Wednesday, 15 July 2009

There are orders that should not be obeyed

There has been much discussion of what the soldiers in Afghanistan should expect from the government. I have no intention of going into the rights and wrongs of that war - it should be sufficient to point to the history of wars in that country, and to remind you that the Khyber Pass in between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The lesson from history would be that no-one ever wins a war in that area...

But this blog posting is not about that.

A friend of mine pointed me to the Oathkeepers website. This site is US centric, and attempts to list those orders that a US soldier should not follow. On a similar line, the report from Breaking the Silence is worth a read. This is a campaign group that has gathered anonymous accounts of the Gaza conflict from an increasing number of Israeli soldiers.

The idea of the Oathkeepers could be taken more generally, to show the responsibility of everyone to uphold the law above and beyond any orders they are given: something fundamental to Geneva Conventions and post WWII principles.

So is I was only obeying orders a defence?

This is sometimes known as the Nuremburg Defence (Principle IV). It was clearly not a defence at Nuremburg, nor in a number of trials since. This is a problem for governments and the military.

I would suggest that the time has come for us all to agree that there are orders that no-one should follow. The interesting thing is that it would solve other problems as well - it might well mean that our troops were not in Afghanistan - and that they would not have been in Iraq...

Sunday, 5 July 2009

Capitalists take the profits, the tax payer takes the losses

Reuters reports today that:
The British government is to delay the publication of a report into the collapse of carmaker MG Rover in 2005 pending an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office, British media reported on Sunday.
It would appear that much of the money that was pumped in to Rover ended up in the pockets or pension funds of the "Phoenix Four" - this is the fraud. Yes, that was an accusation - please sue me John Towers, John Edwards, Nick Stephenson or Peter Beale.

Last week, we heard that National Express, or rather its specially constructed subsidiary, had abandoned or been stripped of its loss making franchise, while keeping the profitable ones. So clearly, it is fine to bid for three franchises and then walk away from the one that is going to cost you money.

A brief analysis of Lloyds Bank's dividend history, would appear to indicate that that the bank had been paying around 12% to its shareholders for a substantial period. So once again, the capitalists take the profit and now the tax payer is saddled with the losses.

In all of these cases we see that the government is simply incapable of preventing the capitalists from screwing the tax payer. Alternatively, we could assume that the government is intent on supporting these people and giving them money, while taxing the more honest worker.

Mind you, British Airways and British Telecom seem to be taking this in-house and giving the earnings to the shareholders and executives in times of plenty and then asking the employees to bail them out when they hit trouble.

This is just unfair

Capitalists will tell you that they are paid huge returns because they take risks. This is clearly not the case in the current climate. The public have been transfixed by the MPs' expenses scandal, and seem to have forgotten the much bigger cockspiracy to support incompetant capitalists.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Greeenwash - this Power Station is carbon capture ready

means
we have left space in the design to add a carbon capture device.

As someone put it, "well, my drive is Ferrari ready". This is Greenwash at its most absurd:
  1. Its not 'carbon' capture, is is carbon dioxide that will be trapped.
  2. The energetics mean that even more coal will need to be burnt, as the capture process will require energy.
  3. The industrial scale process is unproven.
  4. The idea is that we can add on a new bit of technology and return to business as usual.
  5. I've heard no-one suggest that the emerging economies include carbon capture.
The truth is that the earth cannot sustain the western life-style for the western population, let alone extend it to the rest of the globe. The only way that we can survive with anything like the current population is to completely change our way of life. It needs to become:
  • simpler, based on the principle of 'enough';
  • based on something other than shopping/buying things to make people happy;
  • much more local, reducing traveling and moving goods (particularly food);
  • honest, we need politicians who are capable, and allowed to tell the truth;
  • more resilient, with small communities the centre of our lives.
So, how do I rate our chances of getting there? Well, as the old joke puts it, I wouldn't start from here...

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

NO2ID - barely a U-turn...

Alan Johnson announced that the ID Card scheme would not be compulsory, while repackaging it as a government scheme "Safeguarding Identity". At least this is not as bad as the April Fools story about RFID tags from Computer Weekly.

What does this actually mean?

Well, the government is still trying to produce a universal database on everyone in the UK. The data will mainly be captured when people (re-)apply for a passport.

Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy for Liberty, said:
“The Home Secretary needs to be clear as to whether entry onto the National Identity Register will continue to be automatic when applying for a passport. If so, the identity scheme will be compulsory in practice. However you spin it, big ears, four legs and a long trunk still make an elephant. And this white elephant would be as costly to privacy and race equality as to our purses.”
The clear fact is that we cannot trust the government with our personal data. There really is no need for this centralised system - the reasons that the establishment is pushing for its continuation are both philosophical and pragmatic...
  • Philosophy - the government has a grand, science-fiction type view of Transformational Government. In simple terms this is the ultimate extension of the 'nanny state'. They simply don't believe in individual freedom, they think they know best.
  • Pragmatic - those involved in the deployment of the ID Card scheme hope they can keep their jobs under a modified programme. Why they should want to give contracts for IT projects to the usual (incompetent) companies I would leave as a thought experiment for the reader.
Now is the time to apply pressure to your MP (particularly if you have a Labour MP) to cancel the database as well as the cards. Ask them to vote against the new statutory instruments that would allow the ID scheme to begin.

It is easy to contact your MP via http://www.writetothem.com/

Those key regulations are:

The Identity Cards Act 2006 (Application and Issue of ID Card and Notification of Changes) Regulations 2009
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2009/draft/ukdsi_9780111480427_en_1
[The detail that you will have to give to the Home Office about yourself, much much more than the "basic identifying information" ministers keep referring to.]

The Identity Cards Act 2006 (Prescribed Information) Regulations 2009
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2009/draft/ukdsi_9780111480434_en_1
[What will be kept on the cards - but not yet anything about the national identity register database and how it might work.]

The Identity Cards Act 2006 (Designation) Order 2009
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2009/draft/ukdsi_9780111479056_en_1
[The first of potentially many such. Provides for some people to be forced onto the system because joining will be a condition of applying for another official document that they need.]

The Identity Cards Act 2006 (Fees) Regulations 2009
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2009/draft/ukdsi_9780111479070_en_1

The Identity Cards Act 2006 (Information and Code of Practice on Penalties) Order 2009
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2009/draft/ukdsi_9780111479087_en_1
[The unfair rules that will be used to punish non-compliance.]

The Identity Cards Act 2006 (Provision of Information without Consent) Regulations 2009
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2009/draft/ukdsi_9780111479063_en_1
[Sets out who the information may be passed to once the IPS has it. Audit trail information will go to: police, intelligence services, and SOCA, *and to anyone else they authorise* - so we are immediately beyond government promise - plus HMRC, who can't however authorise it to be given to third parties. Further, non-audit trail information - such as document numbers, names and addresses, signatures and fingerprints, quite enough to be keys for other searches or massive identity fraud - may be provided to the Home Office and MoJ, DWP, DoT and FCO. Records of what information has been given to whom and why may be destroyed after 12 months or less.]

The Immigration (Biometric Registration) (Amendment) Regulations 2009
http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si2009/uksi_20090819_en_1
[Expands the 'ID cards for foreigners' system vastly by extending it to more categories of people (for example, spouses of British citizens, visiting artists and academics) who are only being treated as a threat in order to justify ID cards for all.]

