22 November, 2011
Probability and possibility
Which is fine by me in principle, though my own recent experience does give me pause to reflect that things are not always as straightforward as they seem.
Let me tell you a story. To slightly misquote the title sequence of White Hunter*, a true story that actually happened.
Earlier this year two women knocked on my front door. I was perhaps a little slow in answering and I arrived at the door just as a key was turning in the lock and the door began to open. They had lost patience and decided to try out a key they had with them.
Once order had been restored, with my unorthodox visitors confined peremptorily to the doorstep, they explained themselves. They were, they told me, respectively the sister and niece of a gentleman who had formerly lived more or less here. I say "more or less here" because they were not absolutely sure of the correct address. My house was one of a range of adjacent possible addresses which they had.
It was never made precisely clear what had happened to this gentleman — for the sake of argument let's call him Mr Pendleton — but the gist of it seemed to be that
- He had been a tenant of a house in the immediate vicinity, who had left a few months before.
- He was either dead or otherwise no longer able to manage his own affairs, or at least to visit himself.
- This pair, his relatives, were here to check out his former home for important personal items or documents and generally bring his presence here to an orderly close.
A few days later they were back. Although they didn't say so directly, they had clearly been to the police in the interim, who had obviously not been particularly helpful. Although their accents were native English, they actually lived abroad and only had a couple of days further in London. And they had run out of options. The two things they did have were an approximate match with my address and a key which fitted my door.
The copper they had spoken to had told them that a co-incidental match of someone else's key with my lock was "a million to one against". The copper was talking off the top of his head. I was, unsurprisingly, interested in that probability as well and had been doing some research. A wonderful tool, the web. Not perfect by any means but it has its moments. My front door lock is a of a very common design from a major brand. My best estimate is that there are actually no more than 1000 to 2000 different keys for that brand and design of lock in actual circulation. In practice, if you think about it, that is perfectly adequate.
This information cut no ice, of course. That the key fitted was proof positive that they had found their target. I showed my visitors letters addressed to me at this address along with photo-ID which matched my name to my image.
This did not satisfy them. I could understand why. They were under pressure: if my house wasn't the one they sought, then their mission had failed and they would have to go home — a long and expensive way away — empty handed. And the prima facie evidence of the matching key was very strong, too strong, despite the rational truth of the fact that improbability is not the same thing as impossibility. But we were going nowhere. I knew I wasn't squatting in Mr Pendleton's former home. They were in effect convinced, emotionally at least, that I was. Impasse. I refused further co-operation and referred them back to the police.
As it happened there was a happy ending. People don't think straight under stress. As my visitors fumed on my doorstep, thinking through their next step, it occurred to me ask the obvious question, the one that should been asked at our first meeting: what did this Pendleton geezer look like. The sister described him and I recognized him at once: a shy, slightly confused, uncommunicative middle-aged man who had been a near neighbour until a few months previously. I pointed out where he had lived. Their key fitted and letters addressed to him were found behind the door.
My awkward visitors departed. They were embarrassed by the confrontational incident to the extent that a month or so later I received a written apology through the post. On balance, had the authorities actually become involved, I believe this particular matter would have been resolved correctly and quickly. But it makes you wonder. Circumstantial evidence has a powerful momentum and co-incidence has low credibility as a witness. Improbable may well not be the same as impossible, but if the odds are reasonably long, it's a very attractive first approximation.
* White Hunter was a TV serial made in the late 1950s and broadcast late at night on ITV. As well as giving us the catchphrase "true stories that actually happened" which actually did occur, breathlessly, in the titles voice-over, this splendidly hammy show was generally referred to in our house as "Throw another stuffed lion in". In the titles, the eponymous white hunter raises his rifle and fires. We then cut to a shot of what is either a loose-stuffed lion skin or quite possibly, in those less fastidious days, an actual freshly dead male lion, which is hurled into camera. Innocent days.
But on the whole I have reached a sort of armed truce in the battle of wills with the Beast of Redmond's bossyware.
Then today it gave me a very nasty shock. I was changing channels. A fairly basic operation you might think, but on Windows Media Center the precise sequence of events seems to vary; I think it's dependent on the weather and cosmic rays. It might help if I spin widdershins in my chair before clicking the mouse — I may give that a try.
