Archive for December, 2008

OK, so I was feeling sufficiently foolish to try and install the all-new version of Python for Symbian S60 phones. Not least because of rumours that things like the Location API (i.e. “all the interesting or useful stuff”) have been liberated from the finger-waggy signing process…

Unfortunately, Nokia has shipped it without completing the same finger-waggy signing process it imposes on everyone else, so it fails on install with “Certificate error – contact the application supplier”. Nokia FAIL. So I have to explicitly disable the fancy security system in order to install software supplied by the system’s manufacturer. Not just that, but software which is open-source, so I can read the damn thing myself. Why can’t they get it right already? GAH.

So, turn off the certificate check, and it installs. Great. Time for a quick hello world from the interactive interpreter. But no…”Python runtime missing!” We’ve just installed the sodding thing.

So no, until someone gets a grip I won’t be the one to do the S60 version of FixMyStreet:-)

So I reviewed the rebuilt St Pancras Station about this time last year. So, in the best Stewart Brand tradition, let’s revisit it; this time of year tends to give you opportunities to revisit major railway stations.

The first good news; the square footage of blue plywood and Tyvek has fallen, and is now close to zero. However, blue plywood extermination is still not quite complete – there is a little patch of the stuff behind Betjeman’s Bar on the upper deck. Perhaps they should keep it, as a shrine to the temporary, flexible and living nature of all buildings.

Further, the station is now functioning without needing to secrete too much temporary signage; overall, the signage has improved, although there was no way anyone was going to read the waist-high portable sign holding an amended timetable for the Thameslink service, forlornly placed between two streams of people, at 90 degrees to their eyeline. But, if you visit Betjeman’s to check out that plywood, you’d better be careful you don’t miss your train – there are no indicator boards in this part of the station, and the nearest is the one outside Eurostar arrivals. (However, their selection of real ales has increased.)

Out the back, where the path from the car park leads into the station, it’s still necessary to have perma-temporary railings marking the accessible ramp; the signs haven’t quite caught up. The Tube station is improving, slowly and painfully, and the ticket hall isn’t as poorly signed as it was last year. Further, the exit from Eurostar arrivals is as bad as ever; presumably, hordes of disoriented travellers packed into the shopping centre are a feature not a bug for someone.

The grand front entrances are still bunged by construction work on the hotel; until this is finished a lot of things will remain temporary, as the original architecture makes the whole thing a single unit. And, of course, there’s a lot of other stuff going on with the tube station, the Great Northern Hotel, changes to King’s Cross station and the like. But it’s running-in reasonably well, and how many building projects of its scale can say that?

However, occasionally you run into something terrible. Check out the Midland (sorry, “East Midlands Trains”) ticket hall, which has the odd property of looking painfully bare but not austerely functional, and also has this horrible image:

People, places...anomie and CCTV

People, places...anomie and CCTV


It’s the combination of the on-the-cheap shiny, the motivational-speaker bollocks, and the CCTV cam the size of God pointing at…what? that does it for me…

Ah yes, the summer and autumn of 2004. The beaux jours of rightwing horseshit, back when an actual neocon disinformation job was targeting a short who’s who of blogging. It seems to be time for some of those years’ shit to float up to the surface. Here’s Dan Rather, suing CBS.

Rather contends not only that his report was true – “What the documents stated has never been denied, by the president or anyone around him,” he says – but that CBS succumbed to political pressure from conservatives to get the report discredited and to have him fired. He also claims that a panel set up by CBS to investigate the story was packed with conservatives in an effort to placate the White House. Part of the reason for that, he suggests, was that Viacom, a sister company of CBS, knew that it would have important broadcasting regulatory issues to deal with during Bush’s second term.

Among those CBS considered for the panel to investigate Rather’s report were far-right broadcasters Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter.

I had an interesting experience with CBS after that, which may bear repeating. Quite suddenly, some time in the early summer of 2005, I was contacted by a CBS Correspondent, regarding the Viktor Bout-to-Iraq issue. We discussed it by e-mail; they read huge quantities of the blog from a wide range of locations that presumably mapped onto the organisation chart of the CBS journo-octopus.

Could they see primary documents? Surely they could. I shot over a gaggle of DESC fuel contracts. CBS e-mail didn’t eat more than 500KB at a go; we did it again. We conspired in pubs. They were delighted to learn I was….an actual journalist, not some anarchist drug-chimp off the interwebs. Better, a trade journalist, so not someone on the nationals… Credit and cash were offered. Lunch was called at Villandry, conveniently not far from my office.

A top CBS was summoned; I hauled in a box of docs on the train and the tube and my desk, as well as all the digital. Unlike MI6, I didn’t lose them. He came supposedly direct from Iraq, with photos of various aircraft at Baghdad Airport. I identified them, wondering what the point was – there were plenty of VB jets photographed there?

