In praise of Malcolm in the Middle

I first got into this show a couple of years ago, more or less by accident - a spare half hour, flicking through the channels in search of something less than dreadful, and I found myself watching Lois, Hal, Dewey and Reese - and I was hooked. Over time I've come to regard it as one of the great under-rated sitcoms.

The genius of the writing is in the interplay between the extremely flawed and dysfunctional characters: loving but hopelessly downtrodden Hal, hardworking and driven-to-insanity Lois, genius nerd Malcolm, sociopathic Reese, runaway lout Francis and underestimated Machiavellian Dewey. When Dewey (about 6 years old) decided to get his mother's name tattooed on his chest, Lois (played by Jane Kaczmarek, who would have won a Grammy if there were any justice in the world) repeatedly spasms between horror and dewey-eyed appreciation of the deed. Lois works herself to near-death for the family, and woe betide any son (or husband) who fails to appreciate this or do as he is told. Francis went away to a military academy and then ran away to Alaska, but can't escape his mother's influence. Malcolm is so repressed that when he tries not saying what he thinks, he ruptures an internal organ. It's a regular working-class American family cranked up to 11.

The sheer cheek of the writers has to be admired. They needed to cast an Alaskan Inuit girl for Francis to fall in love with, and they pick Emy Coligado who's an ethnic Filipina from Texas. The scene between Piama and Lois when they first meet is one to treasure, with Hal trying his best to prevent World War 3 from breaking out between the two politely-speaking but acid-tongued women.

Season 4's "Baby" is a classic example of the writers turning conventions on their head. Heavily pregnant Lois's obnoxious mother Ida is staying, and Lois wants to get her out of the house before labour starts. Because Ida is so racist, Lois hits on the plan of getting Hal's poker buddy Abe (a high-earning, polite, well-spoken African-American chap) to come over with his other African-American poker buddies to say hello to Ida and make her feel surrounded. The comedy as she tries to explain this to Abe and it becomes clear that he doesn't actually think of himself as black...

Francis and a buddy find a totem pole and try to discern its meaning. This is explained to them by its Native American owner:

Well, if I hit it it means I'm five inches away from the back of my carport... You white boys are all the same. I have dark skin therefore I dance with bears and speak with the wind. Well I work for a living, and I'm Baptist and proud of it! Oh...and I have only one word for snow: SNOW!

Go look for it in the TV guide next time you've a free half hour - it's almost bound to be somewhere on cable or satellite. You'll thank me.


Paging Signor Macchiavelli

A lovely bit of moral weasling on climate change in The Guardian (where else?) today. James Garvey weighs in on the Peter Gleick / Heartland Institute controversy.

For those not following climate change blogspace, a reasonably neutral summary of the Heartland Institute document leak / forgery dispute is on Wikipedia. Executive summary: Gleick phished documents from Heartland via email and published them anonymously, then later admitted to deception in order to obtain them. There is debate raging about the most incriminating memo in the collection which Heartland and skeptic bloggers claim is forged; if Gleick has participated a forgery here, the outlook for him will be even bleaker than it looks now.

[I didn't realise until bloggining this that Peter Gleick is the brother of James Gleick, whose books on R. P. Feynman and Chaos I've rather enjoyed. Live and learn].

Anyway, back to Mr. Garvey. His take on the affair is quite plain:

Suppose you stop a friend from driving after he's had too many drinks by slipping his keys in your pocket and lying about it until you manage to drive him home yourself. Sometimes lying is the right thing to do – a lie isn't just wrong full stop.
And if you had any doubt, he makes it clear:
If Gleick frustrates the efforts of Heartland, isn't his lie justified by the good that it does?
The documents, if authentic, show that Heartland takes money – in secret – from people who have something to gain by the idea that climate science is uncertain, and then spread that idea with enthusiasm.
Well, there's that "if authentic" (the above-mentioned controversy about the possible forgery is rather relevant) but it seems fairly clear that Garvey believes that the end justifies the means. How nice. How rigorous of him. Who exactly is this gentleman?
James Garvey is secretary of the Royal Institute of Philosophy and author of The Ethics of Climate Change
Ah, a philosopher. Or a philospher's secretary. Figures...