And there on the screen, underneath the waffle which informed me why it was unwilling to comply with my request at this time, there was a box which read
You've been scammed
Ah. I stared at this frightful apparition gloomily, contemplating hours, days of decontamination of the computer and was beginning to reflect on the possibility of endless phone calls and letters to unravel an identity fraud when I actually got round to reading the text of the message properly. Do you read error messages? Properly? Or, like me, do you get to the stage where you click automatically on the "Are you sure (Y/N)?" message box which asks you to confirm that you really do want to delete the whole of your C: drive?
"You've been scammed", it turns out, was the name of the programme currently showing on the channel (BBC1) I was switching away from. Perhaps the computer wanted to carry on watching it.
Or something. Who knows?
I'm going for a lie down. After that I shall eschew these dubious high tech pleasures and join a morris dancing team. Or possibly a monastery.
21 November, 2011
20 November, 2011
The fragile sensibilities of the Righteous
The comment text quoted in the reprimanding emails consisted of links to sites of which the Grauniad did not approve. That my comments had in fact expressed disapproval of these sites did not cut any ice. Actually I suspect that these links were just a pretext; I was really being banned for general Unrighteousness. I had upset Clare.
Clare? I always think of the Guardian moderator as Clare. Clare is a bright young school leaver. Clare hopes to go into politics or political journalism and is spending part of her gap year doing an internship at her favorite newspaper before going up to Oxford to read PPE. To keep her out of harm's way she has been put in charge of the reader forums. Clare is going through the transition from constrained sixth-former to independent adult, a phase during which many of us feel suddenly empowered, idealistic and keen to change the world for the better, rectifying our parents' mistakes with a simplistic optimism untempered by the hard experience of real life. Clare, it has to be said, is shocked, nay appalled, by some of what she reads on GUT.
I made a token effort to rejoin under different details, but I was spotted and blocked. Some GUT commenters were repeatedly banned and re-registered under new identities a dozen or more times. Identifying and outing them was a much-enjoyed GUT sport. The now rehabilitated Frank Fisher was one such. But for me it wasn't worth the hassle. Poking the Righteous with pointed sticks was fun but not that much fun.
Earlier this year I found myself undertaking the CiF registration procedure. Mainly, I was curious to know what details they were asking for these days, in particular did they still ask for your home postcode. In the process I seem to have successfully registered myself. I didn't bother attempting to start posting at CiF, knowing that I would soon be speaking out of turn and getting myself banned again.
But this week I had a go, commenting on a particularly sanctimonious Guardian editorial about Sepp Blatter's "denial" of football racism. And well, well, well, the comment was, as they say on CiF, moderated. OK, it contained two ethnic slurs and an obscenity, but all in the best possible taste and — and this is the point — entirely germane to the discussion which was, if you remember, about racist language in football.
Which does beg the question, how do you discuss "sensitive" subjects if you are not allowed to use the relevant language or link to relevant websites? I criticized the Telegraph for bowdlerizing John Terry's alleged "racist" remark as "you — black —", rendering it impenetrable. To give the Guardian its due, it didn't shirk from quoting the insult properly as "you fucking black cunt". So why can't I do the same in their fora?
I am reminded of an exchange on Pickled Politics between Jai the Prolix and the excruciatingly even-handed Sarah Annes Brown. Jai had linked to a screenshot of some supposedly deeply incriminating Faceache post which was supposedly the ex cathedra position of the EDL. Sarah asked why a screenshot and not a direct link to the original source. In the event its a bit complicated in that the original source had been since deleted, but Jai's reply is interesting,
I used a screenshot because PP editorial policy is that we do not link directly to extreme Far-Right websites. However, the comments thread via the “screenshot” link includes a direct URL link to the EDL’s official Facebook page where the statement was issued.
Given that much of what is written at PP consists of whingeing about the "Far Right", a prohibition on linking to source information seems just a touch self-contradictory.
But it's Sarah herself who gets the Dogwash special prize of a presentation box of biscuits for her ingenious solution to this knotty problemette. Sarah AB seems a decent enough woman whose meticulous all-things-to-all-persons-itude succeeds in making her welcome below the line at Pickled Politics while contributing both above and below the line at Harry's Place. In April, she wrote a piece at HP about some public meeting in London involving, among others, HP hate figure Gilad Atzmon. Atzmon is an anti-Zionist Jew who is not only of interest as an object of hatred to the Harryites, who increasingly seem to treat the slightest criticism of Israel as tantamount to a threat to rebuild the gas chambers, tedious Shoah-waving at its worst, but is also of interest to the Stormfronters, who of course see the hand of ZOG behind everything down to the very dog crap on the pavement.
