Tuesday, January 31, 2006

An ID card for each identity

A "curious" BBC news story from yesterday: Transsexuals 'to get 2 ID cards':

Transsexuals who have yet to have a sex-change operation will be entitled to two ID cards, Home Office Minister Lady Scotland of Asthal has said.

One would be in their gender at birth and the other in their legally-acquired "gender of designation".

It doesn't make clear whether this is as a "side-effect" of the proposed legislation, or a "feature" that the Lords have introduced. Alas, I haven't the time to check Hansard on it ("peer review", a-harr), so consider this a "bookmark for later" post.

The idea of what constitutes a unique "identity" is certainly a fascinating one...

Monday, January 30, 2006

Why Britain Sucks: The "Education" Rant

A productive, informed, happy nation (IMHO) is built upon a foundation of education - education that informs, but also education that encourages both participation and self-reliance. Unfortunately, there's a rather large study that says we're getting less intelligent.

Anyone that's actually been in the education system (rather than merely deciding what the fad subject is this year and trying to get more girls to do it) will be aware of the effect that testing has - and I highlight "effect" because this is why we're "deliberately" dumbed down. The more tests we're given, and the more league tables that depend on the tests there are, the more people are "configured" to optimise test performance by whatever means necessary. The very act of measurement has a very real effect on that being measured.

It's the same with University "Research Assessment Exercises" (RAEs), with driving tests, and possibly even with dental check-ups. You do what you can to pass, then go your own way afterwards. The amount to which education affects your progress after that could be said to be inversely proportional to the effort it's putting in to getting you through those tests. The more tests you have, the less you actually think.

But here's the scary thing. We live in a world where numbers, comparisons and measurements are the driving force of the future. When we talk about knowledge-based societies, we're talking about "tangible", codified knowledge that other people can pick up on, that can be used to make judgements, that can be fed into a computer and used to create charts or diagrams or what-have-you. So long as databases are the premium way of assessing the "health" of a nation, we will be subjected to quantitative tests which will have to be logically-tied to performance.

This means that there must be a simple mapping, from knowledge, to judgement. Things are either right or wrong. There is no longer an art or a craft to working out how well an individual is doing for themselves, nor where their future potential lies, there is only how they react under the test conditions, and how well they "rate" against others of the same classification scheme (gender, age, race, height, social background, medical discrepancies).

This is a system which categorises, sorts, and filters - a "classification" system, not an educational one. The lucky go on to become millionaires. The unlucky are squabbled over by a few persistents who have a million to share out amongst them. But the terms of existence are decided in advance, by the people who just have to have a way of working out who's better than who.

The problem is, selection criteria are subjective. Who defines success? Why, the already-successful, of course.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Chickens coming home to roost

According to today's Independent, MPs are getting a little upset about losing their right (or "privelige" today) to not be wiretapped.
MPs should be treated in the same way as other citizens and will be given the same safeguards against wrongful tapping, the Prime Minister will say.

While he's got the right stick - MPs are just people, after all, and shouldn't necessarily be afforded all kinds of fancies - he gets completely the wrong end of the stick.

It's funny, isn't it? You spend all this time complaining to MPs about privacy of the individual and such, and they bat you away citing terror concerns. Bollocks to 'em, I say. If the only time they make a stand for "principles" is when it's their skin at stake, then they're getting as much as they deserve. Perhaps there is some kind of justice in the world after all...

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Blair Blathers Blindly

What the frigging ferrets..? I go off, read some books, and when I come back all the party leaders are "podcasting" like mad! Ah, they're all so trendy and hip. I wish I was like them. Next thing you know, they'll have webpages.

But, digression in progress. I haven't bothered to listen to the Telegraph's Cameron podcast yet. Plenty time. I have grabbed the Prime Minister from the clutching grasp of the Sun though, and proceeded to vomit casually all over my keyboard. Of cours,e the problem with Podcasts is there's generally very little you can copy and paste from them. So I'm going to have to do some of my own transcripting to induce you into a similar vomit-involved situation. Fortunately, it's not very long. Probably something to do with attention spans of the target audience. I'll leave in some choice umms, but otherwise be a little more sporting than the "Just a Minute" style. I'll also leave it uninterrupted, and add my comments at the end. Here goes. Oh, and it's Pascoe-Watson, not Basket-Watson as I heard first time.

George Pascoe-Watson: This is George-Pascoe Watson, the Sun's political editor, with the Prime Minister Tony Blair in the heart of Downing Street, with the Sun's first ever podcast. Mr Blair, how would you encourage Sun readers to get involved in identifying the problem yobs in society?

