Why Brexit means Brexit

So, no matter how clear it becomes that the UK leaving the EU makes the economic situation a disaster, and that it really won't help those who voted for it (many on the basis of economic lies told by the leave campaign), it seems like it really is going to happen. At the very least Article 50 will be invoked and it's quite possible a very hard Brexit could follow in March/April 2019 with no real deal with the EU27 in place. I've been struggling to understand what on earth the senior government ministers have been thinking, and I now think I understand.
It's all the same as why Cameron made his promise of a referendum in the first place. About 40% of sitting Conservative MPs are hard euroskeptics. Many of them have hard euroskeptic local associations in their constituencies. Without their support no Conservative will be Prime Minister, because to these people the EU is a demon. Cameron promised the referendum, believing he could not lose, but lost his gamble. May, whether or not she is a closet Brexiter or a weak Remainer, cannot remain PM without the support of those 40% of her own MPs. She can get nothing done without them, with the small majority she has.
So, she's willing to sacrifice the country's economy to keep herself and her party in power. When she became Prime Minister she said that her priority was the unity of her party. Not the unity of the country, which is deeply split over the EU question, but the party. She didn't even mention attempting to find common ground within the country, just within her own party. And so, Pop Goes the Weasel, and down the drain goes the UK economy, and possibly the UK, split into constituent parts, with an independent Scotland, a re-united Ireland and England/Wales left spiralling down.

New House

Last weekend we moved house. Our new place is a house rather than an apartment, just 1km north of our previous apartment. If you need my new address then please drop me an email.

Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished
Current Music: The Two Towers OST


Health Analytics, Ethics and US-Centrism

The ethics of big data is generating a lot of discussion these days. I read an interesting article today which showed that some managers in the health sector find the voracious attitude that “everything must go into the pot” “creepy”, while analytics professionals go on about the benefits of more (good quality) data giving more useful information. This article, though, was quite typical in the area in that it focussed on the US situation, with the problem that health-care providers in the US are driven by their revenue systems: the source of the data for big data health analytics in the US in the article is cited as the “Revenue Cycle Management (RCM) systems” which capture data mostly so that the healthcare provider can charge the right (i.e. the legally/contractually allowed) price to the funder. Of course it’s pretty much only the US that has this crazy system. Elsewhere there are fewer payers for healthcare for the majority of people, sometimes down to (almost) one in places like the UK. The US situation also raises large questions because of the crazy way its healthcare is funded in that patients are severely lacking in trust that the use of their data will not lead to significant individual problems, up to and including being sacked for being potentially too expensive to provide health insurance for.

Of course this does not mean that in other countries there are no big ethical issues with big data for health analytics. The proposals by the UK government to limit or ignore patients’ ability to opt out of the care.data program, through which private companies such as pharmaceutical companies would gain potentially significant private benefits alongside possible public health benefits, but with no guarantees of privacy or security of the data, raises similar questions to the century-plus debate about census data (before WWII ethnicity data in the US census was supposed to be inaccessible to the government at large – that guarantee was wiped away after Pearl Harbour, leading to the disenfranchisement, loss of property and internment of over 100,000 American citizens of Japanese descent).

Europe, with its more heterogenous health funding systems must explore the issues around all the models and not be driven by US-centric concerns.

Current Mood: (contemplative) contemplative
Current Music: Raiders of the Lost Ark Soundtrack


Science Following SF

There are many science fiction stories published each year with wild speculation, and usually few details. It’s not unusual, therefore, just by the law of averages, for sometimes the SF to be followed by the  a discovery of (somewhat) matching science. An interesting piece on anti-agathic (delaying or removing the effects of ageing) work I saw today reminded me of a piece in a Heinlein novel. In “Methuselah’s Children” where a secret bunch of families with naturally bred longevity flee the Earth in an early spaceship because of the threat of a pogrom and/or being the subject of vivisection to discover the secret of their longevity. Returning to Earth after some interstellar adventures and with time dilation having kept them even younger than ever, they find that their existence spurred Earth to invest in anti-agathic research and discover a “blood cleaning” process which seriously reduces ageing. Not a novel idea, actually, as this Guardian article points out, the idea was proposed by Libavius in 1615. It’s looking like it might have potential, though. The work of Wyss-Coray on the effects of young mouse blood on old mouse brains (and vice versa) shows that transfusion of young blood into an old mouse causes a revival of neuron birth, while old blood in young mice retards such development.

There’s a horror story in here about, say, the Chinese communist party using both sides of this – harvesting young blood to keep their gerontcratic leaders healthy, while deliberately transfusing older blood into younger dissidents to dumb them down.

