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PSA: Why there won't be a third book in the Halting State trilogy

I really wanted to make it a trilogy, you know? I mean, what could be cooler than a trilogy of near-future Scottish police procedurals about crimes that don't exist yet, written in multi-viewpoint second person? (Elizabeth Bear has a term for that kind of thing: she calls it "stunt writing".)

Unfortunately the NSA have done it again:

To the National Security Agency analyst writing a briefing to his superiors, the situation was clear: their current surveillance efforts were lacking something. The agency's impressive arsenal of cable taps and sophisticated hacking attacks was not enough. What it really needed was a horde of undercover Orcs.

Real-life agents have been deployed into virtual realms, from those Orc hordes in World of Warcraft to the human avatars of Second Life. There were attempts, too, to recruit potential informants from the games' tech-friendly users.

At this point, I'm clutching my head. "Halting State" wasn't intended to be predictive when I started writing it in 2006. Trouble is, about the only parts that haven't happened yet are Scottish Independence and the use of actual quantum computers for cracking public key encryption (and there's a big fat question mark over the latter—what else are the NSA up to?).

I'm throwing in the towel. I probably will write another near-future Scottish police procedural by and by, but it won't be a sequel to the first two except in the loosest sense. The science fictional universe of "Halting State" and "Rule 34" is teetering on the edge of turning into reality. Meanwhile, the financial crisis of 2007 forced me back to the drawing board for "Rule 34"; the Snowden revelations have systematically trashed all my ideas for the third book.

To make matters worse, Scotland is teetering on the edge of a political singularity. There is a Referendum on Scottish Independence coming up in September 2014. Then the UK (with or without Scotland) is expected to hold a referendum on whether or not to stay in the EU—a vote with consequences which are probably even more disruptive than the question of whether Scotland should separate from the Union. In just two years the map of the Scottish near future will have changed, unpredictably and drastically, from where it is now. I therefore conclude that there is simply no point in my starting to write a near-future politically astute crime thriller set in Scotland before I know the outcome of those votes (especially as it couldn't be published before mid-2016).

Sometimes I wish I'd stuck with the spaceships and bug-eyed monsters. Realism in fiction is over-rated.


If you're wondering what sort of near-future dystopian panopticon surveillance state/spy thriller I would be writing if I wasn't setting it in Scotland and writing in the second person, you'll get to see when I finish it. Ahem. Because that's the direction the trilogy provisionally titled "Merchant Princes: The Next Generation" is going in.

There will eventually be another near-future Scottish thriller, but I'm not going to start writing until after the votes are in. And it won't be in-series with the first two.



Take Arthur C. Clarke's solution for the 2001 series' inconsistencies, and claim each is set in a very similar but discontinuous universe? (The Discovery went to Saturn in 2001 and was orbiting Jupiter in 2010, so we're not talking little changes, here.)

Whenever it's written, I'll be waiting to buy it, at least.


Charlie, do you feel,as I do, that the information being trawled in bulk by the NSA will inevitably end up being shared with other law-enforcement agencies, all the way down to the "ordinary" police? Perhaps all intelligence and police agencies will eventually blend into a kind of panopticon overseer organization...Welcome to the reality of the movie 'Brazil.'


"Merchant Princes: The Next Generation"

Ah, I'm just in the process of re-reading that. I do look forward to follow-ons. And the inevitable TV series- seriously, it's "Game of Thrones" plus "Homeland" with hints of "The Wire". Just piling those names together is like crack to a TV executive.


You could always follow Gibson's strategy of writing in an alternate universe that is a lot like here today. But different wherever it impacts actual news and politics.


The actual backdoor in elliptic curves math looks a lot funnier to me than breaking the keys using quantum computers. Anyway, QC isn't a magic wand, and there are many problems where it provides only sqrt(N) advantage. I have even read the announcement of a conference on QC-resistant cryptography.

And, well, we have yet to see the real takeoff of VR devices - the computing costs still seem to be prohibitely high.


I think all this information collection will prove interesting. People don't like it, but as automated comprehension improves, I could see there being an economic case for sharing it with your employer. Currently, they want your facebook password, so they're not that committed to your privacy.


I tried for a contemporary tech-aware thriller for NaNoWriMo, with the NSA in full swing and everyone carrying a smart phone, but it's already out of date.

Passing thoughts: You can get "rooted" versions of Android for at least some smartphones, with almost enougn open source to them to have some confidence they haven't been hacked by another organisation. So a large company could have a system of secure phones which can be reset to a clean state. And then I read that a lot of the phone isn't even controlled by Android: it's a proprietary sub-system meeting a horribly obscure set of telephone system standards.

So you would struggle to make the phone have a secure Contacts List. There's no way of keeping data on the sim card secure. And the same subsystem controls your wifi and Bluetooth.

Actually, the G-men in Second Life aren't such a new story. There's been bits of stories about the terrorists used Second Life for training for as long as I have been there. Money Laundering? It's nothing special. Every transaction is logged by the company, and big payments would certainly stand out, so it has the same problem as most of the other methods: how to run a lot of small transactions, in and out of SL?

There might be a story in a bunch of G-men using one of these games for a bit of stress-relief, maybe the equivalent of the corporate fireworks party on 4th July, and having to come up with ever more and more incredible excuses.

What is maybe new is the scale of what was being done. But there have been a few big scams, people exploiting the boom and getting out in 2009-10 with well-stuffed pockets. If the NSA/FBI/ETC were there, how did the crooks get away with it?


Law enforcement is the tip of the iceberg; I expect it to be shared with tax authorities, then eventually leak all the way down to insurance companies and in the fullness of time, bored history PhD students trying to do statistical analysis of the lifestyles of their grandparents' generation.


I predict this future: Facebook will open a "corporate services" business, which provides data with employers- for a small fee. It will, of course, be mismanaged and built around revenue generation and not privacy, so it will be abused pretty much instantly.


"Charlie, do you feel,as I do, that the information being trawled in bulk by the NSA will inevitably end up being shared with other law-enforcement agencies, all the way down to the "ordinary" police? Perhaps all intelligence and police agencies will eventually blend into a kind of panopticon overseer organization...Welcome to the reality of the movie 'Brazil.'"

It's already been shared with the DEA, who sets up arrests based on that information, and then commits perjury. And that's what we know of.

What I also think is that Wall St and other megacorps have some access to this information. It's incredibly useful; the Street and Corps have both money and influence, and there are probably a lot of upper managers in the NSA who'd like a plush retirement.


Oh, there's a premise for you- a lost treasure pulp with the twist that there isn't a secret treasure map; the details are gleaned from plowing through 100 years of social network activity.


It's occurred to me for a while that some of your fiction might be overtaken by events and fall into the space that Ken MacLeod and William Gibson (as commented above) seems to inhabit. Or the recent novels of Walter Jon Williams. soon?


I have "Nobody ever imagined a band of Orcs would steal a database table." in my fortune database.

But I never imagined it could describe a real fact.


But you don't seriously expect it to affect those with more thana million in the bank? Tax avoidance and evasion appears to be endemic amongst the owning class, and there's no point pissing them off when you can go after the small fry instead. Feel the numbers, not the quality.

Somehow "Vote for independence so Charlie can appear as the best prophet in the world" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.


Law enforcement is the tip of the iceberg; I expect it to be shared with tax authorities...

The news is still ahead of you, I'm afraid: Reuters: IRS manual instructed agents how to hide secret DEA/NSA intel. The IRS is the U.S. Government's federal tax authority (the rough equivalent of Britain's Inland Revenue).


Well if you think that only authors and not SIS the security service and other TLA's had not seen the applicability of MMO's for communication channels I think you misunderstand the sort of people who work for TLA's

And post Independence disutopias I could think of a few real world nasty outcomes for that as my Red Clydeside comrade said the NAT's have a (now well disguised) nasty sectarian/racist streak.


And post Independence disutopias I could think of a few real world nasty outcomes for that as my Red Clydeside comrade said the NAT's have a (now well disguised) nasty sectarian/racist streak.

If independence happens, there's going to be a huuuuuge realignment in Scottish politics:

  • Alex Salmond is 60. He's good for, at most, one term as First Minister or whatever they call it, before retirement beckons. Then who gets to run the SNP?

  • For centuries, any first-rate politicians in Scotland headed south to Westminster to make their career. (Do I need to mention Tony Blair or Gordon Brown here? Or Jeremy Rifkind, from the other side of the aisle?) Post-independence, a bunch of Big Beasts are likely to return to their homeland -- not all, but enough to raise the quality of the assembly front benches. (For example, I wouldn't mind seeing Mark Lazarowicz on the Scottish Labour front benches rather than the Westminster Labour back benches.)

