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Ink – by Alistair Acraman


There’s a fly in the ointment
It’s started to sink
It slipped on the paper
And had a blue drink

She’s a bluebottle now
And lives with a sheep
She forgot about paper
But ink stained so deep



The Petchey Academy is an new state school in East London. It had its “grand opening” on the 14th May 2008. Although it is a state school, it has been primarily sponsored by the millionaire Jack Petchey, through the government’s “City Academy” program.

There are many surprising and disturbing aspects of this school, but the most immediately striking is the use of CCTV. The school’s own website gives a description of the CCTV system on the Petchey Academy Security page.

The building is fully scanned by CCTV cameras throughout the day (and night) and has been cleverly designed to avoid “blind” areas, thus reducing the possibility of bullying.

Essentially, all areas of the school are under constant surveillance. The justification given for this massively intrusive use of technology is to reduce the possibility of bullying.

Bullying is a problem in schools. Bullying can be very harmful to pupils, and can have extreme effects on their mental well being. However, the use of constant surveillance to combat the occurrence of bullying raise other, wider, questions about the role of schools and the nature of childhood.

Jeremy Bentham was a philosopher who proposed and designed a prison called the Panopticon in the late 1700s. It was a prison that was arranged so that the prisoners could always be watched by the guards, although the prisoners would never actually know if the guards where watching at any particular time.

The CCTV in the Petchey Academy works in exactly this way. The pupils don’t know if they are being watched at any given instance; but they may be being watched any or all of the time. The idea of the prison was to prevent the prisoners from wanting to do anything wrong. Rather than having to detect and enforce rules on the prisoners the prisoners would not dare to even perform any “wrong” action because of the possibility of being caught. The prisoner would self enforce the rules.

There is a risk that the CCTV in the Petchey Academy will have the same effect. It may even be that that is its desired effect. The pupils will not “bully” because they are afraid that they are being watched, and will be “punished”.

All humans appear to exercise choice. It seems that we have to decide what actions to take and what actions not to take. Part of how we make these decisions is to do with the things we learn when we are children. When we are very young we cannot perform many actions, so the scope of our decision making is limited. For instance, we cannot walk, so we cannot choose to run away. However, as we get older, we generally are faced with more and more complex choices, in less and less supervised situations.

Eventually we will be expected to make choices about very serious situations of injury, life and death. Whether it is a political position on a social question, like a war, or a fight outside a pub. Our past experiences are crucial in our ability to adapt to and deal with these situations.

Constant surveillance removes the right of choice from these pupils. Rather than requiring them to determine their actions be asking what they believe, and by reasoning about the consequences of their actions. We are telling them they must decide by learning or guessing then considering the reaction of the controllers of the CCTV system. This is not how they will be required to make the most pressing decisions they will have to make once they graduate from the school. Or even, the situation they will be in on the way home each night.

This is a common feature of all surveillance systems, however it is is particularly disturbing when it intrudes to such a large extent on the lives of these pupils. For maybe 7 hours per day, 5 days a week for 5 years they will be under constant surveillance. Any of their actions could be watched.

I fear, not only for their ability to construct normal social relations whilst in school under these conditions, but also for their ability to behave as social human beings in the future.

Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See


I recently saw a video about climate change being posted on facebook. Its a modern example of a logic argument known as Pascal’s Wager, which goes something like;

  • God may or may not exist
  • You can choose to believe in god or not
  • If you choose to believe in God
    • and god exists you will go to heaven
    • and god does not exist, you will have wasted effort believing in him but nothing bad will happen
  • If you choose to not believe in God
    • and god exists you will go to hell forever
    • and does not exist nothing bad will happen
  • Since you cannot know if god exists, you should believe in him anyway as the only sure way of avoiding the possibility of going to hell forever

There are many things wrong with this type of argument:

God doesn’t exist
This is the most obvious problem. There is clear evidence that God in the Christian “go to hell” formulation does not exist. This problem is also present in the video. There is a compelling body of evidence that there is global warming caused by human activity.

