Saturday, 31 October 2015

Spooky spads

Now I've never seen a ghost, but I have been asked to go to people's homes to ask them to leave. There's nothing wrong with a humble priest giving an initial assessment as to whether or not a ghost has taken up residence in someone's house, but getting rid of a ghost is up to an expert and most bishops have special advisors in the paranormal who are called in to do their work.

Good to see that it's not just politicians who benefit from some special advisor input. Do paranormal spads all have Oxbridge philosophy, politics and economics degrees, like regular ones, or just a diploma in DADA (Defence Against the Dark Arts) from Hogwarts?

Happy Halloween!

Friday, 30 October 2015

Game the Big Society like a pro

As Fraser Nelson rightly points out 'There is such a thing as the Big Society – it’s just not the same as Kids Company.'

There's also, for instance, the winner of the Prime Minister's 2013 Big Society Award, business advisory firm Deloitte. As the web site says 'Employees at Deloitte are encouraged and empowered to use their skills and capabilities to help these social businesses, and have become more involved in their local communities.'

What the official site fails to mention is that employees at Deloitte have also been encouraged and empowered to use their skills and capabilities to help the government and all three main political parties:
Deloitte, Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) have given donations of "staff costs" worth £1.36m and consultancy work totalling almost £500,000 to political parties since May 2009, according to Electoral Commission records. Work was provided for all three main political parties. It adds up to nearly £1.9m of services donated by the big four since 2009.

The firms also "lend" staff to the government: in the past year, 15 staff from top accountancy firms have been on secondment to the Treasury alone...

...In 2009 George Osborne and then shadow minister Greg Hands received support from Deloitte in the form of "services and advice provided in connection with the Eggar report". This report informed the Tories' March 2010 energy paper Rebuilding Security, in which they promised, if elected, to reform taxation and licensing to promote offshore oil and gas development.

But as well as having tax expertise, Deloitte's Petroleum Services Group involves "clients across the oil and gas sector" who would have benefited from the paper's proposed changes to taxation.

Deloitte's links to the Conservative party have been questioned in the past. In January, Labour MP John Robertson used written parliamentary questions to reveal that Ingeus Deloitte, which is 50% owned by Deloitte, won lucrative contracts through the government's Work Programme worth nearly £774m...

...Deloitte said: "It is Deloitte's policy not to give cash contributions to any political party or other groups with a political agenda. However, we do seek to develop and maintain constructive and balanced relationships with each of the main political parties and may make available staff and adviser resources, and technical and factual information on occasion."
The Graun

When it came to lobbying for influence, favours and cash, Camila Batmanghelidjh should have taken lessons from the professionals. And she could also take some professional advice from Deloitte on blame shifting. Here's David Sproul of Deloitte brilliantly explaining how the government is to blame for Deloitte taking advantage the sort of loopholes that only exist because government and the whole journalistic-political complex is riddled with accountancy firm consultants and lobbyists:
The chief executive of one of the big four accountancy firms, Deloitte, has blamed UK law for the money lost as a result of tax avoidance.

Speaking on Jeff Randall Live, David Sproul admitted that the problem with the tax system is "mainly the law".

He said: "There's clearly tax practices that take advantage of the rules that the Government has brought in.
Sky News

If Camilla had been as professional as Dave she, too, could have ended up blaming the government for the inevitable corrupt mess, rather than the other way round.

Empty suits 1, flamboyant amateur, 0.

Monday, 26 October 2015


Who says the wellness industry and the junk food industry can't be besties?
The University of North Carolina’s N.C. Children’s Specialty Clinic will now be known as the Krispy Kreme Challenge Children’s Specialty Clinic, named after a tasty treat that’s filled with fat and sugar and will make you obese and die.

The clinic, according to a release out of UNC, won’t be named after the Krispy Kreme Corporation, but after the “Krispy Kreme Challenge,” a grotesque feat of athleticism in which you run, binge on Krispy Kreme donuts and then run more to raise money for the clinic (Slogan: “2400 calories, 12 doughnuts, 5 miles, 1 hour”). You can view the “donut eating portion” of the run above. The event is sponsored in part by the Krispy Kreme Donut Corporation, which makes a product that is delicious and contributes to our national epidemic of fat, dying Americans. A place that’s designed to increase health will bear the trademark of a company that profits from destroying health. The thesis is named after its antithesis.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Agincourt - missing the point

I think I've just found the saddest ever attempt to hop on to the Agincourt bandwagon:
Business people from Welwyn Hatfield commemorated the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Agincourt yesterday in an event with a military theme.
King Henry V’s medieval victory over the French was celebrated by the borough’s chamber of commerce with a lunch at Moor Park Golf Club near Rickmansworth.

