Cuba to remain communist even longer

I know that the US justice system (see, no sarky inverted commas. I’m officially less bitchy than James Taranto…) works on a principle of scaring defendants shitless with the world’s largest ever potential sentences, so that they agree to plead guilty. This saves the expense of a trial, not to mention the difficulty of convincing a jury that the defendant actually did the crime.

But even a potential sentence of 471 years for hacking someone’s email account to send baseball-related abuse seems somewhat harsh. Sure, he’ll plea-bargain and it’ll be knocked down to a few years in jail… but what’s the point of that?

Hackers and spammers are mildly annoying. I’m always astonished by people who find them more than mildly annoying… there really are more important things to worry about. I’m also actively amused by IT security people who dislike them, even though the IT security conspiracy industry wouldn’t get the opportunity to extort vast amounts of money from every business going without the 7337 h4xx0rz’ efforts.

The suggestion that hackers can be dangerous, life-threatening terrorists (not that that was even the case here) is particularly wrong-headed. If you’ve got a life-critical IT system, don’t connect it to the Internet! If I’m ever in an intensive care ward, I’ll happily ignore the urge to check my Hotmail using my life support machine. Nor is it a good idea to connect nuclear power station safety systems to the net so that Homer Simpson-a-likes can monitor them from home…

At worst, hacking should be a money-costing crime. If it goes beyond that, then this is the fault of the idiots who built the relevant systems. And the monetary cost of most hacking (as opposed to virus writing) incidents is so close to zero that prosecuting them is an utter waste of everybody’s time and money.

As for the guy in the article – rather than wasting taxpayer cash keeping him in jail, how about forcing him to support the Red Sox? That way, he’ll never get miffed that his team nearly made the playoffs.

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We know it doesn’t work: that’s why we’re going to do it

While it’s clear that putting policepeople on the streets has no inherent direct impact on crime taking place (compare the number of streets to the maximum possible number of police on them to see why), until now there appeared to be two possible reasons why visible policing might work.

The first – that the risk of running into a policemen might scare away criminals – relies on criminals being both rational enough to fear being caught by the police, and stupid enough to completely miscalculate the risks. This is possible in some cases – although drug-addled crazies on the one hand, and ‘professional’ career burglars on the other, would seem to raise some difficulties.

A more significant reason is the idea that increasing the numbers of police might reduce people’s excessively high fear of crime (for example, unless you’re a career criminal or a young black male, your chances of being shot in the UK are negligible. Nonzero, but negligible. Gun crime is something that’s a serious problem in some places for some people, and that problem needs to be dealt with – but it’s insane for the general population to fear it [*]). This would make everyone happier, and would hopefully reduce the impact of “let’s all be nastier to everyone” political creeds.

However, it now appears that this theory doesn’t actually work either. Which is doubtless why once-sensible Tory Oliver Letwin picked this week to announce his plans to waste taxpayer money on putting 40,000 new police on the beat

My message to the Tories: fuck off. Spend the money on schools and transport, or cut taxes. Crime’s already low enough not to be a serious worry unless you’re neurotic, and I don’t want my taxes wasted on a policy that won’t even make the closeted suburban ninnies it’s designed to appease happier…

* I deliberately chose to live in a reasonably high gun crime area last time I moved house: cheap areas to live in Manchester tend to involve knife crime, gun crime, or serious boredom. Knife crime is frequently directed at people like me. Gun crime isn’t…

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Self-referentialism in the house

The whole scripting thing has paid off a little… fortunately, the site I’m designing is running in almost exactly the same way as a blog, right down to being set up so the clueless [employees of client] can post things on it.

So I’ve also managed to get a test blog thing set up at www.stalinism.com/shot-by-both-sides/new_test/index.asp. I haven’t done any design work for it yet, so at the moment it looks like something Chris Lightfoot would approve of. Except for not being sufficiently vicious about Peter Cuthbertson.

When I say ‘no design work’, I really mean no prettifying, I guess. I’ve thought about design in a user-flow-through-pages kind of way, which is far more important and tends to be neglected by the idiots who tend to design cut-price webpages.

Anyway, I’d be most obliged if anyone happening to visit the site (assuming you exist) could take a look at the new one, try and post dodgy scripts in the comments section to see if they can break it, and let me know if there’s anything deeply stupid or unusable about the flow of it all.

