A Sequence of (Unlikely) Events

This is not written in the expectation that it is at all likely, but as an exercise in understanding what might be possible with adults in the room who were able to put their factionalism aside. Which is to say that it’s not going to happen!

  • Vote of no confidence is tabled by the leader of the opposition (Corbyn)
  • a caretaker government is installed, lead by whomever can command a majority of parliament for the proposed actions (apparently not Corbyn)
  • an extension is requested with the explicit goal of taking the proposed actions
  • representations are made to the EU for a withdrawal agreement in alignment with the restrictions of the Good Friday Agreement (this likely means remaining in the Customs Union and Single Market, but leaving the political union. Something akin to Norway / Switzerland)
  • a referendum is scheduled with the option to accept the negotiated Withdrawal Agreement or continue the current arrangements (EU membership, A50 revoked)
  • the caretaker government implements the legislation required based on the outcome of the referendum
  • a general election is called
  • the caretaker government steps aside

Despite the obvious issues of using referenda (see 2016!) to solve political issues, given that the current state of affairs it might be the only way to get the toothpaste back in the tube. This is at least more inline with the principle of only going direct to the people for confirmatory votes, ie. where the options are clear and the outcome obvious in all eventualities.

Of course, it might also be too late for all that – a general election could return a Tory + Brexit Party majority, but at least the above sequencing has some possibility of actually delivering closure.

[Note: there will be no more discussion of these issues here. Let the pieces fall where they… May! Sorry that was awful.]

Hard To Fathom

Imagine living through the last couple of years of chaos, venality, etc. and thinking, “You know what we need? Another Tory government!”

Screenshot 2019-09-29 at 09.40.45.png

It’s hard to Fathom. Perhaps there really is a sizeable proportion† of the population that believe that they’ll be the ones that benefit from such a choice… it reminds me of Jiminto / LDP voters in Japan, but in a more unequal society.

These large scale trials testing the limits of ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ are unethical and must be stopped!

† – polling data doesn’t seem to work as well as it used to. Whether this is an accurate snapshot of voter intentions is far more open to question than it would have been ~5 years ago. Don’t think anyone really understands why, or how it can be fixed.

Vote Of No Confidence?

It seems Johnson & Dom have blustered enough to get people to think about a pushing a vote of no confidence. Anyone seeing Johnson’s “performance” in parliament this week would understand the rational – he sounded dangerous and deranged. However, i’m not sure it is ever a great idea to give the Torys what they want…

Given that they don’t currently have a majority in the house, the only route back to power is through a general election. And, the chance of winning a majority in said election after making a trip to Brussels, with a consequently engaged / enraged Brexit Party, looks much worse.

Recent polls say that no party is close to having a working majority, but if there is one path that could see the Torys returned to power, it mostly likely the one down which the opposition is being led.

  • radicalize the country around Brexit
  • adopt a posture of being willing to break the law before showing any flexibility
  • get removed from power via a vote of no confidence
  • have the opposition make representation in Brussels
  • run an election campaign as a “martyr” for the brexit cause, promising to be the one who will deliver the un-deliverable

This avoids having to actually break the law, and all that business with contempt of court / jail time, and maximizes the likelihood of being returned to power with a majority by not getting outflanked on the (far far) right by Farage. If it doesn’t work out, maybe it’lll be close enough and the DUP will be up for another sack of cash?

Crazy as it may seem, it might be better to leave Johnson & Dom hanging. Er, metaphorically speaking… honest!

The short-term thrill of removing them from power, and avoiding the cliff edge at the end of October needs to be weighed against risk of playing into their hands. It requires the collective holding of a lot of nerve, and belief that the constitutional / legal structures of the UK are up to the task of enforcing the rule of law… The temptation to call the vote must be huge!


An Idiot on Twitter

The Lord Chancellor & Secretary of State, Robert Buckland QC, 20 hours ago:

The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom ruled, in a unanimous 11 – 0 decision, that the government of the day’s prorogation of parliament was “illegal”, and this idiot “respectfully disagrees”. Of course, he doing so on Twitter where he presumably thinks he can get away with short-form idiocy, where his view does not require any justification. He just “respectfully disagrees”.

What consequences could their possibly be? Could it result in an undermining of the rule of law? Personal attacks on the judiciary?

Well, well, well. Good luck reconciling the positions in those two statements you moron. Fit to hold the office? I wouldn’t even trust him with the boxset of the US version…

Firefox Vacation

Apple has recently updated Safari (v13) to further restrict the ability of plugins… not actually sure that statement is entirely true without qualification, but for the sake of simplicity it is essentially correct. The immediate result of which is that uBlock-Safari is no longer usable.

The writing has been on the wall for a long time as the project was unmaintained for months – nothing had been pulled from upstream since April of 2018. Yes, it still worked but many of the countermeasures deployed by the attention thieves were becoming annoying.

