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The lower house of the Duma has approved Protocol 14 to the European Convention on Human Rights.  Russia has been the holdout country in ratifying Protocol 14, which the other 46 participating nations had all approved by 2006.

Protocol 14 is largely a procedural reform to the speed up the court’s work by reducing the number of judges required to make major decisions.  The Strasbourg Court has been the subject of complaints due to the extremely large backlog of cases, especially against Russia.  

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Blanche Vavra was a frugal, private woman.

Her friends say she never spent a penny on anything but the absolute bare necessities. She had no children, was never married and lived a quiet life.

But eight months after her death, at the age of 90, with her generosity Vavra has affected the lives of thousands of people she never even met.


It’s a strange story and supposedly a simple one. She worked hard in life and was able to do something good in death.It’s such an oversimplification. A life boiled down to its essentials. A narrative only an actuary would believe to be a true account of a person’s life.

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FidelCastro The first legalised home computers have gone on sale in Cuba, but a ban remains on internet access.

This is the latest in a series of restrictions on daily life which President Raul Castro has lifted in recent weeks.


The desktop computers cost almost $800 (£400), in a country where the average wage is under $20 (£10) a month.

BBC NEWS | Americas | Cuba lifts ban on home computers

With its iconic revolutionary leader gone from power, well everyday power, its interesting to see how Raul Castro, the brother of the famous Fidel, is guiding the country.

The new tone is apparent in some respects. A gradual liberalisation, a trickle of freedoms. Most are consumer and consumption orientated, such as permitting the use of mobile phones and allowing Cubans to stay at the previously foreigner only resorts in Cuba.

One stands out for being more long term. This is allowing farmers to use fallow state land for crops, and to sell those crops on the market.

Since it seems unique, I wonder if food reform is a concession to the stratospheric world food prices rather than an experiment in the value of the Capitalist system.

I’m watching Cuba with interest because when Communist states liberalise the results tend to be interesting.

There was the dramatic near collapse of civil society in post USSR Russia due to rapid liberalisation. Energy prices prevented the threatened collapse of both the state and the market. Putin’s strong government helped as well.

In contrast there is the gradual transition combining authoritarian rule with market structures in China and Vietnam. Free markets feeding into developing middle classes, that seem on the whole politically inactive.

The other end of the scale, the short lived and quickly aborted free market dabbling that North Korea engaged in for a little while. Failed, probably because it was done at the wrong time, and without a coherent plan.

I suspect a strong tourist industry and remittances from expatriate Cubans will see Cuba a long way through any transition. They’re not as weak or isolated to anything like the degree that North Korea was when it began its ‘reforms’.

Also if things get to the stage where the US lifts sanctions, then Cuba is likely to get a real boost that should see it through the transition. That depends on the sanity and ability of the US administration, something that can’t be presumed nowadays.

Blind JusticeJustice might well cry – this is just dastardly.

On the 15th of February, the California Northern District Court in San Francisco issued a permanent injunction against Dynadot, a Domain Name Registrar, to compel it to delete from its list of URLs.

The order was granted Ex Parte with only limited notice – Counsel for wikileaks were given only a few hours notice by email – and in the end were unable to make any representations to the judge.

Furthermore they were required to prevent any ability to transfer the domain and to disclose all the information that they possessed about the domain name, including who it was registered too and all further information that they possessed about anyone who had accessed the management control panel on Dynadot to manage the domain.

The Plaintiffs, now widely recognised to be Bank Julius Baer – a bank that seems to have a list of celebrity clients and based in the Cayman Islands – was trying to prevent public access to certain documents hosted on Wikileaks that were leaked by one Rudolph Elmer, former Chief Operating Officer of the Bank. [Further Information about the underlying documents here]

I want to raise two points about the method that was chosen to shut down access to the site.

The broader points about the constitutionality of that decision, especially given America’s entrenched freedom of speech provisions, and their legal inability to exercise any jurisdiction over Wikileaks itself as an essentially stateless entity are issues I’m not qualified to comment on.

The first is that its rather pointless. As Wikileaks was quite aware that it would be subject to local censorship, it has a deluge of different locations worldwide that makes it accessible globally, even if one site is shut down. At this moment, Wikipedia lists:

  • as alternates to the .org site. Something tells me you’ll still be able to view all the content on Wikileaks for a good long time.

    In addition deleting the DNS entry only gets you so far – it seems BJB’s lawyers couldn’t work around the fact that an IP address is different from the DNS look up – and so you can still access at

    Now I’m not too up on American Procedure but courts granting futile remedies ex-parte is pretty frowned upon regardless of the jurisdiction. In fact futility is a prime ground to refuse a remedy. As it should be. Courts shouldn’t be helping parties achieve nothing by forcing the other party to do work.

    My second point is that the internet has a particular resistive property – the harder you push against it, the harder it pushes back and the more publicity a cause raises.