The point I'd like to take issue with, though is this:

The fact that so many people are criticising Gleick for his lie, rather than Heartland for its secret funding arrangements, is itself remarkable.
I confess, I would have found near-incredible the notion that a man like Peter Gleick would have forged a memo incriminating the Heartland Institute in a cash-for-denialism scandal. But I would likewise have found it near-incredible that he would phish documents from Heartland and publish them anonymously, risking his reputation and career for relatively limited benefit. Since he has admitted to the latter (and his career appears to be in the toilet) I have to reassess the probability of the former. The document in question is looking increasingly shaky - Heartland has robustly denied its veracity - so the best case is that someone else forged the document and slipped it into the mix. If Gleick has participated in the forgery, he is so far down the hole that they'll have to pipe in the sunlight.

Mr. Garvey - science is founded on truth, the principle that you will not claim what you know to be false. Scientists who do this are unworthy of the name and are stripped of employment and reputation because of how serious, how fundamental this principle is to science. There is nothing remarkable in the public reaction to Gleick's deception. What is remarkable is the lengths to which people like you will go to defend this behaviour. It tells the world a lot more about you than you might realise.

Commentator fnusnuank nails the issue:

If the ends justify the means then you can justify anything and that means you could argue that Anders Behring Breivik is a hero (I can see there's a bit of a problem here given that many idolize Stalin, Mao etc but you get my point).
Do you really want to go down that route?


Sean Penn and his shovel

When you're in a hole, Sean, stop digging. His attempt to return the to Falklands-Malvinas debate in Thursday's Grauniad is as entertaining as his previous weighing-in on this matter.

He starts as he means to continue:

...and despite our world's recent and evolving lessons of cultural sensitivity and economic equitability, the UK has refused to return to diplomatic efforts regarding the status of UK and Argentinian claims to the Malvinas Islands, commonly referred to as the Falkland Islands.
I'm curious what he thinks "economic equitability" means in this context: the UK should give the Falklands to Argentina because the UK is rich and Argentina is poor? Interesting.
...any lack of will to re-engage is a clear exploitation of losses already suffered. It is dismissive of a country and continent whose sacrifices and dignity have too long been neglected.
Yes, we appear to have a theme developing here; don't the poor down-trodden Argentines deserve a break? A charitable donation of the Falklands would be just the ticket.

He does, however, seem to have a bee in his bonnet about the UK/USA involvement with Chile:

The UK and General Augusto Pinochet (with ultimately timid support from the US) along with the diversionary invasion by the former Argentinian regime, did a fine job of leaving little room for that argument [that the Falklanders should be deported] on today's world stage.
I'm not entirely sure what connection he thinks Pinochet has here. After all, it was the UK who ended up detaining the former General in an attempt to have him tried for human rights violations. What's his point?

And William is apparently spear-heading a military build-up:

With the deployment of the prince, whose task is helicopter search and rescue missions from an island colony with a population of about 3,000, there is the automatic deployment of warships.
I've news for you, Sean my old chum, warships have their own helicopters. They don't need land-based SAR such as that provided by F/Lt. W. Wales's Sea King. SAR supports the fishing, recreational and commercial shipping around the islands. Now if Captain H. Wales were to turn up in his personal whirlybird, Sean may have a point; I'd certainly not be keen to be an Argentine soldier facing the pointy end of one of those...

CiF commentater davidabsalom identifies an omission in Mr. Penn's argument:

"It is difficult to imagine that there is no correlation between the likely discovery of offshore oil reserves and the message of pre-emptive intimidation being sent by the UK to Argentina."
Equally difficult to imagine that there is no correlation between the likely discovery of offshore oil reserves and attempts by Argentina to intimidate the 3,000 residents of the Falklands by refusing their ships access to Argentinian ports. Or many other South American ports thanks to Argentina's extensive diplomatic efforts with its neighbours.

