all we had… (etc)

Wow, this really is real. Checkout Amazon’s ‘Imaginarium’ (yuck) for great security related toys:

Security Checkpoint ToySecurity Checkpoint Toy

Customers who bought this also bought…

  • Playmobile Police Van
  • Playmobile Tanker Truck
  • Playmobile Bank Counter

Obviously that sent me on a quick browse of the military toys I found, as you’d expect, lots of the ususal replica tanks and planes etc. I really enjoyed the well-placed quote marks in the description of this missile launcher:
“Mega Missile Launcher – Take command of your very own ‘peace-keeping’ tank!”

The World Social Forum and End of Capitalism

“The conflict between Davos [the partisans of the World Economic Forum] and Porto Alegre [the partisans of the World Social Forum] is not about the virtues and vices of neo-liberal globalisation, although this is how it is often protrayed … It is not about capitalism as a world-system, since capitalism as a world system is in structural crisis and will disappear in the next 20-50 years. The conflict is about what will replace the capitalist world-economy as an historical system. It is about whether we shall move in the direction of a different system that maintains one crucial feature of capitalism – its hierarchical, inegalitarian, polarising nature – or of a new world system that is relatively democratic, relatively egalitarian.”
Immanuel Wallerstein , 2004, “The dilemmas of open space: the future of the World Social Forum” in International Social Science Journal 56(4), pp. 629-637.

It is worth noting that the next paragraph begins “This is no small question…” – no shit professor!

Anti vs. Alternative Globalisation

The most important political difference cutting across the entire [World Social] Forum concerned the role of national sovereignty. There are indeed two primary positions in the response to today’s dominant forces of globalization: either one can work to reinforce the sovereignty of nation-states as a defensive barrier against the control of foreign and global capital, or one can strive towards a non-national alternative to the present form of globalization that is equally global. The first poses neoliberalism as the primary analytical category, viewing the enemy as unrestricted global capitalist activity with weak state controls; the second is more clearly posed against capital itself, whether state-regulated or not. The first might rightly be called an anti-globalization position, in so far as national sovereignties, even if linked by international solidarity, serve to limit and regulate the forces of capitalist globalization. National liberation thus remains for this position the ultimate goal, as it was for the old anticolonial and anti-imperialist struggles. The second, in contrast, opposes any national solutions and seeks instead a democratic globalization.

Michael Hardt, 2002, “Today’s Bandung” in New Left Review 14, p.111.