Archive for the ‘personal history’ Category

So, if you wanted really informed commentary on the Theresa May/Brodie Clark upfuck (now there’s some slash), where would you go? Wouldn’t you want to ask a distinguished civil servant? I bet you would. Specifically, a career immigration officer with 39 years in the service. Who’s just retired, and is therefore allowed to be snarky.

Now you can! Because my dad has a blog.

I’ll always remember the day he brought home the video briefcase. I think it’s safe to tell the story now.

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Well, this is grim. Intelligent comment is to be found here, in Jamie Kenny’s interview with David Wilson.

Would you say that serial killers are a kind of negative indicator of the health of society in the sense that the fewer victims there are, the better society functions?

Serial killers function best within fractured communities, where people don’t look out for each other, and when the gap between those who have and those who have not is wide. In cultures such as these no one really bothers to notice the elderly neighbour living by themselves, or the kids who are homeless because they don’t view these people as having value, or being connected to their lives. Serial killers also exploit homophobia and our laws related to those young people who sell sexual services. When I was in Ipswich in 2006 I used to point out that less than an hour’s flight away was Amsterdam and that no Dutch serial killer had ever targeted prostitutes.

There’s also a nasty surprise; according to Chris Williams, who actually met him, he was working on precisely that question, whether the 19th century’s apparently low murder rate was explained by the fact that the victims of Victorian murderers were more likely to just vanish rather than be reported to the police.

Well, Yorkshire scores another historic first. I used to work off Thornton Road, and also in Dockfield Mill in Shipley; they’re both places where the death of the textile industry left behind a lot of rotting mill buildings that then got re-purposed by all kinds of odd little businesses. Dockfield Road is less so, more traditionally industrial, and there are terraces of classic working-class homes part of the way along it, just about where the pie van parked up when I was working in an envelope factory.

Thornton Road, though, is nothing but old mills and warehouses, now become small engineering workshops, garages, curry wholesalers and the like, a sort of Yorkshire favela development. The district, in the valley between the university and Great Horton Road on one side and Manningham on the other, is not identified with any community – hardly anyone lives there, they only work there or cut through the backstreets to avoid the inner ring road. (Oddly enough, the anarchist 1 in 12 Club is round there too, up the hill towards Westgate. And so are the Quakers.)

The vice trade moved down there after the girls were driven out of Lumb Lane, further uphill (uphill and downhill are always important directions in Bradford) and northwards in the centre of Manningham; this event has been variously considered to have been an example of community vigilantism, Islamism, and also to be associated with control of the drugs market and black/Asian tension, which later led to serious violence. In the 1990s, you could drive past any time of the night or day and see drug dealing going on – I also remember that one of the corner shops still had a sign outside advertising paraffin.

When I worked in an industrial bakery further up the road towards Lidget Green (and its Pathan community), and would walk back down towards the city centre, stinking of roasted high fructose syrup and cream-style product, I remember passing a huge billboard for Coca-Cola with some pouting model reclining across it. Some Four Lions character had decided to deface this example of imperialist decadence and fitna, but rather than aiming for the cleavage or the thighs, or for that matter the Coke, they’d chosen to tear down the face.

Another On Roads thing is the special role of the North; indeed, as he points out, it’s the construction of the M62 that made the North of England a sensible geographical construct rather than an awkward stereotype that uneasily combined Lancashire and Yorkshire.

And so much early motorway building started up north; you have the role of tireless boosters and chief engineers James Drake in Lancashire and Stuart Lovell in West Yorkshire, the A580 East Lancs Road (the very first), the Preston bypass, the Manchester and Leeds urban motorways, and the epic engineering drama of the M62 itself. As its chief engineer put it, “for seven years we ate mud, walked in mud, sat in mud and were aware of mud, and there was mud in the sandwiches”.

This would have far-reaching consequences; not so long ago, I recall some journalist or other saying that they were very surprised, on going to Yorkshire to report the miners’ strike, to find all these huge roads leading everywhere. They would, of course, be a major theatre of that conflict, and a few years later, the rave/drugs wars as well. Later still, both the protestors and the Sheffield-based professional climbers hired to get them out of trees would go that way.

Can it be true that my mother and I ran the length of our local bypass, twice, wearing donkey jackets, boots, hi-viz vests, and carrying shovels? I rather think it is. It was a fearsomely hot day, and I don’t think we were even formally protesting, although, in a sense, what else were we doing?

Which reminds me; one of the very first road protests in the UK, against the Westway in the late 60s, or rather in favour of playgrounds under it, was started by someone who’d been reading about Guy Debord and was looking for something to start a row about.

IPC sub-editors dictate our nation’s youth. Ha, been a while since I heard that one. There is talk at the Meadi Grauniad that someone wants to re-open The Face. I can almost feel the unusually stiff square binding and remarkably heavy paper already. It was like being a member of a secret league against wankers.

