If you read my Twitter, you’ll know a few days ago I was fully in support of bringing in the army to support the overwhelmed police forces. I’m not any more, and I suspect my reasons are the same as a number of other peoples. A misapprehension.

I mistakenly believed that because the police were being overwhelmed in the first couple of days (or “beyond their limits” as I think someone said), then naturally they must have all of their resources attending to it. It seems a natural assumption; if I said I was being overwhelmed by something, it would be because everything I had wasn’t enough.
That was when there were 1400 officers on the streets of London. The last couple of nights there’s been 16000. Ten times as many, and then some.

I assumed that 1400 was the absolute most number of police officers that could be deployed, so was incredulous that the army hadn’t been brought in to back them up. Turns out I was wrong and there were MANY more officers that could have been deployed, so the army wasn’t needed.

So my next question is why did it take 24 hours to get all those additional officers into place? Okay the big wheels of bureaucracy take a long time to turn, but aren’t we supposed to be prepared with rapid-response tactics and so on? I know the situation isn’t the same as a few bombs going off somewhere, but still.

I’m also going to say these panicked reactions, even though I’ve shared some of them at the time, are wrong.

Water-cannons are dangerous (though admittedly the least-so of the suggested options). They’re used to break up large groups of people who’re refusing to move. The riots weren’t groups refusing to move, they were people moving about entirely too much! If anything they could have done with some sort of oil-cannon to make it harder to run away.
But that water is very high-pressure. There’s the famous picture doing the rounds of the protester who literally had the eyes blown out of his face by the water pressure. I believe he lost one entirely, and only has partial sight in the other now.
Water cannons are only used for breaking up demonstrations. If they’d had them during the student protests in London, that’s where they would have been used. To soak them to the skin and make them give up faster. And now the PM has given the OK for them to be used in England (I’d say UK, but they’ve been used in Northern Ireland for a long time).

Mandatory army service. Because having an unemployed, desperate, underclass who’re also trained in firearms and hand-to-hand combat is a great idea. Okay that’s histrionic, but all I know is my grandfather said maybe I should have joined the army to teach me some self-discipline. And I know that if I wouldn’t have killed myself or been beaten to a pulp, I would have probably come out psychotic. That’s a judgement call. I know my own mind, and I know while I need a certain level of self discipline, the army level plus all the combat training would have cemented itself to my latent school-time anger, and any form of creativity or self-exploration would have been buried. I would be a horrible and self-hating person. Up until a few years ago I did whatever people told me. The sense of duty they drill into you, I’d never have been able to fight that. Private Meat Puppet, sir.
Also ask ANY military professional how well conscripted armies compare to voluntary armies. I’ll give you a clue to the only answer you’ll get: they don’t.

Throwing people onto the streets or cutting off benefits? 1) Do people still receive benefits in prison? No? Do they when they get out? I presume so, because they’ve served their time. Better question; if someone is known to have been in the riots and hasn’t been sent to prison for it, why not? 2) At least one cause behind these riots is poverty (probably enforced by culteral expectations to own expensive pointless things, but again, not getting into that here). Making people even poorer, homeless and desperate is not going to prevent this from happening again. I can almost guarantee you’ll end up with the worst areas of the city literally breaking away from the rest of society. Imagine a whole borough where outsiders and police get killed if they enter. Cutting back food isn’t going to make the patient healthier.

Rubber bullets are dangerous. They’re not paintball gun bullets or BB rounds. The British type are 1.5″ rounds, about 4 inches long and actually made of plastic. They have a range of about 100metres and travel at 200ft/s. They’re supposed to be fired at the ground so they bounce up and hit the legs or lower body, but if they bounce or are fired higher can hit the upper body or face. 17 people were killed by rubber bullets in Northern Ireland (and 41 permanent injuries), and the UN has they under a temporary ban from peacekeeping use after two protesters died. Okay this is the extreme, and you can get away with broken bones, severe bruising, bleeding and so on, but be aware what you’re asking for.

But hey, they’re rioters, they’re fucking with our lives, they deserve to get beaten on, right? Who cares if they die while breaking the law?

Leaving the reasons behind the riots aside totally, as that’s a whole different argument, let me list three things that’ve happened today.

