Cecil Rhodes and Year Zero thinking

19th century pinnacle of moral thinking
19th century pinnacle of moral thinking

There is a growing tendency in our society for people to protest what they see as offence. The Internet may have exacerbated this but, even in the real world, much hot air is dedicated to expressing a sense of “injury” over misplaced words or symbols. Many now believe that society owes them the right not to be offended and they become demanding and aggressive when this perceived right is denied.

The British are more tolerant that we are given credit for but we are also irreverent and this is much misunderstood by Johnny Foreigner. I prize irreverence. In Thailand people are gaoled for insulting the Royal Family. I respect the Thai tradition and I support their right to enforce their laws. But in Britain……in Britain I value the right to say that the Queen should abdicate, Prince Phillip is a racist old fool and the that royal kids are a bloody rabble. I support the right of the world and its mother to speculate over the monarchies involvement in the death of Princess Di even though I believe they are TALKING BOLLOCKS! I support the right to talk bollocks because I am tolerant and if I cannot tolerate what I do not like then my tolerance means nothing. I believe that irreverence goes hand in hand with tolerance and a free society. Other countries may choose to reject tolerance and embrace autocracy – Good luck with that and when you have achieved a more liberal society than The West, let me know.

Society does not owe anyone the right not to be offended but we seem to be gradually giving in to the hyper-sensitivities of anyone who can slip a cigarette paper between their own opinions and those of their neighbours. This is detrimental to diversity of intelligent debate and, to my mind, is starting to resemble McCarthyism.

One example was the shameful way that Nobel laureate Tim Hunt was forced to resign after ignorant, intolerant and mean spirited reports of what appears to have been an ironic and humorous speech in support of women in science which was understood as such by his audience. Another is the idiotic way that the British actor Benedict Cumberbatch was pilloried for standing up for black actors but using the term “coloured”. A word not on the 2015 list of acceptable words as accepted by supporters of the American National Association of Coloured People. More recently there is a campaign to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes at Oriel College, Oxford and Oriel College appear to be caving in.

It’s generally accepted that many, if not all figures from British imperial history, had racist opinions. They were part of a society which ran a global empire – of course they were racists. What is not recognised is that racist views were held by the majority of the population of the planet up until The Holocaust. Do we believe the Romans or the Mughals or the Aztecs were not racist? Of course not and in many parts of the world, racism is more or less the de facto norm even today. Check out Saudi treatment of immigrant labour or Racism in South Korea.

Removing statues and other artefacts from previous generations would be pandering to an arrogant and self righteous attitude that WE (the people of today) have reached the pinnacle of moral thinking. That this generation alone is the moral arbiter and may stand in judgement over all previous generations. It is akin to the beliefs of Rhodes himself who is quoted as saying: “I contend that we are the finest race in the world and that the more of the world we inhabit the better it is for the human race”. The bigots of today aren’t so interested in spreading Liberalism to the rest of the world but do want to push their values back in time.

We are no more at a moral peak than Cecil Rhodes. Today in the West we obsess over equality and identity but previous generations had other priorities. One reason we are able to consider the finer points of the nomenclature of ethnic groups is because our basic needs are met but even today in Iraq, Syria, Sudan and elsewhere many might consider equality and democracy as secondary to strong leadership, security and feeding their kids. Are we to condemn them for this?

Some consider that Mahatma Gandhi’s religious zeal alienated Muslims leading to Indian partition. Should statues of Gandhi be removed? Martin Luther King is idolised by millions for his fight against racism but he had less than modern opinions regarding women. By today’s standards he would be considered not only a sexist but, probably, a misogynist. Should his memorial be torn down?

A recent article in The Economist postulated something I have long believed; that animal minds are basically similar to human minds and that the difference in consciousness is more a level of degree. Add to this the widely held belief that feeding increased human population levels will require more effiicient farming which necessitate more agriculture and less livestock and it is at least possible that the world of the 22nd century might imbue animals with similar rights to humans. Should young students of the 22nd century poor shit over statues of Barak Obama for eating meat?

