Monday, October 31, 2005

To whom shall we award the Credit?

Politicalog has a good post up about the festering piece of shite that is the Tax Credits system.
"The department's Internal Audit Office concluded that there was a lack of comprehensive information to allow a robust analysis of the problem."

Roughly translated: "Please don't ask us how much we have lost, because we don't know."

Essentially, the whole system is a complete fuck-up; and let us never forget that this was one that our prudent idiot Cyclopean Chancellor championed personally. Apparently, he's stupider than I thought.

This would be very, very difficult.

Up the Lords!

Talk Politics does a superb fisking—and far superior to mine which, frankly, descended into an ad hominem rant—of Neil's ID Card defence. Unity sums up all of the best points, both on principle and technical grounds, and presents them in a clear and patient way. Especially if you are still wavering on the ID question, this is essential reading.

Linked to that, of course, is the fact that only the Lords stand between us and this iniquitous law. This has led Oscar Wildebeest and The Moai to the distressing conclusion (for them, by the sound of it) that only these unelected peers can possibly save us. In the Moai's case, he has removed the Elect The Lords button from his blog.
We can only hope the Lords organise to crush it out of sight - they've done this for most of the government's loopy schemes, so they can damn well do it for this one. After all, one advantage of being a Lord is that you're never up for re-election so you're free to tell a government of your own colour to go and stick their ideas where the Sun don't shine.

This has always been my view, and the reason why I have never supported an elected second chamber. What is the point of having a second House filled with yet more politicians who must kow-tow to their Party line? The independence of the Lords, especially the Hereditaries, has always been an bulwark against the most totalitarian whims of too-powerful governments. This is why we must keep the Lords as they are or, for my preference, reinstate the Hereditaries who were ejected under NuLabour's exciting new initiative. For what happened? Yup, Our Dear Leader merely filled the House with his cronies.

This government must be curbed. Only an unelected House of Lords, with the ability to defy their patrons and look to the future—beyond the next election—can save us from being tagged and controlled by this fascist government.

Hamster and I agree on ID

However rarely it may happen, Curious Hamster and I agree on some things.
It's stating the obvious but every person who publicly opposes this Bill will help to create a little more doubt in the minds of Ministers as to the wisdom of the plans. I'd strongly recommend being one of those people. If this passes into law, it is never, ever, going to go away.

He says just about everything that I wanted to say about resistance. I am also one of the 11,000 "ID refuseniks", and you will have noticed the prominent No2ID logo on the right of this blog. You will also notice the text below it, that links directly to the pledge: click on it, please, and support our freedom, before it is too late.

Get down with that casualty graph...

Curious Hamster is on the Iraq case once more, showing that the number of Iraqi casualties is far higher now that in January 2004.
Casualties suffered by the coalition have levelled off at around 18 per day. This has been stable for the last 10 months or so and is lower than the higher rate of 26 per day experienced from April - November '04. That's not totally bad news but it's not really good news either. The figures for Iraqi casualties tell a much grimmer picture. Iraqi casualty rates have risen steadily since January 2004 (with one blip), going from 26 per day then to 63 per day now. According to the US military's own figures, the insurgency is causing more than twice as many Iraqi casualties now as it did in January 2004.

He is right, although it's probably worth pointing out that there are more Iraqis "in service" now than there were in January 2004 (when we'd disbanded the police and army: probably something of an error, that). Hwe rails once more against the Bush/Blair combine, and reminds us that these are more than statistics.
And it is important not to forget that each of these numbers represents a real person with their own family and their own friends and their own favourite TV programmes and their own hopes and dreams for the future. Each of these statistics represents a real person dead or injured. The limbs of real people are being blown off, the skin of real people is being burned off their bones. Families are being torn apart. These things are happening in Iraq every day. The situation is desperate and it's getting worse by the week. Something has to be done.

Yes, yes; so everyone keeps saying. The question is, what should be done? Perhaps try to form an elected Iraqi goverment, help them form a contitution, and help to train their troops? Apparently not.

Bugger off and leave them to it? That hardly seems fair. So. What. Do. We. Do? Can anyone think of anything? At all?

People seem very eager to bash the Iraq situation, and many people have also maintained that they saw this coming some time ago. Well, that's fantastic, and you are far more perceptive than our leaders (when has that ever been disputed?); however, given that we are now in there, and the situation is as it is, what should we do?

There seem to be a lot of people bashing Blair/Bush for what is happening, and almost no one actually presenting any kind of "acceptable" solution.

And now...

... for my 300th post, its over to ChickenYoghurt, with a post of characteristic genius.
Anyway. Is this how New Labour dies? Of shame, laughter ringing in its ears? I can't remember a single policy idea put out by this government since the General Election that hasn't been hung, drawn and quartered by pretty much everybody with an opinion.

All this thinking out loud in the newspapers and half-arsed legislation gives the impression less of power with purpose and more of a fug of pot-addled students fantasising about starting a band when none of them own instruments or have any musical ability.

I, for one, can't wait to see what's next. My money's on bed by eight with only one story for those on incomes under £20,000 a year.

Go read it! You'll be doing yourselves a favour: unlike this blog, it's not childish, dull, derivative or very badly-written...

The sound of pet hates #3,894

Walking along the street, what should I hear but a young gentleman, sounding slightly stroppy, saying, "What are ashtrays except small bins, anyway?"

I wouldn't like to speculate on what had particularly annoyed him in connection with ashtrays and bins, but I would like to say this.

Ashtrays are not bins, they are ashtrays.

Please, do not put your crisp packet in the ashtray, because then I have to remove it, in all of its greasy crinkliness, from the ashtray in order to stub out my cigarette. Acting as a recepticle for cigarettes and the associated ash is the main purpose, the raison d'etre if you like, of ashtrays.

Please, do not put paper in the ashtray, and that includes tissue paper-like serviettes (another word that I hate, but hardly worth a post on its own), because they will burn. And nasty as my cigarette smells, that cheap paper will smell worse when its burning.

Ashtrays, as the name implies, are for ash and, as it happens, cigarettes. Not paper. Paper goes into a bin. That's why ashtrays are not, actually, bins.

Thank you.

P.S. The street is not a bin either.

Slapped in the face with a pickled sturgeon

I'm up at the Top 100 Scottish Websites, and my reviews are a little harsh, I think.

Reviews such as "Childish and ill considered" and "Dull, derivative and very poorly written" hardly inspire confidence. If I wrote for anyone apart from myself, I'd be a little hurt. I'd also like to check out what sites such people do enjoy but, alas, they are anonymous.

Having said that, my posts have not—mainly through constraints of time and location—been as inspired as they might have been. I shall attempt to do better.


News stories are like Jesus #1

They never die, they just get resurrected from time to time. bookdrunk has a piece up about the "soaring" sales of the morning after pill.
The Guardian, Telegraph and Daily Mail all turn to the news of an increase in the sale of morning-after pills. Can you see where this is going?

The Daily Mail opens with a characteristically misleading headline - 'Soaring morning-after pill sales a health risk'. While the number of women choosing to buy the morning-after pill over the counter has indeed risen, the total number of women using the morning-after pill has remained the same - around seven percent of women between 16 and 49.

The issue of whether this might constitute a specific 'health risk' is rather more a matter of opinion.

Regular readers may remember that I blogged about this a little while ago, highlighting Anne Glasier's concerns about the effectiveness of the morning after pill.
Essentially, the morning after pill floods your body with a host of (vaguely targeted) poisons in order to stop any embryo implanting or, should it have implanted, kill it. My lady friend was shaking, vomiting, feeling listless, ill, irritable, depressed and, frankly, never wanted to touch the damn things again.

These women must, indeed, have the constitutions of oxen. Or they're masochists. One or t'other.

The Religion of Peace Pieces

Via chris, a timeline showing the joy that is the Religion of Peace.

Remember children, it's all the fault of the West. Furthermore, it's actually all happening because we invaded Iraq; it appears that those sneaky Islamist crazies travelled forward in time and decided to act pre-emptively! What technology...

Oh, wait, no, sorry; it's all because the evil Israelis are persecuting the poor, downtrodden Palestinians. Or something.

Are you feeling the peace yet?

Getting into my pants.

What Your Underwear Says About You

When you're bad, you're very bad. And when you're good, you're still trouble!

You're not afraid to lay around resting your hand in your pants.

I certainly don't sit around with my hands down my pants. Unless my hands are cold.

I find these things quite addictive, so we'll have a couple more and then jus' leeeeaave it aht...

You Are Creepy

Serial killers would run away from you in a flash.