Sarah wanted to link to a Stormfront post about the meeting. But linking to Stormfront itself was out of the question. Whether due to Harry's Place policy or Sarah's personal squeam I don't know. Her solution? She linked to the Google cache of the Stormfront article.
Dix points for ingenuity, love. Nul points for intellectual honesty.
19 November, 2011
— Really? I didn't know he'd been away.
18 November, 2011
What draws my attention is his handling of reader comments "below the line". In Jai's first forays into the subject, comments were opened automatically according to usual Pickled Politics practice. The comments thread on all PP articles is eventually closed, though at least Sunny-ji doesn't follow the insane Harry's Place practice of deleting old below-the-line threads completely. At least with PP the old threads are preserved in aspic for the entertainment, enlightenment and titillation of future readers. I assume the PP threads are closed automatically on a time-out.
What happened with Jai was that he became exasperated with people disagreeing with him below the line, deleted those comments he took particular exception to and closed the comment thread prematurely to preclude further aggravation.
In the next couple of posts he took no chances and closed comments at the time of original posting, debarring local reader input completely. There were complaints from the regular readers and obviously someone has had a word, for the most recent two posts have gone back to the standard commenting arrangements.
Well, up to a point, Lord Copper, as I noticed earlier this week. A commenter called J to the T had said
but when I revisited the article the following day his comment was nowhere to be seen; disappeared without trace; gone, gone and never called me 'Mother'.
(Stop press: revisiting that article as I draft the present post I see that Jai has returned in the meantime, had a quick strop, and closed comments. Poor little flower! Really, Jai, if you want to blog but can't brook reasonable argument without having a conniption fit and taking your ball home, stay away from the controversial stuff. Seriously, mate, stick to the long-winded essays on Indian history that us White racist scum can't really be arsed reading.)
Obviously there are going to be times when any blogger or other "web publisher" who allows readers' comments is going to have to take action. Stuff which is actually illegal or is in breach of the host's terms and conditions, for example. Grossly offensive material, irrelevance, spam and so on. I'm sure we all know it when we see it, though of course we have different thresholds according to our own tastes and our consideration of our target audiences.
But to delete comments merely because they disagree with the blogger is childish. The deleted comment screen-capped above is a prime example. J to the T's few posts at PP have been fairly aggressive in tone, but offer reasoned argument. There is no justification for deleting them out of hand.
This sort of nonsense is of course regrettably common. At PP, LibCon and Socialist Unity, silent deletion has an added entertainment feature, of course. The comment software at these sites dynamically numbers the comments, and commenters get into the habit of referring to earlier posts by number. When the admin comes along and silently deletes some crimethink from the middle of the comment thread the numbering goes all to cock making a nonsense of reader's local links. I recall Sunny-ji being taken to task over this at PP. It was suggested that he should instead edit offending comments, replacing the text with "[deleted]" or some such. His response was classic Sunny. He didn't have the time or patience to devote so much effort and attention to racists and scumbags; pressing the delete button would have to do. (I paraphrase from memory, but that was the sense.) Pompous little fuck.
So chaps, if you want a cozy little pow-wow with your bosom buddies, all sitting round admiring each other's turbans, set up a closed user group and authorize new commenting members individually. Otherwise, be prepared to take the rough with the smooth. You never know, you might learn something.
12 November, 2011
The fine example of Miesian tedium pictured below looks like a typical London office block.
Which is fair enough because that is exactly what it used to be. Then it was gutted and made over and became
But enough of my plebeian prejudices. The striking design extends to the admittedly unpromising exterior,
where there is absolutely no signage to identify the building. If you go round the back to the tradesmen's entrance you might find some or other tiny statutory notice which gives a clue to the building's purpose, but its public face is totally blank.
Obviously the management is making a statement. This place is exclusive. The expected and regular clientele will of course know it and will in any case arrive by chauffeured car or, at a pinch, black cab. The servant classes will of course know where it is through their own mysterious networks. Just as the UK has, quite naturally, the privilege of being the only member of the UPU which is not required to put its country name on its postage stamps, so the St Martin's is the kind of establishment which does not demean itself with vulgar public signage like some backstreet kebab house or workmen's canteen.
And so it was that I resolved not to co-operate with this arrogant nonsense. If they weren't prepared to advertise their presence in the conventional manner then I, despite my familiarity with the area, would affect not to know of it.