You can tell me how I should make it look as well, but I’m quite arrogant about the graphic side of design (I know that with this page set up the way it is I really shouldn’t be, but never mind that now…) so I might well ignore you.

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That wasn’t in the script

For complicated financial reasons (well, not very complicated – my job doesn’t pay me enough, so I’m building a couple of websites for cash), I’m being forced to learn PHP and ASP simultaneously at the moment.

This is slightly irritating, in that the two scripting languages work in almost, but not actually, the same way and use almost, but not actually, the same commands. That’ll learn me, or something. But not for the first time, I’m thanking various deities for the existence of the web.

Learning programming languages when I was little was actually difficult. Built-in help varied between the non-existent (when I learnt BBC Basic) and the rubbish (early versions of VB spring to mind). Getting hold of tutorials involved money, which I didn’t have when I was 12, and being bothered to go to a specialist bookshop, which I can’t be bothered to do even now. And looking at how (more than a couple of) other people did things was near-impossible unless you went out and bought their software.

Now, however, I can google for asp get query string url (or whatever the biggest keywords relating to my query are) and instantly bring up dozens of hits telling me exactly what I need to do.

This absolutely rocks, since I don’t need to learn the actual terms for either language at all. All I need to do is work out how I need to structure the script, then I can look up everything else. And I can make sure it works properly through repeated trial and error, since it’s just a matter of changing what looks wrong, saving and hitting F5.

It’s one example of the key way the Internet has changed the world. You (I/one, if you prefer) no longer really need to know any facts. You just need to know how to find them and (very importantly in some cases, although fortunately the number of malicious ASP tutorials on the web seems to be limited) to work out how credible they are. This is intellectually taxing, but it doesn’t involve memorising anything.

Which suits me just fine.

I’m also happy because once I’ve built the commerical sites I can re-use the code that I write to make SBBS run properly on my server – then I can escape from the infinitely vile Blogger. Hooray!

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Woo! Yey!

Serious reforms are afoot in China, where the government plans to legalise marriage even if your boss doesn’t approve. And people who live in some cities will even be able to apply for passports without their boss’s permission (“No passport for you, Zhao – these Fimbles dolls don’t just sew themselves together”, etc).

A bit pathetic, I know – but at least it’s a start.

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Different-sized Cs

The British Conservative Party supported the war on Iraq – but a lot of British conservatives didn’t. The Stop The War march in February was one of the most socially inclusive demonstrations ever (it featured 2% of the population – more importantly, it wasn’t just made up of students, pullovered leftists and Muslims).

More statistically, only 57% of Tory voters polled in July said they thought the war was justified – well behind Labour voters. And meanwhile, the Daily Mail is backing its normal arch-nemesis the BBC in its coverage of the almost endless Hutton Inquiry. The Mail, for all its vices, knows its readers and doesn’t take lines they don’t like – so it’s hard to characterise this as just a Mail vs NewLab scrap.

What’s going on here then? It looks like a clash of two traditions that often overlap, and therefore often get confused. Effectively, it’s a clash between the Tories and the conservatives who generally vote for them.

Broadly, the Tories are the party of aristocracy and empire; their chief change in recognition of the collapse of the traditional British class system has been to substitute accent, education and money for breeding. While this has almost certainly improved the average top Tory’s IQ, it has done little to change the party’s attitudes.

Tory voters, however, tend to be Middle England’s middle classes: the conservatives. At times (Thatcher’s landslides) some DEs also vote Tory because they think anything else would make them noticeably wore off. At times (1997-2002), some conservatives vote Lib Dem or Labour because they think the party has lost its way.

Despite the difference between the groups, people tend to view conservatives as Conservatives and vice versa – and Iraq is an excellent example of why this isn’t right.

Tories like empire. They’re disappointed we had to give up the last one. And it’s not all in a bad way… they like the way that the empire spread education, railways and cricket across the world. So do I, come to that. Small-c conservatives, however, don’t like being killed or impoverished to pay for killing. If the alternative to these is the risk of being killed, they see the point – so WWII was fair enough. But if the alternative is the certainty of some non-English people in Iraq being killed, they don’t. Education, railways and cricket are all very well, but we shouldn’t spend money or lives in order to bring them to foreigners.

Hence the rise in Lib Dem support: not only is the conservatives’ traditional party supporting the war, so is the New Labour party that they deserted it for (especially since people who identify as “conservative” view the Lib Dems as to the right of Labour – but that’s another story).