It is usually the Left who support criticism of past generations because the Left believe that only they are motivated by morality. The Left cannot conceive that others may have alternative yet legitimate opinions and so they are driven to purging the world of symbols which they consider fallible by the standards of the day but this is a formula for ongoing soviet style revisionism and authoritarianism. Removing evidence that Rhodes was part of the story of how our society evolved is akin to totalitarian “Year Zero” thinking. It is immature, ignorant and intolerant and based on an unfounded and bigoted sense of one’s own absolute riotousness. It also neglects the unpalatable truth that our liberal democracy was established, not in one big bang of enlightenment, but by a gradual evolution building on foundations laid down by ancestors for whom racism was an everyday reality.

As a prestigious college Oriel should champion rationalism. As a British university it should also champion diversity of opinion and irreverence. It should not rearrange its architecture and traditions to please the current intake of students. Monuments which are allowed to gradually become part of the physical and cultural background allow us to recognise the flawed nature of past heroes and kerb misplaced adoration of current heroes.  It would be facinating to know how many of those calling for Tony Blair to be tried for war crimes were singing Things Can Only Get Better when he was elected.

Symbols such as Rhodes’ statue and King’s memorial teaches us humility by allowing us to learn from past deeds while recognising that we are all fallible by dint of our common humanity.

Finally, British education institutions today rely less on government funding and more on fees. Universities now assiduously court foreign students and the decision of Oriel college may be motivated partly by a desire to please a foreign, and sometimes anti-British, audience. While educating the world is a noble goal and a useful revenue stream, if Oriel do not have the balls to stand up for democratic and rational values then they may as well sell themselves to a Chinese sovereign wealth fund and start flogging doctorates in the sayings of Chairman Mao or Papa Xi loves Mommy Peng.

Redstone
Redstone

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One Morning

one morning
….and gradually the skyline of this quirky old city was transformed and some people said it was necessary to bring in more revenue to pay for public services and other people said that accommodation was so expensive that they had to build more flats but other people said that it was better before they built all these new buildings but mostly these people were ignored as they tended to be older people and the younger people didn’t remember what it had been like before anyway. And each generation was keen to stamp their mark on the world like a child looking ahead at a newly fallen blanket of snow, keen to get out there stamping footprints, while older people looked back at the acres of sludgy mush that they had trodden in their youth. And some people said they needed to continue to expand to grow the economy and as they progressed (for it was termed progress) they invented lots of new things. But nobody noticed that almost everyone who had lived long enough to realise how the net effect of new things affected their lives now thought that there were enough things already and that the making of more new things always seemed to involve the destruction of lots of natural things like trees and open space and fresh air. So they continued to create new things. They dug up vast areas of land to find lots of special rock which they used to make more things. They created pipe cleaners and pot noodles and four wheel drive and central heating and laser pointers and cork screws and the more they invented things the more they had to work to build them to make sure that there were enough of them and most of their lives were spent working to make things which they threw away after a few years because their economy required that they bought new things. An enormous amount of effort was put into exhorting people to buy new things and many people were employed to convince people to buy new things. And many people converged on population centres to work and these became truly enormous and just getting in and out of them every day became a task which many societies would deem enough for a day’s work. And because everyone worked so hard and lived in such tight little boxes and soothed their troubles with chemicals, most people were not really at their best most of the time. And some people started to fight other people and take the things that they had worked to have. And other people said it wasn’t fair that they didn’t have a chance to work so they couldn’t buy as many things as some other people had. And the people who had been delegated to coordinate everything introduced new rules but every time they did people would argue about the fine detail and a new rule would have to be introduced. And enormous battles were fought over which set of rules was best and how the making of things should be managed. And every few hundred or few thousand years someone would realise just how ridiculous things were getting and they’d tell everyone that the most important thing to do was be kind to each other. Just that really. Sometimes they’d have a handful of basic rules but it usually boiled down to being kind to each other and to start with everyone realised that this was true and it made a difference but then as the ideas got explained second and third hand people would get the wrong end of the stick and the rules would become harsher and more eccentric and they’d tell everyone they had to wear strange symbols or not eat certain food on certain days or have parts of their bodies mutilated. And eventually most people forgot the message to be kind, and many people interpreted the rules as meaning that the main task was for them to go around telling everyone else how they should follow the rules. And some people went further and started punishing people who didn’t follow the rules and they said that the rules came from a supernatural and all powerful being and so they must be true but nobody seemed to notice that the people who believed a set of rules usually were born from amongst a lot of people who already believed in those rules and that people on one side of the planet believed one set of rules and people on the other believed something else. And to start with when followers of different sets of rules first met each other they were glad to see each other and they wondered at how their rules were so different and yet, fundamentally, meant the same thing which was to be kind. But gradually more and more people from different places started meeting each other and they started arguing about which set of rules was best and some people said that it didn’t matter and they should just agree to disagree but other people said that their rules came from the supernatural being or their opponents rules were dangerous and so they must attack and kill all the people who didn’t follow their rules and gigantic fights would break out and millions of people would be killed or wounded and the fights would go on for years until eventually everyone realised just how stupid the fighting was and they became exhausted and they recognised that the suffering was universal and they couldn’t really remember what they were fighting for anyway and that, certainly, whatever it was it can’t have been worth the massive slaughter that had occurred and the people who coordinated everything sat down and said that they would stop the fighting and everyone was to be friends again and everyone thought this was a great idea and they all went back to making things and rebuilding what had been destroyed and for a good while there would be peace and they built more places to live and more washing machines and steam rollers and electric whisks. But gradually the same old problems would emerge. A lot of argument took place between the people who thought everyone should have the same things and other people who thought what things you had should be dependent on what you did to help make them. And the population grew and people became more and more stressed and argument about the rules became quite heated. Then one day, something happened that made everyone stop and think. One morning, late in the year in a city on the coast when the weather was still warm and the sun was low in the sky but still shining, a man was walking his dog……

