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May, 2011:

Quantum Computers & Codes

According to Dale over at Samizdata quantum computing is here. Now I don’t want to entangle myself in all the details but just one consequence.

Quantum computing kills stone-dead RSA style encryption. Through the long history of human sneakiness there has been a war between cryptology and cryptanalysis. RSA was (is) a decisive victory for cryptology. It can be broken but only with a certain tonnage of super-computer. But that is not all that makes RSA so useful. It is a form of public key cryptography so the not inconsiderable problem of distributing keys is not an issue. If you want to send an encrypted message to someone you use their public key and they then de-crypt with their private key. It’s an asymmetric cipher using a different key to encrypt as is used to decrypt. Neat, eh?

So, what is left if you want to send secret messages? Well, oddly enough it really is back to the future time! Your options are:

One time pad ciphers. Now these date from 1917 and Claude Shannon subsequently proved them uncrackable if used correctly. The problem here is that the “if” there is a big one. To all intents and purposes the pad which is the key has to be distributed physically. This means a lot meeting in parks and feeding the ducks before handing over a USB stick on the sly or posting a DVD-R with “Jane and Bob’s Wedding” written on it and hoping nobody checks. It also of course means keeping all that data safe at the other end. And it goes without saying that when the length of the messages reaches the length of the pad getting a new one. The practicalities of the OTP are very tricky. It is impossible to imagine such cryptography being of any real use for most banking or for a military in the field.

Book codes and ciphers. Now we really are going back in time. The problems here are almost insurmountable for the sort of way in which we use cryptology in the internet age. Book codes in which entire words are substituted are deeply impractical unless your book contains all the ones you need. Book ciphers which use individual letters are more practical but generally less secure than book codes which can be very strong indeed. An example here are the infamous Beale ciphers some of which remain uncracked. I honestly can’t see book codes and ciphers despite their romance being of much use.

What I find really interesting – it’s the new/old physical element here. The secret to your nefarious communications will actually be an object. A thing. In order to defeat electronic surveillance of your communications you will have to have something on your person or in your home. It wouldn’t surprise me if security organisations are trading in their laptops for lockpicks in the future. If two suspected agents are both discovered to have on their book shelves some rather obscure text for example then bingo!

There is of course an alternative to codes and ciphers which is also of great antiquity – steganography. The art of hidden writing. In a modern context this wouldn’t be the old invisible ink or whatever. Perhaps one of the most unusual ways of doing it was a wheeze of an ancient Greek general or such who had the head of one of his soldiers shaved, a message tattooed there and then waited until the hair grew back. Obviously not a man in a hurry! No, I’m thinking of hiding messages in media files and that sort of thing. The possibilities are endless. Steganographic techniques also mean there isn’t a message that clearly you want to keep private. An encrypted message on the other hand is obviously encrypted.

So, yes, we live (perhaps, there is some quantum uncertainty here – some of the commentators on Dale’s post doubt this is a true quantum computer) in interesting times. There is of course the possibility of the ultimate encryption. Quantum encryption (not really related to the computation – yet another thing da Quantum does!). Lots of people are working on this because it can’t be cracked in principle. Unfortunately it’s not very practical. You need a direct fibre-optic or possibly a line of sight laser link. Oddly enough, just like the old skool methods I discussed above the encryption has physical – in the sense of “stuff” – requirements. Information may, if RSA can be routinly cracked retain it’s nature as a sort of quintessence but not if you want to keep it secret.

PS. I have discussed this in terms of espionage and stuff. I do appreciate the issue of digital security applies to you and me as much as to Smiley’s people but it’s just the way the words came out.

Ezra and Sam

I guess Brian at Samizdata must have been watching this at about the same time I was.

Never heard of Sam Solomon, ex imam, before, but the strength of his conversion and the power of his witness for Christ could almost, almost but not quite, convert this confirmed atheist.

My complaint with this interview was Ezra. Now remember this, Ezra Levant is one of my great heroes, a doughty warrior in the cause of liberty, but here? I’m sorry, oftimes he preferred the sound of his own voice to Sam’s. Ezra has a habit of asking a question, rephrasing the question, and then rephrasing the rephrasing, all while preventing Sam from answering.

