19.4.14

 

Silicon Valley could force NSA reform, tomorrow. What's taking so long?

CEOs from Yahoo to Dropbox and Microsoft to Zynga met at the White House, but are they just playing for the cameras? Photograph: Kevin Lamarque / Reuters
Trevor Timm asks a key question in The Guardian:
The CEOs of the major tech companies came out of the gate swinging 10 months ago, complaining loudly about how NSA surveillance has been destroying privacy and ruining their business. They still are. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg recently called the US a "threat" to the Internet, and Eric Schmidt, chairman of Google, called some of the NSA tactics "outrageous" and potentially "illegal". They and their fellow Silicon Valley powerhouses – from Yahoo to Dropbox and Microsoft to Apple and more – formed a coalition calling for surveillance reform and had conversations with the White House.
But for all their talk, the public has come away empty handed. The USA Freedom Act, the only major new bill promising real reform, has been stalled in the Judiciary Committee. The House Intelligence bill may be worse than the status quo. Politico reported on Thursday that companies like Facebook and are now "holding fire" on the hill when it comes to pushing for legislative reform.
...
We know it's worked before. Three years ago, when thousands of websites participated in an unprecedented response to internet censorship legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act (Sopa), the public stopped a once-invincible bill in its tracks. If they really, truly wanted to do something about it, the online giants of Silicon Valley and beyond could design their systems so that even the companies themselves could not access their users' messages by making their texting and instant messaging clients end-to-end encrypted.
But the major internet outfits were noticeably absent from this year's similar grassroots protest – dubbed The Day We Fight Back – and refused to alter their websites à la Sopa. If they really believed the NSA was the threat so many of them have claimed, they'd have blacked out their websites in protest already.

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I Shall Vote No


Spotted on Bella Caledonia.
[After Christopher Logue, I Shall Vote Labour (1966)
By A.R. Frith
I shall vote No because, without Westminster, We’d never have got rid of the Poll Tax
I shall vote No because eight hundred thousand Scots live in England, and there are no jobs here to match their talents and meet their aspirations
I shall vote No, because my grandmother was a MacDougall
I shall vote No in case Shell and BP leave and take their oil with them
I shall vote No because otherwise we would have to give back the pandas
I shall vote No because I am feart
I shall vote No because the people who promised us a better deal if we voted No in 79, and warned us of the dire consequences of devolution in 97, tell us we should
I shall vote No so as not to let down my fellow socialists in Billericay and Basildon
and
I shall vote No, because if we got rid of Trident and stopped taking part in illegal wars we would be a target for terrorism
I shall vote No because if I lived under a government that listened to me and had policies I agreed with, I wouldn’t feel British
I shall vote No because the RAF will bomb our airports if we are a separate country
I shall vote No because to vote Yes dishonours the Dead of the Great War, who laid down their lives for the rights of small nations
I shall vote No, lest being cut off from England turns Red Leicester cheese and Lincolnshire sausages into unobtainable foreign delicacies, like croissants, or bananas
I shall vote No, because, as a progressive, I have more in common with Billy Bragg or Tariq Ali, who aren’t Scottish, than some toff like Lord Forsyth, who is.
I shall vote No, because the certainty of billions of pounds worth of spending cuts to come is preferable to the uncertainty of wealth
I shall vote No, because it is blindingly obvious that Scotlands voice at the UN, and other international bodies, will be much diminished if we are a member-state
I shall vote No because having a parliament with no real power, and another which is run by people we didnt vote for, is the best of both worlds
I shall vote No because I trust and admire Nick Clegg, who is promising us Federalism when the Liberals return to office
I shall vote No, because Emma Thompson would vote No, and her Dad did The Magic Roundabout
I shall vote No, because A.C. Grayling would vote No,and his Mum was born on Burns Night
I shall vote No because David Bowie asked Kate Moss to tell us to, and he lives in New York and used to be famous
I shall vote No, because nobody ever asks me what I think
I shall vote No, because a triple-A credit rating is vital in the modern world
I shall vote No because things are just fine as they are
I shall vote No because the English say they love us,
and that if we vote Yes, they will wreck our economy.

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16.4.14

 

Team Scotland

What happens after Yes? It's not the SNP, it's the people. A great post on Bella Caledonia.
The UK chattering classes have been wondering what a real, mass grass-roots campaign might look like in modern, professionalised politics. Impotent is their usual conclusion. Well come on up and we’ll show you. The old feudal dance where councilor doths cap to MP, MP to Minister, Minister to Prime Minister and Prime Minister to corporate CEO may well continue apace even here in Scotland. But it’s not winning Scotland.
 

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Help ORG restart the debate about internet filters

The Open Rights Group is starting a campaign opposed to the default filtering now imposed by all providers in the UK---de facto censorship. You can fund it via IndieGogo.

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5.4.14

 

A new SQL injection attack?

Against speed cameras?

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4.4.14

 

FAQ: The snake fight portion of your thesis defense

FAQ: The snake fight portion of your thesis defense.

