Tag Archives: Rants

Oh Emm Gee !1!

OMG! Have you heard? The president of AMERICA has an opinion…. ZOMG!!!!!!111

Seriously. It must be the slowest news day ever. Obviously the media has hit saturation point with war, famine, plague and pestilence so now we have a headline news bulletin which revolves around the President of the USA expressing an opinion about someone.

What the fuck has the world come to for this to be news? Even the BBC has shamed itself by covering it. To death.

In a nutshell, Kanye West was a jack ass and interrupted an award winners speech.  Yeah, big deal. I could just about see that being the news item but the reality is people act like self-centred idiots day in, day out. The fact that some one famous is self-centred is hardly news. Following this frankly uninteresting incident, President Obabma was holding a conversation about it off air, but some ABC staff recorded it and felt the need to post twitter messages about it. Following it becoming “news” ABC have apologised to CNBC and the POTUS and have removed the twitter posts. Obviously this has done nothing to reduce the global spread and the wonders of the interweb mean we can all listen to the President of the USA calling Kanye West a “jack ass.”

Is this really how low our society has sunk? Is the President’s personal opinion about someone’s behaviour genuinely newsworthy? What impact does this have on anyone’s life?

If pushed, I am sure you could easily find in excess of 50% of the worlds population who would call Kanye West a “jack ass” even prior to his MTV awards behaviour. Is that news worthy? If not, why not?

The only thing I can think of is that the worlds news agencies are so overwhelmed by the onslaught from Web 2.0 crap applications that anything which has even a passing reference to them becomes news based solely on its perceived ability to appeal to the yoof market. It is shameful, and certainly goes a long way to explaining why “old media” feels it is under threat from the new media…

Shame on every news outlet that carried this story. Even a cat up the tree would have been more newsworthy.

A fickle master

Seriously, you would think that the government and senior members of the military would know better. These are the people who lead our country and our military and should really know better. The fact they don’t is utterly baffling to me.

I am talking about the way our glorious leaders bend in the wind of public opinion like young saplings. The government is craven in how it panders to the media – ignoring any blatant contradictions and any strange notions of policies or morality. However this is not surprising. Its been almost two decades since the political parties in the UK had “party politics” rather than saying what ever they thought would get them elected. This entire century the UK has been governed by the Daily Mail and the Telegraph opinion pieces rather than any notion of public good.

What is surprising, to me anyway, is how quickly the MOD has fallen into this trap as well. Over the last few years we have seen an infuriating number of retired Generals and former Chiefs of the Defence Staff suddenly come out of the cold to criticise the government. This is annoying, because these are the same General Officers who presided over identical problems without the slightest hint of complaint until they were safely away from the system. This is not exactly living up to their heroic image, but such is life.

Showing a worrying reluctance to learn from the past, the MOD has had some spectacular blunders of late. Sadly, these are not blunders in the normal sense; more an example of how clueless the MOD / Government is when it comes to falling over itself to court the media – without remembering the media will savage it no matter what.

As a result we see, in recent weeks, such oddities as the government going to court to reduce payments to two people who were crippled in the line of duty. Now, in normal circumstances this would be ignored – the government is claiming it is not liable for secondary problems and is trying to reduce the burden on the taxpayer by reducing the payments these people get. This is not a bad thing as any other organisation would do it, and every penny the government has to spend comes from the public. It is not magic money.

The madness is this comes at a time when the government have been whipping the public up into a fervour about supporting “Our Boys” who are fighting wars in far away lands. Realising these wars are very unpopular, the government seems to have decided the only solution is to turn every soldier into a hero who deserves our undying support, no matter what they do. This played very well with the media (the Sun’s Help for Heroes has become such a powerful charity that on-duty police officers are allowed to wear its labels and promotional media, can you imagine that happening for any other charity?) but the government – or more properly the Civil Service who run the MOD – has failed to realise what this jingoistic monster will demand. With every service person being seen as the greatest Hero since Gilgamesh, any attempt to due the correct thing by the taxpayer is obviously going to be seen as a grasping act by a degenerate government. The whole deal is muddled even more by some MPs being so obvious about their desire to court the media they will go against both government policy and the taxpayers best interests (*). There is more irony than I can cope with in one sitting over this, but this is what the BBC reports about Mr Joyce:

Writing in Scotland on Sunday, Mr Joyce, parliamentary private secretary to Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth, said that although technically the MoD had a good chance of success, the appeal should be dropped.

So, although the case is sound – and the taxpayer is NEEDLESSLY paying these people money – we should carry on paying because not doing so will be unpopular. This confuses me. Is he saying that we should apply the same standard of payouts to Police, nurses, teachers, bus drivers, pharmacists, dentists, bin men, street sweepers, train drivers (etc)? These are all jobs which are essential to our every day life, more so than the military for 99.99% of the time and where (on the whole) people are paid a lot less than they deserve.

The government are never going to get it right. They are serving that most fickle of masters, the media. The same newspapers that will castigate them for spending one penny more than they should on something will also castigate them for trying to reclaim the said penny if the recipient has “human interest.” The government is a faceless bureaucracy and can never win. Ever.

The Military is no better and, despite the Heroes angle, its no safer from media savagery – simply because it is “part of the government.”