In one breath Sean supports the right of Falklanders to self-determination, and in another bemoans the breaking-off of diplomatic efforts to resolve the islands' status. Surely he should take the obvious cause and support a referendum by islanders to determine which nation they want to be a part of?


Requirements engineering and the Bill

Courtesy of the inimitable Inspector Gadget, a wonderful example of failure to consult stakeholders in procurement. Someone decided to buy a fleet of new national procurement standard police vehicles without adequately consulting the poor schmucks who were going to use them. So what happened? Read the whole thing...

My favourite "feature":

5. The new red and blue strobes on the roof of the vehicles are so bright that they disorientate drivers on the motorway who are trying to pass an accident scene at night, and create a second accident right on top of the original one. A fire fighter jumps out of a fire appliance and runs over to the police crew shouting ‘get those bloody lights off, we can’t see anything ahead’.

You'd think that the basics of requirements engineering ("consult the bloody stakeholders!") would be observed by anyone in charge of such an expensive purchase, and that they'd realise that response officers would be the most likely stakeholders to push the new vehicles to their performance limits. But nooooo... I suspect that actual testing simply involved senior officers driving the vehicles at speed, verifying they didn't blow up or drink too much fuel, checking that the doors locked and then patting themselves on the back saying "job done!". You can imagine that they wouldn't be keen on waiting around until night-time to try out the vehicle and its lighting systems in typical response scenarios; they might not be home until after dinner time and that would never do.

Congratulations to whatever car manufacturer managed to palm off these vehicles on the UK police force. Your salesweasels deserve a big bonus. Of course, if your salesweasel's car is TWOC'd and set on fire, and you discover that the thief in question escaped from police custody by winding down the car window and jumping out, that would be ironic.

Open Computer Programs

I've been reading a new software engineering paper from Les "Safer C" Hatton, Darryl "Torpedo" Ince and John Graham-Cumming: The Case for Open Computer Programs in Nature. Fittingly, the full text is online and it's open to public comment.

The position I'd take is that you can't make a refutable argument based on data if your opponent can't himself analyse and run your programs to:

  1. replicate your claims,;
  2. experiment with the effect of varying your starting assumptions; and
  3. debug so that they can identify errors in your code or inconsistencies in your data.
If you don't want to make a refutable argument, you're not actually doing science; it's just propaganda.

The examples quoted include jgc's analysis of the UK Met Office + UEA's Climate Research Unit code for processing global temperature data, and a study performed on seismic data processing algorithms: in both cases, the vast array of data and complex processing meant that errors were simply not visible to the original authors, and it took significant effort from other parties to highlight the problems.

I particularly liked:

One proposed solution to the problem of ambiguity is to devote a large amount of attention to the description of a computer program, perhaps expressing it mathematically or in natural language augmented by mathematics. But this expectation would require researchers to acquire skills that are only peripheral to their work (set theory, predicate calculus and proof methods).
Or, expressed more succinctly:
Make it possible for the programmers to write in English, and you will find that programmers cannot write in English.

As the authors note, even releasing the full source may not make replication of results easy: for instance, most compiled programs (C, C++, even Ada) are notorious for producing different results on different machines in various edge cases. Building a complex program from source is far from trivial, even assuming that you have a reasonable Makefile, all the tools and dynamic library versions required. But it's a start, and at least documenting the exact build machine OS/architecture, build process and versions used gives the opponent something to get their teeth into. And if the source is visible, you don't need to wonder how the program resolved a certain case - you can step through the code in question and work it out with pencil and paper.

[Hat tip: jgc himself]


Oil: clean or dirty?

The EU appears to be concerned that oil from Canada is dirty and polluting and wants to inform oil purchasers about this.

Um. So making a mess in the middle of nowhere (and, believe me, Canada has an awful lot of nowhere) is a Bad Thing, and we should instead buy oil instead from such regimes of truth, openness and human rights as Russia, Iran and Saudi Arabia. If you say so.

