Friday, December 31, 2004

Can you recommend any good video capture/editing programs?

Friday, December 31, 2004 0

My personal favourite is Virtual Dub. It's a tiny download and you can't get any cheaper than free.

Ulead's Media Studio Pro is also very impressive, yet extremely bloated in comparison to VDub. A 30 day trial version is available to download for gratis, while to unlock the full functionality of the application you may have to remortgage your house - it costs a small fortune!

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Politically incorrect Yuletide greetings - season's my ar...

Wednesday, December 29, 2004 0

Hope you all had a great Christmas and are looking forward to New Year's Eve. Personally I've become very disillusioned with the whole affair - I believe the true meaning of Christmas has been lost amidst the frantic brouhaha of present buying and face stuffing. There used to be a time, many moons ago, when Christmas meant you could expect there to be a sled-load of quality comedies, dramas, Christmas specials and movies on TV. Well what did you think I was getting at? People were celebrating Christmas way before it was hijacked by christianity. Don't look at me like that, Google it for yourselves. :p

These days all we seem to get is "The World's Greatest TV Moments You've Seen a Squillion Times Before ...Ever (there's always got to be an 'ever' in there somewhere), Cobbled Together & Voice-Overed by Some Cheapo, D-List Celeb". This year even this exercise in epic drudgery was repeated 24 hours after the big day. Where did it all go wrong? I blame Jesus. I don't know why yet, but I wouldn't be surprised if he had something to do with it. "The Simpson's Christmas Message" offered welcome sanctuary from her royal, high and mighty queeniness, but why was it only on for five measly minutes?

I don't want to finish on a sour note so here are some random words with happy connotations: mistletoe, Christmas pud, booze (and lots of it), white christmases, Slade, blow-up illuminated Homer Simpson's wearing santa suits, jinglebells. Thank you for your attention. :)

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

First Operation Fastlink pirate named and shamed

Tuesday, December 28, 2004 0

Last Wednesday, twenty six year old student, Jathan (did his mother have a lisp?) Desir of Iowa pleaded guilty to charges of cracking and illegally distributing copyright protected software worth up to $200,000. Desir will be sentenced on 18th March next year and could face up to 15 years behind bars if he refuses to cooperate with the Department of Justice. Typically, where these kinds of trials are concerned, that's 15 in dog years. Ultimately, the more coconspirators he fingers, and the more trade secrets he reveals, the less jail time he will serve.

Further details of the case can be found here.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

MPAA turn off BitTorrent's tap

Tuesday, December 21, 2004 0

Napster transformed music piracy into a nonchalant, mainstream pastime, and was subsequently snubbed out by the RIAA. Half a decade later, BitTorrent impelled a parallel shift in the habits of the movie-watching public, making this more challenging form of piracy free-and-easy, even for consummate technophobes. This time it's the MPAA putting the boot in, and it's the tracking servers and link sites getting it in the neck rather than the client developers.

Over the last week or so the MPAA lowered the final curtain on a handful of thriving BitTorrent auxiliary sites, including the mighty Youceff Torrents. Not wanting to become embroiled in the maelstrom of judicial ping-pong, the administrators of other flourishing link communities decided to call it a day.'s departure will hit the BitTorrent community the hardest, it being the undisputed torchbearer in its field. All that remains of the site at present is a farewell message and the promise that the associated forum and IRC channel could possibly-maybe remain operational, minus the naughty links. It is believed that one bystander who witnessed the lights at the SuprNova HQ being switched off for the last time ever commented, "darn".

Saturday, December 18, 2004

Share Connector disconnected

Saturday, December 18, 2004 0

Earlier in the year, copyright and law enforcement authorities pulled the plug on Share Reactor, what was then the largest and most popular eDonkey verified links resource. Soon after, emerged to take its place, and was even considered by some P2P enthusiasts to be superior. Like its once-thought-untouchable predecessor, Share Connector attracted its fair share of undesirable attention. Several months ago the administrative team received a number of e-threats from a private copyright defense organisation called Brein. These were brushed off as trivial bluster and the Netherlands-based site continued to feed the donkey with illegal software, movies and music.

Just when the Share Connector crew thought they'd heard the last from Brein, director Tim Kuik lost patience and tattled to the FIOD-ECD (the Dutch fiscal crime investigation unit), and together they managed to tear down the site. The swoop also brought about the disbandment of the eDonkey hash-stash emporium, Releases4U; in all, eight people were arrested and eleven computers confiscated.

Kuik and Co now intend to launch legal proceedings against the operators of the two sites and their hosts. If proven guilty of facilitating the act of piracy they could be expected to fork out damages running into millions of dollars, or even face up to four years of jail-time.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

How do I play ROMs?

Sunday, November 14, 2004 0

For the uninitiated, ROMs are 'dumped' images of game data. These can be transferred from either games console cartridges or arcade machine circuit boards, but not computers. If a piece of software is extracted from the media of a multi-purpose system such as an Amiga or Atari ST then the data obtained is called a 'disk image' if it is taken from a floppy disk, or an ISO/CD image when taken from a CD or DVD. The terminology differs though the formats serve the same purpose, and function in a similar way.

ROMs can be played on computers using a piece of software known as an emulator. As the name suggests, these effectively allow you to transform your computer into almost any games machine or computer, past or present, imaginable. The hardware of the emulated system is recreated artificially and games or other software are brought to life by loading files rather than inserting real cartridges into tangible machinery or plugging in arcade cabinets. The main benefit of this is clearly that you don't have to own the original, often rare, hardware or game cartridges of a system in order to accurately experience them. This aside, emulation can actually enhance the original games through the integration of extra features which were previously unavailable, ones, for example which allow you to save your game progress or use overlayed graphics filters to make them more visually appealing.

Emulators are system-specific; there is no single piece of software that will allow you to simulate every games console and arcade machine. Programmers often have different goals in mind when coding their emulators and this has given rise to a variety of software designed to emulate the same systems. Some are better than others, and generally, in each case, there are a select few that are considered the de facto standard for emulating platform x. These include the following...

MAME (multiple arcade machine emulator) for arcade games.

ZSNES or SNES9X for the Super Nintendo, aka the Super Famicom.

Gens for the Sega Megadrive, aka the Sega Genesis.

WinUAE for the Amiga.

ePSXe for Playstation.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

FTP servers like granny used to make

Sunday, October 24, 2004 0

This tutorial is dedicated to all you podcasters and other creative, digital artists wishing to share your original content with an adoring fan base. What better way to thank them for their unwavering adulation than to offer your personal hard drive on a silver platter? While actually giving away your physical drive would be a very friendly gesture, and one which I'm sure would be greatly appreciated, this isn't quite what I'm getting at. What I mean is you could freely allow the great unwashed to remotely connect to your computer and fill their virtual shopping baskets with your handicrafts. Although at first this may sound like a risky business, providing you use the right software and set up your server correctly, you need not worry about people gaining access to anything you don't want them to see. It's your server so you set the limits.

In this case the right software is a specialist application known as an FTP daemon - my personal favourite is Serv-U (other people prefer War FTP or Bullet Proof FTP Server, but they're all mad and aren't to be trusted). Once you have downloaded and installed the trial version of Serv-U, locate its shortcut in your start bar and run the program. As it loads you will be greeted by a status screen detailing the version number and copyright stipulations of the software. Of greater interest, in addition to this information you will find a reference to your IP address and port number. It is wise to keep a note of these details because without them you will not be able to tell people how to connect to your server. The fact that Serv-U has been able to identify your IP address indicates that your computer is online and is capable of accepting remote connections. Regardless, don't share those all important digits just yet - you have a few configuration settings to adjust first.

To get started, click on the 'setup' button, located in the menu bar of the program. When the list of options expands, scroll through them until you come to 'ftp server' and click on it to open the server setup dialog box. This is where you will be given the opportunity to assemble your FTP server exactly the way you want it. Some of these options you can leave alone, the port number for instance is best left set at 21 (the default setting for any FTP server). Other options that will require tweaking include the maximum speed at which users are allowed to download and the maximum number of users permitted to connect simultaneously. These options jointly allow you to tailor your server to the bandwidth capacity of your internet connection. You will have to consider this carefully. Obviously if you only have a 56k slowdom you won't want hundreds of people accessing your computer all at once; that would be a fruitless exercise for all concerned. On the other hand, a faster connection will allow you to offer access to many users simultaneously whilst maintaining a reasonable bandwidth to user ratio. A good rule of thumb is to consider the speed you would be happy downloading at, and subsequently adjust your settings accordingly.

The next thing you need to do is set the location of the text file you wish people to view whenever they connect to your computer. This should contain any information regarding server uptime/downtime, usernames and passwords, rules and regulations and so on. Finally it is a good idea to place some limits on the number of times a single user can attempt to make a connection to your computer within a delineated period of time. This will prevent people from 'hammering' your site in order to gain access as soon as another user logs off, freeing up one of your allocated slots.

That just about covers all the changes you will need to make in the 'setup server' menu, so click on the 'OK' button to return to the main menu. The next step involves setting up at least one username and password combination to be circulated amongst those people you intend to leave the welcome mat out for. To do this, click on the 'setup' button once again, but this time choose the 'users' option. Your first task is to enter a username and password in the... yes, you've guessed it, the boxes labeled 'username' and 'password'. These fields can consist of any characters you like, but bear in mind they are case sensitive. As such the password 'lemme-in' is not the equivalent of the password 'LeMme-in'.

At this juncture you will have to select a 'home' directory. This will be your user's first port of call once a connection to your computer has been established. Obviously it wouldn't be very wise to let any Tom, Dick or Harry have full control of your PC since they could wipe out your hard drive, delve into your private documents, upload viruses or, well, do anything they like really. For this reason I would strongly advise creating a new directory populated with only the files you wish remote users to have access to. For the sake of simplicity call this 'ftpserver' and enter it into the 'home directory' dialog box.