This list is taken from the NO2ID Newsletter.

Friday, 26 June 2009

How fragile is our society?

The UK's Institute of Civil Engineers (ICE) recently published State of the Nation: Defending Critical Infrastructure. Having seen the press reports I eventually got around to looking at the original. Entertainingly, its publication nearly coincided with the Government's decision to announce (or admit) that it was steeping up its strategy to defend against (or initiate?) cyber-attacks.

It turns out that the BBC's report is a fair summary of the ICE original. The thing that strikes me is that we have 'sleep walked' into a position where so many things are fragile. Here are a few examples:
  • Many homes only have a central heating system that relies on both gas and electricity to work. Remove either in a cold snap and how many will freeze?
  • New supermarkets have almost no storage space. One missed delivery and the shelves will empty.
  • People purchase enough food for a couple of days. They have little or no staples in store - and probably couldn't cook them if they did.
  • The interlinking of support contracts between communications providers which means that two simultaneous failures could be difficult to manage. For example, Virgin Media has outsourced its voice network management contract to BT - while, I understand, offering BT backup circuits for voice communication.
  • Striving for 'efficiency' often means cutting back to the bone - shown in how stretched the NHS is each winter.
Those who work with complex systems will tell you that real failures usually involve many things going wrong at the same time - hence the "Swiss Cheese" safety model. There is one crucial layer missing in the current security systems - security at home.

Interestingly, there are things that the individual can do to reduce the problem - both for themselves and for their neighbours. The first rule is "do not add to the problem". This means that if there is panic buying at the supermarket, you don't want to be there.

Here are some practical suggestions:
  1. Do not rely on any particular service or supply. Do not get rid of that gas fire, or block up that chimney.
  2. Keep a stock of food that will mean that you won't starve if you can't get to the supermarket for a week. If you don't have a cold water tank, include some cheap bottled water - if you do, keep some empty PET bottles to fill up.
  3. Make sure that you have something to cook on (and fuel for it) - if you go camping, you probably have this already.
  4. Be prepared to check on your neighbours, and help them if the need arises.
If we decided to build a truly resilient society, it would be based on distribution of resources and systems. Homes would be responsible for not only reducing their consumption when there were shortages, but in storage when there were surpluses. This can be applied to food, water or energy. Unfortunately, the government is too focused on the short term to find such sensible solutions attractive.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Our leaders have learnt - nothing?

The public are clearly disgusted at the behaviour of our political leaders and the bankers. So how have they changed?

Banks
  • Fred Goodwin has 'handed back' about 1/4 of his pension pot - leaving him with a mere £12M - so he still gets a pension of £342,000 a year, on top of the tax-free £2.8m he took out of the fund in February.
  • Royal Bank of Scotland is planning a pay package worth up to £9.6m for Stephen Hester, its new chief executive.
The Speaker
  • There is, apparently, pressure from the Whips to get Margaret Beckett elected as Speaker. Change? What change.
  • The political class are trumpeting the 'openness' of the secret ballot for a new Speaker, ignoring the fact that this was only introduced to prevent the Whips from being able to monitor how MPs voted.
The Police
  • The police are still getting stressed about people taking photgraphs of their vehicles parked in disabled bays, in spite of the official statements, including the letter I received from Vernon Coaker.
  • More revelations are coming out about police behaviour at Climate Camp last year, including two people being held for 4 days because they demanded to know who the were dealing with.
Quangos and incompetence

It is difficult to know where to start:
  • LSC
  • PFI
  • DTI/BERR/BIS
  • BECTA
Any answers?

Well, the Modern Liberty movement is proposing "Real Change: open politics" - it is worth a read, and may be our best hope.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Secure communication over Twitter and identi.ca

Proposal - Securing communications through microblogging

It is possible for microbloggers to publish their public keys as a link from their profile. This might be indicated by preceding the URL with a code, such as a double $ dollar sign. Add an agreed symbol, $ for example, at the beginning of the message to indicate that it has been signed by being encrypted with the matching private key.

Similarly, a message encrypted with another's public key could be preceded by $username. A message starting with:

$username $encrypted text

though as will be clear in due course this might not always be desired.

As the message string is short, it should be encrypted directly to as to not lengthen it. As a result, if PGP type encryption were to be used, the message should be treated as the session key, not the body text. Given the sixe of microblogs this should not be onerous.

Message signing

Alice:
  • creates a micro blogging account
  • publishes a link to her public key in her profile
  • posts a message encrypted with her private key, preceded by the $$ code.
Result:
  • anyone can read the message, by using Alice's public key
  • only someone knowing Alice's private key could have sent it
Secure Messaging

Alice and Bob:
  • create a micro blogging account each
  • publish a link to their public key in their profiles
Alice:

  • posts a message encrypted with her private key, and Bob's public key preceded by the sequence $$bob $$.
Result:
  • anyone can see that Alice has sent Bob a message
  • only someone knowing Bob's private key can decode the message
  • only someone knowing Alice's private key could have sent the message
Anonymous Addressing

Alice and Bob:
  • create a micro blogging account each
  • publish a link to their public key in their profiles
Alice:
  • creates a string encrypted with her private key and precedes it with the sequence $$bob.
  • This concatenated string is then encoded with Bob's public key and posted as a message, preceded by $$$.
Result:
  • anyone who uses secure communication with Alice attempts to decode the message using their private key
  • Bob alone will find an encrypted message starting with $$bob, which Bob can then decode
  • no-one can see that Alice has sent Bob a message
  • only someone knowing Bob's private key can know that the message was for him and decode the message
  • only someone knowing Alice's private key could have sent the message

Friday, 19 June 2009

Twitter and identi.ca - secure communication?

Just tell me how to communicate securely over Twitter.

or read the blog entry...

There have been many attempts to monitor communications over the Internet. Governments seem intent on listening to us at any opportunity. The use of Twitter as a robust communication channel during the Iranian post-election protests must be sending a shiver down the spines of many a national leader.

One interesting thing is that, at the moment, these channels are used to communicate in plain text. There have been several discussions of using them securely - but none seem to have taken this to its logical conclusion. I believe it is possible to construct a straightforward method of communicating securely and relatively anonymously over the existing micro-blogging services, and have published an outline of how to do this.

Please note, I've moved the outline to this blog to allow comments.

Other interesting articles on this topic include:
* Proof-of-concept hack for encrypted direct messages on Twitter
* DSNP: Distributed Social Networking Protocol

Once again our leaders seem to have no understanding of the possibilities of the technology.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Iraq - Here comes the cover-up

Freedom of Information - Open Government - The End of Spin

Clearly all of these are just slogans, and not taken to heart in our executive. Today Gordon Brown has announced that the Iraq War inquiry will be held in private. Brown is clearly scared of what will be said. He cannot stand the scrutiny of the public. This is the action of a corrupt and morally bankrupt leader.

So, what will the outcomes of this inquiry be? Well look at the cv of Sir John Chilcot...
  • Member of the Butler Inquiry into Weapons of Mass Destruction.
  • Staff Counsellor to the National Criminal Intelligence Service since 2002.
  • Chairman since 2001, of the Police Federation, the leading research foundation on policing in the UK.
  • Member, the National Archives Council (formerly the Lord Chancellor’s Advisory Council on the Public Records) since 1999.
  • Trustee, the Police Rehabilitation Trust since 2002.
  • Director, Abraxa Ltd and NBW Ltd.