Ezra Levant's Ethical Oil: The Case for Canada's Oil Sands is an interesting contrast to the EU's opinions. His perspective is that the environmental pollution from the oil sands is outweighed by the damage to human rights perpetrated by buying oil from, and therefore funding, much of the Middle East. You can argue about the relative weights of these damages, but it would be nice to see the EU at least acknowledging that such a trade-off is being made.


I've got a theory - it could be bunnies

Via Timmy, the Grauniad yesterday carried what I can only describe as an extended propaganda piece in favour of housing benefit cuts. Based around the travails of families in Westminster, it headlined with the quote:

As primary schools struggle to cope with the disruption caused to children, a council officer declares: 'To live in Westminster is a privilege, not a right'
The more naive among you might think this is obviously true, but apparently not according to the author. So my friends living in a crappy house in Stoke-on-Trent have the right to live in Westminster (and have someone else pay for their quadrupled rent); I shall have to give them a call to let them know.

Looking at one of the victims:

Until November, Amira, 39, was renting a flat near Edgware Road for £812 a week, with her four children. She is not currently working because her youngest child, aged one, is unwell and receiving treatment at Great Ormond Street hospital, and her rent was met in full by housing benefit payments.
£812 per week; £3200+ per month. I try not to swear but... bloody hell!
When her landlady realised that the family would no longer be able to afford the flat when the £340 weekly cap was introduced for three-bedroom properties, she decided not renew the tenancy.
"I went to Westminster council and they said everyone will get this letter. They said you must look for a property where the rent is lower. They gave me a website to look at," she said. She was unable to find any flat for less than the cap near enough to the school.
(My emphasis) And here we find another common thread in the stories quoted. They don't want to move their children out of the local school because it's disruptive to the children, and (though this is unsaid) they clearly don't think they'll get access to a school anything like as good when they are moved to Enfield or Dagenham.

It's clearly going to be a massive disruption for the families concerned, and one has to feel some sympathy; that sympathy is tempered with the knowledge that each of them has received £30k-40k per year in housing benefit alone for goodness knows how many years.

I believe that I have rumbled the motivations of the author, Guardian social affairs writer Amelia Gentleman: she is in league with Danny Alexander and George Osborne, using the pages of the Grauniad to propagandise the least sympathetic housing benefit cut losers in order to drum up support for the cuts.

Read the comments on Tim's article, they're quite the hoot. JuliaM, chronicler of the UK underclass, nails another issue in her first comment:

Also, I note that no father is mentioned in any of those three cases...


Defending London Midland

"How does it feel having those words come out of your mouth?" "Like ashes."

An unfortunate gentleman decides to end it all by jumping in front of a train at Selly Oak, and London Midland tweets:

Go to the pub - things will be rubbish for at least the next hour
and later:
When another commuter asked if the victim was OK, the train worker tweeted ‘nope’ and then said to another user: ‘Can’t stop someone jumping off a platform in front of a train I’m afraid.’

Cue outrage at the "insensitivity" from the usual suspects.

While I yield to no-one in my general poor disposition towards London "asleep at the switch" Midland, I'm actually with them on this one. It's not their fault that the guy jumped, and they can't do anything to speed up the clean-up, so the advice of going to the pub is probably the best idea going.

I very much doubt the dead chap's family and friends much care about what London Midland is tweeting. Anyone else expressing faux outrage should consider that the jumper stuck London Midland with this situation, and they're just making the best of a bad job.

Sony has no balls

Sony increased the price of two Whitney Houston albums after her death last Sunday, and now Sony claims the price increase was a mistake:

In a statement, Sony said the albums had been "mistakenly mispriced".
It added the error was "immediately corrected" once it had been discovered.

If you believe that, I've got a bridge I'd like you to buy.

What's so distressing about this isn't the price increase, it's Sony's failure to stand behind a bit of red-blooded capitalism. A Sony spokesperson should have said something like the following:

We realised that the surge in interest in Whitney's music following her tragic and untimely death was an opportunity we would have been irresponsible to miss. We therefore raised the price of her recent albums by £3 in order to maximise the amount of money which would find its way to her bereaved family (after suitable deductions to cover the cost of our CEO's next golfing holiday in Hawaii).


