22 November, 2007
Darling admits 25m records lost
Two computer discs holding the personal details of all families in the UK with a child under 16 have gone missing.
The Child Benefit data on them includes name, address, date of birth, National Insurance number and, where relevant, bank details of 25m people.
Alistair Darling, the chancellor, urged people to monitor their bank accounts. — BBC News Website 20/11/07
I get the occasional letter asking me why I do this? I mean it doesn’t generate an income worth counting, it consumes an awful lot of time, but then time is the only thing I actually own, hence how I use it is an issue partly of choice and partly because it’s very difficult for me to ignore what I know and feel about events and my fellow humans and the planet that we inhabit. As Engels said, “Freedom is the recognition of necessity,” so I freely chose to do this.
Of course I’m not alone in this, there are many hundreds, if not thousands of people across the planet engaged in doing pretty much the same thing. It has been suggested by those working for the MSM that we are driven only by our egos, but what’s good for the goose is also good for the gander, and given the vast disparity in exposure (not to mention income) that writers in the MSM get, it really is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
But enough of these worn-out homilies, back to the point at hand, or almost, for it’s really not an issue of why we do it, after all, what difference does it make why, what counts is the end product and most importantly, the circumstances and the tools at our disposal that have given thousands a voice that they would otherwise not have had. It’s up to the reader to decide what’s worth reading and what isn’t.
The problem is that many of us have been force-fed with a diet of nothing but passive, uncritical consumptionism, indeed, we are addicted to the stuff; breaking such powerful habits is what this is all about; it’s about getting people to think critically again about what’s going on and why and what, if anything, we can do about it.
The enemy of course has enjoyed an unrivalled monopoly on public speech for ever, so when a band of ‘young upstarts’ encroaches on ‘their’ territory (worse, they don’t even have degrees in journalism), they are understandably miffed, even to the point of criminalising certain kinds of speech, worse even, criminalising ‘thought’ as in “thought-crimes” in a vain attempt to turn the tide.
So we see the latest twist on what professes to be a free society, branding a young woman and her poetry no less, as a terrorist and terroristic, respectively. Now whatever you think about her views and how she expresses them, when the country you live in starts criminalising poetry (okay, it’s not very good poetry but is this a crime?) you know you’re in trouble. Gordon Brown is Oliver Cromwell reincarnated, replete with a face like a bloodhound and clothes to match that would have met with the approval of those 17th century, hair-shirted zealots, the Puritans, as he literally shambles about on his ‘mission’ to save us from ourselves.
It’s tired old crap, all of it and indicative of just how bankrupt their alleged morality really is, desperate stuff designed to keep our minds off more important stuff, like who created this mess in the first place.
But note that at present the powers that be are restricted to repressing very narrow areas of expression, for example, so-called extremist fundamentalism of the Muslim flavour. It’s not like the ‘good old days’ when there were thousands of lefties to dump on and even an ‘evil empire’ to blame everything else on. Thus their net cannot be cast nearly as wide as it was in the past, well for now at least. How long we’ll continue to enjoy the freedom to narrowcast our thoughts, depends partly on whether they can ever actually put a stop to it (eg, I noted in my weekly log of visitors that there have been readers from Burma, or Myanmar to give it its official name, even at the height of the recent repression).
It would be an understatement to say that the world has changed almost beyond recognition in the past two decades, we appear to have re-entered the age of the dinosaur, gigantic creatures stomping across the planet, ‘guided’ by pea-sized brains. So on the one hand, we have increasing concentrations of powerful media—media that is actually an entire raft of processes critical to the survival of capitalism—either in the hands of vast corporations or the state (which in any case is now openly in bed with the big corporations) and on the other, thousands of ‘gnats’, us, buzzing around the rotting carcass of capitalism.
There’s something very seductive about the way the state and capital relate to the nightmare world they’ve created for us. It’s almost as if the technologies of repression are a kind of religion for the ruling elites, imbued with mystical, super-natural powers that have bewitched their owners. Theoretically capable of total control, in reality, it’s proved virtually impossible for them to get any of their more ambitious undertakings to actually work as intended (if at all), not that this stops them from spending our money and using our skills in the attempt.
Small mercies I know, but it shows just how fragile their control actually is. Maintaining it relies on us not getting the message and not refusing to do their dirty work for them.
It’s resulted in a fascinating clash of cultures: the state machine shaped in the image of Machiavelli where control of information and how it is used, was a world of paper and thousands of bureaucrats educated over centuries to manage the state machine in a particular way.
