Police spy on you at petrol stations

Where was the informed debate on this?

Where was the informed debate on this?

I saw this at a petrol station recently. OK, I can see that it is in the interest of the petrol station owner to log the registration plates of cars in case they drive off without paying. But I can recall no informed debate about whether this data should be automatically made available to the police!

Democracy my arse! Gradually, using fear of crime and terrorism, the state increases the control that it has over the individual. “You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide” whine the naive and trusting. This is bollocks. History shows that if authorities are given powers they will abuse them.

It’s also a bit rich to advertise it as “neighbourhood policing”. You’d have to have truly Orwellian mind to consider a nationwide network of CCTV cameras to be  neighbourly.

Birdcage Jazz

Birdcage Jazz - Harriet Butler

Birdcage Jazz - Harriet Butler

I saw this somewhere in the Lanes in Brighton in December 2010. I think it was probably a place called Bellis, 8-9 Kings Rd, BN1 1NE. I just downloaded the image from my phone and noticed the apparent photograph of the window in the background. I was a bit mystified but now I realise that this was a reflection and I took the photo through a shop window. I think it looks quite good, though, Ms. Butler might prefer the original.

CCTV and Big Brother

I'm a phtographer not a terrorist

I'm a phtographer not a terrorist

In the UK the police continue to stop ordinary citizens taking photographs in public places yet they feel free to take pictures of us any time they like. Police in Brighton have taken to parking a special CCTV van on the pavement. It’s interesting that there has been criticism of Google for their Streetview project yet we are complacent about police collecting similar information.

If I were a IT systems manager in the police force I would consider creating a system collecting all photographs taken by the police into a single database. I’d then reference police computers and online information such as Facebook, Google and Flickr and use automatic face recognition to allow police CCTV equipment to automatically identify people. Add a head up display to police car windscreens and you have little floating tags over members of the public as they go about their business.

Are the police working on such a system? – How would we know?

George Orwell will be turning in his grave

George Orwell must be turning in his grave

Last Word Syndrome

Informed debate or Last Word Syndrome

Informed debate or Last Word Syndrome

Yesterday I was discussing the cultural differences between Germans and English people. It was generally agreed that Germans were direct and that we English couch our intercourse in “buffer words”. A German might say “Give me the mustard” and an English person might say “Could you pass me the mustard”. This difference becomes more obvious when we communicate via Email. I know Germans who have learned to be less direct in their Emails but I have never heard of the English modifying their emails to be more direct. I think that Email is a problematic medium in any case. When you throw Germans / English mannerisms into the mix you are more or less bound to get misunderstanding and bad feeling.

Blogging also has issues. When commenting on News sites such as the Guardian or the BBC I have noticed the tendency toward Last Word Syndrome. One person comments, another pointedly disagrees, offence is taken, and a response written immediately off the cuff. Neither party wants to let the other have the last word and either the thread deteriorates into abuse or the argument goes around in circles as one or both of the parties merely reiterate their arguments. I have had this on my blog and with work Emails. I guess that, with Emails, it’s more common when we’re stupid enough to cc others into the exchange.
I think one problem is that Emails are written in the same style as the spoken word but may be read more like letters. It took hundreds, if not thousands, of years for us to refine the art of writing so that pedants can lecture us on spelling and grammar. As Email and the web are very new I guess we still have not worked out the ground rules. Perhaps after a couple of hundreds years things will have improved and we will receive sarcastic comments about our inability to understand the rules on the use of smilies.

This week after a couple of email exchanges I received a brief and stupid reply. My immediate reaction was to respond with “Da!!!!!”. I refrained and let the other guy have the last word. It rankles and I imagine him thinking that his boorish behaviour had outwitted me but, for this week at least, I consider I nipped the thing in the bud and refrained from petty behaviour. Perhaps I will make a habit of it…….but don’t count on it.

Star House

Star House

ex-pat wife misunderstands “abroad”

Send in the SAS says ex-pat wife

Send in the SAS says ex-pat wife

I just caught a bit of Channel 4 news covering the situation in Libya. An British woman with a large pearl necklace bemoaning the fact that she had not been telephoned by the British government and that her husband had not been magically plucked from the Libyan desert by the SAS.