So we can expect another cover-up.

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Flu pandemics and forest fires

Just a thought...

Stopping small forest fires has been found to be a mistake. Not only does it mean that eventually there will be a really big forest fire, but also the small fires are crucial to the ecology of the wood.

Stopping small outbreaks of new viruses...

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Home education under inspection

OK - the "logic" of the Badman Report on Home Education goes like this...
There is no evidence that home educated children are more likely to be abused than the general population.

BUT

There is a risk that home educated children could be being abused, so local authority officers should have the right to demand access to the family home and inspect evidence of the education they are to receive over the next 12 months.
I wonder if this is not another example of 'nominative determinism' - that 'Badman' sees bad men everywhere...

There is, however, a very serious issue here. Independent schools are not required to register their pupils with the state, they are normally inspected by non-government organisations. Families who, for a variety of reasons, decide to educate their children themselves are identified as a suspicious and in need of state inspection.

The state seems to want to know more and more about us. Invade more of our lives, open them up for inspection and scrutiny.

Why does our government want to do this?

I think it is because our leaders and their representatives think that the public are a untrustworthy - probably unwashed and stupid. They view themselves as enlightened.

Somehow I think that the evidence demonstrates the reverse - I have much more trust in my neighbour than my MP.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Science Fiction policing - again!

The BBC has reported today that the police are looking at a portable microwave scanner to help police identify individuals carrying concealed guns and knives. This will of course sit alongside the much reported, but impossible, universal computer decoder. I enjoyed the satire on this subject on "notnews".

I encountered a police demonstration of a 'knife arch" at my local shopping centre. I walked through it and it failed to detect my Leatherman. This is a large lump of steel - at least as big as butterfly knife. So if their arches don't work, what are the chances of a remote scanner working?

How stupid are these people?

Do they think that given the new mass communication media they can run another scam like the "TV Detector Van" one? We do not need a highly interventionist, arrogant police force - we need a civil policeman on the streets. We should be proud of the fact that we have a largely unarmed police force, and build policy around that approach.

The IPCC report on the death of Ian Tomlinson will come out soon, and is likely to be either a whitewash or a damning indictment of the police. Either way is not good.

To get out of this mess, then a new contract between the state and the public is needed. There is an increasing demand for a sensible constitutional settlement which establishes our liberties. This demand will get louder over the next few months. The British are, in general, a peaceable lot, but they have their limits. Inaction risks pushing them over the brink and then this call for change will inevitably overflow.

Monday, 8 June 2009

Make your own No ifs No buts poster

You can now produce your own version of this poster.

Saturday, 6 June 2009

Vernon Coaker says I can take pictures of the police

Following the killing of Ian Tomlinson at the G20 demonstrations, I wrote to my MP about the behaviour of the police. My letter included the suggestion that taking photographs of them was more important than ever.

Eventually I got a reply from her, which included a long letter from Vernon Coaker, Minister of State at the Home Office. I have uploaded the complete letter, but here are the relevant portions:
With regards to Mr Rothwell's concerns relating to photographing police officers, there is a misconception regarding the new section 58A of the Terrorism Act 2000.
...
I would like to confirm that a person carrying on legitimate journalistic activity (including taking and publishing photographs of a police officer in the context of responsible journalism) would not be caught by this offence.
Now I would argue that blogging is legitimate journalism, so I can take pictures of the police. I carry this letter with me - please feel free to download it and use it, or pester your MP for your own copy.

Friday, 5 June 2009

Police looking at 'Future Crimes'

It would seem that the police in Camden are arresting young people to get their DNA on to the database. It is difficult to pin down the origin of this story, but The Mail has a comprehensive report. The data comes from a well placed Freedom of Information request.

Once again it would seem that the authorities are basing their actions on Science Fiction plots... Is this one the Minority Report? At to this that the police are thinking about doing DNA swabs for speeding offences and littering, and you can see where this is going.

This has got to be stopped!

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Expenses Fraud Poster

It was pointed out to me that the government seemed to have backed down on the benefits fraud campaign, so I thought we might be able to reuse all the work that had been put into the posters... Please feel free to improve on my efforts.
Update: I've put up a 'design your own poster' php script.


Sunday, 31 May 2009

Why are we not on the streets yet?

Thanks to the Spectator for this metaphor...

We hear all the established parties calling for constitutional change. However, as turkeys are unlikely to vote for Christmas, we certainly cannot trust our present elected representatives to find a valid solution.

This is just a heads-up. A warning for the establishment if you will. At the moment the people of the UK are remaining peaceably angry. I believe the public are being patient - they still trust that Parliament will do the right thing. However, I do not believe that they will maintain this trust for ever.

We need a Constitutional Convention

It needs to be elected and selected from a very broad community - not from within the parties. If Brown, Clegg and Cameron do not understand and implement this then all bets are off.

One step to push this might be to sign up at Vote For A Change.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Why I'm voting Green next week.

A week today we shall know the results of the European and some local elections. We can assume that the Telegraph will continue drip feeding revelations in the run up. The public anger shows little signs of abating - as shown by Question Time audiences, and various on-line agitation.

So what is the best outcome of the vote?

At the risk of becoming a Party Political Broadcast, it does seem that the vote with the biggest impact is Green. My logic runs as follows:
  1. The Green Party has a coherent world-view - to describe them as single issue is inaccurate, single stance might be more appropriate.
  2. Society cannot continue to grow in the way that it has done over the past centuries - exponential growth has a nasty way of catching people off guard.
  3. They are not racist.
  4. The impact of a change in voting behaviour would support the drive for constitutional change.
So, consider your vote carefully, and even if your practice is to spoil your ballot or abstain, I think that a Green vote for the European parliament is the best. You never know, it might just save the planet.

Friday, 22 May 2009

Now is the time to push for change

David Starkey on This Week last night was astonishing. His demand that Cameron call for a general election and convene a Constitutional Conference was well presented, as one might expect. I don't think that directly copying the American system is necessary the right answer, but his call is a start of a necessary process.

The Convention on Modern Liberty back in February brought forward a range of issues, and I'm waiting for the launch of Magna Carta 2.0 on June 14th. At the moment the media and the on-line communities are keeping the corruption of our parliament in the fore-front of the public agenda. At the moment this is all talk, and for now that is enough. This will not last.

There is a public fury out there.

While the media keep talking about the expenses row, then that will satisfy the public. They see the MPs suffering, and are content - even if they would rather lynch them. If the media let it slip, before the public see real change in the political system, then I suspect that fury will explode into action.

So Cameron and Clegg, get out there are talk to the grannies and the kids; the forces and the charity workers; the business man and the single mother. Get away from your minders and find out what the public really feel. Then you will realise that unless real change comes from Westminster, then it will be forced upon them.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Was the monarch likely to be unamused?

I have little time or respect for the Mail, however, I was sufficiently intrigued by their story about the monarch's opinion of the MP expenses scandal to take the necessary precautions and visit their website.
The Queen has told Gordon Brown she is worried that the scandalous revelations about MPs' expenses could damage Parliament.