Your final obligation is to decide which permission attributes to associate with your directories - click on the 'add' button from within the 'file/directory access rules' area of the 'setup users' window and select the directory you chose as 'home' earlier. To complete the process you will now be required to put a tick in all the relevant boxes. In the directory you want people to be able to browse and download from it would make sense only to tick the 'read' box from the 'files' section, the 'list' box in the directories section and the 'inherit' box in the the 'sub dirs' section (this enables people to view the sub directories within your home folder). This ensures that people can download whatever they like, but cannot remove anything that is already there or add anything new. If you also want people to be able to upload files, you are best advised to create a new directory called 'uploads' and change the permission attributes accordingly. In this case you will need to tick the 'write' box in the 'files' area, the 'make' box in the 'directories' area and the 'inherit' box in the 'sub dirs' area (again so people aren't left fumbling in the dark).

You must now decide if you would like to use one configuration for all your users, or to give each individual user independent access rights. The process is identical no matter how many different username and password combinations you decide to setup, so if you wish to add more simply retrace the steps above until you're happy with your setup.

Sharing is the name of the game, so in typical Robin Hood fashion, all that remains to be done is to divulge your IP address to the rest of the world... or at the very least to a handful of carefully selected, trustworthy technophiles. No, don't mention it - everything I do, I do it for yoooooooou. I'd walk the wire for you, don't you know... whatever that means.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Pop-ups - the uninvited guests of the web

Sunday, October 17, 2004 0

You will soon discover that one of the main drawbacks of browsing the web is the spontaneous appearance of pop-ups. If you've been surfing the net for more than a day or two I'd hazard a guess that you've already been introduced to the exasperating world of pop-ups. I very much doubt you need me to provide you with a definition of a pop-up, but you never know so here goes. A pop-up is a web browser window containing a graphical advertisement which uninvitedly presents itself when you open a web page containing the necessary pop-up generating javascript code. This is a brazen money making scheme; the idea being that by thrusting adverts under your unsuspecting nose, webmasters can earn money by conning you into clicking on links to commercial sites and subsequently encouraging you to buy whatever unmissable deal is on offer at the time. Very rarely are you taken to the site you were expecting to visit. Instead you are deliberately mislead, and more often than not, redirected to a subscription based porn site. The link you clicked on sends a message to the site that is being promoted and the details of the referrer are logged. Then at the end of the month the cretin who tricked you into visiting a site that you had no interest in receives a cheque for his trouble. Sound familiar? Well I think I've mentioned this once or twice before. Don't despair; you will be delighted to know that you don't have to put up with this intrusion. The 99.99% effective way to stop the evil blighters in their tracks is to install a web browser with a built-in pop-up disabling widget.

Before pop-ups became such a ubiquitous aspect of web life it was necessary to install a separate application in order stymy their untimely appearance. These are now superfluous seeing as all the most popular browsers come complete with an array of pop-up murderingly useful features designed to selectively filter the web content you view - to protect yourself, all you have to do is ensure that these are enabled.

If you insist on using Internet Explorer (otherwise known as the malware magnet) you can do this by clicking on the "turn on pop-up blocker" option found within the 'tools' menu. In Mozilla-based browsers e.g. Firefox, the pop-up blocker can be switched on by ticking the "block unrequested pop-ups" check box located under the 'privacy and security' tab of the 'preferences' panel (which in turn can be accessed via the 'edit' drop-down menu). Additionally both browsers support pop-up 'white lists' that allow you to specify which sites are to be trusted to launch pop-ups. This comes in very handy for those odd occasions when you actually want pop-ups to do what they do best, pop up that is. Many benign sites are rendered inoperable if they are restricted by pop-up blockers so this is crucial. Even if a site hasn't been added to your white list, it is usually possible to give it the green light on a one-off basis by holding down a 'hot key' (control in IE) as the site loads. Some pop-up blocking tools can be set to either flash in your task tray or status bar, play a sound or do both each time they zap a pop-up dead in the water. Give it a try - you won't realize how satisfying a flashing icon can be until you visit a pop-up laden web site!

Take a last long look at that pop-up loitering menacingly on your screen. Now you have your pop-up blocker enabled it will be the last one you will ever see!

Friday, October 15, 2004

Malware; the scourge of the web

Friday, October 15, 2004 0

I'll be visiting a web site when all of a sudden lots of links will magically appear in my favourites list and my home page and default search engine are changed without so much as a word of notification or a request to do so. I'm a sitting duck. Is there anything I can do to protect myself from this invasion of privacy?

These browser hijack attempts are orchestrated by a variety of malicious software (aka malware) built into, mostly seedy, web sites by unscrupulous webmasters. The majority of virus-like malware finds its way onto your system via Internet Explorer's reckless and highly vulnerable Active-X and Active Scripting components - two technologies designed to allow web sites to make high-level changes to your system upon your request - think of Microsoft's Windows Update protocol and online virus scanners, for instance.

Giving legitimate web sites the go ahead to alter your operating system is more than likely to be in your best interests. Your problems start, however, when less trustworthy individuals adopt the same technology to exploit your system for their own devious ends - to bully you into visiting shopping sites they are affiliated with, to monitor your activities for market research purposes, to unleash viruses and trojans upon your system, and so on.

Only Internet Explorer provides support for the insanely invasive components which make it easy for these cyber reprobates to cause your system serious harm - one of the many reasons you should ditch it this instant in favour of a more secure browser such as Mozilla Firefox or Opera!

Aside from switching browsers, these kind of exploits can be suppressed before they are able to embed themselves into your system by enabling the active protection features of your anti-virus software - that is providing you remember to keep its engine and virus definitions up to date!

No matter which browser or operating system you are running, it is also essential that you keep them both up to date by installing all service packs and bug fixes made available by their manufacturers. The vast majority of the changes made to operating systems and browsers when they are updated comprise behind the scenes security fixes, which can help to block off any loop holes that shifty webmasters can use to take advantage of anyone unlucky enough to stumble upon one of their sites.

If your system has already fallen victim to such exploits, you can often decontaminate it using a spyware/malware eliminator such as Ad-Aware or Spybot Search & Destroy. Much like the active protection components of anti-virus software, these tools often make use of preventative mechanisms to help you avoid contracting all manner of web nasties in the first place.

Better still, switch to the Mac platform! Malware is specifically a Windows issue - you can obviate its strangle hold entirely by abandoning this sinking ship.

Sunday, September 26, 2004

How would I go about uncapping my cable modem?

Sunday, September 26, 2004 0
You can't. Give up now; you're wasting your time! Data transfer restrictions are imposed on your ISP's side of operations, not yours, so there is absolutely nothing you can do to bypass such measures. Even if this were possible they'd likely be alerted to your misdemeanor and terminate your account. For more information refer to this Speed Guide article.

Sunday, September 19, 2004

How do I play the movie clips I find online?

Sunday, September 19, 2004 0

Because the Real Media format (files with an .rm or .ram extension) offers such a favourable compression ratio you will find that the majority of web movie clips are encoded in this way. To play them I'd recommend using the alternative Real Player rather than the official, bloated, spamware tool.

One thing you should know before jumping in with both feet is that the quality of the Real Media format is nowhere near as good as most of the competing formats or your TV. It is this diminution of quality that enables the files to be so small, and therefore convenient to download. The same files encoded using the mpg or avi codec could be up to ten times the size, so at least this is some consolation.

Pay close attention to the file sizes of these clips before downloading them. If they are very small you can expect the video to be played back in a microscopic window (at a 'low resolution' if you want to get technical). Often these will be completely unwatchable so are best avoided.

In my experience I've found that an acceptable file size/resolution trade off comes at about 200 megabytes per hour of video. In this scenario, the video would still be played back in quite a small window, but could be expanded without reducing the picture quality too significantly.

Only attempt to 'stream' (watch as you download) large movie clips if you have a fast internet connection - 56k just won't cut it. Dial-up users should instead download the whole thing first and watch it later. In any case, this will ensure your viewing pleasure isn't interrupted due to server congestion or downtime etc, and also you get to keep the file forever so you can watch it as many times as you like.

Sunday, September 05, 2004

How do I fix my corrupt DivX movie?

Sunday, September 05, 2004 0

One option you have is to use a tiny, freeware utility known as Div Fix. This is designed to enable you to watch partially downloaded DivX movie files, but will also allow you to correct the faulty index structure of complete movie files.

Using the program couldn't be any more simple: open the movie file you wish to correct using either the file menu or the 'add files' button and select 're-build index'.

To view an incomplete movie you would instead select the 'strip index' option and proceed to open it in your favourite movie playback tool. If you decide to continue downloading the movie you should re-build the index before resuming. This is very useful if you want to preview a movie file to check that it is what you expect it to be, or to see if the quality is up to par.

Always remember to keep a backup copy of the original file just in case anything goes wrong.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

How can I transfer Game Boy Advance ROMs from my PC to my GBA console?

Saturday, September 04, 2004 0

The usual disclaimer applies: this entry exists to help you play freeware, homebrew ROMs on your GBA, not commercial ones you've swiped from the net.

Software and a bit of old string won't cut the muster (it's not mustard - look it up!) I'm afraid - this is going to cost you real live money! I know, shocking, isn't it? What you need is a hardware kit consisting of two crucial components; the Flash Advance linker and the Flash Advance cartridge. The linker is a kind of external disk drive, a bit like a zip drive, and connects to your PC via either the parallel or USB port. The cartridges, which at the time of writing are available in four flavours determined by their capacity, these being 64mb, 128mb, 256mb and 512mb. Obviously the more megabytes you're packing, the more games you can squeeze onto a single cartridge - not that you'll need an endless supply of them as they can be reused as many times as you like. These cartridges fit snuggly inside the linker and data is written to them using the accompanying writer software. Having transferred your games to the cartridges, they can then be removed from the linker and played in your GBA console in much the same way as any other game cartridge, except for the fact that you select the game you want to play using the cartridge's built-in menu system.