Still, this is stunning.

I have Christian friends I will be showing this to, especially one in particular, who runs a chapter of a Mission to the Muslims.

So Much for the “Tireless Campaigner for Freedom”*

I’m a big fan of free and open-source software – none of my computers runs a proprietary OS, and I try to stick to open-licenced apps on my Android (Linux-based) phone wherever possible – but I don’t talk about it here because… well, it never came up, I suppose.

It just did.

The Palestinian boycott has spread to the Israeli high-tech world. Richard Stallman, who initiated the free software movement and launched the Linux operating system,

Not actually true, by the way: that was Linus Torvalds. He’s responsible for much of the gubbins that makes Linux useful though – the GNU toolchain – and, as importantly (if not more so), the licence under which it’s released, the GPL. He gets quite agitated if you call it anything other than “GNU/Linux”. Anyway…

has cancelled his lectures in Israel following Palestinian pressure, according to Gal Mor’s blog “holes in the net.”
Stallman was scheduled to visit Israel in July and to speak at Haifa University, Tel Aviv University and Shenkar College. The Palestinians initiated the visit, but when they understood that Stallman would also be speaking at Israeli universities they told him they would no longer fund the trip. In response, Stallman announced that he would cancel the speaking engagements in Israel, and would be satisfied with visiting the Palestinian Authority regions only.

Now, to be fair to RMS, it does look like this is purely to do with money, and not a deliberate political gesture on his part:

“I am sorry for the disappointment that I have caused,” wrote Stallman.

But to anyone familiar with the man and his activism over the last three decades, that doesn’t really cut a lot of ice. In the software world, he’s famous for being a free software fundamentalist to the point of refusing to use hardware that might be useful to him if it would mean “contaminating” the system with proprietary drivers. His spats with Torvalds and other open-source pragmatists are legendary. The tension between Stallman’s Free Software Foundation and the likes of The Open Source Initiative is actually very reminiscent of that between Randian objectivism and mainstream libertarianism, and for similar reasons. So is the grudging one-sided respect of the pragmatists for the intellectual bloody-mindedness of the hard liners, come to think of it.

So Stallman claims to care deeply about freedom. He’s made a career out of caring about freedom, and not simply in the manner of many better known professional worriers: he’s done a great deal of practical work to promote and enable “the freedom to distribute copies of free software (and charge for this service if you wish), [to] receive source code or [...] get it if you want it, [to] change the software or use pieces of it in new free programs”, as the GPL has it. Without him, we probably wouldn’t have Linux, Android, or WordPress, since they’re all GPL-licenced (or, in the case of Android, based heavily on GPL components). Although he has nothing to do with them directly, Wikipedia and Creative Commons both borrow heavily from the ideas he pioneered nearly thirty years ago. This move is all the more disappointing since his contention has always been that software freedom and freedom of speech are one and the same.

The visit isn’t until July. I suspect we haven’t heard the last of this.

*As he was described in a Linux Format interview last month.

How many people will they be willing to kill

to achieve this misanthropic fantasy:

What is degrowth?

Degrowth carries the idea of a voluntary reduction of the size of the economic system, which implies a reduction of the GDP.

However degrowth is not simply about challenging the centrality of GDP as the overarching policy objective but proposes a framework for transformation to a lower and sustainable level and mode of production and consumption.

Degrowth is about finding a path or a transition to social justice, well being and ecological sustainability. It involves a range of actions at the individual and collective level based on a change of values and democratization of societies.

Degrowth is about people rather than technology deciding on the direction of societal evolution. It is also about giving meaning to human life which is not per se associated with conspicuous consumption and materialism

I know what a dollar is, I know what an Ipod is, but what the hell is social justice or a sustainable level of production?

Who decides what these high flying and noble words mean? You? Me? The Party Central Committee?

Added thought:  If these people want to do this they will damn well have to know what a rifle and razor wire are.

What a crock


It will destroy jobs, it will cause difficulties with bills, and it has nothing to do with children’s health.

And, why are they using Battersea Power Station?

Yet more “The debate is over”

Think they would rebroadcast this on BBC?