She discussed the explosion of public outrage over the scandal in what is understood to have been a candid exchange of views when she met the Prime Minister for their weekly audience at Buckingham Palace on Tuesday.
The article says little more to be honest.

Now I wondered if this might have occured, and how a monarch would have detected the zeitgeist. I wrote the play in my head and now present it for public criticism. Apologies for the footnotes:

Curtain raises on Philip and Elizabeth, Philip is demonstrating rage.

Philip: "We have six hundred and fifty MPs, and most of them are a complete bloody waste of time[1]. Absolute $%&*s! They are making a mockery of you!"

Elizabeth: "Yes dear. One can't avoid seeing the front page of the Telegraph, when all one wants is the racing form."

Philip: Exit stage left, muttering.

Elizabeth: ponders for a while then rings bell.

Butler [2]: Enter stage right, bowing. "You rang your majesty?"

Elizabeth: "Yes James, I need to ask you what the servants are saying."

Butler: "Maam?"

Elizabeth: "About my MPs and their expenses."

Butler: pauses for a moment. "The servants are saying, your majesty, that your MPs are letting you down and that it is ... unfortunate."

Elizabeth: "Thank you, James, you may go"

Butler exits, curtains close.

[1] thanks to Craig Murray for this story of Philip in Ghana
[2] Royal Butlers have an interesting history... Try accused of child abuse and of theft of property.

What a way to run a country.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Solutions for a corrupt parliament

Firstly, let us assume that many of our MPs are not corrupt. The problem is that we can't easily identify them. There is no doubt that "All power corrupts...", and that the current party political system is a failure. And this is the case irrespective of how many of our elected representatives are personally moral.

Secondly, I can see no smooth route for these parties to a responsible parliament. So we need to look for a new solution. Short of getting Guy Fawkes to do the job properly, we do have a chance at the ballot box. The problem is that voting for the opposition candidate at the next General Election will merely replace one corrupt party with another. The Labour Party is playing the radical right card, to try to scare us away from thinking of alternatives. The BNP is clearly not an alternative, and UKIP are equally 'anti-foreigner'. Fortunately the wide range of neo-fascist parties should spread the vote.

So what is the alternative? The only party that I can seriously consider voting for is the Green Party, and highly recommend their Think Again video. The fact that they are thinking in a 50 year time scale is praiseworthy - as I've said before our leaders simply failures, so could the Greens be any worse? I think not.

BBC explains the house price bubble in terms of goats

Radio 4 has excelled itself with the Afternoon Play today.

The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble

Comedy by Julian Gough. The story of an encounter one snowy night on a railway platform somewhere in southern England between a young Irish orphan, Jude, and Dr Ibrahim Bihi, a Somali with a degree in economics who has made and lost a fortune in the virtual goat market. As Dr Bihi relates the story of his rise and fall, he takes the opportunity to educate young Jude in the pitfalls and the glories of market forces.

I cannot recommend it highly enough, it is a laugh out loud programme.
"...but one of the first moves by the Unicef Official with Special Responsibility For Goats was to make the goat compensation fund self-funding by hedging much of it in goat futures."
You can listen to it through the BBC website, or the text of the original story is available on line.

My only question is:

If we do get out of this current economic mess, will anyone remember it?

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

93% were not found to be terrorists


Of the 1,471 people arrested as suspected terrorists since September 11th 2001, only 15% were charged as terrorists and 7% convicted as terrorists. Another 6% were convicted of other offences. At the bottom of this article you will find a table showing the breakdown of these convictions. Some appear to be minor offences.

You can read the Home Office statistics, or the Reuters summary. I link to the Reuters article, as it would seem that few of the Churnalists have actually read the original document... You can tell this as most say 'over 1400 people', rather than 1,471, though the BBC seems to have read the statistics.

So is this a conspiracy to alienate and spread fear; or is it a cockup, in that they just keep arresting people and then thinking what they can do with them?

The fact is that in the UK we have almost nothing to fear from terrorism.

Unless they keep it in the news we would soon stop worrying about it, and realise that our elected leaders are a bunch of self-interested idiots.

A breakdown of the non-terrorist convictions...
Criminal Law Act 1977
Conspiracy to purchase ammunition 4
Conspiracy to defraud 7
Placing or dispatching articles to cause a bomb hoax 7
Criminal Justice Act 1988
Money laundering 3
Identity Cards Act 2006
With intent knowingly obtain another’s ID document 7
Other offences
Firearms Act 1968 12
Explosive Substances Act 1883 1
Forgery & Counterfeiting Act 1981 37
Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 8
Road Traffic Act 1988 7
Theft Acts 1968 & 1978 18
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 3
Criminal Damage Act 1971 & Malicious Damage Act 1861 3
Other (5) 45
total... 162

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Shame on our MPs

I think the time has come to shame our MPs over their 'expenses' claims. I propose that as many people as possible send them a personal cheque for the amount they have claimed in expenses, divided by the number of people in the constituency. This cheque should be accompanied by a letter offering them sympathy for their obvious poverty and with best wishes that the cheque will help them buy another house at the electorates' expense.

In my case, Lydna Watho claimed a total of £144,615 in 2007/8. The estimate for the constituency population from National Statistics (Excel spreadsheet 2.8MB) is 82,047. This works out at £1.76 per constituent - somewhat higher than the national average of £1.28.

This is the letter I propose to write:

Dear Lynda Watho,

I understand that the salary you are paid for the post of MP for Stourbridge is only £63,291. As this is only two and a half times the average wage for the UK, you must be very short of money. I see that you last year you claimed over £144,000 for your expenses.

Some of these expenses I can understand, but others look a bit strange. None the less, this way of bumping up MPs wages seems to not be transparent and will inevitably bring parliament into disrepute. I therefore enclose a cheque for my share of these expenses, and hope that you will use it appropriately, such as putting it towards the purchase of a second house, or something similar.

Yours sincerely,
Of course it is possible that MPs don't get sarcasm, but I think it would be entertaining none the less.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

"Legalise It!" was right

My natural inclination is to feel that laws create crime. Not just in the trivial sense that without laws there is no crime, but a more complex way. It would seem that stopping it being a crime to use drugs really does reduce drug use - as shown in this report on the Portuguese experience.

As I noted recently, there is in excess of £3B to be made and saved by legalising drugs, so why won't our politicians do it? Well, applying the cockspiracy principle it is fairly easy to understand.

Tough on crime and the causes of crime

All UK governments are worried about being seen to be weak on crime. Note, they don't really care about crime unless it becomes obvious in the press or on the streets. Thus knife crime became an issue - not because it was escalating, but because the press kept reporting cases. One upshot of this is the debacle that has occured over the classification of cannabis. Brown decided to ignore the advice and reclassify it anyway. This is an easily defensible position - drugs are bad, so making them more illegal is bound to make things better...

The real question is "How to make our leaders behave sensibly?"

Here are a few suggestions:
  • Elect more scientists and engineers; and few lawyers and economists.
  • Encourage an evidence led legislation programme, rather than one based on sound bites.
  • Support moves to devolve the legislation and management to expert committees, it might start with transport and energy.
  • Develop processes that are sceptical of the opinions of those with a commercial interest.
  • Create media that have memory. For example, where in the mainstream press is the ongoing reporting on the behaviour of the police at the G20 protest? How long before Swine Flu drops from the newspapers?
More suggestions and comment welcomed.