You Are Somewhat Machiavellian

You're not going to mow over everyone to get ahead...
But you're also powerful enough to make things happen for yourself.
You understand how the world works, even when it's an ugly place.
You just don't get ugly yourself - unless you have to!

You're An Alcoholic

Time to go back to step one.

No surprises there then...

A NuLabour Minister says something I agree with!

This is an extraordinarily sensible opinion from John "Oh, fuck, not Health" Reid.
John Reid, the Health Secretary, yesterday dismissed the demand for a blanket ban on smoking as "an obsession of the learned middle class".

Speaking at a Labour Party event, he said he was reluctant to use compulsion to outlaw something that was a source of pleasure, particularly to working class people.

Mr Reid, a former chain smoker who has now given up, said it was best to provide people with information and let them decide what to do for themselves.

A NuLabour apparachick advocating that people think for themselves rather than being legislated into "thinking" the right way? This man is so far off message that he can't possibly last for long!
"You have to be very careful that you do not end up saying to a 75-year-old that you will be better off if you are not going to be able to go to a working men's club to smoke," Mr Reid told the group.

"I just don't think the worst problem in our sink estates by any means is smoking. But it's an obsession of the learned middle class."

In a reference to New York's smoking ban, he said: "In New York it's very unhealthy to smoke. No one is allowed to do it. But everyone is allowed to have two machineguns."

Quite exceptional.
One participant objected quite strongly, telling Mr Reid her mother died of lung cancer.

Would this lady like a medal? Who cares if her mother died of lung cancer, seriously? If, as she implies, her mother died through smoking, then her mother made that choice: it was an informed choice. Because, really, how can sucking hot smoke into your lungs seriously be good for you in any way? It's a fucking stupid habit, but then so is homeopathy.

If this woman's mother died of lung cancer, but did not smoke, then prove that it was second-hand smoke as opposed to *yawn* car exhaust fumes that triggered the cancerous mutation.

I am impressed with Reid though. He's making an arse of the NHS (ha! As if anyone believes that he has any say in the running of the behemoth at all!) but I like his policy of letting people decide for themselves. That is, after all, the essence of freedom...

Via ChickenYoghurt.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Iran and Israel

I was not completely surprised by the remarks made by Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; and the G-Gnome has a very good post comparing his action with that of Galtieri. Just in case you missed the news, Ahmadinejad repeated the pledge of the Ayahtollah that Israel should be "wiped off the map".
President Ahmadinejad, elected in June, was addressing a conference in Teheran entitled "The World Without Zionism", attended by about 3,000 conservative students, who chanted: "Death to Israel!" and "Death to America!"

"The establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world," he said. "As the Imam [the late Ayatollah Khomeini] said, 'Israel must be wiped off the map'… The Islamic world will not let its historic enemy live in its heartland."

And there we have it, ladies and gentlemen; the leopard has shown his spots, and the move towards another crisis has been made.

It has always been my contention, unlike some, that we could not continue without any action in the Middle East. Whilst condemning Bush for his interference in Iraq (and Afghanistan*, of course), people tend to assume that, had we done nothing, we could have carried on much as before. This is not the case.

The Middle East has not been standing still over the last 50 years; indeed, Araby used to be a liberal, fun-loving place. Anyone remember those old films from the 40s and 50s, with the scantily-clad, dusky maidens? Staple of the Carry-On movie they were, but this archetype could not have been created—and appreciated—had it never been a common sight. It was the discovery of oil, especially in Saudi Arabia, which enriched the Middle East—with little effot on their part—and allowed the spread of radical Wahabi Islam and its attendant miseries and threats.

Let's be absolutely clear on this; Islamism is a system of control. It is no coincidence that all of the Middle East is ruled by despots. Islam is the system that enables absolute rulers to control their populations. If all that you can concentrate on is the daily grind, with secret police listening to your conversations, when shall you organise a revolt? There are distinct parallels with Communism here: keep the people at subsistance level and they will not plan revolution, only the source of the next meal.

Islam, or any religion, adds an extra control; Christianity in the Middle Ages (a point of development that most people in the Middle East are essentially at) promised, as one of my history teachers used to put it, "jam tomorrow"; don't fret that your life on earth, in the here and now, is miserable, live a life that Islam would be proud of—bow down to God and bear your misfortunes with fortitude—and you shall have your reward, your jam, in heaven. At some later date, you will be happy; but for now, the misery is the will of your God, not your rulers, so bear it without malice. All religions do this: they all offer "jam tomorrow", as long as you are a good boy. It is noticeable that, as religion has declined in the West, we have been more concerned with having our jam today, thank you very much, and far less concerned by the possible jam in a hypothetical, and far from proven, afterlife.

Anyway, I digress; let me get back to the main point, which is Ahmadinejad's threats. I have been writing for some time about my admiration for those running Iran's foreign policy: I think that they have, as far as their own security is concerned, played a blinder.

Given this, I find it hard to believe that theyshould drop the ball at this stage. In all of my suppositions, I have stuck to the theme of theIranian regime preventing, at all costs, the invasion of their country by the Coalition Against Terror (CAT for short!). They have supplied weaponry and know-how to the Iraqi insurgancy; they allowed Britain, France and Germany to believe that they had been successful in halting Iran's nuclear programme by diplomacy (thus handing the Europe ancien countries a stick with which to beat the US); and they have now, to the indignation and embarrassment of those same countries, restarted their nuclear programme. They have now been stalling for time, demanding that more countries become involved in the discussions before they will consider stopping the programme; NPT inspectors maintain that many questions remain unanswered about the programme.

If my surmises are correct, and they may well be the pie-in-the-sky that I disclaim them as, then there can be only one meaning to this ostensibly unguarded comment. That Iran feels that it is now unassailable; but they have ensured that state over the last couple of years by tying the CAT down, both logistically and politically, in Iraq. So what has now changed?

There can be only one thing; that Iran's nuclear weapons programme is far more advanced than we first thought. I expect an announcement any day...

*No one seems to mention Afghanistan any more: I wonder why?

Friday, October 28, 2005

That constitution

Curious Hamster is characteristically pessimistic over the Iraqi vote on the constitution.
I have to say that tonight's BBC 6 O'Clock News report on the result of the referendum seemed curiously optimistic. The acceptance of the constitution was presented as a significant positive step and there was almost no attempt to qualify that judgement. That's peculiar in itself but there was also not one word of coverage of the reaction of Sunni politicians to the "yes" vote.

Mind you, that's the Beeb being uncharacteristically positive over Iraq, so maybe they balance.
It is well known that the insurgency is predominantly being waged by Sunnis. If there is to be peace in Iraq, it is vital that the Sunnis accept the result.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. As you know, personally I think that there is quite a lot more behind the "insurgancy" than simple Sunni discontent, and there has been a reasonable amount of evidence to support my theses. If I am right, then the insurgancy is not dependent on the constitutional vote.

If, however, Curious is right, then Sunnis, being the minority, are not going to get everything that they want and are thus, on current form, never going to "accept the result". Similarly, it seems that the anti-war brigade are not prepared to accept the result either.
The UN has said that it is confident of the result so these claims might well be unfounded. Whether they are or not, they undoubtedly represent a serious problem for the coalition strategy.

Many anti-war acquaintances would have accpeted the war had only it had been backed by a UN mandate (I don't think that Curious is one of these, but I wasn't blogging at the time), and are having serious problems accepting this result despite the fact that the UN have endorsed it (the UN: not the US, Britain, etc.).
The official line is that the constitution was accepted by an overwhelming majority of Iraqis. This is basically true (78% voted yes and only 21% voted no) but like all the best spin, it is only part of the story. Now that we have the full results, it's clear that the referendum actually came pretty close to rejecting the constitution. This would have happened if three provinces had achieved a 67% "no" vote. In the end, two provinces voted no by large margins and a third, Nineveh, voted no by a small one.

Now, can we imagine the outrage in this country, if a referendum gained 78% support, and it was rejected because 21% didn't agree? Isn't the point that you can't please all of the people all of the time? The Sunnis are a minority in Iraq (and a minority in Nineveh which, to my simplistic mind, would make a "yes" vote in that province quite likely, rather than just a fiddle); if we were to go towards a more Sunni constitution, then a real majority of Iraqis are likely to vote no, aren't they?
So, although the constitution was supported by the overwhelming majority of Iraqis, the final result of the referendum is far from overwhelming.

Rather more overwhelming than our recent General Election though, eh? Only 22% of the electorate voted for this government*.
If the Sunnis do not accept the result and if their objections are swept aside, they could withdraw from the political process altogether. If that happened, it would almost certainly be disasterous for the stability of the country. Iraq is currently on a very precarious knife edge and the next few weeks are going to be absolutely vital. One slip and civil war will probably become inevitable.

