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Quiet for a while

Since I have a visitor!

Birthday party for me tomorrow, then we're off for a week. Flying to France and then driving to Spain for Susan's birthday.

See you when we get back.

Why I Like Casimir Pulaski Day

So, Casimir Pulaski day, by Sufjan Stevens, is one of my current favourites. Definitely in my all time top 10, but the reasons are more complicated than the reasons I like most songs, mainly because there's a lot more to this song than most songs.

At first glance, it's fairly straightforward: it's about the romance between two young people, one of whom is dying.

Right off this appeals to me because it's about the end of a relationship, and I am a sap for that kind of thing.

What's special about this though is the fact that it packs a layered story into 13 short verses that would put most hollywood screenwriters to shame, with both deft plotting and an economy of writing superior to most movies I've seen in the last year.

Threaded through that story is another story. The characters are religious, and rural (illustrated compactly in verse one with the reference to the 4H Stone) and thus probably quite strictly so, and so it's not just about the relationship and death: they're dealing with the choice of whether to deny themselves experiences in this life in order to enjoy what they're promised in eternal life. The choice about whether they have sex outside marriage because she's dying. Die never having experienced it, and maybe go to heaven, or experience what you can of this life, and maybe go to hell.

By deftly and economically weaving these two stories together, he elevates the protagonists from simply vehicles for the song's sentiment to living, breathing characters with conflict, struggle, and a life outside the song.

That theme is highlighted in act 2 (I know, I'll get to that reference) by the reaction of her father when he finds out about their choice, and in act 3, the song explores the conflicted feelings of the surviving lover about his religion.

So, the song is arranged in a traditional 3-act format, divided by instrumental breaks. It's got a very cinematic flavour, which I like, and which helps visualising and holding he story in one's head, given we're so used to that format. In the four verses of act one, setup, we learn that one character has cancer, and there's romantic tension. In the four verses of act 2, obstacle, they become lovers, and in the five verses of  act 3, resultion, she dies and the survivor deals with the death and the effect this has upon his faith.

That is a shitload to pack into 4 1/2 minutes of lyrics. 13 short, 3-line verses. I've seen less plot in a 2 hour movie (I recently watched "The Road" - I think Sufjan Stevens could do that in two verses)

So, on that basis, there's a lot of emotional content and reward packed into this little gem.

The melody itself is very simple. A repetitive D-C-A Minor-G.  Around that there's built .. I don't know. Frills? Variations on the theme that reflect the action, which are mostly plaintive and sweet, but at the end, introduce dissonant harmonies that remind me of nothing more than Dido and Aeneas. I promise you I'm not trying to look smart. I am scorchingly ignorant of musical theory. It's just I can't think of any other simple musical trick that it's quite as heartwrenching as that.

Not finished yet. Will come back to this as I frame my thoughts better, but wanted to get a friend's feedback, so posting prematurely.

What if circumvention is a dead end?

This came at a time when I was struggling with the implications of a project that took the article 19 approach. A guide to securely and safely circumventing the great firewall of China. I kind of feel now like I've been barking up the wrong tree.

"To figure out how to promote internet freedom, I believe we need to start addressing the question: "How do we think the Internet changes closed societies?" In other words, do we have a "theory of change" behind our desire to ensure people in Iran, Burma, China, etc. can access the internet? Why do we believe this is a priority for the State Department, or for public diplomacy as a whole.

I think much work on internet censorship isn't motivated by a theory of change - it's motivated by a deeply held conviction (one I share) that the ability to share information is a basic human right. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers."  The internet is the most efficient system we've ever built to allow people to seek, receive and impart information and ideas, and therefore we need to ensure everyone has unfettered internet access. The problem witht the Article 19 approach to censorship circumvention is that it doesn't help us prioritize. It simply makes it imperative that we solve what may be an unsolvable problem."


I feel a bit less like a wingnut

I've been ranting on for so long about the need for a constitution, and getting the same response, that I was beginning to feel like a bit of a nutter. Glad to see at least some of those concerns are shared by a lot of other folks.

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust has just completed its annual State of the Nations poll tracking British attitudes to democracy and civil liberties. It's a very rigorous poll with over 2000 people taking part through one-to-one meetings on the street.

There are some quite extraordinary results when it comes to people's attitudes to civil liberties and the database state. It seems there's been a real hardening of attitudes against government collecting, storing and sharing people's personal information.

- 53 per cent of those asked thought ID cards a bad or very bad idea, compared with only 33 per cent who opposed them in the 2006 poll.

- The numbers also rose for people worried about the government holding data on them, from 53 per cent to 65 per cent.