This twist has led to senior Army officers claiming they are incapable of fighting the war in Afghanistan with the current kit and manpower levels – even going as far as claiming we should, as a nation, move to a war footing. Before we go on, lets look at the war in Afghanistan. This is basically small manoeuvre warfare of Battalion size formations. This is not the “Major War” the British Army was geared up to throughout the cold war. It is closer to one of the small conflicts we were supposed to be able to fight two of, while having the resources for a major war left spare. However it seems that decades of defence spending has left the military incapable of fighting any war. Do the military chiefs accept responsibility for this? No, they claim it is down to the government who haven’t spent enough on them… Yet they agreed to the budgets. They furnished government with reports as to how effective they would be in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it is still the civilian governments fault… No, I dont get it either.

“War is a dangerous business” – certainly a truism and, in July 09, the British public were forced to realise this. However, rather than educate the public about what happens in war (one UK news outlet even claimed it was the most bloody conflict since WWII, neatly ignoring Korea, Aden, Borneo etc) and forcing people to realise that any conflict is going to cost lives, the craven military leadership laid the blame on various bits of equipment – mostly helicopters. This was a lifeline for distraught family members, who obviously needed some way to rationalise the loss of their loved ones. However its not the real answer. No amount of helicopters will stop the need for “boots on the ground” to dominate and in any firefight people are likely to die. Helicopters are great moving people from A to B and for providing air support to ground troops but they are not the magic solution people seem to think they are.

This has not stopped the senior officers seeing a chance to get some more toys to play with by claiming they need more helicopters to save lives (tell that to the bomb disposal people…), and they have been somewhat successful. Still this is not enough to placate the baying media. From the BBC News:

Reports in the Daily Telegraph claimed six Merlins – due to go to Helmand in December – did not have Kevlar armour.

The paper quotes senior RAF sources as warning this could prevent the craft’s use in missions against the Taliban.

The moral of the story is you really cant win. Once you enter into a dance with the media, you are caught in a death spiral. Nothing you ever do will be enough. Someone, somewhere in your organisation will have a different opinion (or just say something stupid by mistake) and the media will pounce. When this happens all the good will you generated by doing what the press wanted will vanish and you’ve be savaged again.

Why doesn’t the military and government realise this? Why do they try to grab the tiger by the tail?

(*) It is even more interesting when you think that the traditional Ministry of Defence politics align with the Conservative party, so it is unsurprising that the MOD seems to be having so many PR blunders of late. That the Labour government seems unable or unwilling to take charge and control this is a further indictment of the party and another sign that, sadly, this time next year we will almost certainly have an irritating bastard Conservative PM.

America Scares Me

OK, I have finally torn myself away from the accursed Wii long enough to surf the internet, read some articles and comments and become quite worried about the future of the human race.  Before I am accused of massive hyperbole, remember America is the worlds only superpower and, like it or not, societal changes there radiate out across the English speaking world quite quickly. (Yes, I am looking at you Creationism).

It seems that, despite being the leader of the free world, a beacon of Democracy and willing to invade other nations who abuse human rights, the USA has a very ambivalent approach towards one of the most inhumane of activities – torture. I know I have talked about this previously, but reading through the comments on the USA Today letter reminded me of conversations I have had with people in the US, and gives an insight into how the government policies seem to be built.

First off my position on the matter: Torture is never, ever, acceptable. It is a war crime and the practitioners of such acts should be treated as international war criminals. Waterboarding is torture. Calling torture “enhanced interrogation” does not change what it is any more than calling my car a boat will make it sail. I can think of no (real) circumstances in which torture is justified. Saying torture is better than execution is farcical.  The idea that torture would be carried out in my name, or to protect some nebulous concept of my safety is abhorrent.

However, I consider myself a rational person and I am willing to explore viewpoints and opinions that differ from my own. It is possible that I could be wrong in my stance about torture so I will look at some of the arguments for it. For the purposes of this rant, I will use the responses to the, frankly, insane USA Today letter. From these it appears the following “justify” torture: (Some I will post in full, others I will try to identify the more coherent parts)

in the meantime…they saw off our heads…….while weak dems say nothing about that……why do dems defend these killers of U.S citizens is alarming…..shows there huge weakness for our security. (from wave who, unsuprisingly, has no friends but 5 recommends for this nonsense)

This makes no sense. It is nothing but an appeal to fear, wrapped up in some bizarre attempt to make 2+2 equal three hundred and eleven. But it is a common one so I will try to salvage some sanity out it and see if it holds any water.

It breaks down into a few parts. First off the claim that torturing people is the only defence against “them” sawing off American heads. Now, given that people in custody are no longer in position to weild a saw this is true, but there is no requirement to torture them for this. Has the mistreatment of people in places such as Guantanamo reduced the amount of beheadings of Americans in the middle east? Erm, no. So we can strike that part. The second bit is just a sign that wave is insane. Objecting to torture is not defending the killers of US citizens any more than not torturing murder or rape suspects is. Shall we advocate tortuing people suspected of drink driving (which kills many, many more citizens each year)? If not the argument makes no sense.

The next one hints at what worries me about society.

Why is this such a difficult question for you? Given the choice between the safety and security of my loved ones *and* subjecting a terrorist to a few moments of anxiety (enhanced interrogation techniques), this is an easy choice! Glycine

Oh my Thor. Worryingly this is an attitude similar to one I encountered in people I talked to during my visit to the US. It shows the horrific effect language has had on people. 24 is not real. People do not get up at the end of the show, take a bow and give a PR conference to promote the sale of their DVD. Torture is torture. The clue is in the name. Waterboarding is not a “few moments of anxiety.”