If you were a minority group, hated by both of the majority groups (one of which is almost certainly backed by Iran) would you start a civil war? Would that be inviting them to wipe you out? Anyone reckon that the Coalition could stop that? Or that the UN—so fantastically successful in the Balkans, Rwanda and Darfur (to name but three instances of truly useful UN "peace-keeping")—would be able to stop it? No, didn't think so.
It might not come to that and I hope it doesn't. The Sunnis could accept the vote and put their efforts into campaigning for the elections in December. This might start to have some effect on the strength of the insurgency.

I wouldn't bet on it. It would be great if the Sunnis did engage with the political process; after all, one of the reasons that there were so few Sunnis negotiating the Constitution was because the Sunnis boycotted the elections in January, the silly sods. having realised that that may have been a stupid idea, they are now crying "foul". Well, tough shit. Start campaigning for December would be my advice.

The trouble is that Curious makes at least one pretty dodgy assumption. The first is that the "insurgancy" is all Sunnis. Wrong; all of the main insurgancy leaders are Muslim clerics. If, as we are constantly told, the Sunnis are secular, then why are they working with Shia clerics like Al-Zarqawi? Or Al-Sadr? Or, indeed, Al-Sistani? The answer is that they aren't. Secondly, if the Sunnis are secular, they don't believe that there are 72 virgins waiting for them in heaven, so why has the suicide bomber been such a feature of this insurgancy? Lastly, why have there been so many blasts and deaths in Sunni-dominated Baghdad? Does this sound like a Sunni "insurgancy"? No.

So, there are a few possibilities here.
  1. That there are, in fact, two "insurgancies": one is run by the Sunnis and one is run by the Shias. In which case, this is effectively a civil war anyway.

  2. There is no Sunni "insurgancy", or there is a Sunni "insurgancy", but they can't be bothered anymore (apart from shouting "boo" at a few Shias crossing a bridge).

  3. There is a Shia "insurgancy", made up of those who have "declared war on democracy and all those who practise it" (Al-Zarqawi, on the eve of the January elections. DK posts passim ad mauseam).

  4. The "insurgancy" is piss all to do with the Sunnis or the Shias; it's manufactured by an outside country, with an interest in keeping the Coalition troops bogged down in Iraq in order to maintain its own security, whilst it presses ahead with its nuclear programme in preparation for wiping Israel off the map.

Any ideas anyone?

The more that I write about this, the more right I realise I am, and the more the evidence backs me up.

*Anyone think that the Tories were desperately hoping not to get elected this time? Can you imagine coming into power and having to deal with the mess in Iraq? They must all have been wiping their brows...

Who will rid me of this troublesome Chancellor?

Bliar has given a speech at Hampden Court inviting the EU to run our lives a little more closely. This rather extraordinary meeting has Our Dear Leader urging the EU to take over tax policy, energy policy and research funding.
Tony Blair yesterday invited the European Union to extend its reach into a sweeping range of new - and sensitive - policy areas, from company taxation to university reforms, a "common energy policy" for Europe and the management of immigration.

This is a gross betrayal of the British people, and a sure road to disaster. The EU has never exactly shown a light touch on the reins of economic management, preferring instead to micromanage businesses by the application of a million little rules and regulations, each one more expensive to implement than the last. The moribund economies of the Eurozone are a stark illustration of the iniquities of EU economic policy.
Mr Blair said it was time for a common European energy policy, including "common views" on the possibilities of nuclear power.

"For far too long, we have been in the situation where in a haphazard and random way energy needs and energy priorities are simply determined by each country according to its needs, but without any sense of the collective power we could have in Europe if we were prepared to pool our resources," he said.

Each country determining what it needs and producing it?! How dare they? And nuclear power—is he mad?

Let's be clear, I am not a fan of nuclear fission power. Reasons, briefly, include:
  1. Nuclear power is expensive and still heavily subsidised (in this country, at least). It has never paid for itself, which is why it is still controlled by the government.

  2. Nuclear powerstations are expensive to build and have a working life of only a little over 30 years. They then have to be decommissioned (an expensive process in itself) and, essentially, buried under a big hill.

  3. There is still the vexed question of the waste. It is not much for a year, but it builds and we still don't really have a solution as to what to do with it. Burying it just isn't good enough.

There are better energy solutions being worked on, let's put the money into these other options (and, no, I'm not talking fucking wind turbines, because they are crap too).

Anyway, back to the point: why is Darling Toni encouraging the EU to take on these competancies? Well, if the EU controls economic power, investment and taxation, that pretty well emasculates Gordon, doesn't it? And, with the British economy heading for a severe pounding (with no reserves to spend its way out of the inevitable and rapidly approaching recession), Toni's going to need a scapegoat for it. Gordon won't do: he's too closely associated with the Labour government. However, if the EU were to take over, even partially, Bliar could happily blame the British economic fuck-up on them.

"Look, guys", he can say, "you know, I... tried to get them to reform, I really did. But, you know, they just wouldn't do it. I mean, it wasn't our fault. Vote for me; I'll sort it all out..."

What a twat.

Nice work...

This story from a couple of days ago, induced a Millie Tant-style exploding head dilemma for your humble Devil.
A JAPANESE artist has been paid £5,000 of taxpayers’ money to attempt to drink 48 cans of beer and then fall off a wooden beam.
The “performance”, which took place at the Chapter arts centre in Cardiff, has outraged members of the local council and caused bafflement among the public, many of whom do exactly that without getting paid every Friday and Saturday night.

David Davies, a Conservative member of the Welsh Assembly, said the show was “probably the biggest waste of money in the world”.

This is, undeniably, a load of fucking bollocks, and not, as an Art Centre spokeman claimed, "a powerful piece of art." I mean, it's nice work if you can get it: I wouldn't mind being paid £5,000 to ponce about on a pole drinking a lot (although, I'd have to drink real ale, and claim that it was a work about "how living things are treated like mass-produced objects") but, as Scott explains, it isn't art. It's a waste of money.

So, why the confusion, why the tortured head-banging over this piece of idiocy? Why do I feel unable to jump on it and give it an unreserved knacker-kicking? Can you guess?
Mr Patel, a Labour councillor for the Canton ward, said: "I don't agree with any binge drinking, regardless of what it is.

"I think it is inappropriate that a performance of this nature is staged in the public bar area - it should have been behind closed doors."

That's right: it's because, stupid and pointless though Ms Anti-Cool's work may be, this sanctimonious idiot is even worse. Personally, if someone is going to get ratted and balance on a beam, I can think of few more appropriate places to do so than a public bar. Is this kind of PC nonsense all that Mr Patel is going to delight us with?
He added: "If she was drunk then that concerns me and it sends out the wrong message. It is an arts centre but it also has a cinema and it is all open, so if young people were to walk through the main door they would've seen that."

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaargh, no, please god, won't someone think of the chiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiildren! "Young people" in Wales have obviously never seen drunk people before. Mr Patel obviously thinks that it is OK for "young people" to be in a public bar*, but it's not OK for them to see drunk people in that bar. In which case, I imagine that Mr Patel will be urging his fellow corrupt bunch of wankers, these fuckers are even worse than MPs councillors to limit the number of drinks to two per person. It's the inevitable follow-up: luckily, there are a lot of AA groups in the area...
A spokeswoman for Alcohol Concern said: "We don't comment on individual cases such as this but we are always concerned when people drink to excess and put their health and safety at risk."

Really. Well, there's a bunch of people who must be concerned every hour of every day of every year. There's so much concern that the amount of Prozac that they must shovel down themselves just to get out of bed in the morning probably constitutes some kind of record.

So, wait... crap piece of concept "art" costing five grand; must. Get. Annoyed. But, sanctimonious bureaucrats condemning it, not least on behalf of the chiiiiiiildren; they. Are. Even. Worse. Can't compute who I hate more... Whrrrrrr, Bzzzt...


*"Young people" should not be in bars. Bars are where we go to get away from the noisy, disgusting little fuckers. There's a good case for keeping women out of them too, except that then I'd never get a shag...

The tail wags the dog...

It's always gratifying to know that you are being read, but are these stat counters actually a curse? I didn't really have time to blog yesterday, and my hits dropped to less than half the amount over the previous week. Anyway, fear not, plenty to come...

I would just like to take another moment to plug the Wikablog—The Editable Blog Directory. There's a couple of points to note here.
  1. This is a blog directory and we want to try to get as many blogs as possible on there. However, Tim, Jo and myself do not have the time to go and sign up every blog out there, so please do sign yourself up. Some people have expressed reservations about "shameless self-promotion" and other such things. Don't worry about it, just sign up and a include a reasonable summary of your blog.