Don't confuse us with the facts!

A random follow of a link from the CiF pages under the heading "Brian Whitaker's best blogs and analysis from the Middle East" led me to "Jadaliyya" which has a fascinating take on Ayaan Hirsi Ali's claims that Muslims are conducting war on Christians across the world.

It's clear that the author (Anthony Alessandrini) is not that keen on Ms. Hirsi Ali:

Having already reached her inevitable conclusion in her opening, Hirsi Ali appears to feel little need to support it with anything so mundane as actual facts, instead offering a loosely-connected cherry picking tour that ties together incidents of violence against Christians and other religious minorities in Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, and Indonesia.
although interestingly he doesn't dispute any of the facts she offers; instead aiming at the context of her data:
[about Indonesia]...she cites data complied by the Christian Post suggesting an increase in violent incidents against religious minorities of nearly forty percent between 2010 and 2011. Again, this is certainly a cause for concern, but it would be interesting to ask Hirsi Ali how she would compare this increase to the more than fifty percent increase in hate crimes against Muslims in the United States between 2009 and 2010, as reported by the FBI.
and the time-honoured strategy of playing the (wo)man, not the ball:
What is more worthy of note, however, are those claims by Hirsi Ali that suggest a number of moves taken out of the contemporary neo-conservative playbook. Hirsi Ali's connections to the neo-con movement—she is, among other things, a research fellow at the American Enterprise Institute—have been widely noted.

So in Muslim nations across the world, Muslims are indisputably persecuting, killing and driving out Christians, in many cases with their nation's acquiesence, but we shouldn't be too concerned about that because a) American citizens badmouth Muslim neighbours and b) the person pointing out the facts hangs around conservative American politicans?

Whew, I was nearly worried for a minute.

[A note for Anthony who may have forgotten a point in Ayaan Hirsi Ali's motivation: do you remember what happened to her Dutch friend Theo van Gogh when he helped her make the film "Submission" criticising Islam? Perhaps you should refresh your memory. ]


I disagree with what you say, but will defend to the death your right to be muzzled

Rather disturbed at Lord Leveson's proposal to extend his proposed press restrictions to bloggers especially with his sympathy to Inayat Bungawala's complaints about depiction of Islam in the media (hat tip: Kate at Small Dead Animals).

In particular:

Inayat Bunglawala said the amount of negative stories about Muslims in Britain is "demonizing" Islam and fuelling a "false narrative." He called on the government to do all it can to "ensure a fairer portrayal, a more balanced portrayal of the faith of Islam" in the British media.
Inayat, my friend, that isn't the government's job. That's your job. If you want a more positive portrayal, you and your pals need to be writing columns, funding / producing / acting in TV series, or recording songs which give this more positive portrayal. If the British public doesn't believe or listen to your lauding, that's not really their problem.

I particularly liked:

Bunglawala, who says he represents mainstream moderate Muslim opinion
Great. Who represents mainstream Christian opinion? The Archbish of Canterbury? Giles Fraser? The Pope? Jesus Christ and the writings of the apostles? Mrs. Ethel Smith who's attended her local Anglican church for forty years? My local vicar? Or is there no such thing as Christian mainstream moderate opinion? If there's one thing I hate, it's the propensity of activists to claim to speak for a huge swathe of population when there's absolutely no evidence they do so, or accountability to the people they allegedly represent.

Lord Leveson, a word or two in your ear about the Internet. Blogs are supra-national. The ease of setting up a blog on UK topics hosted solely in the USA is in marked contrast to the effort required to establish a dead-tree publication or spectrum broadcast programme. This blog is hosted on Blogger, owned by Google, which means that copies of the blog are distributed around the world in Google's data centers. How are you going to regulate blogs like this which carry content that's perfectly legal in all countries apart from the UK (and perhaps China, North Korea)?


OMG! Technology and paedos!

