31 October, 2012


Tales from the Multiculture: exceptional interpretation duties

As regular readers will be aware, as part of my contribution to the Big Society I conduct regular unpaid quality control research in the metropolitan social refreshment sector, and am pleased to be able to confirm once again that the quality of the Polish and Russian bottled lagers supplied by Messrs Wetherspoon remains consistently high.  Research into Messrs Shepherd Neame's "ales" has proved consistently less satisfactory, however, the bottle of Nun's Delight I sampled last week in Dartford being unfinishable.

During the course of my duties I am sometimes called upon to provide ad hoc translation services.  The English-language skills of the East Europeans who now form the backbone of the capital's bar staff, particularly in the centre, are often excellent.  If deceptively so. In my experience, their professional repertoire, ie the language they need to do their job, is well-honed.  Outside that immediate professional vocabulary they frequently struggle.  As they do when faced with unfamiliar dialects of English.

But it was the particular permutation of participants that made yesterday's experience so surreal.  The person behind the bar was not, for once, a Pole, but an Albanian.  She copes well with the Gorblimey Lord Lovaduck Sarf London accent and the more recently imported Nigerian English accent.  But her customer defeated her comprehension skills.  A Black lady with a broad Yorkshire accent. 

Older readers may remember the comic Charlie Williams.  Charlie's shtick was gently mocking observational comedy, often about race relations, delivered in the Eebahgum Bugger Me 'Ell As Like Tha Knaws accent he grew up with in South Yorkshire.  The comedy lay in the incongruity of a Black man in the 1970s speaking in an accent like that and about homely and familiar subjects —  being so jarringly on both sides of that particular fence at once.

This customer had an accent very much like Charlie's and was probably of a similar West Indian or mixed-race heritage.  And yet, even 40 years after Charlie's comedy heyday, even in the depths of multiracial London, the incongruity still stood out and it was difficult to suppress an impolite chuckle.

It certainly flummoxed the Albanian manageress, I tell thee.

25 October, 2012


People who live in grass houses...

...shouldn't stow thrones.

One of the less endearing characteristics of the Righteous Left is their unshakable belief that not only is their view of the world the correct one but that it is the only possible view that a sane and decent person could conceivably ever take.  All other views are therefore not rationally-reached positions that the Righteous happen to disagree with but are actively perverse, either wilfully evil or alternatively born of ignorance and stupidity.  Being decent folk who want to think the best of people, they lean rather kindly towards the latter interpretation.  The Unrighteous are thus generally thought of as being largely uneducated and/or thick and the Righteous take great delight in finding confirmation of this in any poor spelling, bad punctuation and outright misuse of words in comments and posts by "far-right knuckledraggers", which is pounced upon and held up for knowing ridicule.

It's a dangerous game to play, though, because the apostrophe nazi has to meet his own scrupulously high standards or else, to put it in the vernacular, he's going to end up looking a right bleedin' nana, inn'ee? 

EDL News, despite its misleading name, is an anti-EDL website.  It's partly a twitterscraping site whose authors spend their time prowling the social networks looking for tweets and Faceache posts that can be exaggerated or wilfully misinterpreted into some damning revelation about the EDL and its supporters.  This is a widespread technique also favoured by Little Nicky Lowles' in-house thugs Cressy and Collins at Hate not Hope.

One of EDL News'  recent efforts concerns some EDL tart called Trudie Toker.  Now I have no comment to make about Ms Toker.  I know nothing about her.  To be honest, if there's any truth in the article, she doesn't look like a particularly appealing sort to have as a neighbour.  Let's leave it at that.  But I can't resist screenshotting the following below the line comment in which two of the Righteous gloat self-satisfiedly over Ms Toker's angry, inarticulate and ill-spelt Faceache posts.

A basic tenant of patriotism, eh, AFS?

Pompous illiterate little fuck.  Beware of unexpectedly exploding petards is my advice, dear fellow.

20 October, 2012


My apologies

I've just managed to carelessly delete the most recent 50 comments left on this blog. And there doesn't appear to be a way to recover them.

Thar'll learn me not to attempt to clear out the spam folder while my attention is distracted by one of Mr Kipling's exceedingly good apple and blackcurrant pies.

As we old Unix hackers say, only a fool ponders the implications of
rm -rf /*
however theoretically, while under the influence of pies.