Q: Do I have to kill the snake?
A: University guidelines state that you have to “defeat” the snake. There are many ways to accomplish this. Lots of students choose to wrestle the snake. Some construct decoys and elaborate traps to confuse and then ensnare the snake. One student brought a flute and played a song to lull the snake to sleep. Then he threw the snake out a window.
Q: Does everyone fight the same snake?
A: No. You will fight one of the many snakes that are kept on campus by the facilities department.

Spotted by Garrett Morris.

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1.4.14

 

Happy April Fools, courtesy of Better Together


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10 things that put people off cycling

Sad to say, the photos above and below are not an April Fool. From yesterday's Guardian, 10 things that put people off cycling.

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Cycling: Past, Present and Possible Futures

Spokes Spring meeting last week hosted Prof Colin Pooley, of Lancaster University, speaking about a detailed study of why people do and don't cycle. The standout lesson, from interviews and surveys, was that people don't cycle because they don't feel cycling is safe. His report concluded with a list of recommendations:
  • Fully separated cycle and pedestrian routes on all arterial roads.
  • Restrictions on traffic speeds, parking, access etc on all residential roads
  • Adopt ‘strict liability’ on roads to protect the most vulnerable road users
  • Changes to structure of cities to make accessing services by bike easy, and storing and parking bikes easy
  • Societal and economic changes to give people flexibility to travel more sustainably (flexi hours, school provision etc)
  • Change the image of cycling so that it becomes ‘normal’
The meeting was also attended by Andrew Burns, City of Edinburgh Council Leader (who reported it on his blog). The last question Councillor Burns was asked was whether he could remember the first recommendation on the list, but he could not. Which I think encapsulates the problem neatly.

The first recommendation is for separated cycle routes, as found in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and elsewhere. ("Copenhagenize" is now a verb.) To Edinburgh's credit, it has allocated 7% of its transport budget to cycling. How much of that is going to separated cycling routes, and the other recommendations on the list? Councillor Burns says segregated routes are planned for George Street and Leith Walk. I argued we need a more agressive plan. Listening to Pooley, the problems sound difficult, but all we really need are the money and the will. Let's construct a network of separated cycle routes covering the city. Build it, and they will come!

(Above: Edinburgh Links, one of the few segregated bike routes in the city, and my ride to work each morning. Below: Copenhagen.)

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30.3.14

 

Currency Reflections: The Legal Issues

Christine Bell has written an article on the currency debate that, for once, sheds more light than heat. She sets out home truths I've not seen stated elsewhere.

People ask the 'Yes' and 'No' camps to set out clearly what will happen, but this is not possible. A vote for 'Yes' is, and can only be, a vote to open negotiations.
It is not really in either side’s interest to tell voters that everything is up for negotiation. It is certainly not in the No campaign’s interests to tell people that Scotland has significant cards in its hand in any further negotiation over currency union. It is not in the Scottish government’s interests to point out how little it can lock down and promise about the economic future – or indeed many issues – in advance.
While both campaigns assert that this is about ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, Scotland becoming an independent country or not, in fact the situation is more complicated in our interdependent world.
An odd legal fiction decrees that if Scotland secedes from the UK, the identity of the former entity will reside with the remainder (abbreviated rUK, and sometime's pronounced "rump UK"). I have heard this applied to assert that Scotland will lose its EU membership, but I had not realised that it plays both ways.
Legally under international law the position is clear: if the remainder UK keeps the name and status of the UK under international law, it keeps its liabilities for the debt. The UK took out the debt, and legally it owes the money. Scotland cannot therefore ‘default’. It can be argued that international law does, however, contemplate that on dividing, the two resulting states share out assets and liabilities equitably. However, it has no hard and fast formula for what constitutes equitable division. Tangible natural assets such as oil go with the territory they are in. But other matters – in particular debt – must be negotiated. What is equitable will depend on the overall result and context of the negotiation.
Bell concludes with an intriguing possibility:
And instead of voting no, the people might simply decide to vote for ‘maybe’. For on most of the issues the people care about, the secret no campaign dare tell is: maybe is what a yes vote could be if that was what the people wanted.

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24.3.14

 

How nasty can you get? Grayling's ban on prisoners receiving books

Chris Grayling has banned sending of books to prisoners, a counter-productive act if ever there was one. It is hard to think of a nastier act from a government responsible for numerous nasties, from the bedroom tax to cutting legal aid. Thank goodness the Scottish justice system is devolved!

Yet another reason to vote for independence. Who would want to be part of a country that could do such a thing?

Spotted via Boing Boing.

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21.3.14

 

Facebook announces Hack

Julian Verlauget and Alok Menghrajani of Facebook have announced Hack, a gradually-typed variant of PHP. Hack is released open-source, features support for generic types and higher-order functions, and and compiles to HHVM. The core team for Hack features a number of the usual suspects, including Bryan O'Sullivan and Erik Meijer. Meanwhile, Simon Marlow and others at Facebook are pressing ahead with Haxl, a Haskell-based project.
However, Hack adds additional features beyond static type checking, including Collections, lambda expressions, and run-time enforcement of return types and parameter types.
Collections provide a clean, type-safe alternative to PHP arrays. We designed them specifically to work well with static typing and generics. The Collections API offers many classic higher-order functions such as map() and filter() to facilitate functional programming styles.
Lambda expressions give a concise syntax for creating closures. While PHP has closures, it requires the programmer to explicitly name the variables they need to use from enclosing scopes. With Hack's lambda expressions, we automatically infer these uses, saving you needless work. Lambda expressions make it more convenient to take full advantage of the Collections API.
Run-time enforcement of return types and parameter types (including scalar types like int and string) provides safety beyond what can be checked statically while type annotations are being gradually added to a codebase. Run-time enforcement helps programmers detect and diagnose certain kinds of problems more easily, and it helps HHVM's JIT produce more efficient code by making it safe to trust type annotations for optimization purposes.
Spotted by Shayan Najd.

