2017-05-23

Manchester

The only speech we need to hear from the UK Government is:

To those people behind Monday night's bombing in Manchester: we are going to find you and we are going to fuck you up.

2017-05-12

Downsides of an IT monolith (NHS edition)

I have been watching, with no little schadefreude (trans. "damage joy") today's outage of many NHS services as a result of a ransomware attack.

This could happen to anyone, n'est ce pas? The various NHS trusts affected were just unlucky. They have many, many users (admin staff in each GP's surgery; nurses, auxiliaries and doctors rushing to enter data before dashing off to the next patient). Why is it unsurprising that this is happening now?

The NHS is an organisational monolith. It makes monolithic policy announcements. As a result of those policies, Windows XP became the canonical choice for NHS PCs. It is still the canonical choice for NHS PCs. Windows XP launched to the public in late 2001. Microsoft ended support for Windows XP in April 2014. Honestly, I have to give Microsoft kudos for this (oh, that hurts) because they kept XP supported way beyond any reasonable timeframe. But all good things come to an end, and security updates are no longer built for XP. The NHS paid Microsoft for an extra year of security patches but decided not to extend that option beyond 2015, presumably because no-one could come up with a convincing value proposition for it. Oops.

The consequences of this were inevitable, and today we saw them. A huge userbase of Internet-connected PCs no longer receiving security updates is going to get hit by something - they were a bit unlucky that it was ransomware, which is harder to recover from than a straight service-DoS, but this was entirely foreseeable.

Luckily the NHS mandates that all critical operational data be backed up to central storage services, and that its sites conduct regular data-restore exercises. Doesn't it? Bueller?

I don't want to blame the central NHS IT security folks here - I'm sure they do as good a job as possible in an impossible-to-manage environment, and that the central patient data is fairly secure. However, if you predicate effective operations for most of the NHS on data stored on regular PCs then you really want to be sure that they are secure. Windows XP has been end-of-support for three gold-durned years at this point, and progress in getting NHS services off it has been negligible. You just know that budget for this migration got repurposed for something else more time-sensitive "temporarily".

This is a great example of organisational inertia, in fact maybe a canonical one. It was going to be really hard to argue for a massively expensive and disruptive change, moving all NHS desktops to a less-archaic OS - Windows 10 seems like a reasonable candidate, but would still probably require a large proportion of desktops and laptops to be replaced. As long as nothing was on fire, there would be a huge pushback on any such change with very few people actively pushing for it to happen. So nothing would happen - until now...

Please check back in 2027 when the NHS will have been on Windows 10 for 8 years, 2 years end-of-life, and the same thing will be happening again.

2017-04-13

'Fearless' girl? Is that really the best adjective?

The famous "Charging Bull" statue in Manhattan has been garnering a lot of proximate press recently. Contrary to the belief of lazy journalists, it's not actually anywhere near Wall Street: check out the map, it's a good 600 feet away.

Last month, a temporary bronze statue "Fearless Girl" was placed opposite the bull, garnering all sorts of breathless praise by journos about the strong feminist message that it imparts. Since the Fearless Girl statue was created by the investment firm "State Street Global Advisors", I suspect that nothing other than their marketing department's desperate desire for publicity and their CEO's self-image were the main factors behind the project: since only 5 of their 28-strong leadership team are female, two of whom are in the traditional female bastions of HR and Compliance, one suspects that this is compensatory signalling. The statue's plaque:

Know the power of women in leadership. SHE makes a difference.
confirms my suspicions.

The Charging Bull sculptor Arturo Di Modica is not amused:

"The placement of the statue of the young girl in opposition to 'Charging Bull' has undermined the integrity and modified the 'Charging Bull'" Siegel said. "The 'Charging Bull' no longer carries a positive, optimistic message. Rather it has been transformed into a negative force and a threat."

State Street Global Advisor and the statue artist Kristen Visbal may believe that this is a powerful message of feminine empowerment. However, if in real life you saw a 4-foot girl standing square against a charging bull, hands on hips in defiance, I'm pretty sure you wouldn't think her "brave" and "assertive"; words like "foolish" and "insane" would be more likely to pass your lips.