  • Currently, Scottish Labour is a tail prone to being wagged vigorously by UK Labour -- they're expected to march in lockstep, promoting policies which are a lot less popular north of the border than they are in the home counties. A truly Scottish Scottish Labour Party would probably drift away from Westminster Labour policies quite fast.

  • There's a vacuum on the right in Scottish politics, largely because the southern-dominated conservative party managed to utterly discredit conservative politics in Scotland. My guess is that one of the SNP or Scottish Labour will colonize the centre-right in an independent Scotland -- but there's still room for someone with energy to build something from what's left of the Scottish tories. (I am not a conservative, but I'd be an idiot if I tried to deny that lots of people are, and right now they lack effective representation in Scotland.)

  • 19:

    We should bring Snowden back and build a statue of him. I don't care what his motivations were at this point.


    I'm skeptical of the NSA having made any progress on scalable quantum computing, because the leaks have shown us that they've poured a spectacular amount of money and time into avoiding having to break public-key encryption with appreciable key lengths. If they'd got a method for factoring primes or a useful implementation of Shor's, they wouldn't have to bother with any of that.

    Of course, there's the theory that they do have such things and they're indulging in all the other humint activities simply to avoid showing their hand. I don't buy that though, because the US military and intelligence establishments are still happily using AES themselves.


    Whoops, meant RSA. Don't know why I said AES.


    The moment I read about the NSA/GCHQ agents in WOW I thought of you Charlie x

    I cannot wait for the new Merchant Princes book!

    FWIW, if I lived in Scotland I'd probably vote for independence - it could hardly be worse than the current situation. If Scotland had any sense they would a) vote for independence and b) legalise marijuana. Then they'd have 10% or more of the UK population visiting on a regular basis as weed-tourists! In Canada marijuana is (apparently) ranked as the second biggest contribution to GDP ($7.5-billion with a labour force of over 250,000 in an article from 2008) - no reason Scotland couldn't be Canada to the UK's 'America'...


    On the other hand I don't expect the vote to succeed for independence. For starters, there's all these unrepresented conservative minded folk. Then there's the visceral dislike of Salmond that motives quite a lot of people. And there's the difficulties with the European bosses union, sorry, I meant the EU. Finally the level of discussion so far doesn't seem very high, like the referendum on propertional representation was badly done.


    Charlie, what is the most likely outcome, re: Scotland:UK and UK:EU?


    The third book can still be written ... as a backlash ...

    .. POV is a political movement that is counter-surveillance, where all personal information has a published market cost/price, and all personal information held by any individual must include a 'paper-trail'. Information auditors would become the new most feared/vilified civil service employee.

    The chief problem would be: How do you prove that human beings can know something about someone without ever having been explicitly told?


    This is just memory, I can't dig out a reliable cite, but I recall being told, in 4Q 2009, that each L$ in Second Life (the game currency unit) had a unique serial number. There have been, usually within close limits, 250 L$ to one US$ for a long time. I recall one extreme glitch where the rate went over L$ 300.

    Is this plausible? 32 bits gives us 4 billion currency units, which is 16 million USD in circulation. Linden Labs receives, from one class of income source, about 64 million USD each year.

    There's too many thinga they don't talk about, essentially how fast the money moves, but it does suggest that even small change can be tracked in a virtual currency system.

    The system of electronic funds transfer, you need your money in that before you can even get it into Second Life, so I can't really see how money laundering can work. It's not like the classic instance of the florist's shop, where it's hard to match the flowers coming in, perishable goods, with the cash income. The sort of things the terrorists want to do might be best done with a stack of dollar bills.

    But, in the SL boomtime, it would have made sense to have a close look at what was going on. Until May this year, I could have bought L$ from a company outside the USA, transferred them to another SL player-account, and converted back to another currency through a different company. (Linden Labs changed the rules in May 2013). In Portugal it was even possible to use the local ATM network.

    But the whole deal could have been traced, and that doesn't look like money laundering to me.


    You could re-purpose the trilogy to being of the "Three Californias" (Kim Stanley Robinson) variety.

    It blew my mind when I read them years ago when I realized that this was a trilogy, but instead of sharing characters and plot, it shared settings and themes!

    You just have to start presenting this this is what you you meant it to be all along.


    Well, they're trying. They've got a D-Wave Vesuvius coming. But the D-Waves don't help with factoring large numbers (like you'd need to crack PGP). General Quantum Computers do, but D-Waves aren't general. Quantum Computers don't help with symmetric ciphers like AES, and there are quantum-resistant ciphers.


    Halting State isn't the only case I'm aware of where someoen's perpetrated an on-life "game stuff" theft in a work of fiction. I'd need to check copyright dates, but it may well be the first though.


    Funny, just before coming here this morning, I saw the New York Times article: Spies’ Dragnet Reaches a Playing Field of Elves and Trolls My first though was "They're surprised by this?" Also wasn't surprised that they didn't actually learn anything useful.

    Then there was this one: Slowly They Modernize: A Federal Agency That Still Uses Floppy Disks

    I hope you're able to come up with some idea, eventually, it would be a shame to toss away that world-building.


    I hope you're able to come up with some idea, eventually, it would be a shame to toss away that world-building.

    Not to worry, the new Merchant Princes thing is full of chewy post-NSA dystopian goodness.

    I mean, it's set in the 2020 of a time line where the White House was nuked by extradimensional narcoterrorists in 2003, and the phrase "President Rumsfeld's America" was uttered ... how much crazier do you think that world would be compared to what we've got?

    (If you are thinking the answers include "CCTV cameras with face recognition on every block of every city, mandatory national ID card with DNA fingerprint biometrics, mandatory integration of all police forces at a national level, and terrorism laws that cover jaywalking," you're only scratching the surface ... and the scariest bit is, they think they've gotten over the trauma and the worst excesses are behind them.)


    Sounds a bit like this article I just read about the ever-growing trend for police overkill in the US.

    Sorry to hear there won't be a third book, but I can understand. At this point, you risk seeing it become an alternate present. Nothing wrong with that, unless it's not what you were going for.


    A third book in the halting State series shouldn't be ruled out if our host is willing to write it as a police procedural. Maybe co-written with Ian Rankin? I can dream.

    I have to admit I did enjoy the first two books in the series.


    I meant not losing the near-future Scottish setting. The idea popped into my head that you could cross it over with MP:NG, but no, keep 'em separate. Though that reminded me of something I've wanted to ask for a while: Why was the Merchant Princes limited to North America? Where there no world-walking families in the rest of the world? Particularly wondering about that, if the Wu's were Chinese.


    Imagine how Walter Jon Williams felt when Deep State was released just prior to the "Arab Spring" uprisings, where his "near-future fiction" novel seemed like more a template for the existing revolution than work of fiction.

    You'd think the media -- which lacked anything approaching an appreciation for what was really happening on the ground -- would have flocked to his door given that his book was largely coming true before everyone's eyes, but sadly, they passed, rounding up all the usual suspects instead.

    So much WJW's shot at popular fame and fortune (not to mention a slot on Dancing With The Stars).


    The Wu's weren't Chinese, except insofar as the western seaboard of North America in the Gruinmarkt time line was colonized by the Chinese empire (and that's where the Wu branch of the Clan settled).


    And post Independence disutopias I could think of a few real world nasty outcomes for that as my Red Clydeside comrade said the NAT's have a (now well disguised) nasty sectarian/racist streak."


    Because it's "Better Together" Labour funnelling money to the Orange Order while telling Catholics that post Indy they're for the chop

    It's the Tories taking money from guys who do business with Serbian warlords and using that to fund Better Together.

    It's the "YES" campaign that had Jimmy Reid (an honest to God Red Clydesider" and has the Socialist Parties on board, as opposed to the New Labour Red Tories

    I think the sectarian hatred is well and truly in the "NO!" camp


    Actually I have to revisit this

    "And post Independence disutopias I could think of a few real world nasty outcomes for that as my Red Clydeside comrade said the NAT's have a (now well disguised) nasty sectarian/racist streak."

    How well disguised is this.

    Their opponents include UKIP, the Orange Order and the BNP

    THe SNP had the first Asian MSP, they have Asian, English and French MSPs, they have members from a wider catchment. They have Protestant, Catholic and Muslim Cabinet Members.

    Just how much of a disguise are we supposed to believe in?