This red meat from Andrew Bolt

Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Wahnsinn*

From an article by Fritz Vahrenholt, Die Welt. Translation by Philipp Mueller. For brevity I’ll concentrate on some of the “highlights” of what passes for scientific integrity and critical thought in Germany.

Germany’s green government advisors admit frankly that decarbonization can only be achieved by the limitation of democracy – both nationally and internationally.

My emphasis. Limitation of democracy – the rally cry of fascist cunts everywhere. And like every other brand of fascist cunticulation, this one doesn’t intend to respect borders.

When it comes to environmental and climate policy, Germany’s Scientific Advisory Council on Global Environmental Change (WBGU) is an influential advisory committee for the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. The chairman of the council is Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

Know your enemy…

In April 2011, the WBGU presented a report entitled World in Transition – Social Contract for a Great Transformation.

Alternatively known as: The World in Chains – Socialist Contract for Global Oligarchy.

The main theses of the WBGU are as follows: The current economic model (“fossil industrial metabolism”) is normatively untenable.

The days of industrialisation, energy security and western civilisation, if these misanthropic lunatics get their way, are numbered.

“The transformation to a climate friendly economy… is morally as necessary as the abolition of slavery and the outlawing of child labor.” The reorganization of the world economy has to happen quickly; nuclear energy and coal have to be given up at the same time and very soon.

About child labour; it is rife in societies that have limited or no access to electricity. Coincidence? And please, let’s quickly and simultaneously jettison two of the three main energy resources that underpin all western economies so everyone who isn’t a member of the elite can have parity with hut dwelling dung burners and live in green bondage harmony with Gaia.

The decarbonization of the global economy is, according to these experts, comparable with the Neolithic Revolution and the Industrial Revolution.

I’m beginning to loathe the word expert. The notion that climate alarmists believe their dangerously regressive agenda is comparable with two huge leaps in human ingenuity is a sick joke. These bastards are at war with us. They want to see us grubbing in the dirt where they think we all belong. Well fuck that!

All nations would have to relinquish their national interests and find a new form of collective responsibility for the sake of the climate:

Exchange national interest for collective responsibility, eh? Collectivism is political science not physical science. Sounds like the ghost of Erich Honecker is stalking the halls of the Potsdam Institute. If so it explains ecofascist bullshit like the Stockholm Syndrome Memorandum.

The world citizenry agree to innovation policy that is tied to the normative postulate of sustainability and in return surrender spontaneous and persistence desires.

These morons really are away with the fairies, aren’t they. They’ve obviously given their adult minders the slip.

This strong state provides, therefore, for the “social problematization” of unsustainable lifestyles. It overcomes “stakeholders” and “veto players” who “impede the transition to a sustainable society.” In Germany, climate protection should therefore become a fundamental goal of the state for which the legal actions of the legislative, executive and judicial branches will be aligned.

To anyone who still thinks this insanity is about science, I have a genuine Wellsian time machine you might be interested in.

The Vahrenholt/Mueller article continues to explore the psycho-delusional, zero-science ravings of Schellnhuber and the council of the Pottydim Institute in greater depth here.



Not the wedding of the century.

On the BBC News this morning was the story about Ed Miliband marrying his long-term girlfriend.

It’s hardly Watergate is it?

Anyway, the BBC assured us it’s the second most important wedding this year.

Anyway, the wedding of the pico-second is at some gaff that does weddings in Nottinghamshire and doesn’t feature Pippa Middleton’s arse* in a supporting role. But the BBC had an OB team there with some rain-swept shivering reporter who imparted this breathless intelligence about the post-nuptial feast:

“Asparagus to start, lamb for the main but we don’t know what the dessert is yet!”

Rather than have Laura Kuenssberg going through the bins like an urban fox to find the empty packs of Angel Delight they went straight onto Libya or the G8 or that Serbian cunt or Cheryl Cole or other such nonsense.

All due to the unique way the BBC is funded. I want to know the dessert. I demand to know! I don’t want things happening in the land of Johnny Foreigner impinging upon the time the BBC can devote to some bloke getting married and what he had for afters.

