Days: it’s a blog thing

Since August, 2001. Surely it can’t last…

Friday, September 14, 2001 ↓


It's no surprise to me to hear Jack Straw and others report that a significant number of Brits are sure to have died in the attacks on the World Trade Centre. Given the amount of "cross fertilisation" that exists between British and American financial institutions and stock markets, I fully expect that Britain will be second to America (albeit by a long way) in terms of the number of its nationals who have lost their lives in this tragedy.

As the initial reeling effect diminishes, the matter that will occupy us increasingly over the coming days is: what happens next? In a thoughtful piece in the New York Times, Thomas L Friedman raises a few valid questions. But is it really World War III?

Posted at 10:16 AM


On September 14, 1814, Francis Scott Key wrote these words:

Oh say! can you see, by the dawn's early light,
What so proudly we hail'd at the twilight's last gleaming?
Whose broad stripes and bright stars, thro' the perilous fight,
O'er the ramparts we watch'd, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof thro' the night that our flag was still there.
Oh say, does that Star Spangled Banner yet wave
O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Key's poem, of course, put to a tune by John Stafford Smith, eventually became the national anthem of the United States; and yesterday, September 13, 2001, in an extraordinary break with tradition, Smith's air was played at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace.

The playing of the American national anthem at such a distinctly British event was a simple but poignant sign of our sympathy, support and solidarity with America after some of the darkest days in its short history. More poignant, perhaps, when you consider that Key wrote his poem in the aftermath of a British invasion of Washington and the putting to flames of the White House and Capitol.

The relationship between the UK and the USA today is a mark of how far as nations we have come. The murderous acts of September 11 show how far some nations still have to go.

Posted at 10:13 AM

Wednesday, September 12, 2001 ↓


Yesterday's events in New York and Washington will make September 11, 2001 a date to remember forever. September 12 has been a date to remember for 24 years, as it was on this day in 1977 that the human rights activist Steve Biko died from brain damage inflicted during "questioning" by the South African security police.

Posted at 10:16 AM

Tuesday, September 11, 2001 ↓

There can be only one topic today, and by now, we all know what it is.

When I heard the first report on the radio about the World Trade Centre's North Tower being hit by a hijacked plane, I was shocked.

When I turned on my TV and watched another plane flying into the South Tower, I was stunned.

And when a short while later I saw the South Tower collapse, followed soon after by its neighbour, I was horrified.

The World Trade Centre was a symbolic as well as a strategic target. In hitting the WTC, the inhuman scum responsible struck not only at the USA (though it is the American people who have suffered the losses) but at the whole western system and way of life. Their biggest success today will surely be to unite all the major western nations in seeking them out and supporting the government and people of America in delivering their response when the time comes.

We are always urged in these situations (not that I can recall a situation anything like this) not to make snap judgments about who is responsible. But let's be sensible. Whether Osama bin Laden or some other psychopath is behind this attack, it seems inconceivable that it was not down to some extreme Islamic group.

Over recent weeks, the BBC here in the UK has presented a whole series of television programmes about Islam, intended to promote greater understanding of the world's fastest growing religion and Muslim customs. Over and over viewers watched Muslims affirm that Islam is the religion of peace. Repeatedly, Muslims complained that they are unjustifiably treated with distrust by many in the West, and do not really know why.

Well, today is why.

And if the actions in New York and Washington aren't enough to explain some Western attitudes, then the ecstatic reactions of elements of the Arab community in Jerusalem that I saw on television a few hours later certainly should be.

Watching those creatures rejoicing in the deaths of so many people they did not know, in a country they barely understand, was almost as sickening as watching the horrifying events themselves.

Of course, the majority of Muslims — just like the majority of Christians, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and even atheists like me — are decent people who would not contemplate murder to bring down groups or nations with whose religious, political or moral views they disagree. But simply to say that events like those of today are the work of "cranks" and to take no responsibility for the actions of those same cranks who live amongst them and act in the name of their religion and way of life is shortsighted, and does nothing for the image of Islam in the West.

Posted at 10:44 PM

Monday, September 10, 2001 ↓


I just tried out Firda's "Who is your weblogger twin?" test, and apparently my twin is Jeffrey Zeldman. Well, it might explain why I'm always so in tune with his views. Just wish I had his talent, wit, style, good looks (whoa! now we're going a bit too far).

Posted at 9:07 AM


My being out of the country again last week prevented me from checking out the commentary on the 'net regarding the Bush administration's decision to let Microsoft off the hook: that is, not to pursue the break-up of the company in accordance with an earlier court decision as punishment for its anti-trust violations. So I'm playing catch-up now.

Let's get this straight. MS was found guilty as charged. You can argue until eternity whether breaking the company up is the proper redress for their sins, but whatever the actual punishment, it needs to be something of that severity. Otherwise MS will go on as before, picking up (for them) small fines and small "behavioural" remedies which they will sneak around, one way or another. By failing to impose a serious penalty on the company, the US administration is also failing to deliver a message to MS that its anti-competitive practices must stop. Microsoft's spin on the climb-down will be that it is a victory for the company, that it has been vindicated before the courts, and that it can carry on with its special interpretation of "freedom to innovate" as before. That's how it has spun previous court decisions against it. It has won, despite being found guilty by eight judges.

