Archive for the ‘snark’ Category

I have to say the only surprise I found in this story was that the list of conditions GPs failed to diagnose didn’t include death. “I prescribed Mr. Smith antibiotics and told him to come back in a week’s time, but for some reason he wouldn’t leave the surgery. Thwack…Fore! I wonder if he’s still there? Anyway, hurry up, got to get back to the clubhouse in time for my afternoon pethidine bolus. Bottoms up!”

Of course, that would actually be caught by the typical diagnostic protocol the article describes – give’em a broad spectrum antibiotic, and tell’em to come back in a week. If they come back, refer’em if they insist, if they don’t, repeat the prescription. If they don’t come back, job done…one way or another.

This is why I stopped reading Dr. Crippen’s blog – it was OK as far as it went, but after that point it turned into the Internet wing of the British Medical Association’s golf committee.

There’s been a little progress on some of the lines of inquiry in this post. First up, the question of whether or not Coulson was subjected to security vetting before joining No.10 Downing Street, and if so, what the Defence Vetting Agency said about him. This one took a relatively long time to spin up, but now it’s landed in this piece.

Coulson, arrested by police on Friday over his role in the scandal, went on to be cleared by the security vetting team at Downing Street after three in-depth interviews about his professional and personal life. He was given “strap one” status, which allowed him the highest access to top-secret material.

So not only did they hire him, they gave him a Top Secret security clearance. Wow. Shoulda googled, DVA, shoulda googled. To say nothing of DontDateHimGirl, or perhaps that gangland website Jamie Kenny linked a while back. Here are the criteria for the different levels of vetting:

You will need a security check if, in the course of your work, you will regularly need access to SECRET and sometimes TOP SECRET (under supervision) information or assets. You will need developed vetting if your work will involve substantial unsupervised access to TOP SECRET information or assets, access to category 1 nuclear material or access to material from other countries and international organisations. If you don’t think your job will involve accessing any of this information, you should check with your sponsor whether you need to be vetted.

A question. One of the reasons why this is important is that the prime minister’s office receives, as well as Joint Intelligence Committee and Defence Intelligence assessments, a special ration of choice raw intelligence material from GCHQ. This exquisitely practised method of making the prime minister feel special comes in a file known as a BJ, and I’m damned if I’m not going to get a rise with this joke having invented it for my review of Richard Aldrich’s history of British SIGINT as far back as last August.

I prefer to think of it as the world’s most classified blog. But anyway, this is as secret as secret gets, and moreover it is signals intelligence and therefore covered by special security procedures. These procedures are standardised between the UK, US, and other allies who cooperate on signals intelligence in a document called IRSIG for International Regulations on Signals Intelligence. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t contain the words “By all means show it to your dodgy spin doctor who hires people who plant drugs in cars during divorce cases, bribe coppers, and murder each other with axes in pub car parks”. What do the Americans, to say nothing of the intelligence-bureaucratic complex right here, make of the whole sorry mess?

Moving swiftly on, what did Cameron know and when did he know it? What might have gone into the report? For the details, the DVA’s “So you and your family are being grilled by faintly Pinter-esque security agents! Why didn’t you decide to be, say, a quantity surveyor?” page is pretty illuminating although not quite as good as the official Subject’s Information Leaflet (PDF).

The interview will cover most areas of your life. The vetting officer will build up
as complete a picture of you as is possible. We have to consider your loyalty, honesty and reliability, and whether you could be more at risk of bribery or blackmail than others. We will ask you about your wider family background (relationships and influences), past experiences, health, sexual relationships
and behaviour, drinking habits, experience of drug taking, financial affairs, general political views, hobbies, foreign travel and so on.

Apparently they didn’t think to ask if Coulson was particularly likely to commit bribery. It looks like they’d have noticed if he was behind on his mortgage, if he was gay, if he’d ever so much as looked at a spliff, or if he’d been in a trade union – all the usual “well, somebody might blackmail you with the threat of having your security clearance withdrawn, so we have to make sure we withdraw the clearance, thus completing the circle and making the blackmail possible to begin with” stuff.