    You want to look at the forces of hate, look t the "No"camp


    Politics aside, I really love the Halting State series. For some reason I couldn't really get into your other books, but these two just grabbed me and wouldn't let go. You're pushing the outer the limits of technology and, for me, it's fascinating. I am really saddened to learn you won't be writing a third book. I would have probably gone a year without noticing had it not been for Ingress. While speaking to some friends I told them they should check out Ingress, "it's like Spooks from the Charles Stross novels!" Which meant I had to then explain Spooks, Rule 34, and all the wonderful aspects of Scotland's best future police unit. The Halting State books have taught me so much and they're really wonderful. Please consider continuing the trend in other ways.


    Ah, gotcha. Culturally Chinese, rather than ethnically. I'm probably forgetting something from the books. I assume you have a family tree sketched out to keep things straight.


    The observational physical sciences have done well with the meme of deep time. But 50 years ago an Asimov story looked at solid time, which seems equally productive.


    You didn't read the postscript, did you?


    I missed the PS as well. I look forward to it.

    Is this plausible? 32 bits gives us 4 billion currency units, which is 16 million USD in circulation. Linden Labs receives, from one class of income source, about 64 million USD each year.

    Normally when Second Life needs unique identifiers for something it uses UUIDs. 16 bytes gives plenty of space even given that they're basically random, so it's kind of plausible that LL could do it if they wanted to.

    The bigger question is, is it worth doing. I'd say probably not. After all, there's no control over which individual units of currency you give to someone, so storing a transaction log in terms of tracking each individual L$ will create only the illusion there is, and you're probably going to be processing it back into the "list of transactions" form anyway, so why go with the much less efficient storage?


    Pity about the Halting State, those are terrific books. Glad to know you're not nessescarily throwing the baby out with the bath water and that there may yet be another Scottish procedural awaiting us in the future. Its such a rich, exciting world to be immersed in for a few days reading. Now, as for yesterday's subject, I know its a long shot, but I could really sink my teeth into a Strossian recension of the King James Necronomicron.


    At least you're doing better than the writers whose "USSR invades US" novels came out right after the Soviet Union dissolved.


    Jack Chalker had Nathan Brazil push the universe's reset button.


    They'd better not do this to the Laundry books.


    Dear Charlie, please write a story where Scotland physically detaches from the UK, flies into space, and transforms into a Culture General Systems Vehicle. I want to see what happens after you publish it.


    on your points re a possible post-independence arrangemnt...

  • The obvious successor is Nicola Sturgeon. She's been demolishing the No representatives in the debates that have been held so far, she clearly has ambitions on the leadership as she initially stood for it before agreeing to stand as deputy to Alec Salmond plus she's only 43 - even if the vote is a No in the referendum she's still young enough that she could lead a Yes campaign in another twenty years which she'd likely win if England votes to take the UK out of the EU and the unionist parties take the wrecking ball to Scotland that they're threatening to (it's not just the Tories, Labour are at it too although they're motivated by having lost control of Holyrood and are engaging in a spectacular act of dummy-spitting and toy-throwing).

  • Labour have decided to poison the well on having the big beasts from Westminster return in the event of a Yes vote. They're looking to lock in their candidates for the next Holyrood elections now so there won't be any seats available for the big beasts to contest.

  • At the moment, Labour in Scotland forming its own policies separate to Labour in England seems unimaginable. Given that Johann Lamont has made it clear that many of the things that make Scotland different such as free personal care etc are all up for review. The reality is that even Scottish Labour is largely a bunch of neo-liberals these days and they take their cues from the other side of the Atlantic just as the unionist parties at Westminster do.

  • Scotland has a PR system courtesy of the Additional Member System. The right of centre representation in Holyrood is a fairish reflection of the way people voted. I'm not convinced that there actually is much demand for right of centre policies in Scotland.

  • Even in England, the electorate is actually much further to the left on quite a few issues than their political representatives. This is even true of the US where studies and polls of attitudes indicate that the electorate is typically far more likely to be to the left on issues than their congress-critters believe is the case. The problem is that the big money neo-liberals seem to have grabbed onto power in the Anglosphere and are intent on imposing their ideology regardless of what their constituents actually want.

    Probably the worst thing that ever happened to British politics was the untimely death of John Smith. The political landscape would likely have been very different as it would have stopped Tony Blair getting his hands on the levers of power and the Labour party likely wouldn't have tried to out-Tory the Tories...


    Re. Smith and the labour party, whilst I agree it wouldn't quite be trying to out tory the tory (Have you looked up the gaelic translation of tory?), Smith was certainly on board with the kind of new labour reforms that were undertaken in the 90's. I suppose you could say that the wheels fell off this century, but I understand that re. the last century Smith was very much in favour of what was done.


    I'm not sure that avoiding having to break public key is a clear sign that their quantum computers don't do much good. There are plenty of reasons why the NSA would continue to attempt to hack by non-quantum means, including institutional inertia and the fact that these programs can take a long time to put into place, or perhaps quantum computer time is expensive.


    No, team up with Chris Brookmyre. That I'd love to read.


    Though I'm not as involved in Second Life (SL) as I was when I was running new user help organizations, I have a pretty deep knowledge of the platform and its limitations. Money laundering via SL might have been practical in the early days of the platform, back when there were resident-run "banks", multiple third-party buyers and sellers of L$ with very little oversight by Second Life, and resident-run casinos covering the landscape. But things have really been ratcheted down to the point where I'd be amazed if anyone was using SL for money laundering on any significant scale.

    Anyone can create a SL account with nothing more than an email address. But to purchase Linden Dollars (the SL virtual currency, abbreviated L$) you have to provide real life credit card (or verified PayPal) billing information. That's not an insurmountable hurdle to money launderers, who almost certainly have access to stolen or grey market credit card numbers.

    But getting L$ out of SL as USD is difficult. You can withdraw USD that you have earned by selling L$ only via a verified Paypal account or a bank wire transfer. All of which are watched by the feds. You are also limited to a maximum of 9999 USD per transaction. It takes time too, from five to fifteen days before you will see your money. Also, LL now reports any "cash outs" of more than 600 USD/year to the IRS.

    The amount of real life money you spend purchasing L$ is limited, as well, starting at 30 USD/month and quickly going up to 300 USD/month after an account has been active for 27 days. After that, at some point Linden Lab will raise your limit to 2,500 USD/month. I've been a resident of SL since 2005, and I'm at that level. If you want to go higher, you have to give them a reason (i.e., more information). The same sort of limits apply to selling L$ for USD.

    What the NSA is likely looking at in SL is the potential use of the platform for recruitment, communications, and training by terrorist organizations. And as far as those are concerned there is nothing special about SL. IRC, web chat rooms, email, websites, etc. are probably more useful. And anyone who wants to conduct clandestine training in a SL-like virtual world, would be much better off using one of the open source clones of SL that they can host themselves and take offline when not needed. (See )


    So the first Merchant Princes series starts out as "portal fantasy" and ends up as "SF techno-thriller". The second one is going to start out as "near-future dystopian panopticon surveillance state/spy thriller" and end up at "space opera". At this rate, can anyone imagine where a third Merchant Prince series might end up? Superhero fantasy? Christian allegory? Paranormal romance?


    I haven't read Brookmyre. I will have to keep an eye out for something of his next time I am at the bookstore.


    The whole devolution of multi-national entities like the UK within a larger supranational organisation is interesting. If the EU didn't exist, do you think Scotland would go its own way?

    Also, if Scotland is notionally socialist (or centre-left), and has made up a large proportion of the Labour ascendancy of the nineties and noughties, will that destabilise Labour in what's left of the UK?


    if Scotland goes Indy shouldn't hurt Labour, in theory. They have formed all of their Governments without needing Scottish seats.

    However New Labour (and Milliband may have dropped 'New' but it's the same Blairites in there) take their vote for granted, and are only fighting for right-wing swing voters.

    So an Indy Scotland may cause Red Tory Labour some problems if their solid vote gets dissatisfied, assuming Scotland follows a more traditional post-war consensus path


    If you're in the US, you probably won't find him; he's a very Scottish crime writer and his US publishing track is a smoking crater.

    In contrast, in Scotland he's a top-10 bestseller, and in the UK as a whole he's a front-list crime author -- not quite at Ian Rankin levels of fame, but heading there (all he needs is a TV series).


    Chris comes recommended to at least try to anyone who's enjoyed any (or all) of OGH, Ian Rankin, Ken McLeod, Iain (M) Banks, and maybe Quentin Jardine.


    I didn't know about the "smoking crater" bit. Still, I find obtaining "US only" authors from the usual large South American river easy.


    It was reported a few years ago that CIA and FBI were monitoring WoW and Second Life, so I'm not especially surprised NSA decided to get in on the action. In those previous cases my suspicion was that someone had figured out how to play MMORPGs on the government's dime. Looking over the documents just leaked NSA has been collecting metadata and doing traffic analysis, so this looks like a serious project. The listed threats sound a mite, ah, over-hyped to me, with the exception of Chinese hackers. I can see that target plausibly coordinating itself in part in an online game.