For shame! They didn’t even send Gordon Burns (BBC Manchester – remember the “Krypton Factor”? when I got married and I could have been on North West Tonight between a race riot in Oldham and an amusing dog. I’d have treasured that DVD.

This is all due to the unique way the BBC is funded. The cunts.

*It does feature Justine Thornton’s arse. She calls it “Ed”.

Got kids? Get out of jail free.

A burglar was freed from jail today – after judges ruled his five children would suffer as much as he would if he remained behind bars.

Our judicial system isn’t just unfit for purpose, it’s batshit crazy too.  As of today jailing criminals infringes the human rights of their kids.  Some fucking legal precedent, eh?

Wayne Steven Bishop, 33, was serving an eight-month sentence, imposed at Nottingham Crown Court in April after he admitted burglary and dangerous driving.

Burglary and dangerous driving.  A real paragon for his kids to look down to.

But he is the sole carer of his five children – aged between five and 13 – for five nights a week and claims it was not in their ‘best interests’ that he stay in prison.

Then he shouldn’t have committed the crimes then, should he.  What about the human rights of Bishop’s victims whose property he broke into and stole from?  Don’t they have a right not to be targetted by a lowlife bastard?  Obviously not.  We must think of the cheeeeldren, mustn’t we.

His QC, Ian Wise, told Mr Justice Maddison and Mr Justice Sweeney at the Court of Appeal that the court had not properly taken into account the effect on the children.

Bishop didn’t give a kipper’s dick about the consequences of being caught so why should the Court of Appeal?  They are there to administer justice (hah!).  Give the brats over to the local social services and make their old man pay for what he did by doing the time he’s been given.

Since his incarceration, they have been cared for by his sister during the week and his ex-partner at weekends, but the situation has been difficult for all parties.

The sister is a single parent with seven children to look after already – five of them her own – and she lives seven miles from the schools which her nieces and nephews attend.

So it’s not just his kids lives he’s fucked up.  What a sterling citizen!  Presumably his “ex” is mother to some or all of the kids.  How come she isn’t on the scene to do what any decent mother would do and step into the breach instead of leaving it to the scumbag’s sister who has an equally big brood plus two to spare?  How come she gets off with doing part-time so Bishop can get off doing hard time?  They are her kids too aren’t they?

Pointing to Article 8 of the Human Rights Convention – which guarantees respect for family life – Mr Wise said judges should have the well-being of children at the forefront of their minds when their sole carer might be sent to prison.

And if Bishop had killed or injured someone while driving the getaway van and crashing into a police car?  What then?  Does the welfare of criminal’s family trump the rights of the victim?

‘We submit that the judge erred in law in failing to have proper or any regard to the children that he was the sole carer for,’ he told the appeal judges.

I submit that the Court of Appeal crapped all over the law by overturning a reasonable judgement.  Let’s blame the judge presiding over the original case for doing his job.  What we don’t do is blame the selfish prick who went out to commit the crime despite knowing he was the sole carer of five kids.

‘The interests of the children should be central to the decision-making process where children are affected by a decision.’

The kids were affected by their father’s decision when he decided to commit burglary and drive his van into a police car.  That’s the only decision that should be taken into consideration.  He didn’t give a fuck about the consequences and now he gets let off his custodial sentence.  And this is justice how?

Mr Justice Sweeney questioned whether it had been in the children’s best interests for their father to be out committing burglary and asked who had been looking after them at that time.

But the judges together concluded that not enough attention had been paid to the effect that Bishop’s incarceration might have – and is actually now having – on his children.


‘It is apparent that the position of the children is a highly unsatisfactory one in the absence of the appellant himself,’ said Mr Justice Maddison.

It’s highly unstatisfactory that a precedent has been set for every lowlife scumbag criminal who has spawned to not do time.

He continued: ‘It is important that criminals should not think that children can provide some sort of licence to commit criminal offences with impunity.

So why set the precedent then?

‘All of that said, however, we have to be aware of the highly unsatisfactory and difficult situation faced by the children and those now doing their best to look after them.

Yeah, the kids have a thieving cunt for a father who’s using them as a get out of jail free card.  I’d call that highly unsatisfactory too.

‘We have come to the conclusion that the appropriate course is to allow the appeal and to suspend for a period of two years the consecutive sentences which were pronounced by the judge.’