(The rest of this manuscript was illegible – Ed).

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Management failure at East Croydon railway station

Years ago I ran the computers for a eurobond trading company in the City. Minicomputers, a few PCs, a lot of communications equipment and specialised terminals on the desks of traders. We were market makers so it was a frenetic place and IT was critical even in then.

As today, much of the work was sitting in front of a screen working on technical stuff but we also had to get under floors to run cables and physically handle hardware. Most days I would make sure I took a good look around the machine room and I’d walk the trading floors. I’d mentally note things. Those screens were a bit tatty and could do with replacing. The print out were faded so I needed to tell the operators to change ribbons more frequently. It was also an occasion to engage with the dealers. They’d gripe about various stuff which wasn’t critical but needed fixing. The keys on my keyboard keeps sticking down. The bloody print outs were late this morning. The damn system is too slow. Mostly this was terse and forthright but friendly. Sometimes it would lead to brief and hostile exchange. It was part of the job. These guys relied on the systems and my task was to make sure they got what they wanted. Visibility meant little, if any, appreciation when things went right and taking the flak when things went wrong.

I often thought of my job as analogous to the captain of a ship. The systems were running and sometimes there was no need to actively DO anything. But there was a need to ensure I had an understanding of the state of the systems as a whole so that when problems arose we were able to cope. I would stand at the end of the trading desks and just look down them and make sure I was content.

HOWEVER! Sometime around the 1990s along came a lot of men in sharp suits and sharper business practices. Modern management methods and business process reengineering were the order of the day. Everyone must be a professional. Everyone must be taught their craft by someone who didn’t do it. Everyone must pay for certifications from the companies which made the equipment. Every task must be broken into its constituent processes and these must be reorganised to achieve maximum efficiency. Their question was why a comparatively senior technical manager spends his time walking around trading floors and checking equipment rooms. All this could be broken into tasks which could be scheduled and delegated.

The upshot of all this bollocks is that modern managers now hide in their offices, only emerging to attend meetings. Ask a manager what he has to do today and he will tell you he has meetings all day. Such people are TALKING BOLLOCKS!

The task of anyone, let alone a manager, is NOT to have meetings anymore than it is to make telephone calls. The meetings and the telephone calls are the MEANS by which the tasks are accomplished. In my case, the task was not to walk the trading floors or inspect the computer room. The task was to ensure I had a feel for the state of the systems. To ensure that I was on the fucking ball.