This whole bag of madness falls down on a few levels. First off, if it is so mild how can it work on embittered, committed jihadists? If it is so mild (I can generate more than a few moments of anxiety for most people going to an interview, let alone questioning by law enforcement) why is it called “enhanced interrogation?” Dispel forever the idea that waterboarding is tame. That any form of torture can be passed of as time and almost humorous. It is not. It is there to break a persons will in the shortest possible time. This is not something people ever fully recover from.

Equally sad is the loss of any form of “innocent until proven guilty.” It now seems that if someone thinks you are a criminal you are one and will be tortured until you confess. Sounds all very 21st century to me. The people subjected to torture by agents of the US government are not always confirmed terrorists. Some will be people who are massively unlucky. Is torturing them (which will provide no extra security to your loved ones) acceptable? If so, where do we draw the line? When do we stop torturing people on the off-chance they may know something which may help increase the security of your loved ones? Crucially, what happens when someone comes to torture you to protect their loved ones? Would you be OK with that? Even if you are actually insane enough to think that torturing people based simply on their nationality and skin colour is acceptable, you have to face the fact it decreases national security. For every person who is interned and tortured, there will be families at home who rail against the injustice. Mistreatment of prisoners is the greatest recruiting tool an insurgent or terrorist organisation can hope for. For every suspected terrorist you torture, you recruit four or five more into his organisation. How does this make any sense at all?

We have the token argument from insanity:

Torture like many evils will not ‘go away’ because do-gooders wish it so.
and
Which is worse: killing the enemy outright or keeping them for the duration in a POW camp? (or Federal prison?) Incarceration, even with three meals a day, a bible, a toilet, clothing, bedding, et cetera, is none the less, torture — but who gives a damn? Ronald David (who, amazingly, has 8 friends on USA Today. Wow).

This is no argument, its just mad ranting. Torture like any crime will never quite go away but does that mean we should accept it? Do we accept rape or murder? No. If someone abducted ten people from US cities and tortured them for a few months, they would go to jail or face the death penalty. If the government does it, its OK. Does that make sense? I just love the attempt to use a derogatory “do-gooders” term against those who oppose evils such as torture. I’d rather be a do-gooder than a do-eviler. Maybe its the atheist in me.

Comparing torture with incarceration is madness. Nothing further needs to be said. Everything else this nutter has written on this letter speaks of mental illness.

(two chestnuts from Crazyfun_22 who has 11 bloody friends) In addition to Michael, the other loons posting about waterboarding are also subscribing to something in either their water or thier “Pipe”. The waterboarding the japanese did is not even close to what we did following 9/11, those people were drowned in the process. Waterboarding that ends in death can and shoud be classified as torture…so put down the remote after you turn off MSNBC and look some stuff up from multiple independent sources and get your facts straight.

Right, so torturing someone and stopping just before they die is OK then. This is insane. Torture is torture. Murder is murder. You can torture someone to death which is both torture and murder. Its like saying raping someone but not killing them is OK. All this crazy makes my head hurt.

Lastly, all you people who are commenting on waterboarding being used to get info on Iraq and make an Iraq-Al Qaeda connection….WRONG….it was used to try and determine intel on potnetial threats to Americans…period. While I am sure Saddam was part of the questioning, it was for American’s safety…and that does include you loony bins.

Here we come to the basic claim that seems to sustain the support for torture.

Torturing person X (who is hopefully not the from the same ethnic or religious background as you) is acceptable if it provides actionable intelligence that can save lives of people you care about.

This argument allows Americans to condemn other nations who torture prisoners (because the information gained is not helping people they care about) while practising it themselves. It carries a strong moral appeal because, seriously, who doesn’t want to save lives. There is even a utilitarian argument that the suffering of the few outweighs the benefits for the many. You can see why so many people agree with this concept and, as a result, support the use of torture by agents of the government .

Sadly it is all nonsense, and for so many different reasons it is hard to know where to begin.

If we take the utilitarian argument first. You have no way of knowing if the information provided from the torture will save lives until after you have tortured the person. If you know in advance enough to make this call, you know enough to not need to torture the person. Without knowing this you have to react to everything the person says – including lies and confusion. This takes up resources and manpower better spent elsewhere. A committed jihadist could even use this to distract your resources from where they would be best placed. If you are tortuing someone who genuinely doesn’t know what you are asking, when do you stop? Do you wait until they make something up? Unlike Jack Bauer you have no way of knowing the veracity of what your victim is telling you. You may get the truth in the first 10 seconds (about how long I would take to crack) but would you believe it? Would you continue to torture until you broke them and they changed their story? In reality, unlike 24, torture is a good way of making somone say what you want them to say – nothing else.

Following on from this, if you torture the person and it turns out they cant give you useful information, what then? The argument that useful information means torture is justified now means this was not-justified. Do you proceed to punish everyone involved with the now-criminal act? Anything else means the utilitarian argument suggests all torture is justifed on the basis that an unknown amount of information gained may be useful – but this applies to everything. Maybe torturing you or your parents will be useful. How do we know until we try?

It strikes me people can be quick to come up with hypothetical situations where torture would be acceptable, as long as it is someone else on the receiving end. Knowing that no system is 100% correct, innocent people will occasionally get caught up, would you be happy if you were that innocent person? If not, then torture is not acceptable. If you feel you would be happy to spend five years in “enhanced interrogation” because you knew, deep down, it was making the world safer, then I think you are insane.

(ranting over, back to the Wii…)

Ministers object to normal treatment

You have to feel sorry for members of the government and their allies. I mean, how dare they be treated like mere mortals, when they are so obviously in need of special treatment – like being assumed innocent until proven otherwise.