Flash Advance kits can be purchased at a number of different outlets across the globe, though Lik Sang is probably the best known.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Pesky Deficient Files

Monday, August 23, 2004 0 what Adobe would name their proprietary PDF format if they were honest. The Portable Document Format is designed to provide the means to consistently display images and text in a frozen state. It's essentially a presentation format which doesn't lend itself well to tampering by anyone other than the original author. This makes it a strange choice for the online distribution of application forms because in order to fill them in, you first have to print them out and post them to your prospective employer, the inland revenue or wherever. PDF files aren't even convenient for this purpose since you are required to install a cumbersome document reader before being able to view them. What's so wrong with using a word processor to create interactive documents?

Shareware and freeware repositories are home to a modest range of so-called PDF 'editing' and 'conversion' tools. Quite frankly describing them as such is a blatant violation of the Trades Description Act as they are woefully inept at editing or converting PDF documents. I've witnessed them all mutilate the simplest of monochrome graphics and randomly scatter the most straightforward blocks of text.

In my experience the only reliable way to edit a PDF file without mangling the contents is to first open it in Adobe Photoshop and save it as a more accessible graphics format like .gif or .jpg. Adding text is then simply a matter of using the text tool (the icon with a capital A on it) to drag a frame around the area in which you wish to insert text and typing into it (or pasting from another document). After filling the box with text you then have the option to move it around the screen or resize it using your cursor. If you only intend to add basic text to a document you might like to switch to a more nimble, light weight graphics tool like MS Paint; using Photoshop for this purpose would be like driving a Ferrari in first gear. This is far from a perfect solution for more complex PDF documents, but does allow you to add text to simple forms so that they can be submitted as email attachments.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Since upgrading to broadband I've become really disillusioned with gaming. Why isn't gaming as good as it used to be?

Tuesday, August 17, 2004 0

So you've had your cake, eaten it and now you're sick of the sight of it. Well that's the price of over indulgence whether we're talking about food, alcohol, drugs, gaming or whatever. One of the fundamental problems with today's society is that we want what we can't have, and once we have it, we no longer want it because it isn't what we expected it to be. We're never satisfied; unfortunately that's human nature.

The overwhelming majority of people distort reality and somehow manage to convince themselves that they'd be happy if they lived in a utopian world where they are simply given everything their heart desires without having to lift a finger to get it, but this is a fallacy. You'd be forgiven for thinking that for a gaming fan utopia is owning all the latest games, several months before they hit the shops and all for free of course. This may be what gaming fans think they want, yet it isn't what they need. When everything is handed to us on a plate we become disillusioned, and what we assumed would make us happy becomes worthless.

The perfect example of this is lottery winners. When you pick your numbers with the glimmer of hope that the golden finger might one day point in your direction, you kid yourself into thinking your life would change for the better if you won, but look what happens to the chosen ones. Many of them fall apart once the need to work for a living is taken away from them, and without the structure which this imposes they become lost in a world of superficialities and unfulfilling consumerism.

For those people who assume that life is all about the accumulation of material goods, driving fast cars and owning a big house, when money is plentiful and they have everything they could ever wish for, well at least in terms of physical objects, what are they left with? Absolutely nothing, that's what. With prospects like these it's no wonder so many of these people turn to suicide. I know I'm wandering off the beaten track a bit here, but what the hell, I don't care, I'd much rather walk in the grass anyway! I think this problem extends far beyond the confines of gaming so that's exactly where I've gone with this one (well you did ask!).

On first being introduced to the world wide web most people believe they've hit the jackpot. It's like being let loose in PC World with a bottomless shopping trolley. No piece of software is beyond your price range because the nice chaps in the red t-shirts have declared that today is an 'everything is free' day... as it is every day for ever and ever amen. Soon enough, although you never would have believed it, you discover that you really can have too much of a good thing.

When something is freely available it acquires a throw away quality, whereas when you save your money and pay for a piece of software you purposefully seek out attitude congruent evidence to support your decision to make that purchase in order to justify the expense and keep cognitive dissonance to a minimum. Even if you've bought a real lemon, you keep on searching until you find such evidence through the means of selective exposure to counter-attitudinal and attitude congruent viewpoints, or failing that you eventually aim to rationalise your bad decision.

This isn't necessary when you've freely acquired a piece of software. If it isn't as good as you expected it to be you simply banish it to the recycle bin and move on to the 'next big thing'. When there is so much choice people very rarely play games long enough to see all they have to offer, their attention span wanes and they simply move on without giving it a second thought.

To put this in perspective think back to when you bought your first computer. If your experiences are anything like mine it probably didn't come with very many games. Mine came loaded with nothing more than Wolfenstein 3D, and because this is all I had, I played the thing to death until I'd completed it... and then went back for more! The point is, when you have relatively little you appreciate what you've got and make the most of it, whereas gluttony merely leads to dissatisfaction.

But on a more down to earth note, it could be that the reason games aren't what they used to be is that you've been playing them all your life and they have nothing new to offer. There haven't been any drastic changes, games haven't suddenly got worse, you've just been there, done that and got the t-shirt. Over the years your expectations have continued to escalate, but the games haven't been able to keep up and ultimately everything appears to be a variation on an old theme.

While in the bygone days of your gaming youth you were perfectly content with this arrangement, gaming now seems stale and unappealing. Nevertheless, when you don your rose tinted glasses and take a retrospective look back at the games of yesteryear you convince yourself that things were so much better back then, the grass was greener, the music was better, the games were worth playing and so on and so forth. What has changed is your outlook, not the games themselves.

So what's the answer? Perhaps you should become more selective when deciding which games to download. Only download games that you know you will definitely get round to playing; don't just grab everything in sight because it will look impressive in your CD rack! The time you would have spent trawling the net for new games to download could instead be put to better use revealing the hidden depths of the games you already own, but have taken for granted. Imagine you have paid the retail price for each game you download and play it to its limits to ensure you get your 'money's worth'.

If you're an all or nothing sort of a person you might want to try going cold turkey for a while instead. Switch off your beloved computer, see if you can survive for a few months without your gaming fix and find something entirely new to occupy your time. It could be that the break will allow you to take a step back and see gaming in a new light. When you eventually return to it, you may do so with a renewed passion, allowing you to appreciate the privileges you had all along.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Shocking news just in - programmers find a use for Internet Explorer!

Friday, July 30, 2004 0

Hate them or hate them, we all hate viruses. Regardless, far too many people throw caution to the wind, refusing to use a virus scanner on the basis that they are too resource intensive, or because they feel they are somehow immune to being caught out - "I'm a careful surfer", they'll tell you. Careful or not, viruses can come from all kinds of unexpected sources, not just the more murky areas of the web, which is why you shouldn't rely on other people to be vigilant for you.

If you're one of those people who avoids installing a dedicated anti-virus suite because you would rather keep your computer running at peak performance, an excellent compromise is to use an online anti-virus tool and conduct regular manual scans via your web browser. As these make use of ActiveX components, and Internet Explorer is the only browser that supports them, you are forced to use the spawn of satan to keep your system free from the scourge of viruses. That grumble aside, online virus scanners are an ingenious innovation even if you only plan to use them as a 'catch-all' backup to your usual integrated scanner.

Some of the most adept online virus slayers include eTrust AV Web Scanner, Bit Defender Online Scanner System, RAV Anti-Virus Scan Online, Panda Active Scan and Symantec Security Check.

The first time you opt to have your system scanned you will be asked to install a plugin ...of sorts (don't go getting all technical on me you nitpickers :p); these will be in the region of 1.5mb per scanner. That task out of the way, scanning will commence - note that you don't have to remain connected to the internet in order to maintain the virus hunt, but you do need to be online to get the results. This I'm sure will be a relief for those of you who are subjected to regular hard cut-offs by your ISP.

Now you have no excuses not to take precautions, so get scanning now ...if not sooner!

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Life is meaningless

Tuesday, July 27, 2004 0

Once you come to terms with this home truth, the next *dramatic booming voice from above* Big Question to clamour for your attention, assaulting your grey matter at every turn, should be, what can I do to while away the hours when I'm supposed to be working and squander my employer's resources? Note the emphasis on the word 'and' - that's critical here - half-hearted, time-wasting digressions are all well and good, but having successfully fulfilled criterion one, you should really be looking to 'push the envelope'... that is whenever you're not strangling your glib colleagues with their own blackboard-scrapingly nauseous corporate buzz-phrases.

Hark! What's this? Something furry this way comes. It's a rodent riding on a gleaming white charger. He's clutching a bundle of blueprints of some kind. Could they be the templates for a range of multicoloured, miniaturized replica arcade game cabinets, lovingly crafted with pinpoint accuracy by the dexterous critter himself? By Jove, that's precisely what they are! There's a design for every 80s video-gaming progenitor you care to mention; Galaga, Dragon's Lair, Pac-Man (and his better half, Ms Pac-Man), Donkey Kong, Defender, Gauntlet, Gravitar, Robotron, Tempest and even that unforgettable moolah-chomping, pixilated gem, Change Booth. I think that's the one where you get to play the role of a club-wielding cave-sprog who, to complete each mission, must defend the Dinobabies by bludgeoning to death hoardes of marauding trolls who try to thwart their retreat to a primordial utopia of some kind... but I could be wrong. It has been known.