The event included a talk by business guru Nick Skelton, who recounted the 1415 campaign, and argued that business people could learn from the innovative use of the longbow by the English army.

He told his audience: “Henry V didn’t fight harder or smarter, He fought in a different way.
“Your business needs its own longbow - a point of differentiation.”
Welwyn Hatfield Times

Business people - and the rest of England - could learn even more by just googling the outcome of the Hundred Years' War. For those who missed the final result, the English lost, a fact that seems to get lost in all the jingoistic self-congratulation over one battle. In terms of romanticising an irrelevant lost cause, this puts English nationalists up there with those obsessive Scottish nationalists who never got over 1745 and Bonnie Prince Charlie.

Friday, 23 October 2015

What's sauce for the goose...

... is sauce for the gander, so they say. This could be adapted as a motto for bloggers and and anybody else who cites stuff written by other people in support of a point of view - we can uncritically quote things that support our own viewpoint, yet remain silent when the same source undermines a cherished idea. What's a source for the goose is a source for the gander.

In my last post I questioned whether we should trust Alex Deane, from the pressure group People Against Sugar Tax, as a source. I still don't trust the guy, given his background in the dark arts of PR, his association with those dodgy hired spinners at Bell Pottinger, his past form as a tobacco lobbyist and his previous attempts to bully critics with lawfare.

None of that's changed, but I should declare that I've uncritically (and unwittingly) cited material sourced via Alex Deane before. I was immediately suspicious that People Against Sugar Tax was some sort of PR astroturf set-up and Deane's CV and track record did nothing to contradict my notion that the "people" who were against a sugar tax were probably people of the corporate variety,* as opposed to concerned citizens spontaneously organising a popular protest movement. 

My background check also revealed that Deane was one of the people behind Big Brother Watch. As somebody who's naturally suspicious of the corporate lobbying industry, I was quick to check and question Deane's bona fides when he came out with what looked like thinly-disguised black propaganda for the the food and drink industry. I'm also suspicious of state and corporate actors trying access to all the private data they can hoover up because it's for your own good / because it's for your own convenience / because they can / because you've nothing to fear if you've nothing to hide / etc, so I've happily cited Big Brother Watch in the past. Because I agreed with the organisation's stated aims, I didn't think to question the bona fides of the organisation or the people behind it.

I haven't come across anything to suggest that Big Brother Watch is biased or involved in disinformation, but if Deane's fingerprints make me mistrust People Against Sugar Tax, maybe I should be more sceptical about BBW, too. 

It's not the only time my preconceptions have trumped my scepticism - being no great fan of the crimes, follies and misdeeds of the finance industry, I've been only too happy to selectively cite criticism from another critic on a site by the name of Zero Hedge. But the enemy of my enemy is not necessarily my friend if it turns out that the enemy of my enemy is full of bullshit:
Zero Hedge is a batshit insane Austrian economics-based finance blog run by a pseudonymous founder who posts articles under the name "Tyler Durden," after the character from Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk. It has accurately predicted 200 of the last 2 recessions.

Tyler claims to be a "believer in a sweeping conspiracy that casts the alumni of Goldman Sachs as a powerful cabal at the helm of U.S. policy, with the Treasury and the Federal Reserve colluding to preserve the status quo." While this is not an entirely unreasonable statement of the problem, his solution actually mirrors the anatagonist in Fight Club: Tyler wants, per Austrian school ideas, to lead a catastrophic market crash in order to destroy banking institutions and bring back "real" free market capitalism.

And the moral of the story is trust no one watch those cognitive biases.

*The People Against Sugar Tax website is careful to point out that the organisation is only funded by private donations, but I'm not naive enough to suppose that the mere absence of direct, identifiable food and drink industry funding guarantees that this is an independent grass-roots organisation. I'm sure there are plenty of wealthy individuals with skin in the game who might chose to self-identify as disinterested private donors.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Who's the sugar daddy?

