Just another * hacker
14,965 words


The biggest advantage of extremism is that it makes you feel good – because it provides you with enemies. Let me explain. The great thing about having enemies is that you can pretend that all the badness in the whole world is in your enemies and all the goodness in the whole world is in you.

Attractive, isn't it?

– John Cleese, apparently, but probably just reading a script


There hasn't been a COBR meeting since the 10th of May. After all, it's not like we're living through an emergency or anything, is it? And those awkward people disagreeing with the plans laid down by the mighty Cummings: we can't have them, can we. Jolly good, what?


I don't know what to think about this. Obviously a lot of statues commemorate horrible people, and those statues should not be there1: no-one needs statues of people whose importance is that they got rich from the slave trade. The people defending such statues are either racists, stupid, or both2.

But what about Churchill? Clearly he had some views which are repugnant. But so did almost everyone: I was alive in the 1970s and even then many, many people had really repugnant views (probably including me, if I had thought about it rather than about the things teenagers think about). And, like it or not, I'm only able to write this because of Churchill: he played a critical part in the defeat of people who had views which were a lot more repugnant – a lot more repugnant – than his. Shouldn't we remember him for that?

If we're going to try and erase everyone who had repugnant views from history, we are going to erase most of history, because almost everyone had such views (what did Alan Turing think of BAME people? do we know?). And rewriting history to downplay or remove people and events which are inconvenient is what totalitarian states do: it's what Donald Trump and his idiot enablers are trying to do. That's a very dangerous slope to start down (it's a slope the US is already half way down, and probably are not coming back from).

Well, I don't have an answer: I'm not even going to pretend I do. And what would an 'answer' from a middle-aged white person count for anyway? I do think that it's complicated, and I do think it would be wrong to remove statues of Churchill, much though it pains me to agree with anything Boris 'watermelon smiles' Johnson says3. But I don't know.

  1. Priti Patel, I'm looking at you. 

  2. Although I think they should not be destroyed, in general. 

  3. However if we're going to be removing people from history because of their repugnant views, let's erase Boris Johnson: jokes about 'picanninies' with 'watermelon smiles' might have been just the jokes everyone made a decade before he was born, and therefore the jokes someone who isn't very good at thinking might have made. And Johnson is certainly not terribly good at thinking: that's what other people are for. But to have made jokes like that recently, even for someone as essentially stupid as Johnson, tells you what he is: a casual racist, like so many of his class. 

Moral theatre

Moral theatre doing or saying something which has no good consequence and quite possibly a harmful one but which appears to have a good consequence on casual inspection. Generally done to impress people with the virtue and purity of the person performing the act, often also because the act, although meaningless, 'feels good'. See also virtue semaphore, security cinema.

First Encyclopedia of Tlön, 23rd edition, 2049


In 1990, about 1.9 billion people were living in extreme poverty. In 2015 about 730 million were1. The number of people living in absolute poverty has gone down by a factor of about 2.6 in a generation: the number of people living in extreme poverty in 2015 was less than half of that in 1990.

But that's not really the right number: in 1990 the world's population was about 5.3 billion people: about one person in 2.8 was living in extreme poverty in 1990. In 2015 the world's population was about 7.4 billion people: about one person in 10 was living in extreme poverty. The proportion of people living in extreme poverty has gone down by a factor of about 3.6 in a generation: the chance of a person being in extreme poverty in 2015 is just over a quarter of the chance in 1990.

This is what globalization did for us. Of course, most of those people were in China and other far-eastern countries, and a relatively tiny number of them were white, and we don't care about that sort of people, do we? Globalisation must end so that a small number of rich and really whiny white people, some of whom got a little poorer as a result of it, can get little more poor, while a huge number of poor non-white people can starve to death.

It's good to know what we're fighting for.

The conservative party

has changed beyond recognition they say: once it was a party of, well, conservatives – people who would prefer that things stay the same if possible – who had no time for people who whine or people who regarded themselves as victims; today it is a party of whining self-declared victims who want to tear everything apart.

Except not so much has changed, has it? The conservative party has always been known as 'the stupid party'. It still is.

Priti Patel: the gift that keeps on giving

So, Priti Patel again:

I have already said repeatedly there is no place for racism in our country or in society.