It's been one of those weeks. Yesterday I confused platforms 3 and 4 at Charing Cross. Fortunately the train I actually boarded was going in the right general direction, and having recognized my error as the train arrived at Blackheath, getting back onto the Greenwich and Woolwich line was relatively painless.

Ho hum. Sorry about that.

Update (2012-10-21 08:40)

Deleted comments (more or less) restored from mail archive.  All very embarrassing.

19 October, 2012


Ye shall not pass, ye racist perverts

It was last December when JuliaM left a comment here alerting me to the fact that this blog had been classified as "adult content" by O2 and was no longer accessible from her iPhone without registering proof of age. At the time I didn't give it much thought, instead rather enjoying the implied notoriety. I'm used to the adult content shtick on mobiles. Since retiring at the end of 2007 I've got my personal Internet access through my mobile phone and my mobile broadband dongle. Both devices were PAYG and, given that PAYG phones seem to be handed out to sprogs as soon as they can walk these days, it seemed reasonable that the default setting should be to protect the kiddiewinkies from traumatic exposure to Internet nasties — providing always that a fully paid-up adult like moi could get this filter removed without a fuss.

Actually I'm not entirely convinced even by that argument any more. Thinking back to the Middle Ages, when I was a thirteen-year-old schoolboy, when phone calls to more than 15 miles away generally had to be connected by an operator, when computers lived in large air-conditioned rooms with strengthened flooring, when I was toying with experimental improper thoughts* about the girls at the Catholic school down the road, and when, finally getting to the point, access to pornography was in theory tightly controlled, this was a time when rather naff wank mags circulated freely "under the desk" in the classroom and, you know, 50 years later, I still haven't been traumatized into a rapist monster by that, er, exposure. Perhaps we worry too much. Most kids, presented with pixelly FuckTube footage showing some overendowed naked man having his evil way with a bemused lady goat, would most likely dismiss it as "ugh! gross!" and turn to something else.

A recent experience brings the subject back to my attention. I have recently upgraded my mobile phone. The new gubbins is on contract. I was somewhat miffed to find that it still came with adult content filtering on by default — surely this could have been sorted out as an option at sale time — but I persevered with the required dummy credit card shuffle and now, over T-Mobile's 3G network at least, my Internet access is as open as it gets.

Now the Galaxy S3 is the colei canis absoluti of a phone — sort of Star Trek with a 19th century battery — and I am still a bit nervous of it, wary of accidentally making that particular combination of swipes, pinches and taps that will suddenly teleport me, quite unprepared, to Alpha Centauri. But one feature I do understand is wi-fi. And very handy it is. I have been making extensive use of the numerous free hotspots available in places of public refreshment.

My first brush with an O2 Free Wifi hotspot (in a Nicholson's pub) involved a fairly intrusive registration sequence. I rapidly confirmed Julia's experience, finding that Dogwash is on the naughty list on their wi-fi hotspot network as well as over the air. What is worrying is there is no option to override this block. It is not presented as a matter of "prove that you are old enough to deal with this stuff", but rather as "we don't think anyone ought to be looking at this and if you want to you're a scumbag".

The Cloud is a more widespread hotspot service. I have used it on occasion over the last few years, mostly at Messrs Wetherspoons' gaffs. In the past the length of time needed to boot a Windows laptop to usability (about one and half pints on a bad day) has been a bit of a disincentive. The instantly available wi-fi-enabled mobile has removed that hurdle and I fear I have rather pigged out over the past couple of months.

The Cloud's free service has a non-intrusive registration process involving no more than a valid email address, of which I have several available, and, as far as I can tell, it has so far been pretty well unfiltered. I can't claim to have sampled every naughty or, more to the point, Unrighteous site in the world, but it came as a shock yesterday to encounter this for the first time:

Accessing Stormfront and similar sites has not been an issue before.  The reconfiguration seems to have taken place yesterday, at least in SE London.

Now, why would a fine upstanding chap like Edwin want to visit a vile site like Stormfront?  Heavens to betsy!  Let's get that out of the way before we proceed, shall we?

Firstly, because it's there. I look at political websites, and I want to be able to look at any and all of them as I choose. I'm perfectly capable of laughing at the delightful tractor-stats desperation of Andy Newman, seeing through the patronizing self-referential sesquipedalianism of Richard Seymour, or rolling my eyes at the bullying fuckwittery of Sunny Hundal, ta very much. I am really not going to be perverted by the — surprisingly articulate — bollocks purveyed on Stormfront, where you can barely go more than two or three posts without somebody mentioning the baleful influence of ZOG. A sort of inverse Harry's Place: the Stormfronters blame plotting by the devious Jews for all our ills, the Harryites blame antisemitism for them.