This article in the Telegraph by one Alex Deane, from a pressure group that calls itself People Against Sugar Tax, is ... erm ... interesting:

Jamie Oliver is a patronising bully and he can stick his sugar tax

A sugar tax on drinks and sweets would only hurt poor people. Politicians should ignore celebrities who want a nanny-state

...Oliver grandly told the Health Select Committee that he had had “robust” discussions with the Prime Minister about his proposed introduction of a 20 per cent tax on sugar-sweetened drinks. Which, we can confidently say, would be the beginning of sugar taxes, not the end of it – because the state, he thinks, should “frankly, act like a parent” when it comes to such matters.
This tells us all we need to know. Paternalism is a rather literal word for it. They know what’s best – not just for them, but for us. Not only do they know it; they want to force us all to share their choices, regardless of our own views.

It’s an unpleasant campaign, because it is hugely patronising. We all know that sugar isn’t good for us. From time to time, we choose to have it anyway. We eat sugary things because they taste good.
It’s an unpleasant campaign, because – whilse [sic] they really don’t like this point – those preaching over sugar are too rich to have to care about the price of food. The effect of sugar taxes would be to raise the price of food for those least able to afford it.

"If this bullying nonsense made it to the statute books, what have a stealth tax on those least able to afford it"
There's crumb of plausibility in Deane's extravagant Bake Off show-stopper-style confection of outrage. The look and feel of some prosperous celebrity chef lecturing the poor on how to make their pittance stretch further is patronising and paternalist, just like the man said. Even when the chef in question is less irritating than Jamie Oliver. 

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, for example, comes across as a thoroughly nice chap, but I still find it hard to stomach the spectacle of this well-heeled old Etonian advising the poor on how to eke out their slender food budget a little further. It's all too Victorian, too Lady Bountiful dishing out improving platitudes and nourishing broth to the lower orders.

Having said that, Jamie might get on my nerves with his mockney mucker patter, but AFAIK, he's no "bully." Bullies punch down, but Jamie offers training to young people from disadvantaged backgrounds who want careers in the restaurant business at his Westland Place restaurant and he took on the catering giants whose profits rested on feeding cut-price Turkey Twizzlers and similar muck to school kids. He might not be my cup of tea, but credit where it's due.

But what about his accuser, Alex Deane? Who's he?
The Independent has established that Alex Deane, a former chief-of-staff to David Cameron, played a key role in attempts to use the freedom of information law against one public organisation involved in promoting awareness against the health dangers of roll-up tobacco. Mr Deane is a director of Bell Pottinger which earlier this year requested documents from a health-awareness organisation funded by the NHS, the Bristol-based Smoke Free South West, following a campaign it ran against roll-up tobacco, which is popular in that part of the country.
I'm not sure that a Big Tobacco shill who's been using lawfare to silence critics is in any position to call Jamie Oliver is a bully, or to act all outraged over an "unpleasant campaign". Or that People Against Sugar Tax is definitely the grass roots campaign set up by ordinary people that it pretends to be.

Tastes like chicken

Cleopatra - I have a poisonous asp.
Mark Antony - Oh, I wouldn't say that.
Cleopatra - Oh, no, no, no, no. I have. Look. [produces snake]
Cleopatra - One bite from this is enough.
Mark Antony - [bites snake's head off] You're right. One bite's enough for anyone. That's shocking. 
Carry On Cleo
Snake in a basket? Wasn't that a menu item in Berni Inns, back in the '70s? Or something like that (gustatus similis pullus, as they say in the senior common room and the 509th Operations Group)?

Winter is coming

The changing seasons, as recorded by a couple more of my old scanned 35mm prints from the 1980s. That's Alexandra Palace on top of the hill, as seen from the window of the flat where I once lived in Muswell Hill.

If these had been taken today, you might either
  • envy the amount of cash I've got to splash - according to the London Underground Rent Map, it now costs north of £1,000 per month to rent a one-bedroom pad in that neck of the woods (Highgate is about the closest tube station)
But I moved out long since. Back in the latter half of the '80s, a flat in desirable area like Muswell Hill was comfortably affordable for not-very-well-off postgraduate student / only-just-ex-student in a humble clerical job. For Londoners on an average income, winter has already arrived.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

A deficit with Chinese characteristics

Remind me, who was supposed to be 'a serious risk to our nation’s security, our economy’s security and your family’s security?':
As the FT’s Giles Wilkes put it succinctly last month:
'Wish someone would explain why flying 15000km to beg for Chinese cash is a better way of funding UK infrastructure than just borrowing at 3%...'