Justice gets shafted thanks to legal weaselling and that’s considered appropriate?

Bishop, of Clifton, was prosecuted after he was caught driving away from the scene of a burglary at Mansfield Rugby Club in the early hours of September 2 last year.

He and three other men raided the premises, taking only some chocolate, before he and one of his accomplices drove off in a transit van.

Bishop clipped a police vehicle and drove through red lights before he eventually drove up a dead-end street and was arrested. He admitted all charges.

And all Bishop got away with was some bars of fucking chocolate?  Seems like the law isn’t the only big loser here…

What do these stories have in common?

All from the front page of the Telegraph… I’m lazy blogging today!

Fifa president Sepp Blatter to face ethics committee
The Fifa ethics committee has opened an investigation into its president Sepp Blatter after Mohamed bin Hammam requested ethics proceedings were opened against the Swiss head of world football.

Do I need to add here that the Quatari Mohamed bin Hammam is not without the odd skellington in his closet. Or the bloody rest of them. An a FIFA ethic committee – give me strength! They are all corrupt. They’re just falling out over jealousy because some got bunged more than others. Frankly I’d rather watch Sunday league than the World Cup.

Ratko Mladic arrested: doctors assessing health
Doctors will today determine if Ratko Mladic, the former army general responsible for the worst atrocities of the Bosnian war, is fit to appear in court, a day after he was captured in by Serbian commandos.

Well if it were up to me Mladic’s health would be best described as stable – permanently. But this all smacks of politics. Like Bin Laden he’s only now been scrobbled because it has been judged politically expedient to do so. And of course his day in court is of course to see if he can be extradited to The Hague which is bitterly ironic considering the fact Dutch troops were complicit in his most notorious crime at Srebrinca. Ah they say they were only follows orders complying with the letter of a UN resolution. Well perhaps if their commander at the time had thought, “Fuck this! Right lads! Lock and load and if they bloody well want to court-martial me bring it on!”

Baby P council boss Sharon Shoesmith wins appeal against sacking
Sharon Shoesmith, the former children’s services chief of Haringey council, is in line to win around £500,000 in compensation after winning a Court of Appeal battle over her sacking following the death of Baby P.

Well Shoesmith ought to have been sacked – at least. But the investigation showed everyone involved was guilty. Shoesmith took the drop without proper process because it would appear Mr Ed Balls who was Secretary of in a Right State for Children* , Families** & Schools*** wanted a scapegoat to get the tabloids off his back so he could concentrate on all the fine work he was doing.

What these stories all have in common apart from being the top three (apart from something about Cheryl Cole – a shampoo seller from Newcastle, apparently) in the Torygraph (and pretty much the same in the Grauniad and probably similar in The Grimes) is that they have no white hats.

They are all the unspeakable in pursuit of the unspeakable. There is no honour or decency in any of the key actors here. They’re like EastEnders plots (and why I quit watching that years back) about vile people screwing over vile people and moreover they have nothing to do with any form of genuine justice. Instead they re all about collusion and complicity.

PS. And why social services involved in repeated assaults on a baby? Should that not by a police matter? and why an “ethics committee” for bribery and corruption? Those are not ethical matters but crimes. There is a difference. Ethics are matters of individual conscience and crimes are the same throughout a jurisdiction. I’m not exactly sold on “crimes against humanity either”. That Serbian guttersnipe ought to be tried simply as a mass murderer.

*Tomorrow belongs to them.
** Manson families.
*** Of Scandal.

(Paul) Nurse Shark Jump

Nobel laureate Sir Paul Nurse told the Guardian that some climate scientists were being targeted by organised campaigns of requests for data and other research materials, aimed at intimidating them and slowing down research. He said the behaviour was turning freedom of information laws into a way to intimidate some scientists.

Nurse said that, in principle, scientific information should be made available as widely as possible as a matter of course, a practice common in biological research where gene sequences are routinely published in public databases. But he said freedom of information had “opened a Pandora’s box. It’s released something that we hadn’t imagined … there have been cases of it being misused in the climate change debate to intimidate scientists.