And then yesterday I was put to the test. An agitated middle-aged gentleman, displaying the beginnings of distress, asked me for directions. Upper middle class in accent and manner and exuding a relaxed patrician confidence that shone through his slightly dowdy dress, he was clearly a natural St Martin's Lane customer.
I have to admit that I laughed sardonically, almost evilly, at his predicament. Which did indeed disconcert him somewhat. But then my underlying all-round decency got the better of me and I pointed out to him the anonymous structure he sought.
As the great philosopher Snoopy once put it, "Yesterday I was a dog. Today I'm a dog. Tomorrow I'll still be a dog. There's so little hope for advancement".
170 EDL arrests to "prevent a breach of the peace"
This sparse statement, given its context, makes it sound as if the EDLers were planning to violently disrupt the commemoration itself; a disgraceful slur. Various other reports point to a supposed Facebook threat or even simply a suggestion that, since the MAC "Hell for Heroes" stunt was no longer in play, EDLers visiting London to oppose MAC should turn their attention onto the OccupyLSX mob instead.
Whatever. Doubtless more will emerge. In the meantime, the interested reader might find this report from Esmerelda, who was there, illuminating if not indeed frightening.
Things are getting nasty.
11 November, 2011
What the papers say
- Are we remotely surprised?
- Do we care?
- I'd be more interested to know why anybody would bother conducting this "study".
- And why a "newspaper, not a snoozepaper" (remember that?) would bother to report it.
The article is helpfully illustrated. Here is a picture of a mobile phone and of some water. Or possibly some other "fluid".
Oh and just in case you are still confused, a pair of photographs comparing a mobile telephone with a water closet is provided. Regrettably, however, it is not made unambiguously clear which is which. This may cause readers unnecessary embarrassment and, er, inconvenience.
But it's that casual and unspecific "... or fluid" which is the most worrying part of the whole piece. I shall be fretting about that all night. My mind will be boggling gently.
Picture editing at its best. It certainly flushes away the News Shopper's feeble efforts with random images of parts of fire engines.
09 November, 2011
If you can't stand the heat...
I say "irrelevant" because Jai approaches his subject in the manner of a lawyer minutely examining a commercial contract, looking for exploitable ambiguities and inexactitudes, whereas what he is actually dealing with is ordinary loose linguistic usage and, in the case of Tommy's speech at Tower Hamlets, angry rhetoric. The post is in the great tradition of the likes of Lancaster Unity, Everything EDL and Nothing British, which devote huge amounts of time and effort into searching the web for injudiciously expressed views from people who might or might not be BNP or EDL or whatever supporters and hyping these up into security threats. The modus operandi amounts to finding some loudmouthed BNP official or EDL notable on Faceache or Twatter saying something along the lines of "When the revolution comes, Weyman Bennett and Martin Smith will be the first ones up against the wall" and then pretending that this statement represents a realistically intended death threat that the police should prosecute.
I won't bother trying to interpret and fisk Jai's tortuous prose here; life's too short thanks all the same. But what fascinates me about this particular piece is that reader comments have been blocked from the outset. In Jai's two previous diatribes on the EDL (here and here) he took exception to comments below the line, deleting some of them and eventually closing the thread prematurely. This time he has pre-empted the situation.
Look, Jai me old china — am I allowed to say that to a Punjabi? — I don't want to get all ad hominem or anything, but if you expect your pronouncements to be treated as ex cathedra and can't take intelligent criticism, then can I suggest that you go back to penning your usual fare of rambling Indian-supremacist historical pieces. Your Desi posse audience will probably like them while stroppy gora scum like me won't bother reading them and taking the piss "below the line".
Journalistic units of measurement
The next encounter with a comparably dangerous planetesimal is not expected for another 420 fortnights.
That is all.
03 November, 2011
Droit de l'Assange
As an amateur historian of language, I was struck by the unusual surname Assange and have been doing a little bit of research in ancient castles and dusty archives on your behalf. And believe me I've got the bruises and the spider bites to prove it. It turns out that Assange is an Anglo-Norman word. You will have heard of the ancient feudal rights of Socage (screwing the tenants), Pillage (nicking stuff you fancy) and of course Droit du Seigneur (screwing the tenants' daughters). To this must be added the right of Droit de l'Assange (fitting up tenants who say inconvenient things).
Ah, the great British traditions.