I'm reminded of Hilaire Beloc's Sarah Byng, whose illiteracy led her into a field containing a bull:

Alas! The young illiterate
Went blindly forward to her fate,
And ignorantly climbed the gate!
Now happily the Bull that day
Was rather in the mood for play
Than goring people through and through
As Bulls so very often do;
He tossed her lightly with his horns
Into a prickly hedge of thorns,
And stood by laughing while she strode
And pushed and struggled to the road.

State Street Global Advisor and Kristen Visbal should perhaps take the lesson that your perceptions of how the world should be, no matter how right-on, are much less important in pratice than how it actually reacts to you.

2017-03-08

A litmus test for Silicon Valley on women's rights

Today is International Women's Day, and here in Silicon Valley I have been besieged by virtue signalling around it: red ribbons (wasn't that the AIDS symbol? won't they be pissed at the appropriation?), men wearing red shirts with the logo "#supporter" and so on.

"We gave up on actual equality and we virtue-signalled. Right Bon?"
"Oh yes. That's right Stu, we virtue-signalled hard.
Of course, talk is cheap; let's talk about revealed preferences.

A primary complaint expressed during International Women's Day is that women are underpaid compared to men. Tech companies are heavy users of H1-B visas which draw relatively highly paid jobs in technology. How many men hold H1-B visas compared to women? It's hard to tell for some reason, but:

While the Obama administration came under fire at the hearing for not revealing how many men and women hold H-1B visas, the nation’s centerpiece program for highly skilled workers, the data requested by the Bay Area News Group provided the scope of the imbalance: The U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics recorded 347,087 male H-1B visa holders entered the country during the 2011 fiscal year compared to 137,522 women.
So women made up approximately 28% of H1-B visas in 2011, which was the most recent year in which I could find any reference to gender split. I wonder why the USCIS is so coy about this data?

Here's a proposal for Silicon Valley firms to back:

  • Deploring the wage gap between women and men where women only earn 77% of the salary that men do[1];
  • Understanding that the H1-B visa is intended to bring highly skilled immigrants into the United States;
  • Accepting that Silicon Valley is a disproportionate beneficiary of the H1-B program;
  • Recognizing that it is incumbent on Silicon Valley firms to back their words on gender pay equality with words;
  • [CompanyName] resolves to keep its annual H1-B visa hires within 5% of a 50:50 male:female ratio.

Otherwise, all this talk of "support" for International Women's Day is just low-cost wanking, and surely that can't be the case?

[1] - yes, yes, I know, but let's pretend that Silicon Valley firms believe the propaganda that they propagate.

2017-03-03

Bay Area tech women will be striking

Next Wednesday, 8th March, is International Women's Day and so, in a celebration of feminine puissance, a coterie of female engineers in Bay Area tech companies are planning to strike.

At this point I must borrow words from the colourful Times columnist India Knight and sigh: "Fuck's actual sake."

The guidance to women thinking of striking is widespread and varying in tone. Cassady Fendlay, a holder of "BS in Labor Relations", has provided a handy template letter to an employer, which is almost un-fiskable but I like a challenge:

I hope you will stand in support of me, and any of my women colleagues who choose to participate, in observance of this day. Places of employment can participate by closing for the day or giving women workers the day off, whether paid or unpaid.
Mmm, I'd be going for "unpaid" there, bubba. Because if you give all your female employees a paid day off for attending International Women's Day, you can bet your bottom dollar that the employment lawyers will be knocking on your door the day afterwards asking for a corresponding concession for Men's Day. I also wonder about trans employees - do they get their own day, or do they have to pick one of the existing ones - and "genderfluid" employees - do they observe both days? Neither? [If you think this is facetious, you clearly haven't spent time in a Bay Area tech company recently.]

Back to Ms Fendlay:

By ensuring that women have pay equity, a livable [sic] wage and paid leave, businesses can demonstrate that their long-term actions align with the values we are standing up for on this day.
So it's fine for men not to have a wage they can live on? What she's claiming, of course, is that women generally suffer pay discrimination, which has been comprehensively debunked. I'm sure there are some employers where this is true, but I can assure you that Bay Area tech companies are not the primary examples.