  2. Try to pick out some point that makes your writing original or quirky, even post a sample entry; there are so many political/economics 'blogs out there, you want to give people a reason to come to yours!

  3. Start reviewing other blogs (although this is not a discussion forum, so please keep it relatively polite). Most people are going to appreciate feedback and comments on what they write (why else would most of us keep our comments enabled?) so feel free to add to or disagree with the author's assessment of what he does (although, please do not write anonymously). This will also help to direct people to your Wikablog listing and then, hopefully, to your blog. Some examples of reviewed entries are here and here.

  4. We currently have 69 73 entries: we want hundreds, and then thousands. This is why it's important to leave your mark on as many entries as possible, so that people can find yours!

  5. Don't worry about mucking anything up. If you have a problem, my email is on the contact page, plus I try to review the site once a day, or so, to tidy up any stray pages.

So, go, sign up! We can help get traffic to your blog! Sign up to the Wikablog—The Editable Blog Directory (and don't forget to post the logo on your site)!

Thursday, October 27, 2005

My hollow laugh of the day...

... is caused by Neil and is, once again, on the subject of ID Cards.
But the general refutation is that the govt will obviously only support a scheme that works. The govt would be utterly stupid to foist an over budget, technically flawed system that is open to abuse, on the public...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

ID in the id...

Once more unto the ID card breach. As you know, I tend to make sweeping generalisations based—depending on the subject—on a fair degree of knowledge and critical thinking: essentially, I'm lazy. There are no such flies on the Pedant-General, however. Our P-G has taken it upon himself to go to the original source material and rip Neil's figures to shreds.
I suspect that we have a number of factors to consider here. Firstly demographics: bloggers are not representative of the population at large. They think about things a bit more. They are better informed (because they do things like finding the original research rather than relying on news reports) and are likely to have suffered a bit more education.

Secondly, it is just possible - crazy idea here, but I shall float it anyway - that ID cards are a bit like the EU constitution: the more you know about it, the more you begin to see that you don't like it...

YouGov supports this:
Do you support the introduction of ID cards? 42% No
Is it worth spending £6B on their introduction? 66% No
Is it worth spending £19B on their introduction (a more realistic figure)? 81% No
Do you have any confidence that this will not be an inconvenience? 84% No

Bloggers have looked at it more carefully than the population at large (remember your MORI poll with the 80% support? you know, the one where 73% said they knew little or nothing about ID cards) so their view is more likely to concur with the response levels once all information is taken into account.

The second post is from Bloggers4Labour and concerns the idea of a private company running the ID Card scheme.
Perhaps the solution is to run the ID system entirely within the private sector (I'm thinking: one huge software/integration company), within the bounds of the Data Protection Acts, albeit giving government officials special levels of access, plus special hardware and software.

Frankly I'd feel reassured about the use of the data, and I'm convinced that not only would the cost savings be great, but the capacity for costs to spiral would be lessened.

This begs the question: what's in it for the private sector? Paying them out of the public purse would hardly be a solution, as it would be far too great a temptation for both sides. The alternative is that the private company be able to run the system for profit (albeit capped and regulated).

Wait a second; capped and regulated by whom? The government? Well, that's not letting the private sector run according to the market, which is inclined to be equally disastrous.
How, though? They could be restricted to making a profit on the sale of new/replacement ID cards, though this may make the things too expensive for ordinary people to afford. What other opportunities could they exploit, that would allow cards to be affordable to all? By showing targeted advertisements when people use their home card-readers to view and amend their details? One-click purchasing of the company's other online products?

This is actually quite a sensible idea, given the original premise.
I can imagine making myself unpopular with this line, but perhaps it could give us an ID system which was cheaper, reduced the risk of snooping, satisfied people about intrusion and tracking, and which opened up opportunities to ordinary cardholders that the current proposed system seems determined to deny them.

There are a number of problems with this, certainly from a free market point of view. Firstly, it is not a market: people are being forced to buy these cards. People are not being given the option to buy a product at a certain price, they are being forced to buy it (eventually) whether they want to or not.

Secondly, no company would take this on if profits (or, indeed, takings) are to be capped. The chances are that the costs will be higher than anticipated (although to a lesser extent than if the public sector were running the project), and if the price at which the company can sell the cards is capped then they may actually make losses on the contract. If this happens, one of four things may happen:
  • The company goes bust

  • The company raises the price of the cards anyway

  • The company cuts its losses and dumps the contract

  • The government steps in and bails the company out, or otherwise subsidises the cards.

None of these options gets around the inevitable rise in development costs.

Thirdly, if you authorise just one firm to do this work you are creating a monopoly. No one, socialist or free market capitalist, believes that monopolies are good things (with socialists' one exception: that monopolies are fine as long as they are run by the government). Furthermore, if the government is regulating the scheme, then this is not even a free market anyway.

This must be made clear: the main reason that public IT projects tend to run overbudget is because of politics. As the politics change, so do the specifications of what the system must do. This happened with one of our projects, which started in August '04. Because of the political flux, and thus the specification changes combined with endless meetings to decide what to do about this or that political decision, a project that should have been finished within two months dragged out over 10 months and cost almost three times the original quote! As long as a scheme is being in any way initiated or controlled by government, it is going to be an expensive disaster.

Lastly, that still doesn't get over the principle that having ID Cards is wrong in the first place. Having a private company dogging my every step makes me no happier than if the government were doing so. And if the government can access the data anyway, what difference does it make? I believe that ID Cards are wrong, even were the cost negligible and the technology secure.

Women continue to make themselves unemployable

I am absolutely apoplectic with rage, courtesy of Mr Free Market.
I could comment along the lines of the publicly funded anti-business organisation, the Equal Opportunities Commission is cock a hoop, regardless of the wider implications of some numpty laws that militate against staff recruitment but first lets look at a few of the case facts as me’learned friends see them….

(a) Michelle Langton worked for Herbert Smith, earning £36,600 p.a. for working 2 ½ days a week, of which ½ a day a week was undertaken from home after having a baby. (Nice work if you can get it, eh readers?)

(b) She was made redundant while she was pregnant with her second child having refused to go back to work full time.

(c) Mrs Langton was awarded £40,000 by an employment tribunal & her employers, Herbert Smith were ordered to re-employ her on a part time basis.

Gleeming, if you are an employer, you clearly no longer have the right to actually ask your employees to do anything as mundane as to actually turn up for work. You can call me a tad old fashioned in this respect, but asking someone whose book cost to the company on an annualised basis is probably in excess of £200,000 to actually show up at the office 5 days week, doesn’t really seem altogether too unreasonable.

It seems that some women are determined to ensure that their siblings in the struggle against the evil, dominating patriarchal society never get a decent job. As a small business owner, does this sort of thing make me more or less likely to employ a woman?
I know that I have said this before, but trust me, this is worthy of repetition. Having children is a lifestyle choice, not a right. Not since Uncle Adolph got kicked out of office & the kybosh was put on his Aryan breeding programme has anyone HAD to have children – although the Chinese & Singaporeans are making a decent fist of it from time to time. If you want to have nippers go & have them - if you don’t, don’t. If your employer wants to keep you on or offer you a part time post, great. If not, tough. It’s a simple function of how your employer prices & values your contribution to the company.

Idiots like the [Equal Opportunities Commission] & ‘litigious’ Langdon just introduce market imperfections, inefficiency & hence extra costs. Extra costs in a world where purchasers can buy services just about anywhere is bad for British business.

Do you see? Governments create crises; political interference in the free market is the root of all evil.

ID: the debate continues...

Although they seem to have removed the link to The Kitchen about ad hominem attacks (which I resorted to because reasoned argument just doesn't work on some people, and throwing personal insults makes me feel better) Bloggers4Labour have this to say:
Neil is continuing to hold the line on ID cards, despite Tim Worstall's assertion that he is the only blogger out there who is doing so. It's a nigh-on impossible task and, all in all, an extraordinary situation. All 99.9% votes are suspicious, and even I - an optimist, and someone with a better-than-average understanding of database issues - can see possible benefits.

The thing is that we can all see possible benefits. The fact is that most of us oppose this proposal (not the Swedish system or any other) on a combination of these grounds (which outweigh the possible benefits):
  • It is a gross imposition on the people by the government. It redefines our relationship when it is the government that tells us who we are.

  • Nothing like the efficiency of the Swedish system that Neil highlights, such as the automatic payment of benefits, has actually been proposed. Nor, on past performance, would we expect it to work even were such a scheme being proposed.

  • From a technical point of view, they will not work. As an IT project managed by the public sector, they definitely will not work.

