Category Archives: uk

Lies, damn lies, and misinformation

What do you do if you’re the powers-that-be, you’ve bungled something badly, and you judge that trying to lie your way out of it will only make things worse?

Why of course, you muddy the waters: cast doubt on everything the public know about it.  That way you don’t have to tell any porkies, you just let your natural supporters infer it for themselves and argue the case for you.  Turn the whole subject into an argument noone can win in the court of public opinion – at least, not until you (or your successor) can say that things are different now.

Hence the abrupt change in England’s covid death count.  It serves to highlight the (true) fact that all statistical measures of that have problems – there are obvious issues with both the old and the new measures – and hence cast doubt on covid statistics in general.  Including the (also true) fact that the UK in general, and England in particular, has an exceptionally poor track record compared to our peers.  The most reliable measure – overall deaths in excess of average, encompassing both the disease itself and ill-considered responses to it – shows our track record as (to date) the worst of anywhere.  Turns out even Belgium’s higher headline count was no more than an artifact of different counting methodology.

But now we have doubt, and scope for argument, not just over the genuine shortcomings of our data, but equally over clear and stark facts.  And of course, people have a natural suspicion of statistics to reinforce the doubt.

Talking of which, I should clarify my prediction.  My end-of-August timescale was for death count, being much more reliable than case count, but which is of course a trailing statistic and subject to the artifacts we’ve seen highlighted by the change in methodology.

And on another troubling story in the news ….

The bizarre (and rather tragic) story of how our powers-that-be have awarded results to young people in A-level and other exams is surely a travesty on every level.   The statistical exercise used went to elaborate lengths to be more-or-less fair to schools (though even that is in some doubt), but is unquestionably monstrously unfair to individual students!  Those responsible – everywhere that’s done this – should be unceremoniously fired.

It’s been many years since I sat any such exams (and I expect I’d have got the same results either way) but I’d still have been mightily p***ed off to be lumped with such meaningless results[1]!  For those who have lost a university (or other) place they believe (rightly or wrongly) they deserve, and will now either lose a year of their young lives or go through life labelled as mediocre, it seems to me about as devastating as a wrongful criminal conviction!  My suggested solution: give every candidate an A-level, but ungraded.  All the legitimate inputs to an assessed grade – such as GCSE and mock exam results – are there to be assessed by whomsoever it may concern.

[1] To be honest, I was mightily p***ed off when I learned that top grades were devalued by being awarded for marks so low as to be utterly unthinkable!  Then as now, A-levels were hopelessly inadequate to distinguish the sheep from the goats.

Badge of the Leper

Shortly before government lockdown, I wrote a post here titled “unclean“, after the social exclusion of lepers in the distant past.  Now that covering our faces has become the headline law, perhaps it’s time to revisit that subject.

I can’t comment on treatment of people with a regular cough or sniffles, because I haven’t seen any.  Either we’ve rid ourselves of the common cold and had a particularly mild hay fever season, or sufferers have avoided going out.  Though it could also be down to my own loss of social life and narrowed horizons (my life feels like something from Iain Banks).  Only data point I have was when I myself went down with a mild lurgy just after that blog piece, and removed myself voluntarily from social life for … well, until government lockdown.

But we have come closer to a literal leper’s badge than even that post envisaged.  Badges for people with medical exemptions (whose definition seems unclear) from hiding their faces.  Seems my use of the analogy was indeed prophetic!

In that post, I wrote:

Latest advice is to self-isolate if you show even mild symptoms of a lurgy, and government moves to help avoid penalising people for doing the right thing.  Splendid: it seems they can at least do something right!

Seems I jumped the gun re: government help, and the Right Thing is more-or-less exactly what they didn’t do.  Specifically that was about sick pay for workers in the gig economy taking time to self-isolate when possibly unwell.  Yet despite the staggering levels of handouts to some in a cruel lottery, that hasn’t happened, and people of very limited means – some of them in the care sector – still can’t afford to take time off work for possible covid.

Regarding facemasks, I’m going to stick my neck out with another contrarian prediction.  As from late July they’re the law in shops.  By the end of August, this will have lead to a rise in the coronavirus spread rate.  The overall numbers may (or may not) still be declining, but the rate of decline will at least be reduced.