    I doubt Bank Julius Baer wanted to be on the front page of Slashdot – yet that is where they found themselves. In addition they found themselves mentioned in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Guardian. Mentioned because of their dubious action and the prominent allegation of money laundering and tax evasion.

    Furthermore, people like me, individuals who never looked at Wikileaks before and who hadn’t heard of Bank Julius Baer before, have now heard of them both. And found, if the blogosphere reaction can be treated as representative, that the behaviour of the Court was both idiotic and futile.

    Bank Julius Baer has found itself in the limelight far more then it would have liked. More people have found and read the information they are trying to suppress as a result of their behaviour.

    As a result of their folly, I took the time to look at the leaked documents by their Ex-CEO. As a result of their folly, I investigated the surrounding links on Wikileaks and discovered a lot of interesting documents that I’ve never seen before. As a result of their folly, I’m writing a blog post and telling even more people.

    Destruction of the Bamian Buddhas

    The ruling Taliban, mostly fundamentalist Sunni, ethnic Pashtuns, saw Hazaras as infidels, animals, other.

    They didn’t look the way Afghans should look and didn’t worship the way Muslims should worship.

    A Taliban saying about Afghanistan’s non-Pashtun ethnic groups went: “Tajiks to Tajikistan, Uzbeks to Uzbekistan, and Hazaras to goristan,” the graveyard. And in fact, when the Buddhas fell, Taliban forces were besieging Hazarajat, burning down villages to render the region uninhabitable. As autumn began, the people of Hazarajat wondered if they’d survive winter.

    Then came September 11, a tragedy elsewhere that appeared to deliver salvation to the Hazara people.

    Afghanistan’s Hazara – National Geographic Magazine

    One thing that I didn’t know about Afghanistan, that came to the fore while watching the Kite Runner, is that its people are divided into two ethic groups, the Pashtuns and the Hazaras, an Asiatic ethnic group that form a minority in Afghanistan.

    This National Geographic article, explains the tremendous persecution that the Hazara  faced under the Taliban and looks at their situation now that the ostensibly democratic government has found itself into power in Kabul.

    Sadly it looks like not much has changed;  the exceptional opportunity offered by the overthrow of the Taliban, and the economic development of the country may not be enough to overcome the deep ethic and religious prejudices that divides the country.

    The article is a good read, and if you’ve just seen the Kite Runner, as I have, an extremely informative piece.


    Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson has admitted he was wrong to brand the scandal of lost CDs containing the personal data of millions of Britons a “storm in a teacup” after falling victim to an internet scam.

    The outspoken star printed his bank details in a newspaper to try and make the point that his money would be safe and that the spectre of identity theft was a sham.

    He also gave instructions on how to find his address on the electoral roll and details about the car he drives.

    However, in a rare moment of humility Clarkson has now revealed the stunt backfired and his details were used to set up a £500 direct debit payable from his account to the British Diabetic Association.

    Jeremy Clarkson stung for £500 as fraud stunt gets punished | Money | Guardian Unlimited

    He does present an absolutely enjoyable TV show but in every other respect, even on the show itself, he comes across as being an idiot with a rather obvious disconnect from the modern world, when that world is not about fast cars.

    At least he has the decency to come clean about it and admit he was wrong, and to accept that its far too easy for people to do unsavoury things with even basic data about people, let alone the hugely invasive personal data that the British Government has lost through the cumulative missing discs debacles.

    I’ll bet you though, that he got his problem sorted out in a few minutes and with a few sharp phone calls. If this were to have happened to the average Joe, there would have been weeks of difficulty and the phone merry go round that the banks operate to get anything done. And Joe probably wouldn’t have gotten the money back in the end either.

    The Metropolitan police was today found guilty of a catastrophic series of errors during the operation that led to firearms officers shooting Jean Charles de Menezes dead on the London underground.

    The force was fined £175,000 and ordered to pay £385,000 costs after an Old Bailey jury found it had breached health and safety rules and failed in its duty to protect members of the public in the killing of the Brazilian electrician at Stockwell station on July 22 2005.


    In a highly unusual move, the judge, Mr Justice Henriques, allowed the jury to insert a caveat into the verdict that stated that Cressida Dick, the commander in charge of the operation on the day, should not be held personally culpable for the events that unfolded.

    Met guilty over De Menezes shooting | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited

    I feel that this is justice  both delayed and denied.

    The main issue I have is with the ridiculousness of the charge. Of all the things that happened leading up to the murder of an innocent man, the only thing that was even remotely questionable in a criminal court was a health and safety omission? The mind recoils.

    The optimist may well say, at least we have a conviction. At least in practice, de Menezes has been vindicated and the Met have accepted responsibility for their failures on conviction.

    I believe that such unbounded optimism would be misplaced.

    The Met may have taken the rap for it, but as is often the case with government, they don’t bear the costs of their own failures. Will the procedures and operations of the Met change internally? Will they put in the procedures to ensure something like this cannot happen again? Will we have any real way to know until another innocent man gets shot?

