Great mind bit of a shit

Davros not Stephen Hawking “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.” – Voltaire

This is a somewhat tricky post to write, as I have no desire to cause upset to the friends or family of the recently departed. Also one of the problems with critiquing great people is you are open to accusations of jealousy, sour grapes, trying to drag other people down and so forth. However the current sanctification of the late Dr. Hawking within my social circle has been a little grating. Given recent popular movements regarding micro-agressions, believing the victim, #MeToo and so forth I was under the impression that “greatness” was no longer an excuse for treating people badly. As these attitudes are popular amongst much of my social group I thought it worth mentioning that amongst all the hagiographies it might be worth mentioning that he wasn’t necessarily such a great human. Much as we saw with Mr Weinstein, and others, how “everyone knew” and it was “common knowledge” so it was with Dr. Hawking. Way back when I was a lowly Physics undergrad the scuttlebutt at various physics meet up was that his attitudes and behaviour towards women weren’t exactly great. Now of course my saying that is just hearsay and rumour, though I heard it from people who witnessed or experienced it so felt quite comfortable saying that we shouldn’t over look his very human nature. I’m not going to link to anything directly but if your curious you could search on Stephen Hawking misogyny and anti-Semitism.

That is where it got kind of interesting. Suddenly the previously applied standards were suspended, it was to be expected because of the period he grew up in, it was understandable because of his illness, it was forgivable because of his great intellect. The mere suggestion that we could acknowledge his intellect and scientific contributions without ignoring that his past attitudes and behaviour might have been problematic was “vilification” and “turning him into a monster”. On this occasion suddenly there were demands for proof, and not just second-hand reports but on camera instances of his behaviour. So the level of evidence that condemned athletes, actors, some producers, right-wing politicians and other celebrities was no longer sufficient. I’m going to resist the temptation to try to guess why this might be the case, why in this instance we shouldn’t talk honesty about behaviour and call out even the smallest misdemeanour’s. I will ponder that if people are willing to overlook unacceptable behaviour for some people for whatever reason it rather undermines the argument that such behaviour is unacceptable. Of course you can still admire him, you can still think him brilliant or anything else you like, but much as I like my friends whilst acknowledging their flaws we should also acknowledge the flaws of those we look up to and hold them to at least the same standards we apply to those we look down on. I hope that when I die those that know me remember me as I was, big up the tales about me for sure but remember my flaws and don’t excuse them so that those that come after me can do better than I did.

So in memory of Dr Hawking and one of (what I think was) his coolest discoveries I’d like to propose the term “Hawkings Hypocrisy”. A bit like “revealed preference”, Hawkings Hypocrisy is hypocrisy revealed when someone exempts specific individuals from standards they insist on for others.

Registering with the Raw Tobacco Scheme – Revisted

HMRC are watchingLong term readers here may recall that a while back I registered with the HMRC for their raw tobacco scheme as I sometimes grow the stuff for various purposes, mainly wine making, and of course because the regulations are insane. Well as it’s a new year I received a letter asking me to let them know if “Raw Tobacco approval” was still required, which was all quite expected. As the decorative varieties didn’t take that well and the smokable varieties are getting out competed by the cobb nut trees and grape vines I’m not bothering this year, though maybe next year as I’ll want more wine by then. All of which is not terribly interesting what was far more interesting was the net page of the letter, which said:
“HMRC regularly reviews the contents of internet websites and entries on the websites from Giolla were seen with the dates refered below:”

So hello HMRC, pull up a chair and have a cuppa.

They then proceed to detail aspects of the previous article telling of my success with registering with them, noting that the sample letter “Mirrored the details submitted in your application to HMRC dated…”. They then further note:
“A copy of your approval letter that HMRC issued to you was linked to the above entry with your name, address and approval number details greyed out but HMRC details were displayed in full”

Which makes me wonder quite a few things, firstly just what are they looking for as part of their reviews? Secondly how did they identify the letter? This could just be that so few people applied that it was obvious or it could be that in the HMRC details there was a non-obvious identifier. I accept I could have done a better job with blocking out my details, but all the HMRC details looked fairly generic.
Baccy approval - page 1
To get from the greyed out details to something in their records would take a bit of effort, and the rest of the letter looks fairly generic so I wouldn’t have though that traceable. Unless they had very few applicants which is more than possible given how badly they advertised the scheme. I’d love to hear other peoples thought on this one, as it may be relevant for anyone else wanting to share HMRC correspondence. Also is it just me or does their tone seem a bit peeved about the HMRC details not being greyed out? I would have thought HMRC contact details would be public knowledge.