“I have been told of some researchers who are getting lots of requests for, among other things, all drafts of scientific papers prior to their publication in journals, with annotations, explaining why changes were made between successive versions. If it is true, it will consume a huge amount of time. And it’s intimidating.”

Bob Ward of the Grantham Research Institute at the London School of Economics said the intention of many of those making freedom of information requests was to trawl through scientists’ work with the intention of trying to find problems and errors. “It’s also quite true that these people do not care about the fact that it is causing a serious inconvenience,” he said. “It is being used in an aggressive and organised way. When freedom of information legislation was first contemplated, it was not being considered that universities would be landed with this additional burden.”

Yes Bob the truth can sometimes be inconvenient. Who said that again?

What really outrages me about this is that it seems to be a call for a return to “medieval science”. Back in the good old days it was publish and be damned – especially in the case or Giordano Bruno who was burnt at the stake. But there was another reason. Modern scientists have to publish or they won’t get tenure bu back in the good old days if they revealed their “trade secrets” – well, there was much skullduggery and out-right theft. Taratagli’a formula for cubics is a well-known case – they were ought of a job. And their job was usually as a mathematicus which meant casting horoscopes and solving problems at court as if by magic and not showing their working. Think John Dee or Johannes Kepler or Tycho Brahe here. All essentially magicians. Or even Newton who sat on The Calculus for years. It is a measure of Newton’s absurd genius that the Principia used stuff derived from his “method of fluxions” but was written-up using more traditional methods. Well, you don’t let your secret weapon out of the bag do you? Compare that to the Modern rush to get results on big questions published. but that was modern and we are now firmly post-modern.

What Sir Paul Nurse is arguing for he is essentially a return to science as magic or perhaps rather something more like a guild structure. It is very regressive and totally unlike the greatest period of modern science. That would be between roughly 1900 and 1939. In those few decades relativity and QM were laargely hammered out. In German university towns in the ’20s people would work on problems at cafes and if they got stuck they’d leave their partial working on the table! how do you think Quantum Mechanics got worked out so quickly?

Anyway, Sir Paul should leave the Guild of Alchemists to Sir Terry.

The Envy of the World

STAFF at a major Scottish hospital left a pensioner without food for 10 days and sedated her repeatedly, a damning report has revealed.

Nurses appeared to have a “negative attitude” towards the 80-year-old, who suffered from dementia, and gave her more than 80 tranquillizing drugs in little more than a fortnight.

From The Herald. And over on Sky News:

Serious concerns have been raised about the way some NHS hospitals treat elderly people – including one where patients are prescribed water to make sure they get a drink.

Inspectors expressed “major” concerns about nutrition at the Alexandra Hospital in Worcestershire, which is part of the Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust.

They found “meals served and taken to the bedside of people who were asleep or not sitting in the right position to enable them to eat their meal”.

Hot dinners and puddings were left for 15 minutes to go cold before staff found time to assist patients.

Staff said they sometimes had to prescribe drinking water on medication charts to “ensure people get regular drinks”.

At Ipswich Hospital NHS Trust, inspectors found patients left in night clothes all day and not always taken to the toilet away from where they slept.

Records were not always up-to-date and staff spoke among themselves when caring for patients rather than to the patient.

Chair of the CQC Jo Williams said most hospitals provided good care, but at others staff showed a lack of compassion.

Yeah, this is the line we always get. I don’t doubt that – to quote one of the CCIZ tags – sometimes they get it right, but from personal experience, I simply don’t believe that these kind of incidents are as “isolated” as they’d like us to think. The Herald report in particular doesn’t surprise me in the slightest. I’ve seen this sort of thing with my own eyes. I’ve known elderly people – bright, intelligent, elderly people, with their full complement of marbles – who went into hospital with minor ailments only to turn into sedated, drooling, zombies and never leave.

There are good staff, excellent staff, here and there – I’ve seen them at work too, and people very dear to me owe their lives to them – but what can they do in a system that rewards failure and penalizes success?

Back to Sky again:

Health Secretary Andrew Lansley said: “Everyone admitted to hospital deserves to be treated as an individual, with compassion and dignity.

“We must never lose sight of the fact that the most important people in the NHS are its patients.”