Dan Gillmor expresses his chagrin that the states that raised the action against MS have acceded to the Justice Department's position:

"The real surprise, and disappointment, was the states' willingness to go along with this sellout. My guess is that the attorneys general have grown weary of the battle. They've fallen victim to Microsoft's ability and willingness to outlast and outspend any opponent."

Outlast and outspend. Yep, that'll do it every time.

There was a time not so many years ago when I sympathised with Microsoft for the bashing it took in so many quarters. I used to think it was just so much sour grapes on the part of other software companies that simply hadn't made it big like MS. That MS was only doing what other companies would do had they attained the same position.

But now it strikes me that Microsoft's behaviour is about more than just tough business practices, more than just preserving the bottom line and their dominant position in the market. There's a strange sort of megalomania at work in MS, whereby the company can't seem to resist taking every opportunity to put the Microsoft name under our noses, to make us do things the Microsoft way, and to snatch control of how information is presented to or perceived by us. The Smart Tags fiasco (which has by no means "gone away") is just one recent example; another rather sneaky one described recently on c|net involves replacing the old error pages that were delivered to users if they entered an incorrect or non-existent URL into the browser's address bar with the MSN Search page instead.

This latest trick took me by surprise the first time I encountered it a couple of weeks ago. I suspect that when less savvy users are presented with the MSN Search screen emblazoned with the message "We can't find", they will get the impression that those nice, friendly, helpful people at Microsoft are actually involved in all the transactions between the web browser and web servers, being an essential "part of the connection" — an impression that MS might well want to foster. And when the less savvy user screws up, why those nice people at Microsoft jump in to help them find what they are looking for — using the MSN search engine or the Microsoft list of "perhaps you meant this" sites, of course. (If you want to stop this behaviour in Internet Explorer, go to the Tools menu, select Internet Options, choose the Advanced tab, then under the heading "Search from the Address bar - When searching" check the radio button labelled "Do not search from the Address bar.")

Of course there are commercial considerations in these attempts to influence what we see on the Web, and particularly in the case of Smart Tags, to hijack web site owners' content. But to me it smacks just as much of enormous ego and arrogance.

I'm not a Microsoft hater. I don't think everything Microsoft has done has been bad (although there are many of the opposite view). Whoever was responsible for the concept of a graphical user interface, be it Apple, Xerox PARC, or anyone else, it was Microsoft who delivered to people's desktops in volume. However flaky or unstable Windows may be compared with its competitors, it won customers and eased access to the power of computers for huge numbers of people who would have shied away from the command line. For all those things, the company deserves some measure of success. But when they try to move from being the dominant player in the office and web browsing software market to being the only player, and when they start to direct our browsers from a given web site (against the intentions of the site's creators) to other Microsoft-sanctioned sites, then they have long passed the point at which their "progress" needs to be curbed. And Dubya's decision does nothing to help.

Posted at 9:01 AM

Sunday, September 09, 2001 ↓


On this day in 1513 the Scots suffered one of their greatest losses at the hands of the English. Mindful of the Auld Alliance between Scotland and France, King James IV of Scotland responded to King Henry VIII of England's invasion of France by sending an army south into England. They met English forces under the command of the Earl of Surrey near Brankstone (Branxton) in Northumberland. Battle commenced on September 9 at 4:00 in the afternoon, and largely through their better selection of weaponry, the English inflicted a crushing defeat on James' army. It's said that 5000 Scots died in the fight, including several earls and lords, clan chieftains, and above all, King James himself. The dead are remembered in the Scottish song The Flowers o' the Forest; the battle is remembered as The Battle of Flodden Field.

Posted at 12:53 PM


Ah, Australia. We sent you our convicts; a couple of centuries later you repay us by sending us your barmen. Now, it's well known that there must be hardly a bar left in the UK that doesn't have at least one Antipodean member of staff, but it really brings it home to you how ubiquitous is the Aussie barman (or perhaps I should say "barperson") when, as I did a week or so ago, you visit a bar in a town in Sweden to find that of the three guys and three girls serving at various times behind the bar, five were Australian. And the other one was English.

When I revisited the bar a couple of nights ago, save for one girl, it was a completely different staff. But, you've guessed it, they were all Aussies.

Did I mention it was an "Irish" bar? In Gothenburg. Called the Auld Dubliner. (Ould Dubliner might have sounded a bit more authentic — "auld" has a slightly too Scottish ring to it.) Anyway, it serves a decent pint of Guinness. On Östra Hamngatan, if you find yourself in the area.

Posted at 3:06 AM


If you have a third nipple, you might like to read The Third Nipple. Even if you don't have a third nipple, you might like to read it. I'll say no more.

I've just discovered Todd Dominey's blog, what do i know? I'll be checking out this one again, as I like the style he displayed in his run-down (in both senses of the phrase) of the MTV Video Music Awards. Mind you, I think he misses the point a little with his observation "J-Lo proved once again she can't sing." We (and I'm sure that includes Miss Lopez) all know her voice isn't her roundest, biggest, most attractive asset. Ahem.

Posted at 2:20 AM

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