jeudi 1 octobre 2009

world scientific literature roars free online

A couple of months ago I tweeted "It is high time the world scientific literature was made freely available to anyone who cares to read it" and linked to Peter Suber's updated overview of Open Access--just as he stepped back after nearly a decade of titan effort on the issue.

Like most anonymous cowards on the internet, my initial pronouncement was based on irrational prejudice rather than any extensive research. Although Suber's site alone has an immense richness of links, I decided to use "web 2.0" social networking tools as I updated myself on the effort, fully ten years since I had last looked at the subject.

The problem updating yourself in these circumstances is what you don't know you don't know. To use a search engine--I'm still a fan of Google, though it increasingly pops up links to toll-access papers and in-copyright book material that are not immediately accessible--would be to limit myself to terms that may be outdated or already well-travelled.

So, using Twitter, RSS feeds linked to Google reader, and Delicious, I followed my nose for a couple of months, and built a rich information environment that finally led to this.

Finding, with these tools, the online personae of researchers, librarians, and journalists who have shared their own journey through the literature online, I have a congenial, idiosyncratic, ragged plethora of sources I can view in my browser, that is wider and more immediate than any process I can imagine in a traditional dead-tree library.

samedi 29 août 2009

M. Mandelson on "intellectual property": #fail

Rejuvenated no doubt by his summer holidays with his billionaire bosses, M. Mandelson returns to his duties determined to save the cultural industries from the depredations of illegal downloaders. His simplistic article argues "that taking something for nothing is wrong," with no consideration of the changed reality of the public interest when that "something" has in fact a marginal cost of distribution that approaches zero.
If he informed himself elsewhere than the decks of media moguls' yachts, he might find that the public interest actually lay in shortening copyright terms, and restricting the grant of (often ludicrous) patents. Duke University law professor James Boyle's book The Public Domain outlines the case for a radical reform of intellectual property law from its present corporate hegemony. It's a free download licensed under Creative Commons, yet its publisher, Yale University Press expects to sell more physical copies of the book as a result. Go figure, M. Mandelson.
Naturally M. Murdoch's lackeys didn't see fit to publish my comment to this effect alongside the article.

jeudi 27 août 2009

English anarchists at forefront of battle against climate change

How to change the climate, WAG-style.
Get drunk.
Shout at the cops.
Accuse everyone around you of counter-revolutionary compromise.
Go home.
Well done chaps!

Racism in Europe: Polish shame

I'm afraid it's my dismal experience of many eastern Europeans (and Italians) that they are capable of a kind of crude racism that you might have found in Britain in the 'seventies, but which, hopefully, thankfully, as we become less parochial, is dying out.
I was reminded of this a couple of months ago on a Midland train between Sheffield and London, when the Polish tealady served me (white) nicely enough, but was frankly rude to a black lady at the next seat, making all kinds of problems about her change. The tealady's evident distaste for the position she had found herself in--serving a murzyn--was evident in her sneering manner, made all the cruder for her somewhat basic command of English. It was ugly.
More ugliness, this, from Microsoft Poland.
And an orthogonal, but valuable perspective (from UK football fans).
But what to do? One could google. An excellent page; but the measures described rely on having a minority culture to interact with. Hence the eastern/southern european hideousness, derived from their lifelong inhabitation of monoethnic cultures. Take a lot to break that; better get started.

Update 3/09/09: Another example of the phenomenon with illuminating discussion.

jeudi 13 août 2009

French curiously absent from European medical associations

Looking round the European medical scene, I find the RCGP is affiliated to UEMO who curiously lack the French. There is also the CPME, again, without the French.

What is going on? The French are usually keen citizens of the European ideal. Very strange, and worth further investigation.

Update 17 August 2009: CPME functionary Irene Klepinine kindly forwarded a 22 July 2008 letter sent by the CPME executive to its members. It appears a number of issues led to the resignation of the French, Italian and Spanish delegations, but at heart this was a Romance/Anglophone split, the Latins accusing the CPME of lack of commitment to the multilingualism at the heart of the European ideal, which "should not be perceived as a cost or a constraint." Though plainly it is. Ho hum!

