Quotulatiousness

June 23, 2014

Sir Humphrey signs off

Filed under: Britain, Media, Military — Tags: — Nicholas @ 08:25

I’m very sorry to learn that Sir Humphrey will no longer be updating his well-written and informative blog on British (and allied) military affairs:

I started this blog in late 2011 as a response to the levels of debate which surrounded many issues impacting on Defence and wider UK security policy. I felt a keen frustration that all too often the debate quickly descended into poor reporting, tired clichés (e.g. more admirals than ships) and a general sense that the UK was a declining nation with good armed forces who were being betrayed by the MOD.

In starting it I wanted to try to address some of these myths, try to put across an alternate viewpoint and suggest that actually the UK remains a relatively influential nation with capable armed forces and that there is often very logical reasons why things have been done as they are. In other words, I wanted to put across that it is possible to be very positive about Defence in the UK and that there is a remarkably good story to tell. In the intervening two and a half years, nearly 200 articles, over 2600 comments and over 650,000 page hits later, I feel that hopefully some of this has been achieved.

That said, I’ve now reached a point where the decision has been made to close down this blog. There are several reasons why I feel this is the right time to do this: Firstly, from a career perspective, it is increasingly difficult to balance holding down busy jobs as both a civilian and a reservist, and be able to comment objectively here. Recent changes to both commitments mean I don’t think I can continue to be able to post material here without having a conflict of interest in my professional roles.

World Cup sour grapes for England

Filed under: Britain, Soccer — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 08:03

While the England team may not need to worry about what to do in the elimination round (because they’re not going to get that far), James Delingpole claims that this is the greatest World Cup ever, and offers five reasons he’s right:

1. Filthy, cheating foreigners are conforming satisfyingly to stereotype.

The reason England are already out of the competition, claimed Wayne Rooney over the weekend, is that we are far too nice. If ever we wish to win again at the game we invented, he suggested, then we will have to learn to cheat like all the filthy foreigners with their effeminate hairstyles, their casual fouling and their extravagant diving.

But obviously we can’t do that sort of thing because then we’d look like the kind of people who still live with their mothers and eat garlic on toast and ride around piazzas on mopeds.

Which is why we prefer to lose because it shows our national superiority. Anyway, football is fixed now — so really it’s not up to the players who wins any more anyway, it’s decided by the betting syndicates in India and Pakistan and Ghana.

[…]

3. It has given the Scots something not to grumble about

Nothing — not a warming draught of deep fried Irn Bru (copyright Michael Deacon) nor the skirl of pipes nor the reassuring “pit” of the latest welfare cheque landing on the floor of your council flat — gladdens a Scotsman’s heart quite so much as the sight of England losing in a major (or indeed minor) sporting event.

It’s quite possible that, had England won this World Cup, the backlash would have driven the whole of Scotland into voting “Yes” in the forthcoming referendum. Those of us who love the Scots and dearly wish them to remain part of the Union, therefore, should rejoice in Britain’s tactical defeat in the World Cup.

[…]

5. Nazi Pope Reefer Man

Do I really need to explain?

My favourite Twitter post from the start of the World Cup now seems prescient:

Censoring WW1 art

Filed under: Britain, History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 07:29

In BBC News Magazine, Alan Little looks at some early WW1 art that fell afoul of the censors for being too accurate:

Paths of Glory by Christopher Nevinson

What you notice first about the two figures in Christopher Nevinson’s painting Paths of Glory is the banality of their deaths. Their commonplace, mundane fate. They lie face down in the blasted earth, two men in British military fatigues, their helmets and rifles lying in the mud beside them.

They are indistinguishable from each other, stripped of individual identity. Nothing marks them out as the unique human beings they must once have been with names, and families, and remembered childhoods, and desire and love and hope and ambition.

From the bottom left of the composition, where the corpse in the foreground lies with the soles of his boots facing you, your eye moves diagonally upwards and to the right, to the second dead man, who has fallen forwards towards you, and you see the top of his dark head but Nevinson denies you a glimpse of his face. He has no face, no personality, no story of his own. In colour, texture and even contour, the lifeless bodies are almost indistinguishable from the land on which they lie, and which will now swallow them.

