Monday 25 August 2008

Ringmer Triathlon

A quick salute to a couple of people who are a lot fitter than I am.

This was at the end of the Ringmer Triathlon, and the weather was fairly filthy - it was after all a Bank Holiday Monday. There were a lot of people around pushing their bikes and walking very, very slowly.

I'm not entirely sure what the pirate gear was for; perhaps they're practising for International Talk Like A Pirate Day.

Wednesday 20 August 2008

Am I frightened? No. I'm terrified.

Now it's officially called IMP. That no longer stands for Interface Message Processor, which has an honourable place in the history of the internet, but for Interception Modernisation Programme, which I fear will not. Or, as per El Reg, the überdatabase. I refer to the plan to start keeping all of our electronic communications in one giant shoebox. It will be big, that is not in question; in fact it will be enormous. And, of course, we're not allowed to know how enormous because the government can use both of its favourite excuses - commercial sensitivity AND security implications. Must have been a red letter day for the civil servant who realised that one. From the House of Lords (look about two thirds of the way down, or do a search on "Northesk"):

"The interception modernisation programme (IMP) will require a substantial level of investment which will need to tie in with the Government's three-year CSR periods. The scale of overall economic investment is very difficult to calculate because of the complexity of the project and wide ranging implementation solutions currently being considered.

"Given this complexity and the commercial and national security sensitivities, the precise costs of the programme cannot be disclosed. Further detail on budgetary estimates for the IMP will, however, become available once the draft Communications Data Bill is published."

The government excuse is that in the days of complex communications and increased threat we need to keep up our capability. Others argue that we're not just keeping up, we're opening up unparalleled opportunities for snooping. That includes the Information Commissioner's Office, from whom I quote:

"If the intention is to bring all mobile and internet records together under one system, this would give us serious concerns and may well be a step too far. We are not aware of any justification for the state to hold every UK citizen’s phone and internet records. We have real doubts that such a measure can be justified, or is proportionate or desirable. Such a measure would require wider public discussion. Proper safeguards would be needed to ensure that the data is only used for the proper purpose of detecting crime.

"We have warned before that we are sleepwalking into a surveillance society. Holding large collections of data is always risky; the more data that is collected and stored, the bigger the problem when the data is lost, traded or stolen. Defeating crime and terrorism is of the utmost importance, but we are not aware of any pressing need to justify the government itself holding this sort of data. If there is a problem with the current arrangements, we stand ready to advise on how they can be improved, rather than creating an additional system to house all records."

What terrifies me is the meeting together in one place of four of the worst features of government, particularly the current lot:

- their almost unparalleled capacity to cock up large scale IT projects
- their winning way with data security
- the inevitability of mission creep where data held by government is concerned
- the inevitability of mission creep, both lawful and unlawful, where snooping powers are concerned.

I will not be sleeping more soundly in my bed as a result of this.

Monday 18 August 2008

Dawkins on Darwin

I watched Dawkins on Darwin tonight, and found myself wondering if fundamentalist minds seek out other fundamentalist minds. He really hates Christian fundamentalists, but he can't seem to stop himself scratching the itch. While I agree with his analysis of what the idiocies of creationism do to the world we see around us, he seems to be unable (or perhaps unwilling) to understand how the minds work of people who believe it. In the end he seemed to me to make a statement of faith in science that was as emotionally based and as irrational as the people he combats. He couldn't persuade so he ended up asserting.

But for me the most disturbing part of the programme was when he interviewed some non-creationist science teachers. He did a field trip with some of their secondary school pupils and was astonished at how little they knew of evolution. So he talked to their teachers about it. The teachers said they had a number of children (they didn't say what proportion) who'd been brought up to believe the creationist explanation, and it was difficult to teach them something different. So far so good. But then they seemed to abrogate their responsibility - they said it was not their job to disturb the children's religious beliefs, and so they would lay out the scientific arguments but not try to persuade the children to believe them.

I feel though that it's not just about beliefs but also about how to think. Christians can think. I know that, I am one. To my mind science teachers have a duty to show how to react in a scientific way to the world around. Start with what you see. Build up a hypothesis to explain what you see. Test it. Find it wanting. Modify it. Test it again. And so on. You don't necessarily need to confront creationism, but you can point out to children how a scientific view of the world is built up. One of the most insidious lies of creationism is that it deserves equal air time with evolution because evolution is "just a hypothesis" and creationism is a hypothesis on the same footing. Those who argue that couldn't be more fundamentally, totally and idiotically wrong. Science starts with what we see around us, and builds hypotheses to fit. Creationism starts with an idea and bends the world to fit it. Its method is diametrically opposed to science, and children brought up to believe it need to be told that.

I think in fact that those science teachers were probably not being entirely honest. I think that they likely (and quite understandably) took an easy option, and didn't confront creationism for fear of having a load of stroppy fundamentalist parents making trouble in their classrooms and at school meetings. I don't blame them for that, but I'm sad if it's so. One of the difficulties of being moderate (like me) is that we often don't fight hard enough for our beliefs.