  • We are being lied to about the true costs. We will have to pick up the bill, whether by direct payment or through taxes.

  • There is the worry about government snooping: this government's past actions do not give one any faith that personal information will not be used. And whether or not you trust this government, the potential for abuse by subsequent governments is enormous.

  • In a narrative similar to the motives for the Iraq invasion, the benefits claimed for the cards have changed as each has been systematically rebuffed. This does not inspire confidence. What is the point of the cards if they will not stop terrorism or identity fraud? And what is the real reason for the government's enthusiasm for them?

  • Lest anyone had thought that they were mending their ways, they are still lying to us repeatedly, which does not bode well for the future.

  • The one person arguing for them seems to have:
    • a) an unshakeable faith in the altruistic instincts of this bunch of shits currently ruling us,

    • b) no personal knowledge of databases or the other technologies associated with the cards, unlike the many of those arguing against (such as Chris, Unity and myself),

    • c) no personal knowledge of dealing in public sector IT projects (such as Chris, Unity and myself), and

    • d) continues to compare apples with oranges

If anyone would like to add some more basic objections, then feel free. Generally, go and read Chris and Unity's stuff; they cover the issues in far more detail than I can be bothered to and have far more patience with the dense than I.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Inspired by this excellent post at ChickenYoghurt, a question for you: what constitutes a paedophile?

Paedophiles seem to be a group of people who are universally reviled—apart from Mohammed, of course—and yet it seems to me that the exact definition is open to interpretation.

If we go by the law, then we run into problems. In the US the age of consent is, in some places, as high as 18 (?); in Britain it is 16; but in Belgium the age of consent is 12. In Holland, 14. If someone goes to Belgium, has consenting sex with a 12 year old, is he a paedophile in Britain?

If you go by puberty, that is still problematic.

If you try to rule by mental ability to choose... well... that's pretty difficult to judge too.

Over to you...

The education paper in full

bookdrunk has carried on with his analysis of the new Education paper. He concludes that it is pretty unimpressive: another combination of NuLabour double-talk, ill-thought-through mumbo-jumbo and the same old policies trumpeted as new ones.
Given the desirable situation is for every school to be a good school, we're left wondering exactly what criteria will be used to exercise 'choice'; it's inferred that this might mean 'specialist' schools or religious schools, but for a document stating a new principal for education it's still left tremendously unclear. There's a curious blend of comprehensive values ("excellence for all") - and free marketeering ("individual choice for all") that has yet to be resolved in any coherent fashion.

Go and read: it's good stuff.

The government is watching you but they really would like to watch you closer...

Given all this hoo-ha about the ID Cards, can I really recommend this post by Talk Politics. Go read. (By the way, I should declare an interest: I am one of the "11,000 refuseniks" mentioned.)

Given Mr Harding's continuing bollocks about how secure the NIR would be, I was particularly shocked by this little revelation.
Neil said: Further to this, everyone will have access to their own entry on the database and even information of who has been using it to verify their identity.

Spyblog was, last night, looking closely into this claim and, in particular, into the exact wording of Tony McNulty's comments on this issue, which from the comments, were:

"Mr. McNulty: I certainly accept what my hon. Friend says about static as opposed to ever changing databases. She makes an entirely fair point. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Medway (Mr. Marshall-Andrews) offered a lot of comedy about the Domesday book, but it is not a fair interpretation of the Bill to say that the Secretary of State can change anything in the database that he likes, and insert whatever he wants to. That is not the case. We want people to be able to access secure web sites, by means of their PIN number, so that they can adjust and change data on the register."

As someone with more than 20 years dealing with IT both professionally and personally I can full concur with spyblog's comment:

"So "hackers" or "phishers" or terrorists or criminals or foreign intelligence agencies etc. will be able to steal or muck around with NIR data without any of the security provided by Biometrics at all !!

How long before a computer virus brute force attacks your, by definition short PIN, and either compromises your information, and that of millions of other people, or causes you to have your NIR view/edit/update account to be locked or disabled - a Denial of Service ?

No doubt you will then be accused of tampering with the Register and sent to prison for 10 years, since it will be impossible for most people to prove that their IP address was hijacked or faked."

Are they insane? I mean, seriously; do our wonderful leacers know nothing about this technology in which they place so much faith?
  • The Inland Revenue tax credits system which locked up for 15 minutes at a time and led to staff walking out. After ten months, 220,000 cases were unresolved and 400,000 people got their money late.

  • The NIRS2 national insurance system that came in years late and massively over budget - costing £85 million in compensation and £68 million to put right.

  • The electronic personnel management system in the Inland Revenue that can only be used by managers on a Monday to ensure that demand doesn't cause the system to fall over.

  • The on-line PAYE system that hasn't been sufficiently well-tested.

  • Five million tax records lost by the Inland Revenue.

  • Problems with the Swanwick air traffic control system.

  • The Security Service's new SCOPE computer, which is running three years late and 50% over budget for an underpowered system.

  • The HR system for the Northern Ireland Office which cost £3.3 million and didn't work after nine years.

  • A lack of performance monitoring on NHS IT, criticised as 'an appalling waste of money' by a parliamentary committee.

  • The BOWMAN military radio project, which came into limited use over a decade late at a cost of almost £2 billion.

  • The new Child Support Agency system which went massively over-budget and over-schedule.

  • The complete cock-up of the payment card system that swallowed £1 billion before it was scrapped.

  • The immigration document handling project that was scrapped after £77 million and a delay of years.

  • The CRAMS system for the probation service that went 70% over budget.

[List above courtesy of the excellent PoliticalHack]

Oh, no, they don't. Apparently, neither do those idiots who support them.

Talk Politics replies to Neil here and this is also definitely worth looking at.

As always, Master Lightfoot also has some great stuff on this too.

Get some education...

bookdrunk is perusing the new Education Paper. So far, he concludes that it makes fuck all sense.
I've yet to find the part of the white paper that directly addresses this problem beyond the commitment to 'ensure there are more good schools'. No shit, Sherlock. This is the big idea? There aren't enough good schools, so we'll create some more good schools - an approach which rather seems to contradict the 'hands off' notion that we'll let 'market forces' (i.e. leagues tables and parents discovering their children are failing because their school is shitty) sort it out. Maybe that's not what is meant. I just can't tell and I've been reading this damn document for over an hour.

The boy knows a bit about education—having, as he does—more qualifications than a Neil Harding post. He is going to return to the document later: I can't wait for the man's conclusion.

This sounds encouraging though:
There's an impenetrable tract about parents being empowered to start their own schools

This is what they do in Sweden, although they operate a free voucher system, rather than a catchment area system. More on that by Tim, here.

Neil replies...

Neil has commented.
As for New Labour being in favour of congestion charging, that is a joke. They fought Ken Livingstone all the way, even rigging an election so he couldn't stand for them. Now he has made it work, they have climbed on the bandwagon.

It's still not a libertarian policy. And Labour up here in merrie Edinburgh had their tiny wee hearts set on it. Luckily, the good people of the 'Burgh told them to stuff it up their arseholes.
New Labour are trying every fudge they can to avoid a complete ban on indoor smoking. First the 'no food/no ban' idea, now the 'sealed room' thing.

I'm very happy for you lovely Englanders. Unfortunately, NuLabour up here are going ahead with the total ban in any enclosed public space (including private clubs, theatres and places of work). Fascist shitbags.
Facial biometrics and fingerprints will be standard across Europe on all passports regardless of whether we have an ID card. This is why it is such a good time to introduce ID cards at the same time, to save money.

Oh yes, that's right; let's give up our freedoms because it'll save a bit of cash. Nice one, Neil, cheers.
ID cards can give civil liberty benefits. Like they say; 'if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear'.

No one but a fucking cock-knocker like yourself ever says that. If anyone would like to enlighten Neil about why that is a fucking stupid thing to say, and worse to believe, please feel free to unburden yourself in the comments.
You are just arguing for the freedom to have a false identity. That freedom is to the detriment of all our civil liberties.

I am arguing for people to be able to choose their own identity, rather than have it thrust upon them by their political "masters". It totally turns the people/government relationship on its head and just because the rest of Europe—noted, as it has been, throughout history for its liberal rulers, respect for democratic process (Hitler, Mussolini, Franco et alios) and steadfast support of liberty (Pétain, et alios)—has done it does not mean that we should. Bad policy is still bad policy, no matter how many other people have been cowed into it.

And to finish, here is a little sketch for you.

Man and woman walk into a hotel

MAN: We'd... er... like a room, please. Just for a couple of hours.

RECEPTIONIST [archly]: Really, sir. No problem. Can I take your names for the register?

