Thought, experience and memory from a brain in a jar, one that sometimes has control over a thirty-two-year-old Londonite.

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Location: Herne Hill, London, United Kingdom

24 September, 2005

Saturday Madness

Popped along to the Reading Frenzy sale with Ian and Jon and later on Dan (all my three-lettered friends ending in n), and a good time was had by all. I walked away with four issues of headpress, the Social Scrutiny book, a Wodehouse collection for the lovely Mr Greaves, The Spam Letters, and a book of dirty Japanese ladies.

I had intended to stay all day but the sale was smaller in scale than anticipated (though no less lovely). Perhaps partly due to the size of the venue and partly so that latecomers could still get some good stuff, and again because of people bringing books along so as to avoid the £1 entrance fee (Dan's Asimov went, he noticed) the selection remained in a near constant flux throughout. This was faintly unnerving, especially as you couldn't be quite certain as to who were librarianing and who were shopping. A blurred line I suspect. Had a lovely conversation with someone about the amount of lesbian rudeness that was on display (in the books, not the flesh), and on returning some Mexican soft porn comic books to the correct chair, was amused to see them picked up again instantly by someone else. The lady knew her mind!

Jon and Ian had other things to go to, which left Dan and I. In need of some refreshment we repaired to The Severed Head across the road (well that's what the sign depicts!) for some London Pride and a fevered thumb through our purchases. Going for a wander we also happened upon a magic shop...

...I'd been lucky enough to win a book on close-up magic at work, and in reading up on how to make various things disappear, reappear and turn into money, I began to pine for a particular magic prop. A great magician never bla bla bla, so I can't divulge, but the thought returned to me as we passed the shop. I turned on my heel and entered, with purchasing in mind. And who should be behind the counter but Scottish potty-mouth funny magicman Jerry Sadowitz. I requested my item, coughed up the money and offered awkward praise for the show I saw him do at the Riverside studios. The boyf was much impressed when I got back and disappeared a pack of sugar with my new toy.

"That's much better than all those other tricks you do," he said, the rotter.

Anyhoo, the event raised some £1575 which should be enough money to ship a child to London, I would have thought. There's a set of pics taken at the event (see if you can spot me) and my own meagre pics will be going up on Saturday.

22 September, 2005

Things To Come

Not sure Gateshead is in the no protest zone...

Four NO2ID supporters have been prevented by police from leafleting and talking to shoppers at a public event in Gateshead’s Metro Centre today. Home Office minister Andy Burnham MP was due to make a presentation of the new biometric technology to the public and local press at the fourth of seven dates in a demonstration tour. The Home Office intends to wow the public and regional media with its travelling technology exhibit, but is not revealing dates or places in advance.

Stephen Hodgson, the organiser of the NO2ID presence in the Metro Centre, said:

“It was extraordinary. We had been there about an hour. The minister had yet to arrive. Then Home Office staff manning the stand had a word with Metro Centre security staff, and the security staff had a word with police. The police ejected us from the Metro Centre, saying that our leaflets were ‘inappropriate’. It beats me how.”

Guy Herbert, General Secretary of NO2ID, said:

“What are they afraid of? This is a secret tour, aimed at an unprepared public who are to being given only one side of the story, accompanied by computerised smoke and mirrors. Opposing views are being rigorously excluded. In due course we will no doubt be told that reactions were ‘overwhelmingly favourable’ and this will be proffered as further justification of the scheme.

“It is worrying that the police are being used to aid the promotion of a Government policy by suppressing the mildest dissent­more so, coming on top of the arrests of ID protestors in the same area only a couple of weeks ago (1) in circumstances that looked like saving the Home Secretary embarrassment in front of his EU colleagues. This roadshow is more reminiscent of the absurd propaganda exercises favoured by Third World dictatorships, than a contribution to a mature democratic discussion.”$15048886.htm

19 September, 2005

£750 Tax On New Employees?

Over the past couple of weeks HO representatives have suggested that biometrics will be used to confirm the identity of people starting jobs. This would require either an HR manager and the new recruit visiting a passport office to validate identity; or businesses owning or leasing their own readers.