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11.3.14

 

Edward Snowden speaks out

Edward Snowden speaks via Google Hangouts at SxSW in Austin, Texas. Photograph: Jim Bennett/Corbis, Guardian
Cory Doctorow for the Guardian covers Edward Snowden's first public appearance. Snowden has been nominated for the Noble Peace Prize. His closing remarks show why he deserves it:
“Governments have stopped talking about the ‘public interest’ and started talking about the ‘national interest’. When these diverge, something is wrong.
“Would I do this again? Absolutely yes. No matter what happens to me. I took an oath to support and defend the constitution and I saw it was being violated on a mass scale. The interpretation of the constitution has been changed in secret from ‘no unreasonable search and seizure’ to ‘any seizure is fine, just don’t search it.’ That’s something the public has the right to know.”

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10.3.14

 

Microsoft Research PhD Scholarship: TypeScript, The Next Generation

We are recruiting one PhD student to work on design and implementation of programming languages. The post is on the project TypeScript, The Next Generation, and is funded by a Microsoft Research PhD Scholarship.

There is increasing interest in integrating dynamically and statically typed programming languages, as witnessed in industry by the development of the languages TypeScript and Dart, and in academia by the development of the theories of gradual types, hybrid types, and the blame calculus. The purpose of our project is to bring the academic and industrial developments together, applying theory to improve practice.

Our project focusses on JavaScript, an ECMA standard, and its typed variant TypeScript, an open-source project sponsored by Microsoft. JavaScript plays a central role in web-based applications and the new Windows 8 framework, and TypeScript is seeing rapid takeup, with over 150 JavaScript libraries now provided with TypeScript declarations. Our project has two parts, one aimed at immediate short-term application, and one aimed at fundamental long-term research.
The workplan is likely to be too ambitious for a single PhD studentship. Which aspects are carried out will depend on which seem the most promising as our work develops, and on the abilities and desires of the student.

The successful candidate will join the ABCD team, carrying out a research programme investigating sesion types and web programming. The project is jointly supervised by Andrew Gordon of Microsoft Research Cambridge and the University of Edinburgh.

You should possess an undergraduate degree in a relevant area, or being nearing completion of same, or have comparable experience. You should have evidence of ability to undertake research and communicate well. You should have a background in programming languages, including type systems, and programming and software engineering skills.

It is desirable for candidates to also have one or more of the following: a combination of theoretical and practical skills; experience of JavaScript or web programming; knowledge of dependent type theory; or training in empirical measurement of programming tasks. We especially welcome applications from women and minorities.

We seek applicants at an international level of excellence. The School of Informatics at Edinburgh is among the strongest in the world, and Edinburgh is known as a cultural centre providing a high quality of life.

The successful candidate will receive a studentship covering tuition and subsistence. Students from the UK or EU are preferred. Consult the University of Edinburgh website for details of how to apply.

If you are interested, please send an outline of your qualifications to: Prof. Philip Wadler (wadler@inf.ed.ac.uk).

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9.3.14

 

Tariq Ali says independence would open a new politics throughout UK

I have a colleague who opposes independence, on the grounds that though it might be good for Scotland, it would be bad for the UK as a whole. Tariq Ali disagrees, as reported in Herald Scotland.
[Ali] believes the referendum could trigger the process of dismantling the British state. "At present UK politics are dominated by the extreme centre." A vote for Scottish independence would amount to a rejection of the extreme centre, and would open up the path for a "new politics" throughout the UK.
"England has been politically petrified since the Thatcher era." Although the Tories were soundly beaten by New Labour in 1997, Blair was the heir to Thatcher, he says. "An independent Scotland could also lead to something quite new in England; but not something nutty like UKIP."
He will tell his Scottish audiences that a vote for independence would " enable the rediscovery of hope of a better future, provide a much greater say for people over what their country looks like, and would finish off the decrepit, corrupt, tribal Labourist stranglehold on some parts of Scotland forever".
Ali is not much exercised by suggestions by businesses that would leave Scotland after a yes vote. "Large corporations are trying to frighten people,'' he said. ''But there are opportunities for investment from Scandinavia and the far east."
Ali's visit will not be welcomed by the SNP leadership. He will argue that an independent Scotland would need its own currency, and would require a state Bank of Scotland to be established. He says the new currency could be informally tied to sterling, but that all economic decisions would be taken in Scotland by a sovereign Scottish parliament.
Ali will be speaking in Appleton Tower, opposite my office, 3:30 Fri 14 March. Alas, I'll be in London that day, speaking at Functional Programming eXchange.
 

