Peter Hitchens’ blog (The Mail Online) has a book review on The Death Of Mao, which, apart from its eponymous subject, illuminates the little known but disastrous Tangshan earthquake, which happened in the same year as Mao’s death (1976). Hitchens takes the opportunity to lament our ignorance of Chinese history generally, ancient and modern, and slips in a mention of my favourite Flashman novel: Flashman and the Dragon which is praised as thoughtful, contextual and magnificent (if bawdy).
Category Archive: Civilisation
LVMH‘s Hublot have produced a watch purely as a work of art, in a limited quantity to be donated to four museums. It will not be for sale. For those familiar with the Antikythera mechanism (so named due to the Greek island and its eponymous wreck in which the artefact was found), the Wikipedia article and the research project site are highly recommended. The mechanism is over two thousand years old, and requires a rethink of what we consider the ancients capable of. It features (reproduced on the front of the watch):
- Calendar for the Panhellenic games.
- The Egyptian calendar.
- The Zodiac.
- The lunar phases.
- An aperture showing the Sun and Moon.
And on the back:
- The Callippic cycle (a period of 76 years, proposed by Callippus in 330 BC).
- The Metonic cycle (a 235 month, 19-year cycle).
- The Saros cycle (223 synodic months, used to predict eclipses of the Sun and Moon).
- The Exeligmos cycle (a 54 year period used to predict successive eclipses).
It is also worth perusing the YouTube channel Hublot have set up about their product (one of the videos is embedded below).
Whilst the Antikythera mechanism is not technically a clock, Hublot’s creation is a fitting marriage between the astounding ancient machine and modern horology, culminating in an achievement which both showcases workmanship and pays tribute to mechanical history (although the use of Greek styled English letters as opposed to actual Greek or English is, of course, a tasteless crime). Hublot could not resist adding a tourbillon alongside the timekeeping augmentation. Quite a few technology sites normally focussed on computing have justifiably gone out of their way to cover the news, the most extensive write up being GizMag’s. Hublot’s own press release can be found here (PDF).
A little Flashman news. TheBookSeller.com reports that Harper Collins have released all twelve Flashman titles in eBook format:
It’s great that they’ve included Tom Brown’s Schooldays in the mix. Of course, for it to be truly complete, the collection needs to also have:
These further cover the lives of Tom Brown, Scud East, Buckley Flashman (Flashman’s father) and Flashman himself (aged, just before World War I).
Whilst my doctoral work has yet to see any publications, for (re)insurance work, I was a contributing author to the article which made the front page of the October 2011 issue of The Actuary*. If the embedded version below is not showing, the article can be seen at:
* The Actuary is the publication of the UK’s accrediting body; the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries / Actuarial Profession.
Stuxnet is in the news again via a new malware, dubbed Duqu or “son of Stuxnet” (full Symantec paper at http://goo.gl/3A3xu). The source remains unclear, but the recent seizures in India may shed some light on that front, as will ongoing analysis by security firms (http://goo.gl/FMPZa).
As an intentional cyberweapon, Stuxnet has a fascinating history. Wired did a great writeup which follows the security professionals who unpeeled the original Stuxnet, and were challenged and surprised at every step:
For unintentional cyberweapons, the CIA 1982 sabotage of a Siberian pipeline which resulted in a spectacular explosion comes to mind. If, as suspected (but not unanimously agreed) Stuxnet was an Isaeli/US creation with the aim of disrupting Iranian nuclear technology, then it can also be classed as the world’s first effective cyberweapon. Having shown what is possible, it cannot be long before new attacks are observed, emanating from other states. The UK already recognises the threat and suspects recent action (not as glamorous as Stuxnet) by hostile states.
Corruption at every level of officialdom has been an enduring feature of life in South Asia. Certainly, the man on the street in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh (I can’t speak for Sri Lanka) has to suffer the routine bleeding of hard-earned cash at a time when staple necessaries are escalating in price.
Anecdotally, when visiting relatives on my father’s side in Pakistan, our vehicle was once stopped as we were being picked up from the airport.
“Why are you stopping us?” my uncle asked the official.
“You haven’t paid tax.”
“You have stuff in the car.” pointing towards our cases.
“What stuff and what tax? There are only clothes in the cases.”
We paid a hundred rupees and suddenly, the clothes tax vanished, obviously these taxes have the lifespan of mayflies.
Another personal example was when we visited the British High Commission in Islamabad for a visa matter in 2002. After an assault course of checkpoints (this was, after all, less than a year after 911), we reached one barrier which the rotund belted guard simply wouldn’t let us pass through. He asked to see our passports, and after flicking through, he grunted that we didn’t have the right paperwork. To tell the truth, I was surprised he could read everything in the passports at such speed. It had dawned on my father though that this wasn’t about paperwork: the guard expected a concealed bribe inside the passport and all those without one would not be allowed to pass until they had the “correct paperwork”! 500 rupees was the going rate as we found out.
The trouble was, there was very little a bribe-payer could do except pay the bribe. If a promotion, job or vital piece of paperwork was being held up, the bribe would, of course be small compared to the potential loss. Life as an honest official is also difficult I’m told: the corrupt peers of an honest man pressure him to take bribes and if he refuses, use what influence they can to block his advancement. A lone exception has nothing to lose in an investigation and therefore cannot be counted on to loyally cover up for his colleagues.
One wondered whether there was any way in which the common man or honest official could change things for the better. India, of course, has traditional champions against corruption and bribery:
but it turns out there is another way. One which takes advantage of modern technology and brings involvement in mitigation efforts down to every bribe-payer. Very inspired it is too. The BBC has an article on a new website:
Launched in August 2010, IPaidABribe.com is an Indian website which allows anonymous reporting of corruption, which is then added to a public record. What is so good about this idea is that it doesn’t actually ask the already beleaguered victims for any further sacrifice by demanding adherence to unrealistic solutions. “Stop paying the bribes.” (and get nothing done), “Keep reporting the officials.” (to other corrupt officials), “Disengage from the system.” (which is all-pervasive) and the like. This solution means that they pay their pound of flesh as before, but the officials who normally pocket their bribes, and walk away none the worse, are now in a much worse position: the public tally against their name starts to grow; the cost of being corrupt has risen as the founders of the site point out. Other “solutions” (http://goo.gl/KCA2z) will simply rebound on the victims.
I have to say, I’m very taken with the idea. It takes nothing away from those already suffering and can only help eradicate what was thought to be an endemic problem. One just has to hope the idea spreads to other nations similarly afflicted.
In the midst of the debates about funding cuts (especially for the humanities) and high fees, the BBC, FT and Cherwell (one of Oxford’s student newspapers) report on a private university being set up in London which is “aiming to rival Oxford and Cambridge”:
It is called the New College of the Humanities, the website to be found here:
One wonders whether this will spread the idea of private universities across Britain, or whether it will suggest a reassessment of funding cuts. Of course, Oxbridge themselves have never been shy about defending education, and the humanities:
and recent news of a £300,000 fund by Cambridge for the humanities: