Archive for May, 2005

Priced out of reality

ID cards to cost 300 per person

Last week the Home Office issued a report which estimated that, over the next decade, the cost of running the scheme, in conjunction with a new biometric passport system, would be 5.8bn. Because the Treasury has insisted the scheme must be self-financing, this works out at an average cost of 93 to each card holder.

As if that wasn’t bad enough.

But, according to the LSE’s analysis, a draft section of which has been obtained by The Observer, the true cost of implementing and running the scheme, will be between 12bn and 18bn. This could make the average cost of a card as high as 300 to every adult, unless government departments are prepared to shoulder some of the financial burden.

I do find it somewhat worrying though that arguments against ID cards are being dominated so much by the “too expensive” one. Sure, it’s an easy one to explain, people are always sensitive about money, and it’s true. But concentrate too much on price and you risk letting the government get away with the argument about cards stopping crime and terrorism, raising the dead etc, which they are allowed far too much leeway with already, the standard interview at the moment being along the lines of:

Minister: What’s more, ID cards would be an essential tool in the fight against international terrorism.

Interviewer: Can you explain a bit more about how that will work, Minister?

Minister: Uh, in surveys 80% of people are in favour of ID cards.

Interviewer: Thank you, Minister. And now, in other news, a skateboarding duck.

You can also substitute “identity theft” for “international terrorism” there – everything else will be the same. The point is that if you concentrate too much on cost you run the risk of some sort of deal being made with the Treasury, the cost being hidden somehow, and everybody saying “oh, that’s okay then, go ahead”.

I don’t think “useless” is a hard one to understand, and it combines well with “too expensive”; paying a lot of money for something that doesn’t do what it says on the tin is worse than paying a lot of money for something in general. From there you can move on to arguments about why it is actively bad – “papers please” harassment, and the deeper arguments about privacy, surveillance and database consolidation. “It’s expensive and pointless… and it’s not only pointless, it’s damaging, and here’s why.”

“Papers please” is easy to understand but I have to say that I’ve not seen many clear and short expressions of the latter. Privacy as a principle is easily understood and expressed – “how are my medical records the business of the tax office?” – but people are used to giving up privacy as long as they don’t think it will matter and don’t have it rubbed in their faces. Until you can point to examples and say “Mr Jones was stopped from flying because he was seen at a demo with ‘anarchists’, he’s been treated for depression and he didn’t vote last year” it doesn’t hit home. The principle itself is not good enough.

The database arguments take a while to explain and are fuzzy without details of exactly what the system will entail (though one can certainly come up with some basic problems, again you really need examples to make things stick). I’m not entirely consistent in the way that I explain the consolidation issue, and I deal with databases for a living.

Maybe I’m being pessimistic but, what with the government’s apparent determination to push this through, the complexity of some of the most telling arguments, the insufficiency of media attention to even the relatively easy ones, rebel MPs now backing down, paranoia about dole scroungers and illegal immigrants, the general idea that this is just another store loyalty card and “if you’ve got nothing to hide you’ve got nothing to fear”, I can see the system going ahead, even though nobody apart from the government argues for it (and that badly) and plenty of people argue against it. It’s not like people generally want an ID card, but while the British people are very cynical about government proposals it also takes quite a lot to get them to do anything about them. And once the databases and links are in place, they won’t go away.

One can of course place one’s faith in the past performance of government IT contractors and hope that the system will just not work at all, but what will probably happen is that it comes in massively over-budget and late, and sort of works but is full of leaks and flaws, so we have only a slight level of increase in effective state surveillance but a massive level of increase in accidental day-to-day hassle cause by a system being fed incorrect information.

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Cat spreading beep jedi

As Vanessa says,

regularity not consistency

though this also sounds a little like some sort of digestive health maxim. I’m not in the most enthusiastic of moods. I haven’t been for a while. I’m about up to posting rubbish on my livejournal but that is entirely free of quality control; I do try to maintain a certain standard here. But I’ve got to post something.

