Thursday, December 06, 2007

Translating Andy Burnham's Codshit

The Ideal Government Project has the best explanation of Burnhamspeak* ever. Read it read it read it.

* Hmm. "Burnhamspeak" is a horrible word - there must be something catchier than that out there?

Monday, December 03, 2007

You're Niked, Son.

So the link between economics, culture, and behaviour is identified finally. Can we expect a discussion on the role that capitalism plays in the "sponsorship" of our society and our desires?

No, but we can track the branded-hoodie-wearing suspect louts. That's a much better solution.

(Of course, expect new legislation to require all trouble-makers to wear brands once this kicks in - otherwise they escape the system. Only outlaws will wear plain clothes.)

(Addendum: Danah Boyd has a thought-provoking article that links loosely to this, on web advertising and American demographics. Certainly more work needs to be done on the link between consumerism and "identity", I think.)

Friday, November 23, 2007

Tag Closing: News Grab-Bag

Some Stuff I Have Been Meaning to Post But Not Got Round to Doing So Yet. Until now.All for now.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Data Sensitivity: All About the Money

As a follow up to my last post, it looks like the cost of securing information is perhaps to blame - or rather, the pressure to cut costs is...
The department was under pressure to cut costs and it did not want to pay an IT firm to remove sensitive information from the Child Benefit register, the Tories say.
Money and efficiency vs doing things properly, the inevitable dilemma of our time?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Hacking Bureaucracy gets you in Bureaucratic Trouble

There's a small story going round at the moment about the government misplacing* 25m peoples-worth of data. As ever, SpyBlog dig out the pertinent details and asks the relevant questions. Meanwhile, back in press-coverage land, the focus has shifted from Darling to Brown, and one can't help but think the question of accountability has gone with it. Which is a shame. The question of accountability is a good one, but only as a starting point.

* preferable to the word "losing" as the originals are still there...

Rather than arguing over who's responsible and whose job is on the line, maybe we should take a step back and question the possible link between accountability, management bureaucracy, and why the loss occurred in the first place. It's clear that the request and task of sending the data off landed on the desk of a junior worker. Naturally, ignorance of the importance of identity data is still abundant these days (mostly due to people over-hyping identity theft and other problems, such as actual passwords or cards being stolen, being generally bigger). Procedures should have been in place to have such a request escalated - certainly the rules were.

But is this the problem? Anyone who's old enough to smoke (not that that's relevant) knows how much emphasis is placed on bureaucracy in the public sector. Bureaucracy is there to ensure transparency, enforce standards, and keep in place some form of accountability. What it does not do is make things more efficient. Both are important, and hence getting the balance right between the two extremes is the challenge of the day.

Can this shed some light on why this happened then? Can the task of getting data out be explained in terms of a resistance to over-bureaucratisation, a workaround to avoid the inefficiencies of the system? Those who have worked know how tempting it is to just slip something past, just look the other way while something we know should be done is hodge-podged, because if it isn't, that deadline is never going to be hit, and/or someone's going to shout a lot. (The irony is, of course, that bureaucracy loves deadlines too.)

This isn't to defend the actions of anyone. It's merely to suggest a link between the accountability we want in the system with measures to work around the "side effects" of that accountability. Concentrating solely on who's going to take the fall seems to be the (again bureaucratic) modern approach to such issues, but this fails to work out why this actually happening. (This is why party politics no longer matters - the system is bigger than the parties now, and things would be the same no matter who was in power.)

Meanwhile, scant details and increased finger-pointing just leave the public to ring up companies in their panic. At least it's slightly better handled than the Northern Rock PR fiasco, but we're still not getting out of the Groupthink Ditch that blights most national-scale problems. Here's a nice video to at least facilitate laughing the whole thing off until next time:

Elevator Candid, Must See... - The funniest movie is here. Find it

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

"This Sucks. Do it More."

2 "studies" getting squeezed out the media poophole this morning share a common theme. Today's magic shape is the "vicious circle", that old inescapable whirlwind of myopic thought and delusional feedback mechanisms.

The first study backs up my "London is a Black Hole" theory - the city (mainly in a South Park lilt) now accounts for 20% of the UK economy. That's an entire fifth. As the CoL policy guy Michael Snyder says, "Commitment to keeping London at the top of its game internationally is vital." What does this mean, but focusing more effort on promoting London, and less on the rest of the nation?

In a way, I wish it were easy to dismiss such quotes ("Pins are great!" says pin company CEO) but all my instinct says that the sway of London is generally sucking more and more resources in - the network effect. In other words, not having a (generally physical) connection to London means you actively lose out, so expect that 20% to go up higher. So much for a diverse and distributed economy (or culture). Instead get everyone to live in the same swamp and let them dream of exploiting others enough to earn enough cash to buy a Scottish Island.

The second study is largely a problem of attempting to grab headlines, which it does with style: Obesity 'not individuals' fault', the BBC reports with its favoured quotemarks. Rhetoric of "sleepwalking" invoke memories of the allusions to Orwell, but here the analogy seems a little cheaper. Wouldn't sleepwalking at least get you a bit of exercise? Maybe this should be an official policy, to be expanded into sleep-shotputting and sleep-marathoning as we prepare for the Olympics.

The report seems to paint the darkest of pictures (here's the PDF summary) - individuals have decreasing choice over being fat, the market fails and government policies have no proof of working. Fatness, it seems, is our destiny.