Either way, there will be a surcharge attached to the process. Previous statements from the HO have suggested they would charge businesses £750 for an NIR search. Bit steep.

They have also suggested that NID cards could be used for access to work buildings. Presumably this would rely on the rather poor Chip & PIN functionality of the card, making it probably a more expensive and no more secure system than the existing proximity cards employed by many companies.

Does the Home Office really believe that businesses are going to see any need to buy into the above schemes? Presumably both are just symptomatic of the way in which the HO is beginning to question its own fag-packet figures and realising that the cash will still have to come from somewhere. Surely if the scheme were to go ahead your NIR number would be linked to your National Insurance number, already required to work in this country, and as such any kind of biometric scan would be needless - effectively another of those "trivial searches" they're suddenly beginning to worry about.

They've been quick to point out that private sector companies won't have anything beyond confirmation access to the NIR, which means they expect businesses to query the NIR every time an employee goes through particular doors in the business's premises (or that they lied). Surely, biometric searches or no, this would mean a colossal workload for the NIR network. Note that even at this late stage, there doesn't seem to be any kind of joined-up thinking coming from the HO in relation to the NID scheme. We have one set of "experts" desperately looking for ways of funding the NIR, and another set of "experts" trying to turn the scheme from the unworkable mess it is in currently to something technologically feasible. Pity that both efforts seem to be pulling in completely the opposite direction.

both suggestions cited in the Guardian.

Lists #1 & #2

People I can't get used to being dead

The Queen Mother
Charlotte Coleman
Frank Zappa
Douglas Adams
Spike Milligan

People who I thought had died already

Ted Heath
Ray Charles

12 September, 2005

Another go...

Dear Mrs Jowell,

Thank you for your letter of 23 August 2005 and the response from the Home Office that was attached. I found the Trade Off report referred to in Mr Clarke’s response most enlightening, although the study did seem deeply flawed. In order for the Trade Off research to be of value, it requires a detailed look at the costs of having the card, not just in terms of the financial burden, but also of the added inconvenience of the scheme, the risks attached to consolidated databases, the difficulties that may arise if the card is lost or stolen, the likely frequency with which amendments to the information will be required, the costs of making those amendments, and so forth. It would have also been useful to have had access to the questionnaire that was used to create the statistics, but this did not seem to be present on the Home Office website.

I found Mr Clarke’s response disturbing. The Home Office’s stance (or “what we say” as the Home Secretary puts it) appears to be that, as we are asked to prove our identity on a daily basis, the HO should make it as easy as possible for people to do so. But it simply isn’t true that we are required to prove who we are on a daily basis. If, when the Home Office says this, it is in reference to such things as withdrawing cash from automatic telling machines, or using work ID cards to gain access to buildings, then it is a flawed supposition. We have a bankcard that carries information about our bank accounts, we have a work ID to demonstrate we have authorised access to certain buildings. The provision of a biometric ID card will only add to the ID we already have, unless the Home Office wishes every ATM to have a number of biometric readers. Banks and building societies are already grumbling at the costs of maintaining the relatively simple machines currently in use. If the machines are also to bear fingerprint and iris scanners, these costs will increase further.

What is more the Home Office is wilfully making this misrepresentation. In December 2004 Cragg Ross Dawson formulated a report entitled Identity Cards: The Public’s Response to Proposed Customer Propositions in which it is stated clearly that the public do not identify with the picture of an endless need to prove one’s identity that has been painted by the Home Office.

In virtually the same breath Clarke goes on to suggest that, if the card system is in place, the Government will be able to ensure that only those eligible for public services receive them. He suggests that we have to prove our identity more and more, and then goes on to suggest we don’t prove our identity enough! I fail to see how Clarke can make both arguments simultaneously; that he wants to make our lives easier and more complicated.