Monday 4 August 2008

The Dark Knight - possible spoiler alert

Just went to see The Dark Knight. I've never been a great fan of Batman films, but this one had me hooked. Lots of great moments, and a wonderful rumbly sound track. It was darker than those I've seen before - not sure how many or even which I've seen.

***possible spoilers below***

Heath Ledger - magnetic.

Christian Bale - got a bit fed up with him growling, especially when Aaron Eckhart started doing it too.

Aaron Eckhart - yes, OK. Didn't convince when turning bad/slightly insane. Neither did his make up, when it became relevant. It just looked like a parody of itself.

Maggie Ghyllenhaal - OK.

Michael Caine - very good, in an understated Caine-ish sort of way.

Curious but clearly thought through way of dealing with violence - lots of thumping, lots of shooting, lots of blowing up, but they only very, very rarely showed the results. I guess that's what kept its rating at 12a.

Lurking in there somewhere was a theme about whether you can become evil in order to combat evil, which Christopher Nolan kept in the frame enough to make a narrative out of a series of spectacular stunts. And in which he did a very professional job.

My rating - somewhere between 3 and 4 stars. A decent afternoon's entertainment.

KP and the Cantona conundrum

KP still offers no apology for making stupid strokes. "That's the way I play", he says, and much opinion repeats that and says you have to take the bad with the good, that's what he is, and he's never going to change. I say that's rubbish.

They used to say exactly the same thing about Eric Cantona. "He's a genius; and that means you have to accept the bad boy antics, because that's all wrapped up with him being a genius. You can't have one without the other."

But Eric proved them wrong. After his attack on the Crystal Palace fan, he was sentenced to community service and was banned from playing for several months. When he eventually came back, he was just as much a playing genius as he had ever been, but the bad boy antics had disappeared. People can learn, even people as apparently hot headed as Eric Cantona.

(The case of Joey Barton is an interesting one too - related though not the same thing. Kevin Keegan has has his fair share of critics for allowing Barton back into the fold. I don't know if Barton has reformed or not - I guess we'll find out this season. But I didn't see any of Kevin's critics taking that into account when they attacked him. Apparently people don't deserve a chance when they come out of prison. But that's a different issue.)

So, as I said, people can learn. And I hope KP starts to realise that he too can learn. He wants to dominate the opposition bowlers. Fine. But he can learn that there are many, many ways of dominating, and he will only be a great player, as opposed to a greatly talented one, when he starts to choose the right way to dominate in *these* circumstances at *this* time, rather than just trying to blast them out of their socks at every opportunity. I hope he does learn - he'll be a much better player for it.

So it's KP

So it's Kevin Pietersen to captain England. Not the first South African we've had captain England. I hope he succeeds but I fear he won't. I have decided that if he does, I will eat my hat, and it will be a joyful duty to undertake.

However, if I am to take this commitment seriously, I must have some criteria to decide on whether he has in fact been successful. Two years seems a good time for an assessment, so I have until this time 2010 - or, just to get in a full season,let's say the end of September 2010.

But what constitutes success? Is it just in terms of winning tests? Should it be winning more than he loses? We would have to include one dayers as well, so what is the criterion there? Should I include among the criteria his own form - must he keep up his averagae of 50 in tests and 47 in ODIs?

I'd be grateful for help from my readers on this, so suggestions are welcome from anyone, and especially from James Schneider, and Jonny Wright.

Pietersen, Collingwood and morality

James Schneider has a piece over at Schneiderhome on the difference in how we have reacted to Pietersen and Collingwood on 94. I was writing a comment, but it got so long that I turned it into a blog instead.

The lesson James draws is to do with our reactions to agency and guilt, or, I would say, responsibility, and the role chance plays - the difference between a hero and a fool is often just a couple of inches. But I think the example chosen doesn't do the job. Pietersen and Collingwood each, on 94, tried to reach 100 with a six. Pietersen failed, Collingwood succeeded. James says they were the same shot. But they weren't, nor was the context the same. Pietersen's was a showboating shot, a completely unnecessary risk, a sweep across the line of the ball. Collingwood's was a straight drive. In that over he blocked two or three balls that were of dangerous length. He blocked, he waited, he blocked, he waited. When one dropped short, and was asking to be hit, he went and hit it. It is the difference between a rush of blood to the head and a calculated risk.

And remember this is in the context of a man who says (Pietersen) "That's the way I play". In other words he is unwilling to change it or incapable of changing it, or both. That is not the attitude of a professional who, with his talent, ought to be able to drop anchor and play through two, three or four sessions when necessary without losing his head, even if it's not his natural game. The contrast with what Graeme Smith has done in these three tests is colossal.

And that is at least part of the explanation of why Pietersen is being treated differently from Collingwood. He sold his wicket cheaply, even if he had scored 94 runs before it. He put himself in that position. Chance does have a role to play, but so does a responsible attitude.

And that's why I'm hoping England don't appoint Pietersen captain. Nassser Hussain says he's a leader of men, and I am willing to take NH's word for it. But there is still a measure of immaturity in him that he needs to take in hand before he can be a true captain.