Why?  Well, here are a few reasons:

  • Make it harder to breathe, and people will breathe harder.  Including those with germs.  Not to mention breathing hard is the last thing I want to do if someone in the seat behind me has a lurgy and I can’t move!
  • The school tie problem.  As you reach your teens and rebel against some of the sillier rules imposed on you – like school uniforms – you also realise that a tie worn sufficiently badly is worse than no tie at all.  It becomes a protest!
  • I’ve already seen face masks discarded to ensure maximum spread of infection, like in a supermarket trolley in the row outside the shop.

UK Government: America First

Trump is explicit: America First.  His country has form, though rarely quite so explicitly.

Now it appears more pervasive than we (or at least I) ever realised in the UK parliament.  It’s being trailed that our own industry will be held back (indeed, has already lost over a year in uncertainty), to give American companies the best-possible start in the Intellectual Property land-grab arising from 5G.   For we can be sure that 5G will give rise to an explosion of new technology and applications.  An explosion accompanied by patents which will give their owners licence to nobble the competition for a generation.

As with the Web in the late 1990s, most of it will be pure dross, but there will be nuggets of gold among it.  The US had widely-available decent-quality internet[1] at several years ahead of us, which is no doubt one reason the most successful of those 1990s companies – think Google or Amazon – are American.  They had the environment to be first.

With 5G, Europe appeared to have the edge over the US.  Facing the risk of America Third (worst case, behind both Europe and Asia, not necessarily in that order) something had to be done.  Trump’s weapon of choice was an ill-founded[2] attack on market-leading technology provider Huawei: attack China directly, and at the same time attack European companies – like BT and Vodafone here in Blighty – through an evolving level of uncertainty over a vendor widely used here but not in the US.  And crucially, by holding back deployment here, reduce or delay development of new technology and intellectual property in America’s potential rivals: not (mainly) the big telcos, but the next generation of Unicorns.

Can’t blame Trump: he’s always been explicit about America First.  But how did he get quite so many Fifth Columnists into our Parliament?  And why is he making not merely UK foreign policy, but now also domestic policy?

[1] Like DSL broadband at home-user prices, when a UK customer would have to pay £3k/year for a 64K leased line.

[2] April 2019, I wrote “… against the competitive threat of 5G rollout giving Europe and Asia a big edge over the US.”.  Though I’m not sure if I realised until later how central that was to what looked at the time like just another incoherent Trump rant.

Just fancy that

What should society do to people who insult things of some minor importance?  Not damage – we’re not talking statues, whether Churchill or Colston!  Just disrespect, in a way society finds distasteful?

Blighty applies its usual monstrous double-standards:

June 15th: Drunk jailed for pissing next to a memorial to a recent hero.  He had unreservedly apologised, and it would seem reasonable to suppose the apology was genuine.  He doesn’t look to me as if he realises what the column to his left is!

Today (latest in an ongoing story): Government/Foreign secretary again posture over new law for Hong Kong.  Apparently on the grounds that it could criminalise disrespect for such things as the Chinese national anthem, and thus inhibit free expression.

For the record, yes I find the drunk disgusting (though many drunks do worse things), and have spent a lifetime not pissing in such public places.  And yes, I think we should be allowed to disrespect things like flags and national anthems.  I wonder if the HK authorities would indeed take action against a Hendrix (or indeed, which Western countries would still tolerate his modern equivalent)?  When campaigners for freedom around the world express concern, that’s entirely legitimate.  But coming from the UK government, it stinks of hypocrisy.

Track and Trace the Dead Cat

Today’s big announcement: “track and trace” to go live tomorrow.  Five days earlier than previously announced, and nobody expected the app to be ready for that.  Even those supposed to be running the programme were only told this afternoon.

It’s Designed to Fail in so many ways: total centralisation (which has been the UK government’s response throughout – have we learned nothing from the failure of Soviet centralised planning?), an app developed by the government’s mates ignoring both the established (e.g. the South Korean app) and the hopefully-competent (Apple/Google), and a workforce not told what they’re supposed to do.

But we knew that already.  Bringing the date forward makes it officially a Dead Cat: give the meeja something to talk about other than disgraceful Cummings and Gowings, free of the rules affecting the rest of us (even government advisers Calderwood and Ferguson).   Mephistopheles himself is, it seems, to be exempted if Stuttley can possibly make the story go away.