MAN: Er.. Yes. It's... erm... Smith. Mr and Mrs Smith.

RECEPTIONIST: Really, sir? Very well.

MAN: Thank you. Can we...

RECEPTIONIST: I'm sorry, sir, but do you two have your ID Cards?

WOMAN: Do we have to? Only...

RECEPTIONIST: I'm sorry, we have to check.

Man and woman produce ID Cards showing that they are patently not called Smith. Hers, at least, indicates that she is married.

RECEPTIONIST: Ah, I'm sorry, we'll have to put the card numbers and your real names in the register.

Presses concealed button under the desk. Armed Police officers rush in and surround the couple.

RECEPTIONIST: They gave false names, officers!

Police officers repeatedly shoot the adulterous* couple in the face, only stopping when their ammunition has run out.

POLICE OFFICER: Thank you. Don't worry, they were probably terrorists. And even if they weren't, they were probably acting, like Mr Harding says, "to the detriment of all our civil liberties". You did the right thing, ma'am...

Of course, this skit is far funnier, and more involved...

Neil has missed the point again!
Anoneumouse has no problem sharing his fingerprint biometrics with the whole world. Which just highlights how petty the opponents' argument about biometric privacy is.

What Anoneumouse has actually done is to publish his fingerprints on his blog, thus ensuring that they are now covered by the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988. Thus the government cannot use them without his express permission and can only use them in the way that Anoneumouse specifies. As I read it, Anoneumouse's post is anti-ID cards and biometric data not pro, as Neil seems to think. Surely someone agrees with Neil? Ah yes...
Monjo points out that he has been supporting ID cards since May, though he does have some very worrying views on other issues (especially the age of consent).


*You may not approve of adultery, but it's hardly the government's business to intervene is it? Or is it, Neil? Eh? Hurts the kiddiewinkles, don't it? Why don't we hang adulterers, eh? Or at least imprison them, eh? Eh? For the good of us all?

Harding and race relations...

While we are on the subject of Neil Harding being wrong, let's dredge up this old classic, in which I challenged Neil's contention that all those against unfettered immigration are, in fact, simply racists.
On the face of it, it seems an obvious and ridiculous thing to have to say, but the crux of those arguing against immigration rests on implying that people born abroad are inferior.

It is not something you will ever hear them say directly but my god, they leave you with no doubt that this is what they mean. Of course, quite a lot more than this can usually be read into what they say because for immigrants read black or brown skin, which is the real cause of their distress.

To which I, quite sensibly, replied (amongst (a lot of) other things):
The reason that large scale immigration is not desirable is because it causes confrontation. It actually doesn't matter whether you think that it should or not: the fact is that it does. Unfortunately, we are seeing the results of this culture clash in, amongst other things, the Tube bombings.

The culture clash becomes greater the more equal the size of the opposing cultures. In the end, there is no point in saying that in an enlightened world it shouldn't happen because, when you get down to brass tacks, it does.

Neil has preserved his reply for posterity (unlike fucking Haloscan) in which, amongst other things, he said:
You [i.e. me—DK] give examples of why this 'cultural difference' is a problem by citing the Burnley riots.

Of course this totally ignores the fact that it was poverty that was the main cause of those riots, not people being 'culturally different'. Otherwise, why does the most diverse cultural city in the world, i.e. London, not have riots every day?

I wonder if he is feeling quite as confident now? Or is it a case of me being right again? Or are these riots caused solely by poverty too? (And will this be declared a racist killing?*)

There's a good post about this at Mangan's Miscellany: well worth reading...

*Oh, and when we catch those fuckers, let's deport the little shits back to Pakistan or wherever the fuck they're from. Although, actually, I favour "rendering" them to the Algerians as terrorist suspects...

The Fluffy Economist replies...

The Fluffy Economist has replied to my post, and I believe that he misses the point on a couple of issues.
My impression is that many lower paid jobs (cleaners, maintenance) are outsourced so these would skew the average private sector figures downwards.

Yes, but the market ensures that they are paid they are worth. The point is that, if they were paid more in the public sector then they were overpaid. If cleaners suddenly leave and become scarce, then the price for a cleaner will rise as dictated by market forces.
To fill in, the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary was sold to the private sector for £12m then leased to the NHS, so the latter could make a quick buck. The hospital then became a 'prime piece of real estate' and was sold for SIXTY MILLION POUNDS!

To sum up from another viewpoint: the NHS, a public body, sold a public asset for well below what the asset was worth in order to divest themselves of a capital asset (and thus capital cost) as an accounting fiddle. They did this to raise funds to start work on a new capital project.

In other words, they sold an asset at way below its market value in order to fiddle the books: if they were a private company, the directors would be being sued by the shareholders by now. At best, this shows massive incompetance; at worst it is negligence, verging on fraud. Only, of course, the NHS (and the government departments administering it) effectively answer to nobody.
I'm told the new hospital, Little France, is tremendously clean and friendly place to be, but what good is that, as DK so rightly points out, when any benefit is literally and economically bled away getting there?

Well, exactly; even the staff have to pay a massive fee to park their cars there. Plus the whole thing is too small, there have been engineering problems and severe shortfalls in funding leading to ward closures. And I imagine that its location is rather putting a strain on the ambulance service as well.

This is what happens when the public sector attempts to manage large projects. And the private contractors have no incentive to do a good job, because they have no end liability: the government will keep paying out regardless. This is not a free market, this is the usual government incompetance.

To be or not to be authoritarian?

The egregious Neil replies to my post with, amongst other things, a list of policies; if, he asks, he is a NuLabour apparachick, which of the following policies which he supports, are NuLabour policies?
Which of these policies are New Labour?
  • Proportional Representation for Westminster.

  • Incentive Voting.

  • A Citizen's income.
    Legalisation of all drugs.
    Congestion Charging.
    Complete Ban on workplace smoking.
    [Yes, under Scottish NuLabour anyway. With the bizarre consequence that I won't be allowed to smoke in my own flat because I work from home—DK]
    Ban on alcohol advertising.
    Amnesty for all illegal workers in UK.
    Automatic place at Oxbridge for brightest pupil at each secondary school.
    Triple council tax for second home owners.
    Re-emphasis on restorative penalties not prison sentences.
    Widen council tax bands to make it less regressive.
    Free local bus travel for local council tax payers.

I've argued for all these on my blog and more. I don't think anyone can justify calling me authoritarian if they read my blog posts.

Now, I'd like you to take a look at that list of policies and see if they sit well with Neil's claim to be a libertarian; do they involve more state involvement in the market or less, more micromanagement by the state or less? Socialist, yes: libertarian, no. (For an excellent analysis of why state involvement in just about anything leads to stupidity and, often, tragedy, I thoroughly recommend this book very highly. Also, you could just look at the root causes of, for instance, famine over the last 20 years. Start with Somalia.)
On the bloggers point, I wasn't going to ignore the orthodoxy of the bloggers being against ID cards. I acknowledge a lot of concerns raised by bloggers, I share them as well, but they are not actually relevant to the ID card debate. ID cards do not increase the govts access to personal information.

Yes, they do; facial biometrics and fingerprints are personal information that the government do not currently have access to (unless you are arrested, in which case they've probably got your DNA too).Besides, many bloggers are arguing about the principle of government intrusion into our lives: who the fuck are the government to tell me who I am? Government officials are our servants, not our masters: why the hell should I have to prove my identity to them?
As for your criticisms on being able to view who had accessed data, I clearly state (even in the quote you have used) that Terrorism/benefit fraud investigations would be exempt for obvious reasons.

But Neil, that means that you are going to have to store everybody's details, because they might turn out to be a suspected terrorist at a later date. The government may pledge (ha!) not to use the data that they collect but, if it is going to be effective in tracking, and reverse tracking, terrorists, then they will have to register all the information, otherwise it is just not going to be any use.
The NIR number can be on the card, but doesn't have to be on the NIR (or vice versa), it can be stored elsewhere.

Neil, my company builds database software, so do believe that I know something about this. A number that matches between the NIR and the card, or at least a clear, non-password protected path, will have to be in the system somewhere; otherwise you wouldn't be able to check that the people showing you the card are who they say they are. This seems to incredibly obvious to me that I simply can't believe that you would try to argue it.

In any case, ID Cards and the NIR are certainly not the policies of a libertarian; they are the policies of an authoritarian. I don't care how many times you take the political compass (which, incidentally, put me closest to that lying, socialist shit, Robin Cook. You could argue about the others, but I'm certainly no socialist) there is nothing libertarian about any of the policies that Neil supports. But then, he is, by his own admission, delusional.