In an article perilously close to jumping the shark, the Daily Mail has a conniption fit about geo-tagged photos. All a paedophile has to do is search for images of children, check their geotags, and then they know where these (randomly selected) children live! Surely this must be the end of society as we know it!

The article explains the crawling horror of technology:

The location information could be used to locate a child's home based on information publicly available on Flickr,' explains Kuzma.
'Publishing geolocation data raises concerns about privacy and security of children. Personalised information is available to internet users who may have dubious reasons for accessing this data.'
Heaven forbid! We must disable all geotags immediately! Doing this will mean that paedophiles actually have to walk down the street and observe footballs / swings / trampled plants / play-tents in gardens to determine houses where children live.

Personally, I'd locate a survivalist compound in rural Texas and amend the geo-tags on my photos to that location. That should thin out the paedophile ranks a little.


Dear Daily Mail editors, a mathmo is yanking your chain

The photo accompanying an article claiming "Maths 'too hard for students and dons': Universities drop subject from science courses" is of a blackboard with maths that makes no sense.

I see:

  1. a nonsense vector equation
  2. a pointless series adjoined without explanation to a meaningless delta equivalence (assuming the series is of t, y is +/1)
  3. an equation with a missing right bracket
  4. a bastardisation of Boyle's Law
  5. the function product differentiation identity
  6. some trivial differentiation identities

Whoever is the mathmo who wrote that up for you, he holds journalists in complete contempt. I'm with him.


Pragmatism vs Parenting

Never was there a minefield so thickly sown as any discussion involving teenaged girls, contraception and schools. The Grauniad enters it from the viewpoint of Lisa Hallgarten, director of Education For Choice which accordng to her Guardian profile is "dedicated to enabling young people to make and act on informed choices about pregnancy and abortion". The Education for Choice homepage is a little less nuanced:

supporting young people's right to informed choice on abortion
with helpful "Facts about abortion" and "Abortion resources" prominent. So we now know where Lisa is coming from in this debate...

The particular case which has provoked this article is one where 33 13-year old girls were prescribed a contraceptive implant at school:

The teenager is one of 33 schoolgirls who have been fitted with the device in Southampton, Hants, as part of a controversial government initiative to drive down teenage pregnancies.
Now she has broken her silence to defend her actions, saying she believes she acted responsibly by taking measures to stop herself getting pregnant.
And her mother insisted she was "proud" of her daughter, although she claimed performing a minor surgical procedure at school without parental consent was "morally wrong".
(Head in hands). I know this is Southampton, but even so... I note that "not having sex" was apparently rejected as a option, and that the contraceptive implant does SFA to protect against STDs.

By the way, did the age of consent drop to 13 when I wasn't looking? If not, aren't the health workers here encouraging the commission of a serious crime? At the very least, why aren't they asking pointed questions about the person or people that the girl intends to have sex with?

Lisa notes, not unreasonably:

Everyone's ideal scenario is that young people and their parents have the kind of relationships in which they can discuss these issues openly and safely. For those who can't, most parents would rather their children did have the option of talking to a trained health professional than the alternative – which is no information or advice, no contraception and the risk of unintended pregnancy.
The problem here is that there's something of a gap between "talking to a trained health professional" and "receiving long-lasting hormone treatment and actively encouraging unprotected sex in under-age children without parental knowledge or consent", and it's the latter which is causing more parents to be concerned. At the risk of repeating clichés: parents can't ask schools to give their children asthma medication, but the same schools can give their children contraceptive implants without even informing the parents. These implants let the children feel free to have sex without risk of pregnancy (because they have no other purpose) while leaving them wide open to acquiring STDs from their new-found friends. WTF?

Care to take this debate on, Lisa?

[Good Lord, I think I'm in near-complete agreement with Nadine Dorries. I need a lie-down.]


The irony meter has melted

I had to pinch myself when I saw the article: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin writing in the Guardian about the need for Russia to reject corruption and build a modern democracy.

You couldn't make it up.

Read the whole thing: here's a quote to whet your appetite.

