"teh basement cat iz in ur screen, stealin' ur blogz..."

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Moar signatures pl0x

At present counting there are now 23,276 signatures on the Number 10 petition for Gordon Brown to resign.

That's just over a signature for every £1 of debt we owe as our share of the national debt.

Add your paw prints here.

Think he'll take the hint?

Monday, 27 April 2009

Pigs in blankets

Pig Flu, eh? Well that's a swine and no mistake. Ugh. Can't believe I a) just typed that and b) have decided not to delete it on grounds of good taste. Although pig does taste good, and now I want a bacon sandwich.

TB has it right, it's 28 Days Later all over again - in the words of a very scared guy: "ohmygodohmygodohmygodwe'reallgonnadie..."

It's funny (funny weird rather than funny 'haha', obviously) because not so long ago I seem to remember we were all supposed to be dead by now of HN-51 (Bird Flu), and about ten years or so ago we were all at considerable risk of CJD (Also known as Denny Crane Syndrome, or Mad Cow). I wonder which animal disease we'll have next?

Rat Flu, perchance? (Oh, wait, we've done rats. Black Death). Maybe Dog Flu. Bee Flu? Don't see nearly as many bees around these days, maybe they've been killed by a virulent strain of bee flu. Cat Flu? Or Fish Flu - mum always said to keep warm and dry or I'd catch something, Fish do neither. Prime candidates, I'd say.

Anyway, since it's clearly very serious, I'd best stop off at Sainsbury's on the way home and stock up on water and tinned goods. With a mask on, you know, there's other people there and one of them might be from Mexico. When the epidemic strikes I don't want to be caught out, and it must be serious, the guy on the radio said so.

UPDATE: James Delingpole says it brilliantly. Oink.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Extrordinary Measures

A friend of mine posted an article on Facebook containing the assertion that a large number of Americans were not opposed to torture, or at least that opinion was split. His comments were that supporting the use of torture made these people idiots. We had a few comments back and forth on the issue, because my gut stance is that in certain circumstances (i.e. the 'ticking bomb' scenario), use of torture can be justified. Unenlightened Commentary has posted on this before; the US application of torture was unjustified because it was:
"[to]... confirm the Bush administration's preconceived notions of Iraqi - Al Qaeda links, which is both a retarded way to interrogate anyone and renders arguments over whether that the ends can justify the means rather moot, as there were no credible ends in the first place."
They were not used for the prevention of an imminent attack, they were used to confirm a rather spurious supposed 'connection' to justify a war. In that regard, it was a despicable act. What if, though, we have serious reason to believe that someone has information regarding an act which could result in the deaths of thousands?
"When it comes to coercive interrogation techniques like water boarding, regardless of whether it is torture or not, there is a legitimate discussion to be had about whether it is justified in a ticking bomb scenario. It is unpleasant but not seriously harmful so whether that outweighs the potential mass slaughter that may be prevented by water boarding someone like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is a dilemma."
I think dilemma is the right word. I have said before that I believe in the basic freedom to conduct your life as you wish, so long as you do not cause harm to another. That's fine and fair, but what about if you actively seek to harm others? Does that then render your right to be free from harm invalid? That in itself is a conundrum, since whoever then caused harm to you would alienate their right to be free from harm.

Putting that aside, however, there is something more germane to be dealt with. My friend asserted that torture does not work, as the information you extract under duress will never, he claimed, be reliable. Unenlightened Commentary refuted that by pointing to this story, where a kidnapper successfully 'tortured' bank details out of his victim. The argument against is that people will say anything under pressure, therefore it is not a reliable tool, ergo it should not be used. A religious ideologue, he argued, was perfectly prepared to die, therefore would not give up his plan to torture.

The point of torture, however, is not to kill. Faith, no matter how strong, cannot stand up against the natural survival instinct forever. Push someone to the very brink of their mental endurance and they will break. I can surmise that the reason the kidnapped woman gave her real bank details is because she knew giving false information would result in further torture, further pain or mental strain. Waterboarding, as much as the public decry it, is non-lethal and causes no lasting damage. It forces the brain to panic, thinking death is but a heartbeat away. In normal circumstances, using that sort of technique to extract information is unthinkable, but what if thousands of lives hang in the balance?