Another question. Who were Coulson’s character references? Wouldn’t it be hilarious if one was Rebekah Brooks, or one of the various politicians who claim to consider him a friend?

Snark. I once had to complete a security clearance form and the bit that stuck in my mind was that I had to swear that I would not try to overthrow parliamentary democracy by violent, subversive, or industrial means. I’ve managed to stay legit so far, although the temptation can be a bastard. But there was nothing about running a really shitty newspaper that had to hide from its readers behind high walls, steel fences, and CCTV cameras, nor about planting cocaine on unsuspecting women.

I still can’t get over this morning’s Cameron press conference. The incredible thing, as I said, was the transition in what was respectable to discuss. The Guardian went the whole hog and brought up the whole ball of police corruption, and Michael Crick of the BBC pressed very hard on the question of the money. Well, you might have expected that from them.

But ITV News’s reporter demanded to know whether News International might shred all the evidence, Adam Boulton from Sky News was the first to raise the BSkyB issue, the Times wanted to know about the content of Coulson’s “assurances”, and the Sun asked if Coulson had betrayed the prime minister. Even if the Sun guy couldn’t actually bring himself to say “Andy Coulson”, it was quite the showing – about one step from a Nile TV-style on-air apology.

Cameron’s response was odd. At one point he said this:

Democracy is government by explanation and we need the media to explain what we’re trying to do”.

Apparently he believes the mass communications organisations are a transmission belt between the Party and the People. How bizarrely communist.

At one point, he started talking about transparency, government credit cards, and releases of government meetings data. This was frankly surreal; I wasn’t expecting him to go all ScraperWiki.

He also went on endlessly about having given Coulson a second chance. So much so that this was evidently a talking-point he’d been intensely coached with. I do wonder what work this was meant to do. Was it just meant to sound patronisingly nice? Surely someone ought to ask if he’s soft on crime. After all, while criminals are in prison, you know they aren’t spying on the families of the war dead.

The Tory crisis plan seems to be in two parts:

1) Hide behind OFCOM and the police.

2) Counter-attack Miliband’s press secretary Tom Baldwin, because he used to work for the Times.

If you take this at face value, it implies that all current or former News International journos are marked men. So, I asked Tim Montgomerie if he would join me in calling for the resignation of Michael Gove, former assistant editor of The Times and current Education Secretary. We need to get a grip, etc. He’s not replied yet.

(Or, imagine you had to make a Homo economicus. Other than money, what chemicals would you immediately look up in Angewandte Chemie?)

So Dave from PR’s constituency chairman was found dead in a portaloo at Glastonbury. Who now remembers William Hague in Notting Hill?

This made me think of something. There used to be a microgenre of writing in the late 90s that ascribed historical events to drugs. (Reader Richard J. occasionally threatens to write a history of the world titled Shitfaced: How Drunks, Junkies, Drink, and Drugs Created the Modern World or words to that effect, so it’s not entirely dead.) I remember a piece in The Face (yeah, it would be) ascribing peace in Northern Ireland to the right pills.

But what if the polarity was reversed? If Michael Howard was right, but in the wrong way and for the wrong reasons?

Throw your hands in the air! You’ll need the clearance from surrounding obstacles…

Because we’re about to do some serious handwaving.

What if there was a long-term pathology of MDMA abusers in which serotonin production, or perhaps more likely sensitivity, was permanently compromised? This was a big official-line fear back in the 90s and not totally implausible.

Steroid abusers run the risk of losing their balls as the levels of androgens in their system are artificially kept high and therefore the negative-feedback control never kicks in to demand more production. This is why they shoot HCG – it’s an alternate positive control – and hence why some of them can show up positive on pregnancy tests.

Similarly, keep a stimulus turned up long enough and the system will trim it out to deal with the new normal.

An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of Paul Staines

What might be the symptoms? Well…you’ll need even more space to wave your hands for this bit, but here goes. Permanently lacking in empathy, with lowered affect, and a tendency to blow up irascibly if challenged. Are you thinking what we’re thinking?