East Croydon - The Horror, The Horror
East Croydon – The Horror, The Horror

And now I come to an annual reunion of IT staff which I attend each year in London. I rarely use the railways these days but when I do invariably there are problems. And so arriving at London Bridge station last night I found that there were no trains home. I would have to go to East Croydon and change trains. This has happened so many times over the last 15 years that I am inured to the ghastliness of the train system. Along with many others, and anaesthetised by a nights drinking, I crammed onto the East Croydon train. On arrival we all flocked off the train and listened to the tannoy tell us that the Brighton train would leave in 4 minutes from Platform One. The obvious question then being: “Which F*CKING platform am I on now”.

But the platform number signs had been removed. Other passengers were equally confused and so we milled around wasting our precious 4 minutes until we found a railway guy then ran like hell and just caught the train home.

Now, to be fair to the station staff, on the way up to London I had encountered the same problem on a different platform and had bene told by a railway operative that the signs had been removed during “improvement work”. In the meantime he and his mates had printed out platform signs on what looked like A4 paper using font size 48, laminated these and stuck them up only on his platform. A brave initiative but, sadly, amongst the plethora of others signs at any large London station, these were, in practical terms, invisible.

My question is: WHERE THE HELL WAS THE MANAGER?! Why had the manager not realised the absurdity of running a 6 platform station without signs? Why had he or she not thrown a wobbler and organised temporary signs immediately? Why had he not jumped in a cab and driven to the local sign shop? Why had he not paid them whatever it took to work over night to create large obvious signs and had them up on the platform the next morning?

Pride
Pride

I have scoured the Internet for the name of the manager of East Croydon station but without success. I have emailed Southern Rail and asked for his name and address so that I can write to him but I suspect that they will not give me his name. I suspect there is no single individual in charge. I suspect that the responsibility for platform signage falls somewhere between a Passenger Liaison Manager, a Station Facilities Manager and a Southern Rail Communications Manager. I suspect that these, so called, “managers” see their task as wearing nice suits, sitting in offices and having meetings.

I suspect that these offices are in a block 2 miles from the station. I suspect that if they hear about this at all, it will be item 11 on a list of “issues” in a project progress meeting sometime in January.

More broadly I wonder if modern management methods have become so formalised that they erode personal pride in one’s work and along with the pride they detach direct responsibility and accountability. Pride along with initiative and imagination are boiled out of corporate staff in an effort to standardise everything.

Watching episodes of Dad’s Army we now ridicule Captain Mannering as a pompous, overzealous old buffoon. Perhaps. But he would not have been so lax as to leave a major London station operating without platform signs.

The Minimum Systems Requirements Scam

the upgrade cycle
the upgrade cycle

The technology industry is not short of scams and the media don’t shy away from reporting them. Newspapers, blog sites, Facebook all warn us of Nigerian 419s, phishing attempts or cold calls with fake investments.

But there’s one scam ubiquitous in the technology industry which we all accept with glum resignation. Let’s call it the Minimum System Requirements Scam. Moore’s law has given us faster and faster processors for years and with faster computers the maker of Operating System (OS), such as Windows and Apple OS, have loaded more functionality into their offerings. The paradigm seems to be that if the hardware can handle more load then the OS should that load. Each time we give up on our old hardware and fall for the industry line that we need more power the OS vendor steps in and steals most of that power.

Now don’t get me wrong. Software has come a long way since MS DOS but the scam is not in creating bigger software for more powerful computers. The scam is that the vendors lie about the Minimum System Requirements for their software.

My iPhone 4 worked fine with IOS 6 which it came with it. Stupidly I upgraded it to IOS7 and it now runs like a pig. My Macbook pro, with 4 gig of ram and a 2.5 GHz processor, ran fine with Snow Leopard. It ran a bit slower with Lion but what really screwed it was Mavericks. Think that’s reasonable? In 1992 my Amiga 4000 had a 25 MHz processor and 1 meg of RAM and multi-tasked better than ANYTHING on the market today. When your Windows PC or Mac are just sitting there stuck and there’s loads of free RAM, the processor is not overloaded and the disk is not thrashing you have to wonder about the quality of the code. I’ve just upgraded by iPad and it’s slow. Apple would never release a new product as sluggish as this but that’s OK because they already have my money. You have to wonder whether the vendors are deliberately slowing things down to force an upgrade.