Enter the computer, the ultimate weapon of social control, assuming of course, you know how to implement its power. The problem is—as Machiavelli would surely have recognised—that outsourcing the managing of the state machine to a bunch of semi-educated nerds, geeks and carpet baggers, all intent no doubt on being the next Bill Gates, is a far cry from actually administering the machinery of state.
Billions of pounds have been spent on the equivalent of building the Pyramids, and so far, not a single project has delivered on its promises, many have actually been scrapped as inherently unworkable before they have even been completed. But not to worry, the nature of the contracts means that these priests of the new state religion can simply collect their ill-gotten gains and walk away from the entire fiasco and leave it up to someone else to sort out the chaos and mess they’ve left behind.
This is corruption on a grand scale. Take for example the project to ‘computerise’ the National Health Service, the single biggest computerisation project to have ever been undertaken and one that is costing billions (and no doubt billions more to try and fix it), is a complete and utter failure.
It reveals just how ignorant these new silicon mandarins are, not just because they are technically incompetent (though no doubt this plays a part) but because computer networks transform the way a bureaucracy functions.
Bureaucracies exist to manage complexity by compartmentalising choices. Increasing choices increases complexity and hence compartmentalisation. Computer networks function in completely the opposite way; they seek to connect everything together. The more complexity there is, more connections are needed. This is fine for producing an automobile or stacking cans in a supermarket, where the inputs and outputs are known and have a fixed outcome.
The buzzword is ‘joined up’ government (when manufacturing an automobile it’s called a ‘supply chain’). The dummies in Whitehall have been conned by the nerds into thinking that by ‘simply’ connecting together the ministries and their various functions, the complexity can be managed by the network.
But the adage, ‘garbage in, garbage out’ (a phrase no doubt not mentioned in all those tax-funded junkets) doesn’t even begin to describe the potential for catastrophe inherent in the process of trying to network a state bureaucracy. Making sure that every item used in making an automobile is in the right place at the right time (and at the right price) is child’s play by comparison; there are a finite number of components involved, all of which are tracked, in real time, as they they make their way through the supply chain.
Managing a social network (which in informational terms is what the National Health Service actually is) is an altogether different animal. People don’t get sick to order nor do they do it either at convenient places or times and treating them depends on a complex network of social relationships, from the patient to the doctor and from the doctor to the specialist and then on to the hospital (where all the ‘fun’ really begins).
Added to this is the need by the state to collect information on us as citizens (or non-citizens as the case may be), for it’s not just health we are talking about here but social control, using the health network as a vehicle for determining such things as ‘entitlements’ to a limited resource, health care. If it was merely keeping track of patient records it wouldn’t be so difficult (we’ve been doing it on 5×3 index cards for decades without a problem) but it’s the attempt to ‘join it all up’ that’s the problem (let alone the immense problem of confidentiality and accuracy).
It’s obvious that such a network is open-ended and without limits, and once the state realises that there is no theoretical limit to how much information they can collect on us, the next step is to try and collect it all. The more they collect and attempt to ‘join up’, the more complicated are the cross-connections and every time information is exchanged, errors are introduced. It’s the movie ‘Brazil’ brought to life, where small ‘glitches’ get amplified as the same information gets used by different ministries for entirely different purposes.
In actuality, it runs directly counter to why we have bureaucracies in the first place, namely to compartmentalise complexity by breaking it down into manageable pieces, with each function having an assigned agency. Once you embark on what is effectively the creation of one, single, networked state machine, the more decision-making is ‘handed over’ to software tools but tools which have been constructed using an ideological starting point; total control over the citizen, a process which is being administered by a security state composed of both public and private entities working (allegedly) in tandem.
The chaos that ensues is perhaps best displayed by the how the Home Office has (not) handled the expansion of its role brought about by networking its functions or ‘joining them up’, for example, with the state security organs, social security, health and so on.
But it’s all being built on a gigantic carcass constructed out of paper, the inherited state bureaucracy, that for around five hundred years has been managing capitalism in the traditional manner. To call it a clash of cultures is something of an understatement.
The genius of the British Civil Service built over the centuries, was the result of having utterly trustworthy managers (all educated at specialist schools and universities) who could therefore be allowed to manage their own ministries without too much ‘outside’ interference. For centuries the UK has ruled an empire with one of the smallest of state bureaucracies. India for example, was ruled by just a few hundred (British) civil servants and until the 19th century, even the occupation army was a PMC (Private Military Contractor), owned and run by the East India Company. Blackwater are amateurs by comparison but it reveals once again, that what we are witnessing is nothing new, this is how capitalism really likes to do things, unfettered by such trifles as oversight and regulations.