My friend again argued that no such situation would ever occur. His precise words were that:
"The ticking time bomb is a red herring. First it would never happen. Second if it did happen, American security procedures and policy have already failed. Third, torture NEVER gives you reliable info so it is, as it always is, a waste of time. Besides, a religious ideologue who would be involved in such a thing would cave? I think not. And in torture he would say ANYTHING to end the pain. Thus the STUPIDITY of it all."
My counter was that you can't possibly say that a ticking bomb would never happen. It's an illustration, meaning simply that an atrocity or attack is imminent, and that you have someone in your custody who knows about it and refuses to tell you. First, it could happen. In fact, it has happened and I'll come to that in a minute. If security procedures had failed, does that mean that you should just stop, roll over, and let people, thousands, millions, however many, die? We have already shown that accurate information can be extracted under torture, and even if not, would you risk the lives of thousands by not taking that chance?

Is the ticking bomb really a red herring, though? Is my theoretical scenario truly so impossible that it renders any further thought on the subject invalid? After all, those things do not happen outside of Hollywood, right? People don't plant nuclear devices in cities, of course, except in Hollywood. They don't fly planes into skyscrapers except in Hollywood... oh... wait...

Fact is that the 'ticking bomb' is, as I said above, a metaphor for an imminent attack which will cause catastrophic loss of life. The events of the 11th September bear that out. If the US Government had heard about the plot and had captured a ringleader who knew about it, but had chosen not to torture him, the planes had crashed and it then transpired that they had failed to use every measure at their disposal to prevent it, what do you think the public would have said? Oh, jolly good, you sacrificed thousands for your morals. Bravo.

I thoroughly dislike the idea of torture. The use of waterboarding or any similar coercive interrogation techniques is, I believe, amoral and wrong. As much as I loathe the practice, however, I cannot accept that it is worse than allowing potentially thousands of people to die if there is a chance, however small, that it could prevent it. The old argument that 'it makes you as bad as them' I don't think holds any water - you can't compare the torture of an individual to save many more to mass murder.

Still, dilemma is very much the right word.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Time to put democracy back in action

Just getting ready to head out and unseat Alistair Darling, campaigning in Edinburgh South-West and spreading the good word with some of the Scottish CF crowd. In the meantime, I thought I'd draw your attention to this petition, to request that Gordon Brown leave office.

Guido, Iain Dale and Dr Crippen have posted on this, and Guido seems to think that this could have a lot of potential. So, if you're tired of ZaNuLiebour's authoritarian, thieving and generally disgraceful behaviour under the captaincy of the Prime Mentalist, I urge you to take a minute, head over, and sign the petition.

Right. Now I'm off to rally the troops in the fight against Badger Brows (and his) Baleful, Barmy, Bad Budget.

Far too much alliteration for a Saturday morning...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Time for gin

I have just read through the Budget (again) in the hope that maybe I was in a quantum temporal time loop singularity thing and in fact it was April the 1st all over again.

Sadly not.

So. 50% Tax on people earning over £150k, a raid on their pensions, more Government borrowing, etc etc, a lot of overly optimistic projections and a budget so very political and so very uneconomical.

I had planned for this eventuality. The bottle of Gin on my desk at home is primed, my boston shaker iced and my glasses chilled. I shall drown my sorrows in Martinis (Dry as a bone, ofc). Good job I bought it before midnight tonight, eh?

In the meantime, I refer you to David Cameron, who prepared for this eventuality with a withering critique.

There is a solution

Via Dizzy, Gordon Brown goes into advertising:

Hilarity. :)

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Happy B'day HMTQ!

Best birthday wishes to Her Majesty The Queen. Hope you're having a tip-top day!

The Doctor is a libertarian

This Sunday gone I indulged in a bit of a duvet-evening watching my way through Season One and Two of Doctor Who. The Doctor is one of my geeky pleasures; one of many. It’s classic BBC science-fiction at its very best: just a little bit crap but absolutely enthralling for it. David Tennant remains brilliant and I’ll be sad to see him go at the end of the year. He’ll be a rather tough nut to follow, I’d wager.

Anyway, to cut to the point, two lines uttered by The Doctor – one as Eccleston, one as Tennant, suggested that the BBC is projecting its leftie tendencies on to the travelling Time Lord in his little blue box. I point you to season one, ‘The Empty Child’ and season two, ‘Tooth and Claw’. Both are pretty incidental, but they did set me thinking.