Monday, 4 May 2009

GCHQ is not spying on us - it's official

The Government Communication Head Quarters has just issued a press release officially stating that it is not spying on our Internet usage...
GCHQ is not developing technology to enable the monitoring of all internet use and phone calls in Britain, or to target everyone in the UK. Similarly, GCHQ has no ambitions, expectations or plans for a database or databases to store centrally all communications data in Britain.
Note the two words I've put in bold - so they might be planning store the vast majority of our internet use and phone calls on a distributed database.

This brings to mind Sir Humphrey Appleby in "Yes Prime Minister"...

'The first rule of politics: never believe anything until it's been officially denied.'

Sunday, 3 May 2009

All power corrupts...

The pure arrogance of our elected representatives seems at first to be unbelievable. It would appear that one senior Labour MP has claimed for the installation of a sauna in a second home, while others are very worried that their marital infidelities will be exposed. Mind you the last story comes from the Daily Mail, so needs to be treated with even more suspicion than normal. Then there are the second, third and fourth home incidents...

That the right wing press is exposing the flaws of members of the Labour government is not surprising; though there are rumours that Conservative MPs are equally concerned over the release of their expenses data. These are due to be published in July. This is not a new story, as far back as 2004 the £118,000 average expenses claim from MPs was causing concern.

Casting my mind back to the end of the Thatcher/Major regime I recall the 'cash-for-questions affair'. Here politicians were willing to take money in exchange for raising topics in parliament for Mohamed Al-Fayed. We could add Aitken and Archer, whose arrogance and greed led to them being jailed for perjury.

I can see two explanations:
  1. Towards the end of a long term of single party government, the MPs become increasingly corrupt and convinced of their own invulnerability.
  2. We have managed to create a system of government which is inevitably corrupt.
Occam's razor, "the simplest explanation is usually the best one", suggests the latter. It has several fewer assumptions, and fits the data better. We can hope that Sir Christopher Kelly has the balls to carry through his inquiry without giving into these people as he has promised...
Politicians must not be left to decide for themselves how the system of parliamentary allowances and expenses should be reformed, the chairman of a Westminster sleaze watchdog said today.
and for now he seems to be doing well, as Brown is in such a weak position. That said, I would not hold my breath.

The simplest explanation that I can come up with is that old adage...

“And remember, where you have a concentration of power in a few hands, all too frequently men with the mentality of gangsters get control. History has proven that. All power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely."
John Dalgerg-Acton

We clearly need to push on with the campaign for Modern Liberty.

Thursday, 30 April 2009

Pandemics - the failure of government and the media

I have spent quite a bit of time over the past few days working on the Flu Wiki, started by Jimmy Wales - founder of Wikipeadia. Many people have been involved. Trying to extract the facts from the media and government hype has been a challenge.

Now I'm not an pandemic expert, but I consider myself good at assessing sources. Understanding what the UK and international agencies are saying is hard work, and I think that the wiki now reflects this work. The aim is to present a calm representation of what is going on.

The media and governments are in a real bind. The problem is that we have probably moved into the long game with respect to this flu. It seems probable that we are going to see a series of outbreaks over the next 6-18 months. It is quite likely that the first wave will be pretty mild. If we see outbreaks in several countries, with very few deaths, then WHO will have to raise the outbreak to Phase 6. The media will go frenetic for a few days and then start saying that it was an over-reaction. The governments will respond, saying they had no choice.

The problem is that historical evidence suggests that new strains of the Influenza virus become more dangerous over time. A calm view of the progress of the pandemic will be required, and I see neither the media, nor governments, capable of maintaining this interest.

I recommend that you join us and show the real power of the new media to collect and maintain a valuable, calm resource.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

How to really cut government spending

Here are a few suggestions for cutting government spending. The reasons that no-one in government think of of them are two-fold:
  1. The are so detached from the real world that they don't know what is going on;
  2. The Civil Service would never suggest them, as it might mean cutting Civil Service and QUANGO jobs...
Here goes, if any of these are truly stupid please let me know...
  • Put out to public consultation which QUANGOs could be cut with nobody noticing. I have experience in education and if you closed Becta, QCA and OfQual tomorrow I doubt anyone would notice. I guess the situation is the same in every area of life.
  • Legalise and tax drugs. Savings of over £2B in policing and potential tax revenue of £1B-£3B.
  • Re-organise the appraisal mechanisms for schools and hospitals with peer review mechanisms and careful oversight.
  • Scrap ID Cards - £5B.
  • Do not replace Trident, saving £25B. It is not an independent nuclear deterrent, and the moral high-ground would be worth more than the 'nuclear power' badge.
  • Scrap the mis-named and absurd tax credit system, and move to a fixed payment to every man, woman and child, with a flat rate 40% tax on all income.
  • Move to self-assessment for as much taxation as possible, with heavy penalties for mis-reporting.
  • Scrap the road fund licence - and put the duty burden on fuel. Probably £500M in savings.
  • Require insurers to confirm that a car is roadworthy. Probably another £500M in savings. It should also be possible to have the insurance companies responsible to driver testing and car registration as well.
  • Does anyone know what BERR does? Scrap it.
Further suggestions please!

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

So it wasn't about our safety in the first place...

It is amusing that the thing that ends up protecting our liberty may be the credit crunch.

The idea of a centralised database of all phone calls and Internet usage has been scrapped - and though the new project will cost the taxpayer £2B, it is almost certainly less than the originally planned project.
As Simon Davies, the director of Privacy International said: “Scrapping the central database is a red herring. The real threat arises from the sheer scale of the data the government wants to collect. Once these data sources are joined together we will have lost privacy for all time.”
Mind you, there are bets going around at the moment as to how long it is until the ID Card scheme gets scrapped as well. Then, of course, they might decide to stop the Trident weapon replacement, but this has further implications - if the UK stopped being a nuclear power...

So what about terrorism?

The central communication database and the ID Card scheme were meant to defend us from terrorism - and yet they can be abandoned to save money. If they had really been about protecting us, would they not be kept regardless of cost?

Monday, 27 April 2009

Is a pandemic planned for?

The short answer would seem to be "Yes".

The longer answer is more interesting. The government has published its plans for coping with a flu pandemic - this copy is hosted on the BBC's website. I've waded through most of the 177 pages of this plan, and it seems quite sensible. It is generally honest and straightforward.

The interesting thing is that it seems to be planning for a mild form of the flu - the model is based on the lowest of the mortality rates that they considered (0.37%), and the middle attack rate (50%). This somewhat reminds me of Alistair Darling's budget - that predicted the best outcome possible for the economy, and then planned for this.

The next few days will give us some clear indications of how this outbreak is going to progress. There may be some unique features of the exposure in Mexico that led to the mortality, or the outbreak may establish itself in several locations world-wide. If this happens, then we can expect to see WHO recognise this and reflect it in increasing their alert to "Pandemic Phase 4". Reading the documentation, I suspect it is already there, as there is human-to-human infection. WHO must be waiting for verification of this fact.

Jimmy Wales has started a Flu Wiki, to collect calm neutral information about the progress of the outbreak. Please consider contributing to this, as otherwise we may end up relying on the government and the media...