Actually, this isn’t a good idea. Don’t do it, man; think of the 10,000 word 5-part stinker review I’ll have to fill up the blog with. I’m measuring up the space already. The disappointment and bitterness and drunken nostalgia; it won’t be pretty. Especially if you’re planning to rehire this guy:

“How do you maintain the cachet if you give it away for free?” asks one former editor. “Dazed, Vice, etc would murder it. Like Shortlist, it would be read by Polish cleaning ladies on the way home from the 4am shift.

Eh, just a fart then.

The subs [subscription] issue is equally tricky. How do you sell the subs? Who wants it? Or is it controlled subs – free to trendy shops – in which case it has no editorial teeth and no budget.”

This is true, however; once you get into someone else paying for your distribution with a magazine, your editorial independence and therefore, in the long run, your relevance and quality are going down the pan. The old crack about the freedom of the press being restricted to those who owned one was never that clever; there is a long tradition of the most surprising publications running off the same press.

But distribution. Now that’s the tough one. That’s the one the bastards have always controlled.

Update: Laughed.

Iduntity cards. Jamie quotes a Computer Weekly article on a “business breakfast” with Jacqui Smith as proof of private sector interest in the project. A business breakfast with Jacqui Smith; the horror. I remember that a “breakfast briefing” with a certain mobile industry luminary who would always have it at Claridges when he was in London always consisted of an interview and no breakfast, but at least it wasn’t no breakfast with Jacqui Smith.

You may remember that the government has consistently refused to cost either the card readers, none of which exist, or the enrolment process, by attributing it to the private sector fairy.

However, no company has ever gone public and stated their interest in the scheme. So the CW story is interesting because it says that

Post offices, pharmacists, supermarkets, high street chemists, local authorities and universities have expressed an interest in taking the fingerprints and photos of applicants for ID cards.

In fact quite a lot of local authorities and universities have expressed refusal to cooperate in the scheme. But no company is actually mentioned in the story; there are no names, nor any suggestion of what constituted “interest”.

CW has been historically the absolute best news source on ID cards, but I find this a little strange, and it strikes me as sounding a lot like the official line. It also doesn’t say if any of the people who expressed an interest were present, or if so, whether they expressed it at the time.

However, there is some interesting news in here; it seems that there is a new PR strategy afoot.

She introduced a well-made and expensive film which portrayed the ID card as a designer brand. “Identity: what does it mean? Sometimes it’s about individuality, to say that you are you.”…It sounds a good business arrangement, especially for post offices, which struggle to exist.

It’s a twofer – aspirational property-bubble bollocks plus populist-cum-Prince Charles sentimentality about sub-post offices. Sick bucket to the guy with the laptop!

Interestingly, those people who have expressed any thoughts from the private sector sound quite different. Here’s another CW story:

Confederation of British Industry deputy director general John Cridland questioned the robustness of the enrolment process, saying, “One sticking point is the requirement on the private sector to provide information that can be used to verify data held on the national register without making clear who will be liable for the accuracy of the information and how it will be used. The government must address this as a matter of urgency if it wants to build confidence in the scheme.”

The British Bankers Association said the banking industry had no plans to use biometrics to authenticate customers or transactions.

By the way, the Manchester trial will not actually provide any cards, because neither they nor the NIR will be ready. You’ll be able to “pre-register”, which sounds a lot like paying £30 for sweet fuck all. I’m more than interested to know exactly who will sign up.

25 years; the strike was the first political event, indeed one of the first events, I actually remember. At least I remember power cuts and TV news broadcasts with the number of weeks the miners had been out counting up. After that, I recall Chernobyl – they set up a radiation monitor in the car park and my mother was interviewed on TV in front of it – and Gorbachev (we had a photo of him, complete with birthmark!), and then, it all starts rolling past.

Years later I actually met Scargill, at a conference of economics students; it was some testimony to his oratory that he was cheered to the echo by an audience that included about fifty per cent Young Conservatives. Perhaps it was the other fifty per cent. The organisers certainly aimed for stimulation – the other keynote speakers were John Redwood and Patrick Minford, of all people. Around the same time I met my first Scargill-hater, who actually was an ex-miner. History is like that.

Here is the man himself’s version. I don’t know the detailed history well enough to criticise it, although it strikes me that his idea of cutting off the coal supply to the steel industry, a sort of John Robb-ish cascade-failure attack, was based on a fundamentally false assumption. Namely, it assumed Thatcher cared what happened to the steelworks; as we now know, she was just as keen to screw them as she was the miners, and not much better with regard to the downstream steel-consuming industries either.