In ‘The Empty Child’, the Doctor introduces himself to a group of vagrant children living in the blitz. Following an elder girl who acts as a ringleader and mother figure to the kids, he cheerfully declares their household invasions to feed themselves as ‘Marxism in action’. So, a ragtag group of individuals heroically take from another group of individuals in order to feed themselves. The scriptwriters justify this action by painting the aggrieved party (the bourgeois family) as morally depraved. The father is having a secret affair with the butcher to get extra rations, therefore getting more than his due. I suppose I can kind of see where the scriptwriters were coming from, but it basically boils down to ‘rob from the rich, give to the poor’.

Was the State telling them to do this? Well, clearly not. It was a bunch of kids stealing to survive. That’s not Marxism. It made for a nice line, but a Robin Hood gag would have been more appropriate.

Ooh, hang on... does that mean Robin Hood was a Marxist?

I’d say these kids were instead capitalising on an opportunity in a very enterprising fashion.

So, on to the second leftie moment. ‘Tooth and Claw’. The TARDIS has landed in what The Doctor and Rose believe is 1979. As he rattles off a list of great things that happened in 1979, he says ‘Thatcher’, catches himself, and shivers.

Oh, frak right off.

The Beeb just LOVES to demonise her. Even Doctor Who doesn’t like her, apparently. Because she only saved and rebuilt the British Economy after Labour trashed it and led us into the Winter of Discontent. Yes, the Government wasn’t perfect, yes, they were a bit on the authoritarian side (but not nearly as much as ZaNuLab), but please. It’s always plucky working-class types and evil corporations.

Still, however much the scriptwriters try to make The Doctor an extension of their leftie agenda, they have created a paradox in so doing. You see, The Doctor is an optimist. He doesn’t have much truck with authority, he also loves humans; our idiosyncrasies, our drive, our spirit, our enterprise. He believes in our innate good and our boundless sense of invention and adventure.

In short, The Doctor is a libertarian. He might even be a little left-wing, believing that the poor should be protected by the rich and helped, but he would never think it right that anyone could force you to do it. He believes in freedom and liberty, in peace, and protecting others, but allowing everyone to choose for themselves.

To my rather rudimentary understanding, the libertarian, especially the right-wing libertarian, is an optimist who believes in human endeavour and enterprise. Helping each other through trade and hard work, free to profit, but also free to choose to spend that money on helping those who have less – be it through employing them, or through philanthropy. The point is that he who has much will choose to help he who has less, but no one can or will force him to do so. The libertarian capitalist is the ultimate optimist, believing in the good of everyone and that ultimately we will want to help others, because others will want to improve themselves.

So to commit the fallacy of affirming the consequent and pretend it’s really modus ponens: The Doctor believes in the ultimate good of humanity and in liberty. A right-wing libertarian believes in the ultimate good of humanity and in liberty. Therefore, Doctor Who is a right-wing libertarian.


Monday, 20 April 2009

Funniest thing I've read all day...

Oh oh oh... but this did make me giggle. This one is going on my blogroll...

Friday, 17 April 2009

Fizzle be interesting

Courtesy of the BBC I learned today that one innovative French vinyard, Duval-Leroy, will be introducing metal closures on one of their Champagnes to 'test market reaction.' They plan to debut their prototype bottle at this year's London International Wine Fair in May.

Those that know me are well aware that I view the Stelvin Closure as one of the best things to happen to wine since the invention of the grape. Anyone who whinges about the authenticity of a bottle of wine without that little 'pop' from the cork can be silenced simply by pointing out that eliminates the chance for cork taint due to TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole) in the bottle. This means you will never have to worry if the wine has gone off prematurely, so long as it has been stored correctly. As the closure has only been in widespread use since the 1990s (it was rejected by punters in New Zealand and Australia in the 1980s only to be re-introduced), it is very difficult to do much more than theorise that the complete seal on the bottle (thus preventing any oxygen from tainting the wine) will aid in the ageing process. Oxygen does play a part in the aging of the wine, this is true, but Stelvin Closure should allow for longer aging. This could be either a good or a bad thing, depending on how soon you want to drink it, I suppose.