Really, Andrew? Are you absolutely sure about that?

Advertising Genius!

I like Aldi, Lidl, Netto. Some of the stuff they sell is extremely good. I don’t like them because they are cheap as such. I like them because they are extremely good value. That is not something that can be said about Iceland. Good stuff can be cheap if the company is run well and Aldi clearly is. And that advert made me laugh. The M&S ads make me want to defenestrate the TV. Organic, farm-assured… Sell it to Hugh Fearnley-Shittingstall already! Not me. The finest ham I know comes from Netto and is not a Duchy Original which means it is tastier, cheaper and Chuckles hasn’t ejaculated on it. Which I guess would add protein and zinc but just no. Leave that to the Duchess of Cornwall.

The Bottom Inspectors

The Bottom Inspectors are a rather gloriously puerile (yes, even by the standards of Viz) form of secret polic that check if you’ve wiped your bum. They are quite well known because for quite some time Chris Donald refused to say what he’d based them on. The smart money was they were a parody of the Stasi. The smart money was wrong. They were based on the Tyneside Metro Ticket Inspectors. Now I wouldn’t exactly say they are that bad but they appear to be. This is because the Metro has a serious fare-dodging problem. Or more specifically it is a difficult system to prevent fare dodging on so the tactics the Ticket Inspectors use naturally appear quite draconian.

And why is this the case? The first line of defence against fare dodging is working turnstiles at stations. You know like most major London Underground stations have that won’t let you through unless you feed a ticket in or flash an Oyster card. The Tyneside turnstiles don’t do anything. They were supposed to but they never worked and haven’t for the several decades the system has been there. So the Metro management has no alternative but to employ The Bottom Inspectors. Now this is very silly. It is very silly for a very simple reason. Running a railway costs money and as with almost any enterprise the major cost is wages. The Bottom Inspectors don’t work for the lark of it despite anything Chris Donald might suspect. This cock-up with the turnstiles and the failure to rectify it over thirty years means the Metro is nowhere near as efficient as it ought to be. It is over-staffed. Now you might speculate as to why that is but I couldn’t comment.

Oh, it’s make work for Geordies who forty years ago would have been making things (possibly turnstiles) out of metal.

I recalled this because arguably the commuter lines around Manchester have the opposite problem. I fare-dodged yesterday. I did this without agency or design. My local station is unmanned and doesn’t even have a ticket machine so short of making a votive offering to George Stephenson I couldn’t buy a ticket for a short return journey. It’s almost as if TESCO ran it’s affairs by saying we have a lot of sirloin steaks, just stick one down your trousers and you won’t have to pay! Northern who run trains round here just don’t seem arsed to collect fares. I live in an affluent commuter belt area and not only to they not have some biddy in a little office selling tickets but they haven’t invested in a ticket machine. Most of the trains are guardless (or seem so – perhaps he’s having a wank in the bog – God knows!) so I would say half the journeys I have made on the trains round here over several years that not only did I not pay for but couldn’t pay for.

Except for this one I did, eventually. My return had a guard who sold me a ticket just as I was about to get off. Indeed the transaction nearly made me miss my stop. I paid for a single. I actually wasn’t prepared to be honest enough to pay for a return because I am sick to the back-teeth of the “business” model of the railways which almost regards fares as fines if they catch you. And that is a big “if”. If a business can’t be arsed to go to the bother of even trying to collect payment for it’s services then frankly fuck ‘em. I was also rather annoyed at the possibility of missing my stop by this 11:59 attempt at securing payment. If I’d been able to pay up-front for the actual return I would have been much more gruntled. Do the railway folks not appreciate this simple fact? Of course not! They operate on subsidies.

So you got the make-work Tyneside Metro and the can’t be bothered railways of Manchester and both operate like they couldn’t give a fuck in different ways. It reminds me of just post-communist Eastern Europe. A small caff would provide excellent service. The great heffalumping post-communist still state owned businesses regarded customer service as an optional extra like metallic paint or a sat-nav. They had a mentality which is the opposite of a business. All businesses are different but all provide (or ought to) a service to their customers. Good ones ought to not out of the kindness of their hearts but because the alternative involves being up queer street. Or should. But state-run monopolies can get away with any old shit. They feel they are doing you a service. That’s the wrong way round. It ought to be that you are doing them a service by giving them your poke. Some outfits understand that and some go broke and some in whatever sense part of the state so are you know like whatever.