With that in mind I present:

1. A picture of a cat. In this case, my stepmother’s cat being turned into a hippie. You can judge what he thinks about this by his expression.

tom is a hippie

2. Some internet quiz results.


Which Despicable Political Asshole Am I?

You’re Senator Rick Santorum! You’re a shameless reactionary toady who epitomises everything that is wrong with the Republican party! Not only do you relentlessly tongue the ringpiece of big business to the endless detriment of the citizens of your state, but you also hate gay people, wave your made-up faith around like a giant Jesus dildo for the approval of the family-friendly brain-dead and manage to have one of the worst mugshots in history! Say cheese!

3. Some song lyrics.

It’s friday night and the streets are filled with freaks,
I’m gonna get a fucking gat and shoot them all right in the fucking balls!

Dropkick Murphys / “Pipebomb on Lansdowne (Dance Remix)”

Deep. And finally:

4. A review of the latest Star Wars film.

I’m sorry, I can’t bring myself to do this one.

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Hussein Wears Pants – Exclusive!

Comedy Self-Important Exaggeration Award goes to Graham Dudman of the Sun for this gem:

These pictures are an extraordinary iconic news image that will still be being looked at the end of this century. (+)

saddam-pants.jpg (7K)
“That stain didn’t come out I see”

I think you’ll find, Mr Dudman, that these pictures are of a man in his pants looking suspiciously at his laundry. They’re not exactly “monk on fire” or “point blank Saigon execution” are they? The Sun, of course, is well-practiced in making overblown public-interest excuses for the publication of pointless prurient paparazzi pictures, or indeed for any amount of utter cockery, so it’s not surprising that they do this now.

I’m amused though by the fact that Saddam may sue (well, he won’t, obviously, I’m just amused by the idea). I’m also amused by the fact that the US military are claiming that the reason that they’re annoyed by this – rather than, say, because it shows that soldiers still have digital cameras and are emailing pictures out, and we all know what that leads to – is that it breaks the Geneva Conventions. Because the US military is just so astoundingly fucking keen on compliance with the Geneva Conventions, as they’ve proved numerous times, and they were so amazingly bothered by the idea of releasing photos of prisoners that they released a whole shitload of them to the media during the invasion. Though that was before there was that whole embarrassing “official torture policy revealed” Abu Ghraib thing, you know, back when digicams were just morale-boosters and saved them the trouble of having to have embedded journalists around.

Attempt to salvage something from this daft topic: It’s interesting that soldiers with digicams have in fact become, as far as the Western media is concerned anyway, a major source of pictures of what is actually happening in Iraq. What with the frequent shooting of those journalists who stray outside the green zone or happen to look a bit Arabish, soldiers with access to gadgets and internet links give the rest of us an unusual uncensored look at what they are doing. We don’t get shown the stuff that turns up on al-Jazeera, so this is the closest the media gets to showing what is really going on. It’s not representative of course but neither is the release of it under the total control of the military, so every now and then something interesting will pop up.

This isn’t it of course.

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Hoodie piracy

Thing that is amusing me at the moment: the Elephant and Castle shopping centre has now banned hoodies. This probably isn’t funny unless you know the place, which I do, having grown up in the area and been taken along for a Coke float fairly often. It’s a fucking dump, and the management are a joke. They painted the entire place bright pink once, something that was perhaps the worst imaginable thing to do – think of an enormous multistorey concrete block in a busy traffic nexus, bright and I do mean bright pink. (They toned it down to a darker red after a while.)

But anyway, the idea of the Elephant and Castle centre trying to go upmarket at all is funny in a “funny-because-it’s-so-pathetic” way, and them trying to do it by hoodie bandwaggoning has twice the pathetic and therefore twice the funny. Forget about going bloody “upmarket” and getting rid of riff-raff, just make sure the place is clean, has decent shops in and doesn’t hurt anyone’s eyes.