In an interesting example of double standards, the former home secretary lashed out at the police for their heavy handed tactics: (from the guardian)

David Blunkett, the former home secretary, yesterday led a cross-party attack on the police for what he described as “overkill” in arresting the shadow home office minister, Damian Green, after he published Home Office documents allegedly leaked by a civil servant.

As fresh details emerged of a nine-hour police operation against Green, whose parliamentary computer was seized and whose wife was forced to witness a search of their London home, Blunkett questioned police tactics.

Drawing a parallel with police behaviour in the cash-for-honours affair, in which a former Downing Street aide was arrested in a dawn raid, he spoke of “the danger of overkill, of treating every case as though we are dealing with a suspicious character”.

Woo, cry me a river Mr Blunkett. The irony here is astounding.

Lets look at this: The police were investigating a possible crime and as part of this they seized items of evidence (computer) and conducted a warranted search of the home address. Gosh. I have a suspicion that in London alone this will have happened 100 times that day. Nationally, there will be over a thousand people who have “witnessed a search of their house” – most will turn out to be innocent. Interestingly, despite the claim in the paper, his wife wasn’t forced to watch – she could have left them to it.

In a nutshell, this is routine police work. Thanks to Mr Blunkett’s drive to increase the draconian powers of the police this is happening to people all over the country every day. We are closer and closer to being “guilty until proven innocent” and it is (largely) down to things that happened on Mr Blunkett’s watch. That he can now whine about overkill almost defies belief. That this gibberish has news coverage is equally bizarre.

Equally weird is the subheading that “Brown and Smith were not consulted” – why should they be? Police investigate illegal activity daily. That is their job. If they had to consult the PM before every police investigation it would truly grind to a halt (and the Bill would be a lot less interesting).

The actual case in question here is of so little interest it has hardly generated any news coverage. For example, the only reference to it in this particular article is:

The police inquiry began when the Cabinet Office made a complaint to the Met about the leaking of confidential information from the Home Office.

Yawn. It happens all the time so who cares. Politicians have become so slippery in their urge to court tabloid popularity they think nothing about “Leaking” things on purpose, so should we really get upset when it happens without their explicit approval?

The reality of daily life for normal people is that if the police think you have committed a crime (or are planning to, or thinking about, or know someone who has, or look like someone who has, or live near someone who has) then a dawn raid, followed by a house search and computer seizure is a constant possibility. This is the world Blunkett et al created (and Cameron will only perpetuate), why are they upset to live in it?

No smugness here

Jonathon Freedland wrote about the hate email he’s been getting from Americans who tell him, in picturesque terms, that non-Yanks shouldn’t have opinions on the US election.

The counterblasts featured all the usual themes ….America had saved Europe’s “ass” twice before — and we would doubtless come bleating for help again when we inevitably sought rescue from the Muslim hordes imposing sharia law on London, Paris and Berlin. We can’t defend ourselves, of course, because we are limp-wristed “Euroweenies”, effeminate socialists whose own decline robs us of the right to say anything about the United States, which remains the greatest nation on earth. …….
One Bill07407 managed to capture the flavour of this virtual avalanche — including the curiously homoerotic undercurrent that runs through much rightwing American invective — with this effort: “If you want Comrade Obama we will gladly ship him over after he loses in a landslide. Meanwhile you can kiss my ass. I bet you would enjoy it faggot.” Equally reflective, this from bioguy777: “I love it! A pansy-ass limey Brit begs the US to do his bidding while his own country slips further towards total Islamic rule. We’re electing McCain, and the rest of the world can piss up a rope if they don’t like it. 1776, BITCH!(from the Guardian).

I am impressed by the sheer energy of this rhetoric. But a bit stung, on a patriotic basis. Surely, our own home-grown right wing nutters can’t achieve this level of ranting? This is a hard act to folllow. These comments manage to combine communism; homo-eroticism; islam and the bottom word. all . They are slightly lacking in the random-capitalisation and generous-use-of-exclamation-marks that normally distinguish such comments, but nobody’s perfect.

Bah, can the British product compete in this growing international market?

I was irresistibly drawn to the Daily Express by a front page I saw today which claimed that muslim fanatics were planning an attack on EastEnders (a British soap) I fought back the thought “Finally, a use for Al Qaeda.”

The Daily Express. Surely, if there’s a serious national challenge to foreign rabid-ranting supremacy, it must be in the Daily Express? The Express has a website. Imagine my delight to find it even has a Have Your Say page.

I would have to say the Express may be guilty of trying to juke the stats though. It may be trying to win an award from the twat-a-tron. It provides a list of questions that its readers might want to Have their Say about. These topics have obviously been cynically calculated to get comments by the shit-bucketload, applying a simple “Bull and red rag” principle.

More Have Your Say
•Should it be illegal to break manifesto promises?
•Is it time for Labour to stop bankrupting Britain?
•Is Brown to blame for credit crunch?
•Should ALL police forces get back to basics?
•Have you had enough of high taxes and poor services?
•Is Gordon Brown a laughing stock?
•Should Labour halt the war on motorists?
•Are we living in a Big Brother state?
•Should doomed Brown take the hint and quit?
•Is ‘nanny’ Brown just full of hot air?
•Are rubbish fines just a way of ripping us off?
•Have you been badly affected by the dismal property market?
• Will ex-soldiers bring discipline to our schools?
CLASSROOM yobs will be brought to heel by former soldiers trained as teachers, the Conservatives pledged last night.
• Should Ecstasy be downgraded from a Class A drug?
ECSTASY could be downgraded from a Class A drug despite a three-fold rise in the number of deaths.
• Does our benefits system reward scroungers?
TODAY The Daily Express reported that Brits are better off on benefits.
• Are you sick of the EU meddling in British affairs?
TODAY the Daily Express reported that British motorists will soon be forced into driving with their lights on in the daytime under a new EU edict.