So the answer is apparently a much larger effort, a national focus rather than smaller, piffling bagatelles. In other words, having accepted that people no longer can resist being fat themselves, the most effective solution is to force them to exercise. OK, I'm extrapolating a little, but if a serious campaign is undertaken, it seems like a centralised approach is the only feasible policy. Why? Why does the government do anything? Because individuals and markets can't be trusted.

Of course, the word "if" is a big one here. There seems to be very little admonishment - although some implicit acknowledgement - of the actual causes. The report authors blame "a society [of] energy-dense, cheap foods, labour-saving devices, motorised transport and sedentary work" - hey, hang on, isn't that what we've been wanting all this time? I thought the whole attraction of Markets + Technological Progress was that a) we didn't go hungry and b) we could have a better "quality of life" without resorting to slavery? Plus if I'm not indulging, then I'm not propping up the economy, right?

Ah, the dilemma of whether we force ourselves, collectively, to get up off our butts and go through the whole "no pain, no gain" excuse. This is exactly why the road ahead is buggered, whichever way we go. As individuals, we don't like effort. As a country, we don't want to be seen as "unprogressive" - which means selling technology. And as government, we don't want to give up either money or control. But it's that control - control over lifestyles and how much more people can consume - that is killing us in the first place.

Expect more crappy policy recommendations this afternoon.

Update: ChickYog's rant is way better than mine.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Ian Blair goes Sci-Fi, reveals 50-day Determinism

I'm probably wrong about this, but the simplified logic of Ian Blair's argument for more detention time makes it difficult to discuss details. He say: More people wanting to be terrorists means more need to extend the 28-day limit.

Isn't this a parallel-vs-serial thing*? Originally, the extension was put forward because yadda-something-about-hard-drives-yadda. More time was needed because the case of an individual required it. Yet here the argument seems to be that we need more time because there are more cases abound (probably in the lead up to Halloween when witches and terrorists are abroad).

To me, that's a bit like saying there are more motorists on the road, so individual car drivers need more time at the petrol pump**. Surely what's needed is more petrol pumps, not more time.

Maybe there's an argument to be made in terms of resources - more cases to investigate (after detention) means less resources, spread more thinly, so more time is needed per individual? But then surely you just need more pumps resources? And besides, more people, being held for more time drastically increases the resources and overheads you need to cover.

Where are the fora for debate over this? I'm getting tired of poor logic and insubstantial argument being used to back-up what are effectively rhetoric- and emotion-based policy. Strip away the "veneer" and the argument is this: if you don't want to be blown up, let us detain you all for 3 months. As it is, Blair's explanation for increasing detention time is based on fear and rumour, and leaves "inevitability" as the only reason for doing anything.

* Sidenote: Heh, a "parallel killer" would be an interesting news story.
** Wow, I pulled that analogy out of my arse... Must be a Tuesday.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Anarchist' Cookbook turns Teens into Terrorists

Was there any Internet-obsessed teenage boygeek in the 1990s that didn't have a copy of the (Jolly Roger) Anarchist's Cookbook, or at least knew a BBS to get hold it from? And did any of them actually try anything out of it? OK, well, yes to both questions probably. Boys have a certain fascination with making things explode. It's what drives people to go to the moon, buy fireworks, and, uh, start "shock and awe" tactics. Booms impress. Boys like to impress, ergo...

These days, of course, possession of such material gets you in court. According to a prior article, the 2 terrorism-related charges are "the possession of material for terrorist purposes" and "the collection or possession of information useful in the preparation of an act of terrorism". I'm assuming he was one of those boys that did try out some of the recipes, and probably got found with a tennis ball and some matchsticks on his person. Was he going to take down the country? Hmm.

Information is dangerous, but it's also, well, informative. Speech is dangerous, but it's also necessary to be able to decide between "good" and "bad". Possessing information alone shouldn't be a crime.

Addendum: Interestingly, according to wikipedia, the author turned Christian in 2000 and has tried to have the book removed from publication. However, the publishers have control over it rather than he, and keep on printing it out...)

There's also a FAQ and History of the book, which has probably the best dis-endorsement of the "terrorist material" available:
Smoking peanut skins? Hacking phone systems made obsolete 18 years ago? Instructions on how to make nitro-glycerine that will sooner give you acid burns than enable you to yield a true product! I mean COME ON! Anyone that bought this crap deserved to meet the terrible consequences of following any of the instructions within the anarchist cookbook.
Precisely. Actually, the page also highlights just how difficult it is to say that someone has a copy of the Cookbook, as there are a hundred and one different variations on it anyway. Infamy spreads diverse imitation.

There are also a variety of logically-illegal links from there too. But, as the site says, "most of the people who are injured by explosives are injured because of what they do not know, not by what they do know." In fact, by arresting this 17-year old kid and going on about how "evil" the Cookbook is (not, you'll notice, how dangerous to the self it is), there's even more of a chance 17 year old boys will Google it and seriously injure themselves. Clap clap.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Odd Security Court Cases in 2 Parts

Part I: Letter-bombing caretaker jailed. End of the paper trail for Miles Cooper (covered in the previous post) who apparently wanted to bring awareness to the surveillance state after his Dad couldn't get his DNA off the database. This bit what the judge said caught my eye:
"Anyone who tries through violence or threat of violence to change the political will is a terrorist and that is precisely what you did."
Now, is it just me, or does claiming that "The Terrorists [tm] are among us!" also amount to a "threat of violence"? Maybe Bin Laden threatening to blow stuff up if stuff don't happen is on a similar line to a politician claiming that if we don't have certain changes in law, then we'll get blown up. Either way, fear of being blown up is a strong emotive argument. Resorting to fear seems to be not just a course for terrorists though. They're the party that carry out the violence, but resorting to perception of this violence is a powerful rhetoric tool.