Which reminds me. You want good customer service then never, ever try to get anywhere on Polish (state-owned) railways. I have never in my entire puff since such disinterested customer service as from them. I arrive in Krakow and ask where the taxi rank is. Some wizened old bint who probably last had an orgasm when Joe Stalin was liquidating the kulaks says “outside” and drops her blind and goes back to her magazine. Krakow is quite a large station so my further attempts to ascertain where outside where met with a granite-like resistance. This despite my wife (a Russian graduate and translator) asking in her bestest Polish.

That’s the mentality. I honestly believe the railways of Britain could be run as profit-making enterprises if anyone could be arsed. There is a sort of coda to the Krakow story. From Krakow our next stop was quite a way away in a small Silesian town where my wife’s sister lives with her boyfriend. Before this trip happened he’d insisted that he wouldn’t have been a proper host if he didn’t drive us from Krakow. I’d assumed we could have got the train. I realised he wasn’t just being hospitable that very morning when I met the face of the Polish railroad. Marian of course had experience of Polish railways being, well, Polish. And that says it all. It was nice of him to pick us up but it was also necessary. Poles don’t believe they can navigate their railways so what chance the likes of me? Or to put it another way. Why are most journeys of any distance – long or short – made in a private car these days?

Oh Hell!

Britain and France are to deploy attack helicopters against Libya in an attempt to break the military stalemate, particularly in the important coastal city of Misrata, security sources have told the Guardian.

In a significant escalation of the conflict, the Apaches – based on HMS Ocean – will join French helicopters in risky operations which reflect deepening frustration among British and French defence chiefs about their continuing inability to protect civilians in Libya.

The decision to deploy the helicopters is a clear recognition that high-level bombing from 15,000 feet cannot protect civilians who continue to be attacked by rocket and mortar shells. It brings the Nato offensive much closer to the ground at a time when Britain and other Nato countries are insisting they have no intention of sending in troops.

Does anyone believe the last bit? The “mission creep” here is incredible. And inevitable. It’s like the ‘stan or Iraq Rebooted – so vaguely defined as to be meaningless. Say what you like about Iraq the first time or the Falklands but they at least had a clarity of purpose. There is no substitute for that in warfare. We’re not even prepared to admit we want Ghadaffi dead or in exile for example. Can you imagine Churchill prevaricating about whether he wanted Hitler’s head on a pike? He’d fetch the pike himself. Can you imagine Dave or Little Nicky Sarcophagus making the sort of decision Harry Truman had to make in ’45? Can you imagine that Clown in Rome? Can you imagine Angela Merkel? Actually, yes I could but wisely the Germans have stayed out of this one. This is a purely Anglo-French caper with the enthusiastic cheer leading of Silvio. God knows what Berlusconi brings to the party – letting refugees drown and his Mama’s pizza recipe mainly. But the drowning of the refugees really is instructive. The entire claimed point of doing this Suez 2.0 is to protect civilians. And why won’t we just stick a Paveway down Ghadaffi’s chimney pot? Because we are apparently allied with the Arab League here and they don’t want to see a fellow Arab potentate blown to buggery because that sort of sets a precedent does it not and most of them have their own local difficulties? But I don’t actually see their air-forces being deployed? Which rather raises the question of in what practical way they are our allies. I could say precisely in what way Australia or Canada or the USA or even the Soviet Union were in the ’40s against Hitler. This is the most vaguely defined conflict in my country’s long history of twatting Johnny Foreigner and it will not turn out well for that very reason. I suspect that is why the Luftwaffe, Kriegsmarine and Bundewehr are sitting out this match. Say what you want against the Germans but clarity of purpose is not something they have ever been short of. Indeed they have frequently had rather too much of it.

And this ridiculous adventure has no clarity of purpose. It is entirely political. No sane military man or woman would advocate it. That is of course why we have politicians who these days know less about military matters than small kids who watch the History Channel on Sky.

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