Wednesday, December 30, 2020

The Civil Servants and the Time Warp

 Those of us of a certain age and with particular interests in popular software have been having a quiet chuckle as some of the details buried within the UK-EU Brexit trade deal come to light. It appears that the civil servants who drafted it have been locked in a cupboard for the past twenty years, for the document makes explicit reference to Netscape, Mozilla Mail and Outlook as leading technologies. The kindest commentators have suggested that it was getting very late, there was pressure to complete a section on security in IT and someone did what they always do in such circumstances, dig out the previous file and copy the most likely looking bits.

It's funny because, of course, if they had applied this to other sections of the document, then it would been noticed and edited before being released to an incredulous public. Let me give you some examples of errors that would, one hopes, have never seen the light of day.

Transport: - Heavier than Air Flight
Hot-air Balloon stations shall be maintained at the frontiers of each contracting party with adequate supplies of heated air so as to facilitate the onward journeys of the aeronauts.

Fishing: - Whaling
Supplies of sperm oil, baleen and blubber are to be zero rated for tariffs

Alcoholic Beverages:- Tariffs
A maximum import tariff of 10% of the net landed cost may be applied for Mead, Sack, Finest Rhenish and the true, the blushful Hippocrene. Beakers of the Warm South must not exceed 15ltrs. Libations poured to the gods before commencing a journey are exempt.

Opiates and similar controlled drugs: - Sale conditions
Opium, morphine, laudanum, cocaine and related narcotics may be sold freely provided that
a) They are sold in bottles  with labels showing reassuring, full-bearded, gentlemen drinking them.
b) They are branded as "Dr Fields' Essential Remedy for all Household Ills" or similar.
c) They are labelled as "Absolutely harmless"

Computers and electronic equipment: - Security
Babbage Calculating Engines are of strategic significance to the British Empire UK and to the High Contracting Parties of the Congress of Vienna EU  and the export of same is forbidden.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Better late ...?

 Within the past hour it has been announced that a trade deal between the UK and the EU has been concluded. I say 'concluded' but of course all we have is agreement at the top level, and ratification by the governments must follow. Nonetheless, it enables all of us who believe in the benefits of trade, co-operation and friendship between nations to breathe a huge sigh of relief. The alternative - trading on WTO rules, tariffs and quotas and endless red tape (though there will be plenty of that anyway) and enormous scope for arguments, bans, blockades etc - was regarded by pretty well everyone as unthinkable. Not that this prevented a hard core of nutters from desiring it and no doubt the conspiracy theorists will be hard at work linking the deal with covid-19 and arguing that any deal at all which entails a British prime minister signing the same document as a foreigner must be a betrayal of our sovereignty.

The Brexit referendum was held in the summer of 2016. Here we are, four and half years later and on the verge of completing the exit procedure and only now do we have a trade deal that establishes how business is to take place from 1st January. It is truly staggering that it has taken so long to bring about something that everyone (bar the nutters) profoundly wished. Imagine if this lackadaisical approach had applied to other great events in history, such as this one ...

Scene: The Forum in Ancient Rome. Around lunchtime. Enter a group of senators gingerly testing the sharpness of their daggers and wincing a bit.

Brutus: We agreed, are we not? Today, the Ides of March, we strike at tyranny and bring down Caesar!
Cassius: All of us have sworn to act without hesitation for the good of Rome! Only death can stop us! It must be now! It shall be now!
Decimus Brutus: Death to Caesar and glory to the Roman republic!
Cinna: Er, hold on a second chaps, we still haven't agreed on what colour our flag should be. I still say it should be green.
Casca: Red. My constituents will accept nothing less.
Trebonius: Only if it has a yellow diagonal.
Cassius: Yellow with grey spots. My final offer.
Casca: Impossible. I've been utterly reasonable so far about the order of stabbing and who gets to stand next to Brutus at the press conference afterwards but yellow is a step too far. I'm sorry, I'm withdrawing back to Pompeii.
Trebonius: Then I too withdraw to my estates in Sicily.
Brutus: Ok, alright, let's calm down. I'll send out for some pizzas and we can have a rethink. Ides of March next year alright for everyone?

Thursday, December 03, 2020

Signs of madness

Rather telling juxtaposition of two entirely different stories on the CNN website this evening. 

Accident? Or was it intended? Maybe we shall never know.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Free once more

 England completes a month of lockdown tonight. All but non-essential shops have been shut and all leisure activities suppressed. Tomorrow London moves into Tier-2 restrictions which in practice mean the opening up of High Streets but little social mixing allowed.

The news about vaccines against Covid-19 continues to be good and it now seems just a matter of time before the mass vaccination programme begins. Of course none of the vaccines is guaranteed 100% proof so we will all need to go on being careful but at least the infection rate should drop sharply and the pressure on the health services begin to lift. This cannot be before well into the New Year and it is going to be a very gloomy Christmas. Our own regular family gathering is cancelled; Zoom get-togethers are not a substitute for real face-to-face contact.

It is hard to convey the dullness of current existence. The risk of catching the virus, for us, is pretty low because we do not expose ourselves to any potential carriers. But the price of this safety is to eschew so much that we used to take for granted - travelling freely on the Tube, popping into shops, queueing for a coffee, pushing through the crowded turnstiles to savour the excitement of a football match, meeting people without that awful feeling of having stay well clear 'just in case'.

We do at least have the benefit of electronic entertainment in the form of internet, TV and radio but it is too easy to immerse oneself before a screen and try to tune the world out. It saps the motivation to do anything active. The irony that I am immersing myself in front of a screen in order to write and publish this column has not been unnoticed.