Part II: Hoax calls made to get time off. Seems a pretty extreme way to take a sicky, but hey, if it works... Just goes to show though that it's not just terrorists and protesters that can bring a city to a standstill. (People going on strike and people flinging themselves on the rail should also probably be made illegal, for threatening the economic and emotional wellbeing of commuters.)

Amusingly, a recent bomb call saw my partner's train go straight through the affected station, speeding the journey up. Yay! Of course, engineering delays further down the line meant they got put back, so there's a certain sick justice in the world...

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Fighting Fire with Fire

It's interesting to see the BBC pushing the story of Miles Cooper, who's been sending letter bombs. Today's article, "Bombs sent 'in protest at state'" is just under the main headline of the Burmese protests. The previous article on Tuesday mentioned his reasons in the headline, as I recall, but it's not until the 6th paragraph down that these are noted:
He sent them because "of an overbearing and over-intrusive surveillance society," Mr Wolkind said.
I'm all for coverage of such attacks with such reasoning behind them, but one can't help but think the BBC are pushing this fairly hard - harder than needed, perhaps?

On the one hand, it could well be an interesting backlash against a surveillance society. There's a certain level of anger building up over ever-increasing acceptance of a submissive population. On the other hand, Mr Cooper might just be combining this "public" level of anger with a slightly ... deranged desire to blow shit up. Of course, without knowing him personally or reading the court transcripts, it's difficult to say which. But his method - references to animal rights on the letters - doesn't exactly pinpoint the locus of discussion he might be trying to raise.

That said, violent terrorism seems to be the protest tool of choice these days. Maybe this ties in with a question I raised ages ago - what is the best way of getting a point across, today? We don't trust politicians, or corporates, yet we let ourselves be ruled by them and buy their crap. Through tolerance, things are forced upon us - a subtle, masochistic violence. Do we need violence to counter it?

I had some thoughts on this that I'll try to coalesce and post somewhere soon.

Friday, September 21, 2007

CCTV Sucks... But how to turn Stats into Action?

Shock! Horror! Awe! Etc! Lib Dems reveal some figures which show how ineffective CCTV is at actually clearing up crimes - the average clear-up rate is about 21%, with some highly-infested areas (Hackney: 1,484 cams) just beating that (22.2%), but others falling short, despite having a few less cameras. On the other hand, some areas have less cameras, but a high solve rate (e.g. Brent have the highest: 164 cams, 25.9% clear-up).

The article confuses capture with deterrence once it spits outs its stats (and in any case, stats are worth a closer look in all circumstances). There's a certain (but not necessarily true ;) logic that says if you spend more on street lighting, CCTV camera work will be more effective, I'd think.

But reports are one thing. As with the DNA Database report from Nuffield earlier this week (apologies for not chasing that one up yet...), if things are really going to change, then we have to hammer home the points being made by these reports. We need to turn one press release into serious societal questioning. These are serious issues, and simply going "Yup, told you so" is not enough. We know we don't trust politicians, so why do we let them keep getting their way? Apathetic Acceptance is the hallmark of a successful reign of elitism, and nothing to do with how any democracy runs.

This is the big challenge now then - keeping up the momentum. Not easy in our culture of disposability, daily press releases, and feelgood politics.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Big-database-stick authoritarianism.

An intriguing turn of debate. "The whole population and every UK visitor should be added to the national DNA database, a
senior judge has said. My first thought was, naturally, WTF? But the article has a cunning line of argument. ord Justice Sedley actually says it would be fairer to put everyone on the DNA system than the system we have now. The accompanying "news" of an innocent man's DNA permanently stored certainly isn't new to anyone who's heard of the database, but serves to support the judge's point. Currently, there is very little ethical rationale behind the collection of DNA.

One of those things - you know, the map of who you are as an individual, the thing that defines your biological (and, some would claim, your mental) uniqueness - that should be discussed if it's going to start getting collected, tracked, compared. You'd thing we'd have asked questions about the appropriateness of this kind of thing already, but apparently we're all far to British to argue against something that solves crime.

Tony McNulty loves this idea, of course, although it's a shame it's just so difficult to do, you know?
"I have said in the past I think there is a case for a compulsory database. It would be a huge endeavour, both in practical terms and have real ethical and political dimensions to it"
Fortunately, even this far into the scheme, he's glad that "a debate had begun". Begun? Surely the debate should be over by now, given the nonsensical state of the "law" surrounding it.

Here are some refutals in order to contribute to the "debate":

1. McNutty claims the database "helped police solve as many as 20,000 crimes a year." Pushing the definition of "as many as" aside, what does this really mean? Would they have solved it without the database? It might make solving them easier, though, just as more surveillance might make it easier, but more on this below.

2. Readers of Dredd will find resonance with this bit of Sedley's talk:
It means that everybody, guilty or innocent, should expect their DNA to be on file for the absolutely rigorously restricted purpose of crime detection and prevention."
This gets right to the heart of the matter: everybody becomes a suspect. No longer are you tracked once you have committed a crime. Instead, you are tracked in advance, so that if when you commit a crime, you are caught. The presumption is of guilt, and the solution is to keep watch of everyone. Innocence is forced. Authoritarianism through shaking-a-big-database-stick at everyone is complete.

3. Will this actually decrease crime then? No, it just helps to catch those who commit it. As we've seen time and time again with CCTV, surveillance does not deter the delinquent, but generates it through an omission of trust and responsibility. All that stick shaking above, funnily enough, breeds contempt. Britain becomes yet more of a prison state than it already is.

