Thursday, July 28, 2005

Voices in the wilderness

United we stand, divided we fall... or do we? The message overwhelming the public airwaves and tabloids these days is that "we stand together" in the face of adversity. The call from media and MPs alike to remember that "we are one" when confronted by a common enemy is striking, bold, and gives us hope.

But it's all too easy to get carried away in a tidal wave of patriotic affirmation, to try and find meaning in a world we can't fully understand, yet perceive to be going tits up. And so it's all too easy to rally alongside the calls for strength. But in echoes of the post-September 11th USA, it takes a lot more strength to go beyond this, and to question the majority.

It's worth highlighting, then, the few people in a position of power who are willing to put their reputation on the line, and challenge the official line no matter who tries to shout them down.

Props, then, to Dr Mohammed Naseem, chairman of Birmingham's Central Mosque, who seeks to remind us that "we cannot give our blind trust to the government", and actually remembers such frivolities as "democracy and ... law" while MP for the area, Khalid Mahmood, tries to dismiss his remarks as trying to "make cheap political points".

And shouts out to one Cherie "Blair" Booth, who spoke these words in Malaysia:

"at the same time it is all too easy for us to respond to such terror in a way which undermines commitment to our most deeply held values and convictions and which cheapens our right to call ourselves a civilised nation"

Perhaps her husband should remember this as he embarks upon his next mission.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Secret Police

Muslims are a bit nervy, understandably, and would like Police to let out some information about who they shot and why. Blair seems to think otherwise, and still refuses to link anything with Iraq - although manages to trace the problem back further than that... Iraq is merely the tip of a historical iceberg, but that doesn't excuse Mr B in the slightest.

I'm in London tomorrow. I shall be getting a bus and sitting downstairs. I'm not afraid to be afraid... (I'm also not willing to take the fall for what other people should be taking responsibility for.)

Thursday, July 21, 2005

New Scientist and Suicide Bombers

I'm not sure whether I should post this or not since it relates to a site that requires paid membership to read.

New Scientist has an opinion piece in the latest edition (23rd July) about the phsychology of a suicide bomber - basically how to convert ordinary people to 'the cause'.

It's fascinating, if disturbing, reading.

Basically (and trying very hard to avoid copyright issues) it argues that the suicide bomber does what they do because of peer pressure - that is, once they have made a pact within the group it is very difficult for any individual within the group to pull out even though they will die in the process.

The article contains reference to Dr. Ariel Merari and his ongoing work into the psychology of the suicide bomber. He appeared before the "Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism" in the US. A transcript of that appearance can be found here.

More disturbing reading I'm afraid, but relevant.


London DDoSed

In computer security, closing down the entire system when faced with an incoming attack is stupid. If you can trigger the shutdown easily, then you're effectively denying service to the system - a DoS attack. There's obviously a line between destroying the system and making it inaccessible, but the end result is mostly the same.

Dummy explosions shut down London.

The terrorists have already won if they can force us into submission through a few well placed empty bags/telephone calls, and we're so gullible that we believe that the only way out is to keep a stuff upper lip.

Some Assistance

Armando Iannucci in the Telegraph: Fear not, Mr Clarke - I've got the answers

A battlefield of lies and language

The news has been too disturbing to take in the last week or so, hence a lack of more regular updates. The political sphere has, once again, bound itself up in a whirlwind of tough talk and arrogant planning, leading to the all-too-familiar fall-back of tougher laws and a hard-nosed attitude. Despite the continual claim that the "terrorists will not win", support for further government/police power to save our doomed arses is up and rolling. The lists are being drawn up, but it remains to be seen who gets to question who or what is on them.

The BBC reports that Blair is meeting police and intelligence to work out what new police powers we need (including phonetap logs as permissible evidence in court) to prevent crime - no, wait - to prevent ideology. Blair has already shrugged off yet more criticism of the Iraq war, following a leaked government document that claims the war continues to act as a focus point for terrorist motivation. A point that Chatham House and the ESRC agree with in their "Security, Terrorism and the UK" report.

The BBC quotes Blair as saying:

"Of course these terrorists will use Iraq as an excuse," ... "They will use Afghanistan. September 11, of course, happened before both those things and then the excuse was American policy on Israel."

The FT adds to this:

"We have got to be very careful that we don’t enter into a situation where we think if we make some compromise on some aspect of foreign policy, these people are going to change. They are not going to change."

Will Mr Blair sweep the views of Ken Livingston* aside too, in his quest for world peace? Or will he continue to delude himself (and us along with it) into thinking that we're being attacked just for who we are?

As far as I can see, Blair accepts no responsibility for the games he and the rest of the leaders play on the global stage. The world of political spin he wants the media and the people to believe is a fantasy world in which good fights evil and light will defeat dark. Alas, the idea of the chosen one prevailing only worked for Keanu Reeves because he went out of his way to look good. Without the magic of Hollywood, Blair's going to have to face up to the real world some day. In the meantime, people can keep on squabbling and dying.

* Ken manages to over-simplify some things, such as the American's relationship with Bin Laden, but generally points in the right direction (which is as much as any of us can ask for these days).

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Home Office defeated by small child

OK, possibly a slightly misleading headline, but it made me laugh... Anyway, 15-year-old "W" in Richmond has won his case against a 9pm curfew. Naturally, the Home Office will be appealing (although not in that sense), their main argument apparently being that W "had never been stopped by police inside a dispersal area", so was unable to 'claim'.

