Thursday, 27 September 2007

"I am a Spartacus order." "No, I am a Spartacus order..."

The unsavoury allegations about Alisher Usmanov have been well-publicised, by the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan among others. Nice-guy Usmanov hired nice-guy laywers Schillings to protect him, and they forced a couple of blogs to be removed from the web, hence killing the story dead. A bit. Usmanov's also (maybe) trying to buy Arsenal FC, who are now desperately backtracking, blaming the "wrong sort of millions" or somesuch.

So who are Schillings, and why did their attempt to kill a story instead cause it to mushroom? They're not inexperienced in such matters. In fact, besides claiming credit for "Hasselhoff wins apology from OK!", they also boast of past success regarding "The internet attacker". Their sob story begins:
Our client was the founder and CEO of a financial services company. An anonymous source created a website which accused our client of assault, various financial crimes and unethical behaviour.
Like most people, lawyers are of course paid to do a job, not paid to be nice, so perhaps it's unreasonable to hope that their response was to ask whether their client was guilty of assult or other "unethical" (not to say illegal) behaviour. Then maybe attempt to put his side of a complicated story, or spin the news agenda a bit? No - Schillings take the lawyer-ish way out and kill the story. As they say:
The internet is not lawless. All the laws that apply to traditional publications apply, plus new regulations have been created. In this instance we:
  • applied to Court for a "Spartacus" order requiring the source to identify himself or his ISP and webhost to identify him; and
  • contacted the host, ISP and various search engines advising them that even though the allegations had physically been posted in the US they were defamatory under UK law as they could be accessed here;
  • search engines and ISPs removed the material.
Once the source was outed and starved of the oxygen of publicity, he quickly settled to avoid a defamation claim.
But can you "out" someone and starve them of publicity at the same time? "Hey everyone! Ignore that person! That person we're pointing to over there!"

However, it is worth being reminded that "The internet is not lawless"...

Packets of tumbleweed get switched past... a man appears in a #000000 hat, riding a #000000 horse into the domain. Doors and other portals slam close and Windows are shuttered. The terrified townsfolk cower, peering out between hubs and from behind hyperlinks. Is he threatening wikivandalism? Denial of service? He sure looks mean...
'Not so fast,' says, straightening its #FFFFFF hat while cocking its gun. The man under the #000000 hat spins round, his right hand reaching for his perl-scripted revolver, but that's the last thing he ever does. Two shots ring out, the stranger pauses, frowns, then falls to the floor, his server crashing for the last time. No reboot hill for him. mounts its #FFFFFF horse and rides into the peaceful sunset... The inevtiable comedy-drunk staggers out, leading the grateful crowds on to Main Street, shouting "Who was that stranger? He saved us all!" As if in answer, the wind whips a torn sheet of fanfold paper. The bank manager grabs it and reads out loud:
10 PRINT "I am a Spartacus order! No, "
20 GOTO 10

Thursday, 20 September 2007

I have an enormous optic chiasm

Paul Pierre Broca was a French surgeon and anatomist, with degrees in literature, maths and physics too. In 1861, he described two patients who had lost the ability to speak. After they died, he examined their brains, figured out which bits were knackered and planted his flag there. Recently, these brains, which had been pickled in alcohol (which I'm sure partly explains the original loss of speaking) were scanned using new technology, and it was found that the damage was NOT in Broca's area, but was quite widespread and different in each case.

So should Broca's area be renamed? Or even moved? Mais non! as he would have said, being French and all. For this is the man who also proposed "Broca's rule", viz. that a man should weigh as many kilos as he is centimetres more than one meter. By jingo, he's right! Which means that every centimetre of my body, starting roughly with the tops of my thighs, must weight about one kilogram. I'm not sure whether to be horrified or delighted, so I shall be neither.

A more contemporary brain expert is Dan Hodgins of Flint, Michigan, where he is some kind of educational advisor. He's recently been noted for his claim that in girls' brains, "the crockus is four times larger than in boys". Some people seem surprised by this claim based on the trifling technicality that it doesn't even exist. When pressed, Hodgins claimed it was named after a Dr Alfred Crockus. Who also doesn't exist.

However, I'm with Hodgins on this one: if we limit our claims about neuroscience merely to those brain regions that exist, then we are hobbling ourselves necessarily. This needless entrammelling is a classical sign of people with an under-developed habenular nucleus. Those of us with larger habenular nuclei, which I'm sure includes Hodgins, are quite prepared to go beyond mere observation of reality when we need to win an argument. For example, I have an enormous optic chiasm. If you stand on one side, you can't even see the other side. Admittedly, that's partly due to the high cloud density in the area because of excess moisture in my infundibulum. What they don't teach you at school (and, frankly, shouldn't) is the importance of maintaining a tiny uncinate fasciculus. This can be achieved through a series of meditation/filing exercises: just close your eyes, and visually sort all of your body parts into alphabetic order for 15-20 minutes a day. I do. It does me wonders. To do the rest of the world wonders, I recommend changing your olfactory bulb if you haven't already done so, especially in these times of climate change worries. Use a low-energy replacement, such as a middle temporal gyrus, or even an inferior temporal gyrus, if you don't mind making that little extra sacrifice for the good of humankind.

Thank you.