But arrival of the cybernetic Fascisti into the carefully ordered universe of our mythologically ‘neutral’ civil service, itself the result of the ‘compact’ between the political class and its trusted functionaries, is now a compact that is falling apart under the pressure of trying to construct the corporate, security state out of the ruins of the old consensus.
It’s an interesting and unique dilemma for the ruling political class, for in order to construct the ‘ideal’ corporate, security state, once it embarks on such a project, short of being stopped dead in its tracks, it can only grow in power and complexity and each process takes on a ‘life of its own’ (for example, the penal system; locking people up is now a business that has its own, internal drive to expand its capital accumulation by acquiring more prisoners and keeping them locked up for as long as possible).
The losers are us, the very people the state bureaucracy is theoretically designed to serve. What is revealed here is a fundamental paradox brought about essentially by the drive to privatise the state and run it as though it were a business.
So for example, people don’t need ‘choice’ when it comes to health care, treating our health as though it were a commodity to be traded; what we need is the right treatment for whatever it is that ails us.
‘New’ Labour boasts of the billions it has spent on the health service but most of it has been given away to corporations that have no idea how a bureaucracy works let alone how to manage one. It’s a gigantic confidence trick played on the public with really big numbers, the bigger the better to impress us with, but in reality all that’s happened is that the state has given away billions to private corporations who have for the most part, failed to deliver the goods. In reality it’s privatisation through the back door.
To talk of a crisis of capitalism is somewhat of an understatement, but this is a self-made crisis, brought about by the intrinsic contradictions of the capitalist system which assumed that with the defeat of ‘actually existing socialism’, capitalism could get on with business without too much interference. The world was now its proverbial oyster.
So why the ‘war on terror’? Well why the ‘war on drugs’ or the ‘war on anti-social behaviour’? Why war period?
The stock answer to this question is ‘human nature’, a catch-all response that neither explains nor justifies centuries of slaughter. One might as well say that humans are intrinsically loving, this is after all another expression of what it is to be human.
War on something is so fundamental to capitalism, that if there’s no ‘real’ enemy one has to be invented. We need only look at the last five hundred years to see that ‘peace’ is the exception to the rule. Capitalism has been waging war on the planet for centuries, it has no choice (though as we have seen with the invasion of Iraq, it claims to do it reluctantly but fails address why it spends billions on armaments and in preparations for war on just about everything).
And what is important here is that its alleged reluctance to go to war was in direct response to its failure to convince us that war was the only avenue open to it, thus ever more extreme excuses had to be rolled out. But even these didn’t work, so eventually it gave up trying to convince us and did what it always does when push comes to shove; ignore us.
And in the four years since that fateful March day in 2003, we see the results; a world ever more destabilised and a capitalist system caught in a crisis of its own making for which its only response is ever more repression at home, where it really counts. To do otherwise would be to admit that its policies have failed completely either to defeat the ‘enemy’ or to convince us that ‘Western civilisation’ is in mortal danger.
1. Meanwhile, quite by coincidence and just to prove my point, the latest disaster, the ‘lost’ 25 million records hits the headlines here in the UK. What’s amazing and incredulous about yet another giant cock-up by ‘New’ Labour are the excuses being rolled out which include cost and the “burden” of sorting out the date that the National Audit Office needed. Yet why did the National Audit Office need this data in the first place? That hasn’t been explained, nor, do I imagine, will we ever find out.
Consider this: a database consists of fields; each field consists of discrete types of information, eg name, address, birthdate etc. I’ve yet to see a database where specific data fields cannot be exported to order. Yet all 25 million records (almost half the population) were copied over onto two optical disks and sent via the ‘Dirty Digger’ Murdoch’s TNT courier ‘service’ only to vanish who knows where. Multiply this by all the other ‘joined up’ screw-ups by ‘New’ Labour and you get some idea of the scale of all the disasters waiting to happen.
This is ‘joined up’ government in action, with sensitive data on us being shared between literally tens of thousands of people in hundreds of ministries, departments, councils, businesses and who knows who else. Incompetence? indifference? Cost-cutting? (10,000 civil servants were axed from the combined Revenue Service/Customs and Excise which holds (held?) this information.) Who cares what the reason is. The entire process is a con-job from start to finish with the public paying the price in all kinds of ways and big business making a fortune.