Reading between the lines, the "rump" of 27 countries who remain are those who are either anglophone (UK, Ireland, Malta), seem to have no difficulty acquiring English (Netherlands, Germany, Sweden) or the new eastern European states (Lithuania, Latvia) who, looking for a standard for a working language, (obviously) gravitate to English rather than French.

English is a dreadful language in many respects: I have recoiled in horror from even its simplest grammar. I'm certainly glad I learned it at my doting parents' knees and not in some sultry classroom where the sound of the bluebottle dotting the walls competes in monotony with the incorrectly stressed rhythm and fudged consonants of modern Latins, and the teacher tediously outlining a long list of exceptions to some rule or other. It could be taught much better of course. At base: the Romance idea that you can legislate for language, impose a grammar, rather than considering it a description of what actually is, and just get on with it. Poor things.

Anyway, along the way I have the answer to the question that started this train of enquiry, which is that it seems to be the Conseil National de l’Ordre des Médecins Français which forms the homologue to the RCGP in France.

lundi 15 juin 2009

Time for real justice on Iraq

M. Gordon Brown announced the long awaited inquiry into the Iraq war yesterday. Sir John Chilcot (the chairman), Baroness Usha Prashar, Sir Roderic Lyne, Sir Lawrence Freedman, and Sir Martin Gilbert will meet in private to "identify the lessons learned" from the conflict. There will be no obligation for any witness to attend, nor will there be any attempt to apportion blame, or any civil or criminal liability.

In other words, it is pointless. Yesterday's announcement merely serves to make clear to Britain's politicians, civil servants, and military that whatever international conventions and treaties are breached, they can always be assured of a cosy and recrimination-free cover-up when all's said and done.

The terms of the inquiry should have been:

1) to consider in public the process by which the 414 members of parliament who voted for war were influenced to do so, though public opinion, as evidenced by opinion polls and demonstrations, was so clearly against;
2) to review the circumstances of the deaths of Dr David Kelly and Mr Robin Cook;
3) to provide a clear and concise statement of all treaties and conventions relating to the conduct of war that have pertained in the UK since 1945;
4) to consider whether UK conduct since March 2003 has led to any breaches of those treaties and conventions;
5) to consider whether, in the event of any breaches of those treaties and conventions being found, such breaches are best tried in a court in the UK or the International Criminal Court."

So how to take this forward?

What is so vexing about Iraq is that public opinion was so clearly against the war: not at all indifferent or apathetic. The biggest demonstration since VE Day in 1945 took place in London in February 2003 with more than 1 million marchers. Opinion polls showed 70%+ of the public against the war. There was no UN resolution, there was no agreement in NATO, there was no agreement in the EU. Without that agreement, an invasion of one state by another is a crime: an illegal war of aggression. This principle is clear from the Nuremberg trials (1946), the United Nations charter (1948), and the Rome statute (1998). The UK is party to all of them.

My opposition to the war in February 2003 was not based on this. What I did think was if a foreign power invaded Britain, do you think we would have any trouble finding a few thousand nutters to join the resistance? Answer: no! So why do we think it will be any different in Iraq? I predicted a bloodbath, and without knowing any of the complexities of the situation there, merely from common sense. I was not alone: I was apparently in the majority.

So why did MPs fail to reach the same judgement? I would really like to know. I hypothesise that their acculturation to the political system warped their basic judgement in some important way. We could talk about the whips, or the greasy party pole, or the professionalisation of political representation, or the likelihood of sociopathic personalities being drawn into politics, or the dysfunctional lobby, or Sir Humphrey, or the royal perogative, or prime ministerial patronage, or sofa government, endlessly. But somewhere along the line, there was a disconnect: the man in the street was stating the bleeding obvious, yet 414 MPs walked through that lobby and did exactly the opposite of what was sane.

This was a major error. Hundreds of thousands of people are dead as a direct consequence of this error, and it was paid for with my taxes. Well, I thought, they will pay at the election. But in May 2005, the British electorate (well, 22% of it) returned M. Blair with a thumping parliamentary majority. And then we had the stories of both British and American forces' involvement in torture, extraordinary rendition, Abu Graibh, Guantanamo Bay and so on. This pre-emptive war has clearly been found to be baseless, even on the terms chosen by the M. Bush and M. Blair themselves.