And to finish:

At an increasingly insecure [my italics] time for the rights of women and other minority groups, it is important to me that I also stand for the value of equality. I hope you will support me in my decision.
"Increasingly insecure"? FFS. I'm going out on a limb here and assuming that they're not referring to Iran, Saudi Arabia et al. I can't help but note that the national leaders of the UK, Taiwan, Chile, South Korea and Germany are female, and the USA came within inches of electing a female President despite her being desperately unlikeable. What the actual fuck is "insecure" about women's rights in 2017 compared to the 100 years previous?

Personally, I wouldn't see any problem with letting my employees, female or male, have the day off - unpaid, or out of their vacation. If they're scheduled for interviews, a support rotation or other business critical function I'd expect them to arrange cover since their absence is reasonably foreseeable. Enjoy the day all you want, but follow the rules that apply to every employee. That's equality for you.

Of course, the danger is that the strike is a) widely observed, and b) makes no material impact...

2017-02-11

Erdogan and his nocturnal ovine pleasuring habits

Like many others who support free speech, I was very disappointed in yesterday's decision by a Hamburg court that it stands by its ban of a satirical poem by German comedian Jan Böhmermann. Herr Böhmermann, not a big fan of the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erodgan and his oppression of both people and speech, narrated this poem "Schmägedicht" ("Defamation Poem") on his show on 31st March 2016.

Here's the original reading: if you have any German speakers in the room with you then now would be an excellent time to send them out.

Jan Böhmermann - Erdogan Gedicht (Jan Boehmermann Erdogan poem) (English subtitled) from mjchris on Vimeo.

As a public service, here is my transcription of the original text, plus a translation.

GermanEnglish
Sackdoof, feige und verklemmt Stupid as fuck, cowardly and uptight
Ist Erdogan, der Präsident is Erdogan, the president.
Sein Gelöt stinkt schlimm nach Döner His erection reeks of Doner kebab;
selbst ein Schweinefurz riecht schöner Even a pig fart smells better.
Er ist der Mann, der Mädchen schlägt He's a man who hits girls
und dabei Gummimasken trägt while wearing rubber masks.
Am liebsten mag er Ziegen ficken He loves most to fuck goats
und Minderheiten unterdrücken and repress minorities.
 
Kurden treten, Christen hauen Kicking Kurds, beating Christians
und dabei Kinderpornos schauen while gazing at kiddie porn.
Und selbst abends heisst’s statt schlafen And at night, instead of sleep,
Fellatio mit hundert Schafen Performs fellatio on a hundred sheep.
Ja, Erdogan ist voll and ganz Yes, Erdogan truly is
ein Präsident mit kleinem Schwanz A president with a small dick.
 
Jeden Türken hört man flöten Every Turk will tell you
die dumme Sau hat Schrumpelklöten the stupid pig has wrinkled balls.
Von Ankara bis Istanbul From Ankara to Istanbul
weiss jeder, dieser Mann ist schwul everyone knows this man's a poof,
pervers, verlaust und zoophil perverse, lice-ridden, an animal fucker.
Recep “Fritzl Priklopil” Recep (Josef) Fritzl (Wolfgang) Priklopil [the famous perverts]
 
Sein Kopf so leer wie seine Eier His head as empty as his balls,
der Star auf jeder Gangbang-Feier the star of every gangbang party.
Bis der Schwanz beim Pinkeln brennt Until his cock burns when he pisses
das is Recep Erdogan, der türkische Präsident That’s Recep Erdogan, the Turkish president.

The court assessment was that only 6 of the 24 lines were acceptable: you can view their transcript with "unacceptable" lines marked in red. Interestingly they didn't seem to object to the suggestion that Erdogan likes wearing rubber masks while beating girls.

Germany and Turkey, of course, have the right to make whatever laws they desire about the limits on free speech and criticism of women-beating dictators. We in turn have the right to tell them what we think of their laws, and of Recep Tayyip Erdogan - and in the future, whenever we see President Erdogan on screen, hear in our minds the bleating of a hundred happy sheep.