  • Someone got sentenced to two months in prison for taking part in the riots. However they claim they were video-taping a police officer beating a youth who was already on the ground. When the officers noticed, the filmer was pepper-sprayed and arrested. Did they? Doubt we’ll ever know. If it’s true you can bet that camera doesn’t exist anymore.
  • EDIT: It doesn’t seem this is the specific video mentioned, but it seems to show the same series of events. Filming a stop-and-search, annoyed police deciding he’s looking for a fight and tackling him to the ground. Uploaded today, the 10th.
  • Video was put online of Birmingham (?) police swarming on a couple of people and beating them to the ground including putting the boot in. They did not appear to be part of any gang larger than 3 people or appear to be making any hostile motion. After they were beaten it is said they were NOT arrested. Why are you beating people to the ground who are making no violent actions or who have apparently not done anything you can arrest them for?
  • A friend witnessed and videoed a youth walking past a ground of police officers, apparently peacefully. The 15 officers and dog piled onto him and arrested him. His only crime appears to have been that he was wearing a hoodie. I have a friend who makes and sells hoodies. There’s a fashion-police joke here somewhere, but it’s not a funny one. If her account of the video pans out, 15 police and a canine unit arrested someone because of the way they were dressed. Because of how they looked.

We can’t afford to be trite with this kind of shit. If abuses are happening in the name of the law, it needs to be dealt with. Likewise we can’t allow panic to edge us into thinking street-justice is the way forward.

I mean, you do realised Judge Dredd was supposed to be DIStopian, right? That the idea of having a police force where you receive summary justice based on a single persons opinion is a nightmare of personal vendettas? I’m surprised I’ve heard so much of it come from people in racial or sexual minorities too, and it’s hard to repress the feeling I need to shout in their faces “You realise you could be giving some racist or homophobic asshole in a position of power permission to kill YOU, right??”
And that’s not to mention all those hundreds of thousands who supported the student protests who under the same carte-blanche would have instead been leaving parliament square soaking wet with outright hypothermia instead of a chill, or shattered ribs and kneecaps instead of scuffed elbows. Those that would have been able to still walk anyway.

These riots have also brought the “truth” spouted by some groups into stark relief. I’m not talking any of these nationalist groups who’ve been trying to jump on the hero/vigilante bandwagon (notably by going into other peoples neighbourhoods to “defend” them, where they don’t know who is what, and getting into trouble with police themselves as a result). I’m not talking about Scientology, who’ve been out scouting the clean-up works for vulnerable victims of these riots to recruit and brainwash (you surely know about THAT by now, right?).

I’m talking about groups like Wikileaks and Anonymous, whose tweets have thoroughly embarrassed both of them these past few days with what I can only assume is either their own anarchic wishful thinking or genuine confusion that any sudden “riots” reported in the mainstream media must be popular revolutions that needs supporting, and not a bunch of criminal louts out to steal TVs and trainers.

 

What do we need in the aftermath of all this?

Well for starters the places that have fared best have been those with strong community ties. It’s not surprising that came from areas with strong ethnic backgrounds. Everywhere else is commuters who’d sooner step on your face than be 15 seconds late for work. Get to know your fucking neighbours. You’ll make your area a nicer, more secure place.

Police need to be able to call in and get in support forces MUCH faster.

Police need their equipment rethinking if they’re carrying too much to be able run after someone.

Police need to be able to coordinate better. I still have no idea why they couldn’t have swept a team through the Pembury Estate and kettled that mob in the next road where there were solid walls of terraces either side.

While I thought it nightmarish at first, and it would be if applied to peaceful protests, give the police super-soakers full of UV dye, and fit the helicopters out with UV strobes. Tag them and look for people flashing bright red in the street later at your leisure.

To prevent abuses of power, equip every officer with sealed camera unit that runs the entire time they’re on duty. Passive evidence-gathering plus a personal black-box. If the camera’s off and you’re accused of something though, you’re considered off-duty. Might help those community relations too if there’s a guarantee of evidence in case someone “falls down” while getting arrested. And yes that shit still happens.

We also need more distractions for people. Free ones. There’s 500k jobs available in this country and 2.5million unemployed. “Get a job” only works if there’s actually enough jobs for everyone. But that gets into the reasons behind the riots, which is another matter entirely.

We need a government with the balls to say when we all need to calm down, rather than making reactionary blanket statements that they’ll use against us in future in order to cover a loss of face because they didn’t want to stop sipping margaritas in the sun. We elect a government to make the big decisions we CAN’T make as individuals and SHOULDN’T make in the heat of the moment. This lot are supposed professionals pandering to the whims of the amateurs who hired them. Stop pandering to the armchair generals already!

 

Also I’d like to say the riots revealed another sad state of things. While in the final day it was mostly black males still engaged in the rioting, in the first couple of days those involved were of both sexes and all races. Is it only when people hit rock bottom people actually stop giving a shit about those things?

 

If I get the time and energy, will follow up with thoughts on the causes of the riots and the misapprehension that “insurance will cover it all”. The latter because as someone who’s had business insurance, it makes me laaaaaaaugh. :P

A week ago I called HMRC up to check how the mess was progressing, and got some interesting feedback.