Friday, 24 April 2009

Green shoots on the allotment, dead wood in Whitehall

So it is now very clear that Alistair Darling was working from a spreadsheet that was designed to look good, not to reflect reality.

I don't blame him, he is only behaving the way that any scheming, power crazed politician would. Follow his thinking...

I'll talk the economy up because:
  • I can't get told off for talking the economy down;
  • if it does recover (and he knows it probably won't), then I'm seen as a genius and visionary;
  • if it doesn't recover, it doesn't matter as someone else will have to cope with the fallout.
Likewise, he doesn't have to worry about making the cut-backs in public services, as he must know that his days are numbered. It's a bit like leaving a kipper behind the radiator for the next occupant of the hotel room. Unfortunately the whole country is being screwed by his taking this absurd path. Brown has managed to bankrupt the country.

So no wonder he's screwed the higher earners, because he wants them to be unhappy with his successors. The Tories just won't be able to afford to reverse the Income Tax changes, unless they decide to make sensible changes and abandon the Liberal Capitalist model.


Prediction... OK guess...

2010 onwards will see inflation rising to substantial levels - probably in the form of stagflation. This will be quietly welcomed by the government because it will solve many problems. Unfortunately, it will also see many of our pensioners driven into abject poverty as their meagre savings become worthless. The plan for this has already been put in place.

Let's just hope they haven't over done it - 10% for 7 years pretty much halves the value of your savings... 41% for two years does the same thing.


Technical note:

A quick and dirty way of dealing with compound interest is to divide the period percentage into 71 - and this gives you the number of periods before doubling. So, 10% inflation for seven years means that money has lost about half its value. It works well for values less than about 20%.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Bizarre Budget Balls-up

Following a discussion with Matt Wardman, and using the data from James Smith, I produced one chart showing the marginal rate of Income Tax (ignoring the now almost entirely arbitrary split between income tax and NI). The second chart shows the percentage of total income paid as tax. Please feel free to use these in any way you see fit! (CC-BY-SA as usual - if you want the spreadsheet please email me).

Note the spike to a marginal rate of taxation of 61.5% between £100k and £113k. I have no sympathy with the rich, but this result seems ridiculous. Did they plan it? My bet is that it is yet another cock-up.


UPDATE: Having graphed the overall percentage of income paid as tax it would seem that this is not a cock-up! I would guess that the majority of the extra tax raised will be from those earning between £100k and £150k. What a shame...

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

A day to bury the cock-up

So now all of the 12 'terror suspects' arrested following the Bob Quick cock-up have been released. Released without charge, but most are now likely to be deported for 'National Security' reasons.

If there is a National Security problem, then it has been caused by the arrests.

Why release them today? Well, if you were looking for a bit of spin, you might assume that the releases will be lost in the Budget coverage.

But the real problem is that the cock-up will have made many more Muslims - both in Britain and around the world - feel persecuted. This will only help those with extremist intentions to gain recruits.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

We need to aim for a sustainable society.

I've spent a weekend away from the computer, and so I've managed to read several newspapers.
  • The current moral, if not political, meltdown of the Brown administration is obvious.
  • It would seem Nick Hardwick, chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), has rediscovered his conscience, and we all now have a chance to influence the future of policing in the UK.
  • The Tories are promising to avoid sleaze if they get into power - and given the pain they have experienced in the past week or so maybe they will.
  • Climate change is being recognised as a fact by the Obama administration, and the States may start to react as a result.
Unfortunately, the Liberal Capitalist 'consensus' still rules the mind set of our politicians. The dominant idea is still that 'if we return to growth it will all sort out'. Have these people no vision at all? Constant growth is bankrupt. It is a recipe for the destruction of civilisation. A 2% per annum growth means adding the entire economy of two centuries ago each year. We just cannot continue like that - there are simply not the resources.

The only reason for worrying about the issues of policing and liberty is to set the tone for civilisation as it collapses. This society has no future unless we get away from the idea of constant growth and decides to focus on sustainability.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Surveillance must cut both ways

OnModernLiberty has a posting asking how can we bring the police under democratic control. The whole list of proposals, originally published at Centre Right by Graeme Archer ,is worth reading, but I will focus on these two:
  • Just as the storage of DNA from wholly innocent citizens is an outrage, so is the routine videoing of members of the public by police officers. This must stop.
  • In contrast, members of the public must never be prevented from recording the activities of police officers.
It is difficult to argue with these two after the G20 assaults. Had the police not been videoed by members of the public, then the two appalling assaults that have come to light, so far, would have been ignored. The many more that will come out over the next few months would never be heard about.

On a similar theme, two Austrian tourists had there photographs deleted for taking pictures of buses and bus-stations. Before you ask why they wanted a picture of Vauxhall bus station, just have a look at it - it is a remarkable piece of architecture. This is just plain stupid. Do the police have nothing better to do?

I hope that someone with better organisational skills and contacts than me takes this cause up. To help them get started here is an idea.

Let's have a National Photograph Buses, Trains and Policemen day. It would be a simple piece of mass protest and might get quite a bit of press interest.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Middle class angst: protest and poverty

Almost a year ago I wrote "Panic now - avoid the rush" in this blog. It missed a few things, but otherwise seems to still hold. I failed to predict the economic crash in detail, but so did many other people.

The middle classes are under threat.
Many of them have lost their jobs - and many more will in the next year.
Many are facing repossession of their beloved houses.

They are faced with entering relative poverty. They are also beginning to wake up the appalling attitudes that the state takes towards its 'subjects'. The highbrow press are pretty wound-up about the current policing atrocities and wider problems - with society, climate and the economy. I suspect these new dispossessed will think about becoming more active politically - and they will discover that conventional politics has nothing to offer them.

What impact will this have?

I'm not sure, but it is definitely worth thinking about. I guess that they will initially be looking to get back to their previous (unsustainable) life style. Somehow this new group of protesters need to be shown a route to a sane and sustainable future.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Where can protest go now?

It would appear that the Police are now intent on getting in early and stopping protest. I won't go into a discussion about whether this makes the UK a 'Police State' - I will suggest instead that you read the parable about boiling frogs...

What this will mean for protest in the UK?

My concern is that it will inevitably mean the formation of smaller cells of activists. Getting 114 people together means trusting many of them in advance with some degree of detail. Either this was leaked to the police, or the number of messages between known activists directed them. So the logic is to work in smaller cells.

This has huge risks.

Large groups tend to be more moderate - in my opinion and experience. In smaller groups there is less likely to be someone to moderate extreme thoughts and opinions, and dissenters may be easier persuaded.

So is this the police plan?

Who can tell, could be cock-up or conspiracy.

If you want further reading, may I suggest The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare, a novel by G.K.Chesterton, where all of the key anarchist conspirators, except one, are undercover detectives.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Churnalism and "Conspiracy to Trespass"

It is noticeable that, over twelve hours after the arrests in Nottingham, all of the reports in the press are based on a single Press Association report. It would appear that no media service has done any further research, with the exception of the Guardian, that appears to have contacted Jon Beresford, the chairman of Nottingham Against Incineration and Landfill, for his opinion. I believe this is practically the definition of Churnalism.