As that very good Guardian article mentions (it’s an in-depth and very well-written science piece, a rarity in modern journalism) though, it’s not just the idea of transfusions – we can hardly keep up with other demands for blood for transfusions in most societies. The idea that we could track the protein components of blood plasma as we age and filter out the ones which contribute to ageing and synthesise and add back the ones which promote health and youth, are interesting. Of course there’s also the idea that’s been used by a number of SF authors where by tinkering with ageing and encouraging bodily regeneration, we “use up” our body’s ability to regenerate and instead of gaining (near)immortality we die quicker (sometimes very quickly) though with amazing powers of regeneration in the (usually short) time. Again, this is perhaps a worry with these real science ideas.

Current Mood: Interested

Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info


Caspar Bowden, RIP

Ugh, two obituary posts in a row. I’m not blogging enough and too many people I admire are dying.

I can’t now remember when I first met Caspar Bowden. I think it was in London at perhaps a Scrambling for Safety event organised at UCL by Ian Brown and Ross Anderson. The most recent time was this year’s CPDP in Brussels where Caspar, a regular speaker at the event in recent years, was continuing his long crusade for privacy as an internationally recognised human right, in particular for the digital privacy of ordinary people (i.e. those of whom there is no serious evidence of criminal activity) to be recognised by all governments, whether or not that person happens to be a citizen or resident of the country or not. Snowden’s revelations bore out may of Caspar’s most pessimistic estimates of what the US (and their junior UK partners) were doing with the authority granted them by FISA.

Tragically Cassandra-like his pronouncements may have been  in some ways, yet his tireless work on behalf of the rights of ordinary people should inspire us all to continue his efforts.

BBC obituary: http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-33473105

Current Mood: (grumpy) grumpy

(no subject)

John Scalzi presented an interesting analogy about this year's Hugo controversy as graffiti which kevin_standlee used to describe his intentions.
It's an interesting analogy, but it doesn't work for me. I've followed grrm's long-range discussion with some of the principals - I couldn't stomach reading through the original blogs of the SPs/RPs. The argument from the SPs/RPs is that everything they did is within "the rules", finally leading to a mention of a "gentlemen's agreement" that they've violated, and feel no shame in doing so. That claim helped me to coalesce my own feelings on this.
Every rule set sits within a social context. The rules are there to provide formal arrangements when the social rules don't achieve the goals of the community. Either a small number of people disobey the social rules and the society defines its rules more formally, including what the consequences for breaking those rules will be. Such rules also provide consistency from year to year, clarity for members of the society to know what the rules are, introductions for new members of the society.
No set of rules covers all the aspects of the social settings. For example, as people have pointed out elsewhere, there are no actual rules in the WSFS constitution saying what to do when someone refuses the honour of being a finalist, or what to do if a work on the finalist list is later discovered to be ineligible (either through lack of information on behalf of the administrators or their mistake). Custom and practice is to back-fill the ballot with lower-ranked works. Provided the community trusts the administrators, and that they act year-to-year with reasonable consistency, then the community accepts these withou demanding that they be codified. Where significant disagreement within the community exists about the correct course of action, the society debates and adds to the rule set. The rules also evolve as the society evolves.
This is what we have now. The society's customs and practices said that each individual should nominate their own viewpoint, campaigning was banned (information provision - here is what I or others published last year that in my view is eligible for nomination, and perhaps good enough to nominate - is borderline but accepted). Slates were always against our social rules but there was no need for formal rules against it because no one seemed to be managing a slate (as we'll see when the nomination figures come out because slate voting is visible in the patterns), even when in previous years someone tried. This year, they managed to screw with the process against the community expectations of process. So, we have to change the rules to, as well as we can, preserve the intent of the society that the list of finalists represents, on the whole, things most members see as potentially worth of a Hugo Award. In addition to altering the way the nomination process works to avoid approximately 20% of the nominators from dominating the finalist list with their slate, we'll also have to consider our definition of what constitutes "the society". This latter was already being discussed for the last couple of years anyway, as things like social media, the marketing of the Hugo Awards more broadly, and the Hugo Packet, have coincided with our open "buy a membership and get to nominate and vote" process to perhaps overwhelm the society with outsiders with a separate agenda. Any society must decide who is a member and who isn't. Any claim that by restricting voting to members of WSFS (or as some are suggested just to Attending Members (removing Supporting Membership holders from nominating/voting), or even to those who actually attend the convention) misses the fact that all societies do this. US political policies effect people worldwide, as do Chinese politics these days. I see (virtually) no US citizens saying that everyone worldwide should get to vote for their president because their military is the largest on the planet and they're not afraid to use it to further their own economic and political goals. I see no one saying that everyone around the world should be able to vote in China (though many around the world passionately believe that the Chinese should be able to vote their consciences).
Like Kevin, I'll (once again) be rolling up my sleeves and discussing the issues and trying to do my best to create rules which reflect our community (yes, I'm a member, too and my voice counts, particularly because I'm willing to put my time and money into making Worldcons happen).
The rules are there to represent those elements of the society's processes that need clarity. Those rules are openly decided (Business Meeting minutes from most of the last 20 years are on wsfs.org) by those members of the society that give up their time to make them work. There are no shadowy cabals. There is plenty of disagreement amongst those turning up to the meetings about what those rules should be, and we have a system that's deliberately slow to require time for members of the society who are not at one meeting to decide that this is an important enough issue to make them come along and block or support it.
While I wish we didn't have to make these rule changes, it's necessary and valid that we do. The 2015 and 2016 Hugos may be a mess because of people following the letter but not the spirit of the rules, but we should be able to get them back on track by 2017, and that's just a blip in the decades long history of the Hugo Awards and the Worldcon/WSFS.
Sorry, that went on longer than I expected when I started writing it.