- 80 per cent now want a bill of rights

The campaign is currently holding a public vote on the top reforms to campaign on at the next election. The top 5 will become the Power2010 Pledge and the backbone of the largest third party campaign at the next election.

You can see the poll questions and results in full here

Oatcakes and Lollipops

Nick and I popped down to Stoke to see Lol and Rob for the evening. Had a really nice mellow evening watch Rude Tube videos (lots of old favourites, including Dance Fail) , drinking beer and Dooleys, having Chinese food from the Golden Gate, then watching Office Space. Whole evening was lovely. Doing the familiar drive down, popping out to Bargain Booze, taking 10 mins to get to the point where Lol and I were talking in synch again, making Nick laugh so much he broke.

Lol tried on my new glasses, since she wants the same frames. Looked hawt.

Woke up in the morning and had to get Nick back to work by noon, so early start, but did have time to pop into the Hole in the Wall to introduce Nick to the wonder that is the Staffordshire Oatcake.

Nom nom nom.

Also Lol gave me a lollipop from the giant bucket I bought her from Costco like a year ago. I saved it.

Anyway, was really nice. Sustaining. Like good soup. Going down for a full weekend in a month or so to get really appalling messy.

Can't wait.

So, we have a Supreme Court

And this week it declared that the freezing of assets of people not convicted of a crime was illegal.

"The UK Supreme Court has ruled that special Treasury orders that freeze the assets of terror suspects are unlawful.

The judges at the UK's highest court said the government had exceeded its powers by controlling the finances of five suspects."


"Lord Hope said: "Even in the face of the threat of international terrorism, the safety of the people is not the supreme law.
"We must be just as careful to guard against unrestrained encroachments on personal liberty."

- from The BBC

I was so happy when I read that article. I was the last person to think that our new Supreme Court would actually have any teeth, and was really happy when I read something that said otherwise.

Read that again. "The safety of the people is not the supreme law". I love that sentiment.

While safety is important, it is not so important that it can be used as a justification for any abuse. Ben Franklin said pretty much the same thing 240 years ago.

"They that can give up essential liberty for temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety"

It's a brilliant summation of the balance that must be drawn between law and liberty.

But, that happened here! Our very own (newly minted) supreme court, right? So, that would tend to disprove my earlier argument about the protection of rights in the UK, yeah?

No. Pretty much the opposite.

They didn't say it was illegal to deprive people of their rights.

They simply said that it was illegal to deprive people of their rights without Parlimentary approval.

A more perfect illustration of how the courts are subservient to the concept of Parliamentary Supremacy you couldn't ask for.

Here's the relevant quote from the judgement.

"Explaining the judgement, Lord Phillips, president of the Supreme Court, said: "Nobody should conclude that the result of these appeals constitutes judicial interference with the will of Parliament.

"On the contrary, it upholds the supremacy of Parliament in deciding whether or not measures should be imposed that affect the fundamental rights of those in this country."

All they're saying is that it's not illegal to deprive people of their rights without convicting them of a crime. It's just illegal to do it without jumping through the right hoops. They even kindly put a hold on execution of the judgement for a month, to give the government time to ram legislation through parliament to comply with the correct way to

It confirms that our most fundamental rights are not rights, simply privileges granted at the whim of Parliament.

And while I understand that the justices are bound by the law, worthless as it is, and must speak as though they respect it, I can't help but be depressed when I consider the institutional subservience behind that statement. The ingrained abnegation of any responsibility to stand up for what's fundamentally right, and how easy it comes in the UK to the people who in most countries embody the opposite of that.

"Tishman Speyer Properties and its co-investors just walked away from the largest real-estate deal in US history, simply defaulting on the properties and the loans that bought them and leaving their creditors in the lurch. The properties, Manhattan's 56-building, 11,232-unit Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town, were "under water" (worth less than the debt hanging over them), so the corporate developers elected to simply jettison them.

They're not alone -- Morgan Stanley recently dumped five San Francisco office buildings, stiffing their creditors when the buildings went underwater.

As a business-strategy it makes sense: why repay loans secured by assets that are worth less than the loans? Just turn the assets over and cut your losses.

But individuals are shamed, bullied, and counselled not to do this when it's their private homes that fall underwater. Everyone from former US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson to credit counsellors to the Mortgage Bankers Association tell you that defaulting on underwater property is low and dishonest (unless you're a Wall Street player -- then it's just "protecting shareholder value")." - Corporate developers abandon "underwater" property -- why not individuals?

from Boing Boing by Cory Doctorow

To say this hypocrisy makes me spectacularly angry would be a remarkable understatement. I want to get a pitchfork and/or a torch. Sorry for the cut-and-paste without further commentary, but I don't think I can add anything to this except ARRGH!