Nevertheless, what the BBC have failed to explain is how this metal closure will work on a bottle of Champagne, or whether the risk of taint will be removed. The chief reason the TCA taints the wine is because the cork is ill-fitting and too much oxygen gets to the wine. In a bottle of Champagne, this is borderline impossible. Whereas in a normal bottle of wine, the cork is simply squeezed into place and has no force acting on it other than the bottle's neck, a Champagne cork is under a great amount of pressure. Champagne was nicknamed 'the Devil's wine' back in the late 1600s because it often caused the bottle to explode from the pressure. Over the years the glass was thickened to contain the vivatious liquid, and a modern day champagne bottle exerts around 90 pounds per square inch (psi), or 620kPa, which is roughly equivalent to three times the pressure in your car tyres. That is a hell of a lot of pressure on the bottom of the cork, and explains both the effectiveness of the rather glamorous Sabrage method of opening a bottle, and why it makes a hell of a mess when they shake up the bottle on the podium.

I have, therefore, two reservations. One, how they will create a detatchable metal closure that won't be dangerous, and two, why the BBC claims that Champagne suffers a risk of cork taint. That may well be the case, but bearing in mind that an 'ill-fitting' cork wouldn't stay on the bottle for long, right? Well I'm not so sure. A cork that failed to seal the bottle by a hairsbredth might allow the slow escape of gas (and pressure), and therefore let oxygen in to help kill the now, rather flat, sugary contents. All in all, a bit of a disaster.

With all that in mind, I'm deeply curious. I freely admit that there's something very glamorous about the pop of a champagne cork, and a really old wine uncorked is much more emotive than a really old wine unscrewed. Emotive only lasts til you sniff the cork and realise the potentially fabulous vintage you just opened has been tainted owing to a foul cork, something that a screwcap entirely avoids. Plus, you never have to worry about a corkscrew. I've been treated to some fantastic wines in screw caps, and it's not just cheap-seats suppliers who use them now. New World wines are now leading the way in Stelvin Closures, and I defy you to drink a bottle of Pegasus Chardonnay and claim it would have been better with a cork.

Still, I remain very interested. Let's see if this idea goes off with a bang.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Sleepy Cat

Blogging will be light if slightly non-existant for a few days while some slight glitches are worked out of my PC.

For those who are so minded, I started crashing out of some applications - it started with Windows Live and Firefox, then spread to some of my other apps (and games). To begin with it was just the applications, then Vista started giving me BSOD. Eventually, I realised a complete clean reinstall was the most efficient way forward, which led to me deleting and recreating my RAID array and encountering an exceptionally irritating CLI/MOM failure when installing my graphics drivers. I have an ATI 4870 X2, but apparently this is a fairly common error. Should anyone else be having this issue, there are two strands of official advice: the first is to use a legacy driver (which is the path I took, ultimately), the other I just discovered this morning and is strikingly frustrating in its simplicity, just right click the driver file and select 'Run as Administrator'. This hadn't occurred since my account *is* the Admin one, but I'll be trying it with the most up to date driver when I get home...

Anyway, I'll be concentrating on fixing that in all my spare time, so if I'm quiet, that's why!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

When the mind wanders to tax and economics

Having a curious little thought about tax and the economy, so bear with me.

This little thought comes from a very important question: given all the waste in the public sector, where is all this money going?

Here’s a hypothetical. I’m directing a big IT project at the HMRC. Let’s say a nice, civil liberty infringing database, something perhaps to do with ID cards. These things seem to be all the rage these days anyway. I appoint some Programme Managers and Project Managers, but since we have very little in-house experience, we’re going to need contractors. So we tender the project and appoint a consultancy. Let’s call them Capcenture, for arguments sake.

Capcenture come in, look at our hastily drawn requirements and make some suggestions, the requirements are changed and we then go out to hire a load more contractors to help us develop it – coincidentally, most of these people are one-man-band ‘consultancy’ companies going through an Agency, taking advantage (barely legally) of IR35 to pay as little tax as possible (and who can blame them?). Already the bill is looking pretty swollen, but the project is underway.

Then, someone goes back to the original specifications and decides that there’s more functionality they need out of it. Development has already started, so this means more modifications, and the timetable slips. The budget doesn’t cover for that kind of slippage, so they revaluate the project and go back to the purse holders talking about sunk costs and the importance of this government approved initiative.

More contractors are hired at £500 per day to help with the development. The Consultancy is called back in with their specialists each at £1500 per day. The bill goes ever higher, and the project will run for ever longer. All this money gushing from the purse of the public; but where is it going to?

