Saturday, March 28, 2009

Security Blanket

There's seems to be a drive by our (ostensibly) left wing authority figures for a reduction in our civil liberties at the moment. Our current home secretary seems to be trotting out a weekly diatribe of methods in which we will all be "made safer", including detaining people without trial for longer and longer, extra cameras to watch us all breathe in and out, ID cards so we can justify our existence and comprehensive monitoring of social network sites.

Presumably the last one is in case anyone joins the "Facebook Fatwah!" group to discuss latest fashions in explosive vests, or where to buy anthrax spores at competitive prices. Apparently, they're currently having a 'buy a Pandemic, get an Epidemic free' offer on at Microbes-R-Us ("Krazy prices for Krazy religious fundamentalists bent on faith-based carnage! We are an equal opportunities employer!").

Happily, we can rely on our glorious leaders to look after all this information with the utmost competence and ability. Any data collected will be stored securely along with our genetic fingerprints, tax records and home details on a stack of CD ROMS on seat 54B, Coach F of the 15:32 London to Brighton train.

In addition to restricting our already shrinking freedoms, the government is working hard to make sure that there really is a threat out there by antagonising any countries which potentially might harbour a grudge, from the Middle East to Russia, Argentina to Lichtenstein.

These countries might then supply aid to paramilitary organisations so they can recruit disillusioned new members, who will to shout a lot and wave suspiciously new AK47s, before being shot via remote control by a weapons technician wearing a Halo helmet and sitting in a plane six miles away (the helmet costing slightly more than the armour for a whole group of squaddies on the ground, which is why they haven't got any). In turn, this is a good advert for any Saudi Arabian customers who might be interesting in buying our new jet. All this justifies the extra effort being rammed into national security really, at least from an economic viewpoint.

Well, that's how it reads to me at present. Perhaps I should avoid the news for a bit. It's making me paranoid.

So it was with a sense of escape that I went fossil hunting along this beach the other day, in the stunning countryside of East Devon (part of the Jurassic coast):

I was after an ammonite or an ichthyosaur, something impressive to hand to the Natural History Museum so I get a plaque and some kudos, but actually ended up with a bivalve and a pint of Kronenburg. So not a complete loss. I may blog about fossils, if you're really unlucky, but not today.

Whilst yomping my way along the cliffs, I got a good reminder that security was once a far more in-your-face affair than insidious monitoring by shadowy government agencies, and even in such tranquil places as this, there were still physical reminders that we are always just a few short strides from our basest animal instincts of fight and defend:

This bunker had a good view of the open sea, and presumably never saw much in the way of angry fighting, other than who's turn it was to bring the thermos that night. But, situated as it is, looking over some of the most hotly contested stretches of sea in history during World War II (This Time It's Personal!) you can't help but experience a urine-scented wash of history right there.

Imagine starting your shift by clocking in here:

Although the interior decor is a tad out of date, they've made much with the Neolithic look and the Feng Shui is to die for. Not literally, of course.

Well, actually, it's a bunker so positioning probably was literally to die for:

I'm presuming that, during the late thirties and early forties, used condoms and WKD Blue weren't as prevalent as they are today, but then I'm no conflict historian so who knows what they were up to in there.

Near where I was growing up in the Midlands, bunkers were bigger, and almost completely underground where us local kids would use them for dens and smoking practise, or for starting fires in. They had no windows and were generally for storage, so I'm always a bit in awe of bunkers which have views like this one:

Sounds a bit of a cushy number really, sitting in there during the war years and watching for potential enemy vessels hoving into view, where presumably you'd flip open your mobile and give HQ a bell to send reinforcements. There's a number you'd keep on speed dial.

On the other hand, imagine you're looking out admiring the view above, and a shitload of nazi ships (in nautical parlance, a shitload is about twice the size of a flotilla) start heading for your bit of beach. A perfectly possible scenario for the guys in the bunker there. There must've been a constant level of stress involved, which I ought to remember before dissing the apparently easy life. Other than that, easy life.

So, national security is nothing new. It's just changed it's demeanour a little, and become a hell of a lot more complicated. Unfortunately, the people in charge are still only human, and the systems they put in place as fallible as their simple human creators. You can't go far wrong when security involves thick concrete and lots of guns, but when it involves creating an entire climate of fear to target an unconvincing enemy with the solidity of a will o' the wisp, I remain to be convinced we aren't sacrificing too much.

The only thing that heartens me about the increasing levels of observation we're all being subjected to is that it ends up being useless in the general scheme of things anyway. CCTV is becoming so prevalent in the UK that it is becoming impractical to view it all.

Typical. They can't even subdue us competently.


  1. It's not often I'm impressed to the point of rereading an entertaining post three times.

    I'm standing as I applaud you sir.

    ...and not a dinosaur-tree in sight.

  2. Jimmy - That means more to me than a poxy plaque at the Natural History Museum!

  3. I've done a fair amount of coastal fossil hunting in my time. I've found ammonites and graptolites and belemnites, not to mention a miscellany of echinoids and crinoids and corals, but I've never found a pint of Kronenburg. Some people have all the luck.

  4. Maybe we can expect government grants for bunkers to make a comeback?

    I had thought the usual method of viewing CCTV was to ensure that it as watched as part of a documentary bemoaning the state of our nation's street drinking culture.

  5. Brother T - It was quite a new pint, hardly even cretaceous.

    Madame DeF - I was kind of hoping for a huge 'You've Been Framed' style of programme, with some Harry Hill quips which will make it all worthwhile!


I'm going to risk taking comment moderation off for a bit, so if you're a web-bot, a robot, a bot-fly or a bottom-dwelling sediment-feeder, then please refrain from commenting.

Otherwise, have a go. S'fun.