    As for Scottish devolution, I have to constantly remind myself that hardcore UK federalism proponents are socialists, unlike in the US where they're reactionaries. Beyond the observation that American and British partisan divisions don't always map well into each other I'm too ignorant to say anything useful. decicco.barry: Given how corrosive the War on Drugs(tm) has been on civil liberties I fully expected DEA to be the first domestic agency to try to crib NSA info. Do you have a better source for the IRS stuff? The Daily Caller is a publication that will use any excuse to bash IRS, so I would not assume their summary of a wire story is accurate.


    Let me remind you that the Yousay is a more federal state than the UK anyway. I'm not suggesting that your federal government hasn't assumed some powers beyond the areas specifically enumerated, but the mere fact that your FG attempting to do $thing that the states presently do individually is specifically beyond its powers is more federal than the UK setup.


    I don't think it's Gibson's strategy to write in an alternate universe (at least not since Pattern Recognition). It's just that the real universe finds alternative ways to use the early bird technologies he used in his books (video sharing -> YouTube, locative art -> Ingress, pinguins and manta rays as drones.)


    Hi Charlie

    I think you're on dangerous territory here, territory that Mr Howard would be more accustomed to.

    A book, correctly constructed can be a powerful talisman changing reality or supervening our reality, when Bob twigs to this in the context of NSA Orcs it'll go all recursive and OGH may well become involved personally, and turn out to be the Cthulhu of the Laundry universe

    Which just goes to show a bottle of crystal probably wasn't the ideal breakfast...


    this is really sad. first the singularity has closed the scifi gap for far future stories and now mass surveillance has killed orwellian scifi.

    but what if you release it chapter by chapter ? you could adapt to the real world on a monthly base.

    (just curious, do you think the spooks are reading your unpublished work ?)


    Charlie @ 18 & mjwalshe @ 16 Yes – it’s the puritan-religious streak in SNP that gives me the creeps – entirely apart from the all-over shudders that the wee eck induces. But (see previous threads) I suspect it ain’t going to happen, fortunately.


    Maybe they got an ARC of Halting State ;-)

    IIRC they idea of clandestine meetings in VR already appeared in Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash from 1992.

    The orcs theme was probably added by the Guardian's author, and they had enough time to read Halting State.


    guthrie And there's the difficulties with the European bosses union, Precisely. The (as I've said before) the left-wing/Wedgie Benn argument against the EU - which I now subscibe to, old-fashioned leftwing/one-nation tory that I am (Or was - see windows, Overton).


    @ 38 They have Protestant, Catholic and Muslim Cabinet Members. So, they do god, obviously - thus putting them in the same revolting camp of liars as T Blair & D Cameron. Euuugghhh


    @50 Probably the worst thing that ever happened to British politics was the untimely death of John Smith Err, no. If Roy Jenkins had beaten the slimebag Wilsundra in 1962-ish then things would have been very different. The best PM we never had.

    In my lifertime, the easiest worst thing to happen in British politics were 1955-57 - Anthony Eden - arguably even worse than Lord North. The next worst "thing" was female - guess who?


    Does having the book contradict recent revelations in the news cut into sales, or are you avoiding it because it rubs you the wrong way? Because I don't think the core fan base (readers of this blog, I guess) particularly care.


    Regarding nastiness - sadly, you'll find enough of it on all sides...

    I get very twitchy about any political party that tries to divide people up into "us" and "them" (because "we're different from them") however politely they call it "civic nationalism". Take a look at the opinions of early SNP leaders.

    Reading CJ Sansom's "Dominion" alternate history (good book, BTW), it was interesting to hear that during WW2 the SNP leadership opposed the conscription of Scots to fight against Hitler... and an early leader (Andrew Gibb) wasn't exactly polite about the Irish.

    There is a vigorously denied suggestion that Arthur Donaldson's opinions took "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" (or at least "every cloud has a silver lining") a little too seriously when things were looking bleak in for the UK in 1941, and suggested that the Germans might assist Scottish independence. He got locked up as a subversive.

    The politest interpretation is that these were monomaniacs who were unable to distinguish ends from means (the "fundamentalist" wing of the SNP).


    Brookmyre is aces in my book. You can find his stuff on Amazon and also in


    "Given how corrosive the War on Drugs(tm) has been on civil liberties I fully expected DEA to be the first domestic agency to try to crib NSA info. Do you have a better source for the IRS stuff? The Daily Caller is a publication that will use any excuse to bash IRS, so I would not assume their summary of a wire story is accurate. "

    It's leaked out (meaning I'm too lazy to search and link) that the US DEA has (1) had access to all ATT traffic for over a decade,(2) gets NSA info and (3) has materials discussing as policy how to commit perjury to hide the source of this evidence when prosecuting people.

    I've said it before, but what I wonder about is how much NSA stuff is sent to Wall St and various megacorps.


    The original Reuters report on IRS use of NSA-sourced intelligence (filtered through the Drug Enforcement Agency's "Special Operations Division") is here. Note that the IRS agents were specifically directed to omit any reference to the source of the information.

    There is a vigorously denied suggestion that Arthur Donaldson's opinions took "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" (or at least "every cloud has a silver lining") a little too seriously when things were looking bleak in for the UK in 1941, and suggested that the Germans might assist Scottish independence. He got locked up as a subversive.

    He wouldn't be the first to ask Germany for help in gaining independence while they were fighting a World War against the British...


    Had to google search 'independent republic of Issyk-Kulistan' just to make sure i'm still safe.


    Hi Charlie

    how did the audiobooks do? Well enough for the fuller memorandum to be released on audible uk? Not that I have a goth fetish or anything...


    vigourously denied and unproven

    The founders of what us now the SNP included founders of the Labour Party.

    The SNP is a multi-background party from all creeds, colours and nationalities. The YES campaign includes Labour for Indy, Greens, SSP and otherwise apolitical folk.

    The ethnic card "get Indy and my children will be 'foreigners'" schtick comes from the Unionist parties, who do not seem to like foreigners much.

    the Unionist's language seems much the same as was deployed against "Stateless Jews" 80 years ago. It's weird. you have Orangemen claiming Ibdy will lead to Rome rule where 'taigs' are treated like Human beings, and Labour (who give money to the Orange Order) telling Catholics they need the British to protect them from Protestants.

    Not seeing any evidence in your charge of Nasty Nats yet if you have actual evidence


    So if independence goes forward, will the third book in the "trilogy" be written in Scottish or in English?


    I am in Canada and the local bookstore (McNally Robinson) lists his books on their website. If all goes well, I will drop by there later this week and pick up a book or two.


    Since you seem to accept the variety of the cabinet then I assume you also accept that the "racist/sectarian" thing falls down as bollocks

    Now to your species of silliness

    The SNP have several kep differences between them and New Labour and the Tories

    For one the votes of the membership at conference actually count and hold the leadership to decisions

    The SNP got elected in a proportional system expressly chosen to stop them but reflects the votes cast as opposed to Blair or Cameron

    Labour brought in the Bedroom Tax, the Tories extended it. The SNP opposed the extension, Labour abstained because "on a point of principle we do not vote for SNP amendments" (Willie Bain MP) so Labour were dragged into opposing their own measure several months later.

    The SNP proposed a £20 million fund to help those hit by the Bedroom Tax (that's the most they can legally do). Labour and Tories voted against it.

    SNP, not a fan of the Nukes, Labour and Tories, very much fans as long as they are in Ghillie-Jocko land

    LAbour fucked up several construction schemes, by at least not costing them properly (Millbank, Holyrood, the Edinburgh Trams). The Trams particularly seemed to be another funnel money to jobs for the boys by Ediburgh's Lab/LIb council. SNP got the trams by the scruff of the neck and moving trams have actually been seen in Edinburgh!

    I've got sheds more, but your "argument" for want of the word "fuckwittery" is as true of an Ecumenical Conference, and means nothing about the policies brought forward


    What puritan streak is that?

    The fact that the SNP brought in a bill for same-sex marriage is hardly conducive to your argument. They got pelters for it and got told it was a bad thing to do and might scare folk from Indy.

    The anti-drink thing has been to try and lessen the impact cheap drink has. It's not banned and the minimum pricing isn't exactly extortionate.

    Cigarettes, no change except not on open display

    "Family Values". That one comes from the Unionist PArties, whose rhetoric tells us only "Hard-working families" have any place on Earth.

    WHat's your evidence?