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Galloway live link

It’s not on C-SPAN apparently – but it is here:

Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (streaming Realplayer)

No Galloway yet, just Bayoil.

16:01 – they seem to be starting on Galloway, Zhirinovsky and Pasqua, setting the background. Someone is laying out the evidence, claimed documents signed by the Iraqi Oil Minister, front companies, rather technical. No evidence of moustache.

16:10 – Rhetoric alert – oil shenanigans were “an attack on a UN programme”, “to undermine a UN effort”, “attack the international community’s efforts” from one of the chairs I think (rather than just people being greedy). Someone with a sort of glasses, a receding hairline and a grey mullet.

16:13 – “Why were these people chosen to be the recipients of Saddam’s largesse?” Good question.

16:23 – Much speculation on motives of Hussein and ministers. We are told they were “proud” of distributing allocations and didn’t see anything wrong with it, which would make sense. But it was also “part of a broad strategy” to influence the international community. They’re mixing their motivations up a bit, it seems to me. Anyway, enough of this, bring on George!

galloway.jpg (6K)

16:30Finally! Looks like I was misinformed about the time change.

16:35 – Start off about him having visited Iraq and said nice things about Saddam, and the “indefatigability” thing – noting afterwards that he said that the remarks were aimed at the Iraqi people – and that he opposed sanctions. Then a long list of exhibits, gabbled through somewhat, contract M923 signed by etc etc.

16:44 – Starting off much as you might expect… “for a lawyer you’re remarkably cavalier with the idea of justice”, you didn’t call you didn’t write. A little dig about having met Saddam the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld has, except not to sell him guns and maps and gas. He’s waving a dossier which he says proves how opposed he’s always been to Hussein’s regime. “You have nothing on me, Senator” – it’s coming too fast now, puppet governments, Ahmed Chalabi, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, everything.

16:50 – Documents the committee are talking about are over the same dates as the ones from the Telegraph libel action, he says, but you said they weren’t… a “schoolboy howler”. Mentions the Christian Science Monitor documents as well, which were forged.

16:55 – Now some more general Iraq war stuff, I told the truth, rationale was “based on a pack of lies”. The first 14 months, $8.8 billion of Iraq’s wealth gone, shipping out oil unmetered, money to Halliburton. The real sanctions-busters were you and your government. End of his statement, now questions. Good stuff, George.

17:01 – Saying that Mr Zurikat (sp) may well have dealt with Saddam, but he (Galloway) had no knowledge of any of it, and there’s is no evidence at all connecting him, no evidence of him getting any money from Zurikat’s company. Hahaha, he got in a dig about AIPAC, lots of references to campaign funding… he’s obviously trying to needle the senator, who seems to be getting a little annoyed, though not too much.

17:05 – Dig about Lord Goldsmith while talking about the investigation into his charity, “probably the only lawman in the rest of the world who thought your war was legal”.

17:08 – Generally, the questioning from the first senator followed a standard pattern. Senator: “What about this document saying that Zurikat dealt with Saddam?” Galloway: “There’s no evidence linking me to that money.” Senator: “Okay, what about this document?” Galloway: “There’s no evidence that I got any money apart from these statements from ‘Iraqi officials’ which are not true.”

17:20 – Asked if he would be disturbed if it were proven that Zurikat breached oil-for-food. Now he has the chance to make a speech against the whole principle of oil-for-food, killing millions, mostly children. Aha! He’s wound the senator up a bit… same one who talked about “attacks” earlier on, he’s trying to get Galloway to say he wouldn’t mind if Zurikat breached oil-for-food so he can prove Galloway approves of attacking the international community (according to the senator’s earlier point). Apparently this senator didn’t approve of attacking Iraq, as came out when Galloway started on about the illegality of the war. Stopped asking Galloway questions, saying that he wasn’t going to answer, clearly wasn’t bothered by the source of any funds to his charity, and criticising him for this. A few final questions about Tariq Aziz (did you talk to him about oil allocations? no. you were friendly with him? yes. how many times did you meet him? many) and then he’s excused.