Hah. I don’t even need to read the comments. The Express reporters might as well have written them at the same time they picked the topics. They know exactly what buttons to press to get that fear-filled little-England worldview spewed out to fill their empty webpages.

I spent a fair bit of time scanning the 99 “benefits scroungers” comments but you could tell their hearts weren’t in it (maybe with some secretly fearing they might end up in that category themselves, in a world recession, and are possibly suddenly realising that £60 a week would barely heat and light their homes, let alone feed them.)

Better entertainment from the “ex-soldiers” in schools thread. I become uncomfortably aware that not only do these people hate and fear children (no surprise) but they believe that Britain’s armed forces are staffed by the human equivalent of pitbull terriers, who, if ever let loose on schoolkids would terrorise and bully them into behaving. And they think this is a good thing.

Well, except for those who fear that gaining actual teaching skills would draw their psychopathic teeth.

The answer is no, how will they instill discipline,
they would not be alowed to punish the kids, they could not yell at them the same as a squadie, and off coarse they will need to go through collage or university to get thier teaching degrees or deplomas, by the time they have been through the system they will be just as PC as the present teachers, or will they go striaght into schools with out any degrees or deplomas, and we will have teaching on the cheap.

(How beautifully ironic that this educational expert has managed to come out of school without grasping the rudiments of spelling and punctuation.)

Or there are still some who feel that the troublesome rule of law will still hamstring the psychopaths.

IT WONT WORK
unless Cameron is going to get rid of the softly softly approach and the human rights loony lot , then this is a waste of time,

It’s probably too much to hope that these people can’t breed. In which case, no wonder that the UK has been told off again by the united nations for making its kids miserable.

It’s also something of a pretty serious insult to the British forces. These nutters somehow assume that any serving soldier is basically a thug, who has has been brutalised through training.:

Only if we get rid of the PC mongers and allow them to use the same discipline that army recruits face.

I don’t know anything about army training that I haven’t learned from watching Vietnam war films (Full Metal Jacket, etc) but I suspect they don’t either. It’s just that they misread the message about what happens when you brutalise young men into becoming disposable killers. They assumed it was a template, rather than a warning.

Quite by coincidence, I just saw the British National Party’s manifesto (I am buggered if I’m putting a link to that) and its central concerns seem to be the exact same “issues” that feature as topics on the Daily Express’s Have your Say. The BNP apparently plans to go after the Tories’ more rabid voters.

(Well, at least it would split the Tories’ vote, so I can see an upside. But generally, this shit just frames political debate in terms that are ever more rightwing. So, we see the Labour party fallling over itself to be tough on immigrants and scroungers.)

So, in your face, right-wing Yanks. Britain still has much more than its fair share of people after your own twisted hearts. (OK, the Brit ones don’t care about abortion and wouldn’t recognise a creationist theory if it bit them on the nose, and the American ones don’t seem to hate teenagers much, but they certainly seem to be brothers and sisters under the skin.)

num_Items<=10

Do you understand “Ten items or less?”

If you were standing in the supermarket queue with a handful of grocery items, you could count them, reach 10 and feel pretty sure that you could go through the (often ironically-titled) Quick Checkout. (Assuming you aren’t worrying about whether a collection of 4 rolls in one bag counts as one item or four. Argh. A bunch of grapes? How many items is that? Maybe one, if they are firmly attached to the stalk. But a few might fall off and tip the balance against you. )

Pedantically, you might think the sign should say “fewer.” However, a supermarket sign isn’t an English essay. In any case, modern grammar books are likely to suggest that observing modern usage reflects better style than sounding deliberately pompous. Well, I would, at least, setting myself up as grammar expert, in the face of the evidence that I’m not.

Pedant alert. I get as riled about misplaced apostrophe(‘)s and stupid grammar as anyone does. Sentences like :-) such as “He asked my husband and I where we were going” are really annoying. This usage ignores the basic rules of grammar – confusing where to use subject and object pronouns. The offensive bit aspect is that it’s done just to sound formally correct. To evade the scary grammar teacher in the sky who might smite any sentence, at random, if it doesn’t sound stilted enough.)

Back to the supermarket. According to the BBC:

Tesco is to change the wording of signs on its fast-track checkouts to avoid any linguistic dispute.
The supermarket giant is to replace its current “10 items or less” notices with signs saying “Up to 10 items”.
Tesco’s move follows uncertainty over whether the current notices should use “fewer” instead of “less”.
The new wording was suggested to Tesco by language watchdog The Plain English Campaign.

What? “Up to ten items” is less confusing than “10 items or less”? No it isn’t.

There are ten items in your basket. Which checkout do you use? If the sign says “Up to 11 items,” you can walk through the Quick checkout, smugly confident that your basket contents meet the numeric criteria. But, it says “Up to ten.” The Plain English campaign thinks “Up to” means the same as “Less than or equal to.” It may do. I’m not sure.

I am sure that “ten items or less” includes the number ten. It’s right there, mentioned by name even.

Fear of breaking a rule about correct use of “fewer” or “less,” which is almost never observed in spoken English has led Tesco to make its signs ambiguous, where they were previously clear.