A Home Office spokeswoman is cited:

"Whilst not limited to young people, 'teenagers hanging around' is a big cause of concern to the public as cited in the British Crime Survey."

And therein lie so many reasons as to why the future of the country is in doubt. Do we actually understand our younger generation any more? Who can say. Do we expect them to just behave, despite the huge amount of pressure (socially, educationally and commercially) for them to conform to whatever-we've-decided this week?

I'm not a parent, but will continue to question our whole attitude towards the people who will be taking over the country when we're too old to run it anymore. The politicians will persist in claiming that parents should take responsibility for the actions of their children, and they're partially right. But they're also absolving themselves of any responsibility to society invested in them when they became MPs. The kicker is that adults and children alike are still part of a social fabric that all of us are a part of. Responsibility for anyone in that fabric also partially lands upon all of us, but so far (and increasingly moreso) our response is to look the other way, and hope things we don't like get "mopped up" by the police.

And then we'll be shocked when we do one day find ourselves in a police state.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Pledgetastic Fantastic!

You wil, I'm sure, be delighted to learn that the NO2ID pledge on ID cards is successful (10,001 people signed up as I write).

Now is the time to capitalise on that and pile on the pressure to MPs and others involved in the bill.

Today is a good day.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

Hitting the Fan

A morning of bomb blasts paralyses London, and with it much of the network and travel infrastructures of the South East.

Already the obvious middle-Eastern terrorist links are suspected - but not confirmed. The timing coincides with many things - the 2012 Olympic announcement, G8, and Bush's birthday (yesterday), but for me none of these make much sense. I'd be heartly surprised to learn that the chaos didn't arise out of our foreign policy and our perceived chumminess with said Bush. When local politics is so internationalised, other people's problems become our own.

But what to expect in the aftermath - or indeed right now, for that matter? America used terrorist attacks to authorise increasingly dictatorial laws. Spain used attacks to vote in a more left-wing policy. I suspect, in my sceptical state, that we can expect Blair and Clarke to follow the former on this, alas. I suspect the headlines will be full of mournful (naturally) cabinet ministers. This is fair. But what I also expect to see is resumed rhetoric on the nature of the beast we're "at war with", about the "British resolve" and about not "succumbing to murderers".

Well bollocks to that. Over the next few days, we need pressure on the MPs to remind them that all this shit comes out of their decisions, and their pulling strings on the world arena. And we need to question these decisions, constantly.

We need to remember that we already have full-on security processes, and yet stuff like this still happens because the causes are still being created on a day-to-day basis. When Blair presses for increased surveillance, ubiquitous tracking systems and the renewed urge for an ID system, don't ever forget that there are much, much larger problems that lead to such unrest, and that if we're to get to the bottom of them, we need much, much better action than simply watching over us all and pretending the problem will go away.

Fear is here, and the politicians will be very willing to capitalise on it.

Update: In his statement, Blair says:

"It is important however that those engaged in terrorism realise that our determination to defend our values and our way of life is greater than their determination to cause death and destruction to innocent people in a desire to impose extremism on the world."

Tell that to these people. (And yeah, I know that's US bombs. Big difference.)

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

IT's no good in Whitehall

The Guardian reports on 70 failing Whitehall IT projects, that we touched on before.

It's great to see a number of people picking up on the secrecy of the OGC reports about these projects. AFAICS, there is no "confidentiality" excuse to keep things private when public systems are being constructed for the public with the public's money. That excuse again? From the article:

The OGC's chief executive, John Oughton, has declined to publish any of the critical reports - citing as the reasons commercial secrecy and the possible prejudicing of "the effective conduct of public affairs by inhibiting full and frank discussion".

There are probably 2 aspects here. Firstly, "commercial secrecy" may refer to implementation-based trade secrets that vendors are disclosing to the government in order to seal bids. I guess. Secondly, there is a clash between the image promoted by companies to the public, and the image actually given through "frank discussion". Perhaps this is what Oughton means in his quote.

This is pretty preposterous, either way. This means, effectively, that the inner workings and progress of processes for some of the most money-sucking IT projects in the country and completely obscured to public scrutiny. As an IT professional, this - for me - ranks alongside secret trials in which evidence cannot be presented to the public (or the defendant, for that matter) for "security reasons", in terms of the imbalanced prioritisation we've let slip into the system.

If the systems that affect us break (or even if they don't) then we should have the ability to know why they broke, and the reassurance that current and future projects arent suffering the same fundamental problems that lead to an inefficient, wasteful government. If this transparency and - above all - accountability can't be assured, then the whole system is fubar, and needs to be changed.

The implications of this on the ID Card system are just a drop in the sea.

You can come out now - I'm not going to mention ID cards!

Louise Casey, of the anti-social behaviour unit has hit the headlines and not for the right reasons. (Quotes in Bold)

"I suppose you can't binge drink anymore because lots of people have said you can't do it. I don't know who bloody made that up, it's nonsense."

On the tape, obtained by BBC News, she said some ministers might perform better if they "turn up in the morning pissed"

You may remember the reported "dressing down" that Charles Clarke received over the weekend from the Prime Minister. Well, apparently the practical upshot of this is that Louise Casey now reports direct to the PM, not to Clarke. Apparently Clarke has been trying to get rid of Louise for a while.

A Downing Street spokesman said Tony Blair retained full confidence in her.

So, how long will she remain in her job then? Two days? Three at the outside? Depending on the media storm of course.

It is unfortunate and counterproductive for the advisor involved in the overview of ASBOs to advocate binge drinking.