    Back to the Arthur Donaldson charge from

    Can I present Archibald RamsayUnionist MP for Peebles and Southern Midlothian. He was the founder of the antisemitic and explicitly pro-Nazi 'Right Club'. He came within a whisker of costing Britain the war through his association with Right Club member Tyler Kent, who stole documents from the US Embassy which, if publicised, would have destroyed the credibility of Roosevelt and made limited American support for the war effort impossible. Ramsay was arrested in the nick of time, and interned for over four years - but throughout that time remained an MP.

    Sir Oswald Mosley was a Conservative MP between 1918 and 1922, and a Labour MP between 1924 and 1931. As Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, he was arguably the most senior non-Cabinet minister in Ramsay MacDonald's second Labour government. Just one year after leaving Labour, he was leading an openly fascist movement that went on to call for Britain to become an ally of Nazi Germany. He was interned without trial for three-and-a-half years during the war (and subsequently placed under house arrest), because his parliamentary experience with both of the major London parties made him the obvious candidate to lead a puppet government after any successful German invasion.

    THat page also has copies of letters from the Secretary of State for Scotland on detention of Donaldson being undesirable, and that Donaldson was put there (no charge) without the "evidence" being made known and involving a witness of known unreliability


    In other news regarding reality being more bizarre than fiction, Satanists have proposed an interactive display for children on the lawn of the Oklahoma State Capitol and I scored worse than chance on this Real news vs The Onion quiz.

    I've said it before, but what I wonder about is *how much* NSA stuff is sent to Wall St and various megacorps.

    As much of it as they think might be commercially useful, and probably a bit more just in case. Why would they do any differently to other major nations?


    Go, Satanists!

    No, really. Hopefully this will make some of the Jesus People pause and think really hard about the implications of their desire to get the state into the God Business.

    (I'm an eternal optimist ...)


    Brookmyre has the best short description of how corruption works in the UK in "Quite ugly one morning". Just skip past the ugly bits and find it.


    IF they're anything like the CIA (where officers are allowed to moonlight in corporate America), and where corporations normally employ former spooks, I'd say there's quite a lot of overlap.

    Sad to see how much of corporate espionage and dirty tricks is targeted at environmental movements, rather than, oh, free trade and DRM advocates, but it never should be said that corporate America operates on its own long-term best interests.


    Probably not. At least here in Irving, Texas (a suburb of Dallas), the local Baptists were quite happy to work with the local mosque in an attempt to defeat a proposed change in city law that would have allowed beer and wine to be sold in Irving stores.

    The good news is that they lost to the bulk of voters who just wanted to be able to buy a beer on the way home. That warmed my libertarian heart.


    That's so narrow minded! Satanists are just another one of those Christian sects. Why not a giant Buddha statue or one of the spaghetti monster? A nice fresco of Odin and Thor at Valhalla or one of those interesting Indian sex party stone reliefs?


    I felt that way when the "Guardian" et al. revealed large-scale government attacks on online banking data. If its not the potential for corruption inside the security services, its the results when non-state spies obtain their techniques. But "Halting State" explores some of that ...


    My memory may be off, but this local story struck me as a non-tech "Halting State" moment: Cañon City 6-year-old suspended for kissing a girl He faces having sexual harassment on his permanent record. Reminded me of the character being labeled a sex offender after being caught on camera kissing a girl at 16 (iirc).


    Not seeing any evidence in your charge of Nasty Nats yet if you have actual evidence

    Actually, I suggested nastiness on both sides back then. The 1930s weren't a tolerant time in Scotland, remember that Pastor Jack Glass (a man described by Ian Paisley as "a bit of an extremist") had to come from somewhere in the 1960s.

    Nevertheless... Here's Andrew Dewar Gibb (SNP leader 1936 to 1940) writing in 1930 about the Irish in Scotland:

    "Wheresoever knives and razors are used, wheresoever sneak thefts and mean pilfering are easy and safe, wheresoever dirty acts of sexual baseness are committed, there you will find the Irishman in Scotland with all but a monopoly of the business"

    "Independent and Free: Scottish Politics and the Origins of the Scottish National Party, 1918-1945" by Richard J Finlay pages 94, 130:

    "Scottish Modernism and its contexts, 1918-1959" by Margery Palmer McCulloch, page 99.


    I hope His Noodliness gets a fair showing too :)


    If independence happens

    Right now, unlikely. Immediately after the SNP published its White Paper, the odds offered by Scottish Bookmakers worsened; IIRC it went from 1-12 to 1-14 for a No, 7-1 became 8-1 for a Yes.


    Lessee, I see folks have mentioned the FSM, Hinduism, Nordic Paganism, Buddhism ... oh! I know! Can the Jedi get in on this too?

    And I'm wondering if I can get John Barnes' the Wager declared a religion. Sort of a modern Confucianism for assholes...


    Can the Jedi get in on this too?

    How about the Doctor?

    I get the impression Osgood (Day of the Doctor) is a bit that way inclined, with the scarf as religious wear and the mumbled prayer "the Doctor will save me"...


    "Because that's the direction the trilogy provisionally titled "Merchant Princes: The Next Generation" is going in."

    I don't know if this is old news and I should have checked in more often, but HOLY SHIT YES.


    The trams were a disaster - which is a shame, because Dunedin really needed them - all the way down to Leith. But the sheer incompetence was astouding.Compare & contrast with Manchester or Croydon. As for puritanism, I suppose I really mean nannying - whic comes out the same in the end - "it's all for your own good" ....



    Thanks for the Brookmyre recommendation- downloaded Quite Ugly one Morning yesterday and finished it at 2.00 AM this morning! Loved the Warren Zevon and Robertson Davies references. Will now be downloading some more of his books. Again my thanks for the heads up.


    But the sheer incompetence was astounding.

    Many of the issues involved relying on council records of "what's underneath the roads we're digging up?" combined with "trams and cars are a lot heavier these days".

    These aren't 1940s-vintage wood and tin trams, these are light trains. They had to dig down a couple of feet, lay a concrete base for the tramway, then build up the road surface on top - because Edinburgh is riddled with mineworkings and associated subsidence, and because the tramlines have to withstand HGVs* crossing them.

    Unfortunately, when they dug down that couple of feet, they found two to three times as much infrastructure as was recorded as being there - power and phone lines**, sewage, water, and gas pipes. All of it had to me moved downwards.

    Also unfortunately (for the Council) the contractor took the position that it shouldn't be blamed for slow progress because of inadequate council planning records; and the lawyers got involved. It's mostly the schedule delays and resulting additional workforce costs that blew the budget.

    Notes for y'all: * HGV = Heavy Goods Vehicle, a truck ** UK planning laws mean we mostly bury our power and phone lines, and only string them from poles in the countryside)


    The Jack Parlabane books (starting with Quite Ugly One Morning) are by no means Chris's best work. In particular, "One Fine Day In The Middle Of The Night" has got to be one of the best novels about terrorism I've ever read, and the most recent series (by "Chris" Brookmyre, starting with "Where The Bodies Are Buried) is one of the best straight detective series of recent years (although it doesn't quite ramp up to punch-in-the-guts territory until book 3).


    Agreed - and you'll never think of a pumpkin in quite the same way :)


    Thanks Charlie- will go with One Fine Day as my next choice.


    WHilst it is nice to find someone else who calls them light trains, do you know why we ended up with light trains rather than more tram like objects?
    Also I'm pretty sure that there aren't disused mine workings on the tram route; the problematic ones are all further sourth in Midlothian.


    Snowden statue idea raises two questions:

  • Where to erect it?

  • Who's going to organize the kickstarter campaign?

  • I'd certainly donate.


    Sounds like Cities in Flight by James Blish.


    This is madness!

    What did we do at 6? Or at 13/14-ish, this essentially is attempting to criminalise our nature, our development phases and orders etc. Whilst we may be astoundingly neotenous as a species, I do doubt it possible to adapt quite that fast...


    It's obvious: the Snowden statue belongs on the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square.


    There were disused mine workings all the way south of the New Town to Leith -- in particular, the triangle between Leith Walk and Easter Road used to be a black spot. Nothing's vanished into the ground for about half a century, though, so ...


    These aren't 1940s-vintage wood and tin trams, these are light trains

    They could have gone for modern teak+aluminium trams as per HK. Mind you, even the HK ones built this decade basically follow the 1940s pattern, and that's a bit cramped for Scots.


    You mean north of the new town...

    Bellingham- we manage with cramped busses, even with the increase in obesity since there were trams.


    Ahem - about 6'1" to 6'6" wide (the only figures I can find) with (on the top deck) 2+1 seating? (So three seats and an aisle in that width).Them trams are narrow. (See for layout.)


