Security Theatre and You

January 28th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

The government have decided that they are still allowed to bypass the legal system (albeit to a slightly less egregious extent than has been tolerated in recent years) if they want to restrict someone’s rights and freedoms but don’t have enough evidence to secure a conviction. Aside from the fact that the plans are still a serious violation of the EU Convention on Human Rights[1], we’re being asked to believe that the state genuinely needs to be granted these powers in order to protect our safety. They do not, however, add any detail on the magical abilities which allow them to know when a person is plotting an attack, but simultaneously prevent them from bringing a case to court under any of the various “conspiracy to commit…” laws. At this point, we’d be doing just as well with an anti-tiger anti-terrorist rock.

On a vaguely related note, it is, at least, good to see some security officials doing their job properly. Only a few days ago, a rifle was found destined for a plane at Gatwick airport. Admittedly it was less than 10cm long, cast from plastic resin, completely non-functional, impossible to mistake for a genuine weapon, and attached to an action figure, but this did not prevent the gallant public protector from sending the passenger back through the airport (brandishing the item considered too dangerous to allow on the plane) to post it home. They slept soundly that night, safe in the knowledge of their job and civic duty well done, I’m sure.

[1] Well, they would be if the convention didn’t have get-out clauses you could drive a bus through. In any case, I’m pretty sure the spirit of the law granting ‘freedom of assembly and association’ is violated if you’re putting restrictions on people for reasons like this:

Security chiefs say the power is an essential tool in cases where there is intelligence that someone is involved in extremism but has not yet committed a crime, such as someone associating with known plotters.

I’m Becoming an Economist

January 27th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Some choice quotes from a recent BBC article on the ‘science’ of economics:

Paradoxically, while everybody knows that forecasts are mostly wrong, “everybody still demands them,” said the senior economist of a large banking group, speaking off the record.

“It’s a starting point for analysis or discussion,” says the chief executive of a large asset management firm, “but you don’t have to believe it… economists are just one input among many.”

So how often do the economists advising his firm get it right?

He shrugs his shoulders: “Oh, about 3 or 4 times out of ten.”

So evidently all I have to do is set up a random number generator, couch my reports in pseudo-scientific nonsense, and watch the cash roll in. Since everyone at the top apparently already knows that the industry is a scam, they can’t even accuse me of acting in bad faith – if I’m hitting a 50% random average, I’m doing them a favour, after all.

As such, I fully expect that my next blog entry will be made from the back of my brand new (and tastelessly overstated) Mercedes. It will, of course, be the only car on the road with darkened windows – wouldn’t want to draw undue attention to how rich and important I am, after all. If I’m in a good mood, I may even buy one of you proles a beer.

Meritocracy

January 24th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Political ideas, regardless of validity, rapidly seem to develop a level of inertia only otherwise encountered in the more esoteric branches of physics. The British government are currently kicking up a fuss about UK companies supplying drugs to death-row executioners in the US. I forget why the US prisons can’t get the stuff for themselves locally, but the question is immaterial; the supply of the chemicals is just one of the well documented issues with lethal injection, ranging from the difficulty of finding a vein to the question of the pain it may or may not cause. If it were the only option, or perhaps the best of the bunch, then debating and maybe accepting these issues (the morality of execution in general aside, for now) would be reasonable. That’s if there were any chance of lethal injection being the best option. There isn’t.

Nitrogen is cheap, absurdly plentiful, can be administered with minimal difficulty and essentially no training, is painless and effective, and even maintains a level of clinical detachment which some say is to be afforded as a courtesy to the executioner. This is not a complex moral issue, it’s not the debate about whether capital punishment should be carried out at all, it is simply a question of method. One method is demonstrably superior in all respects. So fucking use it.

Thirty-two Months

January 21st, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Throwing a fire extinguisher from the top of a tall building was a colossally stupid and dangerous thing to do, but I have to wonder whether it really demands the same prison sentence as:

[Update, 7th Feb] Another delightful entry for the list: 33 months for blinding someone by stamping on their face with stiletto heels.

Freedom of Asshattery

January 21st, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Some men in Newcastle burned a copy of the Koran. From this, I can deduce that they were probably intolerant, bigoted and quite possibly racist – it’s one thing to offend in the course of making a point, quite another to offend simply for the sake of it – but I see no reason for it to become a matter for the courts. They happened to get off, but only due to insufficient evidence, not due to any legal or philosophical protection for their actions.

Simply put, “acting like a dick” is not (in general) a crime; if “acting like a dick to a certain group” is a crime, the legal system has suddenly created an order of preference. As the wise and holy sages of South Park so eloquently put it:

Either everything is okay to make fun of or nothing is.