The next thing that needs analysis is the grounds for the arrests.
He said: "Just after midnight tonight, Nottinghamshire Police arrested 114 men and women from across the UK on suspicion of conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass and criminal damage."
This is, of course from the PA report. I have done some research and cannot find anyone who has been convicted of "conspiracy to commit aggravated trespass" - in fact I can't even find a reference to any prosecution. If you know of any please add a comment to this posting.

UPDATE: an anonymous reader informs me there is no such offence, see the comment below - there are two separate offences, "conspiracy to commit trespass" and "aggravated trespass". More misinformation from the police?

Entertainingly, before the churnalism, the top links for "conspiracy to commit trespass" took you to British canoeists' websites...

So is this another expression of the police state? Well, it is another attempt from the police to strike pre-emptively at protesters. As pointed out on the Nottingham Indymedia site, it is similar in some ways to the M1 Conspiracy case, which collapsed last year.

So...
  • Will any of these 114 potential protesters be charged and brought to court?
  • Will any be prosecuted successfully?
  • Will we ever know?
  • Or is this a new definition of a 'cockspiracy' - as a cocked-up attempt to convict someone of conspiracy?

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Watching the fear game

They keep arresting people as 'terror' suspects, with a lot of noise and press coverage. There does not seem to be the same degree of coverage for the later release of these people. For example:
The problem is keeping track of who gets arrested and then released. In my opinion, it should be job of the police to do this, but then that would not suit the current agenda of keeping people frightened, so we will have to do it ourselves. If there is a site that does this effectively already, then please let me know and I'll support it - otherwise I've registered terrorless.org.uk and am prepared to host it as a public service.

Email me now at support@terrorless.org.uk if you want to support this project.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Blears, bloggers and cynicism

Hazel Blears, as reported in BBC News, says:
Political blogs are fuelling a culture of cynicism about politics
I'd like to know which planet she's on. This is a blog, and it can sound pretty cynical - but it is not the driving force behind our failing political establishment. Neither is it down to Guido, or any of the other bloggers.

The problem is the cynicism of our elected representatives and the people who force themselves to the top of that odious group.

They have no vision beyond the next opinion poll and their second, third ...any advance?... home. This is from the Times...
Other Cabinet ministers who claimed the maximum amount to stay away from home on parliamentary business last year include Shaun Woodward, the Northern Ireland Secretary, Hazel Blears, the Communities Secretary, Liam Byrne, the Cabinet Office Minister and Geoff Hoon, the Transport Secretary.
And she has the nerve to call us cynical.

Even if we are purely being cynical, at least we are engaging with the process. Would she rather we simply believed the bullshit they are constantly feeding us?


UPDATE: 11th April 2009 19:35 - Guido Fawkes blog is down - sheer weight of traffic or revenge?

19:45 - Guido Fawkes blog is back up, must have been traffic.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Statistics on Police Assaults at the G20

After using simple sums to judge the recession, let us apply this to the assaults by the police at the G20 protests.

There must have been many more people randomly assaulted by the police.
My logic is simple, the chances of the only person assaulted by the police being the only person that died during the protests is extremely unlikely - unless he died as a direct result of the assault.

If he died as a direct result of the assault, then the police must have been using the bare minimum of force needed to kill. I say this because he died minutes later, and the evidence slipped past the first post-mortem. In this case, the police must have been led to believe that they were expected to use as much violence as they could without killing - and they got this one wrong.

The fact that this attack was so completely captured on video suggests that most of the other assaults will be as well - were we to go out and look for them, but that will be hard given the justifiable amount of coverage given to Tomlinson. Do not be surprised when reports and inquiries suggest that their were hundreds of unjustifiable assaults by the police during the protests.
We clearly need to have the legal right to take photographs of the police.

Finally, look at this picture and ask yourself what is wrong with it...


I do not believe it is possible to perform CPR while wearing a riot helmet...


UPDATE: 11th April 2009: The Guardian reports that 120 complaints about assults by police at the protests have been made to the IPCC.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Recession or not? Judge for yourself

The motor trade claimed that car sales last month were down by 30%. My, statistically unsound, survey suggests that it is probably down by more like 70%.

How did I carry out my survey?

Well my son and I were driving down the motorway yesterday, and he was getting bored. So, what we did was counted 08 car registration plates, and kept counting them until we saw a 09 plate. The average count was over twenty cars with 08 plates before seeing an 09 plate. Try it yourself.

Now for the maths...

Please note this is a simplified approach - if you want the full version email me, but it involves some fairly complex stats:
  1. Assume one-sixth of the 08 cars were sold in March 2008 (an underestimate);
  2. Assume a ratio of 1:20 for 09:08 plates (an approximation, but not a bad one);
  3. This means that there were roughly one-third as many 09 cars registered last month as in last March.
So how can the industry claim only a 30% fall? My guess is that they are pre-registering a huge number of cars and then leaving them in stock.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Why they want you to be afraid...

I do not believe that our politicians have sat down and thought this through, it's just another cockup.


But they do benefit from our fear

Jacqui Smith, on the Today programme this morning, managed about one sentence on the new 15% off vouchers for those who have been burgled. She spent the rest of the time defending her second home... So lock your doors and fear your neighbours.

The poster campaign to encourage people to snoop on their neighbours is in full flight, though you can always produce your own version.

While we fear and snoop on those who live next door, we are much less likely to recognise that our real enemies are the politicians. These are the people who leach off our efforts, while granting themselves outrageous perks and giving our money to failed industries and banks.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

The BBC has failed us all

BBC news reporting used to be trusted and reliable - I fear it is no more. As I reported last week, the BBC was gagged (or gagged itself) over the Barclays-wikieak-tax-avoidance debacle. Now, it has bottled it over the reporting of the 'assault' on an innocent bystander by the police during the G20 protests.

Compare these:
  • BBC - "Activists have called for a full public inquiry into the death of a man during the G20 protests".
  • The Times - "Most of all, it is the story of how the police wilfully criminalised and alienated 4,000 innocent people".
  • The Observer - "Police 'assaulted' bystander who died during G20 protests".
So what is going on? How has a reporting service that has been trusted throughout the world become a puppet of our ever encroaching state and corporate machinery? Is there a new Room 101 censoring their reports? Are they under a series of gagging orders as I suspected?

My thoughts - please feel free to disagree

I think they have become ultimately risk-averse, or in common parlance, have lost their balls. They are gagging themselves.

How did this come about?

I will leave you to do the research if you don't know about any of these steps:
  • The Kelly inquiry, following Gilligan's reporting, leaving the BBC reeling and uncertain about its role;
  • The BBC management decides to favour a risk-averse stance;
  • The corporates smell blood and applied pressure in all the right places (ie the BBC management);
  • The advertising downturn leads to the other media giants suffering a squeeze, and becoming even more jealous of the licence fee;
  • Meanwhile, the courts are issuing more and more gagging orders for various media stories, which are themselves unreportable because of the gagging orders;
  • There are a number of minor cock-ups at the BBC, leading up to Brand/Ross one - which was media generated, two weeks after the event...
and now the BBC is scared of everything, and the rest is just a cockspiracy. They dare not report anything that the management feel may upset the government or the corporates.

So, read the Guardian, the blogs, Indymedia and the like, and try not to be too paranoid.