It seems that someone in the UK did not perform perfectly and several aircraft due to pick up British citizens arrived in Tripoli later than would have been ideal. However, said woman was talking of the her husband and other miscellaneous British workers on remote oil and gas installations far from Tripoli scattered around the very large Libyan desert. A quick look at Libya on Google Earth confirms what I had thought. Libya is a large desert country stretching around 1500 miles east to west and about a 1000 miles north south. I doubt that the be-pearled woman herself knew where her husband was so expecting the British government to know where he was, know who she was and then give her a quick call to make sure she was alright seems a bit optimistic.

Workers in locations like this get paid over he odds specifically because the location is weird and potentially dangerous. The responsibility for their safety lies with the companies who employee these people. She and her husband were presumably happy to collect the dosh but failed to realise that they are not in Britain any more and cannot expect the same level of service as when they’re back home in Cardiff. One statement really took the biscuit. She said “Britain has one of the best armed services in the world” – Well, perhaps, but that doesn’t mean that we want to get involved militarily all over the world just because some expats have run out of milk.

Then we had the invidious Shadow Foreign Secretary Douglas Alexander condemning the government for it’s handling of the situation. Mr. Alexander put  forward no suggestions or policy but merely tried to profit from people’s misfortune with a knee jerk condemnation of government action. The Tories cutting? – Too fast he cries! – Brits being rescued from Libya? – Too slow he squeaks.

Of course Mr. Cameron has been on TV apologising. It’s interesting that, these days we expect the Prime Minister, of all people, to be responsible for operational activities during an evacuation such as this. The PM has no special understanding or knowledge and there is no reason why he should get involved. A senior foreign office official would be more appropriate but I guess this reflects the way politics has been forced to adjust to the media.

“I’m a very private person” said the woman – yeh, right. Not so private that you don’t go straight on telly to make ludicrous demands.

I suggest that she and her husband stay in England and get a nice local job.

U.S. economy on cream buns and cheeseburgers

The Latest Cop-Out

The Latest Cop-Out

The following is the opening statement in an article in this week’s Economist entitled The Latest Cop-Out – Barack Obama has ducked the challenge of grappling with America’s medium-term deficit woes.

“Imagine you have developed a serious weight problem. Things have been going badly for you, and as a result you have been piling on the pounds; in the past three years your weight has ballooned by a shocking 10% a year. Your advisers all say that this will give you a heart attack: not immediately, but in the next decade or so. What do you do? Not many doctors would recommend a diet confined to items that make up only an eighth of your consumption (and were in any case often rather good for you), while slyly sticking to a plan to increase gradually the number of cream buns and cheeseburgers you eat every day. Yet that is exactly what Barack Obama has prescribed for the bloated American government.” – The Economist, February 19th 2011

RIP Charlotte Mbango

More than a decade ago I lived in Nigeria and later Gabon and grew fond of Makossa music from Cameroon. One song that touched me was Dikom Lam Moto by Charlotte Mbango. On a Friday or Saturday night I’d play this as I headed out into the night. The recording that I have is slightly shaky but it still puts to shame much of the dross that is presented as talent in the West. I never have obtained a translation of the lyrics but her passion seems to break through the language barrier. Sadly it seems that Ms. Mbango breathed her last in June 2009.

RIP Charlotte Mbango.

Blurred line between freedom and prison

It Takes A Village

It Takes A Village

The furore over the European Court’s decision that the UK must allow prisoners the right to vote continues.

This morning Roy Jenkins waded in on BBC Radio 4’s Thought for The Day reminding us that we are all equal before the law. Well, yes, we are all supposed to be equal before the law but we are not supposed to be equal after the law has taken its course. After being sentences by the law some of us are supposed to be locked up.

Prior to the 20th century prisons were ghastly places; cold, bad food and full of bugs. Thankfully today in many Western countries it is widely accepted that it is the restrictions on liberty of physical movement which is the prison sentence and therefore there is no justification for prison being ghastly in itself and conditions have improved. A further driver for improvement is that keeping the prisoners content means less trouble for the guards and so TV, libraries and exercise are commonplace.