28 hours of racial lies

One of the latest bits of social justice posturing is the play "Every 28 hours", a project produced by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival:

Every 28 Hours is a national partnership focused on the widely shared and contested statistic that every twenty-eight hours a black person is killed by vigilante, security guard, or the police in the United States.
Regular readers will know that a maths-based arse-kicking is coming. But perhaps, disregarding the numbers, this play is still a compelling work? After all, Harold Pinter was a complete arse, but his plays could still pull in the crowds. Might it be the same here?
The Every 28 Hours Plays consist of 72 one-minute plays inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, with participation from artists across the nation.
OK, maybe I'll save myself the price of the ticket and just gently gouge out my eyes with a spoon.

One black person killed every 28 hours is 312 black people murdered a year. This is 312 murders too many, no matter who's doing it - and, let's be clear, I'm not quibbling with this . However, let's put this in some numerical context, shall we? I'm assuming that the "Every 28 Hours" authors are mostly liberal arts majors, so I promise to go slow and show my working. (Which, I'd guess, is a sight more than they do.)

The Facts

I'm using the FBI 2015 crime figures, specifically Expanded Homicide Data Table 6 (Race, Ethnicity, and Sex of Victim by Race, Ethnicity, and Sex of Offender, 2015).

Race/Ethnicity of victim Total Race of offender
White Black / African-American Other Unknown
White 3,167 2,574 500 49 44
Black / African-American 2,664 229 2,380 13 42
Other race 222 60 34 126 2
Unknown race 84 34 20 6 24

The other key stat is that, as of 2010, 12.6% of Americans are black or African-American - 1 citizen in 8. I'm making a leap of faith that this fraction has not changed significantly in the past 6 years. Since white people are about 63% of the population, they outnumber black Americans 5 to 1.

The Math(s)

The obvious stat that leaps out - though is hard to state grammatically: white people kill approximately as many white people as black people kill black people. White-on-black and black-on-white killings are actually relatively infrequent. This is also true for the "other" racial category (Asian, mixed-race, Native America etc) which turns out to be a similar fraction of the US population as black / African-American, but only about 7% of the number of racial colleagues killed even if you incorporate the "unknown" category.

So we could produce a companion play "Every 220 Minutes" representing the time interval between one black person killing another black person. We could also write "Every 17 1/2 hours" for a black person killing a white person, and "Every 38 hours" for a white person killing a black person.

But wait! If we have to wait 38 hours for a white person to kill a black person, and a black person is killed by a vigilante / security guard / police officer every 28 hours, doesn't that mean that some of those vigilantes / security guards / police officers must be black (or other ethnic minority)? Why yes, it does. I wonder if "Every 28 Hours" brings out this aspect of the statistics.

The truly terrifying stat is simply that black Americans kill about the same number of people as white Americans despite being outnumbered 5:1. The fear of young black American males held by many white people is visceral rather than statistical - the rate at which black people kill white people is about what you'd expect given the relative proportion of population - but black people in the 20-29 age range should be fucking terrified of black males aged 17 to 24 because they are the ones doing most of the killing of victims in that age range.

Why in the name of all that is holy are the "Every 28 Hours" folks talking about (white) police officers as a deadly influence, when young black men do 10 times more killing?

The Weasels

Let's go back to the Every 28 Hours claim:

...every twenty-eight hours a black person is killed by vigilante, security guard, or the police in the United States [my italics]
Now why, do you think, they added those two extra categories? If they could say:
...every twenty-eight hours a black person is killed by the police in the United States
then wouldn't that be a more powerful message? Perhaps they're not using it because it's not true. The Washington Post reports 258 black people killed by police in 2015. If "Every 28 Hours" used that figure as its basis, it would be called "Every 34 Hours" instead.

The statutory ad hominem

"Every 28 Hours" producer Claudia Alick is big on artistic direction, with a minor in hip-hop coaching, but it seems that her MA from NYU and BA from GWU have not equipped her with the ability to do math. Or perhaps she has the ability, but also gained the power to ignore the figures for the greater good of spreading propaganda. She certainly doesn't seem to be concerned with actually improving the lives of, and reducing the horrific body count in, the black American community in any meaningful way.