Each bluebrint can be downloaded as a PNG image from the Way of the Rodent web site and scaled to fit whatever size paper or card is available to you in your company's stationary cupboard. In a few snips of your scissors' blades and with a dab of glue here and there, you'll have your very own pint-sized amusement arcade to gawp adoringly at as you reminisce over your misspent youth. Your chums will poke fun at you for unwittingly being the perfect parody of a dopey Labrador puppy tilting its fluffy head in anticipation of its next roll of Andrex, but then they're not the ones who have just passed the Kookosity duel time-wasting/resource-consuming challenge with flying colours are they. Heh. ^_^

The nice chaps over at WotR suggest you might like to heighten the exhilaration of the retro experience by buying some dolls to populate your new amusement arcade. If you ask me that's utterly ridiculous; everyone knows dolls don't have pockets, so where are they going keep their spare change? Come on guys, think. *confused*

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Forum Googleism

Tuesday, July 20, 2004 0
If you're looking for quick answers, the best place to find them is on web forums because the questions to those answers are likely to have already been asked a multitude of times. We all have our favourite forums bookmarked and get into the habit of returning to the same ones for information, though being this selective severely limits the scope of the resources available. Typing the same query into the search box of each one sequentially isn't practical, which is why Board Reader is such a miraculous web widget. Board Reader's spiders tirelessly crawl the web looking for vBulletin and UBB forums. Forums of all shapes and sizes are unearthed, their contents are indexed and then made available to visitors of the Board Reader web site via the search box. Relevant hits are displayed in an easy to read, uniform fashion as with more traditional search engines, and it even provides cached versions of the pages in case the original sources have been moved, deleted or are temporarily unavailable.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Why do some sites prevent you from using the right-click function?

Tuesday, July 13, 2004 0

Such anti-right-click mechanisms are implemented to prevent visitors from viewing (and possibly stealing) the site's source code, copying and pasting text and saving images.

If you want to know how to stop people right-clicking on your own site, visit a free javascript snippet site like Dynamic Drive. Bear in mind though that none of these 'solutions' are totally foolproof. For instance, Firefox's javascript preferences menu allows users to prevent web sites from disabling their right-click context menu. Unticking a check box is hardly rocket science.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Alcohol 120% is dead... no it's not, yes it is

Sunday, July 11, 2004 0

Alcoholics everywhere began to quiver having ascertained that one of the the top two CD/DVD cloning tools was to be laid to rest owing to recently beefed up copyright legislation. The 'so long and thanks for all the fish' farewell message was posted on Alcohol Software's official home page, so why wouldn't it be genuine? According to Paul Pullen, general manager of Alcohol Software, the announcement was made not by the developers, but by Fubra Limited, the internet consultancy firm that formerly hosted the site and coordinated sales of the software on behalf of the Alcohol team.

It is thought that this action was taken to avenge the developers' decision to terminate their relationship with Fubra once the current contract had expired. Nevertheless, to quash the rumours and confusion this move has generated, Paul insists that the Alcohol team have no intention to sell or retire their backup and emulation software; on the contrary, they are gearing up towards a new release and will continue to distribute their products via the alternative domain, Existing customers have been assured that their lifetime support agreements and access to future software updates will be upheld despite delays in verifying their licenses.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Amiga radar detects activity in Camp Winfellow

Thursday, July 01, 2004 0

In April of this year, the developers of Winfellow, the no-nonsense Amiga emulator for the Windows platform, shook the dust from their sorely neglected source code and began the arduous task of converting it to the C programming language in preparation for a new release. The last offering was made available way back in November 2001, and until recently the Winfellow CVS repository lay dormant, leading fans to believe the project had been abandoned.

So far 5000 lines of code (20%) have been converted, the file system has been updated to use the UAE 0.8.22 code base and several bugs have been squished. The switch from Assembly code to C will bring with it the option to port the emulator to other platforms and make future debugging and the introduction of new features more straightforward. The developers are keen to recruit beta testers to ensure the comeback release is of the highest standard, so please don't hesitate to contact them if you have some time to spare and would like to keep the Amiga spirit alive.

Saturday, June 26, 2004

The whole nation loves him...

Saturday, June 26, 2004 0

...because it feels safe in his hands, like a child in the arms of his mother.

Josef Goebbels was referring to Adolf Hitler when he imparted this gem of irony, though if the Republicans are to be believed, it could just as easily apply to our friend in the White House, Mr Bush. Terrorism is Bush's ace card - it feeds his campaign for re-election because his response to it is what sets him apart from other presidents, both past and potential. Terrorism breeds fear, Bush declares war on the evil-doers to convince the public their protection is his number one priority, the terrorists bite back and this gives rise to hysteria. Of course to quell this sense of impending doom, what is called for is an even tougher stance on terrorism. Vote for Bush and he'll keep on stoking the furnace on your behalf, and somehow this will miraculously allow you to sleep soundly in your bed at night, safe in the knowledge that the situation is entirely under control.

What Dubya and bin Laden have in common is that they both thrive on generous helpings of devastation of the terrorist variety; Bush to win votes and bin Laden to fuel his jihad against the western world. While it's true that bin Laden's ultimate, personal goal is to convert the whole of the western world to 'the one true religion', Islam, without sufficient provocation, he wouldn't have a hope in hell of convincing moderate Muslims that they must unite and rise up against the western invaders if they wish to protect their religion, holy lands and liberty.

The absolute worst thing we can do is fulfill his prophecies by playing the role of the imperialist barbarians as portrayed to his would-be freedom fighters. As long as ideological divergence exists between the people of the world there will be hatred and discrimination. Analogously, while there are extremists there will be terrorism; terrorism is here to stay it seems, but it is possible to subdue it to a manageable level. This should be our core objective - it's absurd to presume we can wage a war on an ill-defined concept, emerge victorious and then consider it a job well done and get on with our lives. We must bring terrorists to justice without engendering more, and to do this we must respect the rights of ordinary Muslims, who but for our intervention would have little incentive to wish us harm.

It is a natural reaction to want to stand firm against terrorists, to refuse to be swayed or to offer the merest hint of compromise, but is 'compromise' really the right word? Bin Laden has said on numerous occasions that one of his rudimentary goals is to rid the Arab world of American military personnel. His methods may make us sick to our stomachs, but we can all follow his logic if we choose to look beyond Bush's patronizing rhetoric.

After the Second World War ended, Franklin D. Roosevelt colluded with the founder of the modern Saudi Arabian kingdom, King Abel-Aziz ibn Saud, to secure a deal whereby the US would be granted unimpeded access to the largest oil reserves in the world if they promised to protect Saudi Arabia from its enemies. The opportunity to establish military bases throughout the Middle East for the purpose of exploiting the abundant natural resources found there, proved to be a temptation too potent to resist. However you dress up this genteel, mutual business relationship, the reality is that it has resulted in the stinking rich getting even richer and the poor people of Saudi Arabia being left to rot while sitting on a liquid gold mine. Surprisingly enough, the Arabs aren't exactly overjoyed with this arrangement.

Iran is another Middle Eastern country rich in oil reserves to have caught the eye of western imperialists. In this case, rather than strike a deal with Iran's democratically elected leader, Muhammad Mossadeq, in 1953 an Anglo-American coup was staged to oust and replace him with a much more obliging Shah, again to ensure easy access to copious oil supplies.

It was also no accident that following the breakdown of business negotiations between the US administration and the Taliban, Afghanistan was treated to a barrage of carpet bombs. With the Taliban safely out of the way, the US were free to commence with their original plan to install pipelines designed to channel oil from the reserves in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan through Afghanistan and Pakistan to the Indian Ocean where it could be exported.

Two years later, with Middle Eastern relations deteriorating, to reduce their dependance on Saudi Arabia and assure the uninterrupted flow of cheap oil, the US resolved to elevate Iraq to the top of their hit list. Iraq had long been an impediment to America's dominance of Middle Eastern oil owing to the imposition of sanctions and continuous aerial onslaught, which had severely stifled Hussein's ability to maintain optimum production levels. These containment strategies were thought beyond compromise so Hussein had to be toppled and substituted with a pro-American stooge. This puppet governor would render western oil companies free reign to plunder the country's natural resources and furnish the American invaders with a cosy platform to launch further attacks in Central Asia.

Contrary to the wisdom professed through the 'Dummy's Guide to Terrorism', it's not the west's penchant for movies, pop music and fast food which rubs Arabs up the wrong way, it's America's arrogant assumption that they are entitled to do whatever is necessary to sustain access to cheap natural resources. If striking a deal with a tyrannical despot makes this possible, then that's exactly what occurs. As long as those in power and their lascivious corporate backers (often these are one and the same thing!) are kept in the lifestyle they've become accustomed to, it is considered perfectly acceptable to prop up these repressive regimes, giving dictators the go-ahead to commit whimsical acts of genocide... that is until the relationship turns sour. Then we are forced to topple our uncooperative business partners using the pretext of humanitarian compassion to rouse support for such detrimental intervention. Whenever this becomes necessary there is an immediate shift in the nomenclature used to pigeon-hole such leaders; while our chum bin Laden was once a 'freedom fighter' or 'comrade', he is now a 'terrorist', 'enemy of the state' or the kingpin in the 'axis of evil'. Are we to believe bin Laden possesses an Incredible Hulk style persona capable of randomly rotating between the contrasting poles of malevolence and benevolence, or is the US government the capricious party in this duet?

Depraved, tyrannous regimes remain so whether they are pro-American or anti-American. One of bin Laden's objectives is to oust pro-American, exploitative governments because he feels they are not operating in the interests of the people they were theoretically established to serve. In this regard, bin Laden's aims align very neatly with the purported reasons Bush gave for invading Iraq. The distinction lies in the way the actions of these men are promoted and interpreted in the west - bin Laden is vilified as a cold-blooded murderer while Bush is hailed a hero... at least by those too shortsighted to see the man for what he really is. If there's one thing Saudi Arabia excels at, it's the abuse of human rights. Saudi citizens are imprisoned in the absence of just cause and are often 'disappeared' without fair trial. If deemed guilty of theft they can expect to have their limbs amputated, or be stoned to death, crucified or beheaded as punishment for more serious crimes. Being flogged for committing trivial faux pas is likely considered light relief by comparison. The Saudi proletariat have no say in the way their country is run and live in pitiful squalor because the ruling classes heedlessly fritter away their wealth. The Saudi regime is not far removed from that of Hussein's Iraqi dystopia, nevertheless, because Bush is on excellent terms with the Saudi royal family, their appalling conduct is given the official stamp of approval.