All this is well and good. However, due to one thing and another individuals in Western countries are not doing a whole lot of physical movement anyway. Excepting our intermittent jetting off to the sun, I suspect that we are more sedentary than most of our forebears and the trend looks set to continue. From what I hear many young people prefer to sit in front of their computers all day to going out into the world. We have exercise machines in our homes, we have wide screen TV, we have Wii Fit and the groceries are delivered. Why would we want to go out? Even our social needs can now be met via social media and online virtual worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft.

Science Fiction has long predicted a time when people will not leave their homes at all. The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster in 1909 is a good example. All their needs will be fulfilled by machines. When that time comes we will have to ask ourselves what the difference is between being free and being a prisoner.

With that in mind it is worth challenging the assumptions that state sanctioned punishment should consist only of restrictions on physical movement and fines. For some reason we seem to think that these are the only two punishments that are justifiable in a liberal society.

While not advocating hanging or flogging I suspect that the these limitations are arbitrary and can be ineffective. Consider the idea that prisoners should have the right to vote. Why? Some of these prisoners are paedophiles, fraudsters or corrupt businessmen or politicians. It is fairly safe to assume that such people vote in such a way as to maximise their ability to get away with their crimes. Additional punishments other than incarceration may be legitimate and removal of voting rights seems to me to be one of them.

Perhaps there is scope for removing the right to vote on serious offences?

When considering social issues I often think of the African saying: “It Takes A Village”. The meaning of this is that the whole of society is required to raise a child. So I imagine the issue in the context of a small village where everyone knows each other. This is an environment more natural that the anonymous towns and cities in which most of us now live.

If a man beat up a granny in a village he would suffer the opprobrium of all those who he considered friends and I think that this is a suitable and appropriate form of punishment.

In 21st century society a man may beat up a granny in one town, pay his fine or serve his jail sentence in another and then strut around with his friends like a hero in yet another town. He need never suffer the public humiliation which would naturally occur in a village environment.

Medieval England had a device for imposing public humiliation on convicts: The Stocks. Yes folks I am suggesting that we bring back the stocks.

Buy Art Prints

Buy Art Prints

After further consideration medieval England also had the ducking stool and trial by ordeal. Perhaps the advantage of limiting punishment to fines and imprisonment is that it prevents cruel and unusual punishments and that can only be a good thing.

Evolution in the office

homo officus

homo officus

There was a good little talk on Big Think this week by Dr. Michio Kaku stating that “gross evolution” of the human species has stopped.

I’ve argued this for decades. Many people have a faulty understanding of evolution brought about by old Science Fiction films in which scientists invent special rays which are aimed at people to make them evolve millions of years in 5 minutes.

This is impossible. Why is it impossible? Evolution is often described as survival of the fittest. Fittest in this context does not mean strongest or most healthy. It means fit for the environment. If planet earth becomes infested by creatures which can run at 20 miles an hour and eat people then anyone who can run at 30 miles an hour has a better chance of surviving and a few years down the line it is their ancestors who will inhabit the planet.

However, if the human race unleash a nuclear holocaust and the only creatures capable of surviving are cockroaches then the creatures inhabiting the planet in decades to come will be descended from cockroaches. The human race will be dead but that’s evolution.

So evolution is a response to events. Events such as attack by tigers or mass extinction caused by radioactivity. Without those events evolution does not take place so it is just not possible to accelerate evolution without being able to replay the whole of future history in its entirety. I say in its entirety because for all we know a bunch of aliens will land in two weeks time and infect all the people with blue eyes with some deadly decease. To accelerate evolution you need to build those aliens in to the accelerated history.

Dr. Kaku argues that gross evolution has stopped because, at least in Western society, people do not die because they are weak, or short or stupid. And come to think of it, they do not die because they are strong, or tall or intelligent either.

Dr. Kaku admits that non gross evolution is taking place and one has to wonder whether it is possible that multiple strands of humanity might emerge. This might be caused by rich/poor divisions. The poor growing progressively smaller as they eat less well, or perhaps fatter as they sit in front of the TV eating chips all day.