Also, here's a nicely argued piece by Longrider.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Harding wrong again

Labour's greatest apologist, for whom they can do no wrong, Neil Harding is at it again: this time he is defending the ID Cards scheme.
Doing a quick blog search, I found hundreds of bloggers commenting on ID cards, not a single one was in favour.

This made me think of two scenarios, either I am totally deluded in supporting ID cards or there is something unrepresentative about bloggers (remember opinion polls find a majority of the population in favour of ID cards).

Well, given that the Register article quoted here shows, in detail, how those surveys were so flawed as to be a lie, one can only conclude—going on Neil's past form, correctly—that he is, in fact, "totally deluded".
The fact that I couldn't find a single blogger blogging in favour of ID cards tells me that this force is powerful enough to unite both conservative and liberal bloggers. It also presents me with an unexpected opportunity to be a pioneer blogger in outlining a detailed case in favour of ID cards (admittedly with a number of important reservations).

So, the educated—and informed—throughout all parts of the political spectrum are against the ID cards: that should probably give you a wee clue as to the fact that they really are not a good idea. Now, if I were going to argue a point, I wouldn't sit here declaring that the intelligent and educated are all against me; it might make people assume, even before I'd started, that I was a fucking idiot. Luckily for us, Neil has no such qualms.
Generally it is the more conservative, authoritarian types who favour ID cards and the liberal ones who oppose. People who know this site shouldn't have much of a problem with my claim to be a libertarian (my score on political compass was -6.7 on the libertarian/authoritarian scale).

This is like that old improv game, It Just Gets Worse.... Proper conservatives are not authoritarian, rather the reverse in fact. Furthermore, if the majority of libertarians are against ID cards, one must assume—since "libertarian" Neil is about to defend them—that there is either wrong with the political compass test, or every other person who claims to be libertarian is, in fact, lying. Can I point out that nothing that I have read of Neil's has ever made me draw the conclusion that he is libertarian: as a supporter of this government, one must conclude that, actually, he leans toward the fascist.
So what is this force uniting bloggers on this subject?

Common sense? A liking for freedom? An inherent mistrust of the government? A certain technical knowledge that tells them that it will not work? Just for starters, you understand...
Well firstly and foremostly, conservatives who might otherwise have supported ID cards, have a Conservative party who have seen a populist issue to win votes on a subject that is no cost to them.

And, of course, when Howard supported ID cards, it did them actual damage.
The overwhelming majority of the public are just concerned with the practical benefits. I predict that the controversy over the security and cost of biometrics will subside as the technology advances and the government refines its objectives. Although 3 biometrics have been proposed, just facial recognition followed by fingerprinting are likely to be initially used. Less reliable iris scanning might be a while into the future. As the system is proved to work both here and abroad, then the opponents will change tack, but it will be too late. Opponents know they have to win the argument early on or the facts will overtake them.

The technology will become cheaper as it becomes more readily available. As it becomes more readily available, it becomes easier to emulate. Thus, the concerns over security come to the fore. Furthermore, the reliability of the 76 year old technology that is fingerprinting is being questioned; facial biometrics and iris scans have also come under serious scrutiny. The fact is that these technologies do not work reliably enough to conclude definitely that someone is who they say they are.
Because the Tories have popularised being anti-ID card from a right wing perspective, it has been very easy for the liberal bloggers to find voice and support for liberty issues that otherwise would be killed off by the right wing media. This combination in right/left motivation coupled with support from the centrist Lib Dems has led to an unstoppable orthodoxy amongst political bloggers. It also fits nicely with popular perception of the govt as being illiberal.

This government is illiberal: Chris at Strange Stuff, amongst others have summed this up quite nicely. And perhaps, as I said, it is indicative that all facets of the political spectrum have come together to condemn this stupid, stupid idea. Apart from a few idiots, naturally.
Firstly it has to be said that a lot of the criticisms of ID cards are aimed at the foreseen failure of the technical aspects of biometrics and the lack of organisational capability of the govt rather than at the concept of ID cards themselves. This immediately makes me very suspicious of motives. If it is the restrictions on civil liberties that is the main reason, opponents should say so loud and clear, but also explain how this restriction outweighs the benefits of ID cards.

The restrictions on civil liberties motive has been shouted loud and clear. Unfortunately, since this government has shown that it couldn't give a rat's arse about civil liberties, we have pretty much concentrated on the technical aspects.
Some of the claims of opponents of ID cards have included the following;

1. That the govt and potential hackers will be able to track your movement around the country, view your medical, criminal, social security, bank, credit, supermarket, ISP and mobile phone details.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with ID cards, the govt has categorically stated that none of these details will be included on the cards or the National Identity Register (NIR). If the govt wanted to access any of these details, they wouldn't need to set up an ID card to do it.

No, they will not be. However, what will be included is "foreign keys": links from the NIR to the databases holding those particulars: more on that from Talk Politics. The NIR only acts as, essentially, an index to the rest of your personal details.

And, unfortunately, the government "categorically" stating something is pretty much guaranteed to make me believe that it is a lie.
2. It is unsafe to keep biometric and name/address data on cards and on a central database rather than on a number of secure databases.

There is no need to put the actual biometric data on the cards or have someone's NIR number on the database. Technology is available to distort biometric data on cards, rendering it useless for anyone else to read. The central database will be high security. This is the safest and cheapest method, its the same principle as banks keeping money in a safe rather than leaving it in the till.

So, wait, wait, wait a second: you wouldn't need someone's National Identity Regsiter number on the National Identity Register? Neil, do you know how databases work? Of course their number would need to be on the database because the number will be generated by a database script.

Furthermore, and let's make this absolutely clear, any software system is crackable; if it can be build be a programmer, it can be hacked by a programmer. It might take a while but, in this case, the rewards would definitely be worth it.
3. We won't know who is checking our identity and for what reason.

Under the Data Protection Act, you would be able to ask for these details. It is understood that (apart from the fight against terrorism and benefit/tax fraud), anyone accessing your data would need your consent.

How would this consent be given? Would a shop, for instance, have a sign behind the counter saying something like, "If you use a Debit Card at this store, it is assumed that you have given us permission to access your NIR entry"? And, if you wish to track terrorists or identity fraudsters, then you are going to have to know where they've been: thus, when your identity is checked in a shop, surely a note needs to be made in the NIR to that effect?
There will be no compulsion to carry the ID card. The police will have no new powers to ask you to prove your identity.

Really? Oh, no, actually, they already have those powers, don't they? So, the government can quite happily say that they will not introduce new ones. Nicely, my saaaaan...
The govt have stated that the cards and NIR will carry only the information your passport does. It would need primary legislation through parliament to add to this. Then would be the time to object.

My passport carries a photo, my name, my date of birth and my nationality. It doesn't have my fingerprints or a facial biometric. So, Neil, which one is it, eh? Oooooh, you mean it'll carry the information that the new biometric passports do. Right. And the legislation for that is... where? Where do we get to scrutinise that? What do you mean we don't?
The EU has passed standards on biometric travel documents that include face recognition and fingerprinting, the deadline is in 2006. Because of these standards and similar US requirements on travel documents to come into effect next year, the costs of incorporating biometrics are already being incurred.

Imposed from the EU? Oh.
Nearly every country in the EU has ID cards (21 out of 25 countries, only the UK, Eire, Denmark and Latvia do not).

Yes, and nearly every country in the EU does not presume innocence. In this country, we assume—well, unless you are a filthy Asian suspected suicide bomber or an octogenarian protester at a Labour Conference—that one is innocent until proven guilty. Our legal system, the whole basis of habeas corpus on which it is founded, is entirely different from the rest of Europe's. Just because everyone else has these intrusive devices does not mean that we should. That's a bit like saying that our presumption of innocence is outdated and we should harmonise with... Oh. Crap.
"Argumentation about identity cards is largely limited to anglosaxon countries. In most countries where an ID system is present, it is seen as a commonplace item that nobody argues about."

Yup, well, we like our freedom. Damn those filthy AngloSaxons and their desire not to kow-tow to their betters. If only they would, then this whole EU debate need never have happened.
ID cards are claimed to have a positive impact in the following areas;

Preventing illegal immigration and illegal working. Tackling Identity theft, benefit fraud and abuse of public services. And finally aiding anti-terrorism measures and enhancing a sense of community.

Both ID card opponents and enthusiasts largely agree that there will be a positive impact in all these areas with the introduction of ID cards.