There was a brief period of expectancy, before the correspondent eventually called back to say that after the Rather/Kerning Krisis they couldn’t do anything like it, for political reasons. Perhaps they needed a signed statement from Viktor? I had a similar experience with the pre-Murdoch Wall Street Journal, without the lunch. Now, it all makes much more sense.

The U.S. Army’s top historian has a paper out on the war between Israel and Hezbollah (and most of Lebanon) in 2006. It was worth reading when I read it before Christmas, and it’s even more so now.

Specifically, Dr Biddle’s view of Hezbollah strategy is interesting; in his opinion, they adapted to the fact that really long-range rockets would be easy for the Israelis to spot from the air by changing their tactics so as to keep the smaller and more mobile rockets in range of northern Israel, while not over-committing the core army they needed to remain a power in Lebanese politics. In practice, this meant moving from a guerrilla war to a mobile defence in depth, rolling with the punches rather than getting out of the way.

This is roughly what this blog said at the time about NATO reconnaissance screen tactics, the self-declared insecurity zone, and the fleet-in-being inside Lebanon. There’s a lot of interesting stuff about their surprisingly good command and control, the use of anti-tank missiles, and much else. I’m slightly surprised that Biddle thinks that the incident where Hezbollah fired a volley of 13 guided missiles at a group of 15 Israeli tanks and destroyed three of them was a failure, but then, this is an American way of seeing. Targets, probabilities, and the like.

In today’s context, it’s clear that many of the same points apply to Hamas. Their top priorities are to stay in charge in Gaza, which is achievable with a thin layer of supporters with access to aid and rifles, and to maintain their insecurity zone, which they are able to do with very primitive rockets that can probably be made under occupation conditions. Sten guns were made in thousands in clandestine workshops in occupied Europe in the second world war, and those had quite precise mechanical workings.

food

While I’m randomly abusing the government, what about this?

The document classes 1.6 million families with children aged between two and 11 as “high risk”. It states: “Food has become an expression of love in ‘at risk’ families.

The horror. Food should be an unpleasant necessity shoved down because authority says so. Everyone knows that – it’s how it works in the most expensive private schools, and in the most expensive state institutions as well. And they can’t be wrong – they’re too expensive.

Of course, later in life it can be an opportunity to display merit through consumption, as long as you make amends by reading the Thoughts of Madeleine Bunting. But an expression of love? That’s like those perverted Arabs and their erotic desire for women.

It is come to this. Here is our Secretary of State for Culture:

The culture secretary, Andy Burnham, says in an interview today that the government is considering the need for “child safe” websites – registered with cinema-style age warnings – to curb access to offensive or damaging online material.

He plans to approach US president-elect Barack Obama’s incoming administration with proposals for tight international rules on English language websites, which may include forcing internet service providers, such as BT, Tiscali, Sky and AOL, to ­provide packages restricting access to websites without an age rating.

Oh shitty fuck. I thought it was bad enough when a colleague of mine mentioned that Burnham wanted to make YouTube put warnings next to everything it carried that included rude words. But no, it’s worse. This is dire in so many ways; for a start, this is our Secretary of Culture yelling for censorship. Not the Home Secretary, or the Minister for Promoting Virtue and Punishing Vice, or the Lord Chamberlain.

Shouldn’t he be the voice for culture in the Cabinet, like the Chancellor is for finance, or the secretary of defence is for the military? The Home Office will always demand more surveillance and more control, but shouldn’t the Department of Culture demand culture?

Further, there’s the crappy idea of special “packages” of the Internet with bits missing. There is a clear reason why this is crappy: if it is so desirable, why isn’t anyone selling it? Isn’t there a gap in the market? Of course, one of the problems is that it would be expensive – who will go through all the websites censoring them? But then, they say you can’t buck the market, and if you can’t do that to build a national fibre network or keep Amersham’s DNA sequencer business in the UK, you can’t do that for censorship.

It’s also crappy because it does nothing about peer-to-peer networks, instant messaging, VoIP, USENET, e-mail (remember that?), but it’s worse than that – it’s based on a set of fundamentally stupid and discriminatory assumptions.

First of all, there’s the idea that sin can leap out and grab you, to quote Holden Caulfield. Paedophiles can make vapours rise up from the keyboard. But secondly, there’s the idea that this only applies to some very specific and rather puny kinds of sin. There is surely plenty of stuff in an average edition of several national newspapers that, if we looked at it clearly, we would all agree is highly unsuitable for children; and it has little or nothing to do with the usual tropes of rude words and naked flesh.

Third, there’s a weird discrimination of means. Not only is a punch in the mouth worse on this scale of values (violence!) than the delivery of a 1,000 pound bomb (this is called “action”), pretty much anything is OK if it is delivered in print or in the theatre. Nobody seems to want to censor the printing press or reintroduce theatrical censorship. The explanation is in part that the National Theatre’s seating capacity is less than the peak daily traffic of this weblog and heavily London-focused. But that’s not enough.