I wonder if the real evolution that is taking place is not so much physical but psychological. Those that excel in our society must be mentally equipped to work in factory style offices. To work within mindless bureaucracy and maintain enthusiasm despite overwhelming evidence that nothing they do or say makes any difference. They must be capable of having their smallest action defined as a process to be standardised and rolled out globally.

Rather than large brained skinny people we are evolving into a planet of automata. When the aliens do finally invade we wont know what to do because there will be no process for it.

Horizon – Are We Still Evolving?

Phone hackers targeted treasure trove of information

Mr. Coulden, may have been overheard in a pub talking about aliens

Mr. Coulden, may have been overheard in a pub talking about aliens

Unemployed taxi driver, Steve Coulden kept a “treasure trove” of information on a mobile phone which he alleges was targeted by a private investigator working for Rupert Murdoch’s News International, a court heard yesterday.

Lawyers for the former taxi driver said he thinks he can remember “possible anomalies” on his phone around 2005 or 2006 while Mr. Coulden was driving for Quick Cars of Camberly and this was the same time that a News Of The World reporter was hacking into mobile phones.

The 45-year-old driver is suing the Sunday newspaper and Mr Mulwaire – who he accuses of accessing the voicemails of friends of people who worked in a chip shop near the place where the radio controller of the taxi firm worked – for alleged breach of confidence and privacy by listening to messages left on his phone. Both the NOTW and Mr Mulwaire say there is no evidence that hacking of Coulden’s messages took place and nobody gives a shit about what he says anyway.

In a pre-trial hearing Jamie Reed, for Coulden, told the High Court in London that the science desk of the NOTW would have been “extremely interested” in matters related to Mr. Coulden’s theories on extra terrestrial visitations in south London and his plans for an engine which runs on washing powder.

Mr Reed said: “Mr Coulden’s position is that he can’t remember who called him and what they said but he thinks that the News Of The World knows something because of something he read in the pub one night that he can’t remember but it was something about aliens. He also explains that he rarely receives ‘real information’ in his voicemail messages and mostly it is a case of ‘Hi Steve, it’s Bob here, can you call me’ but he thinks that he did have a message from aliens about that time and anyway it’s the principle of the thing.

“He makes it quite clear that, though he doesn’t get a lot of calls, there is a treasure trove of sensitive information on his voicemail at any one time – or there used to be, not so much now that he is out of work”

The court also heard that Mr Coulden thinks that someone was listening to him when he was chatting to his friend Stan in the Three Greyhounds as the very next day The News Of The World ran an article about three legged Aliens which nobody had even talked about until Mr. Coulden had told his mate Stan that he’d seen one. However, Mr. Coulden, does admit that he may have called The News Of The World later that evening and left a message saying he’d seen three legged Aliens or something.

With perhaps dozens more similar cases now likely to be brought before the courts as a result of the announcement by Scotland Yard that it had discovered evidence of a new group of potential hacking victims, it seems unlikely that Mr Mulcaire will be allowed to fade from public view any time soon

Outcasts – Stop shouting and have a cup of tea?

Outcasts - where did we pack the tea?

Outcasts - where did we pack the tea?

This evening saw the first episode of Outcasts, a new Science Fiction series on BBC1 starring Hermione Norris.

The concept is good, an apparently empty planet named Carpathia awaits a ship from Earth bringing escapes from a nuclear holocaust – We haven’t had a post holocaust escapade in a while have we?

The ship is the last to escape and is having problems landing. Meanwhile on Carpathia the obligatory angry tosser insist on carrying a gun and going around shouting at everyone. Yes, the script relied on the usual blend of contrived aggression and shouting.

There is brief mention of sinister others who have been eradicated to make way for the human arrivals though we are led to believe that some may have survived and this probably lays the groundwork for future episodes.

Mainly the action takes place outside amongst some fantastic scenery though there is the usual control centre replete with numerous computer screens and silly slidey doors.
The program ended with the deserved death of shouty man on the planet’s surface and the ship breaking up as it re-enters the planet’s atmosphere. Amongst the final shots was a one of shouty man in some kind of escape capsule. Is this a flashback or did this obstruction to an intelligent series survive?

The program has promise though I do hope they can all calm down and consider the wonder and potential of their situation.

Worst line so far: “Do you want to get out of here and go somewhere else?”