Ok, I know that No2ID have an axe to grind, but I think that this page sums up most of the problems.
Illegal immigration and working:
People will still enter Britain using foreign documents - genuine or forged - and ID cards offer no more deterrent to people smugglers than passports and visas. Employers already face substantial penalties for failing to obtain proof of entitlement to work, yet there are only a handful of prosecutions a year.
Benefit fraud and abuse of public services:
Identity is "only a tiny part of the problem in the benefit system." Figures for claims under false identity are estimated at £50 million (2.5%) of an (estimated) £2 billion per year in fraudulent claims.
Identity fraud:
Both Australia and the USA have far worse problems of identity theft than Britain, precisely because of general reliance on a single reference source. Costs usually cited for of identity-related crime here include much fraud not susceptible to an ID system. Nominally 'secure', trusted, ID is more useful to the fraudster. The Home Office has not explained how it will stop registration by identity thieves in the personae of innocent others.

I don't think that there will be any positive impact on any of those areas, so you can remove me from your list of "ID card opponents" who believe so.
Hopefully as the costs and practicalities become more clear, and as the cards are gradually introduced, public support will strengthen and the anti-brigade will fade. This gradual introduction and lower cost is why ID cards should not become the Labour poll tax. Once people see the benefits and efficiencies ID cards bring both here and abroad, opposition should quickly fade.

Right, would someone deport this little shit to somewhere where he'd feel more at home, please? Like North Korea, or China.

There is a matter of principle here, far more than a matter of technology or cost, and that is what hideous, screaming shits such as Neil harding utterly fail to address. This rampant little turd's slavish devotion to the NuLabour fascist project would be alarming if he wasn't such an obviously ignorant little bastard.

Neil has, quite clearly, failed to make any single point for ID cards. He has taken the assumption that they are going to happen (Tony told him whilst Neil was sucking the Dear Leader's curly little pecker. Alledgedly) and tried to mitigate the massive arguments against. He has failed to prove his point, and succeeded only in showing his eagerness to suckle at the NuLabour teat. He is the worst kind of little, piggy tattletale, the kind who would happily dob his parents in for ThoughtCrime, if only it would earn him a pat on the head from his darling Toni.


Suffer the little children...

Whilst I continue my long post fisking of one of the only two fucking idiots defending ID cards, I shall direct you towards another good post by Tiny Judas.
First Tim Lott who manages to wow us with the revelation that Britian is a little bit complicated, sometimes repressive and at other times not. Well stick me in a floral dress and call me Susan, who would have guessed? Surely anyone who's been following Lost knows that when you crash 60 people on an island, liberty and oppression, tolerance and prejudice flow back and forth with every new generic plot incident. Now, times that by a million (the people and the generic incidents) and he thinks this is commentary?

What's more annoying however is his repeated 'these aren't facts but I'm saying them anyway' attitude to journalism.

Most enjoyable, as per usual.

Meanwhile, over at Rhetorically Speaking, Gordon Ramsey is full of shit...

Health & The Fluffy Economist

Another Edinburgh blogger on the block, The Fluffy Economist has his inaugural post up.
However, he has touched only tangentally on the truth. Let us assume that a private sector employee, with hopes of career advancement and rising salary, is good at making profit for his company. Public sector employees are not so good at making profit. Their career advancement, we hope, is through competency in his chosen office. Any differential in competency we can put down to lower wages and fewer opportunities for promotion in the civil service (although the latter is changing).

This is, unfortunately, not true. At present, public sector wages and, of course, their non-wage benefits (such as final-salary pensions) are far outstripping that of the private sector.
Salary increases in the public sector under Labour are outstripping those in private business, prompting warnings that Scotland’s economy will suffer as a result.

Figures from the Scottish Executive show that, between 1999 and 2004, average wages in the public sector rose from £19,670 to £23,650, up 20 per cent. Over the same period, salaries in the private sector rose by only 18 per cent, and the average wage still lags behind at £20,000.

The Executive insists the salaries paid to public sector workers are in line with Treasury guidelines.

However, David Bell, an economics professor from Stirling University, believes the increases in public sector salaries are in danger of stifling the economy.

Prof Bell, who heads the Scottish Economic Policy Network, an independent economic think-tank, said: "People in the public sector get paid more and they are likely to have more job security and better pensions.

"The potential impact of the difference is that the public sector becomes a more attractive career option and the long-term consequences are that the private sector suffers. The private sector generates tax revenues so we want people to go into careers in the private sector to increase the rate of growth of the economy."
[Emphasis mine—DK]

The point is that a worker in the private sector who is not making a profit for his/her employer will not be promoted, and may even be sacked. As a contrast, many public sector promotions are made on the basis of time served, not on whether or not they are any good at their job. Indeed, in a sector in which profit is not a motive, it is very difficult to determine whether or not someone is any good at their job. Even if they are not, the nature of public sector contracts ensures that poor workers are virtually unsackable anyway.
However, let us underline that the private sector is there to make profit. All other aims are subsumed to this one ambition. As a result markets created through privatisation (wholly/fully) will have a structure to further this end. This will maintain no matter how many government regulations/targets/inspections are carried out.

Yes, either that or they go bust. Given that the level of bankruptcies is at a record high this year, one would tend towards the idea that more regulations and more complicated tax systems have increased the burden on businesses, and many of them just cannot sustain that level of expense. The public sector, of course, doen't need to worry about that: it is always going to be bailed out by the government, i.e. the taxpayers.
For services such as education and healthcare this is an extremely worrying prospect. The only antidote to such a situation is so much government monitoring so as to make efficiency gains questionable.

Or not. Although the pursuit of profit is, of course, the point of a private company, there is no way that a company can make a profit is it cannot sell its goods or services to the public. (In the case of monopolies, of course, this does not apply, e.g. Railtrack, and monopolies we should attempt to avoid.)

Let's imagine a healthcare system that features a number of private hospitals (let's leave aside the idea of whether treatment is free at the point of delivery and that sort of stuff). One of these hospitals makes a number of high-profile cock-ups in the quality of its care like—oh I don't know—removing the wrong kidney. Now, would you go to that hospital, or would you choose another, with a better reputation, even if it meant travelling slightly further afield? This is your health, and possibly your life, that we are talking about here. I think that you'd go to another hospital. So would everyone else.

Now, in the private sector, that hospital would probably go bust. It might then be bought over by another company with a better reputation, or it might just not exist. The point is that the company running the hospital have a hard cash incentive to ensure that cock-ups do not happen. Or, if they do happen, then they at least have the chance to fire the offending doctor. Or, to put it another way, what regulates the performance of the hospital is not the government, but the market.

What happens in the public sector? Well, generally, they just cover it up (see the Bristol heart surgery scandal, brought to light by MD in Private Eye). Someone might be suspended for a couple of weeks, or they might not. The point being that, whatever patients feel about the hospital, they have no choice in whether or not they go there. Those running the hospital have no particular pressure not to cock things up because, whatever happens, the government will ensure that their salaries are paid. (This is, in fact, exactly what is wrong with the public sector in toto: no matter how badly they do their jobs, public sector workers are almost guaranteed a job for life.)

Now, given this model, do we think that a network of smaller hospitals—much like the cottage hospitals, before nationalisation, that Labour are now so keenly shutting down—might be a better idea? I believe that, were the private sector to run the hospitals, then we would end up with a network of more, smaller, hospitals; smaller hospitals take much less capital to build, and are easier (and cheaper) to run. The pursuit of profit is not, in and of itself, a problem.

Be aware that this model cannot be compared to the PFI projects currently under way. The private companies do not have any financial exposure, despite the government telling us that they would. The fact is that this government has far too much pride (and money) invested in PFI projects to ever let them go bust; time and again, private companies have come cap in hand to the government, and have been bailed out. For instance, Mapely Steps Ltd, the tax-haven based company to which the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise ironically sold all of their buildings a few years ago, have been bailed out extensively: we don't know how much by exactly ("commerical confidentiality"), but we do know that Mapely threatened to go bust if they did not receive an extra £100 million. Since they are still extant, we must assume that they got not much less than that.

If a private company were to build and run a hospital, without the promise of a government bail-out, they would have a (in)vested interest in ensuring that it ran profitably, efficiently and, thus, that the standard of care was high. The public sector has no such constraints.

(As an aside, there is now no A & E department in the centre of Edinburgh. The old site has been sold to developers who are building the usual load of flats, "affordable housing", shops and offices. Now, if I were them, I would also include a small A & E department, and charge people, let's say £20, to come in and be treated. In a taxi, it is going to cost rather more than that to get to the new ERI in Little France and little less to get to the Western General. There is a market for an A&E department in the town centre—especially on a Friday and Saturday night!—and I believe that it could also be a useful stop-in centre at other times too. but that's just me, I guess...)

NHS Fail Wail

I think that we can all agree that the UK's response to coronavirus has been somewhat lacking. In fact, many people asserted that our de...