 ...the Conservatives, and George Osborne in particular, have made eliminating the deficit their raison d’être. The state deficit was the political stick the Conservatives chose to use against Labour and now they have to see it through. They have, therefore, just passed a law ruling out borrowing for investment after 2019. Of course, this is pure baloney as all governments in modern times have borrowed to fund infrastructure but it means that the capital spending the country needs must be funded through the disguised borrowing of foreign investment and PFI deals.*

But while the expedient may be short-term the ramifications of China taking a stake in the UK could be huge...

...For reasons of ideology and political expediency, the government is sleepwalking into a potential geopolitical shift. No-one can be sure where this will lead or what the implications might be. At best, it will leave future generations paying some of their tax money to a foreign dictatorship. At worst, well, who knows?
The reliably excellent Rick at Flip Chart Fairy Tales has some cautionary thoughts on George's hot date with sugar daddy Xi.

Now we know that Britain's 'long-term economic plan' depends on a big dose of that off-balance-sheet creative accountancy which worked out so well for the banks, are we feeling more secure yet?

*My emphasis.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

More seaside Gothic

The remains of Skegness Pier (a photo I took some time in the late 1980s).
The 1817 foot pier had cost £20,840 when it opened on 4th June 1881. It included a 700-seat saloon/concert hall at the 'T' shaped head. Steamboat trips began in 1882. The pier-head saloon was extended in 1898, and new refreshment rooms were built at the pier-head...

... On 11th January 1978, a severe storm washed away two large sections of the pier and left the theatre isolated at the seaward end. Plans to link the two sections by monorail, and to build a new 1200 seat theatre and a 250 foot tower all fell through later that year when an application for financial assistance was rejected.

Work began on dismantling the theatre in October 1985 but, while this work was taking place, a fire gutted the building.

Today the pier is only 129 yards (118m) long and no evidence remains of the old pierhead and shelters but what remains of the landward pier deck walkway has since undergone major refurbishment and is now once again a tourist attraction.

Even after refurbishment, what's left of the landward part of the pier looks forlorn. Somebody once defined a pier as a 'disappointed bridge' and that's exactly what it looks like today:

-- Tell me now, Stephen said, poking the boy's shoulder with the book, what is a pier.
-- A pier, sir, Armstrong said. A thing out in the waves. A kind of bridge. Kingstown pier, sir.
Some laughed again: mirthless but with meaning. Two in the back bench whispered. Yes. They knew: had never learned nor ever been innocent. All. With envy he watched their faces. Edith, Ethel, Gerty, Lily. Their likes: their breaths, too, sweetened with tea and jam, their bracelets tittering in the struggle.
-- Kingstown pier, Stephen said. Yes, a disappointed bridge.
James Joyce Ulysses

Thursday, 15 October 2015

This takes the biscuit

In which NewsBiscuit totally nails it:
Man does thing without being asked to complete a survey about it

A man was left shocked and insulted after completing an activity without a request to ‘evaluate his experience’ on-line for a chance to win something.

‘I really enjoy filling in surveys, as you do all the time after doing anything nowadays, so I was gobsmacked not to be asked to spend a few minutes telling somebody what I thought of my experience,’ said Bryan Wilson of Basingstoke, male, married, home-owner, father of two, age 40-49, administrator/senior manager, reads Daily Express, drives Ford Mondeo, one foreign holiday in the last twelve months.
Been there, done that, got the T-shirt. Oh, hang on, incoming e-mail:

Dear Customer:

We appreciate your purchase of our 100% cotton T-shirt. Please help us by taking a few minutes to tell us about the service that you have received so far. We value your trust in our company, and we will do our best to meet your service expectations.

Please click on the link below to complete our on-line survey and you could win an iPad Mini:

Fractal wrongness

As I should have anticipated, there's slightly more to the case of Jennifer Connell, the New York lady who tried to sue her nephew for $127,000 after the kid bounded up to her with an excess of boisterous affection at his eighth birthday party, causing her to stumble and break her wrist, than meets the eye:

Here's why she did it:
"It’s amazing the power that the internet has that something can go viral, completely out of context,” she said. “I’m certainly not trying to retire to some villa in the south of France. I’m simply trying to pay off my medical bills...."

...Connell told CNN in an interview on Tuesday that “this was meant to be a simple homeowners insurance case” and said her attorney had advised her how the lawsuit ought to be worded.