Apparently the public might get consulted about all this, but the usual definition of "debate" will probably apply. Debate involves people talking with each other, but modern politics just means individuals ranting into a central set of tubes, wherein all echoes and disappears. If we want debate on the subject, and the accompanying awareness of who we really are, then we have to do it ourselves.

Erratum: Oops, that last link was from November last year. But according to the Nuffield site, the report is due out on the the 18th of this month. The "debate", of course, consisted of one "public" meeting (oddly in February 2006, with 25 people present - see the PDF notes), and a working party.

Update: ORG raise some brief, but interesting points on further uses of DNA such as family links and health issues. In other words, the potential function crepes (mmm, tasty) of the info stored have implications we can't even begin to think about. IIRC, insurance companies aren't allowed to know the results of genetic tests for disease (I may be wrong/out of date here). Why should the government? (There are many more reasons other than financial why not...)

Update 2: Spyblog has more talk and links here.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Finally Found What I'm Looking For

Via Schneier, this article on FBI informants infiltrating Muslim communities is worth a read. The railroad of causal inanity goes something like this: Feds wants to net more terrorists, so hire Informants. Informants are often ex-crims now getting paid good by FBI. Informants want to prove their worth (and not get slammed away), so Informants want muslims to have terrorist tendencies. Informants pressure muslims. Muslims persuaded into terrorism when otherwise not. More "terrorists" caught. More distrust between and within communities. More potential terrorists produced. Less potential terrorists reported.

Hussam Ayloush highlights the confusion that infests society as a whole:
"On one hand, they are asked to report suspicious activity, but on the other hand, they are left without any protection once the suspected terrorist or informant gets angry and chooses to retaliate against those who reported him"
This is similar to the problems the Police face following gang-related activity. Arresting a sole figure ignores network effects and the possibility of retribution, and in itself is a decent reason to re-think the "suspect it, report it" tactic.

But alongside this, we continue to get a very confused message. Should trouble be dealt with at a Police level, or at a Community level? If I report my friend to the Police, how does that harm a community? But if I choose to deal with it myself, am I liable to get arrested for not telling the Police? It's a lose-lose situation.

Finally, Ayloush puts his finger on a question we should all be asking:
"Are we genuinely monitoring would-be terrorists to protect the public, or are we in the business of creating terrorists so we can justify use of the funds appropriated to fight domestic terrorism?"
Too right. Nobody likes to spend money on a solution, only to find the problem has gone away, and politicians even less so. But this just leads to that vicious circle - we create terrorists because we're looking for them, we find them, so we look more. (Also ignoring the economic benefits of creating a war, of course.) Every time we see a house get raided and a couple of Arab guys carted away, every time we think "Tut. But he was such a nice boy." That's when we're vindicating our own sense of fear.

See also: Channel 4 distorts mosque.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Better to go topless?

Warning for T-Shirt slogan:
The slogan on the garment read: "Don't piss me off! I am running out of places to hide the bodies".

Peterborough City Council said using insulting or offensive language was an offence, even if it appeared in print.
Faint reminiscence of a guy being stopped in Brighton for an anti-Blair/Bush t-shirt. Maybe this shows that being anti-anti-terrorism is, in fact, just a way of pissing off the cretins who came up with the ideas to go to war, lock everyone up, etc etc in the first place, so in fact there's no real difference between "causing offence" and "criticising policy". (In fact, Brighton hates crude t-shirts these days.)

Which all gives me a whole bunch of fun clothing ideas. Just don't print any t-shirts having a go at them.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Question: What is British?

In a short interview with ePolitix, home secretary Jacqui Smith claims that "Terrorists are ... about attacking the values that we share in Britain, and the life that we share in Britain".

Now I'm confused. I've heard this before, and I was confused then. So here's an open question to any readers of this blog - what are the values that we share in Britain? And I don't mean the ideals that get spouted at us according to who's listening, such as "tolerance" and "a stiff upper lip". I mean the values I can go into town and find today. Which of my values are under attack?

Update: On further introspection, "tea" can probably be considered a good British value. We must defend our tea from terrorists.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Definition of a Terrorist

"Terrorists can come from any background and live anywhere. They are as likely to be seen in quiet suburban roads as they are in inner-city areas.

"Terrorists do not respect the laws of physics. Terrorists enjoy watching the Tellytubbies while sober. They do not look any different to you, or to me. They are capable of producing music so beautiful that you will kill yourself after listening to it. Terrorists often have a scowl or a forced smile on their face. Terrorism does not understand the Disney way of life. Terrorists buy sudoku magazines to make themselves look clever. They take no sugar in their tea as they are 'sweet enough already'.

"You will only be able to know that someone is a terrorist by the time you are dead. Terrorists are anybody not going out of their way to be unsuspicious. They do not know where the nearest Argos is. They are in credit. They can beat you at table football any time they like, but often choose not to."

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Steal our DNA, Steal our Dignity

Word on the street is that the Home Office may extend DNA sample gathering to scrape the biofluff off them very same streets, and probably for just whatever you could be caught doing. Littering? Biomap please. Speeding? Yup. Drunk and disorderly? Bam. Looking a bit suspicious? Snip. Hanging around in a group (that's "waiting with a mate" to you)? Spooned. Note the Guardian article also refers to suspects in such offences, so flump knows how I can be sampled if I'm suspected of littering, or looking weird.