Despite having a pi-hole configured on the network, which is blocking some 15 – 20% of requests (yes, that’s right roughly a fifth of the internet traffic is tracking / ads / trash), it’s still useful to be able to block at the element level. This “necessity” has lead me back to using Firefox as my default browser for the first time in many years.

For a long time Firefox on OS X / macOS has been horribly inefficient. Just regular browsing would chew through laptop battery at an amazing rate, playing video would immediately spin up fans. The same usage pattern in Safari is much much better. Lately changes have started to land in the Firefox Nightly release that start to address these issues. My understanding is that it is now using the Core Animation APIs and changing the way the compositing happens. You can read all about it in ticket Bugzilla 1429522.

In the longer term, my plan is to return to Safari as the default browser. What is missing is a content blocker that provides element level blocking… most likely that is going to be 1Blocker but i’ve not got around to validating that is the case.

The reason behind this desire to go back to Safari is not entirely straightforward. Despite being annoyed that uBlock Origin can no longer ship as it once did, the rational behind the change to Content Blocking API is essentially sound: plugins doing content level blocking require full visibility of the data being displayed in order to remove the elements which are blocked. With the new API this is somewhat inverted, the content blocker tells the browser what to block and there is no need to trust a third-party with processing all the data. Yes, it’s a pain to go through the transition but given the amount of trust it is necessary to have in a browser and, by extension, it’s plugins, it makes sense.

However, the above is not the entire story. Despite the improvements in Firefox Nightly, it’s still more power hungry than Safari, it just doesn’t integrate as neatly with macOS. Sharing and hand-off don’t happen. Gesture support is lacking (mostly pinch to zoom, which might be supported, but doesn’t work for me in the nightlies). And finally there are niggles like the reader not being a polished, scrolling not feeling as smooth… things that would eventually become annoying.

In summary: back using Firefox; it’s much improved; will probably stay for a while; still expect to return to Safari in the future.

Facebook Blitz


Determine what others see
For us F stands for a Facebook in which you have more control of your private sphere.
Therefore we’re now providing a clearer overview in one place.

I’m kind of fascinated, in a “car crash” kind of way, with the effort Facebook is putting into improving it’s image in Germany.

Leaving aside the banality of this particular pitch (“we’ve moved all the privacy controls that you need to understand, and obviously don’t, into a single place for you to better not understand!) what on earth are they thinking? Do they really believe that the perceived issue is with what others can see, and not understand that people have become concerned with the entirety of what Facebook itself sees?

Maybe this is part of a longer strategy to attempt to undermine the GDPR regulations, which you’d have to assume would be devastating to the FB “sell out the users to highest bidder” business model. If they can get out in front of it, making the claim that they are already protecting users data, and using it appropriately (“look at all the control we give them!”) then maybe politicians won’t feel that suing them out of existence will be popular?

They’ve lost a million users to GDPR issues… which seems peanuts compared to the total ~365 million European users. And the stock price, despite the historic fluctuations, is still higher than it was at the start of 2018.

It all makes me wonder what news they are not yet out in front of…

The State of “Social”

Post from HN: How Does Mastodon Work?

Answer from me so far: it doesn’t.

Sadly i’m not sure it ever will. Leaving Twitter means leaving behind all the network effect that made the Twitter experience work.

One day an inflection point is going to come and people will migrate to a new platform. However, my guess is that will not happen for technical or organisational reasons, but just because. As much as it would be good to sell people on a messaging platform that is, among other things, virtuous, privacy respecting, user supported, censorship resistant (as Mastodon may well be…) if it doesn’t have the magic combination of simplicity and cool which periodically captures the zeitgeist… it doesn’t work.

I’ve managed to move the majority of my IM traffic to Signal… there are a few stragglers, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear that it’s role in the communication of others is limited to catering to my diva-like demands! Why has that worked for personal communications, but failed for the broader, more scattershot social networking case?

The use case is different – on a platform like Twitter you curate followers / friends and accept that whatever to say will be broadcast to them all. This obviously means that you adapt your communication style to be less personal. In most cases a Twitter / Facebook / Instagram account becomes a simple means of promotion. Followers, if not the direct audience, act as a means of propagating or amplifying your message. If that network doesn’t not exist to fan out reaching a much wider “market” it’s not really fit for purpose.

It seems that more private (in many cases not in the cryptographic sense) interactions between natural groups (family, close friends, small teams) are migrating to closed chat rooms, most likely on platforms like WhatsApp, Facebook, etc. And Twitter / Facebook / Instagram feeds are slowly dissolving into a market place for both goods, ideas and attention, with the whole thing swirling around a sink hole of advertising intelligence / surveillance.

Sadly, i suspect that the implementation of Circles in Google+ came very close to synthesising something that captured a good balance. Fortunately people read the sociopathic writing on the wall – as bad a custodian of a social graph as Facebook has turned out to be, the only people that i can see giving them a run for their money in the ‘Totalitarian Information Megacorp’ / ‘Grim Meathook Future’ stakes are big G… and Amazon.