Actually, I’m indebted to Owen “Owain the marxist architecture critic, see” Hatherley for this insight: like so.

I like CIF’s preponderance of ravey right-wing libertarians. ‘MoveAnyMountain’, ‘TakeMeHigher’ etc

Yes. Yes. Perhaps we could do a poll on which Mancunian music hero is likely to make it to the Tory A-List first and therefore derive some assumptions towards a dose-response curve. Hooky? Squire? Barney? Shaun Ryder? Bez? Tony Wilson? I know he’s dead, but seriously, it’s the Tories and I’m kinda surprised he never had a serious crack at electoral politics. (John Squire, for his part, repeatedly threatened to but didn’t get enough tuit. But you’re a long time retired as they say.) Surely they’d find him a constituency down near Jake Rees-Mogg’s where the mere termination of his biological existence wouldn’t matter too much.

Aetiology, Diagnosis…and Treatment

I don’t know about treatment, but it should be fairly easy to devise a screening protocol based on demographic and biographical information and a few clinical markers. Not quite the Voight-Kampff test, but similar. Anyway it’s too well known, especially in the target generation.

The good news is that the demographic bulge ought to be near its peak and things should get better from here on in. A bit like public pensions.

Quiggin is discussing why some things are neo- and others are post-. How do we deal with the current revival of high modernism (see Owen Hatherley’s blog and indeed his career, the proliferating Mid-Century Modern groups on Flickr, the wave of preservation campaigns for mid-20th century landmarks)? It’s obviously silly to call it post-modernism and in any case it’s explicitly opposed to it. I’ve heard post-postmodernism but that’s more of an admission that it hasn’t got a proper name yet than a solution.

Neo-modernism? I can’t help but feel there’s some stylistic problem with calling something both new and modern in the same word. I guess you could call it the New New, like the science fiction world’s New Weird, but that would get irritating quickly. But the vaguely pejorative sense of neo- might work. Modernism was always half in love and sometimes quite a bit more with either fascism or communism. To say nothing of the times it was involved in a bizarre love triangle with both of them, or its repeated flings with developmental dictatorship, urban corruption, Gaullism, liberal technocracy, and really anyone with the keys to the planning office, when the other two weren’t in town. Then, architecture is the slut of the arts, almost as much as journalism, and always has been. It can be no other way; somebody has to build something and that takes serious amounts of money. (So what’s the journos’ excuse?)

I would guess that a camp revival of it would enjoy the trains-running-on-time/white concrete rostrum aspect even more. Of course the revivers would furiously deny this, and indeed that there was anything camp or revivalist about it, thus inadvertently confirming it. In fact, I suspect they’d prefer just to insist that it is continuous with earlier modernism and that it’s just modernism, dammit. At this point I see the nightmarish academic plural lunging from the flank and sidestep.

Or perhaps it should get a -punk suffix. As it goes with nostalgia for the great compression and the era of giving us the fucking money, I would suggest we call it something like reasonablepunk. (After all, punk itself began very near to the historic peak of economic egalitarianism in the UK.) Because social democracy is basically reasonable. It’s the other side who want the moon on a stick. This reminds me a bit of Hasek’s Party of Measured Progress within the Limits of the Law, but then again that’s too long. Perhaps it was snappier in Czech.

There’s obviously a resonance with what Paul Mason calls “gut Labour” here. It’s worth remembering that although Tony Blair talked a good game, in practice he was just as horrified as Prince Charles at the suggestion that he might have an aesthetic hidden away somewhere on his person, so I would argue that this is unequivocally a good thing. We’ve already got gut Labour wanktanks so we may as well have an aesthetic. (Although, who’s going to feed the bugger?)