Secondly, it's actually the Stormfront UK Newslinks forum that I visit. When the UAF site Lancaster Unity was still active, it was my daily habit to check out both sites, because, however little I agreed with their respective lines, they were both damned good news aggregators for topics that interested me in connection with the particular focus of this blog.  LU has gone, but Stormfront remains a useful source.

Am I forgiven?

Let's assume so and move on. So what's the beef?

Firstly, there does not appear to be any realistic way of either officially bypassing these filters or, as this report from the Open Rights Group suggests, of realistically challenging them.

Secondly, who is making the decisions? The Cloud's supplier is Sonic Wall, a Dell subsidiary which, if it's anything like the other netnanny suppliers, is a couple of blokes keying in URLs suggested predominantly by the Peoria chapter of the Mrs Grundy Society and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Thirdly, where is the oversight? The standard response is that the internet service providers are private companies in free competition for your custom. If you don't like what one offers, you can go somewhere else. Nice if it were true, but it's not. In practice the ISPs are an oligopoly. Oligopolies operate like herds and tend to follow each other's lead. The ISPs provide what is in practice an essential service in an organizational structure that might be better described as a "cordial loose monopoly" with little more mutual independence than the two components of Everything Everywhere Ltd: Orange and T-Mobile.

They should be subject to common carrier rules, with a preferably accountable government laying down both what conditions of service they apply and under what conditions they can refuse or degrade service.

Take another example. Remember the BNP? I write about them from time to time. Some of the more excitable commentators assume from my failure to cover the screen with virtual sputum every time I mention them that I actually support the BNP. In fact my attitude to them is pretty neutral. They are a rather inept ethno-nationalist party claiming to represent the interests of the established White North European population of the UK. Rather like the RESPECT party in fact which, pace Andy Newman and like useful idiots, is actually an ethno-religious party claiming to represent the interests of Muslims primarily of Pakistani and Bangladeshi heritage. Good (or ill) luck to both of them. What I am concerned about in respect of groups like the BNP is that they should be fairly treated. And yet in 2004 Barclays Bank were panicked by "anti-racist" pressure into closing the BNP's accounts. The rest of the herd followed suit and the BNP eventually had to seek banking services abroad. In my view transactional banking is a common carrier service and this should not have been allowed to happen.

For the time being, to my relief, Dogwash continues to be available via The Cloud's wi-fi hotspots. For how long remains to be seen. And if you don't toe the approved political line, as interpreted by unaccountable commercial enterprises anxious for their reputation, you will be next.

Then again you could just take up blogging about kittens.

* Embarrassed tutor: Er, my boy, I have to ask this, d'you understand, but are you troubled by improper thoughts?
Gormless student: No sir. Actually I quite enjoy them.

07 October, 2012


Deine Papiere, bitte!

The last Government's national identity card scheme fell apart in the face of public opposition, spiralling costs and incompetence in implemenation.  It was killed off by the incoming Tory administration, probably more as a populist gesture than out of principled opposition.

So everything's hunky dory then.  The database state is dead.

Well, up to a point, Lord Copper, up to a point.  Certainly the prospect of being stopped and asked for "papers", at first by the police and then in short order by pretty well any petty official of the state, has for the time being at least receded.  We are for now spared the delicious irony of being apprehended for failure to show ID to a Nigerian traffic warden who is himself probably in the country on a long-expired tourist visa and working under a made-up NI number.

You can walk the streets unidentified and unlicensed alright, but it's an empty privilege as it's increasingly difficult to take part in the organized economy without some kind of approved ID.  I have no problem with the fact the some transactions require proof of identity, certainly those involving claiming benefits and services from the state or where proof of good faith and non-criminality is a sensible requirement.  Whatever, those can be argued case by case.

What does concern me is the narrowing of what counts as acceptable identification and the emergence of a system of de facto ID cards.  We are increasingly settling on two acceptable forms of identification to the exclusion of all alternatives: these are the driving licence and the passport.  These documents have two clear advantages for "suppliers".  Firstly, they are widespread.  Secondly, their serial numbers can easily be checked online.

So what's to worry about?  Well, not everybody has them.  Me, for instance.  And the tendency, in our increasingly systems- and procedure-driven world, is for there to be no flexibility to go outside the prescribed system.  If you don't have the de facto documentation, then you are a non-person and cannot receive services.