2017-02-10

The perils of parenting a pseudo-pocket pig

There are times when I wonder why I still bother to read the Guardian, given what it does to my blood pressure; and then there are articles which make it all worth while. This tale of porcine deception is one of the latter.

I can't possibly do Mr. Jenkins' article justice, you should certainly Read The Whole Thing, but a few things stand out. First, Mr. Jenkins plays to any number of stereotypes as a gentleman who likes other gentlemen: pets as substitute for children (check), strong propensity for public exposure(check), leveraging any excuse to promote his domestic arrangements (check). Second, he should have been a little less trusting of an "old school friend" who wanted to get a petite porker off her hands

We trained her like a puppy and took her to the vet after about a month. He took one look at her cropped tail and said, "I think you have a problem on your hands."
It turns out that a small pig is not the same as a miniature pig. A valuable lesson for Mr. Jenkins, and apparently also life-changing:
If you look a pig closely in the eyes, it’s startling; there's something so inexplicably human. When you’re lying next to her and talking, you know she understands. It was emotional realising she was a commercial pig. The more we discovered about what her life could have been, it seemed crazy to us that we ate animals, so we stopped.
Don't be fooled, Steve: if that pig had the chance, she'd eat you and everyone you love. Ask Brick Top Polford:

2017-02-02

UC Berkeley is a focus for repression of free speech

Last night, the famed right-wing polemicist Milo Yiannopoulos was intending to speak at the University of California at Berkeley. It turns out that there are some people who would prefer that Milo not speak. Rioting, toppling light poles, beating up and pepper-spraying Milo/Trump supporters

It's a sad statement of today's political environment that I was nearly astounded to see UCB's Chancellor actually defending a decision not to cancel Milo's visit. After a rash of spineless cancellations of speaking invitations for Milo - and also for Ben Shapiro, who is much less provocative than Milo but still apparently prone to trigger mouth-frothing by university faculty - it's nice to see a university chancellor sticking up for the principle of free speech. The "right not to be offended" is a particularly pernicious concept and it was refreshing for it to be given short shrift.

Of course, the "anti-fascist" movement was not keen to let a Milo event pass unremarked, and duly turned up to riot. The violence caused the university to cancel the event, thereby providing a perfect example of the "heckler's veto". If you don't like someone's speech, just protest violently and their event will be cancelled. I can't see any problems arising from the incentives this has provided at all, no...

There was only one arrest as a result of the rioting. This is what worries me the most - that rioters not only get the effect they deserve, but can perpetrate their violence practically free of consequence. There's only one direction for future violence as a result, and it's not "down".

2017-01-26

#MyPrimeMinister

Nice speech, Theresa. A solid kicking of the NATO under-spenders, emphasis of shared ideals and values with the USA, doubling down on Brexit. Careful warnings about excessive isolationism, hinting at reservations with the ideas behind today's Muslim visa ban. Repeated callbacks to Ronnie and Maggie; will Donald and Theresa be the new power couple?

It seemed to go down very well with the Republican audience. I'm guessing that Polly Toynbee will hate it. [I also suspect that Theresa doesn't give a shit what Polly thinks.]

2017-01-20

Entrumpment FTW

Your humble correspondent finds it hard to explain the feelings arising from the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States, one Donald J. Trump. This "Entrumpment" has acted like a lens focusing the most demented of opinions and acts, and truly it has been the most wondrous of spectacles. Watching the collective losing of excreta of the liberal media today has been non-stop entertainment.

In the Bay Area, much attention was focused yesterday on a proposed attempt to complete a human chain across the Golden Gate bridge. The target date was today and it didn't work out quite as well as the organisers might have liked:

Even though the actual hand holding only lasted for one minute, folks who took part in the human chain say the memory will last a lifetime. Bridge officials say there were some gaps across the span on the northern side, so couldn't give the group credit for the first successful human chain, but for participants, it didn't matter, history was still made.
So even on the most Democrat-Republican polarising day for many years, and in the most Democrat-friendly city of the most Democrat-friendly state, they couldn't get 3000 people organised to form a human bridge. It's almost as if the Trump opposition doesn't have the practical conviction of their opinions.