Shortly before the first Gulf War, the Saudi royal family gave their blessing for US troops to occupy their land, using it as a launch-pad for reclaiming Kuwait. Much Muslim resentment towards the Americans stems from their tendency to overstay their welcome - to this day approximately 5000 military personnel remain in Saudi Arabia. The indigenous population are outraged by this continued occupation as they consider Saudi Arabia to be the sacred holy land which gave rise to the birth of Islam. In the eyes of devout Muslims, Mecca and Medina, two of Islam's most sacrosanct holy grounds and the birthplace of Muhammad, are being trounced on a daily basis by disrespectful heathens. Imagine western churches being hijacked to host wild, drunken orgies and you'd have an inkling into the way these occupying forces are viewed by Arabs.

Bin Laden has made no secret of his grievances regarding Saudi Arabia...

"You steal our wealth and oil at paltry prices because of your international influence and military threats. This theft is indeed the biggest theft ever witnessed by mankind in the history of the world."

"The ordinary man knows that [Saudi Arabia] is the largest oil producer in the world, yet at the same time he is suffering from taxes and bad services. Now the people understand the speeches of the ulemas in the mosques - that our country has become an American colony. They act decisively with every action to kick the Americans out of Saudi Arabia. What happened in Riyadh and [Dhahran] when 24 Americans were killed in two bombings is clear evidence of the huge anger of Saudi people against America. The Saudis now know their real enemy is America."

Bin Laden in his "Declaration of the World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and the Crusaders", further crystalized his grim indictment...

"For over seven years now the United States has been occupying the lands of Islam in the holiest of places, the Arabian peninsula, plundering its riches, dictating to its rulers, humiliating its people, terrorising its neighbours and turning its bases in the peninsula into a spearhead through which to fight the neighbouring Muslim peoples."

Regrettably for the ordinary western civilians who bear the brunt of Al Qaeda's violent protests, the US government refuses to acknowledge bin Laden's reasonable requests to withdraw their troops. They refuse to do so because the US is so heavily dependent on the enormous oil reserves situated in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the Middle East. The harvesting and distribution of this oil drives the US economy and therefore determines foreign policy. Oil is such a valuable commodity, the US government-corporate hybrid is willing to risk life and limb (not their own clearly) in order to procure bountiful supplies of this 'black gold', feathering their own nests in the process. In attacking the Pentagon and World Trade Centre, bin Laden couldn't have made his motivations any more transparent - the Pentagon represents the foisting of military bases throughout Arab lands and the World Trade Centre is the most notorious symbol of corporate greed, capitalism at the expense of human life to be more precise. The way to end the west's exploitation of Middle Eastern countries is to simultaneously develop alternative renewable energy sources and curtail our avaricious consumption of oil. While this is a workable solution, it won't happen overnight. Nevertheless, that is our problem; the lewd desire to secure access to cheap fuel hardly justifies the invasion and occupation of Middle Eastern countries.

Bin Laden's second aim is to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land in the West Bank and Gaza. There is no better word than 'terrorism' to describe the US-backed persecution of Palestinians in their own homes. There's no such thing as virtuous and evil terrorism, just terrorism. It must all be stamped out if we genuinely seek to bring peace and stability to the region. The US can get the ball rolling by terminating their seemingly boundless financial and military support for Israel.

Here are a few choice words on the topic from our friend-foe bin Laden...

"The British handed over Palestine, with your help and your support, to the Jews, who have occupied it for more than 50 years; years overflowing with oppression, tyranny, crimes, killing, expulsion, destruction and devastation. The creation and continuation of Israel is one of the greatest crimes, and you are the leaders of its criminals. And of course there is no need to explain and prove the degree of American support for Israel. The creation of Israel is a crime which must be erased. Each and every person whose hands have become polluted in the contribution towards this crime must pay its price, and pay for it heavily."

"Your forces occupy our countries; you spread your military bases throughout them; you corrupt our lands and you besiege our sanctities, to protect the security of the Jews and to ensure the continuity of your pillage of our treasures."

Considering America is at the forefront of the movement to eradicate weapons of mass destruction from what have been identified as 'rogue nations', it should surprise us to discover that the US is the most prolific manufacturer and exporter of weapons of mass destruction and therefore terrorism. Since 1990 the US has sold more than $152 billion worth of weapons to all manner of rogue states and tin-pot tyrants throughout the world including Ariel Sharon and Saddam Hussein. If you want to prevent deranged lunatics from unleashing weapons of mass destruction, stop selling the damn things to them in the first place! While you're at it, be sure to join all the other civilized countries of the world in acceding to agreements which seek to limit the availability and use of weapons of mass destruction such as the Anti-Balistic Missile Treaty and Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This would hardly constitute a generous compromise, it's a duty you owe to the future of the human race. The US should be working towards dismantling all weapons of mass destruction, not developing new ones and deciding who can and can't possess and parade them like a grotesque phallic symbol of macho potency.

Finally, bin Laden wants the coalition-backed UN to lift the sanctions imposed on almost exclusively Muslim countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Iran as these have been the cause of the death and misery of millions of innocent civilians. These sanctions are designed to keep in check the efficacy of tyrants to produce weapons of mass destruction. They have proved highly effective in doing so, but are themselves a weapon of mass destruction, albeit of a more stealthy nature than more traditional varieties. Suffering and chronic malnutrition caused by the scarcity of essential medical supplies, food and clean drinking water are not a case of unfortunate collateral damage. The infliction of hardship is precisely their aim - sanctions are a coercive tool designed to bring about regime change through oppression of innocent bystanders. It's true that much of the suffering which occurred in Iraq was actually brought about through Hussein's patent refusal to cooperate in bringing humanitarian aid to his people. Not only did he withhold crucial foreign aid from his citizens, he callously exploited their misery to bolster his media propaganda campaign. That said, when evidence of the severity of Iraqi civilian suffering first came to light, these sanctions should have been lifted without delay, and an alternative means of restricting Hussein's activities should have been sought. Sacrificing the lives of one race of people to avert the potential detriment of another is not a decision anyone has the right to make. Episodes such as this make a mockery of our newfangled, highly suspect shimmy towards compassionate liberation.

Bin Laden isn't impressed either...

"You have starved the Muslims of Iraq, where children die every day. It is a wonder that more than 1.5 million Iraqi children have died as a result of your sanctions, and you did not show concern. Yet when 3,000 of your people died, the entire world rises and has not sat down."

People need to be aware that Bush's version of events only tells half the story. Those of you who have studied the history of US interventionism should realize that atrocities such as 9/11 are not simply unprovoked attacks committed out of sheer lust for violence - they are calculated responses to many years of ruthless subjugation. In the words of bin Laden, "Why should fear, killing, destruction, displacement, orphaning, and widowing continue to be our lot, while security, stability and happiness be your lot? This is unfair. It is time that we get even. You will be killed just as you kill, and will be bombed just as you bomb". What should surprise us far more than the attacks of 9/11 is that acts of terrorism of a similar magnitude have not been brought to bear before now.

The prevalence of these conditions is certainly no justification for the monstrous carnage meted out to the many thousands of innocent civilians throughout the world who have perished at the hands of terrorists. They do however serve to shed light on the motivations of the terrorists responsible, and give us the opportunity to address the foreign policy decisions which have contributed to the nurture of their raging hatred. To eliminate terrorism we must first recognize that western governments are responsible for a significant portion of it, apologize for past mistakes and do all we can to ensure they are not repeated. Restoring good relations and trust with people living in less privileged regions of the world is a crucial first step. To do this we must act out of compassion for our fellow human beings and not self-interest, provide humanitarian aid and ask nothing in return and establish fair trade agreements with our economic allies whereby the wealth imbued is distributed evenly. Believe it or not it was bin Laden himself who said, "the road to safety starts with stopping aggression". Asking the question, "what is the root cause of terrorism?", and then dismissing the answer because it reflects badly on the governments we put in power is not progressive. Neither is repeating the question until we find someone as keen to deceive as we are to be deceived.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

If war isn't the solution, what is?

Wednesday, June 16, 2004 0

To answer the question you first have to pin down which predicament it is that war is presumed to be able to remedy. Initially the objective was to disarm Saddam Hussein of the weapons of mass destruction the coalition insisted he had in his possession. When numerous intelligence experts revealed that Hussein's surviving feeble arsenal of weaponry posed no threat, the diplomatic, peaceful solution became clear; grant the weapons inspectors more time to continue their evidently successful work. Considering that Iraq had been subjected to largely uninterrupted air attack since the 'end' of the first Gulf War and inspectors had been permitted to dismantle the chemical, biological and nuclear weapons which the US supplied to Iraq in the first place, it's hardly surprising that Hussein's munitions stockpile was so unimpressive.

The hypothetical imminent threat was demonstrated to be fallacious and hence there was no justification for rushing into a reckless melee. This spelled bad news for the Bush administration because they wanted a war no matter what, for reasons which had little to do with eliminating a real threat to the security of the western world. If the weapons inspectors had been given equal air time to voice their concerns and it had been a genuine goal to find alternative means of resolving our differences with Hussein, we certainly would not have embarked on the despicable fiasco that ensued. Much to the coalition's embarrassment, the UN weapons inspectors consistently refused to bolster the official, fictitious justifications for a phoney war. This troubled the warmongers to such an extent that they arranged for chief weapons inspector, Hans Blix, and UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, to be bugged to pre-empt the further exposure and ridicule of their fairy tales.

Shortly before the war began, Hussein offered to do everything in his power, bar committing suicide, to appease Washington and find a way to evade war. It would have been nice if we could have reached this juncture months or even years prior to Gulf War II, but better late than never. So what if the troops were all in position ready to 'kick ass'? It would still have been possible to call off the dogs and oust Hussein without razing Iraq to the ground, civilians and all. Washington's response was "tell them that we will see them in Baghdad".