Elsewhere, I read this weekend that IKEA is going to adjust its product line for the UK to be more “British”. This turns out to be a question of function. The Swedish designers have apparently been struggling to grasp the problems involved with fitting their products between the chimney breast, the bay window, and the landlord’s washing machine sticking out of its chipboard kennel by 10-14 cm depending on which end you measure. As a result, one of the new products is a wardrobe that’s only 35 cm deep. I am looking forward to their next lineup, which will include a table whose legs can be removed quickly to beat your relatives senseless over the last tin of catfood, a bookcase that doubles as a coffin, and a range of products designed to be easily converted into firewood.

Shouldn’t Crowdsourced New York Apartment Pushing Limits actually be an Onion headline? Either that or the core of a new ResPublica/New School Network collaboration as the Big Society’s contribution to solving the housing crisis. We’ll crowdsource it! If everyone brings a brick, we’ll have…a pile of as many bricks as users who actually bothered showing up, that the two people who actually care about the project will have to use.

Those coalition housing plans, in pictures!

(Yes, I know this should be on Stable & Principled, but I’m trying to keep that blog Terribly Serious.)

Meanwhile, genuinely serious and interesting points on the same theme are made in this excellent piece on Park Hill in Sheffield and its redevelopment. It’s not as smash-mouth as Owen Hatherley would likely be, but it also makes the point that letting the squatters have their way with it was tried, effectively, and a lot of the work required on the building was basically making good the results. It also strikes me as a good point that it’s not, in fact, easier to run away from the scene of a crime on an access deck. Of course, the real point here is that as the society that built it crumbled, they stopped providing proper investigative policing to the people in it and started treating them as the object of mass public-order policing.

the voices of randomness

My Markov chain blog occasionally brings forth wonders.

The a speech of David Cameron would be facing in this country who hope that the Jews generally and poisonous Jewish millionaires the Centre for many Americans are long tentacles of the little platoons of the gathering darkness.

It’s incredible how the paranoia makes itself felt. A Lovecraft theme here, of course.

Martin “Asian supermen are our rightful masters – submit!” Jacques, meanwhile:

The Chinese believe that a trade war drawing in the country’s centre of power relate to a long drawn out process of the Uighurs: duties and equally fine wine a likely possibility.

Indeed a characteristic of government is running scared.


I think we’ve just seen the Sistine Chapel of trolling built.

I have some problems with “10:10”, the latest timebound big media campaign. The first one is symbols and aesthetics. They are handing out tags made of aluminium alloy cut out of a retired B737 down at Hurn. This is meant to be recycling, and wonderfully symbolic.

No. A superbly engineered artefact has been reduced to trinkets that will very likely go into landfill. Couldn’t they have made the bits into wind turbine blades, or solar stoves, or bicycle frames if you must, or even just wiggly tin roofing? Or something, at least? Instead, it’s a poster example of what Bill McKibben calls “downcycling”. And, of course, it’s the wrong bloody problem anyway; we could shut down aviation tomorrow and not meet the 10:10 goal, but lose fast international travel anywhere but a smallish chunk of Western Europe.

Another example; the climate campers apparently held a course on running a 12v power supply for a sound system, driven by someone pedalling. Well…engineering FAIL. If the only possible source of power is pedalling a bloody bike, wouldn’t it be better to keep the bike and the calories for transport? Would a stereo be a high priority then? Wouldn’t it be better to use the wind, the water, or the fire with a Sterling engine? In context, solar PV would be way out of the question. (I was pretty impressed by the edit your own sousveillance vids one, though.)

Not so sure about content, either. The Guardian is of course a biased source here; but they only found one person who wanted to build anything. An architect, of course. The front page coverage made me want to give up and buy a huge car; here’s blonde Daisy, 16 and mugging for 14, suggesting we “grow veg on the balcony”. Darling. Couldn’t they have found Keisha-Tigrette from Tottenham who wants to KILL OIL IN THE EAR? I think they probably couldn’t, and we’ll get to that later.

As with most British media green pushes, there’s little sign of any interest in anything physical or lasting. Not an inch of rockwool. Everything is about changing your behaviour, and specifically micro-behaviour – what you buy, or turning off lights, not how you work or where you live or how society works. Worse, it’s a demand for entirely free-floating behavioural change – nobody seems to be suggesting any way of monitoring or measuring the change, or any incentives. This isn’t going to work. And, again, it’s all consumer guff.