The Plain English campaign is taking the credit for this silliness. Use of plain English is a desirable goal. This campaign was started decades ago to challenge the bureaucratic language used in official documents. The valid point is that some documents are incomprehensible to anyone, particularly to people who are not very literate.

However, some items on their website suggest that they have come to interpret their role in “grammar and spelling police” terms.

For instance, they castigate a University lecturer for mildly suggesting that bad spelling isn’t the end of the world.

Dr Smith, a lecturer in criminology at Buckinghamshire New University, suggested that students and lecturers should be ‘given a break’ and allow misspellings of words such as ‘judgment’, ‘twelfth’, and ‘embarrassed’ (from the news page on the plain English campaign site)

They complain furiously that students can get good marks in SATS tests despite errors, as if the content is less important than the sub-editing:

… revealed that an essay littered with spelling and grammatical errors had received a higher mark than another, more literate one.

So, it is with a pedantic glee that I reprint this paragraph:

We are part of Liverpool and it’s history and culture so naturally we want to be part of the Capital of Culture celebrations. As the campaign grew out of the frustration of ordinary people in Liverpool with the way they were being treated we feel that it is right that we should return to the city at this time. We’ll be reminding everyone of the importance of clear language and how this can help people understand what to do and what is happening in their lives” says Chrissie

it’s. at this time instead of now. Missing commas where you need them to make sense of the sentence.

It’s hardly surprising that so many government documents (that are supposed to show a commitment to using “plain English” ) remain completely incomprehensible, given that the UK government takes so much of its Plain English advice from this organisation.

Error message

I have to set up a new award for the “most incomprehensible error message on my PC this evening.” It’s a small category with only one contender. But this would still be a shoe-in contender, even if it was up against the bizarre messages my work PC gives out.

avg error message

If you cant read this, it says

“Test cannot be started because it already does not exist”

Thanks to wikileaks, however, I can reveal the error message instructions at the heart of the Matrix.

************************************************

Access level: Top Secret Distribution: Error message Replicators

Error message bots’ code of conduct

  • Never explain. Never apologise.
  • Make sure you use the word fatal. This always inspires user optimism.
  • If you’ve used up your store of fatals, say unrecoverable
  • Always include the word error. There’s a high chance the user will take the blame.
  • Include at least one over-16 digit number, preferably in Hex
  • Stay onscreen just long enough for the recipient to imbibe the concepts of fatal and/or unrecoverable.
  • Never stay onscreen long enough for the user to actually write down the number of the error.
  • Freeze all processes and shut down instantly if the user tries a Print Screen
  • However, be sparing in your use of several alarming words and disturbingly large numbers at the same time. Users are frail compared to silicon-based life forms. They may be panicked into binning their whole system.
  • Locating the precise memory block holding the error is always useful. All PC users know exactly what is going on in any segment of their hard disk at any time.
  • Drill your human-machine hybrid tech support workers to respond only if provided with at least one over-16 digit hex number and a precise physical memory address.
  • Set off threatening security alarms if the user tries to fix anything, themselves. Be sure to mention their contracts of employment…
  • Ensure PC behaves normally in the presence of a tech support bot. Time your re-presentation of the message to occur exactly 5 minutes after the support bot leaves the room.

ID Cards for your own good…

Well, Orwell is still spinning in his grave. Despite some apparently premature optimism, it seems that ID cards are very much on the government’s agenda. Today’s news headlines have been very much about the “ID Card Rethink [bbc as example]” and how we are all going to end up with one.

This is all despite the House of Lords “setback” and the massive online YouGov poll that showed a significant percentage of the population were against the idea. To me, in addition to the hateful ideas of forced identity documents, the fact the government is able and willing to completely ignore over a million of the electorate’s opinions speaks volumes for how modern democracy works…

In a token gesture to people’s opinions, the government is planning to bring ID card by stealth in a phased manner. I assume the thinking is target the least popular / most vulnerable parts of society then, in a few years everyone will have come round to the idea and we will all carry one. Distasteful is an understatement.

In her speech announcing the new Identity Card plans, the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith made the following statements:

I start from the premise that the National Identity Scheme is a public good.

Starting from a false premise is never going to lead to anything of value… This is largely, Smith saying the assumption was always we were going to have Identity Cards, like it or not.

As citizens, it will offer us a new, secure and convenient way to protect and prove our identity.

What is new about it? How is it more secure than, say, a passport or driving licence? Equally, how the **** does the existence of an ID card protect your identity?

And it will provide us with the reassurance we need that others who occupy positions of trust in our society are who they say they are as well.

This is odd, and the radio news made a big deal about this. What people who occupy positions of trust don’t already carry a form of ID? Lots of news sources go on about how Airport staff will be early ones to get them – oddly, you already need to have an ID card to get airside at an airport. What will have actually changed? Are the current procedures flawed?

Now, at this point I was going to do a line by line rebuttal of her claims but as they are all insane it will take much too long. Nearly every sentence she utters in her speech contains falsehoods and spin to trick people into thinking ID Cards will solve the worlds problems. They wont.

In an effort to be brief, I will try to address her main points.