    Directional brain fart. I'm off to grab some dinner before Cory comes to town to talk at Pulp Fiction.


    Nominally 2+2 on the top of the Glesca caurs; trust me on this. The only reason I never had a season ticket for the Glasgow Museum of Transport was that it was always free. Incidentally, in its present (3rd in 50 years) site it's about 5 minutes walk from the Eastercon venue next year.


    Buried powerlines means you don't think about your personal trees.

    In the countryside, I've come to think of the number of trees per person. Through some kind of folk-math dimensional analysis, the length of above-ground power lines cancels by the length of them required to reach the person. In low population density areas, the number of trees assigned to you to take out your power is high.

    You would think there would be a tree-squared factor in here somewhere; I'm at the end of a branch of a branch, and the delightful (and now familiar) sound of a transformer exploding on the upstream branch gives me plenty of time to ponder whether I should be working in some kind of superlinear factor for the especially common lines. In practice, those common lines seem to get work crews assigned to them very quickly.

    The biggest modeling headache I have is how to reconcile the attractive notion of a personal tree number with the physical reality that not all trees are created equal. Folk math is hard, but I expect this winter I will have some time to work on this problem.


    Not so much cramped as wet and cold. The climate in HK is somewhat more forgiving than in Scotland; add road salt and rain to (presumably sustainably sourced) teak, keep it cold and humid so that it doesn't really dry out for half the year; and either watch the maintenance costs climb, or see how long the trams last :)

    The crash safety of a wooden tram might also be fun - Hong Kong trams may enjoy "Grandfather rights" from being in continuous service (much like SF and Melbourne, I suppose). Are there NCAP standards for passenger-carrying vehicles on rails? "A wooden-framed lightweight tram is hit by a twenty-ton HGV travelling at thirty miles per hour - or vice versa".

    :) Meanwhile, I can grump about missing tonight's Pulp Fiction talk because I'm obliged to be at my beloved offspring's primary school Xmas concert. Bah, humbug :)


    And I'm wondering if I can get John Barnes' the Wager declared a religion. Sort of a modern Confucianism for assholes...

    The important question here is if they have some tangible representation that can be put on the lawn of the Oklahoma capitol, next to the 10 commandments and perhaps the upcoming Satanist display. If they want to compete, they'll probably need an interactive display for children. It might get crowded there.

    There are two loose ends here for me, can anyone help?

    I'd pay money ($20 comes to mind) to see the design of the interactive display to educate children about Satanism.

    I'd also like to find out more about John Barnes' the Wager. This looks promising because rational religious belief seems to necessarily include a gambling component; Pascal's wager is an example of this done wrong. However Google queries like '"John Barnes" Wager' and 'barnes wager -noble" don't have relevant hits.


    Google Books helped me find "the Wager". The relevant John Barnes is the science fiction writer, and the Wager is mentioned in his "In the Hall of the Martian King", among others.


    I don't lnow what the frames of Glesca Caurs were made of, but the cladding usually looks to be aluminium sheet.

    On the other point, some were closed single deckers. Double deckers might be closed or open. Cite as #118


    Politically, independence is looking increasingly likely. The coalition government, which is overwhelmingly English, has responded to the idea of independence with a completely tone-deaf response, based primarily on pointing out (arguably reasonably, to be fair) that if Scotland goes independent its economy will collapse and it will end up like Ireland-but also insinuating that London will do its very best to make that happen. There's a complete inability to make a positive case for union, and many of the government comments on the issue have been barely-disguised threats. (There's also a more positive pro-union campaign, but it's not getting anything like as much public attention.)

    When Cameron agreed to a referendum, it seemed like an absolutely spiffing wheeze-forcing Salmond to campaign for independence right now, at a time when the economy is in the sink. To put up or shut up, basically. And it's falling apart at the seams.


    Regarding the Oklahoma capitol: the Hindus have joined the Satanists:

    Muslims, Druids, Zoroastrians, step right up....


    There's a widespread alternate view that the Tory "incompetence" in running the Unionist campaign is actually deliberate. They're officially solidly supportive of the union, so they have to run the No campaign, but they might actually benefit electorally from independence[1] and they like being in power. And if independence gives them an electoral advantage in the rump UK and they still get to punish the Scots for not voting for them, then I suspect they see that as a maximum win.

    [1] although the difference isn't as clear cut as some people suggest, on the couple of occasions when Scottish MPs have been enough to switch majority from one party to another, it wasn't the Cons who won.


    Politically, independence is looking increasingly likely.

    Not really. The opinion polls still reckon only about a third of voters will say yes (largely unchanged over the past few decades), and the bookies are lengthening their odds since the SNP's "White Paper" came out (8-1 for a yes vote, up from 7-1), which is hardly a compliment to the authors.

    In other words, wishing doesn't make it so.


    Thank you for Merchant Princess!! Loved it!


    A bookmaker's odds reflect the betting. The aim is to set the odds so the winning bets pay out less than the total amount bet. The initial odds are a good guess.

    And those bets on odd events are a bit different. They might be seen as advertising. Bookmaking depends on averaging over a lot of gamblers and events, and even then the bookies can lose big on a favourite in a race such as the Derby. The odds are set by the on-course betting, and the off-course betting on a Derby favourite is huge.

    Anyway, the odds on the Referendum result are reflecting the betting. And maybe some people are betting on No because if they win at least they get a bit of tax-free money. They're hedging their bets.


    And would you trust the wee Eck? Not that I trust Camoron - or any of his predecessors since 1979, come to that. Oh ... "Overwhelmingly English" - err... the total population of Scotland is less than half that of London .....



    You can only trust a politician on the basis of whether they do what they say they'll do. Salmond has a pretty good record as First Minister on that score.

    But be under no illusions. If you live in Scotland and vote 'No' whatever 'differences' there are between Holyrood's priorities and Westminsters will disappear like snow off a dyke. No more free, at the point of use, prescriptions; no more free universities, etc, etc.

    Perhaps that suits you, perhaps every decision should be taken by Westminster. We can all enjoy austerity together, knitted together in our joint and several woe.

    Anyway you are hoist by your own petard. If Scotland cannot influence policy in any meaningful way, because, as you rightly say it has less than half the 'clout' of London, what is the point of Scotland remaining in a Union where resources are directed in one direction only?

    This is somewhat more than a party political point. This is a shameless exploitation of the rest of the UK to support a city state. Should we just lie back and think of London?


    No. As I've stated many times, I'm in favour of Devo-Max - for all of us, for fairly obvious reasons. Salmond's flip-flopping on policy however make him even motre totally untrustworthy than usual. Want to emulate Iceland - ooops. Want to join the Euro - oops. Alternatively "we'll keep the Pound" - oops. Etc ad nauseam, as Private Eye would say. Actually the resources are propping Scotland up - never heard of the Barnett formula? What is the propostion of tax monies spent in England & Scotland? IIRC ( & this is approximate) for every £100 spent in England, Scotland gets somewhere between £115-120. If you have better figures, please show. As someone with close associations with the names: Johnstoun (Lowland - at war with the Maxwells) and Fergusson/Neil/MacNeil I earnestly want the Union, in some form, to survive. I really do think we are better together. For an alternative I suggest you read MacDonald Fraser's masterly short history: "The Steel Bonnets"


    Some of that extra money nominally spent in Scotland is down to building expensive aircraft carriers and basing Trident submarines, and with some of that a total x-billion bill isn't all going to Scotland. Those carriers are an assembly of pre-fab sections built in several places in the UK. A lot of the money spent through the sub base is going to companies all over the UK.

    So I don't know whether the figures for those projects are being used honestly in such comparisons, but the potential for lies is there, and, on past experience, I would want to check.

    No, I am not saying specifically that the Conservatives are liars. But the trouble they took to hide their pre-election promises doesn't look quite honest. As Reagan said about the arms limitation treaty with the Soviet Union, "trust, but verify."


    And would you trust the wee Eck?

    Yes, actually. Two reasons. (a) He's been running the government here for most of the past decade and hasn't done a bad job of it. And (b) If there is a pro-independence vote, Scotland won't become independent until after he turns 60. That makes him at most a one-term prime minister. So the politics of an independent Scotland won't be dominated by one person for a generation. Indeed, I suspect it's quite likely that independence will be followed immediately by an election that returns a non-SNP majority.


    A bit late to this particular party, but to swing the thread back to "Halting State" (those two books are awesome, by the way, albeit scary in some ways), is your new not-Halting State book also going to be written in the second person?

    Or maybe you could push out a few short stories written in the second person?

    Pretty please.