So why are you pushing legislation which targets Roma? Because there's a name for that, and that name is 'racism'.

Just because you aren't white, and just because you were the target of racism, does not mean you aren't a racist. If you do things or say things which are racist, or support people who do or say such things, then you're a racist. And, Priti Patel, the things you do are racist: can you work out the logical conclusion of that, or do I have to do it for you?

Priti Patel

So Priti Patel thinks that the removal of a statue commemorating a slave trader is 'utterly disgraceful'.

Of course she does. After all, it's important to commemorate slave traders, isn't it? Let's just remember that Priti Patel is also the person who wants to make being a gypsy illegal: an act which would be explicit ethnic cleansing. I'm half-surprised she'd not campaigning to bring slavery back. Perhaps she is.

She's really a piece of work: a bully, a liar, a bigot and, if that wasn't enough, just really, really fucking stupid. Everything you want in a modern not-very-crypto-fascist, really.


Protests about the brutal way the police treat black people are pretty obviously going to make CV19 worse: saying they won't is just implausible.

But on the other hand, saying 'the police can kill people and you are not allowed to protest because CV19' is clearly opening the way for some very nasty behaviour indeed. 'How convenient that there is an epidemic,' the authoritarian thinks, 'now we can say that people are not allowed to protest while we round up people we don't like and ship them off to who-knows-where', for instance.

'Oh,' you say, 'well people are allowed to protest if something sufficiently bad happens, this just wasn't sufficiently bad, especially because it didn't happen to me or people like me'. Well, even that comment isn't straightforwardly racist, which it probably is, I have a quote for you about it.

They came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.

Martin Niemöller

I'd suggest instead that if it's desirable that people not protest then a way to achieve that, if you are the police, is probably not to kneel on their necks for 9 minutes while they beg for their life, until they're dead. I mean, I don't know, but that seems like a good start, don't you think?

'Our position is these officers were simply following orders'

Exhibit 1:

Our position is these officers were simply following orders from Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia to clear the square [...].

– John Evans, president of the Buffalo Police Benevolent Association

Exhibit 2:

There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders [...] I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.

– Adolf Eichmann, Nazi


Corporate clients will get access to Zoom’s end-to-end encryption service now being developed, but Yuan said free users won’t enjoy that level of privacy, which makes it impossible for third parties to decipher communications. 'Free users for sure we don’t want to give that because we also want to work together with FBI, with local law enforcement in case some people use Zoom for a bad purpose'.

Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom, 2nd June 2020

So that's just fine, then.

James Mattis

Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people – does not even pretend to try. Instead he tries to divide us. We are witnessing the consequences of three years of this deliberate effort. We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership. We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society. This will not be easy, as the past few days have shown, but we owe it to our fellow citizens; to past generations that bled to defend our promise; and to our children.

James Mattis, Donald Trump's first Secretary of Defence

Delete your Facebook account

Don't read this, just delete your Facebook account.

Violet Blue:

New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose spotted that the "top 10 stories on Facebook over the past 24 hours" were all from Fox News, "Blue Lives Matter," and similar sources.

Meaning: the slant of all stories in FB's "top 10" (surfaced to the masses) were pro-police and Trump's agenda. Roose documented that FB's daily specials were "about Trump declaring antifa a terrorist group," he wrote. "One is a feel-good story about a trucker cleaning up after vandals, another is about an officer calmly listening to protesters, one is about violence against law enforcement," tweeted Roose. "If Facebook was your sole news source," he correctly noted, "and you saw only the most popular links on the platform, you'd think that what happened this weekend was a violent, unprovoked attack on law enforcement by a left-wing terror group."


If you work for Facebook, you are a white supremacist.

If you have a "friend" who works at Facebook, cut them out of your life, like you would your racist cousin.

You can do it. I believe in you.

'Oh', you say, 'well, I'm unhappy about the way Facebook behave even though I'm addicted to it, and look, it's obvious that deleting my account makes no real practical difference, and I am addicted, so, well, I'll just keep my account. It's just one more cigarette, after all. And, really, there's millions of people, what does my vote count for? Will it, really, make any difference if I vote? No, of course not: why should I bother?'. And suddenly: Trump.

Thinking like this is called 'one-bit thinking', and it is both wrong and extremely harmful. One-bit thinking kills people: stop it.