Here’s a thought.  Could bringing track-and-trace forward have caught the inevitable scammers off-guard?  Could we perhaps survive the rest of the week before anyone is scammed by someone posing as being from the programme?  For this is surely fertile hunting ground for criminals: a call from someone tracing Covid contacts should elicit a wealth of information for phishing and identity theft from a victim anxious to cooperate.   I expect willing subjects will leak a lot of inexcusably-valuable secrets, too.  And not just on themselves, but on friends, family, colleagues who happen to be identified as possible contacts.

As for the UK app, I’ve been half-meaning to comment on that, so here goes – though today’s announcement serves a second purpose of backpedaling from the focus on it.  Concerns have been raised over privacy, and it’s been widely pointed out that its centralised privacy-violating approach is unnecessarily complex, inefficient, and different to that of many countries.  For myself, I might bring myself to live with that if it looked like a valid contribution to public health – a supposition now as dead as the cat.  But I’m certainly not going to go around making my phone a sitting duck by broadcasting bluetooth to every malefactor who might be listening.  Neither should anyone else who has valuable information – such as banking apps or payment-enabled channels – on their ‘phone!  I wonder how long it’ll be before government underwrites losses from phones through their app – or more likely requires the banks to do so?

And the whole programme headed by a party-political appointee whose claim to fame is that for years under her stewardship, Talktalk became a byword for all that could go wrong in an ISP and then more – an unassailable reputation as the worst-run in the business.


Hard on the heels of my blog post on the subject of the new lurgy, I find myself succumbed to a lurgy.  Only a mild one, but I’ve removed myself from this evening’s concert and meal out and will check NHS advice before resuming social life.

Or rather, I removed myself from the meal out with my friends, that Jen had arranged for after the concert.  ‘Cos the concert itself was one of many cultural events to be cancelled by its organisers.  This evening I’d’ve been in the audience, but three concerts I am (or was) due to perform in this spring have also been cancelled or are at risk.

Yet our government, unlike many others, hasn’t actually banned events like these.  They’re leaving it to event organisers.  I suspect there’s an important beneficiary of that: insurers of all kinds of events could be on the hook for financial losses if the government forced them to close down, but can escape that if the decision comes from event organisers.  Perhaps they’ll legislate but are leaving time for events near enough to have incurred substantial costs to be cancelled beforehand?

I also heard on t’wireless a discussion programme on coronavirus that included a number of callers.  A couple of interesting nuggets emerged from that: quite a few callers described symptoms very similar to mine (evidently it’s a lurgy “doing the rounds”), and many callers complained that they wanted to get tested for coronavirus but couldn’t.  Even those with very good reasons (for example a GP keen to know whether he would be personally safe to treat virus sufferers once he’s recovered) had faced an impenetrable wall of bureaucracy.

So we’ve moved from attempting to refusing to count cases, thus perhaps paving the way to fudge relevant statistics.  They’re talking about “herd immunity”, which would imply a large majority of the entire population going down with the virus.  At a 2% death rate, that could be a million deaths!

Quite a contrast to the draconian and stupid measures we had to rid ourselves of Foot&Mouth (against which a vaccine is available) back in 2001.  Have Brits really changed so much in less than a generation that we’ll no longer obey rules?  Particularly when the threat this time is to humans, and the rules (if well-considered) have a purpose other than to support the economic interests of a small number of very big and very rich farmers!

Stuttley Watch

I think perhaps we need a watch on our devious prime minister.  His sycophantic party, rid of its moderates in the Stalinist purge last autumn, looks unlikely to hold him to account.

Today’s big announcement: sale of new fossil-fuel-powered cars to be banned from 2035.  Great (if it happens).  Just a shame no such thing happened much earlier in my life.  It’s a good signal to be sending to the world – insofar as anyone believes him.  Not that many will: if actions speak louder than words, his unexplained sacking of Claire O’Neill from the Glasgow summit, coming hard on the heels of the Flybe bailout, drives a Chelsea Tractor through his credibility on the environment.

On the other hand, the man who brought Boris Bikes to London seems likely to be someone genuinely keen to breathe cleaner air.  I expect he’ll be well-pleased if we hit the target.  It’s just not credible that that’s the primary motive for making the announcement today.

