Monday, February 18, 2008

Marx Brothers (and Sisters)

It's probably fair to make the generalisation that many of the Labour front bench have been Marxists in their student days in the 60s and 70s. But it's now undeniable that Brown's government has descended into the sort of farce that Groucho, Harpo, Chico, Zeppo and Gummo would have relished.

Alistair Darling just needs paint on that moustache to match his wondrous eyebrows; (a younger) Gordon Brown already scarily closely resembles Chico (top), David Milliband just needs the curly blond wig. Zeppo (bottom) could easily pass for David Cameron, which is a bit unnerving.

TMP leaves its fans to look up Gummo and decide if he might make a suitable Gorbals "Air Miles" Mick-alike. If the Tories had a sense of humour, one of them would sneak a motor horn into the chamber for the next time David Milliband stands up to speak.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Big is ugly, but expedient

The demise of Microsoft and Windows has been predicted for a long time, but this particular Titanic gets away with striking numerous technology icebergs because the boat has always been big enough to sit quietly on the bottom of the ocean with the bridge (and especially the Purser's cabin) above water. It's true that many of the passengers have drowned on the lower decks during the voyage, but Gates and Balmer still manage to strut the bridge unaffected by the chaos their Windows software is wreaking throughout the civilised world.

As any user of Microsoft software on desk top computers and laptops will be painfully aware, each week sees a rash of new "updates": the euphemism for "bug fixes", as Microsoft fights a never ending battle against the consequences of poor design and even worse quality assurance. Updates/bugs range from potentially catastrophic breaches of security (which is most of them) to trivial updates that ensure Microsoft keeps tabs on your wallet.

That Microsoft is allowed to monopolise personal computing in this way has been and remains in stark breach of just about every notion of monopoly market manipulation ever enacted in law, yet still they get away with it, apart from a couple of wrist-slaps that amount to small change. And no doubt as the cheque was reluctantly written, someone in the Republican and Democratic parties wondered if that it was going to mean $100m less for the political donation fund. Of course Microsoft's immunity from monopoly legislation has absolutely nothing to do with political donations or other efforts to buy immunity through heart-rending PR such as The Gates Foundation.

Only a paranoid conspiracy theorist could imagine such a silly thing.

Why does a company with over 85% of the world's desktop operating system software already in its pocket feel the need to produce costly updates, just when its last paid-for upgrade has reached a plateau of stability after exhaustive beta testing by a billion users? The only possible answer is to take money off the gullible; and because Microsoft fixes it so that retailers that PC World are curiously unable to sell the previous stable version of the operating system on new computers.

This tactic ensures sufficient neophytes are lumbered with something as awful as Vista that the rest of industry is strong-armed into having to follow suit and make itself compatible with Redmond’s latest abomination. It's like releasing a new strain of flu into the world means that vaccine makers are obliged to adapt their products to meet the challenge.

A lot of the reason for the Vista release was an effort to lock-in media owners and broadcasters with ever more convoluted copy protection schemes within the Windows Media environment. Ironically, the impossible complexity of maintaining even the most inept of DRM solutions makes the product unworkable for many, and users tried even harder to get hold of DRM-free content that doesn't mess with their players. So the industry is gradually starting to accept that if people want to pinch a tune or video, they will do so, DRM or not, so give the customers what they want at last. Quite why it has taken content owners quite so long to remember that radio and TV has been broadcasting easily recordable content for the best part of a century is a mystery.

This has lead to a healthy situation where recorded music is becoming promotional material for live performances - the live music scene has never been better, which is a great encouragement to real talent versus the manufactured talent that manipulative producers can invent and control. And the market fixing around CD and DVD pricing has collapsed.

It's another example of consumer benefit of the world of "open systems" and the power of communications diversity to enable and encourage innovation at the cost of a largely malevolent establishment that had thought it had sewn it all up long ago.

TMP suspects that there must also some way to review the UK's sinister supermarket hegemony and find ways to allow the benefits of "open systems" to protect consumers from the consequences of supermarket monopolies, and the ultimate absence of all choice and shops in town and village high streets. However, much retail consolidation arises from impossible volumes of (mostly EU) legislation that affect retailers, and to treat Tesco and Joe's Village Stores the same may seem second nature to the assorted jobsworths at the numerous enforcement agencies.

But don't hold your breath, since it's much simpler for government to "deal" with a handful of Tesco-sized HR departments than thousands of self-employed traders.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Court of Common Sense

TMP is concerned that one of the shining examples of common sense law and politics in the 20th Century may become one of the first constitutional disasters of the 21st.

It is ironic but not coincidental that this is occurring at the same time as the woefully misguided Archbishop of Canterbury has lost his few remaining marbles and even more of his followers with absurd suggestions around the acknowledgement of Sharia law in the UK. In the 1920s, Turkey was struggling to reconcile the many factions arising from its decaying position as a very long established empire power at the crossroads of Asia and Europe after backing the wrong side during the first world war.