Incidentally, similar offers were made before the bombing of Afghanistan commenced and again during the bombing, yet these diplomatic efforts were also sabotaged by Bush in favour of brute force. We were told in official Whitehouse statements that it was necessary to carpet bomb Afghanistan because the Taliban refused to handover Osama bin Laden. This was a barefaced lie - the Taliban were prepared to turn him in on the proviso that evidence of his involvement in the attacks of September 11th 2001 could be provided. Hardly an unreasonable demand, especially considering we were led to believe the case against Al Qaeda was cut and dried. Nevertheless, Bush's response was, "There is no need to discuss innocence or guilt. We know he's guilty." A Taliban spokesman informed the Bush administration, "We are ready for negotiations. It is up to the other side to agree or not. Only negotiation will solve our problems." Not being big on grown-up talk, Bush, with all the bravado of John Wayne retorted, "They must not have heard. There are no negotiations. This is non-negotiable" and that was that. Bombs away! Weeeeee!

"I'm the commander. See, I don't have to explain why I say things. That's the interesting thing about being the president. Maybe somebody needs to explain to me why they say something, but I don't feel like I owe anybody an explanation." - President G W Bush to Bob Woodward

The carrot on the stick manoeuvre, also known as exile could have provided yet another preferable exit strategy. The talks broke down apparently when Hussein refused to pull the weapons he didn't have out of a magic hat. It's very easy to appear to be making conciliatory efforts towards finding a peaceful resolution when you're dispensing impossible ultimatums.

It should be noted that it is not for Bush to decide to wage war without first exhaustively exploring diplomatic alternatives. There are clearly delineated protocols that leaders must follow in order to operate within the boundaries of international law as stipulated by the UN: "the parties to any dispute ... shall, first of all, seek a solution by negotiation." In an article written by Paul Krugman, a columnist for the New York Times, it was revealed that a White House source told the Financial Times that the final decision to go to war with Iraq was made way back in December so any diplomatic attempts to resolve the disputes between Hussein and the Bush administration would have fallen on deaf ears. "A tin-pot dictator was mocking the President. It provoked a sense of anger inside the White House", and this was deemed sufficient cause to unleash weapons of mass destruction onto the already war-weary populous of Iraq. If the western world expects wayward rogue states to comply with such legislature, we too must be seen to be playing fair. The US must set a good example if they wish to be taken seriously when promoting themselves as a benevolent super power.

The coalition eventually acknowledged that their flimsy lies would no longer convince the public of the necessity of war so the quest for a more robust manipulative vehicle began. They settled for the 'humanitarian saviours' bandwagon and proceeded to exploit it to full effect in promoting Hussein's unmistakably atrocious crimes. Whilst scores of these have been verified and well documented by Amnesty International and other reliable sources, much of the intelligence used to highlight Hussein's worst human rights violations emanated from Ahmed Chalabi who's reputation leaves a lot to be desired to put it lightly! What they didn't tell us is that Iraq no longer constituted a humanitarian crisis as stipulated by Human Rights Watch, and that if we were to spend $117+ billion dollars on alleviating human suffering, that money would have been put to better use elsewhere in the world. If the intention was the play the Good Samaritan, why not select the region that is home to the most pressing current humanitarian catastrophe and set up camp there? Surely not because the belated human compassion expressed by the coalition was no more than an egregious smokescreen? Governments just don't engage in that kind of deception. There are absolutely no precedents for such behaviour.

Nevertheless, Iraq clearly was a stage for all manner of horrendous human rights abuses and it remains true that the longer we stood around twiddling our thumbs and debating the issues, the more innocent Iraqis would die. No-one is saying we should have ignored the appalling plight of the Iraqi people, just that you don't heal wounds by sticking dynamite in them. It's not rocket science. So what actions could we have taken to depose the vile despot responsible for this suffering? One option was to bribe key commanding officers of Hussein's Republican Guard to stand down long before the bombing commenced. Actually this strategy was utilized and proved to be highly effective. When coalition troops 'stormed' Baghdad there was surprisingly little resistance, precisely because Hussein's cronies knew the game was up and couldn't resist the temptation to profit from their inevitable defeat. Hundreds of unoccupied tanks lay dormant, lined up in neat rows constituting no hazard to the invading forces, and enemy soldiers had long since changed into civilian clothing and were nowhere to be seen. So if the majority of the 'resistance' had already agreed to surrender, why was there a need for the spectacular pyrotechnics show which followed? Was it the whim of the belligerent child occupying power in the White House to be entertained by a cycle of flashing lights and a cacophony of exploding Tomahawk cruise missiles and cluster bombs?

Sure, go ahead and scare witless Saddam's Fedayeen forces to convince them they're doomed to failure if they put up a fight, but surely indiscriminately bombing areas populated by civilians is overkill. Even the most blinkered gun-toting warmonger knows that 'smart' bombs are only smart in the sense that George Bush is a Nobel prize-winning mastermind. If military might was the only dish on the menu, what would be so wrong with using it responsibly through the precision targeting of key defences, followed by threats of more of the same if Saddam et al didn't surrender? Now that would be a fine exemplar of showing compassion towards the civilian population. They're the people we invaded Iraq to unshackle, remember? Come on, keep up!

Judging by the willingness of Hussein's Republican Guard to defect to the opposition, it's not beyond the realms of belief to suppose that the same troops could have been paid to perform a coup and handover Hussein to the coalition themselves. Such covert operations have proved to be successful in the past when dealing with much more formidable foes than Hussein so it was certainly worth a shot. $118,000,000,000 (and rising!) is a hell of a lot of moola, and we all know money is power.

Another option would have been to support an uprising by the indigenous people of Iraq. The problem with this approach was that the most likely candidates, the Kurds, no longer trust the US because twice previously they had offered their assistance and twice abandoned them when it came to the crunch. Thousands of Kurds were massacred and even more were forced to flee their homes in fear of reprisals. Third time lucky, the refugees hoped in 1996 when Clinton thought it timely for another duck hunt. They should have trusted their instincts and told Washington to do their own dirty work - at the 11th hour the Clinton administration reneged on the deal and many more thousands of people had to be air lifted to safety and then sheltered in neighbouring Turkey.

Ultimately the crux of the matter is that any war waged against our ex-bestest buddy Hussein should not have turned into a war against the innocent people he held in subjugation for decades. Military action executed for the purposes of liberation does not result in the deaths of over 11,000 civilians.

Aside from serving up Hussein's head on a silver platter, there were other avenues to explore. Indictment, for instance, has proven to be a valuable tool in the past when dealing with despots previously thought unassailable. Two of the best examples are the cases of the then president of Liberia Charles Taylor and onetime Yugoslav leader, Slobodan Milosevic. Perhaps if, instead of patting Hussein on the back, we had made the case against him in the 80s, he wouldn't be such a thorn in our side today. That was the time to criticise dithering over his fate. This would have been the most cost-efficient, and more importantly, life-efficient means of bringing him to justice. Unfortunately it wouldn't have allowed the US military to use the Iraqi population as guinea pigs in the testing of their toys of mass murder or guaranteed the installation of a pro-American government.

If the weapons of mass destruction ruse hadn't been abandoned in favour of emancipation peaceniks might have argued in favour of extending and refining our successful containment strategy. It seems like a waste of energy to go into great detail describing how this might have worked now, but feel free to examine this article for further elucidation.

Assuming we can bring about bona fide regime change, the question remains, will the Iraqi people accept the newly installed government, puppet or otherwise? It wouldn't be surprising if they revolted, split into guerrilla forces and proceeded to wage civil war. If they aren't ready, or aren't interested in sustaining a democratic political system, post-Saddam Iraq could prove to be far more hostile and dangerous a place to live than it was prior to our occupation. This would of course make a mockery of liberation and disrupt the flow of oil from east to west... not that this was ever a concern.

The blustering challenge levied at anti-war protesters, "you find another solution to the Iraq problem then" presumes that bombing is the answer and is helping us to make headway in the 'war on terror'. This is an erroneous and lethal mistake. Since waging war on Iraq to avenge unrelated terrorist attacks and advance US dominance of the Middle East, Bush has validated the perilous fables he spoon-fed the world prior our pyrrhic victory. Free from Hussein's clearly tyrannical though, in some ways, positively constraining influence, Iraq has become a Mecca for Islamic fundamentalists, terrorists and suicide bombers, and as a result civilians and coalition troops continue to be slain on a daily basis. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have played straight into the hands of the likes of bin Laden as they have made martyrs of the survivors who are now more determined than ever to lash out at the western world. Terrorist attacks elsewhere have intensified, the Middle East has been destabilized precisely as the CIA predicted and all the while bin Laden still manages to evade capture. Even the militant's champion, Colin Powell, has been forced to concede that worldwide terrorism has escalated following our imperialist escapades in Iraq. So when will the war-hawks admit they were wrong and start listening to the intelligence and foreign affairs experts they pay so generously to produce reports which they then use to line their bird cages?

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Is it possible to save streaming movies to the hard drive?

Tuesday, June 15, 2004 0

Yes - what you need to do is get hold of a program called Streambox VCR. This will enable you to keep a permanent copy of Real Media movie and audio files on your hard drive once they have been streamed to your computer.

Tracking down the program via the web is easier said than done as it has never been publicly released, however, it is available on all the popular file sharing networks. For legal reasons, the project was terminated whilst in the beta stages of development, and since it was 'leaked' rather than released, it is technically stolen software - this is why no home page exists from which to download it.

To use SVCR you first have to save the .ra shortcut file of the movie or audio file you wish to 'capture'. To do this, right-click on the link and select the 'save target as' option from the menu. Once this file has touched down, open it in Notepad using the 'open with' command located in your right-click context menu. You should now be presented with the address of the server where the file is located, for example...

ptsp:// and pnm://

The one with the pnm prefix is the one we're interested in, so highlight it and copy it into your clipboard using the right mouse button. Now open SVCR and select 'edit' and then 'paste link' from the menu. Paste the address into the location box and choose a directory to save the file to. All that remains to be done now is to stab the OK button with your pointer and Bob's your mother's brother.

Note that no matter how fast your internet connection is, you can only capture streaming files at the speed they were designed to be streamed at. If the video you're trying to save is an hour long it will take you at least an hour to download. Obviously if your transfer speed is inferior to that of the streaming movie it will take you even longer than this.