None of these upgrades should have been a problem because the hardware in question conformed to Apple’s Minimum System Requirements. I have no experience of Google Android and Chromebook but Microsoft are equally guilty.

Of course I didn’t have to upgrade so why did I? The two drivers for upgrading are the same as those for investing: Greed and fear. Fear in the form of the vendors ceasing to supply security patches for older OS versions and greed in the form of new applications requiring the services only present in a more recent OS.

There is some legitimacy in both these factors but only some. In the old days an OS was released with outrageous security flaws. In fact they were not secure at all but that was OK because we didn’t use them for anything serious. As computing has become ubiquitous the vendors have given more thought to security but vulnerabilities are still regularly discovered and part of the reason for this is that new OSs still contain a lot of old code.

Applications requiring services from a newer OS is also legitimate though one does have to wonder how long this farce can go on. The OS must one day mature. For what other product do we accept that it will just stop working? How would it be if your TV just got slower and slower and one day you tried to watch Family Guy and a message came up saying that this program was not compatible with your current OS? In fact microprocessors are in everything these days and Smart TVs are basically big tablet computers. Will the manufacturers continue this deception with the software in our cars? You break but, sorry you need more RAM, so the breaks don’t come on in time.

Security and advanced services will continue to drive the upgrade cycle for a while yet but vendors would do us all a favor and enhance their reputation by being honest about Minimum System Requirements. If an iPhone 5S is not going to cut it for the latest version then bloody well say so.

Longer term the whole paradigm will probably change. Hardware such as tablets and handsets are getting cheaper and cheaper and these days no one writes code with any of the core functionality on the user side. New entrants to the OS market such Alibaba have a chance to start from scratch. They could develop a mature and stable architecture with tightly written code. The future is probably disposable handsets with all the data and functionality in the cloud.

Then all I’ll have to gripe about is the monthly bill.

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Cyber Crime – Make the Vaccine Free

Think of the children
Think of the children

Today I was heartened by the success of the IT Security community in protecting a most valuable asset. No, I don’t mean your customer banks details or copyright music or state secrets. I am, of course, referring to the International Standard for Information security ISO 27001.

ISO27001 are a collection of standards which list numerous actions or “controls” which may be implemented to protect information against cyber-crime. The controls have been assembled into a unified framework so that they can be more easily addressed and reviewed. All terribly dull and awful of course.

But wait! In the right hands, these standards are extremely useful and one would assume that the goal would be to distribute them to the IT Community as quickly as possible so that their recommendations might be implemented. Distributed not only in their raw (and ghastly) PDF format, but in CSV or Excel format which a security professional might actually be able to use.

Not a bit of it. The guys at The International Standards Organisation (ISO) have apparently got the wrong end of the stick and have done their damnedest to ensure that it is nye on impossible to get a hint of the content of these standards without putting one’s hand in one’s pocket. The ISO27001 documents appear to be the only documents in the world protected by every single one of the bloody ISO27001 controls even right down to: If you try to google it you get a millions companies trying to flog you something before you find any meat about the standards themselves.

In my experience,  many companies have a go at IT security and end up with poorly written controls and incomplete coverage. By the time the control text reaches the techy it is frequently gobbledegook. A simple solution would be to make these standards free too everyone.

What is frustrating is that the work to devise a solid control framework has been done; the text exists and is owned by the International Standards Organisation. They will argue that it is reasonable that they, and their associated companies, charge for copies of standards as they need to be maintained and updated but, given the prevalence of cyber-crime and the threat posed to everyone, one might be forgiven for thinking that this is an emergency and copies of ISO 27001 in useable formats should be made available for free download on the ISO web site.

If cyber-crime were HIV and ISO27001 were a vaccine then the world would be crying out for this.

Think of the children! Think of the children!