This is “perfectly plausible”, said Tom Baker, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania who specialises in insurance law. He told the Guardian this kind of suit is a common occurrence when someone finds themselves with medical bills not covered by medical insurance, who might be able to be covered under homeowners insurance if liability could be proved. 
The Graun

Trying to sue an over-enthusiastic eight-year-old wasn't the smartest of moves and imagining that a jury would sympathise with her disclosure that "I was at a party recently, and it was difficult to hold my hors d’oeuvre plate" was even dumber, but at least we have some context here. This wasn't just an individual lapse of judgement, but a societal one.

Her case was never going to succeed, but in a better-ordered society, Jennifer Connell wouldn't even have been tempted to try it on. If this had happened in Britain, she'd have had an unscheduled trip to the nearest National Health Service Accident and Emergency Department. This isn't always the greatest of experiences and she might have found herself waiting longer than she'd like and having her day thoroughly disrupted, but she'd have left with her wrist fixed, thinking "Ow! That hurt!", rather than "How much! How the hell am I supposed to pay for that?"

Jennifer Connell may not be the sharpest tool in the box but she's living in a country which can spend more on its military that than the world's next ten nine biggest defence spenders combined (with only mixed results), yet hasn't worked out how to organise a health care system that can deal with the simple occurrence of an average citizen's broken wrist without turning the situation into a household budget-destroying crisis and sending every ambulance-chasing lawyer for miles around into a feeding frenzy.

At least we can be smug about it in Britain, for the moment, although with the NHS in the hands of a Conservative administration which seems less than keen than their branding would suggest on conserving our actually existing, mostly functional system, we may not be feeling this smug for ever.

Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Tears of a clown

George Osborne has called on Labour’s disgruntled MPs to defy the party whip and vote for “economic sanity” tonight...

In an emailed statement last night the chancellor moved to exploit the internal Labour divisions over Mr Osborne’s proposed Charter of Budget Responsibility, committing the government to cutting the deficit.
The Times (£)

The question here is who's made the bigger U-Turn - the shadow chancellor who, for reasons unknown, decided to go along with this Charter of Budget Responsibility nonsense for a few days, before coming to his senses, or the chancellor, who was thoroughly against this sort of thing until he was for it?
Let us remember what one of the economists whom the Prime Minister himself appointed to the Monetary Policy Committee has said about the Bill. Willem Buiter has said:
"Fiscal responsibility acts are instruments of the fiscally irresponsible to con the public."
Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con), as reported in Hansard, January 2010
Now if there's a smile on my face
It's only there trying to fool the public
But when it comes down to fooling you
Now honey that's quite a different subject 

Judgement day

We've all had lapses of judgement from time to time - said or done something only to end up wondering 'what the hell was I thinking?' The good news is that, however abysmal your judgement, you're probably doing better than Jennifer Connell of New York.

In March 2011, Jennifer rolled up at her nephew's 8th birthday party.  The boy got off the new bike he'd been riding and rushed into her arms with a cry of ‘Auntie Jen, I love you!’ Unfortunately, his boisterous greeting caused her to stumble, fall and break her wrist. At this point she could have decided to:

 a) put the whole freak accident down to experience


 b) sue the kid for $127,000 damages.

Tough call.

Sadly for Jennifer, she judged that b) was probably the best course of action.

Having committed herself to becoming a public laughing stock and enduring a lifetime of very awkward family gatherings, Jennifer didn't exactly help her case by asking the jury to feel her pain with the heart-rending revelation that 'I was at a party recently, and it was difficult to hold my hors d’oeuvre plate.'

For some reason, the jury were unmoved by the harrowing story of Jennifer's hors d’oeuvre hell and took 25 minutes* to award the 54-year-old human resources manager zero damages, which only goes to prove that somebody in this story wasn't having a lapse of judgement.


 *I'm guessing that was roughly 20 minutes to stop laughing, about a second to decide and 4 minutes 59 to confirm the verdict.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Whisper its name with shame

When people type with the caps lock on, we call it shouting. Shouting's not recommended by any reputable style guide - inappropriate caps make people think you're rude, dodgy (scammers who want to draw your attention to their too-good-to-be-true pitches love emphasis caps), or mad (so do the sort of people who get excited by the idea that they've uncovered the SHOCKING TRUTH about the Knights Templar / Illuminati / Jewish world conspiracy / moon landing hoax / lizard people from Alpha Draconis).