The problem with consumer guff is that it’s a limited way of approaching the problem. It’s arguable whether or not investment is the defining value in the macro-economy – it’s pretty clear that it’s crucial to the climate/energy position. It is defined by the stuff we build. And further, without any mechanism to keep up to it, nothing is more evanescent than promises to do better. It doesn’t even take backsliding to break them; what if you lose your job, and have to move somewhere where you need to commute 40 miles to work? Alas poor 10% saved by being nicer.

It’s tough, however, to suck insulation out of the walls; this is one of the reasons I’m keen on retrofits as an alternative to winter fuel payments. The Tories can’t take them away once they’re done.

My third problem is this: where is the optimism? Everyone’s talking about demog-friendly nostalgia for rationing that the demographic in question doesn’t remember. That’s not a sacrifice; woodbines, box at the Empire, sixpence, yadda yadda. Nobody is saying: Let’s do BETTER this time. Let’s build something BIGGER and SHINY and DRAMATIC and FANTASTIC and OUTRAGEOUS that doesn’t just meet a 10% target but SMASHES it.

Where is the future in all this? What kind of a future is it? How are we meant to be full of confidence and aggression without it?

Actually there are some other options, chiefly RAGE and HATRED. No sign of them, either; but identifying an enemy is the oldest motivator in the book. There’s no sign of a stinking mob hunting British Gas fatcats or an army of Rosie the Riveters basting Vladimir Putin like a turkey with their sealant guns. Why the hell not? We have enemies – why not make the most of them. I bet Keisha would be delighted to have King Abdullah and the CEO of Exxon burned in effigy, or perhaps just burned…after the block gets superinsulated.

Unfortunately, we’re relying on self-righteousness as the driving emotion; not optimism (shorthand: lust), not greed, not rage, not hatred. Mind you, it is clearly an infinitely renewable resource, just like stupidity.

And while I’m on the point, where are the workers in this? Who’s monitoring what exactly the council, or the diddly-dee semi-privatised thingy organisation, does when they refurbish the estate? Does anyone care about the “fuel poor” if they can’t offer them a cash handout just before the elections?

There is, actually, a powerful response to some of this. That is: 10:10 looks a bit like a vacuous PR stunt because it’s a PR stunt. The aim is to influence the deliberatiwoos in Copenhagen. Superistical. Das ist gut so. But this done, treaty signed, etc, we’ve got to go implement. With the North Sea gas running down, we’ve got to do that quicksmart anyway.

So, you ask, where are my positive proposals? The D-word? Well, I’m interested to hear what anyone else thinks about a campaign for an answer to climate and energy issues that points forward, that leans left, and that isn’t based on whose-kid-are-you media bullshit. I’m planning to squirt sealant into every corner of my own place before this winter, too.

next slide, please

We spoke of fake and real online participation. These things also exist in other branches of IT. Thomas X. Hammes writes about PowerPoint presentations:

Rather than the intellectually demanding work of condensing a complex issue to two pages of clear text, the staff instead works to create 20 to 60 slides. Time is wasted on which pictures to put on the slides, how to build complex illustrations and what bullets should be included. I have even heard conversations about what font to use and what colors. Most damaging is the reduction of complex issues to bullet points. Obviously, bullets are not the same as complete sentences, which require developing coherent thoughts. Instead of forcing officers to learn the art of summarizing complex issues into coherent arguments, staff work now places a premium on slide building. Slide-ology has become an art in itself, while thinking is often relegated to producing bullets.

The next version probably will have an option to “Insert Brilliant Idea”; but any competent programmer would make sure it instead inserted an idea mediocre enough not to detract from the charts.

I especially like the quad chart, which was new to me; the military are ahead of the world of business on this one. What’s a quad chart? It’s a PowerPoint slide which consists of four other PowerPoint slides scaled down to fit.