Update: 'ASF Recorder' will perform the same function as Streambox VCR, yet is nowhere near as elusive - again, use Google or your favourite P2P client to track it down. My advice is to grab it while you still can as the project has now been abandoned!

Wednesday, June 09, 2004

"We learn from history that we learn nothing from history"

Wednesday, June 09, 2004 0

Left-wing, liberal, democrat... all words vehemently spat at people who refuse to dutifully exalt Bush's reckless, reactionary, and counterproductive policies. By the time these fanatical Bush apologists have finished reeling off adjectives and have us categorically and politically boxed off, they run out of steam and completely forget what their actual point was... if they ever had one to begin with! I can only assume they are ignorant of the definitions of these words because they are far from insults.

Let's visit our old chum Mr Dictionary and look at some common interpretations of the word 'liberal' shall we...

- "a person who favours a political philosophy of progress and reform and the protection of civil liberties"

- "showing or characterized by broad-mindedness"

- "having political or social views favouring reform and progress"

- "tolerant of change; not bound by authoritarianism, orthodoxy, or tradition"

Ouch! You meanies really know how to stick the boot in!

A 'democrat' is, of course, someone who is "an advocate of democratic principles". Here's a selection of acknowledged definitions of the word 'democratic'...

- "characterized by or advocating or based upon the principles of democracy or social equality"

- "representing, appealing to or adapted for the benefit of the people at large"

Gosh, these left-wing nuts sound like utterly loathsome, wicked people. They must be eliminated immediately before their irrational ideals bring humanity as we know it crashing to its knees.

Look up the word 'left-wing' and you'll be referred to 'socialism'. Now socialists believe in equality, empowering the people, promoting universal education and healthcare, civil liberties, freedom and democracy; clearly all despicable aspirations which must be kept in check if the human race as we know it is to survive.

With reference to the threat imposed by the ruling elite's abuse of corporate and state power, Albert Einstein had this to say: "I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals."

Appeal to authority is a cheap tactic I know, though I think the point is clear without Bert's help; haranguing people for showing compassion towards their fellow human beings and striving for equality makes no sense whatsoever.

Equally illogical is accusing anti-war protesters of not supporting the troops. If anything, no-one is demonstrating more support for the troops than those people who want to end the illegal occupation of Iraq and bring them home safely to their families and friends. Has it not occurred to you that some of these 'whining liberals' spend their days ominously awaiting the news that their brothers, sisters, neighbours, colleagues, husbands, wives or friends have been needlessly slaughtered in combat, or even as a consequence of 'friendly fire'? The equation is very straightforward; the longer the troops remain in this Iraqi quagmire, the more chance they have of being sent home... in a flag-draped coffin (if the cameras happen to be rolling)! What use is a cute, miniature, red and white flag to someone who's dead? Let's not forget that it was civil unrest that brought an end to America's involvement in Vietnam preventing many, many more casualties. Don't think for a minute that Bush wouldn't turn tail and run if he thought the decision would be a make-or-break vote winner. With an election on the horizon, he will do whatever it takes to sustain his position.

When it comes to misnomers, nothing beats the vacuous accusation, 'anti-American'. Translated this means, "self-reflection is painful so I'll avoid it like the plague". Whenever one of these abominable lefties manages to hatch a plausible criticism of the behaviour of a US politician, the retort 'anti-American' can be brought into play to deflect it, much like Captain America uses his shield to repel lightning bolts. Because lefties are a bit dim, they can only think in terms of black and white. For instance, when they fail to praise the incompetence and corruption of government officials, what they are really saying is that they despise every American on the planet, their way of life and the colour of their socks. They harbour an acute hostility towards all Americans because deep down they are envious of their military might, wealth, movies, freedom and overall superiority. It's also decidedly fashionable and entertaining to bash the Americans for no coherent reason, and this further helps to explain why they are so harshly victimized.

Meanwhile back on Planet Reality, clear-thinking people, American or otherwise, recognize that being anti-US-government or anti-war doesn't equate to being anti-the-whole-nation-of-America. If you honestly believe that the US government, and the Bush administration in particular, have done nothing to warrant such criticism, you can't have been paying attention closely enough. It is without a doubt the United States' imperialistic foreign policy that is the number one rationale for animosity expressed towards the country, both from within and beyond its borders. Don't be blinded to the fact that there are many thousands of American dissenters who still consider themselves to be patriots because they have the strength of character to probe the suspect motivations of their leaders. The government exists to serve the people, not the other way round and it is certainly not unpatriotic to scrutinize their immoral actions; it is your civic duty!

It is especially sickening to witness the "my enemy's enemy is my friend" approach to 'diplomatic' relations. American presidents, over the years have been the most generous sponsors of terrorism, bestowing upon themselves the right to decide who the bad guys are and who the good guys are, and are not opposed to switching sides whenever it is in their interests to do so. When our old friend Saddam was fighting against Iran he had the full backing of the US government, and the same can said of the Taliban when the Russians were the enemy. Some of the most atrocious violations of human rights of our time have been brought about through US endorsement of the tyrannical regimes of, for example, Egypt, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

As the British failed to resolve Jewish-Arab squabbles over who had the right to live where, in 1947 the UN stepped in and decided how the region, which was then known as Palestine, should be carved up. Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq opposed this interference and consequently declared war on Israel. Rather than remaining impartial, the US allied themselves with Israel, endorsing their campaign to defend ownership of 'their' land and alienating the rest of the Middle East in the process. To this day Israel still receives vast military and financial support from America to aid their ridiculous battle over a scrap of so-called holy land. Palestine terrorizes Israel and vice versa; unless you take into account the initial US backed coup it's difficult to define who the victims are (who gets to decide who owns what anyway?), but Israel has developed an air of legitimacy through its impenetrable connections with the US. As a consequence of the strong Jewish influence Israel has over America, Bush is adamant in his refusal to condemn Ariel Sharon's actions no matter how heinous they may be. If the whims of a dictator happen to coincide with the interests of America, adherents of the regime are hailed as freedom fighters, while those in opposition to the regime are vilified as terrorists.

You can debate the piety of America's involvement in various wars until you're blue in the face, but it's difficult to deny that they have shown little compassion when it comes to minimizing the loss of civilian life throughout these conflicts. Dropping atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end the Second World War didn't do the US any favours in the popularity stakes. Neither did the use of other horrendous weapons of mass destruction in the years which followed right up to the present day. The ends always justify the means, governments don't apologize and coincidental loss of human life is casually dismissed as collateral damage.

Serving to pour salt on the wound is the chasm between the reasons presented to the public for waging war or deposing fairly elected leaders and the apparent pursuit of US economic and military interests. We have come to learn that Bush certainly can't be trusted and neither can his troop of fawning cronies. His administration is made up of friends, relatives and other corporate bedfellows who will stop at nothing to further their own economic interests at the expense of the electorate. Bush's connections stretch so far and wide that no-one will say boo to him, and this is precisely why he's been allowed to get away with murder for so long. Sadly this imbecile is responsible for much of the United States' bad press and is dragging the reputation of the whole country and its people down with him. The corporate elite run America - it's a modern tale of Robin Hood in reverse yet it's afforded a credible veneer of democracy.

Notwithstanding the US government's desire to be seen to promote the need for global cooperation, they dismiss the Kyoto Protocol, rubbish the International Criminal Court, withdraw from the ABM treaty and impose outlandish tariffs to boost the US economy while suppressing that of the rest of the world. If anyone so much as dares to call into question these decisions, the administration throws a tantrum and the repercussions can be immense. The threat, "it's our way or the highway" has never been more forcefully upheld.

These are merely a smattering of the reasons people cite for criticizing the US government; a tirelessly comprehensive summary can be found here if you are really serious about answering the question, "why does everyone hate us?". If many of these points are new to you, you should really consider reading a different selection of newspapers. Watching Fox News doesn't constitute keeping up with current affairs - it's widely known that Fox is the most fanatically pro-Bush, pro-conservative network in existence. It's essentially a never-ending republican party political broadcast. Illustrating this point very succinctly is the October 2003 study conducted by the University of Maryland's Program on International Policy Attitudes entitled "Misperceptions, the Media and the Iraq War". The survey found that the more commercial TV news you watch, the more likely you are to absorb false information relating to the Iraq war, and the more likely you are to be in support of it.

The way it works is that Bush fudges the statistics, bends the truth or spreads outright lies in his official press releases or verbal addresses, and his cronies in the media report his version of reality as gospel. Droves of staunch Bush supporters tune into these conservative networks because they like to be reminded of things they already believe, they filter out any evidence to the contrary and proceed to parrot the Good Word to anyone who will listen. One propaganda technique which was exploited to full effect is that of enthymematic argumentation. Bush couldn't plausibly allege that Saddam Hussein was responsible for the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 because he had no proof. Instead, to implant the association in people's minds, he made absolutely sure that every time he mentioned Al Qaeda, he also made reference to Saddam Hussein and the threat his regime posed to the west. Position the names 'Hussein' and 'Bin Laden' in close proximity to one another often enough while condemning terrorism and rogue states and warning people of the threat of future apocalyptic strikes on the homeland, and you can pass off the two arch enemies as bosom buddies. These insinuations were backed up by the presentation of faulty intelligence reports, which combined, led enormous numbers of the electorate to believe that world public opinion was skewed towards attacking Iraq, evidence of close pre-war links between Al Qaeda and Iraq had been discovered, and that the coalition had found WMD in Iraq. These assumptions are wrong, wrong and wrong.