A few comments in a moment… I have to go to the loo first.

Okay. Overall:

  • Excellent rant to start with, got in all the major “you imperialist bastards” points in a way that stayed on the “intelligent but forceful” rather than “batshit ranter” side. That was to be expected really, he’s a good public speaker. Also an effective dismissal of the evidence that hadn’t been recently discovered as being basically the same as forged and discredited evidence from previous incidents. I thought it was quite telling that the senators did not try to justify this past evidence at all, and didn’t use any of it when questioning him.

  • Good performance against first senator, who repeatedly asked him about certain pieces of evidence before the committee, to which Galloway repeatedly responded “where’s the proof? there’s no proof I ever got any money from Hussein, this document is incorrect and there’s no other evidence behind it” – and each time he got in another little dig about AIPAC or the war or Lord Goldsmith or whatever. In fact, the longer this bit went on, the more it was simply giving him opportunities to mention these things.

  • Performance against second senator (Levin, I’m told) not quite so impressive. He was allowed time to make a short speech on the evils of the oil-for-food programme, which he did well, but then he seemed a bit evasive and rude when he didn’t give a simple answer to the question about whether he’d be disturbed or not. Granted, this was a trap question designed to attack his character, and irrelevant to whether he’d received money from Hussein or not, and Galloway was obviously trying to avoid the trap, but he didn’t avoid it that well. He would have been better off being more straightforward. I would have expected him to be, really. Still, not terrible.

In other words, definitely a Galloway win in terms of proof, and a win on points in overall debate, though this won’t make an awful lot of difference to anything – he wasn’t on trial, rumours about him will continue to go around, and the committee isn’t going to withdraw their statement based on today.

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Koran, Galloway, stuff

I’m pretty much dead at the moment. I wanted to mention some stuff about that Newsweek story about US interrogators putting Korans in toilets, along the lines of

  • The Pentagon was consulted about the facts before publication. They didn’t seem at all bothered by the Koran bit.

  • The reason they retracted the story was that their source retracted his statement that the Koran/toilet stuff was in one particular report. He changed his mind and said “actually, I saw it in another report”:

    On Saturday, Isikoff spoke to his original source, the senior government official, who said that he clearly recalled reading investigative reports about mishandling the Qur’an, including a toilet incident. But the official, still speaking anonymously, could no longer be sure that these concerns had surfaced in the SouthCom report. (Newsweek)

    So they’re saying it happened, it got into a report, but it wasn’t in the SouthCom report. Ooooooooh. What an appalling error!

  • Koran-flushing has been reported (amongst lots of other things) by ex-Guantanamo inmates in the past – see for example the British prisoners recently released. This stuff doesn’t get reported in the US much; I certainly never heard about it when I was there, not in the mainstream media anyway. But it’s not new.

    For a really interesting piece of extra information, check this piece by Juan Cole where he shows us an email he received from a former US officer describing exactly the same tactic being used on them in a counter-intelligence training situation, but involving the Bible…

    One of the most memorable parts of the camp experience was when one of the camp leaders trashed a Bible on the ground, kicking it around, etc. It was a crushing blow, even though this was just a school.

    I have no doubt the stories about trashing the Koran are true.

    Read the whole email, it’s good.

  • General Richard Myers himself says that the current violence is not connected with the story anyway. See this report on titled, helpfully, “Afghan Riots Not Tied to Report on Quran Handling, General Says”. Of course, blaming a news report that vaguely mentions something that was known already is a lot easier than actually looking at the political situation in Afghanistan, and makes a simpler and thus better headline. And it’s always good to quote White House spin, it might stop you being the target of it next time.

    It’s also easier for the leaders of groups in Afghanistan to have a central point, too – but if it wasn’t this, it would be something else, it’s not like there’s any shortage of things to enrage people with.