Prime Minister: We're only going to be able to beat this problem if we all work together, and the vast majority of families and people in this country play by the rules. But there are a small minority who make life misery for their neighbours, and communities. And for a long time they believed they could get away with this bad behaviour. Either because they think the victims are too frightened to report them, or they feel nothing will be done even if they did report them. Slowly, in commmunities up and down the land, these thugs are learning that the rules are changing. Police, councils and local people are using the new powers we've given them to put the decent majority back in charge of their neighbourhoods. And where these powers are being used, they're having a dramatic impact. And I want to see them used right across the country. But I recognise there's still a great deal to do, so yesterday I announced a raft of new measures to step up the drive against anti-social behaviour, and that's also why I welcome the Sun campaign to help its readers identify those people who are causing real trouble in their communities. We'll make sure these names are passed on in complete confidence to the authorities, who will take action if it's needed. None of us alone, not even government can put respect back at the heart of our communities. but acting together, we can and we will.

GPW: So you actually want Sun readers whose lives are often blighted by these, uh, thugs to actually take responsibility for their communities?

PM: Yes, and realise that we're there and will back them up. Because often people are very frightened to shop people when they've got a situation where someone is perhaps causing a persistent nuisance to them, making their life difficult or hell, or they're maybe using a house in the street for drug dealing, or various kinds of anti-social behaviour, and this is a way that people can pass on this information, and then it can be checked out by the authorities. And, you know I think it's important to realise that we're giving summary powers to the police and local authorities to act, and these are tough powers. Now in the end, though, it only works if everyone's working together. Not just government giving the resources and the powers, but police and the local authorities and local people backing it up.

GPW: So it's very important that people realise you're giving them a sense of, uh, responsibility for the societies in which they live?

PM: Yes, because in the end, I can't do it sitting in Downing Street...

GPW: You can't, you can't go down their street and ...

PM: No, no, you know, sometimes you wish you could, but you can't. But it's up to people to work with the authorities and we're trying therefore to give them this opportunity to contact the authorities in confidence, and to realise that we are actually there, on their side, giving these new powers, and we can use them.

GPW: I think it's an important point you make - that people, for a long time, have felt that they are powerless to act. And you're saying to them, "you're not powerless to act, you know, here's an opportunity"

PM: Yes, I mean, some of the new powers - for example a pub or a club that's continually the scene of rowdy scenes outside with fighting and drunken behaviour, the police will have the power to shut the club - or pub - and trigger a review of their entire licence. Umm, people who use their home for persistent anti-social behaviour will be evicted - and this can happen even for a private property - if they carry on causing absolute mayhem in their local community - it can be done. Umm, where you've got gangs of youths hanging around and they're refusing to disperse, you can put fixed penalty notices on them, which will be up to 100 pounds now. Where drug dealers are, um, you know, driving down the street in a fancy car with a lot of cash on them, the police will be able to take the cash, uh, and the drug dealer will have to - or the suspected drug dealer - will have to come and prove that they got it lawfully, to get it back. You know, these powers are *tough*. Umm, where there are parents out with their kids in the middle of the day when their kids should be at school, you know, they can be subject to penalties...

GPW: Truancy is something else you're tackling today...

PM: Yeah, because it's important - I mean, this is a responsibility, of course, of police and local authorities, but primarily it's a responsibility of parents to make sure they get their kids to school...

GPW: And you basically want to tell Sun readers that you are on their side today?

PM: It's essential for people to realise thet we are there, on their side, to help get this done. We can't do it all ourselves, but we can enable people to do it for themselves.

GPW: Prime Minister, thank you very much.

PM: Thank you.

Phew. OK, well I should come clean first off, and admit that I haven't been keeping up with this respect malarkey the last couple of days. Background reading will be here and here, to start with.

But in between the fawning over the PM that Pascoe-Watson does (they interrupt each other, so there's less chance that they're the same person, but then Beavis and Butthead were the same guy...), Blair reveals his own desperation to look like he's doing something, yet again. I'm tough, I'm harsh, but I reward the good and love me oh Sun readers love me etc etc.

Unfortunately, he also shows just how muddled up he is, and just how misguided New Labour's crappy Old Thinking is.