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8.3.14

 

Lady Alba — Bad Romance

Dead on and hilarious.

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7.3.14

 

Propositions as Types

Propositions as Types
Philip Wadler
Draft, March 2014
The principle of Propositions as Types links logic to computation. At first sight it appears to be a simple coincidence---almost a pun---but it turns out to be remarkably robust, inspiring the design of theorem provers and programming languages, and continuing to influence the forefronts of computing. Propositions as Types has many names and many origins, and is a notion with depth, breadth, and mystery.
Comments solicited!

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5.3.14

 

Blame, coercions, and threesomes, precisely

Blame, coercions, and threesomes, precisely
Jeremy Siek, Peter Thiemann, and Philip Wadler
Draft, March 2014
We systematically present four calculi for gradual typing: the blame calculus of Wadler and Findler (2009); a novel calculus that pinpoints blame precisely; the coercion calculus of Henglein (1994); and the threesome calculus of Siek and Wadler (2010). Threesomes are given a syntax that directly exposes their origin as coercions in normal form, a more transparent presentation than that found in Siek and Wadler (2010) or Garcia (2013).
Comments welcome!

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20.2.14

 

A formative day for Georg Cantor

From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

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An obsession with targets and impacts is killing off the blue-sky thinking that helped Higgs to a Nobel prize

From the Guardian. "Higgs would not find his boson in today's 'publish or perish' research culture".

Also from the Guardian. "Peter Higgs: I wouldn't be productive enough for today's academic system".

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17.2.14

 

The Truth About Numbers

From Tom the Dancing Bug. "That book is full of secular lies! Here's the only 'math' book you'll ever need!"

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Will Snowden be Glasgow University's next Rector?

From the Glasgow Herald. Spotted by Mitch Wand.
Chris Cassells, a member of the "Elect Snowden as Rector" campaign at Glasgow University, said a Snowden victory would be a gesture against surveillance culture
"Having Edward Snowden as rector would give us a megaphone with which we can project our views to a global audience particularly on the issue of state surveillance and the very valid and welcome role of whistleblowers in a democracy," explained the PhD student, 27.
"I think he has done a great service to citizens across the world in exposing the corrupt and immoral practises of the NSA and our very own GCHQ.
"Studying at the university is dependent on the free exchange of information and freedom of speech, and I think Snowden's revelations hit to the heart of that."

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12.2.14

 

Separate Scotlandshire may be susceptible to space storms, say scientists

As reported by Och Aye The News.
In a report published today the wholly independent UK Government boffins claim that, if Scotlandshire were to separate from England, it would be left with no cover against celestial peril. The tiny Scottish Defence Force would be unable to prevent a hail of meteors - which could fall from the sky at any time – from causing huge devastation and loss of life.

Dr Alisdair Allan MSP, the Scottish Government's Science & Education minister said, “While the conclusions of the LSE report are undoubtedly accurate, its authors fail to mention that there are no current means of shielding Scotlandshire from meteor showers.

“The kind of technology required to provide protection from celestial objects doesn't even exist. So, to claim that the danger would be increased by independence doesn't make any sense.

"You may wish to ask the UK government what steps they are taking to protect us from being lovebombed by comets, for pity's sake.”

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8.2.14

 

Off the Beaten Track 3: Proofs as Stories

A third talk of note at Off the Beaten Track was Languages for Computational Creativity: Generative Art and Interactive Worlds, by Chris Martens. Her talk included the most inventive application of Propositions of Types that I ever heard: Proofs as Stories. Later, she provided a citation to a longer work, Linear Logic for Non-Linear Storytelling, by some of her collaborators, which uses proofs in linear logic to describe alternative storylines for Madame Bovary. Thanks, Chris!

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Off the Beaten Track 2: Take FRP to the limit

A second talk I enjoyed at Off the Beaten Track was Kengo Kido's Integrability in Nonstandard Modeling of Hybrid Systems, because it might hold the secret to resolving a conflict that has bugged me for many years.

Elliott and Hudak's original description of Functional Reactive Animation carefully separated behaviours (continuous maps from time to values) from events (a value is supplied at a given time). However, many developments of Functional Reactive Programming (FRP) instead supply a stream of discrete values, casting out continuity and conflating the notions of behaviour and event. For instance, the discrete approach is taken by Causal Commutative Arrows and by Asynchronous Functional Reactive Programming for GUIs (the basis for Elm).

As I commented in a previous post, streams have the advantage of permitting feedback loops, which permit the definition of important functions such as integral, and relate to the categorical notion of trace: can we combine the advantages of feedback with continuity? Kido's paper suggests a way forward: use discrete streams, but let the time interval between them to approach zero in the limit, as in his language WHILEdt. It would be great to see someone work out the details.

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Union in Peril?

It's easy to despair if you favour independence for Scotland. Despite a small slant toward Yes, polls still show No well in the lead. So I found heartening a call to arms by Alan Massie in the Spectator, warning unionists that a vote for Independence is far from far fetched.

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27.1.14

 

Off the Beaten Track: False Starts


Saturday I had the pleasure to attend Off the Beaten Track, a workshop of POPL 2014.  Every single talk was introduced with the phrase 'And now for something completely different ...'