  • Newsweek are backing down under political and media pressure, but this does illustrate the volume of it that can be generated to chase one tiny, tiny, irrelevant point, and attempt to discredit the entire rest of the article. McClellan is demanding that they retract the whole story.

but I’m too not-alive to follow it through much further than that. There’s all sorts of things I’d like to say about how this is a prime example of the Republican media strategy but that’s not going to happen right now. I’m trying the hypercaffeine remedy but on past experience it probably won’t work; I’ll just be sweaty, nervous and deceased.

Oh, one thing you might be interested in doing this afternoon/morning (timezone dependent) is watching George Galloway vs the Senate. If you’re not familiar with Galloway… he’s, um, fairly fiery and aggressive at the best of times, and he’s given every indication that he’s simply going to go on the offensive here. So there should be some good moments, particularly as he’ll now be armed with another senate report saying that actually, 52% of kickbacks to Hussein for embargoed oil were paid by US companies, and the Bush administration was aware of the deals and did nothing to stop them. Anyway, it’ll be on C-SPAN, you can stream it from their site if you’re bothered (I think it’s C-SPAN 2) and I’m informed it’s on at 4.30pm UK time. Now stop torturing me with your blog necromancy and let me die.

Edit: Not 4.30, 3.30pm apparently.

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Real men vote for ID cards

In a brief gap between periods of bitter sarcastic laughter at the idea of Country A illegally obtaining control over the entire oil supply of Country B, and then accusing Countries C-Z of having tried to illegally obtain some oil from Country B in the past as if that was the worst thing imaginable, I see that those fuckers are still at it:

The cabinet has decided to rush through its controversial identity cards legislation, one of the centrepieces of tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech, to try to take advantage of the Tories’ post-election disarray to get it through the Commons, Whitehall sources have confirmed.

I’m not actually sure this will work – you’d have to be in quite extreme disarray to think “oh, er, ID cards, what are they again? sorry, I’m still confused by not winning the election even though it was perfectly bloody obvious we wouldn’t, I think I’ll abstain or vote for them or something” – but I’m not encouraged by stuff like:

…yesterday there were signs of a rapprochement between the government and its most outspoken critics, who have indicated they are unlikely to mount a serious challenge over ID cards.

Glenda Jackson, the MP for Hampstead and Highgate, said: “Where we have principled objections to pieces of legislation we will obviously make our views known, but we will not be trapped into engaging in some virility test with Tony Blair.”

Cheers, Glenda. Quite understand. All this anti-ID stuff is really just people trying to prove themselves more of a man than five-times-a-night Tony, isn’t it? I wouldn’t want anyone to be pig-headed about it and just keep on voting against something that shouldn’t be voted for. That might make them look puerile. And we wouldn’t want that.

Ironically, in my new job I’ve been doing some work on data which would be vastly easier if people did have a single unifying ID that they used to access public services (not going to say any more than that) but we manage, and so does everyone else.

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The previous post unfortunately illustrates the point that even discussing this sort of thing makes you stupid. What kind of a person even gives that sort of nonsense the time of day, let alone writes six-hundred-odd words about it? A stupid one.

(Nonsense: “Excuse me, have you got the time?”
Sensible person: “Fuck off!”)

Perhaps I should just compile a list of all the stupid timewasting things that are publicised in the media each month. Something along the lines of:

Thing                                          Irrelevance
-----                                          -----------
Hoodies                                        *****
Election                                       ***..
George Galloway accusations
 - arrogance                                   *....
 - electoral fraud                             ****.
 - oil corruption                              *****
Woman gets stabbed in nice neighbourhood shock ***..
Anything involving a celebrity                 *****
Anything involving football                    *****
"We need a national debate about immigration"  ****.

and so on. The rest of the time, I could post pictures of penguins. I think that could work, you know.