Yeah sure the "Human Genetics Commission" are launching a "public enquiry". But seriously, so what? The usual people will complain about it, the Police will say it's necessary, the report will say there's a fine line to be balanced, and the DNA database will grow ever larger and ever more "useful". The debate about what it really means to have your DNA on file will be left behind, stuck in the dust like a sweating, dying pig.

With the current state of trust in police+science, the onus is unfortunately on dissenters to raise the critical eyebrow. The big question, if things are going to change (insert hopefulness here), is now: Why should we not just keep everyone's DNA in the database?

To answer my own strawquestion (although please, argue with me), this comes back to a bigger question: who has responsibility for the actions of individuals? The same question pops up under Richard's discussion of anti-obesity pills, and the same answer applies to both, I think. What we lose by using technology to fix all our "problems" is a fundamental assumption of individual responsibility.

There's no point in me making a decision to do something, if I have no responsibility over it in the first place. Either I do it and I get caught, or I don't do it and I don't get caught.

At this point, many people will be thinking "good, that's the way it should be - criminals get caught, innocents go free". But this ignores 2 things:

1. I didn't specify that the decision was over an intentionally-criminal act. There are many acts that are illegal, but that people think shouldn't be, and there are many acts that people don't even suspect are illegal, or are too confused to know. (Copying music you own to an ipod [currently illegal] and growing hallucinogenic mushrooms [legal til recently] are a couple of examples.)

2. More importantly, responsibility is not just something that stops us from doing illegal things. Responsibility is about accountability, and about directly tying yourself to the good and bad results of your actions. Responsibility is an innately human thing - we try to predict the future, we make our choice, and by adopting responsibility, we pay more attention to the punishments and rewards as a result, helping us to learn faster. Responsibility isn't just a legal/illegal thing - in fact, legality is constructed around actions, not vice versa. Reponsibility is an ethical/unethical thing, a help/harm thing, a maturity/immaturity thing. Remove responsibility, and you end up with what Huxley predicted: a nation of childishness and immaturity, a nation in need of a Nanny State, because all the adults packed up and put nappies on.

If we can get some of this message into the debate, maybe it has a chance of being interesting, of having an effect.

[Addendum: It's interesting to note the newspaper page numbers for this issue too, as found in the ePolitix bulletin:

Guardian - page 6 | Telegraph - page 2 | Times - page 5 | Independent - page 10 | Mail - front page | Sun - page 12 | Express - page 6

Only the Telegraph places it anywhere near the front, and the Indie - normally a banner-waver for sheet-selling rights issues - is practically in the bin. More proof that we just don't want to face up to responsibility?]

[Addendum the 2: Robin Wilson notes that who gets their DNA taken is entirely subjective, of course.]

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

From "war" to "battle", but still the same deal?

Emerging from its chrysalis-like cocoon state of raw energy and manliness, the visceral phase "war on terror" is mutating into something else. The BBC reports that Brown talks of terror 'struggle' in an interview on NBC, but there's no way a struggle gets the patriotic heart pumping like a good old war. Struggle is part of War, not the other way around, and while a Struggle can be a defining period, something to suffer, it just doesn't have the same active ingredient that War has. In Struggle, you persevere. In War, you overcome.

The BBC article also links to an old piece on the declining use of the 'war' phrase, from back in April. Hilary Benn posited that this was mostly to avoid feeding the fire, but it's down to Sir Ken MacDonald to realise that the language of war involves a sacrifice of values, and an embracing of fear.

So what's replacing the 'war' then? Well, Brown calls it a 'struggle' - at least on US TV - but not just any old struggle. It is, no less, a struggle for the soul of the 21st century. Yes, that's right. Whoever wins this battle (not a war, you see?) wins the entirety of he 21st century. Which is odd, really. Is Brown laying a claim to owning the 21st century? One might say that the "soul" of the 60s was free love and such, but in doing so one would implicitly accept a very Western - or even just American, or parts thereof - view of the 60s. Was there a soul of the 20th century? Perhaps industrial capitalism? cientific progress? Institutional control? All of these are still merely the outcome of the 20th century in a way - a historic perspective shoe-horned into a nostalgic re-definition of where we've just been. In many ways, the "soul" of the 20th century could easily be classed as nothing but very real, very gritty global war.

By attaching the idea of a "battle" to the next 100 years, Brown is doing something very odd. 100 years isn't a battle, it's most definitely a war, as we've seen before. A battle is a moment, a clash, an instant of violence that arises from other factors simmering up and meeting in conflict. A battle lasts a few days at most (else it turns into a siege, which is a different game altogether). By calling such a prolonged fight a 'battle', is attention being swiftly diverted from the longevity of these actions? Are phrases such as "long war", "cold war" and now even "war" so bad for the "reality" bubble that voting citizens are kept in that we have to re-define other words to take on what we really mean? Can we really be fooled into thinking that 50 years is no more a 'struggle' than 50 hours?

Or perhaps I'm just reading too much into an American TV interview and a rapidly-concocted piece of rhetoric. Still, with the 'war' on terror apparently deprecated over here - at least in linguistic terms - it's worth keeping an eye on what language takes its place. Rest assured, it'll contain some mix of expecting to fight, and expecting to fight for a long time. Language is Power.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Panicing could result in severe potential danger

Telegraph first line today: "Airline passengers are in danger of being turned into potential terrorist targets" ... ? How much allusion to risk can one sentence hold without breaking into tears and claiming it was forced into a life of fearmongering and scarepandering by radical, jittery gurus?