02 November, 2011
Just eat the banana and get on with the game
The Terry-Ferdinand nonsense, as helpfully laid out in this Telegraph piece, becomes less creditable the more you examine it. Apparently Mr Terry mouthed the remark, which the Telegraph daintily and pointlessly transcribes as "... you —— black —— ...", actually "... you fucking black cunt ...". Mr Ferdinand was, it would seem, unaware of this cordial remark until an unidentifed member of the public, or self-righteous fucking lip-reading cunting busybody, to use the correct legal expression, painstakingly reviewed the match video and made a formal complaint.
And then the process had no option but to swing into action. Although Anton seems to be dong his best to be suitably enraged, it is essentially out of his hands.
I have long thought that the elite preoccupation with "racism" and "racist language" is a major barrier to good relations between ethnic groups in this country. (I originally wrote "the single biggest barrier" in the last sentence, but on reflection that's nonsense. It pales into the proverbial insignificance compared with the perpetual year-zero mythologizing about the nation of immigrants and how our verdant terra nullius is equally open to all comers, but hey that's a rant for another time.)
Anyway, it encourages and constantly reinforces a sense of victimhood, if not indeed victimism, among "people of colour". And instead of inculcating, or perhaps more accurately beating, a warm and dare I say vibrant joy of diversity into us pallid types, each such incident merely stokes our sullen resentment and our nervousness, nay actual fear, of the consequences of attempting to interact with yer Darkie folk in anything approaching a normal, relaxed and equal manner.
The correct response from John Terry should be as follows:
— Kay Burley (
— Jon Desborough (ever cheerful voice of sport): So then, John Terry, did you in fact refer to Anton as "you fucking black cunt"?
— John Terry (for it is he, innit?): Yes, I did, cock, guvnor me ol' mucker, gorblimey, awright.
— JD: And how do you claim to justify that disgraceful racist language?
— JT: 'Cos he is a fucking black cunt, in't he? (Exits stage left, whistling nonchalantly.)
(Fade to advertisement showing happy young Black couple bouncing up and down on hideous sofa available on special buy now, regret later terms.)
I bother to revisit this because some chappie called Sam the Amoeba, a young player with Sponge Bob United, has had a racist tweet from an unsupporter. Say what you like about the Guardian (and I'm sure you will), at least it doesn't bowdlerize:
Police are making inquiries into racist abuse directed at the Newcastle United striker Sammy Ameobi on Twitter. A tweet posted by a user called @JonnnnyPhipps on Sunday said: "@Sammy_Ameobi your hand is nearly the same colour. #nigger".
As St Bob of the Ethiopes said in quite another context, ""Was that it?"
It has to be said that this remark is a trifle opaque. Perhaps this provides some context.
Dunno, you tell me. I don't really understand Twitter and don't especially want to.
But Ameobi's rather mild response seems to be all that's needed to counter this rather rude remark. Instead it's been elevated into yet another racism "crisis", wasting police time and titillating the tabloids.
01 November, 2011
Bringt mir meine Judenschere!
So what? Or, if you prefer, so fucking what? If Terry had lost his rag with Wayne Rooney and called him a "stupid short-arsed granny-fucker", would we all be wringing our hands over it?
Now the regrettably deteriorating Harry's Place is getting in on the act, cross-posting a piece on the phrase "Jew goal" from the po-faced indignation-mongers of the CST. New one on me, but then I no spikka da futebol. Apparently it's a particular kind of manœuvre designed to deceive the goalkeeper.
Gordon Ben Et, the Israeli Minister for Offence-taking, should be alerted at once, so that Mossad agents can be despatched to kidnap Arsène Wenger and bring him to trial for permitting anti-Semitic playing tactics.
Back in the days before the computer was king, us office wallahs used to keep groups of related paper documents together using treasury tags. (I'd better not call them India tags or I'll get into even more trouble.)
One of these little beasties was threaded through a hole in the top left-hand corner of each document, binding the group together. They were more effective than paper clips, which could only group together a handful of thin documents and which slid off too easily: not what you want when you have a two-inch thick pile of papers carefully sorted into order.
When the document lacked a suitable hole, you used one of these
to create one. It is known officially as a one-hole punch or single-hole punch. But to me, for reasons I have never quite fathomed, it was always a "pair of Jewish scissors". And people understood what I meant when I used the phrase. It was a mildly jokey ethnic stereotype turned into an everyday term, like French letter or Spanish custom. It didn't mean that I was planning to set up a gas-chamber on Hampstead Heath.
In any case, I'm reliably informed that the French horn responds well to antibiotics.