  • There’s no mention on my file about the incident OR there is and they’re not allowed to tell me because it would be an ongoing investigation; options that were both described to me over the telephone. and a spectacular exercise in fruitless paranoia generation.
  • The cover-letter I included is probably now in a waiting list. This waiting list is currently 8 weeks long. Only at that point will my letter even be read.
  • The person whose information I received would have been notified right away.

Tonight I finally got around to giving the person in question a quick phonecall to let them know the documents had been returned. They had NOT been informed. In fact they’d had to take it upon themselves to call HMRC to inform them.

Understandable since getting my call out of the blue, you’d want to be damn sure.

I mentioned the 8-week reply time, and they mentioned they’d been told the same thing. In other words HMRC wouldn’t have informed them about the mistake for over two months! Because they hadn’t gotten to it in their pile of post, despite being informed about it directly!

THIS is why you should have a separate department for security issues; because letting someone know their personal information has been leaked to the world requires a faster response than 1/6th of a year!

A dedicated address or department for urgent security issues is obvious for even small companies, yet somehow it seems to elude the management of Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs who by law deal with the critical personal information of every single citizen of the UK!

So, presuming it’s not all an insane elaborate ruse and the department actually think the first act of someone actually out to misuse someones personal information would be to inform both that person and the department itself, then I can expect the next edition of this exciting and mind-bogglingly inept adventure to occur sometime around mid-to-late April.

Don’t hold your breath. I fully expect the attached documents to have gone “astray” in their to-do pile by then.

I don’t like tax return time. The language used in these documents makes my brain spasm. For instance, their phrasing of declared losses comes up as self-contradicting to me; a loss is something I loose.. but claiming for it is something I get? How can I be loosing something I’m getting??

Maybe it’s a dyslexic thing.

Now I’ve got it done though I’m kinda wishing I could do it again, or that it had a practice-run function so I could really rip on the interface. Why did I have to click through 4 pages just to save a copy? Did I really need to be alerted what the file type was, that it would save on the next page after hitting continue, and get an approximation of download time all on separate pages?

But anyway, I had a week off from it while waiting for a copy of last years return. There was a single figure on it I claimed for last year that I needed for this year.

Now I can understand it not being given out over the phone; it’s relatively easy to pretend to be someone else there. However the HMRC website is a secure connection (in theory) which displays your current tax information. The previous return is automatically removed from it after a year apparently, which alone seems moronic; because surely one year on is exactly when you’re going to want to check it. But the information is given out through it, so how come you can’t get the details through there..?

So question-authenticated phone is insecure.

The HTTPS secure website is not considered secure for this information once it’s a year old.

But bog standard 1st Class by Royal Mail is fine.

No signature, no monitoring in transit, no tracking. It could be opened, read, photocopied & I’d never know. It could vanish into the system and all I’d be able to do is request another copy and hope no one’s preparing to rape my ghost in the government machine.

This I could visualise, this was a definite unnecessary risk I had to swallow to get the magic (and aside from this return, utterly irrelevant) number. But as they say; the problem with making something foolproof is how ingenious fools are.

I received two copies of last years return.

So assuming there were only 2 copies sent, then all is fine, right? Well no. Aside from it raising the worrying issue that if a random number of copies are being sent, you can never be sure they’ve all arrived. And aside from the matter that the “copy” is actually a bunch of printed screen-grabs (including program tool-bar!) of it on the data-entry system, one of the copies IS NOT WHOLLY MINE.

One set is fine in that it does technically have the info I need if I squint and don’t mind half the text being light grey on a slightly darker grey background. The other, which has some empty fields the other doesn’t (yet is apparently from the same screen-grabbed program), also starts with the 2nd page being from an advisor’s working form for someone else.

It doesn’t have a document number, so I presume it’s automatically generated and a printer has cocked up at their office; interleaving the first input page of someone elses claim/statement information into my own print-out.

I’m annoyed on a few levels here. Primarily it’s one of security; because my information is removed from the secure site just when I need it, it opens up the possibility of exactly these sort of mistakes occurring. They have a better system which they have elected to actively disable when required.

(The other level is typographic; their internal system prints out a visually clear and informative table of information in laser-crisp black & white, but we plebs have to deal with a printer-cropped all-grey rastered-down bitmap for our use, the likes of which a 7 year old would be embarrassed to produce for their school homework).

And because of this I now had the Name, DOB, address, NI number, telephone number, place of employment, partners name and partners DOB, of a 22 year-old woman living near Manchester who was letting them know of her partners change in employment status.

There is ample information here for someone to steal her identity, and I see that as a direct result of a poorly managed & designed government system.

Of course I’m fairly sure this incident is a breach of data-protection laws, and as such I’m intending to phone the lady in question tomorrow and let her know in case she wants to take action against them. As soon as I figure out how to phrase the conversation without sounding like a scam-artist myself.

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