Elsewhere, knives may potentially be weapons of mass genocide if possibly wielded in the right numbers by the right kind of people. Perhaps. And that tile on the steps outside your front door could possibly, if loosened, make for a potential deathtrap if God's vengeful rain descends once more.

Thankfully, the first line is all I've read. 2 weeks away makes for great ignorance of news and, coincidentally, a much jollier outlook on, well, everything.

Friday, July 06, 2007

"Pop" Idol given a whole new meaning

Was going to post the below as a comment on Richard's post: POSIWID: Terrorism as Farce. But it made me chuckle so much with grim realism and coffee-spiked realisation that my brain split in 2, the very idea manifested and crawled out and typed itself into a blog post.

Richard talks of the efficiency of terrorism (or not), the similarity (or not) between Evil Plotters [tm] and James Bond [rm], and the underlying flaws of the attacks that make them into farce rather than fear. He sayeth:
"In the past, some plotters have sent warnings so that the relevant area can be evacuated, and television cameras set up, before the bomb goes off. Presumably the idea is to get maximum media coverage for your cause without alienating the more ambivalent of your supporters."

This is exactly where the spiral of violence comes from. Terrorists need the media frenzy around their death - it validates them, makes them feel like they've accomplished something, and so they get whatever reward they've promised themselves, etc etc.

The police, needing to validate themselves at the same time, therefore big up any "terrorist" attempt, failed or unfailed. (A failed attempt: "we need to stay alert!" A successful attempt: "we need to be more alert!") So the hype surrounding terrorist activities gets bigger, which in turn feeds the terrorists' lust for "impact" (or "fame").

Meanwhile everyone else is too afraid to decide between the two impossible and "undebatable" options.

Perhaps the answer lies in reality TV shows which are, from the word go, a farce anyway. "Britain's got Terror" would, I assure you, produce ratings never seen before outside of real terrorist activities. (Hmm, does that doom it?) Let members of the public come in, show how they would go about causing mass carnage, then let the public phone in and vote for the most "dramatic" (out of the survivors, that is).

The winner gets a record contract, and to host a Sunday morning digital channel show. 3 months later they're never heard of again. "Disappeared". Makes Guantanamo look like an old folks' home.

Monday, July 02, 2007

War is Peace. Unity is Strength.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned the nation that the threat would be "long term and sustained".

Fortunately, there's always the manual :
Since about that time, war had been literally continuous, though strictly speaking it had not always been the same war. ... Oceania was at war with Eurasia and in alliance with Eastasia. In no public or private utterance was it ever admitted that the three powers had at any time been grouped along different lines. ... Officially the change of partners had never happened. Oceania was at war with Eurasia: therefore Oceania had always been at war with Eurasia. The enemy of the moment always represented absolute evil, and it followed that any past or future agreement with him was impossible.
Apparently, June was the wettest since the beginning of time. The 21st century is gearing up to be the most deliberate, "sustained" bout of racist-fueled anger management classes for the same period. Or, perhaps, culturalist rather than racist - but where's the line between the two?

Danger all around
Enemies hide in the fog
Fear and War endure.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Tear Down the Wall

"Officers recovered a number of knives and bricks from the area."

So when do we get to ban bricks from schools? I'm off to invest in companies producing "Brick Detectors" for this very purpose.

Guns don't kill people. Knives kill people. No wait. Bricks kill people. Or something.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007


Gordon keen on scheme

Spins in diff'rent direction

Fake Sun to warm us

Sunday, May 27, 2007

A different tack

Stop, look and question
Storm comes with increased power
No wonder rain falls.


Monday, April 02, 2007

SPAM: Want 4m V4LID dna pr0f1l3s?

WTF is going on with the DNA database? Five men suspended from the Government's Forensic Science Service (FSS), but it's unclear as to whether this was because they'd been copying the DNA data, or the database software (perhaps the schema, and data management stuff, one would hazard a guess - anything in CVS) used to access it. Or both.

So Liberty are, naturally, raising concerns over the privacy of DNA data, but it seems in this case that they're maybe jumping on the wagon. The key point in the article would seem to be:
"...the FSS began developing a website in 2005 called targeting international law enforcement and private markets."
And the charges are related to industrial espionage. It appears this is about competitive advantage rather than privacy of personal data.

But this in itself highlights a hugely important set of issues. Are UK citizen's DNA profiles - captured voluntarily or involuntarily, but stored indefinitely - to be sold off like lists of e-mails? "the plans were secret", we're told. Why? Competitive purposes? Do these industrial machinations explain why it's so difficult to get data removed from the database? Is the FSS being run by spammers? But then, at least spammers pretend to let you remove your address...

This bears more thought, but for now I leave you with the last few paragraphs of the article, which maybe shed more light than the rest of it put together:

Mr Akhtar went on: "The FSS said if we have registered the domain names using the iforensic word then we must be going to do the same business as them and thus must have taken the database system."

He added the FSS was making IT redundancies and 'we plan to set up a company to offer the services the FSS will be looking to outsource."

The FSS said it could not comment because of the investigation. The Home Office insisted there was no question information held on the database had been 'compromised'.

Friday, March 30, 2007

The Fight for Creativity

I'm glad Richard Veryard has picked up on school architecture. I think the interesting issue (for me, anyway ;) is whether this is a dichotomy, a conflict, or whether there is the possibility of some new development, some progressive hybrid that was never quite predictable.

On the one side of the dichotomy, there's Foucault's aspect of architecture as a normalisation environment - a laboratory within which individuals are made into objects and, therefore, subjected to precision control.

The other side is rightly that of flexibility (another term for creativity) - businesses desire it (and hence government desire it) for certain things as flexibility == competitiveness.