[A lot of this musing was brought to mind by seeing a Facebook ad on German TV that, and i kid you not, starts out with “F steht für unsere Fehler” (F stands for our failure), and then gets weirder.]

The Long Regret?

I’ve spent the last couple of years acutely aware that my predictions about brexit were comically off target. Writing in July 2016, i said:

This week the deadline seems to have stretch out to Article 50 definitely being triggered by the time of the General Election in 2020.

and, as the triggering of Article 50 occurred on March 29th 2017, that was very wrong.

The reasoning behind that statement was, i believe, essentially sound. The various constraints on the UK government made it highly unlikely that an advantageous negotiating position could be found. Those constraints:

  • the indivisibility of the core EU four freedoms (goods, service, people, capital)
  • the Good Friday Agreement’s requirement of an open border between northern and southern Ireland
  • a desire to maintain the union (of Great Britain and Northern Ireland)
  • a need to maintain open / tariff free trade with the EU
  • the requirement to hold together a fractious Tory party

made it seem unlikely that anyone would be stupid enough to pull the trigger to start a race which can obviously not be won.

Since then the situation has become even more complex by the introduction of the biblically backward DUP into the mix.

In hindsight the obvious mistake was assuming that the Tory party would put country above party… that should have been obvious when David ‘trotters up’ Cameron called the referendum in the first place.

It has been my firmly held belief that no UK government would be capable of negotiating an advantageous deal for exiting the EU – the EU holds all the cards, and the UK civil service is hamstrung by the incompetence and tautological beliefs of the Tory party.

Where does this leave us with trying to understand what might happen with Perfidious Albion?

If we rule out a negotiated exit, and given the above we surely must, there are are only really two options left:

  • crash (and burn) out of the EU on March 29th 2019, with the pyrrhic victory of not paying any settlement
  • capitulation / humiliation of withdrawing the Article 50 notice, and remaining in the EU on existing / modified (EFTA, etc) terms

The first option would please / placate a small, but highly vocal, clique of Torys, but probably cause long term (economic / reputational) harm to the UK, rolling back the Good Friday Agreement, and maybe even cause the dissolution of the Union.

The second option would please… actually, that’s the wrong way to look at it. The second option would displease the same highly vocal clique of Torys, but allow the current arrangement of peace and (poorly distributed†) prosperity to continue.

[There are other short-term options, such as getting an extension on the Article 50 deadline, holding another referendum, etc, but in the end they’ll eventually lead back to the above two choices.]

I’m out of the predictions game – in many ways i no longer have a horse in this race. However, it still interesting to imagine how we ended up here..

Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

As insufferable and parochial as Theresa May appears, it seems unlikely that she is stupid. Which obviously raises questions!

Having adopted brexit, and cleaved to childlike logic of “the will of the people” in a representative democracy, she called a General Election. This was done presumably with the hope of gaining a majority large enough to push through a form of brexit advantageous to the Tory party… there was some clue as to how that might look in the initial act for leaving the EU, and it was an executive branch power grab of the kind you’d expect from former Home Secretary May.

When the GE didn’t return a majority, and an agreement with the DUP, that option was off the table. With the “will of the people” fork in the road behind her, it was too late to change course. And from here on out it stops being an authoritarian’s wet dream, and becomes a farce.

The problem with content free phrases such as “will of the people” and “brexit means brexit” is that they inevitably take on a life of their own. Having no inherent meaning they can be bandied around, adding nothing to the discussion, with all sides assigning their own strongly held, magical thinking and *beliefs*. Politics becomes akin to theology.

At this point any rational person would have determined that brexit on terms determined by the UK government is not possible. And, getting the Tory party to accept this reality is equally unlikely. A rock and a hard place.

Admitting that the game is up, that it would be better to admit defeat than risk plunging the country into chaos, is essentially a resignation letter. Resigning too soon would risk giving one of the swivel-eyed loons the time to rally the Tory party around a plan to crash and burn over the white cliffs of Dover.

Better to labour (small L i can’t even begin to imagine what is going on there!) on refining a completely unacceptable, known bad, plan in order to limit an usurpers ability to influence the outcome. All the while bringing into sharp focus the consequences of the default choice. “Yes, to avoid starving to death we may need to return to rationing, but don’t worry we’ll put troops on the streets, and turn the south-east into a lorry park… it’ll be fine!”

All this smoke and mirrors in order to accept the inevitable and avert an entirely avoidable act of catastrophic self-harm.

Doubt we’ll ever know… maybe she really is that stupid. That will be easier to judge by the end of March next year.

† make no mistake, the main reason that the populist right has been able to whip up the frenzy of self-harm that has overcome the UK is the rolling back of post-WW2 consensus undertaken by Thatcher and Thatcher-lite (aka New Labour) and the subsequent inequality that engendered. The populist right has no plan, or intention, to reverse this inequality, only a desire to exploit it to further it’s own (scary) goals.