Respect and Power are the two words you want to pay attention to here, for they're both interlinked more than anyone makes out. For instance, if I have power over you, then I have no need to respect you. Blair has a lot of power over the people of Britain, but I don't see him paying them/us much respect either. Otherwise we might have a decent voting system and a criminal justice system (rather than simply a criminal system). If he wants us to respect him for the "good work" he's putting in to make our lives nicer, then he's going to have to do a lot better than the simpering, crawling "oh look, if we work together we can sort this mess out" shite:

"We're only going to be able to beat this problem if we all work together..."

"...in the end, though, it only works if everyone's working together..."

"...it's up to people to work with the authorities..."

Oh hurrah, some responsibility? In this day and age? Heavens, responsibility's about the one thing that can save us now - responsibility to have some say over how things are run, over what happens in our neighbourhoods, responsibility for each other. So Tony's going to hand it to us is he? Bollocks he is. This sums it all up in a nutshell:

"I welcome the Sun campaign to help its readers identify those people who are causing real trouble in their communities. We'll make sure these names are passed on in complete confidence to the authorities, who will take action if it's needed."

That's right. You do the "shopping", and we'll actually handle things. You tell us what's wrong in your community, and we'll take it from there, send the boys in black in and move the troublemakers on (to do it somewhere else). Sorted. That's the responsibility you have. Telltale. Want to actually take measures to improve your neighbourhood, get people involved locally rather than excluding them, kicking them on to a soon-to-be-turned-into-a-prison community? Forget that, just let us know, and we'll arrest the bleeders.

Some people will naturally claim that tough justice, zero-tolerance, etc is a fair way forward. Here's one that argues it on the grounds of efficiency. This might be valid in some situations, but to argue for it in all cases of "anti-social" behaviour is missing the Big Picture That Sits On Your Face And Laughs.

The Telegraph's leader comment is on the right track:

"respect" has a different meaning among Britain's urban youth to that intended by Tony Blair. The word refers to the hierarchy of riches and violence that raises such terrible role models for the young; it is the code by which the weak must make way for the strong and ill-gotten wealth is preferred to honest graft.

It's no coincidence that while we are growing slack on the civility side of things (which is what Blair probably means instead), we are increasingly immersing ourselves in a culture where power, fame and money have become the benchmarks for success.

This is not a Hollywood image. This is a very real, fundamental set of values that we are plunged into the moment we're born. It's not just rap stars and DJs that give us these values. We see business-people, flanked by glass-fronted London tower-blocks, jumping in their chauffeur-driven limos, driving to their 3-kitchen country home at the weekends. We have TV programmes about buying and selling houses for profit, magazines on how to be the sexiest person ever, and adverts at every corner that are just crying out for shiny printing to be invented.

The problem is that these are all the things that Blair wants. An ever-growing economy relies on people making more and more money, which requires people to buy more and more stuff, which means that riches become increasingly a sign of status. Flash buildings are symbols of fiscal performance, international emblems that are designed to reflect something that we have and others don't.

Is it any surprise, then, that the people who most often end up embroiled in drunken, rowdy (if not maliciously-intended - I've been there...), "yobbish" antics are the very same people who hire out SUV limos for birthdays, who lust after the latest bling technology, and who will quite happily sell out their "acquaintances" for a shot at the "good life"? I don't care if I'm over-generalising. I'm saying that this happens, and on a large scale because it's what's expected.

This is the generation growing up surrounded by a competitive world, and in harsh (global, even) competition, if you respect people you don't need to, you're going to lose. That's why this backwards-arsed country is going to get far worse before any "tough measures" clear it up. The problem is Blair's too blind to tie the two together.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Eyeballing the Eyeballers

Thanks must go to Richard Veryard for bringing this Wired article on playing with CCTV to my attention. Unfortunately the website set up by Quintessenz, www.vam.com, doesn't seem to be responding at the moment. But nevertheless, now you too can watch the watchers via a simple Google search.

Stuttgart airport, for instance, might interest the plane-spotters amongst you.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

"Tagging": Buzzword of the 21st Century

Hello, and a happy new year to all. Things have been a but quiet here recently as festivities have taken their well-earned toll. Part 2 still to come, but catching up with some news snippets in the meantime...

Nanny state, nanny state, gotta have a nanny state... Hutton wants to tag absentee dads now if they're not paying their fair share of child support. Uh.. why? I can be in the same road as someone and never see them. Or is the default response to any irritating behaviour now to restrict people's movement?

Meanwhile, the Home Office reminds us that there are always, annoyingly, people involved in any kind of system, despite however much the government tell us computers will take care of all the work. Gah. Inquiry into 'sex for visa' claim.