But the bounds of that flexibility are set. The conflict is, then, over whether that creativity should extend to merely a product creation (even if a product is more an intangible concept, such as brand power) - what one may call "innovation", perhaps - which involves something consumable being produced, or whether this creativity should become more reflexive - creativity by an individual to assess their own status and position within the system. Any creativity that addresses overarching systems of power is a form of this kind of "flexibility", and could easily be called "innovation" too if the term hadn't already been captured.

In a way, the debate over the architecture of schools will mirror, even symbolise this debate. But the question is this: Are we doomed to one (probably the former, a system of objectification and mass control) "winning out" over the other? If this is the case, then economically, we're a bit shafted as the competitive shadow of "entrepreneurship" and "innovation" will wither and die against more flexible political (not business) systems. Supposedly.

Or can society produce a new alternative - either a finely-poised, yet relatively sustainable trade-off for each individual between productive creativity and reflexive assessment, or some other space in which none of these questions even matter - where creativity is its own end and competitiveness is just something happens?

But now I'm dreaming...

Monday, March 19, 2007

Sprogging tiny, immature, baby and warring communities in our midst

William Golding was a prophet, not a commentator. The dark shades of power that underlie all people - mainly men - are reconstructed from scratch, time and time again. Community is seen as the replacement, the saviour of violence. Yet what are "gangs" but small, infant, miniaturised communities? Do we even know what we mean by a "community" these days, or is it just something we read about in fairytales?

Other folk like to form communities and play with power too. Can you think of any?

Are knives more powerful than money? Than words?

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

RIP Jean Baudrillard

Baudrillard passes away. He may have been verbose, but his ideas had more gravity than most others in this screwed-up world. See also a short post over at my other blog.

(N.B. for those wanting to follow all my activity at once/stalk me, I should bring attention to the feedshake collection RSS feed.)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Terrorists don't shop on Amazon

Spyblog picks up on a sci-fi collection intentionally breaking the "law" around glorification of terrorism, by publishing a book called "Glorifying Terrorism".

The debate over the definition of "terrorist" is certainly one (amongst many) that needs to be hammered out much more than it has been permitted to be. Use of language as a technology to control thoughts is commonplace. Watching 'V for Vendetta' the other week reminded me again of this - or perhaps not of the definition of "terrorist", strictly, but of what value we place on violence, and the utter subjectivity of this value. Whose side are you on? Whose side do they want you to be on?

I'm thinking about ordering a copy, but money is pretty tight at the moment. Still, I wanted to check the price over at Amazon (wow, a whole bunch more) so I went over and entered "glorifying terrorism" into the search box. As I closed the tab after seeing the price, I couldn't help but wonder if it looked like I was trying to hide something; I'm making the search through a University network (a hotbed for fundamentalist musings, apparently). My previous search was for anti-establishment industrial music. Hell, my purchase history shows up an example of quite obviously dubious purpose, collapsing 8 years of learning and experience thoughtfully into 1 dropdown menu. I can only hope all those Celtic music buys help to offset the damage.

Attitudes ride around, attaching themselves to words, and bouncing off other attitudes. We live and learn through associations and connections. We know that the fastest way to get attention drawn to ourselves is to make links - in these days, however tenuous - with people we know to be breaking the law. I shouldn't have to feel guilty or concerned about searching for a sci-fi collection, yet this is the imperceptible, invisible hand of precaution - no, wait - fear that continues to creep into our minds. Fear of association.

Monday, February 12, 2007

UK DNA database stats

Have you had your DNA taken by the Police? If so, according to the local rag, you amongst the 1 out of every 20 people in the UK that's on file. Sussex Police are tops at hiking up the average, "enlisting" over 6% of the county's population in their scheme. I'd love to see that number plotted on a graph over time.

How long until you join the club? (Oh, and don't forget you can't leave...)

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

"Tony Blair luvs ID Cards = TRUE!"

Blair spews more curious rhetoric over the evil-bad-guy-ness of ID cards, claiming that they will hold 'less than store card'. The usual annoyingly retrogressive assumptions about the nature of politics persist, though:

  1. Comparing ID cards to store cards further reveals just how Blair thinks about Government - as a company, with citizens not as citizens but as consumers. While he may be coming from a viewpoint of "efficiency" and yadda, there are hugely important differences between the two, such as oh I don't know, access to a Police force maybe? Control over market failures? Any amateur economist will happily sum up the differences between how a market is assumed to work (though not necessarily how they do work) and where, at least under a capitalist policy, Government steps up to "fill in the gaps". The split between ID cards as a personal artefact of governance (i.e. between the government and you, just you), and as a social artefact (i.e. between the government and the whole of the governed) needs to be emphasised increasingly.

  2. Blair shuffles into the "sharing data is good" spiel. I notice he drops in a part on safeguards - "and we do need to make sure that;s subject to debate, proper scrutiny". Uh huh. And so far these safeguards have been subject to... uh... how much proper (i.e. un-spun) debate? Quick Martha, I can feel my Bayesian Learning kicking in.

  3. Ha, what a fantastic quote: "in every other walk of life the technology is being used to enhance service, in the public service we put down a barrier." Perhaps Blair should read Danah Boyd's thoughts on walls. The question is not just "should we just make things more efficient for government?" The questions include issues about freedom and privacy. Which walls do we want?

    Secondly, it also seems that Blair hasn't really been following all the hoohah over DRM and IP control (or is selective about his morals here - oh wait, yeah, I go with that). Walls are being constructed with technology all the time, to control markets, to control economies. From an efficiency point of view, bringing down walls can make things extremely smooth, lubricated. But again, what do we lose when we chase after efficiency?