The next paragraph is where it gets even more interesting as it reads:
“Please provide an explanation for the above entries on the Anonymong website, in particular how a copy of the Raw Tobacco approval letter issues by the HMRC to yourself appeared on this website.

Please provide the information requested above by….”

I’ve checked all my previous correspondence and no where does it say that I have to keep the information in the letter confidential, and the relevant approval and such numbers were obscured anyway so that shouldn’t be an issue in any case. When I asked them why they needed the information the very nice lady who wrote to me claimed it was to make sure my data hadn’t been stolen or anything, which I don’t really find very convincing especially given the tone of the letter. So if not that, which I’m really not convinced by, anyone want to suggest why the HMRC would be concerned that a fairly generic letter with identifying details obscured was published? The letter then went on to say that if I didn’t reply then my Raw Tobacco approval would not be renewed and “may affect any future RTAS application”. They then very thoughtfully included a fact sheet about excise compliance checks. I would have thought it would have made more sense to provide that when I first registered if it was just to be helpful, otherwise one might thing it was a hint of a threat. If they were that concerned about my data having been stolen or comprised I would have hoped they might have got in touch sooner rather than waiting for the next time they had to write to me, though perhaps the problem was just in a report attached to my file and no one was looking at it. Though that does rather make the value of their internet surveillance rather questionable, as any harm that could have happened from the registration would have happened by now. I don’t for a moment think they only happened to discover it just before writing to me, if I had a few spare hours looking back through server logs might be illuminating.

All very interesting, HMRC are it seems watching and paying attention – though for just what purposes and how they’re matching what’s on the internet to their systems is a very interesting question. Maybe they just had so few registrations they assume that everyone that registered for non-business purposes was a wrong-un. Anyone else had the HMRC in touch about a blog post?

The wonderful world of newspeak

I think this week I may have to finally give up on hoping for any coherence or consistency when it comes to politics. Now obviously I gave up on that years ago with the press and politicians but I liked to give my friends a little more credit. Now a lot of my friends are rather left leaning but they’re still good people and in the normal course of events individually tend to be well-informed and able to hold a reasoned argument – but as with so many of us let them on the internet and social media and you can forget all that*.

This has been a week of people pivoting on news stories fast enough to get whiplash.

A soon as it was announced that we may be paying a sum of money to the EU as part of the exit negotiations, the narrative swapped from:
“It’s not a divorce bill, it’s just honouring our commitments”
“What a disaster Brexit is we’re continuing to pay for less than we currently have with no influence”

It was announced that India might want to be looked upon more favourably as part of a trade deal and this wasn’t welcomed as a fantastic chance to open our borders to the wider world beyond white Europeans. Nope this was “See we’re leaving the EU and still can’t control immigration”.

British farmers complained that they couldn’t get cheap immigrant labour and that British people wouldn’t do the work for the wages and there was no protests about the farmers not paying a living wage, or their previous exploitation of immigrants. Not a bit of it this was again purely a Brexit problem, as leaving the EU will stop us having cheap food. Cheap food being far more important than paying decent wages, and of course ignoring that there used to be seasonal work visas which allowed workers from all over the world to benefit from underpaid back-breaking labour on British farms.

Then to wrap it up President Trump retweeted 3 videos allegedly showing the actions of some Muslims. Horrifyingly the person he re-tweeted is ( apparently, I didn’t know ) a senior person with Britain First. Now I’ve always though that Britain First were a largely insignificant group within UK politics, but apparently I’m wrong. Apparently they are so important that the President of the USA should know who their senior members are. So important in fact that who they are far outweighs the content and legitimacy of the videos, though I’ve only seen claims that one of the three is misrepresented. So in this day and age the messenger is more important than the message and sharing an article is the same as endorsing. So because of who he retweeted, not what, there is a diplomatic spat between the UK and the USA that may damage future relationships.

At this point I may as well accept that up is down and I can see how ever many fingers they want me to see.

* In aggregate not individually, obviously if any of my friends are actually reading this I didn’t mean you. No you are fine I was talking about my other friends.