The natural loyalty of British people to British troops serving in a theatre of combat has had a chilling effect on political protest. Now they are home.

The inquiry Gordon Brown has announced will lead only to cover-up. But the point of prosecution is above all to state society's disapproval of the crime, not necessarily to punish any individual involved. If there were errors of judgement, a public record of them will serve best to instruct those who must navigate the difficult waters of international diplomacy in future. There is no need to be vengeful.

If the government won't do it, then it seems the only recourse that has actual legal traction is a private prosecution, funded, hopefully, by numerous modest donations from the public. If the one million who marched each give ten pounds I am sure a set of lawyers and a courtroom in London can be found who are willing to give it a try.

If not, then to the International Criminal Court at the Hague we must go.

jeudi 28 mai 2009


in February 2003... the anger which was being expressed during that month was not against the war as a military crime as such, but against the clear intention of the government to ignore or crudely manipulate public opinion in the pursuit of a manifestly unpopular policy. Consequently, it was the failure of a massive exercise in peaceful democratic protest to alter this course of action which provoked such disappointment.

We're in a post-democracy it would seem. But the need for regulation and justice between individuals and groups does not disappear.

Guardian blogger GP Wayne paints a depressing (but grown-up) picture of the collapse of civil liberties, and the outbreak of civil war as the unsustainable Western lifestyle caves in.

Can big picture sentience trump narrow personal and sectional interest? Expect grumpiness and tantrums from the toddlers of this world.

samedi 23 mai 2009

Nantes: resistance to proposed airport

Le Camp Climat concept is taking off over the channel, just as it is in the UK. Activists campaigning against the proposed construction of a new airport 16 kilometres north of Nantes (Loire-Atlantique, 44) have announced a camp from the 3 - 9 August 2009.

The airport plans—a "hub" for north-west France—have a 30 year history. The proposed airport will concrete over 2000 hectares of traditional bocage: pastoral land divided by traditional hedgerows. By contrast Britain's second busiest airport Gatwick occupies a site of only 300 hectares. And all this despite 3 airports already operational (Nantes, Angers, Rennes) within 100 kilometres of the proposed site. None of the existing airports operate anywhere near full capacity, nor will they in the future if current air ticket sales continue their present downward trend.

Despite being beyond any reasonable concept of utility, the pharaonique project rolls forward, with forced sales of farms, homes, and land. Surveys and geological sampling of the site began in October 2008.

Opposition to the project is centred on two main organisations: the Camp Climat, and a coalition that unites resident groups called ACIPA, which has long pursued a civil campaign amongst the French bureaucracy.

As the threat becomes more imminent, many acts of resistance have already occurred: with tractor roadblocks and sabotage of survey works. A visiting official from the prefecture, come to announce the loss of land and homes, was flanned. The survey workers now work alongside an escort of up to sixty gendarmes. Eight activists face fines of up to 15,000 euros and sentences of 2 - 4 months for their part in the resistance.

The basic principles of the autonomous camp will be: a minimal ecological footprint, strong local links, strong media impact, educational activities and exchanges, development of networks, and communal living with food at prix libre (contribute as you can afford). The camp forms part of a week of resistance at the site with a music festival on the 1 August, and an annual local picnic on the 2 August.

jeudi 21 mai 2009

Spain: the reactionary backlash begins

According to the New York Times, the Spanish executive is considering limiting the powers of its courts to try international crimes. A team of Spanish judges led by Baltasar Garzón recently accused six senior Bush officials, including former US attorney general Alberto R. Gonzales, of violation of the Convention Against Torture.

Revolution in England proclaimed

You know things are changing when it's the Daily Telegraph proclaiming the revolution.

mercredi 20 mai 2009

Keeping track of citations

In the old days when people had PCs with data on, they'd pay money for reference manager software like Papyrus. Now there's CiteULike. We like.

[update 17/06/09]
And better still, for internet materials, the excellent Gunther Eysenbach has devised WebCite which also archives a snapshot for posterity.

mardi 19 mai 2009

The (not-so) strange disappearance of M. Elizabeth Filkin

It was surprising that there was no wikipedia page for Elizabeth Filkin, the former parliamentary commissioner for standards until yesterday...

samedi 16 mai 2009

The mysterious disappearance of M. Julius Beezer

One of the links to the right reads juliuzbeezer.