UPDATE: 6th April - At last the BBC is reporting that:
Witnesses have come forward and told the IPCC Mr Tomlinson had "contact" with officers before he collapsed.
The page was updated at 16:19 GMT, Monday, 6 April 2009 17:19 UK.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

G20 Fail - another cockup

The failure of the G20 leaders to understand or hear the protest is easily understood - there were too many different issues. The fact is that what all of the protesters were against the status quo, many just identified with one particular issue that they thought was most important.
  • Capitalism - because it is so obvious that it makes people unhappy and is unsustainable;
  • Climate Change - because it would be nice to have a decent planet for our grandchildren;
  • Bankers - because some of them are extremely selfish people;
  • Nuclear Weapons - because they are clearly immoral;
  • Civil Liberties - because if you don't have freedom, what do you have;
  • and many more.
This rainbow coalition seems confusing, and it would require some thought on the part of our leaders to realise that the protesters were saying that they have got it all wrong.

Of course they can't believe that.

They aren't even really thinking about things, they are just reacting. The thing that really worries me is the solution the world 'found' to two previous major stock market crashes - the two World Wars. Our global society needs to move to a much longer term view if it is to survive.

But our leaders are devoted to their model.

The leaders of the nations believe that they can solve the problem, and yet they don't even know what the problem is - because it is the entire system that got them elected.

What we need is a system that doesn't rely on growth and power - and I just don't see our leaders going for that voluntarily.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

April Fool?

Cynthia Bower, the West Midlands Stategic Health Authority boss — meaning that she was meant to have some level of supervision over Stafford Hospital at the time of the deaths, now has a new job. Cynthia is now head of the new Care Quality Commission. This new Care Quality Commission is replaces the Healthcare Commission that reported on the “death wards” at Mid Staffordshire Trust

Mind you, neither West Midlands Stategic Health Authority or the Healthcare Commission noticed anything was wrong until two researchers from the LSE told them.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

Ambiguous, if not agressive, Police posters

The UK Home Office has released a series of three posters, which read:
  • "We'd like to give you a good talking to"
  • "Anything you say may be taken down and used as evidence"
  • "You have the right not to remain silent"
These are supposed to be part of the advertising campaign for the new "Policing Pledge"(PDF - 88K).


They may be intended to be clever and ironic, but...
They do seem to be rather aggressive, at least at first glance. They take their style from the "Keep Calm Carry on" series of World War II posters, available from Barter Books, of which my favourite is shown here.

I have this poster, and plan to display it in my front window - it may be possible to subvert this poorly targeted campaign for the cause of liberty.

Friday, 27 March 2009

The first rule of gagging orders

The BBC reported early this morning on Radio 4 news, I think it was at 6:30am, that Lord Oakeshott used parliamentary privilege to expose where documents detailing the Barclays tax 'avoidance' scheme can be found online (ie wikileaks). This has now dropped from their reports and is to be found no where on their web site (as of 7:30am). It is, however, this on the Guardian's site.

Are we to presume that the frantic efforts that Barclays has made to avoid government funding was to prevent anyone looking at the books?

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Counting paper, versus counting bits...

I would like to hear from anyone with a technical background who can defend the idea that electronic voting systems are a good alternative to paper based ones. Yes, I know there are some highly theoretical defences of the technology, but honestly...

It was reported by McClatchy that "Most electronic voting isn't secure" - appearing last month before a U.S. Election Assistance Commission field hearing in Orlando, Fla., a CIA cybersecurity expert said:
"You heard the old adage 'follow the money,' " Stigall said, according to a transcript of his hour-long presentation that McClatchy obtained. "I follow the vote. And wherever the vote becomes an electron and touches a computer, that's an opportunity for a malicious actor potentially to . . . make bad things happen."
In a separate report, in Bruce Schneier's respected blog, we hear:
the first documented case of election fraud in the U.S. using electronic voting machines (there have been lots of documented cases of errors and voting problems, but this one involves actual maliciousness)
So, the CIA can do it in any other country, and in the USA it takes five Clay County officials, including the circuit court judge, the county clerk, and election officer.

Many things are stupid, but electronic voting is high up the list. I wouldn't say that Governments wanted it because they could fiddle it, I think they just don't know enough to realise that it is inherently insecure.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

The Database State stutters

It will have come as a relief to many that the ContactPoint database has been 'halted' - whatever that means. I would hope that the UK Government has learnt its lesson from this latest IT cock-up.

OK, I know that was a silly hope.

How can we convince our leaders to be sensible? Here is a quote from the Times On-line article:
All of this will continue to happen as long as the Government continues to think that IT contracts and databases can be fully effective and 100 per cent secure. Some problems cannot be fixed with computers. The Rowntree report has the following advice for ministers: “If you think IT is the solution to your problem, then you don’t understand IT, and you don’t understand your problem either.”
So we need to education our leaders.

OK, I know that was a silly thought.

The worry is that these fools will eventually manage to push through some sort of integrated system that links all our data. They tried with Clause 152, and we managed to stop them; they will try again, and we need to be vigilant. We need to make a concerted effort to keep this in the forefront of debate.

So, make a noise about this - we are allowed, for now, to do that.

Pointing out the errors of the ContactPoint database may be a useful arguement to prevent the proposed identity database.

UPDATE

The coverage in the Telegraph is quite interesting.
The automatic flow of data into ContactPoint from sources such as the child benefit database has also been halted, to prevent further duplicate files [sic] being created.
Just how bad a job did EDS do in designing this database? How much have they been paid? Does anyone in government understand what a database is or do they think of some well known desktop application. Do you think that Gordon Brown, or indeed any member of the cabinet, knows what 'referential integrity' means?

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Taking DNA from existing prisoners...

As you may have noticed I tend to be on the side of the individual against the State. However, I was somewhat surprised to discover that, in the UK, DNA has not been taken from existing prisoners.

Why not? You may ask...

Well, given the release of Mr Sean Hodgson after 27 years in prison for a crime which he did not commit, we may have an answer. First, the facts...
  • since April 2004 almost everyone arrested in England and Wales on suspicion of involvement in any recordable offence has had their DNA taken;
  • anyone in prison, but arrested before this date is not on the DNA database;
  • they are considering collecting these prisoners' DNA on release.
So why not take DNA from the existing long stay prisoners?

Given this extreme miscarriage of justice, it may well be that the State is not collecting their DNA because it would mean holding evidence that proved some of them innocent...

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Let's stop e-Borders

The stated purpose of the Government's e-Borders scheme is to:

...transform our border control to ensure greater security, effectiveness, and efficiency. To do so, we will make full use of the latest electronic technology to provide a way of collecting and analysing information on everyone who travels to or from the United Kingdom. Other technologies, particularly biometrics, will ensure we identify people securely and effectively.
Hmm. The press coverage in the past few days has been less than positive. See the Telegraph and the Times. NO2ID, Privacy International, yachting clubs, Eurostar, Eurotunnel and ferry companies all have major issues with this scheme.

All of your travel out of the UK will be recorded and stored for 10 years. The potential uses of this data are considerable. They are already stopping people accused of crimes, well that sounds reasonable. But what about:
  • school aged children during term times;
  • those claiming benefits;
  • people with outstanding parking tickets;
  • any other mashup with the data the Government holds on you.
And somehow they are claiming that by telling who is not in the UK they can increase security in the UK. I don't get that.

We stopped Clause 152, let's stop this.