Charles Clarke also suggests that the ID card would be ideal for young people to carry instead of their passports as a means of proving they are over 18. Despite the fact that there is already a card in existence that serves this purpose (one that is cheaper, and does not have a limitless and expensive database behind it), we are being told that these cards will be necessary to prove our identity on a day-to-day basis, meaning that although the card will cost “no more than thirty pounds” their value (unless they won’t actually be as useful as Mr Clarke believes) will be far in excess of a passport that we will only need when travelling outside of Europe. A person losing an ID card will be far more inconvenienced than someone losing their passport.

I also note that the Passport Office, in their recent press release concerning the new standards for passport photos and (although it seems quite unconnected) the introduction of ID cards and the NIR, quoted the amount lost through identity fraud at £1.8 billion figure again. This, despite the fact that the figure has been brought into serious question in the national press. I reiterate that the ID Card Bill will not stop most of the £1.8 billion from being lost.

Furthermore, by consolidating information into a single database, the Bill will serve to create a “honey pot” that will draw hackers in the same way that the consolidation of the US welfare database did in America, leading to an increase in ID theft. Also, by selling the card as an unhackable, uncopiable, gold standard of ID, you open the door to criminals who have managed to secure false ID cards by means of corrupt operatives; have managed to fabricate entries in the registry of births, deaths and marriages, acquired a fake birth certificate or passport and used it to gain a Government created ID card; or managed to hack the technology itself in order to create forged cards. I need not remind you that last year the defence systems of the United States were hacked by a British citizen with the cracking equivalent of a hair-pin.

I’m also somewhat alarmed at the refusal of the Home Office to engage, in public, with criticisms made of the Bill with reference to civil rights. This, despite the fact that its own reports make these criticisms clear. The Fifth Report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights “raises concerns about the compatibility of provisions of the Bill with the right to respect for private life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and the right to non-discrimination in the protection of the Convention rights under Article 14 ECHR.” In the Commissioner for Human Rights’ report for the Council of Europe he, although not disagreeing in principle with the card, raised concerns regarding the range of information stored: “an identity card should be no more than its name suggests – a document containing sufficient information, and no more, than is necessary for establishing an individual’s identity for relevant administrative purposes.” Given that this is in keeping with the reason given by the Government for the card, this suggests the NIR (which will undoubtedly make up the bulk of the costs) will largely not be required. Nevertheless, because Civil Liberties are seen as a minority issue (freedom, after all, is wasted on the free), none of these issues have been discussed with anything like the depth that seems fitting.

A further concern is the Home Office’s continuing refusal to explain how its figures can be so far below those of the LSE. The recent decision to outsource the processing of the registry for Births, Deaths & Marriages may hold a clue. Are we to understand that the NIR too, will be processed offshore? We are already aware of the fact that such operatives are corruptible, and that the practice of selling credit card information is already widespread. Wouldn’t it be more convenient for them to be corrupted in this country?

Tony Blair had suggested at a press conference prior to the reading that he wanted the Bill to be passed so that debate could begin. The Select Committee was given over two hundred amendments to the bill to discuss and out of these, not a single change to the bill was made. It seems, based on both the urgent timetable and the committee’s unlikely finding that the Bill doesn’t need any kind of amendment (a view certainly not held by Tony McNulty, who predicts that the move to compulsion will bounce back and forth between the House of Commons and the House of Lords, safely beyond the reach of the Parliament Act) that no debate of any value has taken place. What is more, Mr Blair’s statement was clearly aimed at talking round Labour MPs still not keen on the Bill. I can only suspect that, given that the ensuing debate has failed, these Labour MPs will now reverse their position on the Bill and vote against it, leaving the Government in a potentially embarrassing position whereby they will have to explain how a select committee, without making any amendments, came up with a Bill less popular than in its previous reading.