One talk, by Nada Amin and Tiark Rompf (delivered by Nada), argues that 'papers should expose the sausage-factory of designing calculi, and the minefields in the landscape'.

Ever since Euler (at least), papers in mathematics tend to present a polished solution at the cost of hiding the insights that led to the solution's discovery. Only rarely does one see papers that describe an approach that failed, even though, arguably, knowing what not to do can be as important as knowing what to do.

This leads me to make a suggestion. Every paper is expected to contain sections, where relevant, on
design, implementation, performance, theory, and related work. We should also include, where relevant, a section on 'false starts': research directions that failed to pan out. That is, 'false starts' should be on the checklist of what to cover when first organising a paper. Papers with such material exist, but they are rare; we should make them a common case.

What are your favourite papers that clearly explain a false start?


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Take a lawyer’s advice – visit the occupied territories

Even committed Zionists are beginning to understand that Israel is consistently violating fundamental human rights in Palestine. This article, by a lawyer, focusses on how Palestinian children fare. Spotted via JFJFP.
By David Middleburgh, Jewish Chronicle
January 17, 2014
I have just returned from a three-day tour of the West Bank and east Jerusalem, organised by the pro-Israel, pro-peace organisation, Yachad. The participants were all passionate Zionists and, were it not for some grey hairs and wrinkles, we could have been a youth group. In fact, we were all senior lawyers or individuals with a particular interest in the rule of law.
The purpose: to understand the legal context to the occupation. The centrepiece, a unique visit to the IDF military courts that maintain law and order (for Palestinians only) in the West Bank, unique in that we were the first organised group of British Jews to visit the courts. In the course of the tour we met a very broad spectrum of people from representatives of Israeli NGOs, a senior employee of the Yesha Council, which represents settlers, and a senior adviser to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Arrest of child
My conclusions? First, there is no substitute for finding out what is really happening on the ground by visiting and asking difficult questions. I had made numerous assumptions from both Jewish and non-Jewish media, which were simply wrong.
Secondly, those who consider that stories of systemic breaches of human rights under the occupation are an anti-Israel myth are deluding themselves.
We spent a morning at the military courts observing young Palestinian boys, aged 13-17, being processed, and speaking to their mothers. It is clear that children are invariably arrested in night raids by the army at gunpoint, cuffed and blindfolded and held, often for hours, in that condition, denied access to food, water and toilet facilities, interrogated without being advised of their rights, without a lawyer and without their parents.

Boy arrested by IDF, Nabi Saleh, 2011
Military Court Watch, an Israeli NGO, has carried out a detailed forensic review and they found over 50 per cent of children were arrested in night raids and 83 per cent of children blindfolded. All of the children we saw in court were in leg shackles.
There was a shocking passivity of the Palestinians we observed at court. Parents and detained children smiled and joked with each other and we did not see a single case of anger. That’s not to say parents did not care that their children were being imprisoned.

Israeli occupation forces detain a Palestinian youth in the West Bank city of Hebron on 22 September 2013, during protests against road closures for the benefit of Jewish settlers. Photo by Mamoun Wazwaz / APA images
But conviction rates are 99.7 per cent. The passivity bespeaks a people who have become resigned to their reality. They recognise there is no longer any point in fighting for basic rights. I felt that the court system was clearly a figleaf for a system of arbitrary justice where the guilt of the child is beside the point. The courts are part of a system that effectively keeps Palestinian society in a state of constant fear and uncertainty.
So why do the authorities bother with the expense of maintaining the pretence of justice? The answer is that without scrutiny it is possible to pretend that the system is fair. So, defendants are legally represented and proper rules of evidence apply.

Boy arrested on suspicion of throwing stones, Silwan, December 26, 2010. No further information

Arrest of boy, Silwan, 2011. No further information.

A much reproduced photo, for obvious reasons of a police swoop on young boys in Jerusalem, 2010. No further information.
Scrape away the veneer, and the charade is exposed with convictions routinely obtained based upon forced confessions and defendants facing remand without bail pending trial for periods in excess of sentences when pleading guilty. No sane defendant would plead not guilty in this Catch 22 situation.
I would argue that diaspora Jews who are true friends of Israel have a duty to visit the territories to understand the problem, and then to lobby friends in Israel to strive for a just end to this situation.
If we do nothing, can we complain if we awake one day and Israel has sleepwalked into the status of a pariah country?
David Middleburgh is a partner in the London firm of Gallant Maxwell solicitors

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24.1.14

 

Gagging Law---still a problem

I had the following e-mail from my MP, Ian Murray; reprinted with permission. Photo shows 38 Degrees lobbying Murray's office last December. He is 3'rd from right, I am 3'rd from left.

I'm backing amendments to the Lobbing Bill today

But the truth is that this terrible bill should be binned

Thank you for contacting me about the Lobbying Bill. While some of you have contacted me for the first time this week, I have been keeping the majority of you up to date throughout this process. We are nearing the end of the bill's progress now, as today we begin the 'ping-pong' of amendments between the Lords and the Commons.