But what do you call it when people decide to use lower case for something which clearly should be in caps, like a set of initials? Whispering, I guess. And that's exactly what our old friends at the Royal Bank of Scotland have been doing:
The bank hopes to partly repair its tarnished image by giving its corporate acronym a lower-case makeover by axing the bold RBS logo and replacing it with the more modest rbs.
I almost approve of this - it's as if they've been reduced to a guilty whisper by the crushing shame of what they've done - and they damn well ought to be ashamed. But I suspect that it's less genuine contrition than an attempt to fool the public by photoshopping the bank's past misdeeds out of history, as the deliberate deployment of the NatWest brand fig leaf suggests:
The NatWest name will also become more prominent in England and Wales under the proposals which are expected to see the scaled-back investment banking division rebadged as RBS Markets.
Not quite as sorry as they should be, then.

Although isn't diminishing the 'r' in 'royal' some kind of unforgivable insult, rather like failing to immediately drop everything at the first opportunity to genuflect before the divine radiance of our our anointed monarch? Isn't it about time her Maj locked the whole RBS rbs board up in the Tower of London for this shocking act of lèse-majesté? Then they really would be sorry.

Friday, 9 October 2015

Piggate for common people

Seen on page 9 of this week's MK News:
Man oinked at neighbours
A man who taunted his neighbours over their weight was found guilty of breaching a restraining order on Friday at Luton Magistrate's Court.
Stephen Aylott, 53, of Eleanor Close in Woburn, made oinking noises, called them pigs and threw weight loss magazines over the fence.
Living proof that you don't necessarily have to be an ex-member of the Bullingdon or Piers Gaveston clubs to be thoroughly unpleasant and a bit weird. Top marks to Mr Aylott for living the dream, presumably without the benefit of an expensive private education.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

In the Peeple's Republic

Let me see if I've got this. A short while back, some people claimed to have invented this thing called Peeple, which would let you rate the people in your life. Some other people pointed out that this was a really horrible idea. But then turned out that that the thing was just a made-up thing, so those other people felt a bit silly for getting so upset about it. 

But then we found out that some people in China have invented a variant of the thing which is apparently a real thing and lets the Very Important People who live there rate all the less-important people in the country (they're making a list and checking it twice, they're gonna find out who's naughty or nice). The Chinese thing is called a Universal Credit Score and it's like the credit rating you'd get from Experian, except that you're not just rated on your financial credit-worthiness:
Things that will make your score deteriorate include posting political opinions without prior permission, talking about or describing a different history than the official one, or even publishing accurate up-to-date news from the Shanghai stock market collapse (which was and is embarrassing to the Chinese regime).
The Universal Credit Score starts to look all social media-ish and Peeply when you download the app. The app in question is called Sesame Credit (presumably no relation to Credit Sesame) and it lets you see your citizen status' score and post it on Weibo to impress your friends (although you need to check that your friends aren't the sorts of people who'd express unorthodox political views, because associating with subversives can have a negative effect on your citizen status rating).

Your citizen status score is expressed in points. And what do points mean? Prizes! Here are some of the featured prizes:
  • At a score of 650, you may rent a car without leaving a deposit.
  • At 700, you get access to a bureaucratic fast track to a Singapore travel permit.
  • And at 750, you get a similar fast track to a coveted pan-European Schengen visa.
At the moment it's all about exclusive privileges for permium citizens, but once the thing is fully rolled out, any backsliders, deviants and malcontents will receive their due punishment:
It has also announced that while there are benefits today for obedient people, it intends to add various sanctions for people who don’t behave, like limited Internet connectivity. Such people will also be barred from serving in certain high-status and influential positions, like government official, reporter, CEO, statistician, and similar.
No wonder some of our own political elite are already in love with the Chinese way of doing things.

A word of caution, though - just as Peeple turned out to be not quite everything it was supposed to be, there are apparently still fewer than a million people listed on Credit China (which currently holds conventional credit rating scores, but will supposedly include citizen status rating information in future) and the number of people who've chosen to brag about their citizen status rating on Weibo is currently an underwhelming figure somewhere below 100,000, so I'm not sure whether, in a country with 1,393,000,000+ people, this yet counts as an actual thing.