Every person who stops having a Facebook account reduces their ability to track them, and everyone else, by some amount, and that amount is not zero.

Define a function T(n) which is their ability to track people as a function of the number of people who delete their accounts, from some baseline (say today). Then there's a corresponding ΔT(n) = T(0) - T(n): the change in their ability to track people as a function of n. Three things are obvious:

  • ΔT(0) = 0;
  • there is an N such that ΔT(N) = T(0) – they can no longer track non-users if they are bankrupt for instance;
  • and ΔT(n) is essentially strictly monotonic, and in particular ΔT(n) doesn't remain constant up to some critical value of n and then fall off a cliff, which is what the one-bit thinker believes.

ΔT is certainly not linear – it's probably closer to some exponential thing – but it is monotonic decreasing. That means that ΔT(1) is a small negative number. It may be ever so small, but it is not zero: each person who deletes their Facebook account hurts Facebook's ability to track everyone, including them, and thus also hurts Facebook a little bit.

This should be so obvious it doesn't need saying: obviously Facebook's ability to track non-users declines as the size of their network of users declines.

It also should be obvious just by looking at Facebook's behaviour even if you can't do the maths: if it makes no odds to them whether or not you have an account, why are they so keen for you to have an account?. After all, accounts are free to users but they cost Facebook something to provide, so they must be getting some benefit from each person who has an account.

Each person who deletes their account hurts Facebook a little bit, and makes everyone's life a little bit as a result. It may be only a little bit, but it is not zero.

Stop supporting white supremecists and just delete your Facebook account. Do it now: not tomorrow, not in due course, now.

And you will know him by the trail of dead

I'm interested in how many people will die because of what Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson have done: Cummings by treating the lockdown rules as something that apply to other, lesser people, and Johnson by demonstrating that doing that is just fine. The result will be that people take lockdown and social distancing less seriously, and some of them die as a result.

So I wrote an epidemic simulator. It's fairly simple-minded, but it does the susceptible / infected / immune-or-dead thing. And I modelled three scenarios:

  • a mitigated epidemic where lockdown followed by some weakening happens;
  • a version of the previous model where, after the initial lockdown, things are weakened by about 5% more, with this declining over time to 2%
  • a version with 10% weakening, declining to 4%.

So this is meant to model the case where, because of what Cummings and Johnson have done, people are about 5% or 10% less likely to obey the restrictions.

The numbers below are worth what you paid for them: I hope that someone with a serious model will run equivalent scenarios, and I'm sure they have, but I could not find any when I looked a few days ago.

The model runs used a population of a million: I've scaled the results to 70 million. The figures are for deaths: it assumes a death rate of 1% of infected people. Figures are averaged over 5 runs, and lasted for 3 years.

The initial results indicated that the actions of Cummings & Johnson will cause tens of thousands of deaths. This seems far too high to me. However my epidemics are slower than the real one seems to be, so I also did some experiments moving the effect later in time as well, to see if I could reduce the effect.

when unmitigated mitigated mitigated + 5% mitigated + 10%
early 554,000 64,200 91,900 125,000
late 551,000 63,800 70,900 80,900

The figures without the Cummings-Johnson effect vary because the model is statistical and there is some variation.

The late figures indicate between a few thousand extra deaths and perhaps ten thousand. Everything is to three significant figures, which is less than the variation between runs: bigger populations have less variation but take longer to simulate, and I got bored with my machine being hot.

I really want to see someone with a proper model publish estimates. But I am sure that Cummings and Johnson have been privately told the probable results of what they have done, and I'm sure Johnson knew them before he chose not to sack Cummings. Johnson may not fully understand them ('numbers, what? jolly boffins deal with those'): Cummings may do.

What neither of them do, of course, is care: so they've killed some little people, does it matter?

If we could only move on

from the 1950s and design technology around people. We could have programming editors which treat code as a structure which can be dynamically reformatted depending on the window width the person editing or reading the code wants, and programming languages designed to accommodate that. Well, in the late 1980s I will use an editor like that and it will be fine, although somewhat curiously constructed, as things written by the fae often are. But none of that will exist until the late 1980s: thirty years in the future. Because today, it's still 1956.

Last year was 1956, next year will be 1956: it will always be 1956.