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Today’s moral panic

commie-hoodie.jpg (9K)
the enemy within

There’s a new scourge in our society. Not only are we under constant threat from terrorists, asylum cheats and bogus chavs, honest citizens are now being oppressed by tops with hoods on them.

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chav scum

A bit of background for those with more sense than to pay attention to this crap: Bluewater, “the leading shopping and leisure destination in Europe” apparently (i.e. a sort of immense mall thing with a golf course) recognises that its customers are scared of teenagers and thus bans clothes that teenagers like to wear, which of course causes a potential problem given that shops there sell hoodies, but hey. (They also banned baseball caps and swearing.)

New Labour, searching for more credible scare targets after the whole Iraq debacle, and already with a promise to “bring back a proper sense of respect in our schools, in our communities, in our towns, in our villages”, leap on board. The Prime Minister has come out saying that this is a great thing. The Deputy Prime Minister, a delicate flower no stranger to street violence, tells us how he came face to face with a gang of happy slappers in hoodies “about a couple of week… on the motorway about a couple of week, um, about a couple… a year ago” (Indie). And the tabloids are of course doing their thing:

THEY are the uniform of thugs and muggers and the sight of youths kitted out in them strikes fear in law-abiding citizens.

They’ve got evidence of course:

This week a 13-year-old girl was raped in bushes at Solihull. One of her two attackers wore a hooded top.
And two hooded thugs were among a gang who beat up a a boy of 15 with a wooden stake in Nuneaton, Warks.

And I bet the ones who weren’t wearing hoodies were wearing baseball caps, too.

Readers from North America, where hoodies as far as I’m aware are considered to be, er, tops with hoods on them (being outside in winter in Philly was made liveable by a combination of hoodie, hat and jacket, though they do reduce your peripheral vision a bit) might be a bit surprised by this. It’s just the same old bullshit though, it’s not anything unusually stupid.

There’s always some sort of justification trotted out – in this case, even though Bluewater said fairly explicitly they were banning hoodies because people were ‘intimidated’ by them, the refrain is that they’re only worn to hide their thieving faces from CCTV. I wasn’t aware that we all had a duty to present ourselves for identification at all times, but quite apart from that this is clearly nonsense – if that’s your problem you just ban people wearing them in shops, as already happens with motorcycle helmets and other face-obscuring items.

I can’t bring myself to go into a proper rant about this because it happens all the time, people scared of the yoof/the poor/the poor yoof, demonisation, media feedback getting them even more scared, some stupid bandwagon legislation and then bing it’s all forgotten suddenly when something else comes along to be scared of, and twenty years later everyone says “can’t believe they got so wound up about that back then, they must have been mad, but look at $signifier we have now, that’s totally different, the government should do something”. Burberry, gold chains, repetitive beats, trenchcoats, Doom, gangsta rap, Black Sabbath, expensive trainers, piercings, blah blah blah. It passes the time I suppose, in-between worrying about house prices and having affairs.

Bit miserable if you’re on the sharp end of it.

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Lucky Americans

fjs-id.jpg (9K)

I seem to have missed a lot of this stuff about “Real ID” due to being distracted by domestic muppetry. It appears to be getting in on a fairly typical piggyback bill – you get the following, which you’d have to hate America to disagree with:

The House overwhelmingly passed an $82 billion emergency spending bill Thursday to pay for military operations and rebuilding efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan

and this to satisfy the bleeding hearts:

as well as tsunami relief efforts in Asia.

but then, er…

The measure, passed 368 to 58, also includes provisions decried by immigrant and refugee advocates that would restrict illegal immigrants from getting driver’s licenses, tighten U.S. asylum laws, and speed completion of a fence along the southwest border between the United States and Mexico…

While most Democrats supported the overall bill, many said the immigration and driver’s license measures spearheaded by Republicans were “anti-immigrant,’ and opened the door to a national identification card. (source)

Anyway, a few links.

Lucky Americans! Looks like you’ll be getting a national ID card possibly before even we do! I’m very jealous, you know.

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