Let me give you a couple of anecdotes.

When I left my last employment, with the company I usually refer to as MegaCorp Inc, I found myself needing to provide and pay for my own mobile phone service.  Shocking!  So I toddled along to a well-known operator and eventually settled on a SIM-only monthly contract.  Credit card checks went through without problem.  And then I was asked for personal identification.  Passport or driving licence.  No alternatives accepted.  End of transaction.  I toddled a little further down the high street and bought myself a PAYG SIM in another (mainstream) phone shop.  No names, no pack drill.  At least in 2008 anyway.

In the event, PAYG served my needs well for the next four years.  I have recently moved to a contract with the second operator, and without all this ID bollocks.  So it was the operational whim of one company, but you can see the way things are going.

Another anecdote on a more trivial level.  As an old fogy in training, I am entitled to stuff like discount cards for national rail travel.  You pay something like £25 for the card and you get 33% off most national rail tickets.  I bought one of these in 2008 and as I did a fair amount of rail travel that year it costed in nicely.  On that occasion I filled in the form and turned up at a booking office and showed the clerk my birth certificate, a tatty paper document hand-written in 1948 in best copybook cursive.  No problem.  When the card expired National Rail emailed me to say I could now renew online and even get a three-year card at a significantly reduced price.  Great stuff.  But the three-year card was only available on-line and proof of age was only by entering a passport or driving licence number.

Fair enough.  I can still trot along to the station clutching my birth certificate to get a one-year card.  For now, anyway.  This exclusion hardly puts me in the position of a stateless refugee, does it?  But you can the way things are going.  For the operational and technological convenience of states and corporations, "rationalizations" are being made which drive customers in a particular direction.

There is no actual compulsion, but in reality it becomes progressively harder for the individual to function as a full citizen without acceding to the "rationalized" systems.  Consider an example.  Suppose, in 2008, government concerns about criminal use of mobile phones had led to a requirement to identify the purchasers of PAYG SIMs and that more-or-less all operators had chosen to implement identification through on-line checking of passport or driving licence numbers.  No mobile for me, then.  Is that a problem?  You don't have to have a phone.  Well, apart from the considerable personal inconvenience, yes it is.  I think you will find that many services these days require a personal telephone contact number as part of the sign-up process.  Bit tricky if you can't get a phone because you don't have a driving licence or passport.  Well, use your home landline.  Maybe, but before domestic internet access became a factor, I decided to relinquish my home landline and convert completely to mobile.  I don't think I'm alone in this trend.  Being uncontactable by phone may seem like a blessing.  In practice it's a crippling limitation for those outside the cash-in-hand economy.

All of this stuff can, for the time being, be worked round, at some personal inconvenience and restriction.  But the trend is clear, and the options are being squeezed out.

You may be wondering why a perfectly normal chap like me doesn't have these documents.  After all, doesn't everyone?

The driving licence is easy.  I don't have a driving licence because I don't drive.  There are a number of reasons why I don't drive, but the clincher is that my eyesight is at best marginal for the purpose.  Even with the prosthetic palliation of a pair of specs, my focus at middle and long distances is poor.  I don't know if they still do the reading a number plate at 25 yards thing: I might pass it by squinting and lucky guesswork.  So no driving for me.

As to passports, well I've had UK passports in the past and have travelled to foreign climes in the days of yore, but these days I have no business reasons to travel abroad and no strong inclination to enjoy put up with the glamourous experience of airports and aeroplanes — Greyhound buses of the air but with slightly less smelly and slightly less nutty fellow passengers — for elective personal travel, ta very much.  My last long-expired passport is in the drawer somewhere.  It predates machine-readables.

What prompts me to rant about this just now is that I'm currently negotiating with a respectable financial services company who want to sell me an investment package to apply my idle lucre.  All went well until the not entirely unreasonable question of identification arose.  Can you bring your passport or driving licence to our next meeting, please?  Don't have either, Cock, sorry.  Ah!  Stunned silence.  In the event, since they're after my money, I expect a perfectly sensible way round will be found.  That remains to be seen.  But you can see the way it's going, innit.

I am actively considering going through the expense and bother of renewing my passport.  Not because I have the remotest interest in calling upon foreign chappies to allow me to pass their borders without let or hindrance at her Britannic Majesty's Request and Requirement, but simply in order to function normally in British society.

NO2ID won, did they?  Hmm.

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