Surveillance is everywhereFirstly, ID cards are supposed to be brought in to prevent crime and terrorism. Wow. If having to carry an ID card would prevent someone from being a terrorist, why are there still terrorists in the world? Same with crime. Neither activity will be deterred simply by the existence of a voluntary ID scheme. The best that could possibly be hoped for would be for a compulsory ID card, with fingerprint data, that may enable the police to catch people after a crime(*). In years gone by crazy ideas were often supported with a “wont anyone think of the children” (as parodied by the Simpsons), now we have Prevent Terrorism as the buzzword. If the government want to pass laws people will hate it is always linked to prevention of terrorism. Didn’t anyone watch “In the Name of the Father?”

Secondly they are supposed to prevent Identity Fraud. How this happens is never, ever, mentioned and, frankly, defies even the most cursory examination. Again reading through Ms Smith’s speech is an exercise in logical fallacies, there are more appeals to fear than I care to count. The phrases basically go along the lines of criminals steal identities so get an ID card. This sounds good and there is a half-hearted example of one person who defrauded the state out of £2.5m over five years. Compare this to Northern Rock who have taken over £100billion from the state in as many months. Who is the worse criminal? On a more personal level, ID theft is a terrible thing and I genuinely feel for anyone it happens to. Would the national ID card prevent it? Ninety nine times out of a hundred the answer is no, and in the other one is it a maybe.

CCTV Cameras Cover the CountryFor example, if some one hacks your Ebay account and runs up charges would an ID card have protected you? Same with anything online (where most ID theft apparently takes place) and in the offline world it only works when it interacts with the government. Someone can steal your ID and apply for credit cards, loans etc., and unless the issuing authority has access to the central database there is no way to find out.

This leads to the other problem. The database itself becomes a single point of failure. All a person needs to do is attack that to gain a legitimate, but false, identity. As recent months (and years) have shown, the Government is a largely inept organisation when it comes to protecting the data it holds. The news has covered dozens of “accidents” where huge amounts of personal data have been lost into the public domain. Do you feel safe thinking that a group with this track record will hold the gold standard of data about your identity?

Ms Smith has considered this and some reassurance is given:

Private firms will be encouraged to set-up “biometric enrolment centres” where passport and ID card applicants will be fingerprinted. [BBC news]

WTF! To make matters worse, this personal and private data will be collected by non-accountable organisations who have, by definition, their primary goal of making profit. By Toutatis this is madness. Here we will have the situation where staff on a minimum wage will be responsible for inputting your ID details and making sure no one else can get access to them. People who can be bribed with the price of a pint down the pub. Terrifying.

When Ms Smith talks about how they will protect the data the ID system will store, she manages to confuse me as to how it will work:

 The way in which we are designing the National Identity Register, with separate databases holding personal biographic details physically and technologically separately from biometric fingerprints and photographs, will greatly reduce the risk of unauthorised disclosures of information being used to damaging effect. …(followed by)…  I should make it clear that none of the databases will be online, so it won’t be possible to hack into them. [BBC transcript]

Now call me an old fashioned security professional, but there is a bit here that makes sense. By preventing people from getting access to the data you really do reduce the risk of unauthorised disclosure. However, and this shows more madness, if huge segments of society can’t access the data it is useless. The idea as I see it is that you go into the bank to open an account and show them your ID card. They scan it and compare it to the record of you. If it matches you get account. Seems easy, except now it looks like the bank wont have access and even if they did there is an air gap between the two technologies.

How is it supposed to work?

Lastly (phew, I hear you cry), the introduction by stealth. This shows the government KNOW this is an unpopular idea and it would never get off the ground if they tried to roll it out now. Instead they are going to play on the “white working class fear” of the Evil Immigrants by making them carry ID cards (why not force them to carry a sign round…(**)). What effect this will have is beyond me because if I was an immigrant and challenged by “authority” I would simply say I wasn’t an immigrant. Prove me wrong. Next come the “UK citizens and EU nationals who work in ‘sensitive’ airport jobs” who already carry ID cards and aren’t likely to complain, but again the question is “why?” Finally in 2011 it will be an opt-out option on passport renewals. Passports already have biometric data and are acceptable as proof of ID the world over. Why do we need another form of ID?

That is it in a nutshell, though. Why on Earth do we need another form of ID?

(*) remembering to account for the error bars of partial fingerprint matches when you have a database of 60+ million entries, and hoping the criminals are too stupid to wear gloves…

(**) Hmm. This seems familiar. I wonder why…

Good and bad ink

I am not an admirer of tattoos. Well, except for the completely obscure or the comically extreme ones. However, the anatomical one shown on the BBC magazine site is spectacular.

Tattoo on the BBC website

(I’m posting the picture from the BBC site here. Think of it as fair comment, OK? Plus there’s a link to the original story.)

Under the paragraph about this truly inspired piece of body art, there is another post on an ex-vicar’s more humdrum tats. He says it’s an expression of his christian beliefs but also says some Christians think he’ll go to hell.

Both these viewpoints seem a little odd.

He has a reversed pentagram between his traps, for instance. I didn’t realise that the reversed pentagram was the new fish. But I suppose it’s a step in a more aesthetically pleasing direction.

At the same time, I was also unaware of any mainstream religious prohibition against having someone impale you with ink to create deeply spurious Celtic-Maori-crossover symbols on your skin. Maybe there is some sense in religion after all.

Media Inspired Cluelessness

A few days ago, I ranted about foolish people who thought having a hammer or baseball bat by the side of their bed was a “good idea” for stopping burglars. At the time, the comments on the Radio 2 page were not available but they are now. (If you are reading this after 24 Jul 07, it may no longer point to the right place).