    If you live in Scotland and vote 'No' whatever 'differences' there are between Holyrood's priorities and Westminsters will disappear like snow off a dyke. No more free, at the point of use, prescriptions; no more free universities, etc, etc.

    Now who's being negative and running scare stories?

    Salmond is a very effective local politician; my problems come when he stops governing and starts propagandising - his judgement is less sound.

    Examples of this are the "let's get a photo-op of Cameron with a saltire backdrop at the Wimbledon final". It just looked petty. Or his appearance on "Desert Island Discs" - either he genuinely only likes "Scottish Music", in which case he's narrow-minded; or he felt he had to be seen only to like "Scottish Music", in which case he's appealing to the narrow-minded.

    The "White Paper" fails for me because it declares three basic assertions, all of which have to stand: that Scotland would not be vetoed from EU membership (most likely candidate is Spain, to discourage the Catalans); that Scottish Government bonds will enjoy an AAA rating that keeps the cost of government borrowing acceptably low; and that the remaining UK will be happy to operate a Sterling zone, and to act as a lender of last resort (the Welsh aren't too happy about that one).

    If any of these inter-related assertions fail, the document becomes wishful thinking, not a plan. Note that I'm avoiding the whole subject of oil revenue in this.

    (I also note that the White Paper mentions "bedroom tax" thirty-nine times, and even mentions "poll tax" twice - it makes it look more like party propaganda, less a serious government proposal).


    Good for the Hindus!

    One of the drawbacks to living in Texas is that it can be hard to find a decent samosa.

    However, there is a motorway services (operated by some Hindu folks) just west of Elk City, Oklahoma that sells excellent ones and people do drive there, from Texas, to buy them (and other, proper vegetarian, Indian food).

    That fact is something of which Oklahoma can justly be proud and, if I were dictator, I'd give the Hindus their statue for that alone.

    Want to emulate Iceland - ooops. Want to join the Euro - oops. Alternatively "we'll keep the Pound" - oops.

    A politician who changes his mind as the situation changes? Can't be having that, can we!


    Why, you might end up like the current chancellor, whose economic policy has't worked, doesn't work, can't work, but who has been steaming ahead for several years now. Or Michael Gove, a lunatic of the first order who doesn't change his mind for any reason and is thus destroying English schooling, with of course the help of the think tanks and fellow politicians. And the poeple selling the NHS off.


    I expect the Spanish government to oppose Scottish independence and membership of the EU ... right up until Scotland becomes independent. (Their motive being to deter Catalan separatism.) Once Scotland is independent, their motive for denying Scotland EU entry is massively diminished, and may actually reverse the picture.

    Tripe-AAA rating for bonds ... yes, that's questionable.

    Sterling zone: well, there are two alternatives. (a) A Scottish Pound (I don't think that's terribly likely), or (b) Euro zone convergence. Scotland is a lot better suited to be in the Euro zone than the PIIGS, and Scottish accession to the Schengen Zone would also be a great way of thumbing the nationalist nose at London. (Hell, if Scotland joined Schengen we might then see Ireland join in the fun, in which case ...)

    the current chancellor, whose economic policy hasn't worked, doesn't work, can't work

    That depends on how you look at it, doesn't it. If you assume that the purpose of Osborne's policy is the stated one, or indeed general economic improvement, then his activities are indeed a total failure (and are in fact provably counterproductive). If you, for whatever reason, suspected that the main goals of the current Conservative government were to dismantle the welfare state and make their rich friends richer, then you would think they've been really impressively effective.


    I agree that they don't need to veto membership - they just need to insist that Scotland applies as a new member, and joins the queue of other nations' applications.

    As you've pointed out, this drives us toward Schengen and the Euro. I'm not saying that these are impractical, but it does break the White Paper base assumptions. My worries are not that independence is impractical - plainly it is. I question the assertion that we will be "better off" independent; particularly as the only attempt at a detailed plan refuses to contemplate any "Plan B".

    I also suspect that our perspective is skewed towards Edinburgh or Glasgow - and that Sutherland or Shetland views these as "just as distant as London"; meet the new Government, as remote as the old one...


    This doesn't surprise me. Long before Second Life existed I was in charge of the software development team for WorldsAway (a virtual world system). We had a free world we used as a sandbox, which quickly became infected with hacker children. I saw in the news that two of them had been arrested by the FBI, and I spoke to an FBI agent about using our virtual world to catch hackers. That was in the mid-nineties. I've also encountered avatars in WoW that I was pretty sure were being run by law enforcement. My software team at Hotmail used to communicate via WoW while doing releases rather using the work one, so I know of at least one off-use.

    Hell, if Scotland joined Schengen we might then see Ireland join in the fun

    Ireland isn't joining Schengen until Northern Ireland does as well; it is way too squirrelly a border to try policing. Scotland joining Schengen makes it way more likely an independent-minded NI Assembly might get a rush of blood to the head, though...


    Wouldn't that make Spain more likely to want to keep Scotland out of the EU? After all, if Scotland is kept out (or even forced to get in line behind everyone else), they would stand as an example to bludgeon the Catalans with: "Nice little region you got there; be a shame if something happened to it. Look at Scotland."


    Really? The boy George's "policy" (ahem) seems to be working - probably through masterly inaction - better than say France or Spain or Italy, doesn't it? Please note the damning with faint praise? All I'm saying, is that all the oither "proposed" options seem to be worse ... not an enticing prospect.


    Yes, well, you know my solution to that one. We should emulate those terribly unsuccesful economies of Norway & Switzerland. IN Shengen OUT EU. We should be so lucky.


    gravelbelly Indeed. I am told that in the extremely unlikely event of the overall vote being for so-called "indpendance", then Shetland certainly, & Orkney probably, will immediately try to secede. The Quebec problem, in fact, where the "Native American" communities in Quebec told the PQ, that ... "If you can secede, so can we ....." Err, um .


    " The Quebec problem, in fact, where the "Native American" communities in Quebec told the PQ, that ... "If you can secede, so can we ....."


    I wonder how the 'Native ' Canadian communities of the Pre European Invasion ...

    will respond to ..This ...

    " Canada submits Atlantic, Arctic continental shelf claims .. "


    Oh, and also a PS to my responce ..wot me avoiding Mods? ..our American Cousins, who have a taste for irony, might like to google .." Hug A Husky " .. See I've made it easy for them ..


    Suggested content for a near future novel which won't become outdated:

    Flying cars completely replace ground-only cars.

    A simple, easily understandable US Federal tax code.

    One political ideology is implemented with absolutely no problems, and brings about utopia.


    Tripe-AAA rating for bonds...

    Did you just invent the replacement for pork barrel futures?


    No, that's the next thread but one!


    Is this an actual, legitimate time to use the phrase, 'THANKS, OBAMA!' Cos I was looking forward to another Halting State book...


    A humorous hentai website I discovered at has an FAQ page with a frank, forthright and downright Strossian style to it, meaning either that you wrote it yourself or else spambots are now capable of high grade mimicry. If so then Turing's test is satisfied at least as far as I'm concerned, it fooled me.


    Next thing you know, computational demonology will be a real thing.


    What makes you think that it isn't?


    I just read "Halting State" last night and literally thew the book across the room after reading the bit about the NSA and THEN checking the publish date.

    WTF, Charles? Between that and your other writing on the subjects of nested emulated reality states, I spent the rest of the night locked in the philosopher's dilemma.

    Thanks a lot.


    My first stab at fanfic:

    "Sorry Mr. Angleton, Sir, but that hex matrix can't ward off a Cthulu grade entity. It's based on an unproven configuration from the Pu Ding codex."

    "Do try to keep up with revisions to the manual, Bob. Wouldn't look good sending a new department head off for remedial training, now would it? The proof of the P'u Ding is in the Yi T'ing."


    1) Nicola Sturgeon. 2) Surely you mean Malcolm Rifkind? 3) Where Labour would go, and where the SNP would go, in the (unlikely) event of a Yes vote, are closely connected, but their niches might be distinguished geographically more than ideologically, with Labour support concentrated in the Central Belt. But the fact that Scotland actually has a reasonably democratic electoral system (one of the reasons why I, as an English-born Scot, will vote Yes) makes a long-term duopoly unlikely. 4) Yes, I'd expect something of a Tory revival.


    Someone is also telling non-UK immigrants (most of whom can vote as they are EU or Commonwealth citizens) that they'll be thrown out in the event of independence. They won't, of course: Scotland very much needs their labour. As an Englishman with a very identifiably English accent living in an area with a lot of SNP support, I have only once in 15 years come across real anti-English prejudice. (I've no idea how this lone bigot voted.)


