Monthly Archives: July 2007

More articles

Work has been the priority and the long hours have left little time for blogging… but here’s what I’ve been reading in recent days (not all of it has made it to my feed).

CNet: The Microsoft albatross. Don Reisinger says the company needs to abandon Windows after creating one more operating system.

Earth2Tech: EcoWeb tool, The site says its downloadable power-saving software optimises your PC’s power consumption through what it says is a “more effective” power saving mode. I haven’t tried it out yet so I can’t say if it’s too good to be true or a revelation.

Scientific American: Why we quit. A look at why more US college students drop out than graduate.

International Herald Tribune: Murdoch set to win control of Wall Street Journal. A story which was also reported in the Journal.

Harry McGee: The line is going to be Brian. Why Irish politics is going to revolve around the Finance Minister and heir apparent to Bertie Ahern’s throne.


Interesting stories I’ve read in the past few hours (Una does this style of post more regularly and far better than I): Ancient Egyptian may have had the world’s first prosthetic toe. (With pic!)

San Francisco Chronicle: Hackers crack all models of electronic voting machine in California. More reasons the system will never get going in Ireland. Michael Moore served with a subpoena while backstage at the Jay Leno show. Architect Shigeru Ban builds a bridge out of cardboard tubes. It’s in France and can hold the weight of 20 people at any given time.

Catholicgauze: The future of mapmaking. Points to two excellent articles on how customised dynamic maps are transforming cartography.

Associated Press: YouTube’s system to stop copyright-infringing videos.

Reuters: Dumbass shoplifter leaves address with the shop assistant.

Arms deal

The Bush administration wants Congress to approve a $20 billion (E14.65bn) arms package for Saudi Arabia.

The deal would include satellite-guided bombs and upgrades to fighter planes and warships, but pale in comparison to the $30bn package in the offing for Israel.

Such sales are part of life. Countries want to improve their defence forces and companies want to make a few quid. But this is a political deal, something The New York Times buried a few paragraphs into the story.

[Bush] officials said the plan to bolster the militaries of Persian Gulf countries is part of an American strategy to contain the growing power of Iran in the region and to demonstrate that, no matter what happens in Iraq, Washington remains committed to its longtime Arab allies.

Later in the story:

Along with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are likely to receive equipment and weaponry from the arms sales under consideration, officials said. In general, the United States is interested in upgrading the countries’ air and missile defense systems, improving their navies and making modest improvements in their air forces, administration officials said, though not all the packages would be the same.

Saudi Arabia isn’t looking for the weaponry. The materiel is being offered to it, clearly with the expectation the Saudis will jump at the opportunity. An agreement is expected in the autumn.

I actually laughed at this paragraph:

Worried about the impression that the United States was starting an arms race in the region, State and Defense Department officials stressed that the arms deal was being proposed largely in response to improvements in Iran’s military capabilities and to counter the threat posed by its nuclear program, which the Bush administration contends is aimed at building nuclear weapons.

How on Earth is pumping billions of dollars into several nations’ militaries not starting an arms race? Iran’s nuclear ambitions are a matter of debate, although it has signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty, unlike India with which the US signed a nuclear deal earlier this week.

Economic and political interests are driving this deal. Selling $20bn of arms to Saudi Arabia will go some way toward redressing the balance of trade between the countries — a balance of trade in favour of the Saudis due to oil exports. A strong US relationship with the kingdom is one way to ensure future supplies of black gold, even if these will be exhausted in a few decades.

America has a long-standing relationship with Israel, which explains the arms offer to that nation. Unfortunately, this deal between allies runs the risk of fueling regional tensions.

Of course, there’s no guarantee the Middle Eastern countries will accept the arms packages. It will be interesting to see what the deals entail for individual states.

Right royal kerfuffle

Three female members of the Qatari royal family delayed a flight for four hours because they wouldn’t sit next to strangers.

From BBC:

The three wives of Sheikh Badr Bin Khalifa al-Thani refused take up their seats on board Flight 563 from Milan’s Linate airport to London Heathrow.

Police and Qatari diplomats became involved before the captain told Sheikh Badr’s entourage to leave the aircraft.

The Qatari royals eventually ended up getting an Alitalia flight to London.

The story doesn’t mention if there was a religious/cultural basis for the dispute, merely that the women refused to sit next to men they didn’t know. Can anybody add some detail to the story?

Mass medication

Polly Curtis of The Guardian has an interesting news piece in today’s edition. Roger Boyle, who is the British government’s health tsar, wants every man over 50 to take anti-cholesterol drugs on a daily basis.

Us menfolks aren’t the only ones coming in for scrutiny: he says all women over 60 should be given statins too. He says this would save hundreds of thousands of lives from cardiovascular disease.

Professor Boyle, the Department of Health’s well-respected national director for heart disease, said the benefits of the cholesterol-busting drugs were proven and the side-effects were among the mildest of any drug. But he said the current method of identifying those at risk was long-winded and meant some people could be waiting too long to take statins.

However, he points out that the public isn’t ready for this blanket approach and that choice is “still an important thing”.

I don’t know how I’d react if I was told: “You’re a certain age, now start taking your pills.” I’d probably freak and refuse to take them on general principal (nothing breeds defiance like being told what to do). But if it can stave off the risk of heart disease with only the mildest of side-effects it might be a course worth pursuing.

I can see the logic in Prof Boyle’s proposal. It would save lives — many, many lives. As a physician employed to oversee strategies to safeguard his nation’s health, this is Boyle’s priority. But it would override the basis of a free society: choice. Acceptance of this policy would require a revolution in cultural thought.

That said, there are ways to accommodate it without coming off as tyrannical. Merely making the drugs available free of charge for all men over 50 would help encourage use without making people feel as if they had to take them. It won’t save lives on the scale envisaged by Boyle but it would save more than the current medication regime does (about 10,000 according to The Guardian).

Of course, this is Britain. Other nations may feel more accommodating to mass medication with statins.

In fairness to Boyle, he’s thinking big. That’s his job. It’s refreshing to see suggestions that would work on a national scale rather than getting bogged down in regional concerns.

Will his proposal ever come off? Not in its current form. But with a few tweaks and moderations, it may be the way forward for state-backed healthcare. A way forward, at least.