But one thing I don’t think anyone has mentioned about this is that whatever had happened in 1984, there could only ever have been a stay of execution for ten years. In 1995, the starting gun for serious climate fear was fired when the IPCC scenarios crossed the 95% confidence interval into significance; and as James Hansen says, it’s the coal. Essentially lumps of carbon, with some added toxic heavy metals for laughs, and there’s so much of the stuff that we won’t run out before we cook the planet.

Consider the alternate history for a moment; NACODS walk out as well, the government is forced to give in. Thatcher, of course, doesn’t quit, but there is either a 1922 Committee coup or else she loses the 1987 election, or perhaps there is a repeat of 1974 – she calls an election for a mandate to take on the miners again, and loses. Neil Kinnock walks into Downing Street, either in a Labour government or a coalition with the Liberals and SDP.

Where do we go from here? The TUC-driven European turn in the Labour Party hasn’t happened yet, but neither has the D-Mark shadowing and ERM fiasco. The Labour Party has taken a goodly dose of the new social movements, as in the original time-line, but the prestige of the NUM on the Left would be immense.

But whatever happens in the Kinnock-Steel government, at some point in 1995 the Chief Scientific Advisor walks into the Cabinet Room, and about ten minutes later, all hell breaks loose. After all, in this scenario we’ve been merrily burning much more coal than in the original timeline for the last ten years, and the coal lobby is the strength of the Left.

The political implications would be more than weird. The activist Left, all other things being equal, is heavily green-influenced, so it ends up against the miners. The mainstream Labour Party is wildly conflicted. And the rightwing science-dodger ecosystem has no choice but to support the miners; Anthony Browne and friends in Doncaster, probably with bags of Exxon-provided cash. Thrill as they try to tack between screwing the government and keeping their North Sea investments.

So the strike 2.0 happens in the late 90s/early 2000s, with mobile phones and the Internet on the protesters’ side (flashmobs at Ferrybridge), tasers and pervasive CCTV on the police side, and all the party affiliations surreally flipped. God knows how that would have played out.

Someone ought to write the book.

One thing this brings up is just how necessary social democracy is; sometimes, it’s not enough to be right, and huge impersonal forces are going to work their will, like the steadily rising concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. And then, it’s up to the society we create around ourselves whether the changes that will happen will be humane or brutal and tragic.

I’m increasingly annoyed by official-media consensus that young people will suffer more than anyone else from the recession. Not that I especially doubt this; I doubt the reasoning, which appears to be that they’ve all gone soft and they’re not like we were in my day. As a general principle, I believe this is usually wrong, being unfalsifiable and all, and also being a projection of one’s own fear of death.

But on the specific case, I dispute the facts. It wasn’t a great time to be young; by definition, when you’re young your only source of income is wages, and the labour share of national income has been flat for years. Indeed, real wages have been flat for donkey’s years. A personal example; I was offered a job at Euromoney Institutional Investor on a salary of £16,000 per year, but on a six-month contract. Even at Mobile Comms International, it was a while before I was earning more an hour than I had been Pritt-Sticking the flaps of substandard envelopes whilst waiting for Bradford City’s second season in the Premier League. However, it improved, and I’m well aware I learnt a hell of a lot there. I spent around 20% of my post-tax income on my railway season ticket.

At the same time, both rents and house prices shot through the roof. This was crucial; the whole idea that home-owners got rich from the rise in the value of their property was dependent on someone buying it from them. People retiring and trading-down was a factor that had to match people trading-up; at bottom, there had to be first-time buyers, who are generally young. The net effect of right-to-buy and the great property bull run was to transfer wealth from first-time buyers to sellers; in the aggregate, the Bank of Mum and Dad was borrowing from the kids.

And, of course, there were tuition fees, top-up fees, and for a cohort including me, both the fees and no student grants. Meanwhile, we were told we ought to consume and keep the economy going, take part in the creative industries and volunteer, but do this while joining the job market, to borrow heavily to pay for further and higher education, to accumulate savings on deposit, to save for retirement (or in other words, to pay others’ pensions), that we were a bunch of unserious greenies, that we were politically apathetic, that we would face the consequences of climate change (after it became respectable to worry), that we were all drug fiends and music characterised by repetitive beats was against the law, that we weren’t getting on the housing ladder, that we were borrowing too much money (this from the people who brought you Citigroup) and that people who were slightly younger ought to be punished for playing hooky in order to demonstrate against the Iraq war. To cap the lot, we were told we were drinking too much. If we were, who could guess why?

Actually, if I was younger, I think I’d be delighted by the crisis. I’ve got plenty of schadenfreude and indeed klammheimliche Freude as it is. Things I need (somewhere to live, somewhere to do interesting things) are likely to get cheap, and me minus five years doesn’t care about the cost of huge cars or Vertu mobile phones because he doesn’t have any money but does have more sense. The strength of ideological drivel is reduced; there has been a catastrophe in the intellectual environment, a meteorite has plunged into the credibility of the market monkeys, and as usual, this is followed by an adaptive radiation, a blossoming of new species into new or newly unoccupied niches.