Car industry reacts with alarm (well they would, wouldn’t they)?  My first thought: this pre-empts more announcements of them reducing capacity here, and the unspoken brexit-bonus headlines: people who voted to lose their jobs, lose their jobs.  Now there’s a new scapegoat.  But that’s not really plausible: much more likely he wants the industry to stay.  His announcement, and the industry reaction, are preparing for some big bungs of taxpayer money to bribe them to stay here and invest in re-tooling to produce electric cars.

I wonder if this could be Good News for my very small shareholding in one of the companies providing charging points for electric cars?  I see them in quite a few places now (for example, Lidl’s car park), but the bottleneck isn’t them, it’s the electricity generation and distribution capacity.

RIP the Thatcher Legacy

Once upon a time, I wrote a few thoughts on Mrs Thatcher’s death.  Today it’s time to bid farewell to her legacy.  Stuttley has declared its destruction now to be not merely his agenda, but  a fundamental priority.

Of course, that’s not how he puts it.  He says we shall not be bound by EU rules.  Which sounds on the face of it entirely reasonable.  I’m inclined to believe he (mostly) means it when he assures the world he doesn’t intend a race to the bottom: insofar as he wants that, EU membership has not really held him back.  After all, we have exemptions from EU directives and programmes we haven’t signed up to.

The issue with those EU rules is that they are exactly what makes the Single Market, Mrs Thatcher’s greatest project and most important legacy.  For it was she more than anyone who persuaded governments and people around Europe to create a Single Market, and indeed it was she – or rather her civil servants – who wrote many (maybe even most) of the rules we’re now rejecting.

With Blair/Brown having abandoned monetarism and let credit rip, and recent governments looking back to 1970s socialism such as bailouts for lame ducks from banks to Flybe, her domestic legacy was already largely gone.  Now it’s her greatest achievement, red-tape-free trade throughout the world’s greatest market.  Ironic indeed that remaining beneficiaries will be countries she worked so hard to persuade!

If you’d told me in the 1980s that Attlee’s achievements would outlive Thatcher’s, I suspect I’d have been quite seriously incredulous.  How things change!

p.s. Does anyone else see Stuttley’s “Canada-style agreement” as laying the ground for blaming the EU?  He’ll very publicly make demands that are not a problem for Canada but utterly incompatible with the Good Friday Agreement, then loudly condemn the EU for refusing them.

Putting on a show

As we approach the end of the era of relative independence from our Orange Overlord, it was inevitable we’d see some kind of show-fight, to deflect attention and send out a message that we were “sovereign”.  The necrofeliac will want a bigger cat than a regular moggie this time.

A few days ago, the news was from Davos: Chancellor Javid will go ahead with his digital services tax against US objections, and face a token trade war.  In the context of the French having backed off from superficially-similar proposals, that was somewhat impressive, though not really sexy.  The US reaction – proposing tariffs on car imports (what car imports?) – looks far too muted for this to be the Big One.

And indeed, it was just the prelude.  Today we have an announcement, and news stories that are making mountains out of molehills, both in what’s been announced[1] here and in the reactions to it.  Our telecoms networks are allowed to buy equipment from Huawei.  A lot of staged anger; likely also a few complete idiots whose anger is real.  I don’t suppose this’ll be the last disagreement, but the effort that’s gone in to it suggests it could be The Big One.

And journalists playing right into their hands.  On the BBC radio news this evening, an interview with a congressman Jim Banks, who is introducing a bill to ban intelligence sharing with countries who use Huawei (um, close Menwith Hill?  Yeah, right).  In that interview, but not noticed by the interviewer, Banks referred to Huawei kit on “intelligence networks”, which is a totally different scenario to Vodafone or EE upgrading their networks, and won’t affect intelligence sharing with the UK nor (as far as I know) anywhere.  Conclusion: Banks – a Congressman – is playing his part in a show-fight for Stuttley[2]’s benefit.

Banks let slip another nugget when he told us US provider Qualcomm is close to being able to deliver 5G kit, seemingly supporting the hypothesis that the Huawei fuss was all protectionism – delay 5G while US tech plays catchup.  But it seemed quite a contrived suggestion, not least because he could have mentioned western companies Nokia and Ericsson that already compete with Huawei in the market.  So perhaps that was also a decoy from the alternative hypothesis in the linked article?