Sure, these guys weren’t exactly ‘making fun’ – at best they set out to show their disapproval in a clumsy and overreaching manner, and very probably intended to cause deliberate offence – but the principle is the same. Either we are free to mock, to criticise and to offend anyone, or we must be polite and deferential to all. Attractive as the latter option may occasionally sound, a free society can only function based on the former. Half-measures simply breed inequality or set the ball rolling towards uniform restriction.

Buggy Whips & 8-Tracks

January 20th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

Anyone care to speculate on how much longer ‘record label’ or ‘publisher’ will be a viable business? Not even thanks to the pirates sailing their captured oil tankers down the intertubes, or whatever other newfangled method people have found to get free stuff. Simply because, as archetypal middlemen with a long and distinguished history of screwing over the vast majority of people they come into contact with, their existence was long supported only by their necessity, and that necessity is rapidly dwindling. Most artists I’ve spoken to are, to say the least, less than appreciative of their works being wrapped in DRM and denied to potential customers, purely because archaic contracts ensure that someone couldn’t possibly be allowed to buy a piece of media from a US server if they aren’t in the US at the time.

It used to be the case that physical production and distribution of media was a major issue, and economies of scale meant that the up-front costs needed to cover thousands of units. The big remaining problem at the moment is still start-up funding – labels swallow the risk of promoting a new artist in exchange for keeping them locked in to a contract if they do make it – but promotion, unlike pressing CDs or printing books, has no fixed cost, nor does it require a large and risky investment. Getting that one remaining necessity, however, generally requires accepting all the crap that comes along with a traditional record label or book publisher. Any idiot can handle basic production and distribution for themselves now, but promotion can be tricky, and hiring a decent marketing or PR firm does still cost an awful lot more than the two cans of beans and old sock which constitute the sum total of what most garage bands will part with.

As soon as a big, free, social platform for music promotion comes along, the labels are dead. Same goes for book publishers, although they do still have some advantage with the tactile physical product. Artists need a kick to get themselves off the ground, but once they do, they can be the ones calling the shots. It makes a lot more sense – the marketers are providing a service to the artist, after all – but the soon-to-be-irrelevant industry executives appear to be rather too busy blaming the whole problem on the aforementioned buccaneers to notice.

[Update, 20th Feb] A rather appropriate addendum, I feel: this video is an excellent reminder both of why publishers did have an awful lot to deal with at one point, and of how much that has changed when the entirety of ‘production’ involves clicking a button marked upload.

Brains in Jars

January 17th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

For the purposes of this post, I will force myself to put aside the fact that the term ‘think tank’ will always conjure an image something akin to Krang from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Of course, logically that would mean I shouldn’t have bothered to mention it at all, but now the image has been etched onto your brain for at least the rest of the day, so my work is done in that respect.

It seems more than a little incongruous to read another ‘think tank’ study warning of the dire consequences that will befall [segment of society] due to the government cutting [benefit/tax break/service of choice]. At the risk of sounding like a low-rent stand up comic: might it not make a tiny bit more sense to just save a bit of cash and cut the think tanks instead?

There isn’t that much money spent on them, but then the whole MP’s expenses scandal was basically over pocket change when you look at it in context. Surely a government-sponsored sinecure handed out to those who need it least should be an issue that causes something approaching the same level of animosity? Even those running the bloody things admit that they don’t know why anyone’s bothering to pay them, after all.

And Your God(s) Shall Protect You

January 16th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

If many fellow pilgrims are being trampled to death on a semi-regular basis at your religious festivals, it may well be a good time to rethink your system of belief.

Barrel. Fish. Shooting.

January 16th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

“My whole life, I thought I was a Capricorn,” the 25-year-old publicist said. “Now I’m a Sagittarius? I don’t feel like a Sagittarius!” It felt, she said, like a rug had been pulled from under her feet. “Will my personality change?” she mused. “Capricorns are diligent and regimented, and super-hard-working like me. Sagittarians are more laid back. This is all a little off-putting.”

I could not possibly allow myself to stoop to mocking these fine citizens. They have, after all, unlocked the fundamental secrets of time itself. They may predict at will the minutiae of life on this insignificant little planet, yet they do not impose their wishes upon us as they so easily could with their extraordinary gifts. They satisfy themselves with a life of quiet contemplation, realising in their zen-like calm that there truly is nothing more important than which celebrity just gained weight, or whose relationship will be the next to fail. Would that we could all reach such enlightenment.

I’d Make a Great Messiah

January 15th, 2011 § 0 comments § permalink

If someone wants to travel from the US to Cuba because it seems an interesting place to visit, that’s too bad. If, on the other hand, someone wants to travel there because they need to clear themselves of thetans, or because their chosen all-loving and all-forgiving deity will turn them into a pillar of salt if they don’t, that’s just fine.

It’s at this point that I would gather all my self righteousness and declare that we should start our own religion (with blackjack and hookers) to make clear the point that anything can be called by the name of ‘religion’ and that the law must protect all equally or none. Luckily, someone funnier than me already did so. So go and read his blog instead.