At the time of my previous rant, I was mainly thinking about the idiots who feel they are skilled enough to get up in the middle of the night, naked or in pyjamas, pick up a cumbersome household item-cum-weapon and attack an intruder inside their house. The comments reinforced my previous opinions and to be honest, most of the people are simply writing jingoistic bravado, knowing that the chances of them ever being put to the test is minimal. Some are more entertaining than others though, for example:

keith hughes, salisbury
there not by the bed but under. i have 3 single handed swords, 3 hand and a half swords, a pole arm, a musket, canon, armour and a number of shields, take your pick. All of these are for medieval re-enactment. I think i have the art of home defence worked out, although i’m open to suggestions.

I hope his house is actually large enough for him to wield these weapons properly, although I suspect any burglar who waits around long enough for him to sally forth in armour with his bill pike may well be prepared to deal with the consequences. Sadly, Keith is equally deluded in thinking he has the “art of home defence” worked out, but no more so than any of the others.

The big problem I have with the comments, is the total lack of understanding. Around one in three are people complaining that the law does not allow them to defend their property (or in the case of one nutter who calls himself “King Arthur”, his women). This is a myth.

Thanks to the media’s misrepresentation of reality, these people are complaining about the unfairness of laws which don’t exist. None of them have bothered to clue themselves up, but they still feel perfectly capable of sounding off about it. Add in people who cant even follow the debate and think the discussion is about defending lives and it becomes truly comical.

Pretty ironic really. Sadly, these people have the vote…

[tags]Government, Law, Self Defence,Rants, Society, Culture, Idiots, Media[/tags]

Mental riff – special project

Hat tip to Black Sun Journal for sparking this off with his comment on the last post, in which he suggested searching out El Morya

(Mea culpa, I would have to say that I was only vaguely aware of Black Sun’s back story though I’d sort of picked up bits of it from the personal bits of his posts. His parents were pretty well-known leaders of a Blavatsky influenced cult. Really.)

First shock is how often El Morya pops up on web pages. “1 – 10 of about 125,000 for el morya.” Not quite a household word but probably more than you’d get for a fair number of other topics. I was going to see how many hits some science and social science phrases got but,no, it’s not like anyone would thank me.) Continue reading

Landlords – Public Enemy Number 1

Again, this is a long, non-Atheist, rant. If you are reading on the magnificent Planet Atheism, or have come to the blog looking for philosophical insights into religion, please feel free to skip.

Depending on which sections of the UK media you have access to, you could be mistaken for thinking that, recently, buy to let landlords are the Earthly incarnation of evil itself and that any day now George Bush will declare war on them. As always, this is especially prevalent in the “left” media (what remains of it) but it has echoes all over. An example, is this weeks “Guardian Money” pages which has a massive spread about the evils of Buy-To-Let, along with a page of letters from readers who also think landlords are the definition of scum. The joys of the internet mean you can now read this online.

Highrise StockholmPersonally, I think it is all nonsense. I am pleased about this, as I have noticed a slight left-wing tendency in my previous posts, so hopefully this will bring me back to the centre :-D .

Blocks of Flats in StockholmThe basic premise, in this article anyway, is that buy-to-let landlords have little regard for the local “community” and allow their properties to fall into disrepair. The secondary premise, and the main reason people hate buy-to-let-landlords in general, is that people who can afford to buy multiple houses are pushing house prices up, beyond the reach of any first time buyer. This is (sort of) supported by the data which shows the average UK house price is now around seven to nine times the average UK salary.

Before I attack some of the nonsense in these premises, I must declare an interest. I own a house which is rented out. I bought the house knowing I was unlikely to live in it for many a year and I still don’t live in it. I don’t even live in the same country the house is in. As a result, I do worry that legislation which affects buy to let landlords will affect me, and this gives me a fairly strong opinion – I may not be fully objective…

Continue reading

CAPTCHA – Work of the Devil

Every one knows that allowing bots to post things on people’s behalf is a bad thing. I mean it contributes to spam comments on blogs – which no one likes. Obviously anything which works against this evil is a GoodThing®?

Well, no. I don’t agree. First off, there are better ways to prevent things like automated signups, automated submissions and spam bots. More importantly, they are such an annoying thing I can’t for one second think they do not drive visitors/subscribers and commenters away. Now, I would love to see the business model of a website (especially a “Web 2.0″ one) which is happy to drive a percentage (however small) of it’s customers away.

Now, I am healthy, have good eyesight and fully functional manual control – and I have a hard enough time getting round some of the CAPTCHAs out there. I dread to think what it is like for people who have even slight visual impairments or motor co-ordination issues. Over the last few weeks, I have suffered numerous, infuriating, problems with CAPTCHAs on sites which really should know better. Continue reading

ID advocates never sleep

According to Matthew Taylor in today’s Guardian:

State schools could teach the theory of intelligent design in science lessons, the Church of England’s new head of education has suggested.

Well, where do you start on this?

In my limited understanding of Intelligent Design, it is not “science”. It cannot be considered a science using any definition that I can recognise. “That’s really complex, so someone must have planned it” doesn’t seem wildly scientific to me.

There was brilliant post on Pharyngula that pointed out that astrology is much more scientific than ID. At least you can falsify astrological predictions. (It always gladdens my heart when “real” scientists show knowledge of epistemology.)

Continue reading

New TV low

Endemol has excelled even its own proud record of providing “entertainment” in the true tradition of the Roman arena.

It’s about to produce a reality show on Dutch tv where three people who need transplants will compete for the kidney of a dying person.

What can you say? What fun. Life for one winner. Death for 1 person for sure and possible death for the 2 losers. Continue reading