As a liberal, I believe the Tories are right and the conservatives are wrong. We do have a moral obligation to bring education, railways and cricket to the world’s oppressed people, or die in the attempt. We’ve got a responsibility to help other people, irrespective of their or our nationality. This is a fairly standard liberal view; I entirely understand that conservatives disagree. Maybe one day they’ll get over the class bloc thing and start voting for conservatives instead of Conservatives…

Final thought: the left’s attitude to the war is almost the same. Tony Blair, David Aaronovitch, and the large numbers of other nominal leftists who supported the Iraq war are being Tories here; the leftists who didn’t are being conservatives -”not in my name” means “I don’t want to get bloody hands even if it saves Iraqis from much worse horribleness”. And the Lib Dems, although arguably being more democratic, are taking a less liberal position than either of their mainstream rivals.

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Sometimes it’s hard to be a scathing political wit

It’s hard to deny that the police have a hard job to do, dealing with some of the scummiest elements in society and putting their own lives at risk to save people from serious harm.

Which probably explains why most coppers prefer to avoid such dangerous situations, and instead arrest non-scummy people for entirely harmless drunken idiocy. After all, unarmed, non-driving middle-aged professional types who’ve had a few pints are unlikely to do you much harm, beyond possibly hurting your feelings when they’re arrogant at you.

The drunken judge in this particular case would have been better advised to avoid the “do you know who I am” / “my cousin’s a QC” routine. But I can’t help thinking the main issue here is one of the relevant policemen being idiots, trying to get one over on people who they perceive as their ‘superiors’, and utterly mishandling the situation.

Of course, this may be more of a reflection on the characters of some of the uniformed policemen that people of my acquaintance and I have met, rather than an entirely reasonable assessment of this particular case.

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Anything you can trivialise, I can trivialise better

In hawk world, anyone who criticises Israel is an anti-semite, even if they’re Jewish. And these anti-semites probably deny the holocaust too. After all, Arabs often deny the holocaust, and these evil types don’t want to bomb the Arabs, so they’re just as bad… I’m not even going to mention equating “understanding the motives behind left wing terrorism” with “being a fan of the murder of Jews” – oh, apparently I just did.

Anyway, the latest expansion of this trivialisation is even bizarrer. I admit, you can’t expect a satirist posing as Allah to be particularly subtle in his politics (and his site is generally quite entertaining). But if there is a serious intent behind this post (as at least one rightist commentator seems to believe), then it’s now legitimate in the eye of the hawks to equate comparisons between George W Bush and Adolf Hitler with holocaust denial.

I’d be the first to admit that most Bush/Hitler comparisons aren’t terribly edifying, in that Mr Hitler was a mass-murdering, hatemongering tyrant, whereas Mr Bush is merely following in the glorious traditions of corrupt presidents with scary advisors. There are some entirely legitimate parallels: the most obvious is that the (broadly but imperfectly democratic) ascent of both leaders highlights deficiencies in the political system before they came to power.

If there were no sensible analogies at all between the two, then equating them would be an entirely nasty personal attack on Mr Bush, who is clearly not a mass murderer. Under English law, it would almost certainly be libellous (under American law it might be OK – although I’m neither a lawyer nor play one on TV). It would be roughly equivalent to equating Mr Bush to Charles Manson, Fred West, or some other Unequivocally Bad Man.

Yet to equate Mr Bush to Mr Manson wouldn’t be to deny the murder of Sharon Tate. If I say “Bush is as bad as Manson”, then the implication is “I know Manson had tens of people murdered; I believe Bush has murdered or ordered murdered just as many”. If I say “Bush is as bad as Hitler”, then the implication is “I know Hitler murdered six million Jews and started a war that killed another 20 million people worldwide. I thnk Bush has done or is about to do the same.” Both points would be stupid – but neither point would be denying the badness of the person to whom Mr Bush is being compared.

It’s forgiveable (and sometimes even correct) when the state of Israel and its friends trot out anti-semitism as an answer to critics – they’re justifiably worried about anti-semites wanting to destroy their country and kill them all. But when the same criticism is used to defend a WASP whose ancestors traded with the Nazis, it looks more than a little ridiculous.

Ho hum. According to the definitions used by the neocons, I probably ought to display this disclaimer at this point:

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