  4. Further proof that Blair is unwilling to actually debate with and listen to people on this one comes at the bottom of the article, regarding nationally shared medical data: "if you're taken ill in a different part of a country from where your GP is you can access immediately the details of someone's health care, what drugs they may need or want to use." The option - that such data is held in the hands of the concerned - seems to have been ruled out. Centralisation is, apparently, the only way to achieve data transferral. With regard to ID cards, this is similar to "why not just have a card with your data on?" - an argument that I haven't heard a pro-ID politician answer in any meaningful way,e ver. Blair envies the supermarkets. Blair wants to know who you are.

In a week where the Conservatives have drawn their line and are now playing the risk card against ID system investors, it's a shame to see the same crappy drivel being vomited forth that was being vomited forth 3 years ago. As such, this response gets an appropriately idiotic and childish title.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Hacking the Honours

Honours probe police hacked No10 computers.

The conspiracist in me, up til now, was still prepared to think that this whole baloney could have been organised by the establishment: an exercise in proving to the electorate that "even politicians aren't above the law", yet coming out of it sans evidence, sans a sullied reputation. But perhaps, if measures such as these are being used, perhaps this is real.

But at the same time, to follow Baudrillard, perhaps it's what we knew all along anyway. That the establishment is corrupt is a "fact", believed in faith by a population which is decreasedly interested in politics - for that very reason. If something is found, sure there'll be a scandal, but no-one will really be surprised.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

The Progress of Power: Local Franchises

3 recent BBC stories neatly sum up the "progress" of power in the 21st century: that is, the franchise path, or what David Chandler [pdf] outlines neatly as "More participation, less democracy":
Central government, in fact, looks set to acquire greater regulatory control over local authorities, through the process of ‘empowering communities’.diversity and freedom in local government service delivery can only be reduced by the DETR focus on national auditability. ...

This is portrayed as a transfer of decision-making power away from the centre, yet, under the statutory duty of consultation and new policy frameworks, this will further undermine local authority autonomy through creating a
whole host of new centrally regulated monitoring regimes.
(p. 9)
So what have we seen already this year? The three that caught my eye were:Of these stories, two (the first and last) follow through on the trend for local implementation of national policy. The middle can be seen as a "prior" (yet also "post") stage, in which power is seized from a more decentralised base, extended into the realm of studied categorisation and problem-agenda-setting. (i.e. Categorise a field, rank the categories, create a problem.)

The first, ironically, can be said to be much of an embodied - almost tangible - symbol of Foucault's Discipline and Punish; the introduction of the test as a mechanism to "objectify" the individual or, in other words, make each individual the centre of their very own world which they are never fully in control of (quite the reverse, in fact). This can be seen most clearly in the BBC article here:
a more "transparent" form of testing
The question is: is it the testing that's being made more transparent, or is it the child?

Finally, the story on "decentralising" ASBOs follows Chandler's line exactly. That 'respect' is something that emerges from society and culture, rather than is scientifically defined by it, is now no longer part of the debate. it is clear from this agenda that the government would far prefer us to use their specified "tools" to solve a problem than to face the problem in and of itself. This is the franchising of power, the handing out of "toy" power which we have fooled ourselves into accepting.

Decentralisation that is "handed down" is not decentralisation - it is nothing but cheap labour for a government that no longer wants to see the local level. These "tools" we develop should be seen for what they are - bureaucratic cages that pander not to what solution is actually best, nor what causes should really be addressed, but to the needs of a government that sees a population purely as a workforce, as economic stimuli. Control must be maintained for, above all else, "competitive" purposes.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I'm telling, you're smelling

Ooh, one more, just for the quote:
School shock at vandal web video:

"Unfortunately, any yob or vandal can now have their 15 minutes of fame, aided and abetted by readily accessible technology and irresponsible internet sites which enable such behaviour to be glorified."
Ummmm. I'm telling Miss.

A few links to kick 2007 off

Happy New Machine Year! Some links from the last few days to ease us into 2007...

  • BBC on sousveillance and Saddam. Ironically, the article highlights a) how much propaganda is really involved in wars, and b) how "moderated" news channels really are, so I guess sousveillance (like most things) is double-edged. What it also gets at, without realising however, is that - I think - we also expect, as consumers, the news to be moderated. In one sense, we do not like to be shown the full gore of war and the hideousness of reality. We like to be shielded, protected, safe to hold our own views quite aside from reality. The BBC have avoided showing what you can see on the Internet (namely, Saddam's final moment). The truth - death - is never shown. The results are left in that blurry world of imagination and subjective interpretation. Remember, news is, above all, entertainment.

  • The Telegraph covered the US' deal to grab lots of British flight passengers' details including, "oddly", e-mail addresses and religious dietary requirements. Furthermore, it is clear that this information is to be used as keys, not an end in itself:
    While insisting that "additional information" would only be sought from lawful channels, the US made clear that it would use PNR data as a trigger for further inquiries.
    Should there be laws to make certain that whenever anyone accesses data belonging to an individual, the individual in question is told about it? Perhaps that way, at least, people would realise the extent to which "privacy" is, currently, just an illusion...

  • Finally, "the Wife" (not mine) over at NCOTAASD brings the potential closure of her local park to our attention. You can follow the timeline of closure here, but she makes the extremely salient point:
    We talk about saving the planet, but how can we hope to save the planet if we can't save a little local country park?

Enjoy your year.