Terry Pratchett RIP

We lost Iain M. Banks last year and now we’ve just lost Terry Pratchett as well. Both taken well before their time and both still writing amazing work until the end.


Bright Burning Lights

Illuminate Life

Death Extinguishes Not

The Brilliance Of

Words Writers Wrote

Nor Crosses Off

Party’s Soul

Though Too-short Whole

(CC-BY-SA Andrew A. Adams)

Current Mood: (sad) sad

Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info


Kiki’s Delivery Service

Almost a year since my last blog post. Very bad of me. The last one was a report that I’d finished Kiki’s Delivery Service Book 2. It’s taken me ten months to finish books 3 and 4, but I’ve now done so. I’m just over half-way through Book 5 (which I’m racing through, having read the first 150 pages of 280 in just over two weeks). I’ve also now seen the recent live action Kiki movie. This is definitely derived from the first book, rather than from the Ghibli animation. In some ways it sticks closer to the book. For instance Kiki cannot accept money in return for her magic services. It’s never quite explicit in the book, and the “economics” of this are somewhat glossed over in terms of how she manages daily existence if she can’t earn money (or possibly can’t even deal with money directly). There’s something of an implication of receiving services in “barter” for her own and she can certainly accept gifts in kind in exchange for her services. Although this bit is closer to the book, and some of the scenes/sequences in the movie are heavily inspired by chapters in the book, it’s still quite a departure from the book in many terms. In the book there’s a sequence with a girl asking her to deliver a black envelope to another girl, which it turns out is an old tale of witches cursing people. In the book this is dealt with on the small scale of the girls involved only, whereas in the movie it’s part of the plot whereby after this incident people start distrusting Kiki and even returning things she’s delivered to them, back to Kiki instead of back to the sender.

I watched the movie in Japanese (no choice – there doesn’t seem to be an English subtitle version available – but I wanted to do that anyway). Since I know the story pretty well and it’s a kids/teen movie, I was able to follow much of the dialogue well enough, but I certainly wasn’t understanding every sentence in detail. Harder than the book, of course, since spoken word is harder to follow because of speed and difficulty to re-tread (I was watching it with $DAUGHTER so could hardly stop every thirty seconds and re-play to get the dialogue, though I may do some of this later to try to improve my Japanese listening).

Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished

Finished Kiki’s Delivery Service Book 2

As I noted in March, I had the second book of the Kiki’s Delivery Service series on order having finished the first book. I didn’t makea precise note of the day it arrived, but it wasn’t long after the 9th of March when that post was made. Tonight I finished book 2. I made much more of an effort to read at least six pages a day of this one, and to catch up if I missed a day. The book is 380 pages, although that seems longer in some ways than it is since it’s got a number of illustrations, some of which are full page or half the page. Japanese literary typesetting is also quite different to English in that it’s set vertically. Just as with English texts, this means much of the dialogue only takes up part of a line. However, since japanese books, like English ones, are taller than they are wide, the resulting white space in Japanese is a larger proportion of the page. For dialogue-heavy sequences with  lot of short statements, this can mean a page using less than half the space.

I have book three on the shelf, so it’s on to that, tomorrow.

Current Mood: (accomplished) accomplished
Current Music: None

Originally published at blog.a-cubed.info

Finally Finished Kiki’s Delivery Service (Book)

As I wrote last July, I started trying to Read Japanese (Teen) Literature. Well, I’m nowhere near as fast reading Japanese as the person I was sniffy about who took a month to read a Pratchett. However, eight months later and I finally reached page 259 of Majou no Takkyubin this evening. Book 2 is on order and should be delivered soon (for Y1 plusY250 P&P). Plus there’s a live-action movie due out soon. It’s almost impossible to find English-subtitled Japanese movies in Japan, of course, but as with the book I will try this out to see how well I can follow the movie. In particular I’ll be interested to see how much they follow the book, whether they draw anything from the Ghibli movie (that one was as close to the book as Howl’s Moving Castle was, by the way, i.e. it was clearly inspired by it but not in any way even an attempt to do any kind of semi-faithful translation to the screen) or whether they do their own thing with the concept.

It took me a long time, but I’m still pleased with being able to do this.