The Government is giving it to private sector companies, whose tax receipts will funnel some of it back to the Government. The rest they will invest in staff, or save, or spend as is their wont. The shareholders off all these companies will reap the dividends. The consultancies all know this. That’s why there are armies of ‘Public Sector Account Managers’ and specialists. An entire business stream has built up on selling to the public sector, because it is the ultimate cash cow – and they always pay their bills. If it sounds a lot like stealing from Peter to pay Paul, you’d be right.

Where has the money gone? Into the private sector; waste or not, you can’t deny that people have profited from it, even if it is the few rather than the many. Hold up a second there. Did we just say the few rather than the many? Isn’t the point of socialism and social democracy the many rather than the few? Isn’t it about redistribution of wealth and all that stuff? Our taxes have gone to pay for a project that lines the pockets of the evil capitalist piggy things! By extension, the Government has stolen from the many to give to the rich few.

Yikes. Who’d have seen that flaw in their logic?

Anyway, it seems to be something of a merry-go-round of money. I think of it as being that there is ultimately a finite source of cash in the economy. This can occasionally be increased in terms of numerical amounts, but the ultimate value of the cash pool cannot change. In my very simple understanding, this is why we get inflation – you can print as much of the stuff as you want, but that only devalues what you have. 100% split into thousandths is still 100% when you add it all up. Growth, and an increase in the base value of the money pool, can only occur when new products are created or resources made/discovered.

The only difference is who determines where that money goes. Is it me, or is it the Government?

The Devil’s Kitchen has for a while now been hunting down, naming and shaming what he identifies as Fake Charities. These are pressure groups and lobbyists that receive significant funding (more than 10% or at least £1m, I understand) from HM Gov. Notwithstanding that I find the principle of the Government choosing to pay my taxes to a ‘charitable’ pressure or lobby group with whom I disagree to be a total affront, the funding for these groups should come from those who support them, not the body politic.

I do not agree with what the Anti-Drinking/Alcohol lobby say, therefore I am appalled that my taxes are going to fund them. I may sympathise with the Anti-Tobacco lobby insofar as I like not having smoke in my face, but the fact they push to actively remove the rights of others to do to their bodies as they please means that I would never willingly give them money. As you can imagine, I’m not best pleased that the Government does on my behalf. Even for charities of which I approve, such as Stonewall, I do not agree with the Government funding them, or indeed any public sector body. Public money should not fund a pressure or lobby group, however admirable their aim.

The Government has decided that it knows best where to spend our money and to whom to donate, therefore these ‘charities’ receive money to advance their arguments to the Government. Right or wrong their arguments may be, the decision of who to support should be mine. On no grounds, be it health, social welfare or civil liberty, should taxpayers cash go towards a pressure group. Unfortunately, it does.

Charity should be private and personal. Charities and political lobbying groups can lobby me for my cash all they like. They certainly should receive none from the treasury.

The State colossus, Big Government, our massive and bloated Public Sector, are the manifestation of that denial of choice. They are testament to a belief that our leaders know best how to spend our money. Which, given the way they throw it around, shows a complete lack of respect for the people from whom they take it on threat of imprisonment. I apologise if that all seems melodramatic, but New Labour scare me and I don’t trust them with my money. Imagine if the Government let failing industries fall. What do you think would happen? My belief is that if there is no market for goods, the companies are on borrowed time anyway. If their departure creates an opportunity, someone with savvy will fill it.

At the heart of all this is one basic difference. One approach assumes that the populace is too selfish or too stupid to spend its money, the other believes in the intelligence and natural altruism of the human spirit. If you like, socialism is the ultimate form of political pessimism. Libertarianism, and to a degree, Conservatism, believes in the ultimate good of humanity and in our ability to decide for ourselves.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Draper is draped. Again.

Courtesy of John Redwood, Derek Draper makes himself (and his party) look silly. Again. This time over the economy. I really wonder how New Labour have achieved the level of self delusion over their handling of the economy while they have been in Government.

As an aside, I noticed that Gordon Brown said at PMQs on Wednesday that the Tories would cut pensions. At least I think that's what he said. I was a bit too busy spluttering my coffee to be sure. Excuse me for having a woolly memory, but something about a change in the tax structure in 1997, something about raiding private sector pensions... Wasn't that you?

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Setting cats on a pidgeon

From the sound of it, Brown has been savaged in PMQs... Can't wait to get home and watch the replay online.

You almost had me...

Capitalists@Work have, I suspect, just played an almost believable one.

It is the 1st of April, right?