If this does turn out to be an actual thing, it would confirm my idea of what sort of nightmare we're most likely to end up in - despite the ubiquitous surveillance, it'll look less like 1984's boot stamping on a human face than Brave New World's society of docile, contented, conformist consumers, kept in check by shiny distractions, peer pressure and a large doses of conditioning propaganda from a managerialist overclass.

It's the consumerist, elective element of this scenario that makes it seem more Huxleyite than Orwellian - first they offer you the rent-a-car and holiday deals and the opportunity to be the envy of all your friends. They'll only start revoking your personhood if you're not absolutely delighted with their amazing offers. 

It's kind of credible, because it's only a more formalised version of what we have at home - give up a little freedom in return for owning stuff you can't afford, a little privacy in return for finding out that somebody you barely know has posted an amusingly-captioned picture of a cat on social media and a little more of your freedom and privacy so that the security services can protect you from the vanishingly-small risk of falling victim to a terrorist outrage. You're getting something back in return for surrendering a little bit of your autonomy, not being beaten into submission by a black-uniformed goon. And everything will be OK, so long as you don't start asking difficult questions about whether what you're being offered is worth as much as what you're expected to give up.

It's a funny old world where the Communist Party of China seems to be trying to control the masses with the equivalent of a retail loyalty card, whilst the most vocal remaining proponents of the old Maoist maxim that 'Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun' are those God-fearing, tea-partying, National Rifle Association card-carrying folk on the American right. Somebody ought to tell those guys that when the gubbermint finally come to get 'em, the varmints won't be comin' in black helicopters to prise their guns from their cold, dead hands. They'll more likely be making them a suspiciously good offer on no-deposit car rental.


Just to prove that there's more to the English coast than desolate seaside Gothic, here's another old photo to lift the mood a bit. It was high tide somewhere in Dorset. I forget exactly where, but who cares when it's summer and the water looks this inviting?


England may not have any abandoned temples in windswept deserts, “vast and trunkless legs of stone” and the misplaced pride of Ozymandias, but it still has its epic follies: places where grand ambition had free rein, at least for a while.

Visit them today, and you can see the high-water mark, the glorious moment followed by inevitable decline. Weston is one such place: its Grand Pier is awash with wrought-iron latticework, towers, and domes. The wonders of the world were to be gathered here, for Weston to delight in them, and they in Weston. Today, it is almost empty, an abandoned palace floating above the mud.
From Seaside Gothic by Edmund Richardson.

This reminded me of an photo I took many years ago, not in Weston, but on one of Brighton's piers. Three gulls perch on top of one of the pier's slightly rusty buildings, its windows reflecting the setting sun. I've always thought that the picture captured the faded, melancholy beauty of many an English seaside town and Richardson's article brought the feeling back perfectly.

Anyway, here's the picture in question (so old it was taken on 35mm and scanned):

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Paranoid Android Syndrome...

... or PAS for short, should come in as a handy filler if they're stuck for yet another new disorder to pad out DSM-6, the next milestone in the ongoing Let's Medicalise Every Human Personality Trait project.  Here's a case study for some enterprising psychiatrist eager to spot and classify the next big thing in personality disorders:
An IT help desk staffer at New York City's Health Department is facing his second suspension for answering customer calls in a robot voice.

Ronald Dillon has worked for the Health Department since 1976, and holds a bachelor's degree in mathematics as well as an MBA.

He was once a project manager and supervisor at the Health Department, but three years ago was transferred to the help desk job, reported DNAinfo...

...[Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings Judge Ingrid] Addison stated that Dillon seemed to have a chip on his shoulder regarding his position at the Health Department.

"What was apparent from his rambling explanation and his general testimony was that he felt his skills and education to be superior to the requirements of his current job, especially given the kinds of projects to which he had been previously assigned," she said...
... writes Alexander J Martin, at The Register.

We've all been there, haven't we, Marvin?
‘Reverse primary thrust, Marvin.’ That’s what they say to me. ‘Open airlock number 3, Marvin.’ ‘Marvin, can you pick up that piece of paper?’ Here I am, brain the size of a planet, and they ask me to pick up a piece of paper. 
Marvin was, of course, the result of the Sirius Cybernetic Corporation's ill-advised attempt to build robots with Genuine People Personalities, although in our enlightened time, all non-standard personality traits have been reclassified as disorders, because 'the subject meets the diagnostic criteria for PAS' makes you sound way smarter than 'that guy was acting like a jerk.'