God may not reward belief
If you ignore the first problem, for the sake of argument, then a second problem appears. It is possible that God will send you to hell even if you believe in him; for instance if you do something especially “bad”. And he may send you to heaven even if you don’t believe in him, for instance if you do something especially “good”.

The video also has this problem. Just because we try to fix global warming doesn’t mean we will be able to. If we don’t understand what is causing it and how it works, our attempted fix could actually make the situation work. Carbon offsetting is a good example of a an attempt at a solution that is actually making the problem worse.

Here is the video:

Or watch Most Terrifying Video You’ll Ever See on you-tube.

Other problems
There are some other problems in the video which are not as apparent in Pascal’s wager.

The degree of action
There are a wide range of possible actions that could be taken to combat global warming. They have different costs, carry different risk and will give different benefits. Should we try and stop all global warming or just half of it? If we can risk a small global depression to fix part of the problem is that a better bet than risking a massive global depression to fix all of it? The video ignores this point completely.

Understanding this is essential, so we can choose the most effect measures to combat climate change without causing excessive harm to people, probably the very poor, in the process.

miss-valued outcome
The diagram in the video is drawn incorrectly. The bottom left hand corner should have global economic depression in it, not smile. This is because, in his argument, the effect of fixing global warming will be global economic depression no matter if global warming exists or not. So the only square which is not a bad outcome is really the top right square.

the effect of economic depression
The argument that we should do something about global warming depends on our ability to do something about it. It could be that during a global economic depression we would be so busy fighting hunger and poverty, and generally trying to stay alive that we would not be capable of doing anything else. This problem can already be seen in poor parts of the world, where it is very difficult to tell someone not to burn coal when they believe that burning coal is a way out of poverty.

the amount of risk
The amount of risk on each axis is very important. It could be that the risk of a total economic melt-down is low, and the risk from climate change is very high (this is what the evidence seems to indicate). However, if the evidence were the other way around then it would have an important impact on our choice. We choose to take risks every day. Crossing the road could have terminal consequences, but the risk of being run down is low, and the rewards are high (getting to the kebab shop).

It is a pity that such an invalid argument in favour of doing something about global warming has been given such prominence. We need to make correct and honest arguments supported by evidence if we are really going to tackle this problem in an effective way without causing excessive harm.

An analysis of the underlying sociological, economic, historic and political processes that have lead to the the current situation seems essential to devising a strategy for change. And a sound understanding of the science of climate change seems to be the only way we have available to help us choose effective strategies for averting the potentially massively damaging consequences of our over consumption.

Circle Pit


I love moshing. Its really very cool. You need a group of people to do it. It can be dangerous. Its always painful, if its done right. I love the self organisation. The mutual respect between the participants. Seeing someone fall down. A group of people forming a wall to protect the people on the ground and then picking them up.

Its a fantastic experience, falling down in a circle pit. Its dangerous, it can be painful, but having five total strangers grab you and hoist you up almost before you have hit the floor is a mind expanding experience. You will fall over.

I know that they look violent and aggressive. They are both of those things. There are no written rules. It seems like the most inappropriate thing that you could do in a huge crowd. Shove open a circle then start running around and slamming into the sides of it. But everyone stays calm, and they trust everyone else to stay calm. If you get badly hurt, people will help you out of the pit. If you need to get out, just walk back into the crowd and people will move.

Here is a pit at devildriver in donnington. Its not the most violent ever; but it is very large. It would have been more fun for me if I hadn’t been filming it. Hopefully I didn’t get in the way. I had a busted up leg from a pit the day before, so I decided to try to film it from the side; but then I couldn’t resist. There is some good footage of what happens when people fall down. And I fall down myself towards the end.

Video Link

Brockley, London


Brockley Wall

I love south east London.

Who are you?


