Monday, 31 December 2007

Privacy and where not to find it

Now this is depressing: the 2007 Privacy International survey on Leading surveillance societies in the EU and the World 2007

Okay, so the usual qualifiers have to be noted - who is undertaking the survey chief amongst them - and yes, there are worse human rights abuses than an invasion of citizen's privacy. But all the same, when much of the world is classed as being 'Endemic surveillance societies', it's not good.

Here's what it says about the UK
  • World leading surveillance schemes
  • Lack of accountability and data breach disclosure law
  • Commissioner has few powers
  • Interception of communications is authorised by politician, evidence not used in court, and oversight is by commissioner who reports only once a year upon reviewing a subset of applications
  • Hundreds of thousands of requests from government agencies to telecommunications providers for traffic data
  • Data retention scheme took a significant step forward with the quiet changes based on EU law
  • Plans are emerging regarding surveillance of communications networks for the protection of copyrighted content
  • Despite data breaches, 'joined-up government' initiatives continue
  • Identity scheme still planned to be the most invasive in the world, highly centralised and biometrics-driven; plan to issue all foreigners with cards in 2008 are continuing
  • E-borders plans include increased data collection on travellers

Friday, 28 December 2007

Heinlein: The Descent of a Sci-Fi Guru

Interesting little piece that reflects political currents in post-war SF. Oddly enough, it seems that Heinlein's mainstream, adult SF is considered largely discredited, while his juvenile books are standing the test of time a lot more successfully.

Heinlein: The Descent of a Sci-Fi Guru : Top Stories : Kitsap Sun

Thursday, 20 December 2007

It seems I have a price

Not a price for being bribed by PR companies to feature their guff in features and articles or anything like that (that's always been fixed at a good lunch and is a standard rate throughout the industry), but a price I'm not prepared to pay for going to a gig. And that price is:

Neil Young - Hammersmith Apollo - £75

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Move over Xmas - it's Festivus time

Enough of all this Christian-derived, pagan-subverted consumer armageddon. Let's have a winter festival introduced by a proper route to civilisation: ie via an American sitcom. Yes, it can only be the Seinfeld-inspired Festivus.

The holiday is celebrated each year on, but many people celebrate it at other times, often to avoid the Christmas rush. The holiday includes novel practices such as the "Airing of Grievances", in which each person tells everyone else all the ways they have disappointed him/her over the past year. Also, after the Festivus meal, the "Feats of Strength" are performed, involving wrestling the head of the household to the floor, the holiday only ending if the head of the household is actually pinned.

More here. It just makes so much sense...

Festivus - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Man caught anthrax from drum kit

A most unwelcome development. Not only does drumming harm your mental development (and I should know), but it can positively kill you too.

BBC NEWS | Scotland | South of Scotland | Man caught anthrax from drum kit

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Damn, and indeed, blast


Writes Terry Pratchett:



I would have liked to keep this one quiet for a little while, but because of upcoming conventions and of course the need to keep my publishers informed, it seems to me unfair to withhold the news. I have been diagnosed with a very rare form of early
onset Alzheimer's, which lay behind this year's phantom "stroke".

We are taking it fairly philosophically down here and possibly with a mild optimism. For now work is continuing on the completion of Nation and the basic notes are already being laid down for Unseen Academicals. All other things being equal, I
expect to meet most current and, as far as possible, future commitments but will discuss things with the various organisers. Frankly, I would prefer it if people kept things cheerful, because I think there's time for at least a few more books yet :o)

PS I would just like to draw attention to everyone reading the above that this should be interpreted as 'I am not dead'. I will, of course, be dead at some future point, as will everybody else. For me, this maybe further off than you think - it's too soon to tell.
I know it's a very human thing to say "Is there anything I can do", but in this case I would only entertain offers from very high-end experts in brain chemistry.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

Is that all there is? | Review | Guardian Unlimited Books

Is that all there is? | Review | Guardian Unlimited Books

Last year, Dawkins and The God Delusion. This year God gets to fight back, albeit in a half-hearted way that suggests there is a God-shaped hole gaping in the breast of every atheist. Looks like it could be annoyingly parochial in that it sticks to Western society and equates religious belief solely with Christianity, but an interesting thesis nevertheless. Here's a snippet from the review:

Let's stay with the thinkable. What's especially compelling about Taylor's, admittedly sometimes long-winded, book is his charge that cracks in Christianity provided places where secularism's weeds flourished. In this he's not just talking about the reformation, but, for example, the movement called deism, prominent in 17th- and 18th-century Britain, France and America, which rejected the theistic position (common in Judaism, Islam and much Christianity) that relied on revelation in sacred scriptures or the testimony of others. Instead, deism drew the existence and nature of God from reason and personal experience. Deism, of course, for some became a way-station from theism to atheism, but not for all.

From deism, Taylor shifts focus to what he calls the west's current age of authenticity. By this he means an individualistic era in which people are encouraged to find their own way or do their own thing. The idea that one had to use one's own reason and experience to find God instilled a sense of intellectual autonomy that led some to abandon God altogether. "As a result," writes Taylor, "the nova effect has been intensified. We are now living in a spiritual super-nova, a kind of galloping pluralism on the spiritual plane."

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

QotSA - Reading Rivermead

Bit of a damp squib of a gig to be honest, mostly enlivened by running into my (eventually to be ex) brother-in-law and having a good catch up after far too long. Having wanted to see Eighties Matchbox B-line Disaster for a couple of years now, they somehow contrived to be less than the sum of their parts. Their sound needs the space studio production gives them, otherwise it’s just stirring noise soup. Entertaining sepulchral howls notwithstanding, live it’s a bit all over the place.

Two tracks into the QotSA set and when Josh Homme starts climbing the rig and rubbing his guitar against the scaffold on Feel Good Hit of the Summer, you suspect it’s going to be mighty. Then they start playing lots of stuff from the last release, Era Vulgaris, which is a disappointingly weak album in the same way that England’s Euro 2008 qualification run was a tad mistimed, and all the momentum goes. Undeniably slick, it’s QotSA by numbers and almost – heresy! - verging on the bland till the end and some classic stoner rock wig-outs and incendiary encores.

Nowhere near as good as the last time (Laura's birthday, Brixton 2005). Still, reports from the CSS tour are good so far, so high hopes for that gig this time next week.