But I strongly believe we do not need a circus of candidates competing with each other to make increasingly unrealistic promises.
Quite right, Vlad my old chum. One Putin-endorsed candidate is all any sensible (read: self-preserving) Russian needs.

Top comment so far comes from Helen121:

Perhaps a good place you could start would be to allow a free press and stop killing journalists. Here's a list of dead Russian journalists: here


All eyes on the Olympics Opening Ceremony

The 2012 London Mayor election takes place on May 3rd this year. The most likely winners are the current incumbent Boris "Bozza" Johnson (Tory) and the previous mayor "Red" Ken "The Newt" Livingstone. While this blogger could normally care less about the political scene of London, I would like to draw your attention to the fact that, two months after this election, the winner will be headlining the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.

I've seen Ken on any number of TV shows, and he's a cut above the average debater; even while disagreeing with his politics you have to concede his debating skills. However, I think any right-minded person will concede that, when it comes to the potential for an incredibly embarrassing but entertaining public spectacle, there is no competition worthy of the name for Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson. Watching him at the Beijing Olympics brought tears to my eyes; as he expounded on the subject of whiff-whaff, one could imagine the bug-eyed expressions of the Chinese senior politicians and apparatchiks as they listened to their translators. If Boris at the Olympics doesn't cause at least two diplomatic protests to be filed, I have sadly mis-judged him.

Therefore, people of London, I urge you to think of the spectacle of foreign dignitaries spluttering into their glasses of taxpayer-funded vintage champagne, and vote for Boris on May 3rd.


This is what the Government want to spend tax money on...

...aid to a country that doesn't want it:

...the foreign minister, Nirumpama Rao, proposed "not to avail [of] any further DFID [British] assistance with effect from 1st April 2011," because of the "negative publicity of Indian poverty promoted by DFID".
But officials at DFID, Britain’s Department for International Development, told the Indians that cancelling the programme would cause "grave political embarrassment" to Britain, according to sources in Delhi.

So, and let's be sure this is clear, civil servants at DFID were pushing to give UK taxpayers' money to India, despite India actively trying to refuse it, in order to prevent embarrassment of their bosses.

I have a modest proposal: save the £250mm/year aid (returning it to taxpayers in the form of higher personal tax allowances), making the Indians happy; fire the DFID officials and their boss and then there's no danger of them being embarrassed by their position. Everyone wins!


Conference call security

There's no such thing as security on a conference call, as the FBI and Scotland Yard are discovering.

I'd bet the public number and 6-9 digit access code for the call was widely circulated internally (deliberately or inadvertently) by the FBI; someone passed the info on to Anonymous, who dialled in from a compromised phone line - kerching, they get to record the call with no personal risk.

A secret's security varies as the inverse square of the number of participants. If you don't want someone to hear what you're saying, the discussion needs to be between a small number of participants who must individually authenticate onto the call, where access points are strictly limited. This is awkward to arrange, especially internationally, and costs serious money. It also requires participants who really care about security, and these are much harder to find than you might think.

Better yet, fly over and have the meeting in person. Or shut up.

Update: the FBI confesses:

...an F.B.I. official said Anonymous had not in fact hacked into it or any other bureau facilities. Instead, the official said, the group had simply obtained an e-mail giving the time, telephone number and access code for the call. The e-mail had been sent on Jan. 13 to more than three dozen people at the bureau, Scotland Yard, and agencies in France, Germany, Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden. One recipient, a foreign police official, evidently forwarded the notification to a private account, he said, and it was then intercepted by Anonymous.



Let he who is without sin cast the first stone

Shock! Horror! American comedian swears on BBC Breakfast TV:

Presenters Bill Turnbull and Sian Williams had asked funnyman Dave Fulton how he would pronounce one of Del Boy's favourite sayings 'lovely jubbly' in an American accent.
Fulton replied: 'You wouldn't, because it's like me saying w****r'.
(What kind of hack uses the word 'funnyman'? I ask you.)

I'd like to point out that Colm Meaney got to say "bollocks" and have it broadcast at 6pm on American network TV. So I don't think we have much room to complain about Dave Fulton.