But insensitivity to these possibilities should not be surprising. In a time when Labour is faced with a reduced minority, and its leaders and ministers are paying lip service to the rebuilding of trust between politicians and voters, we find the first Bill that has tested the new House has been pushed through by forming unbalanced select committees, by blatantly ignoring any experts that dare to disagree with Labour’s position, by misrepresenting intelligence, by the false promises and the same kind of cheap diversionary tactics that have led to the mistrust in the first place. The government claim they want a debate, yet eschew it at every turn. For instance, the Home Office has done little to counter the criticisms posed by Steve Webb with regards the probability that the half million plus illegal immigrants being obstructed from getting health services would lead to possible epidemics when infectious diseases would be allowed to go unchecked. The Home Office’s response, that a card would never be required to gain access to emergency services, rather depends on a diagnosis that would never be provided. Charles Clarke’s attempts to win people over to the scheme are ultimately detrimental to his cause. When faced with people he considers paranoid, woolly thinkers with outmoded concerns such as civil liberties, he attempts to appease their concerns by claiming not only that the Big Brother state is already here, but that it is his job to control it!

It is everybody’s duty to decide what sort of world we live in. Those who are willing to buy into the proposed ID scheme, expensive, purposeless, unworkable, have made the decision, wittingly or otherwise, to move towards the kind of crazed world more likely encountered in a Terry Gilliam film than in real life. There has been no satisfactory debate over the ramifications of the Bill for the simple reason that the Bill will not stand up to considered and informed scrutiny. I urge you to reverse your standing on the Bill and vote against it at the forthcoming reading.

Yours sincerely,

Simon Scott.

09 September, 2005

Pass Christian, MS House Before/After

Craft Junkie posted the image shown on flickr, illustrating the devastation that has befallen New Orleans from a painfully individual perspective.

08 September, 2005

General flies back to front

Well, I like irony as much as the next man, but according to my public transport newspaper observation ("Has it ever occured to you to by your own newspaper?") the Daily Star's front page consisted of some sort of competition or other (I'm not sure exactly. I saw a picture of the England manager and sort of glossed over the words) and the headline news story, which they wittily described as an exclusive, informing its (presumably few) lady readers that men prefer women to wear underwear downstairs, rather than go all commando. Has it really been that slow a week? Ever?

07 September, 2005

Reading Frenzy

Saturday September 24th, 12 midday to 5pm
The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, London WC1N 1HX

Authors, journalists, publishers, artists, illustrators, editors and, well, just good old readers have already pledged books for what promises to be the book event of the year. The Reading Frenzy will offer everything from brand new hardbacks and coffee table books to reference books and thrice-read novels at just £1.

The event is organised by London-based writer and journalist Iain Aitch and friends as a benefit for Chloe Eudaly, who runs Reading Frenzy in Portland, Oregon in the US. She has helped, encouraged and given space to countless artists, writers, comic artists, poets and activists and is one of the most giving people we know. As her store sells mostly independently-produced fanzines, magazines, books and art she is never going to make a fortune.

Chloe is a hardworking bookseller, arts promoter, arbiter of culture, and single mom to an adorable four-year-old who happens to have cerebral palsy. After years of 24-7 work she needs a rest and it is her dream to visit London, so we intend to make this happen. Any money above what it takes to get her to London will be used for the ongoing health care of Chloe’s son, Henry. During her visit she will be hosting a ‘show and tell’ style event about her work and Portland’s cultural output.

On 24th September we shall be holding The Reading Frenzy at The Horse Hospital from 12 midday to 5pm. We need you to come along and bring books and then buy books to take away. As we said everything is £1. This means brand new donations from publishers and writers, proof copies, cult titles, art books, novels and rarities.

Please bring your books in bags, if possible divided up into fiction and non-fiction. This is your entrance fee. If you don’t have books to bring you pay £1. You only need bring one book to get in free, but please bring as many as you can [omitting your 1993 Time Out restaurant guides and 1996 Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbooks please]. You will be able to come and go during the sale, so you can check back later on to see what else has come in, though we will be starting with some prime donations on sale. If you want to know the truth we have also been promised a very, very rare book, which will be auctioned at the start of the sale.

We can pick up large donations, but please bring down yourself if you can as this will help us keep costs down. Anyone with large donations or questions should get in touch with me at We are keen to receive donations from publishers and will be happy to mention your name in any publicity should you wish us to (or, alternatively, to keep mum).