I must praise the work of 38 Degrees and other organisations in campaigning so hard on this issue. More people have contacted me on this bill than any other since the election in 2010. I had the pleasure of meeting a small number of campaigners from 38 Degrees towards the end of last year (picture above). They handed me a petition of thousands of people from across the UK firmly against the bill.

Standing up for the wrong people

The government have got themselves in to a real mess with this gagging bill. After being forced in to a panic pause on part two they then had to grant a series of concessions. While those concessions make a bad bill slightly better, they don’t go far enough and the gag on charities and campaigners remains firmly in place.

That is why it is so important that the Commons votes to keep the two amendments that the Lords defeated the government on – the exclusion of some staff costs from the slashed spending limit, and the inclusion of special advisors in the definition of those who can be lobbied. I will be voting to keep those amendments in the bill and I will urge my colleagues to do the same.

Only David Cameron could present a Lobbying Bill that doesn’t stop commercial lobbyists influencing government policy, but could stop charities and campaigners from campaigning about it. No wonder people think he stands up for the wrong people.

This has been a bad bill from word go, and the government should’ve just gone back to the drawing board.

I have been leading for the Labour Party on part three of this bill, and have been pushing to make it a better piece of legislation. Unfortunately the government haven't listened to the thousands of people pushing to scrap this bill.

Thank you once again for getting in touch.

Yours sincerely,


Ian Murray MP
Working Hard for South Edinburgh 

The next day, I had the following update from 38 Degrees.

38 Degrees Logo
Dear Philip,

Here's a quick update on how it went today, with MPs voting again on the gagging law.

I’m afraid it's bad news. Most Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs chose to follow party orders. They reversed the main improvements made in the House of Lords.

This means they voted:
- to remove new rules limiting secret lobbying by big business
- to put back in key limits on what campaigners, charities, and voluntary groups can do to speak up on issues of the day [1]

It’s pretty depressing. But it’s not over. The House of Lords will now get another vote – probably next week. They have the option to refuse to back down, and force MPs to vote yet again.

The votes were quite close. A number of government MPs did rebel - thanks in no small part to all the petitions, leaflets, emails and events which 38 Degrees members like you made happen.

If 17 more Conservative or Lib Dem MPs had voted differently, we would have won. Maybe we can get some more to change their minds next time around?

Details of how each MP voted will be posted on the 38 Degrees website, as soon as they are published (probably tomorrow morning).

All of us will need to think quickly about what we do next to stand up for democracy and freedom of speech. Options could include:
- a fresh push to encourage the Lords to hold firm next week
- naming and shaming MPs who voted to make the gagging law worse again today and pushing them to change their minds
- looking at options for legal challenges to the gagging law’s provisions
- thinking through ways we can keep campaigning and speaking up on the issues that matter despite the gagging law

Today, there's lots to feel fed up about. Yet again we’ve seen MPs push through a law which the public have never voted for, and which has been heavily criticised by everyone from the United Nations to the Citizens Advice Bureau, the Women’s Institute to the Royal British Legion. [2]

But there are reasons to feel hopeful too. This campaign has brought together so many different organisations and so many people from all walks of life. [3] Together we're proving that whilst faith in politicians is at an all time low, passion for real democracy is alive and kicking.

If you have thoughts or suggestions on what we should do together next, or just want to share how you're feeling, you can join the conversation on the 38 Degrees Facebook page, here:
https://www.facebook.com/peoplepowerchange

Alternatively, please reply to this email leaving the subject line the same.

I'll look forward to reading your thoughts.

Hopefully we can all agree on one thing, though. This definitely isn’t the time to give up. The kind of issues that 38 Degrees members choose to campaign on – like protecting the NHS, preserving our countryside, improving democracy and challenging tax dodging – are way too important to leave to politicians.

An alarming number of politicians seem to want us to shut up. But, I’m very glad to say, we’re just not going to!


Thanks for everything you do,

David
38 Degrees Executive Director


PS: On the subject of MPs wanting to shut us up, here's the story of the MP who called the police when 38 Degrees members visited him to deliver a petition!
http://www.croydonadvertiser.co.uk/MP-dubbed-bit-cowardly-calling-police-petitioners/story-20467776-detail/story.html

And here's an MP saying it's "stupid" to email your MP!
http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/Policy_and_Politics/article/1228234/tory-mp-brands-38-degrees-campaign-stupid/

PPS: MPs let us down today, but it isn't quite over yet - so please do share your ideas for what we could do next. Either by replying here or by posting on the 38 DegreesFacebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/peoplepowerchange


NOTES
[1] There were 3 big votes in the Commons today:
- On the vote to require Ministers’ special advisors to record their meetings with lobbyists 311 MPs voted to reject the change, and 258 voted to accept them.
- On the vote to reject Lords’ changes to how much staff costs count towards total spending limits, amendment 108: 310 MPs voted to reject the changes, and 278 MPs to accept them into the Bill
- On the vote to reject Lords’ changes to the scope of what activity counts towards constituency spending limits, amendments 26 and 27: 314 MPs voted to reject the changes, and 274 MPs to accept them