    Neither will any of the myriad police officers involved that day take any personal responsibility. That the commander of the operation is to be treated as blameless troubles me. With power comes responsibility, but apparently not when your negligence results in killing with unlawful authority for the right people.

    Instead after a series of errors so atrocious that we have to pretend this performance was comedic to deal with it., we must accept that no one will take the slightest blemish in their professional lives.

    It feels wrong at so many levels.

    This article from The Guardian looks behind the oil boom in Alberta, Canada. They have the second largest proven oil reserves in the world due to the unique tar sand, a greasy  combination of oil and sand, expensive and difficult to extract, that have recently become viable. 

    With the oil market as it is, there’s a boom in the local economy.

    Extraction though, is coming at a human and environmental cost. For the small town that serves as the staging post for the oil companies, that impact looks to be truly devastating.

    This article brings home the reality of the modern miracle, and at the same time highlights how dysfunctional human society can be when caught in moments of change and turmoil. In snapshots like this, brutality and opportunity, seem to have a lewd way of walking hand in hand.

    As the Middle East has become more unstable, as Iraq has boiled into chaos, other, more unexpected places have flourished, and none more so than Fort McMurray.

    Five hours’ drive north of Edmonton, in Alberta, it has always been a frontier town, and even before the first white explorers came fur-trapping, the Indians knew that this place sat on oil – they used it to waterproof their canoes.

    The trouble has always been that it’s not conventional crude, easily liberated from the earth, but tar sands (also known as oil sands) – a mixture of sand, water and heavy crude which is much more difficult and expensive to extract. It can cost about Can$26 ($US27; £13) a barrel to do so – so when that was comparable to the price of oil, there was no point in trying; now that oil is close to breaking the $100-a-barrel barrier, there definitely is.

    Aida Edemariam on the environmental impact of the tar sands of Alberta in Canada | Environment | The Guardian

    Child workers, some as young as 10, have been found working in a textile factory in conditions close to slavery to produce clothes that appear destined for Gap Kids, one of the most successful arms of the high street giant.

    Speaking to The Observer, the children described long hours of unwaged work, as well as threats and beatings.

    Gap said it was unaware that clothing intended for the Christmas market had been improperly subcontracted to a sweatshop using child labour. It announced it had withdrawn the garments involved while it investigated breaches of the ethical code imposed by it three years ago.

    Indian ‘slave’ children found making low-cost clothes destined for Gap | World | The Observer

    Three things strike me about this story

    First that big companies no longer get away with exploitive globalization. Reporters are checking their supply chains and the resulting publicity rebounds badly on their key selling point, the Brand. When you sell an image, things that damage that image require supervision.

    Secondly that consumers are more interested in stories like this and aware of them. It’s on the front page of The Guardian, even when the leg work was done by The Observer. Consumers want to be ethical in their spending and won’t accept overtly exploitative behaviour. At the same time this story will disappear within a few weeks and those same consumers will forget. Once you establish a dominant image in peoples’ mind, it takes a lot to uproot the default assumptions.

    Finally, that India’s economic miracle is coming at a similar price to China’s. I’ve shared esoterically my disquiet about the way these miracles happen and  the human price paid for progress. I freely confess that I have no idea how else it can be done, or how this choice can be made between progress and exploitation, or even if any balance is possible.

    In the meantime though,


    Something that caught my eye today whilst surfing:-

    Most mosques in the Western world pose no threat to non-Muslim citizens; but a few do pose such a danger, because of the hatred that is preached in them. In such cases police forces generally have the legal armoury they need to step in and make arrests if necessary.

    Quashing extremism will surely be easier in an atmosphere where the founding and running of mosques is an open, transparent business. As Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president, once said: It is not minarets which are dangerous; it is basements and garages which hide secret places of worship.

    Will someone please tell the Swiss? Politicians from two of the biggest political parties are seeking to insert a sentence into the country’s constitution forbidding the building of minarets.

    Measures of this sort exemplify the bigotry that lies behind much of the opposition to mosque building in Europe. Christians in the West have long complained about how hard it is for their brethren in Muslim lands to build churches. Fair enough. But they should practise what they preach.

    Mosques in the West | Islam, the American way |

    I’d never though about this before.

    It puts the building program that Maula has carried out in the Western world in perspective, explaining why its still much harder in Western Europe, where progress has been, and continues to be, difficult, compared to the USA where the difficulties have proven easier to surmount.

    Generally it seems Protestants are more forgiving of strangers in their midst compared to Catholics. Common Law countries also seem more welcoming than civil law countries. Is any of this causation as opposed to mere correlation? Not a clue.

    It’s curious though.

    EDIT : Zed has rightly pointed out that I should have used the word masjid in the title of this post, which is the proper Arabic word for mosque in the bohra community as well as in the broader Islamic world. I’ve decided to leave this post unchanged for the moment, and am writing a post on how we use words symbolically as well as for their meaning to give this observation and its implications proper thought.