Even when me minus five years starts working for the clampdown, at least he or she gets to save for their retirement in a low asset price world, and to bore me minus ten years with tales about how they staged bio-hacking parties in abandoned bank C-level offices, and how this gets them off inevitably joining the Conservative Party, or functional equivalent. Which is, after all, the claim to intellectual legitimacy of most of the people who spent all that time ordering me to simultaneously save, work, borrow, volunteer, spend, rebel, invest, and obey.

I suppose they must have meant one of those.

25 years ago today I was a three year old boy, living in a village in the Yorkshire Dales, from where you could see the golfball aerials at the NSA’s Menwith Hill base. Later, people I knew well would protest it for ages, and a man who was supposedly an engineer for LockMart there lived next door.

Via Charlie Stross, today is Stanislas Petrov day. As a Soviet air defence forces colonel, he was in charge of monitoring their satellite early warning system when it indicated five incoming missiles. But he was well aware of the system’s possible failings, and the strategy the US was expected to pursue – after all, what on earth would be the point of firing only five missiles, on a polar trajectory that the Molniya satellites would detect?

And so he declined to give the warning, knowing that if he was wrong, the radar line would light up with panic soon enough. The phones certainly did; they complained he hadn’t filled in the station log right, to which he said that he couldn’t because he’d had a phone in each hand all night. Of course, the radars didn’t go off because there were no missiles – when the ideologues and bureaucrats handed the issue to serious scientists, they worked out that it was an inherent flaw in the system’s design, connected with the unusual orbit of the satellites and rare conditions in the upper atmosphere. A false positive could have happened at any time.

That didn’t wash with the Karlo Rovskis; they sacked Petrov, who had anyway had a nervous breakdown (who wouldn’t?) not long afterwards.

Petrov’s heroic success was based on a few things; the first was his sound understanding of the machines. He didn’t need to ask the experts or believe the big computer. The second was that he understood the political and grand strategic situation. It made no sense to send five rockets. The third was that he feared what the buggers might do anyway; yes, it might be clear that nobody would send five rockets, and anyway the radars would give enough time to press the button, but who knew what the politicians (of every kind) would do under the effect of fear?

The fourth was that he acted, not letting the fools take the wheel. The Soviet Union was in the hands of a middle-ranking air force colonel, as in so many science-fiction horrorshows; but no-one could have been better. I can’t help but think of the lowborn Model Army men of the civil war; Colonel Hewson and Cornet Smith against the Duke of Godknows.

Ackerman reckons we should be impressed that he suggested a Turkish-Kurdish rapprochement two years ago. The evidence for the rapprochement is pretty good – there are meetings going on between the KRG and the Turks, under the chairmanship of (Kurdish) Iraqi president Jalal Talabani, about issues connected with all the business Turkish companies are doing in Kurdistan. But who cares about that, when there’s blogger one-upmanship at stake?

It’s the 24th of July, 2005, and this is on the front of TYR: The Turks Are Coming! Maybe

If I was a Turkish spook, I wouldn’t be planning to attack the Kurds. I’d arm them, trade with them, finance them, and sleep soundly knowing I had one of the most bitter bunches of mountain killers in the world between me and the chaos in Iraq. And I’d still have the menace of invading them available. Just one thing: do not declare a sovereign state – yes, be one, but don’t say it. I wouldn’t want to be shot by my own side.

Hey, that’s two whole days after Jean Charles de Menezes was offed by Ian “Therapy Cat is Concerned” Blair. Well, the Turks eventually blew their stack and invaded, achieving nothing and wasting their deterrent credibility. Now they are getting serious. You read about it here first. And remember, one day Kurdistan will apply to join the EU.

Speaking of predictions – look at this. Via Brian Ulrich, Turkey is playing a key role in negotiations between Syria and Israel, by offering the Israelis a side-payment….in water. Yes, just like this old school January 2004 post on TYR. There’s a huge opportunity for an EU-like technocratic settlement there, y’know.

Where did I get the title?

You thought Keighley were having a good year? We’re having a fucking good year. Yes.

1 Keighley 7 6 0 1 215 118 19
2 Doncaster 6 6 0 0 216 74 18
3 Gateshead 6 5 0 1 204 129 16
4 Barrow 5 5 0 0 199 50 15
5 Oldham 6 5 0 1 196 136 15
6 York 7 2 0 5 188 175 10
7 Swinton 7 3 0 4 186 217 10
8 Rochdale 6 2 0 4 193 173 9
9 Workington 7 1 0 6 134 224 7
10 Blackpool 6 1 0 5 128 240 5
11 Hunslet 7 1 0 6 123 241 5
12 London Skolars 6 1 0 5 75 280 4

Keighley 36 Rochdale 35; yes.

Hallelujah indeed.