    I'm not Charlie, but I'll answer anyway. Scotland will almost certainly vote "No" to independence this time (see below). I say this as one who's started canvassing for RIC (Radical Independence Campaign - a group supporting independence for a fairer, greener Scotland, not just a change of flag); all the polls for as far back as I remember give "No" a clear majority. Moreover, I have to admit there are strong arguments that a "Yes" would be a leap in the dark. I still think it's worth it, as the destruction of both the welfare state and civil liberties proceeds apace in the UK. As for a UK vote on leaving the EU, that will only happen in the near future if the Tories win the 2015 election - around an even bet in my opinion. My hunch is that there would be a narrow majority against leaving, because a lot of corporate money would be spent on that side. But if the UK votes to leave the EU, there's a good chance Scotland (which would vote not to leave the EU) would hold another vote on independence, and leave the UK.


    Scotland will only get one shot at independence. Then you can forget about it for a generation, no matter what happens.


    An AI textbook I used in the 1970s (Charniak and Wilks, Computational Semantics) had a chapter section on "Specification and Removal of Demons". You can find the phrase used by Charniak in a conference paper here.


    Do you have a, you know, what are those things... oh, yes, an argument for that claim? Quebec had two independence referendums (1980 and 1995, voting "no" both times). Scottish devolution failed to get enough votes in 1979 (there was a narrow majority for yes, but on a low turnout), then was approved in 1997. Teenage pregnancies notwithstanding, 15 or even 18 years is rather less than is usually meant by "a generation".


    Do you seriously think you will be allowed a referendum every time England's Tories piss you off?


    Also refers to #167.

    Dirk, have you actually been checking the relevant documents? I believe these are the Declaration of Arbroath (1320)(DOA) and the Act of Union with England (1707) (AUE).

    The DOA specifically assigns the sovereignty of Scotland to vest not in the person of a head of state, nor in the institution of a parliament, but in the body politic as a whole. In modern terms, this means that the sovereignty of Scotland now vests in the registered electorate. It in no way, shape or form vests in the person of the monarch (not the sovereign; there is no such person in Scotland) or in either the Scots or Westminster parliament, and has never vested in them. The DOA has not only never been repealed, but has never even been questioned in almost 700 years.

    The AUE not only does not (illegally) attempt to transfer the sovereignty of Scotland, but never even mentions sovereignty. Accordingly, the DOA is still the defining document on constitutional questions of sovereignty.

    This gives us a position in which David Cameron as UKPM would be acting illegally in refusing to allow Scotland to hold a popular plebicite on constitutional matters whenever the Scots parliament and/or a petition raised by the body politic of Scotland called for one. It also, arguably, means that the 2014 referendum is unnecessary, since an overall majority of the Scots electorate voted for the SNP in the last Scots parliament election. This could be argued as a popular plebicite for independence from England, allowing the First Minister to raise the "AUE(1707) Repeal Bill" and when that was passed, then start negotiating division of assets, position regarding international treaties...


    And you believe that Westminster would be unable to block it? BTW, what is the definition of "the body politic as a whole"? That seems the first line of attack.


    Already answered:- 1) It is illegal for Westminster to even attempt to block it. Just the same as it's illegal for Westminster to attempt to block a referendum in, say Eire. 2) Please actually read the DOA before continuing. It's not that long, or written in deepest legalese, and quite clear that sovereignty vests in the electorate.


    Do you seriously think that's an argument? Your original claim was that another vote would not occur within a generation "no matter what happens". Now you're saying it wouldn't be allowed "every time England's Tories piss you off". You could at least try to make your goalpost-shifting a little less obvious. The circumstances I envisaged were a UK vote to leave the EU, in which a majority in Scotland voted to stay in. On what possible grounds could Scotland then be refused a fresh vote on staying in the UK? Refusal would be the best possible way of guaranteeing a landslide for pro-independence parties in the next Scottish election. Of course, the UK government might decide to use brute force to maintain the union, but the precedent of Ireland doesn't suggest that would be a very good idea.

    Nick Gotts (I don't know why my name doesn't appear, as it generally does when I sign in with my Google account.)


    No shifting of goalposts. If a nice Labour govt gets in Scotland might be allowed another vote, and probably vote "no". OTOH, the Tories ie the Unionist Party, will scupper it by fair means or foul. Labour would not like it too much either, because it would lose its Scottish MPs and any chance of ever forming a majority govt again. Plus, if Britain leaves the EU it depends on what terms. In any case that would be far more momentous than Scotland becoming independent (whatever that means with 60m people sitting next door).


    You're staying with this argument, despite not having a better argument based on the actual laws involved (already cited well enough that you can find them in about 1 minute) to back it up?

    And now also suggesting that, for example, Belgium is not a sovereign state because it has borders with France and Germany? Maybe we could use this argument to say that France isn't a sovereign state because it has a common border with Spain? ;-)


    I don't supose that you and dirk could be persuaded to settle this argument after the fashion suggested by the redoubtable Leon Humphreys as reported in ..

    " A court has rejected a 60-year-old man's attempt to invoke the ancient right to trial by combat, rather than pay a £25 fine for a minor motoring offence.

    Leon Humphreys remained adamant yesterday that his right to fight a champion nominated by the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) was still valid under European human rights legislation. He said it would have been a "reasonable" way to settle the matter.

    Magistrates sitting at Bury St Edmunds on Friday had disagreed and instead of accepting his offer to take on a clerk from Swansea with "samurai swords, Ghurka knives or heavy hammers", fined him £200 with £100 costs.

    Humphreys, an unemployed mechanic, was taken to court after refusing to pay the original £25 fixed penalty for failing to notify the DVLA that his Suzuki motorcycle was off the road.

    After entering a not guilty plea, he threw down his unconventional challenge. Humphreys, from Bury St Edmunds, said: "I was willing to fight a champion put up by the DVLA, but it would have been a fight to the death."

    This would be entirly appropriate, since, after all Belgium has oft been described as being the 'Cockpit Of Eurpope ' ..

    " Belgium is so called because it has been the site of more European battles than any other country; for example, Oudenarde, Ramillies, Fontenoy, Fleurus, Jemmapes, Ligny, Quatre Bras, Waterloo.

    Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894 "

    And various other conflicts since 1894 not inc the political conflicts within the E.E.C.


    They key bit is under the photo: "Alex Salmond and David Cameron sign the referendum agreement in Edinburgh on 15 October 2012 which will enable a vote on Scottish independence to take place in 2014."

    What if Cameron (or another PM) refuses to sign a second time?


    This "Independent Scotland --> Tory England forever" idea is popular, but I don't think it's correct. Looking at the most recent historical evidence, Tony Blair won the majority of seats in England.

    In any case, you're making the assumption that the parties' positions are fixed, and they do better or worse depending on changes in the electorate - that's not how it works, if the electorate moves rightwards, over time the major parties will both shift rightwards in response, and elections will be about the new centre ground.


    Sorry, broken-recording is not an argument. You have still to demonstrate why Scotland actually required Westminster to give permission for the referendum.


    So what is Cameron signing, and why does he have to sign it? Why didn't Salmond just go ahead on his own?


    An agreement that he won't waste public money on an illegal action I think.

    Regardless, we're still waiting for you to show, based on UK law rather than pretty pictures in a newspaper, why you believe that Scotland does not have the right to conduct an independence referendum every other Thursday if the people of Scotland choose to do so.


    I imagine the question (and Cameron's piece of paper) is less about Scotland's right to hold a referendum and more about Westminster regarding the result as any more binding than a local radio phone-in poll....


    AIUI the Scottish government can legislate on anything (the Welsh Assembly certainly has this power) if it concerns a reserved power then the legislation does not take effect until and unless the power is devolved. Specifically the smoking ban in Wales was legislated before the power was devolved and came into effect immediately on the power being devolved.

    The current Scottish parliament is not the legal successor of the pre 1707 Scottish parliament Westminster is, the current Scottish Parliament is legally speaking a local government body. For example this means any EU citizen resident has the right to vote in Scottish Parliamentary elections while national elections (i.e. Wesminster) can be limited to UK citizens.

    The Scottish parliament has authority to conduct an advisory referendum authorising it to attempt negotiations on independence. It doesn't have the power to actually declare independence, it could pass legislation to do so but as that is a reserved power it would not be of effect without Westminster's agreement. It is hard to imagine a situation where this would be withheld following a free and fair referendum.

    If Scotland were to secede then I don't think Scotland would have any real difficultly joining the UN, EU, NATO, CoE, OECD, IMF, WTO, Commonwealth &c. I would expect the UK would be quite happy to support it as we would want good relations with the Scots like we try to have with all the other countries we used to rule.



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