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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Gershon Kingsley December 28, 2019

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Gershon Kingsley died recently aged 97. A pioneer of Elecronic music he was probably best known for the somg “Pop Corn” which is credited as being the first Electronic hit single. His instrument of choice was a Moog synthesizer

 

Signs of Hope – 2019 edition December 27, 2019

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Perhaps slightly different this time – what larger signs of hope were there this year and what of ones for next year?

They see you when you’re sleeping And they know when you’re awake… December 27, 2019

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Good piece in the Guardian by Tim Singleton of Digital Rights Watch that notes the manner in which many devices purchased at Christmas as gifts will compromise privacy.

The term surveillance capitalism was coined by academic Shoshana Zuboff to explain the market-driven process in which the commodity for sale is your personal data. The capture and production of this data relies on mass surveillance of what we do online and in our homes. It is the dominant mechanism behind the success of many Silicon Valley tech companies, and increasingly a daily invasion into our own personal space.

What’s particularly disturbing is how mundane some of these devices are. For example:

Amazon’s “Ring” doorbell allows owners to link their front door to integrated security systems, recording and viewing video footage from anywhere via a mobile app. In the US, this has led to a rapid take-up of the tiny cameras on front porches and doorsteps. In turn, this has been too tempting an opportunity for US law enforcement, which earlier this year went into partnership with Amazon to gain unprecedented and unfettered access to video footage. There have also been reports of Ring owners being hacked by would-be thieves, using the devices to check if homeowners are present before breaking in. Hacking tools to break into these systems are cheaply available online and are considerably easier to use than a set of lock picks.

Then there’s toys, ‘educational’ devices aimed at children and so on. Worth keeping in mind.

For all the sturm und drang, underlying problems remain for the UK December 27, 2019

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Politics creeping back in after a few days rest. Slowly but surely. For example, today the Guardian reports:

The British economy is on track for the weakest year outside a recession since the second world war, as political turmoil and Brexit uncertainty dragged down growth, a Guardian analysis reveals.

At the end of a turbulent year and following Boris Johnson’s election victory, surveys of business activity suggest economic growth in the final three months of 2019 has essentially stalled. The jobs market is showing signs of stress and public borrowing is steadily rising again after a decade of improvement.

Which goes yet again to prove that Brexit is both a distraction and an additional, and very real pressure on the UK economy at a time when it is in significant respects ill-positioned to engage with it. And there’s no sign of a stable immediate term future:

Writing in the Guardian, David Blanchflower, a former member of the Bank’s MPC, said: “Foreign firms and even some British firms will find it more attractive for many years to take whatever investment money they have to Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark or Sweden – which all look like safer havens than the UK.”

“Firms continue to stockpile as insurance against possible disruption from a disorderly Brexit. None of this is good for UK growth.”

UFOs in 2019 December 27, 2019

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A fun year on the UFO front. As noted before, I’m no believer in them as a material phenomenon, I incline to the view they’re of psychological origin – and really, in a world now saturated by cameraphones one would expect a much greater number of verified events were they even close to a reality. But whatever, this piece here gives some of the key happenings (or non-happenings, if one is a sceptic) in the US.

Perhaps the most interesting story was that of encounters by US Navy pilots with UFOs which the NYT published in May. That said this from the Navy in April points to something intriguing, if much more likely of terrestrial origin:

“There have been a number of reports of unauthorized and/or unidentified aircraft entering various military-controlled ranges and designated airspace in recent years.”

In a world not quite as saturated, but getting there, with drones, that’s hardly a surprise. That said those Navy encounters were curious.

Meanwhile there was the risible, though entertaining, Storm Area 51…er… campaign… in the Summer. Who would have thought given 400,000 people signed up on facebook to do so that… next to no-one actually turned up! What a surprise!

Not that closer to home there weren’t some sightings. For example, in October this was seen over the west coast – sadly, or perhaps not, this was in some reports ascribed to a PRC satellite re-entering the atmosphere. https://www.midwestradio.ie/index.php/news/34033-mysterious-bright-ufo-visible-across-the-west-is-believed-to-be-a-satellite

This is pretty impressive! And an entirely natural phenomenon. And consider – this was likely a ‘pebble-sized’ object!

What you want to say – 26 December 2018 December 26, 2019

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A day later than usual, but feel free as the Christmas turkey or nut roast recedes into history…

Sales December 26, 2019

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I’ve never had the slightest inclination to go into post-Christmas Day sales. It has always seemed a bit pointless, holidays are so short that spending them doing yet more shopping, particularly when money is so tight, is almost perverse. But as it happens I was waiting for the pre-Christmas Sales stories to hit the media. This from the UK was telling:

Saturday was not so super for retailers last weekend, as numbers visiting high streets and shopping centres fell by nearly 8% compared with the previous year.

With some retailers accepting online orders as late as Christmas Eve, shoppers now have many more choices about the way they shop and often hang on for last-minute bargains.

More than a third (36%) of Brits have left gift-buying until the last few days before Christmas, according to Argos. It said 10% more men than women leave gift-buying until very late, with the most popular gift bought in its stores on Christmas Eve last year being an electric toothbrush. John Lewis expected novelty socks and gadgets such as airpods and smart speakers to be its most popular last-minute items.

Can’t help but think such pieces, released on the day before Christmas Eve are actually part of the very process they try to describe. But then Christmas seems now to be a process of sales that continue from Black Friday through to the New Year.

A plea for a quieter calmer Christmas… December 26, 2019

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This in the Guardian the other day is as applicable on this side of the Irish Sea as on the other, particularly on Stephen’s Day, for workers and indeed others.

There is a cogent case for full retail closure on Boxing Day. Germany is more accurate in calling 26 December “Second Christmas Day”. Boxing Day is indeed a most integral part of Christmas, a time for unashamed chilling out, friends, families and pastimes since time immemorial. Much earlier closure is also necessary on Christmas Eve, to enable retail and distribution workers to get home and prepare for Christmas – and to partake in community functions such as Christingle services. Retail would be the big winner, as more goods would be bought before the two-and-a-half-day closure and upon reopening.

In the meantime, Usdaw wishes a merry Christmas to the Guardian and its readers.
John Barstow
Member, Usdaw executive council

Nollaig Shona Daoibh, a chairde December 24, 2019

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Small signs of hope? December 24, 2019

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Interesting, this.

Boris Johnson’s election landslide has prompted hundreds of people to join a fast-growing community union that organises direct action on social problems instead of relying on party politicians.
Acorn has reported a glut of applications across England, which began within minutes of last week’s exit poll predicting a Conservative landslide. Organisers of the self-help project, which already has 11 branches, have also been asked to set up eight new units from Bradford to Weymouth after it issued an online call urging: “Don’t mourn, organise!”
Acorn has campaigned on housing but is now considering branching out into workers’ rights, immigration and the environment. It is not affiliated to any party and is funded by the dues of its members, who can come from any part of society. Its popularity appears to be a sign of growing appetite for non-party political action, not only as people brace for five more years of Conservative government but also as they lose faith with Labour’s ability to deliver change.

One can see how that makes sense in a context where other alternatives falter or outright fail. I don’t think it’s a case of either/or. Organisations like Acorn and representatives, whether independent or party oriented as well as many other different approaches as is humanly possible is the best way forward. Nor are any of these approaches without potential pitfalls. Parties can become ossified and autocratic, independents reliant on elected individuals rather than broader reference groups and campaigning organisations depoliticised. But heartening to see people not giving up.

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