In my time as a war reporter for the BBC I have come across scenes like this. You cannot mistake the recently dead for the sleeping, for there is something bloodless, something shockingly, arrestingly lifeless about them. I have found myself transfixed by odd detail — a bootlace tied just a few hours ago, by fingers that will now never move again. What talents lie locked into the muscle memory of those fingers? Could they, as recently as this morning, have picked out a melody on a piano? With the death of each individual, an entire universe vanishes.

[…]

I think of those two young men whose names I never learned when I look at Nevinson’s Paths of Glory. Its title is taken from Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Church-Yard. “The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r, / And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave / Awaits alike th’inevitable hour. / The paths of glory lead but to the grave.”

Government censors did not like Paths of Glory. They judged it bad for morale and refused to pay Nevinson for it. But he included it anyway in the first exhibition of his war paintings in London early in 1918, with a brown paper strip across the canvas carrying the word “censored”. He was reprimanded both for exhibiting a censored painting and, bizarrely, for unauthorised use of the word “censored” in a public place. But the painting was bought, during that exhibition, by the Imperial War Museum, where it remains.

Justice Department staff fall for phishing scam simulation

Filed under: Cancon, Government, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 06:36

This doesn’t speak well of the federal government’s staff security training:

Many of the Justice Department’s finest legal minds are falling prey to a garden-variety Internet scam.

An internal survey shows almost 2,000 staff were conned into clicking on a phoney “phishing” link in their email, raising questions about the security of sensitive information.

The department launched the mock scam in December as a security exercise, sending emails to 5,000 employees to test their ability to recognize cyber fraud.

The emails looked like genuine communications from government or financial institutions, and contained a link to a fake website that was also made to look like the real thing.

What’s even more interesting is that the government bureaucrats fell for this scam at a far higher rate than average Canadian internet users:

The Justice Department’s mock exercise caught 1,850 people clicking on the phoney embedded links, or 37 per cent of everyone who received the emails.

That’s a much higher rate than for the general population, which a federal website says is only about five per cent.

The exercise did not put any confidential information at risk, but the poor results raise red flags about public servants being caught by actual phishing emails.

A spokeswoman says “no privacy breaches have been reported” from any real phishing scams at Justice Canada.

Carole Saindon also said that two more waves of mock emails in February and April show improved results, with clicking rates falling by half.

So in an earlier test, our public servants were clicking on phishing links well over 50% of the time? Yikes.

QotD: Modern Autism

Filed under: Health, Quotations — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 00:01

There are, I believe, a few reasons to suppose that autism is a particularly fascinating area to be studying at the moment. What are those reasons? Firstly, prevalence rates of autism have soared in recent decades, from 1:2,500 in 1978 to around 1:100 today: a staggering 25-fold increase. Secondly, and simultaneously, the nature of those receiving a diagnosis of autism has changed considerably. To give just one example, in the 1980s no more than twenty percent of individuals diagnosed with autism had an I.Q. above 80. Today, by contrast, it is widely argued that “intellectual disability is not part of the broader autism phenotype… [and] the association between extreme autistic traits and intellectual disability is only modest” (Hoekstra et al. 2009: 534). Whatever you make of I.Q. scores, this changing profile means that it is reasonable to assume that when you meet somebody with autism today they are quite unlikely to be similar to someone you would’ve met with the same diagnosis just thirty years ago. Thirdly, as the number of people diagnosed with autism has increased, and as the capabilities of those individuals has increased, a (self-)advocacy network of enormous importance and influence has arisen, perhaps on a scale hitherto unseen. When woven together, these dynamic elements have led Ian Hacking to claim that, in autism, “we are participating in a living experiment in concept formation of a sort that does not come more than once in a dozen lifetimes” (Hacking 2009: 506). This, I think, is quite exciting.

Gregory Hollin, “Autism, sociality, and human nature”, Somatosphere, 2014-06-18.

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