[2] The Guardian: Lobbying bill will tarnish Britain, says UN official:
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2014/jan/12/lobbying-bill-tarnish-britain-un-official
National Federation of Women’s Institutes: Briefing page on the Lobbying Bill:
http://www.thewi.org.uk/media-centre/latest-press-releases-and-statements/lobbying-bill
Citizens Advice Bureau: Lobbying Bill briefings:
http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/index/campaigns/latest_parliamentary_briefings.htm
The Royal British Legion: Lobbying Bill: Why asking politicians to back our troops could be stopped under this sloppy law:
http://www.britishlegion.org.uk/news-events/news/campaigning/lobbying-bill-why-asking-politicians-to-back-our-troops-could-be-stopped-under-this-sloppy-law

[3] Over 130 NGOs, including 38 Degrees, and over 160,000 people signed a petition against the gagging law: http://civilsocietycommission.info/petition/

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22.1.14

 

Craftsman or Scientist?

More from Dijkstra (see previous entry), this time on whether computing is a craft or a science. Of course, it is both. Spotted by Sebastian Fisher.
My somewhat elliptic title refers, of course, to the programmer; so much you may have guessed. What, in all probability, you could not have guessed, is that I have chosen to use the words "craftsman" and "scientist" in a very specific meaning: they have been chosen to characterize the results of two extreme techniques of education, and this luncheon speech will be devoted to a (be it short) discussion of their role in the education of programmers, in the teaching of programming. For the transmission of knowledge and skills both techniques have been used side by side since many centuries.

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Dijkstra on Haskell and Java

A letter from Edsgar Dijkstra, written in 2001, argues that Haskell, not Java, should be used to teach introductory programming at the University of Texas. Blogged by Chris Done, spotted by Shayan Najd.
Colleagues from outside the state (still!) often wonder how I can survive in a place like Austin, Texas, automatically assuming that Texas’s solid conservatism guarantees equally solid mediocrity. My usual answer is something like “Don’t worry. The CS Department is quite an enlightened place, for instance for introductory programming we introduce our freshmen to Haskell”; they react first almost with disbelief, and then with envy —usually it turns out that their undergraduate curriculum has not recovered from the transition from Pascal to something like C++ or Java.

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A TED talk about what's wrong with TED talks

I enjoy well-presented talks---not least so I can steal ideas about how to present well for my own talks---and TED is a great source of these. My ambition is to present at TED one day. Nonetheless, this analysis points out an interesting problem with TED. My ambition is unchanged and I'll keep watching the talks, but perhaps with a more skeptical eye. Spotted via Boing Boing.

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19.1.14

 

The Ziebell projection of the world: 30 people's sketches combined

Spotted on Boing-Boing.
Zak Ziebell, then a 17-year-old San Antonio senior, challenged 30 people to sketch a map of the world, then combined them into a vague smudge. Then he produced this unnervingly realistic map of the alternative Earth lurking in his subjects' collective memories.

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18.1.14

 

My friends wonder why any intelligent Scot would vote Yes

David Donnison on Bella Caledonia presents a concise argument for independence that puts, far better than I could, my own views.
They asked me about many of the dilemmas we have been pondering in Scotland in the aftermath of our white paper – and most of them could not understand why any intelligent Scot would be voting for independence. It was an afternoon that compelled me to clarify my own thinking.
What matters most, I said, is not how an independent Scotland will fare. Independence will of course bring teething troubles of many kinds; but the Scots, if they choose to break away, will make their way in the world pretty successfully. What matters most, I said, is what you are doing in England; what kind of country you want to make of the UK; and whether we in Scotland want to be part of it.
...
The Scottish ‘political class’ assume that proposals for new policies should help to create a fairer and more equal society where there will be greater social justice. They assume that proposals for solving social problems should be prepared in active consultation with the kinds of people who experience these problems. Of course they do not always live up to these aspirations; but our political class assume that they will be generally accepted by Scottish governments, whoever wins our next elections. They are not contentious. None of that can be said of England.
I could give various examples of the impact of these divergent cultures, but one will have to do. When our first minister was taking questions at the press conference launching the independence white paper, a correspondent from the Daily Telegraph said (roughly speaking – I took no note): ‘Your plans for Scotland’s future are splendid. But in a country with high rates of unemployment and high proportions of pensioners, how can you pay for all this?’ To which Salmond replied: ‘That would indeed be difficult if nothing changes. But an independent Scotland will attract more young workers’. To which the Telegraph man – thinking he had a killer question – said: ‘You mean more immigrants?’. ‘Yes,’ said Salmond. ‘They make an important and creative contribution to our society and we need more of them.’ Could any serious English politician have said this? And if it had been said, would it have passed unnoticed, as it did in Scotland?
...
We shall all have to make our best guesses at England’s political trends when the referendum comes – eight months before the next Westminster election which may give us a few pointers. But if staying in the UK seems likely to mean living in a country that leaves the European Union (Miliband, if he wins the election, has not yet promised a referendum on that, but neither has he refused one); if it is to be a country that continues to impose increasingly punitive and humiliating sanctions on its poorest citizens who live on social security benefits (Labour spokespersons on this subject seem determined to show they will match the Tories’ brutalities); if the Human Rights Act is to be repealed (as our present home secretary promises); if the UK continues to have the most centralised government in the Western world (strangling local governments and killing off civic leadership); if ‘green’ policies are to have low priority; and if our armed forces are to remain mercenary outriders to American foreign policy; then I would rather get out, whatever the hazards of independence.
It’s a white paper, agreed by the main political parties, on the future plans and priorities, not of Scotland but of the rest of the UK, that I need. I guess I’ll have to place my bet without waiting for that.
Spotted via @cstross and @andrewdrucker.