While the Bush administration tried to brainwash the American public, Bush's MiniMe, Tony Blair, was busy pulling the wool over the eyes of the British public. At one stage it was claimed that Hussein had the capability to launch weapons of mass destruction at UK military bases in neighbouring countries within 45 minutes, and this served to convince a sufficient number of people that we had to act immediately before it was too late. When it turned out that he could do no such thing, Blair shifted the goal posts, instead asserting that he had really been talking about battlefield weapons all along. This assertion was one line in an intelligence dossier, which was purported to provide unshakable justification for going to war. What threw a spanner in the works was the discovery that the 'dodgy dossier' was actually a decade-old, plagiarized student's thesis. When the BBC alleged that the dossier had been 'sexed up', or embellished, to make it appear more persuasive, a source for the leak of information was established and the government threw him to the wolves. Dr David Kelly was later found dead, the official cause being suicide. An 'independent' inquiry into his demise was conducted by Lord Hutton who concluded that Blair and his cronies would not be held accountable, and that no 'sexing up' occurred. The BBC apologised for telling the truth, BBC Chairman, Gavyn Davies, BBC Director-General, Greg Dyke, and the journalist responsible for broadcasting the allegations, Andrew Gilligan, resigned, and it was back to business as usual for Tony Blair and Co. Considering the entire intelligence dossier was fake, it's staggering that Hutton was so preoccupied with quibbling over the possibility of exaggeration.

This was far from the only British 'own goal'; another intelligence report cobbled together by our finest spooks asserted that Iraq had purchased tonnes of uranium from Niger in West Africa for the purposes of manufacturing WMD. Bush was so delighted by the discovery that he cited the misdemeanour in his State of the Union address, only later to be informed by the CIA and Colin Powell that the documents were forged. The pertinent question is, are all these embarrassing incidents evidence of incompetence or a concerted effort to spread disinformation? Blair being a professional liar, and Bush being no less of a stranger to the truth, it's difficult to tell.

When the coalition could find no evidence to support their claims that Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and that they posed an imminent threat, Bush and Blair started singing a different tune entirely. They needed a new justification, one which would appeal to the public's sense of decency and moral values and make any naysayers look like heartless enemies of the state. So it was decided that the real, real reason we were invading Iraq was to liberate the oppressed masses who were living in fear of Hussein's tyrannical regime. This had of course always been the case, it's just no-one thought to mention it until now. There's not a shred of doubt that Hussein was a mercilessly evil despot responsible for slaughtering his own people in the most horrific ways imaginable, nevertheless, that doesn't explain why Hussein was made an urgent target while so little fuss is made about the equally tyrannical leaders of, let's say, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and China. How is it that Bush is able to make distinctions between virtuous, friendly despots and depraved despots, and still have people take him seriously? Likewise, if we're so keen to altruistically alleviate the suffering of innocent civilians, why not do something about the humanitarian crises in Chile, Rwanda, Congo, Nepal or Peru? To penetrate the caring, sharing facade of target selection you have to delve into the matter of who stands to gain from ousting Hussein and transforming Iraq into a pro-American ally.

The most outlandish conspiracy theory of all is that Bush spent nearly 117 billion dollars and sacrificed the lives of 940 coalition soldiers during Iraq War the Sequel because he's a thoroughly decent chap who can't bear to stand by and watch innocent people suffer. The problem I have with this latest Disneyesque fairy tale is that in liberating the people of Iraq, Bush and his rabble of pliant confederates murdered in the region of 11,000 Iraqi civilians. Note that no official attempt has been made by the coalition to keep a record of Iraqi civilian deaths, yet each and every soldier or allied 'contractor' killed is ceremonially saluted through the dedication of endless newspaper column inches. The only thing these innocent bystanders have been liberated of is their right to life. Are we then to believe that there is also a fair distinction to be made between those civilians who deserve to be rescued and those that don't?

Judging by Bush's happy-go-lucky approach to exploiting the anger and grief of the American public following the terrorist attacks of 11th September 2001, was anyone surprised when he gleefully seized upon the opportunity to hijack the 60th anniversary of the D-Day landing to bolster his own ego? Apparently our illegal occupation and decimation of Iraq is much like World War II. Of course it is Dubya, providing you neglect to mention that World War II was a just and absolutely necessary defence of our freedom against a fascist dictator and his depraved horde of Nazis, whereas Iraq War II was an inhumane and unprovoked attack on an irrelevant target underscoring the imperialistic whims of the Bush administration. It's a vile insult to the veterans who lost friends and family in World War II to even hint at a connection between the two conflicts. At the very least, the families of the fallen heroes of World War II can be certain that their loved ones sacrificed their lives for a genuine purpose.

Predictably befitting of Bush's version of revisionist history, the president's second assault on the truth came this week as he paid homage to another conniving, morally bankrupt leader, Ronald Reagan. Thanks to the current administration and the American media's talent for mythology, an entire nation is now mourning the man who secretly sold arms to Iran to fund Contra terrorist's attempts to overthrow the democratically elected government of Nicaragua resulting in the deaths of thousands of innocent people. This is the same man who trained and supported Islamic radicals in Afghanistan who later formed the Al Qaeda terrorist group, nurtured Saddam Hussein and ordered the bombing of Libya to avenge a terrorist attack on a Berlin nightclub, even though there was no proof that Libya was involved. This is just a small sample of the 'achievements' of this "truly great American hero". Dead or not, Reagan's political record speaks for itself.

Before we get too carried away with demonizing US governments for their appalling foreign policy decisions, I should point out that British foreign policy isn't as far removed from that of the US as we would like to believe. Perhaps our leaders have merely been better at dissembling our human rights abuses over the years. The issue I'm trying to raise is that outright refusal to reflect on the nature of the beast only exacerbates the problem. What we have to do to move forward is kick these charlatans out of office, even if the alternative candidates aren't ideal replacements. A small step in the right direction is preferable to many taken backwards.

You know, I've now committed the cardinal sin of criticizing my own infallible commander-in-chief and those who went before him. Though I don't suppose I'll be accused of committing treason, being anti-British, un-British, a terrorist hugger or unpatriotic; why the difference I wonder. Maybe it's because such criticism is entirely warranted and most British citizens recognize this, just as enlightened Americans recognize that Georgykins also has a lot to answer for. I can even criticize the behaviour of the British public without being accused of perpetrating hate crime, and let's face it, there's a lot of scope for criticism. Many of the things which are wrong with America also apply to Britain. We have a nascent obesity problem resulting from sheer gluttony and a penchant for refusing to take responsibility for our own lives. Similarly, a mounting debt crisis (much of which is brought about by greed and irresponsibility) and compensation culture are seriously starting to gain a foothold. Worse still, we reward lazy people who refuse to work with endless social benefits while the NHS and education system suffers from under funding. Crime, gun violence and hooliganism are on the increase, we have no real culture of our own and our politicians regularly lie and cheat and reap the benefits. We even have a political party who are single-mindedly dedicated to disseminating bigotry and racism. Then there are the embarrassments we can claim sole ownership of. The monarchy for instance - they contribute nothing to the country, make us look foolish in the eyes of foreigners and are a fiscal liability. It's despicable that they are content to loaf around in their largely empty, decadent palaces while there are still homeless people living on the streets.

British people recognize that Britain is far from perfect (maybe that's why I always drop the 'Great'); we just wish certain fanatical Americans would face reality too. Call us insane, but some people tend to object to constantly being told that "America is the best country on earth" and that they live in a an uncultivated backwater. What far too many people fail to realize is that America isn't the only "land of the free", and in some cases the pilot project has even been surpassed. According to the United Nation's Human Development Report, if it's quality of life you're looking for, Norway is the number one place to be. The United States actually crosses the line in seventh place in the latest survey. If I cared at all about petty nationalism I'd be very reticent about posting this link seeing as my own country, the UK, limped over the finish line at a dismal thirteenth place. While Freedom House, in their latest Freedom in the World assessment, awards the United States with top marks, both for the provision of political rights and civil liberties, thirty-nine other countries are deemed to be on an equal footing.

Furthermore, it is a much vaunted myth that the US is the most charitable country where foreign aid is concerned. Of course it gives away the most money in absolute terms. No wonder, it's the most wealthy country in the world with a population of 280 million! However, if you look at the value of US donations as a percentage of its Gross Domestic Product, an entirely different picture emerges. Only 0.1% of the US' GDP is committed to foreign aid.

The 2004 Commitment to Development Index takes a broader look at the quality of foreign aid donated by 21 of the richest countries, and again the results are far from flattering for the US. This is because the report factors in the tendency of countries to only agree to donate funds if the recipients agree to give a proportion of it right back to them through the coerced purchase of donor-manufactured products or to repay third world debt. Also taken into account is the rationale of governments' selection of beneficiaries. In other words, countries lose brownie points for funding corrupt, undemocratic regimes. For a detailed analysis of this year's results refer to this article.

The notion that 'anti-Americanism' stems from our jealousy of America is absurd. If anything, it's getting more like America which worries us. Not that this detracts from all the scientific, medical and technological advancements we have America to thank for, or their help in rebuilding Europe after World War II or their vast literary, musical and artistic contributions, and so on. Believe it or not, you can be sceptical of the president's motivations for invading Iraq and still admire (and benefit from) America's immense accomplishments, maintain friendships with Americans and appreciate the beauty of the American landscape if you choose to spend your holidays there. To prove it I'm going to conduct a watertight scientific demonstration here and now before your very eyes to settle the matter once and for all. Please join me so you can experience this for yourselves. OK, repeat after me, "If an amoeba and the US president took part in a battle of wits, George Dubya would lose". Now try this one, "Mr Bush is a dangerous lunatic and has no respect for human life". What we do now is a quick reality check to see if a range of random achievements which Americans are perfectly entitled to feel proud of remain true. For instance, can Neil Armstrong still claim to have been the first man to set foot on the moon? Is it still true that Martin Luther King, one of the world's greatest leaders of all time, brought an end to racial segregation in America by means of peaceful protest? If you've got plenty of time on your hands you can think of some of your own test questions and keep this up indefinitely. Nevertheless, what this rigorously objective experiment indicates is that it is possible to separate various aspects of the United States of America, allowing you to criticise some of them while lavishing others with wholly merited praise. Thanks for playing, please take a lollypop on your way out.

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