To follow the book sale we are having a film night, with a screening of 1971 masterpiece Harold and Maude, starring Ruth Gordon as an 80-year-old delinquent and Bud Cort as a death obsessed teen, making them perhaps the oddest movie couple ever. Music is by Cat Stevens. This is one of Chloe’s favourite movies and one of ours too. We will also be showing Times Square, a 1980 new wave/punk film featuring Tim Curry, which tells the story of mental hospital escapee, bin bag-wearing fictional proto-riot girl act the Sleaze Sisters. A lost classic featuring music by The Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith and XTC. A must for any fan of The Fabulous Stains.

The films show at 7.30pm at the Horse Hospital. Tickets are £7, or £5 for Horse Hospital members. Pay at the door.

The Horse Hospital is at Colonnade, London WC1N 1HX. It is directly behind Russell Square tube station. Buses7, 59, 68, 91, 168, 188. Euston and Holborn stations are also short walk away should Russell Square be closed for any reason. Map of the Horse Hospital

We also need offers from people who may want to be librarians for a day – organising the donations into rough categories and novels into order. If it has always been your dream to wear thick-rimmed glasses and put your hair in a bun or wear a cardigan and sensible shoes then this could be for you. Librarian fancy dress code will be encouraged for volunteers but by no means compulsory. At the end of the sale you will, of course, be invited to shake down your hair and remove your glasses to a chorus of ‘… but miss, you are beautiful’. Male librarians will be offered the chance to flex their muscles and make the buttons fly from their brown shirt or M&S cardy.

Any offers of car/van time to pick up large donations are also appreciated.

Please pass this on/post on your blog or livejournal or website.

02 September, 2005

"It'll only encourage them..."

For three months now, I've had a Google Ad bar on the blog which has so far earned me a colossal 85 cents. If you work it out as an hourly rate, then...

Trouble is, because I often use Life In The Jar to vent on various issues, or discuss the news of the day, I end up advertising things that go against what I'm saying. That's not something I'm going to shy from, though, and my low click-through rate (and income) suggests that my lyrical waxing is defusing any power those particular adverts have, hem-hem.

Favourites so far have been an ad for a website where you can go online and thank Tony Blair for the war on Iraq, (Not thank... thump, maybe?), and yesterday's post which led to an advert for David Icke and a site about the Verichip, and how it might be the recently discredited "666" spoken of in the Revelations of St John the Divine.

01 September, 2005

Hamilton's Brain Updated

Well, it wasn't the biggest of updates. I guess GTA:SA has taken its toll! However, there was plenty left dangling, such as some early parts of both the One Hour Photo and Static write-ups, so next month's increase should be a little more substantial. Quite pleased at managing to get the most chore-like aspect of the site, the daily straplines, done. I intend keeping them up for a year and then cycling them.

I also quite surprised myself by finishing The Inheritance, a story that I've been trying to complete for about three years. I'll probably go back and do a polish on the new bits I've added. Anything to keep me from working on Pieces! I've also uploaded another couple of stories from the vaults. I find as I begin to write fiction again that I've started having more ideas for stories, which is reassuring. Often in the past I've thought about going back to my writing, only to find I couldn't think of very much to write about. I also feel I'm moving towards a specific set of ideas which intrigues me. Partly this has come out of my own musings, and partly out of the stuff I've already written. Again, it offers a framework in which I can write, and begins to suggest that, despite my fears, I might actually have something to say! This can only be a good thing.

Ideas for articles for God's Rude Wireless - reworking of the Sainsbury's post below, anti-ID card piece, what I think of David Icke. The last of these would focus on why I find that, although Icke is a classifiable nutbar, he has this uncanny knack of distilling paranoia and sentiment that's already out there. He kind of turns everything into an allegory, and then believes the allegory, which is where he comes unstuck. He'll pick up on a weird feeling about the Royal Family, note that their lives are so remote from our own that they are practically an alien species, and then make the leap that they literally are an alien species. That's technically schizophrenic, I believe! What makes it more dangerous is that Icke then gets plugged into a big feedback loop with all the other nutcases... But I'm rambling, and need to get dressed.

Oo, and speaking of God's I'm rather pleased at the way the graphic at the bottom of the non-fiction pieces came out. Lovely obelisk that.