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15.1.14

 

ADT and GADT implementations of simply-typed lambda calculus

Lennart Augustsson posted a nifty description of a compiler from a simple expression language to LLVM that included a conversion from expressions represented as an ADT to expressions represented as a GADT. The ADT requires a separately implemented type checker, while the GADT piggybacks on Haskell's type system to ensure expressions are well typed. However, Lennart's expression language does not include lambda abstraction.

Based on Lennart's code, I implemented ADT and GADT versions of simply-typed lambda calculus with de Bruijn indices, integer constants, and addition, plus the conversion between them, without the distraction of compiling to LLVM. The code was cleaned and improved by Shayan Najd, and made publicly available via github. Thanks to Josef Svenningson for the pointer to Lennart's post.

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12.1.14

 

Scotland, the UK, and the UFP

In response to a recent post, Josh Graham (@delitescere) tweeted
@PhilipWadler I'm proudly for Scottish identity but shouldn't our species look to the stars and remove borders, not remake old ones?
Good question. I approve of the United Nations and (alluding to @delitescere's wording) the United Federation of Planets. So why should I agitate to undo the 1707 Act of Union?

While my knee-jerk reaction is to support larger groupings,  upon reflection I realise that the issues are not so clear cut. In favour is the argument for peace: the UK, the EU, and the UN (not to mention the UFP) promote resolution of conflict by negotiation, avoiding warfare—clearly a good thing. Neither in favour nor opposed is the argument for trade: while removing trade barriers is a good thing, organisations like NAFTA and the WTO can impose the agenda of prosperous nations against the interests of the less prosperous. Opposed is the argument that democracy is more effective at a smaller scale: it is easier to make an electoral impact in Edinburgh that in Scotland, in Scotland than the UK, in the UK than in the EU, and in the EU than the world. Though my heart yearns for World Government (or a Federation of Planets), my head finds the issues more equivocal.

How do these arguments play out when considering independence for Scotland? On the issues of peace and trade, independence will have little impact. While there are many uncertainties concerning independence, none believe it will lead to war and it seems unlikely to seriously impair trade. It is the issue of democracy that I find most compelling in this case.

I want to live in a country that promotes education, provides for the health of its citizens, takes good care of its elderly, and eschews nuclear weapons. Scottish voters support free tuition for higher education, free prescriptions under the NHS, free personal care for everyone aged over 65, and oppose Trident nuclear submarines. The UK as a whole takes none of these positions. Britain faces grave economic decisions, and I trust Scots to make a better fist of these than I do the entirety of the UK. For me, it is the argument for local democracy that carries the day.

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3.1.14

 

A Tour through the Visualization Zoo

ACM Queue presents a handy survey of visualisation techniques. More compact than Tufte, if not as beautiful.

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Focus

A handy reminder of the real issue. Spotted on Bella Caledonia.

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Haskell in XKCD

Haskell appears in XKCD. Is this an auspicious sign for the New Year? Click through for the tool tip.

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Scots have nothing to lose going the ‘indy’ route

Iain Robertson presents a concise summary of the argument for Scottish independence. From The Japan Times of all places, and March 2013 of all times.
Under the current devolved settlement, Scotland has a parliament sitting in Holyrood, Edinburgh, which controls a paltry 16 percent of the country’s tax base. The game-changing economic and social policy levers remain in the hands of the U.K. government, leaving Scotland unable to properly tackle some of its social ills or take full advantage of its many natural resources.
Scotland’s union with England and the other parts of the U.K. is not offering Scots the best option. The current political landscape across the nations of the U.K. is one where Westminster is controlled by a Conservative-Liberal coalition government that was roundly rejected by Scottish voters at the last election; just one Conservative member of Parliament hails from a seat north of the border.
...
Recent figures revealed in “The Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland 2011-12 Report” show that, rather than enjoying handouts, Scotland is paying more money in tax than it receives in U.K. public spending, to the tune of around £863 per head of its population.
Newspapers the length and breadth of the U.K. continue to run baseless front-page scare stories about independence. What many of these failing newspapers make clear is that the so-called “union” of countries is viewed by London as being one they control.
There is even more to Scotland’s economic potential as an independent country than its booming oil and renewable energy industries. It has a number of world- class business sectors; including food and drink, life sciences and a first-class education system. Scotland has much to offer — both to itself and the world.
...
There is even more to Scotland’s economic potential as an independent country than its booming oil and renewable energy industries. It has a number of world- class business sectors; including food and drink, life sciences and a first-class education system. Scotland has much to offer — both to itself and the world.
...
As Scots singer Eddie Reader retweeted: “indy (independence) gives us uncertainty with power, U.K. gives uncertainty without power.”

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