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.