Thirteen billion years old
I am mostly stardust
I’ve been a nebula
And born into a star

I formed a planet
Lived there for four billion years
My ancestors were single cells
And worms, then reptiles. Some lived
In the sea, others near the
Feet of dinosaur

I’m made of the air I breath
The water I drink and the things
I eat

I’m made of onions, rain, cows
and chicken

After I die, I might become
Soil and grass, maybe a
Cow or a chicken or
A worm

One day a star may swallow
My planet
I’ll be fire again, the
Star will burn out. Maybe
We’ll be a nebula

Who are you?



I found some spiders in my Garden. Loads of them. I didn’t know what they where at first, I knocked a bush and a whole bunch of them started dropping out of the cluster dangling down on threads. Trying to hide maybe. There were two distinct clusters of them. Once we had all recovered from the shock, I noticed some of the spiders starting to run up a strand. A stream of tiny spiders following each other up a nearly invisible thread.

There where a load of spiders at the top, running about; some of them dropping back down on long threads. They seemed to be building a web. I fetched my camera, and spent quite a while taking photos (or at least working out how to take photos of such small things).

They had a bunch of tiny flys caught up in their web. Including one that was still struggling.

Spiders cooperating on a leaf

The day after, I went to watch a friend playing music in the pub. And, as often happens when I’m listening to good music, my mind went spinning off thinking about what these things where. About how energy had managed to congeal into a guitar and some tables. Into people with ears and fingers and apparently subjective opinions on music.

I thought about the spiders. About what they where doing between the leaves, catching flys. It occured that probably the same process, the same features of the nature of existence, had led to both behavours. That there was nothing more sophisticated about me in a pub, than these spiders in a web.

The same simple mechanism led to both startling outcomes;

  • Inheritance of traits from one generation to the next
  • Variation between organisms
  • A selection pressure, by death and failure to reproduce, of organisms which are better suited to their environment

Spiders cooperating in catching food

I feel that I have been filled with ideas of my own human superiority, that we choose all the things that we are good at to decide that we are higher or more valuable. Consciousness, art, science, sport. All things which I’m quite fond of, but if I wanted to pick a bunch of measurements that showed humans are better than their environment – thats probably what I would pick.

Building webs without the aid of tools would not be.



Inspired by Danny Shine’s leaflet (see below), here is my version of his meditations. The idea is not to believe or disbelieve the statements, but instead just to take one and experience it for a minute or two.

  1. What if the only time is now, and the future and the past are just my expectations and memories?
  2. What if there is only one thing – everything – and all other divisions are arbitrary?
  3. What if most of the things I know are not true, nor correct, reasonable or even good; but are only functional or random?
  4. What if there is no reason or purpose to anything, only what exists now?
  5. What if your nationality, your language and your name are just figments of a collective imagination?
  6. What if you are exactly as important as everything else?
  7. What if I am no more who I was yesterday, than I am who you where yesterday?
  8. What if there is no good or evil, no right or wrong, just existence and what you choose to do?

Church of Reality


I came across this site, after taking a leaflet from a man who was standing on a step ladder in Leicester Square (not Piccadilly Circus as I wrote in an earlier version). He had a sign which read, ‘Don’t believe anyone including me’.

The Church of Reality site was in the further reading section of his leaflet. The site has some pretty interesting stuff on it, including a link to Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (worshiped by Pastafarians). I do ocassionally tell people that the true creators and controllers of the universe now reside in my fridge, and, although undetectable by any means, are in fact shaped like small rhinoceroses.

The man with the step ladder has a blog, and I think is called Danny Shine.



This picture has been in the news today. When a star like our sun runs out of fuel it can shed its outer layers and become a type of star called a white dwarf. In the future, maybe around 5 billion years from now, it is possible that a similar thing will happen to our sun.

The upshot, some of the staggering beauty, of this, is that everything I am, everyone I know, everywhere I have ever been may one day look like this;

Helix Nebula

As I sit here, that thought overwhelms me. Everything seems clear, or just unimportaint. It won’t last, but each time I feel closer to something. Closer to my surroundings, closer to defeating the walls that have built up around me. The walls of ignorance and fear which are the legacy of our evolution, culture and environment.