If the buggers are reading books, this is in a sense enough – they look more middle-class, dammit, and who cares about the content. And if you’ve got them into a theatre for something of their choice, it’s unlikely they are the ones you’re worrying about.

But I am even more furious about the reference to the “English-language Internet”. For a start, this betrays deep ignorance. There is no such thing; the Internet has no notion of English language, and it’s damn right. It’s because of this that it can work in every language. And Burnham seems to think he owns the English language, that he can impose his will on anyone who chooses to write in it. What if an Indian does so, on a website hosted in Holland, operated by a Chinese company? Who is this Burnham?

It’s worse than that, though; he is trying to push his quack nonsense on the Americans, which means he doesn’t think he can get it through Parliament and he also doesn’t think he can get it through the European Parliament, so he wants a nice little unpublished understanding with the Americans that the prime minister can sign and instantly ratify under the prerogative power, and then place in the Commons library, or perhaps not. Rather like the whole wealth of other understandings that have to do with electronic surveillance of one form or another.

The good news, however, is that his proposals might contravene the US constitution (we can’t expect too much from our own). If they can have secret transatlantic understandings, then I intend to have one of my own.

Meanwhile, Brazil’s top five cities get fibre to the home.

And with that, it’s time for our traditional Christmas ceasefire, after yet another year of snark, data visualisations, arms smuggling, Tories, Python, and crap. This is post number 2,000, in 1,995 days since the 10th of June, 2003.

So, Viktor Bout’s extradition came up in court. Again. And this time the man himself took the stand to say a number of markedly sovok things – apparently the US is only doing this to divert attention from its internal problems and to prevent international peace between Russia and Thailand.

Do you realise that in America they shoot at each other, with pistols? Fraternal greetings!

And then, guess what? His latest lawyer requested that the court adjourn after two of his witnesses failed to show up. They’re admirals in the Thai navy! Sure! But they’re…sick. Yes, terribly sick. Look! An earthquake! So the hearing was put off until the 6th of March, by which time he will probably have decided he needs to change his legal representation again.

One thing he certainly has changed, going by the AP photos, is the colour of his moustache, which has become significantly darker during his provisional incarceration. I make no comment on this, other than to record it, and to suggest that perhaps he wishes to avoid being mistaken for a rival air-drop operator well known for delivering seasonable gifts to the most remarkable places, Father Christmas.

And then I was fool enough to look at another newspaper. So, with Labour you can at least hope they’ll look after us in the recession, right? No, they want to give bailiffs the right to restrain people, and to charge interest on social fund loans. And they’re blowing hot and cold on the Jaguar-Land Rover loan. (Did you know their sales are actually ahead of last year’s? You think all that stuff about the City not wanting to lend industry any money was true?) Merry Christmas to you, too… It’s not just the why – it’s the why now? Interest on loans for mattresses for the poorest of the poor, in the depths of The Crash of ’08?

On the other side, Michael Portillo devotes his column in the Times to explaining why Britain has lost its stomach for a fight and the US willl not think we’re “reliable” because of withdrawing from Iraq. (Although it’s their declared policy to, ah, withdraw from Iraq.) Jesus. Portillo talks like he’s some sort of ironclad veteran, rather than the defence secretary who allowed someone-or-other to exaggerate the troop requirement for Bosnia by a factor of 10 while his mate Douglas Hurd was collecting fees at NatWest Markets for privatising the other side’s telecomms network.

And as Dean Godson scurries back under his stone, Anthony “VDARE” Browne clears the decks for his inevitable safe Tory seat.

Shouldn’t this story be getting just a little more air? So the editor of the News of the Screws is found by an employment tribunal to have bullied one of his reporters to the point that it seriously affected his health, to have tried to exert influence on his doctor, while both the sports editor and the deputy managing editor lied to the tribunal. Had it been any other kind of tribunal, this would have been the stuff of a perjury conviction.

Yer man is now, of course, the director of communications for the Conservative Party, and Rupert Murdoch’s representative on Earth (David Cameron Department). Does the party endorse this sort of conduct? Is he a fit and proper person? It would, as they say, be irresponsible not to speculate.

Also, what kind of a sick internal culture does that rag have? First you have violent binge drinker Rebekah Wade, then school bully Coulson and the pair of liars Dunn and Nicholas. It’s astonishing; I always assumed they ran on massive hypocrisy, but in fact the content of the paper exactly represents the way they behave in private. The personal, it seems, certainly is the political at the News of the World.

On the other hand, don’t imagine that the story from the Guardian actually ran in the paper. Instead of the wealth of detail given above, the print edition slashed it down to a one-paragraph nib in the depths of the paper; I suppose we should be thankful they didn’t say Coulson had been the editor of “a newspaper”, as their Robert Napper case coverage did to avoid naming names about the Sun‘s disgraceful police-sponsored smear campaign against Colin Stagg. Why can’t you get a cab outside a newspaper office? Because of the double yellow streaks.





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