The Turks were lucky to have found a genuine leader and visionary of the sort that scarcely exists in modern politics in the shape of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who had perfect grasp of the situation facing a Nation in desperate need of unification and realignment to a new world order, where Islamist religious discord had the potential to wreck any attempt at unification by adherence to its fundamentally medieval practises and concepts.

As the redoubtable and occasionally reliable Wikipedia says: "The goal of Atatürk's reforms was to create a modern, democratic, secular nation-state, one guided by contemporary educational and scientific progress and based on the principles of positivist and rationalist enlightenment." However, the new Turkish government has removed a ban on women wearing the symbolic and now provocative headscarves of Islam that was imposed in 1980 as part of an effort to reassert the separation of state and religion that was at the core of Atatürk's reforms.

Most educated Turkish folk regard this as the thin end of very dangerous wedge being driven by a cunning politician manipulating the superstitious. Many thinking people in Turkey have protested as this is the first time since the new constitution that the State has had the nerve to become so directly engaged in a clearly calculated attempt to reignite religion as a divisive factor in modern Turkish government.

The bad news is that the government performing this mischief was voted in democratically by the people of Turkey, who had a pretty good idea of what was being planned by it's overtly Islamist leader. Hitler was also elected democratically, and it is not at all clear at which point he lost the active majority support of the German people - although almost certainly not until after several million people had died under his "democratic rule".

Such events cause TMP to constantly review the axiomatic assumptions of the benefit of majority rule, and look for ways to ensure that TMP's proposed implementation can avoid its cause being hijacked by fanatical populists. Not allowing governments 5 year terms without further input from the electorate is a good start.

Education, and the communication of free speech and ideas -technology's core achievements of the last 20 years have clearly enabled aggressive Islamic fundamentalism to gain an ever increasing foothold in the feebly tolerant West - whilst being violently suppressed in the homelands of Islam in the regions around Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The Turkish move was immediately hailed as "progress" by the region’s chief mischief maker and all-round agent provocateur (and we are not talking frilly knickers here), Iran. Once again TMP is obliged to point out that religion (and its bedfellow, tribalism) remains firmly entrenched at the root of many of the world's biggest and most dangerous evils.

Atatürk's achievement was to replace a thousand years of contradiction , superstition, bigotry and religion that had ensured that most Turkish people lived in the Dark Ages, by a very slim volume of common sense law. The UK and EU with its 40 tons of mostly pointless legislation could learn a lot from the idea that when a nation goes through as much change as we have in just the past 20 years, it's better to make a clean start.

Some estimates suggest that as much as 99.9% of current law has been devised and refined to deal with just 0.1% of obscure circumstances that cannot be easily managed by good old-fashioned common sense. There is now so much pointless law that it quite frequently criss-crosses and stumbles across itself, giving the opportunity to prosecute many offences under any one of several statutes.

Thanks to the fruits of technology, a fresh start would enable many more of the people to have a say in the process of judging the exceptions, and not just leave it up to a couple of old buffers in horse hair wigs, who are primarily bent on preserving the exclusive obscurity of the ultimate in self-serving professions. Hands up all in favour of The Court of Common Sense..?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

A talent free zone

Gordon Brown has a reputation for being a control freak, and suspicions that he would appoint a team of no hopers on the principle that when he wanted their opinons, he would give them to them, seem to have been proved correct.

There was bugger-all talent in the Labour Party when elected way back in 1997, and there is even less now. Such talent as there was tended to be regarded as awkward and disruptive (Robin Cook, Mo Mowlem, Frank Field) since they allowed pesky prinicples to guide their political judgement. Something that no Labour leader that has ever survived an election has ever managed to do.

TMP is lost for words that are sufficiently dismissive to describe the collective talent of the present government, and can best point to the Peter Hain affair. A minister with not one but TWO portfolios is allegedly caught with his hand in a till that he didn't realise existed, honestly. The permatanned transpolitico (he was once a Liberal) Hain has a history of violent protest as student activist and was even tried (and acquitted after an alleged "frame up") for bank robbery in his native South Africa in 1976.

And now the Archbishop of Canterbury endorses the idea of adopting Sharia Law into UK law in order to appease moselms. Just try telling Saudia Arabia to enshrine English Common law, and see how long your infidel head and shoulders remain attached.

What on earth is going on in this benighted country?

Pay peanuts, get monkeys..?

The present fuss about parliamentary expenses and allowances has lead to suggestions that MPs are not paid enough to attract the quality of candidate we need in these challenging times, when compared to the rewards available industry and even town halls.

On the other hand, looking at the EU where MPs are paid a lot more, there is no evidence of any more competence or less slease and corruption; merely a better dressed class of monkey driving more expensive cars.

Whilst China, India and Russia are on the up, we appear to have leadership that is still fighting the battles of the previous century, weighed down by irrelevant experience, and lashings of pernicious and dangerous dogma.

And we all know what happened to the poor saps left in the trenches when Cavalry Generals faced tanks and machine guns for the first time.