More and More and More – The distorted Vision of Jeremy Bentham

Waitrose
More and More and More

The shabby, half empty Co-Op on Neville Road closed down and a new Waitrose sprung up in its place. Suddenly, the place is bustling.

When I worked in Africa, I would return for holidays and wander around supermarkets marvelling at the variety. I delighted in curry sauce, Marmite and Birds custard. It felt a bit like that in Waitrose. Like my first time in California; shiny happy people and the shelves fully stacked. Posh clientele crammed inside like an opening of la Boheme.

The car park was worse than a game of Tetris and taxis awaited the immaculate elderly. Even the trolleys glided silently, devoid of rattles and outside they were not chained up like dogs; Waitrose customers wouldn’t be seen dead stealing trolleys. Branded clothing only and away with cheap TVs and washing machines; triple the size of the wine section. Vegetables from all over the planet all in their prime. Slimmer isles but packed with “fifty kinds of toothpaste and forty types of soap”. The massive pressure of the middle class has erupted to claim its birthright. We have disposable income and we shall shop. It’s all we do. The only respite from the relentless press of people was the cleaning products isle. Waitrose customers have staff and they shop at Lidl.

“The system” is now tuned to ensure maximum efficiency and our lives are mere links in the supply chain. We are no longer citizens, we are customers. We are told that we even “consume” music and television. It’s said that no middle class American home is complete without an unused aqualung at the back of the wardrobe and this lunacy has spread to England where thousands of people own their own skis! Skis! In England!

In 1768 British philosopher Jeremy Bentham declared the work of government to be supplying “The greatest good for the greatest number”. Global Capitalism has replaced the word “good” with “goods” and taken up the challenge with a vengeance.

The middle class used to seek exclusivity but, in a world geared toward maximizing sales, what does that even mean anymore? The BMW 3 now outsells the Ford Mondeo. I suggest the current meaning of exclusivity is whatever the advertisers want it to mean. Perhaps this week it is Hendricks Scottish Gin, next week, who knows? And we fall for it. We drink Gin from Scotland and Scotch from England. We wouldn’t drink the water in Mexico yet we import the beer.

Adverts on the Underground
Adverts on the Underground

Indoctrinated from birth, we stoke the system. Our minds are like vacuum cleaners sucking up advertising wherever it is found. The TV, the radio, magazines, The Internet. Modern man needs stimulation and advertising give it to us. Sit on the London Underground and notice how your attention is drawn to the ads. This is why our leaders consider literacy so important We are readaholics but this junk bypasses the intellect and is dumped unprocessed into our sub-conscious. Snoop Dog is advertising financial services for God’s sake!

A middle class is now forming in the developing world and they too want to shop. They demand meat but the world can’t produce enough so scientists are seeking to farm insects for human consumption. The grave yards are so full that Floridians can now choose between cremation and “liquefaction”. There are now over 7 billion of us on planet Earth and in England we’re crammed in like battery hens. Office buildings get bigger but our houses and workspace gets smaller. The Economist advocates that we “Build on the green belt or introduce space rationing“.

Are we insane? Does it even matter?

Driven by tactical marketing decisions our leaders have no vision. They stand on the bridge bickering over which button to press but they don’t know where we’re going. Meanwhile Western voters are getting restless.

Up to now, humanity have been the glue that holds global capitalism together. While on a tour of his factory, Henry Ford II asked the leader of the automobile workers union: “Walter, how are you going to get those robots to pay your union dues?” to which the union leader replied: “Henry, how are you going to get them to buy your cars?”.

The Industrial Revolution was a wonderful thing of course. It released the resources of the world to be exploited for the good of humanity. Though workers were displaced in manufacturing, jobs were created in the knowledge economy. But the second and the third wave of revolution are not yet fully played out and computers have started displacing even the most knowledgeable workers.

This time, the revolution might be different. In the U.S. real wages have hardly budged over the past four decades and the limp economic recovery is not creating jobs. The single minded pursuit of goods for the greatest number is becoming a problem for the planet just when humanity are becoming less useful to Global Capitalism.

Perhaps, it’s time to scrap Mr. Betham’s vision and develop a new one.

 

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