My best guess now is this story will go on, and our telcos will find ways to work within the rules with limited disruption.  I hope so: there’s a lot waiting on 5G, and though most of it will turn out to be toys and dross, that’s a phase we’ll need to go through on the way to a more usefully-connected world.

And in a couple of years, maybe we’ll see some high-media-profile security incident attributed to Huawei kit.

In other news today, Cisco (the longstanding #1 US networking giant) published an advisory: their webex conferencing system has been wide open to an unauthorised participant.  A truly severe security risk if you thought your meeting was private!

[1] A very limited announcement: a much more limited go-ahead than given by the May government, let alone the widespread use of Huawei kit in 4G networks before it all got politicised.

[2] As in one B Stuttley Johnson, for anyone who doesn’t get the reference.

The Admin of Moving House

Is it just me, or is it becoming ever harder to communicate with officialdom?  That is, both officialdom as in government services, and private-sector service providers such as utilities?

My house move has thrown up several examples, ranging from the painless to the deeply frustrating (though none so Kafkaesque as Virgin Media).  Time to record a few cases.

Good: National Government.  The process to get on the electoral register was updated between the 2005 and 2010 elections, and now works well.  Registering at my new address was quick and painless – though probably (still) wide open to fraud.

Painful: Local Government.  Signing off from Plymouth was painless, but West Devon has got much worse since I was previously here.  Specifically, their website is now dysfunctional and won’t work without severely compromising one’s own security.  I can sign up, but attempting to log in just dumps me at a third-party site that appears to be an identity service provider – but I have no way of verifying that, nor anything I can do even if I do decide to trust them!

So when they demand Council Tax, I can’t log in to set up payment.  And there’s no contact information for council tax: their “contact us” offers a bunch of specific services, but no catch-all to contact them on a matter not listed, like how to pay them!  It took two visits to their office in person and a letter written to them on paper to sort that.

Still worse was recycling.  My request for the relevant recycling bins was submitted several times online and once in person at their offices, but fell into a black hole.  Eventually (on a friend’s suggestion) I wrote to my elected councilors, who told the council jobsworths to do their job, whereupon the boxes were finally – three months from my first request – forthcoming.

Amongst utilities, Southwest Water was relatively painless.  My first attempt failed on some website idiocy, but that was when my ‘net connection was down to 2G so it was a cup-of-coffee delay as it insisted on my changing “7” to “07” (or something) in a Date field.  Returning a second time when it was back up to 4G, it still exhibited idiocy, but at least worked to the point of letting me notify them of my move and submit meter readings.  Best of all, no need to change my existing direct debit just because it’s a different address.

At my previous address I had gas and electricity from SSE.  Notifying them of my move was painless, and in retrospect I should have accepted their (automatic) offer to supply the new address.  But I assumed I could sort that later.

Looking at the Western Power Distribution website, I found the incumbent supplier for my house is EDF.  I was a happy customer of EDF from 2005 to 2013 (i.e. my entire time at the address I lived longer than anywhere else), and expected no problem.  But it turned out to be another epic story, and one that merits a separate post that’ll make better reading than this TLDR.  Suffice it for to say that today I’ve decided to give up the struggle and pay an incorrect bill, just to draw a line under it and move on with another provider.

One more minor epic was my internet connection.  On finding that my 4G connection only half-works from here, I signed up for FTTC with Andrews and Arnold, with a view to a longer-term project of bringing some stuff in-house from the Cloud.  Due to various issues, some of them genuinely outside the control of either A&A or Openreach, it was three visits over more than a month, and something of a battle, from when I should have had my connection to when it actually went live.  Disappointed with the poor communication from A&A over much of that time.

Finally a good news story.  Having blown my money on a house, I no longer have £20k cash to keep in a Santander 123 account.  At £5/month charge, it could even end up costing me money with smaller balances!  After a bit of online research, I opened a new account with Starling Bank, and after verifying that it worked I instructed them to transfer my Santander account.  That ran genuinely smoothly, with not just my money but also payees and references moved automatically.  Even Santander were polite about it, with no annoying “Customer Retention” crap when they wrote to confirm the closure.