Of course, at first I had an s as would be conventional in choosing the name "Julius." The conversion occurred for a couple of reasons: I did want to make a slight inflection in my blogging style. For the last ten years or so, my on-line persona was, deliberately, as faithful to my real world identity as was humanly possible. Of the first few things I wrote, one in particular yielded personal information to the internet in a way that I judged would compromise my already flimsy tissue of anonymity to the point of pointlessness. So I retired juliusbeezer into what I'd hoped'd be, by internet standards, relatively quiet obscurity.

But my new identity: "M(onsieur). Julius Beezer" has been constructed to maximise my freedom of expression without compromising any desires I might have for privacy. There is also the issue of my former patients' confidentiality to consider.

You can probably still find out who Julius Beezer is without too much difficulty, but I've tried to separate out my online identities as cleanly as I can. If you do know/work out my true identity feel free to keep it as quiet as you like.

Anyway my juliusbeezer comments at the Guardian weren't backed up locally, because it was so convenient to nip back to the Guardian site and look it up. I may even have made a bookmark (control-D folks). Tonight I'm using another machine, I go to look... juliusbeezer is gone! His handful of textual comments on Guardian material seem to be have been retired from the Guardian site, though a single summary page of interests exists that at least acknowledges he once existed. The Ministry of Truth parallels are a little alarming. What else can I say? Put it back? You've got my email. You could at least give me a little notice so I can go and scoop my own jewels before you cast them into complete obscurity.

Kids! If it ain't backed up, it ain't worth crying over. Dive into the cloud and do no wrong! But ALWAYS ALWAYS backup! See you on the road!


Update 28 June 2014: Achieving industrial strength internet anonymity is more hassle than I have resources for.  In any case, I realise that the space between what I was willing to say as "Douglas Carnall" and what I was willing to say as "Juliu(s|z)|Beezer" was rather small, the difference merely a cowardly loss of nerve to be resisted if at all possible. And anonymous coward is hardly an admirable position. So I've outed Julius Beezer, and stand by his works, which are mine.

jeudi 14 mai 2009

The Priory

The Priory
Originally uploaded by Julius Beezer
I was propelled along to a Stella Vine show by a friend back in the summer of 2007. I like her paintings. They are colourful and naive but none the worse for that. I think I will always be interested in looking at her new works.

On not going to the Priory

By July 2007 I was feeling thoroughly bad-tempered. My sense of humour had failed. Various adventures had left their scars. I doubted my commitment to a considerable vocation. At least I was in need of a sabbatical. Some time off to reflect. I entered the faculty in October 1983. That would be 24 years man and boy. For the last 5 years I can't say anything I've read or seen professionally had truly given me joy or inspiration.

I had to make a move, simply for the sake of making a move. I wanted to move out of the war zone, set myself at one remove from Babylon. Count the ways it displeased me. But I was also, truly, a Babylonian. Exile is never easy. I had few local allies, perhaps enough, to survive a bit longer at least.

So I sold my house in London, and moved to France. "It's not a bad time to have cash," said my solicitor, pocketing her cut, a cheque for a flat fee of about five hundred pounds.

"I don't know why this transaction didn't cost me 50 pence on the internet," I replied. Perhaps not an entirely just remark (leasehold transactions can be complicated) but heartfelt. Anyway, the thing was sold, and the mortgage repaid, and the liquidation of almost entirely complete. Along the way I had discovered all the cons of the internet, and some of the pros. If I did not suffer personally, I had had at least felt the joy of my initial liberty of expression dulled by both fear and boredom, the attendent need for "security." I nevertheless persisted, as much to goad colleagues as for any narcissistic gains. I do have an urge to perform, it's true, and the internet does offer many creative attractions.

And so, richer than I'd ever been, I packed my affairs into 9 cubic metres of cardboard cartons, and hoped they would survive on the truck to France.

jeudi 2 avril 2009

I enter anglophony

thoughts on english culture

That'll do it.