Archive for the 'Politics' Category

The end of the free internet?

Tuesday, April 9th, 2019

I’d usually stay a million miles from Spiked Online, being as it is, according to Wikipedia, it was/is

founded in 2001 as a successor to Living Marxism and has been characterised as libertarian “with a moderate right wing bias”

and is generally according to me

A nasty, libertarian, right-wing biased shitrag

(I have little time for libertarian policies, as generally they seem to be adopted by people that hate taxes and rules, right up to the point where they stand to benefit, at which point they’ll gladly use public services, and libertarian right-wing is basically a way of saying “fuck you all, I’m alright”)

I was hugely surprised, therefore to find a very sensible article upon its virtual pages.

It’s been announced in the last few days by our ever-competent government that moves are afoot to start the move towards a British equivalent of the Great Firewall of China to make the UK

to be the safest place in the world to go online, and the best place to start and grow a digital business.

One of the measures available is quoted as

measures to block non-compliant services.

White paper here

So here we are: another step towards “only the sites we want you to see”. We already have the poorly-implemented porn block on its way, with age verification by Mindgeek; curiously enough the owner of some very popular porn sites, and now there’s more potential for what amounts to censorship.

This is a dangerous way to proceed, and somewhat at odds with the claimed aim of

A free, open and secure internet.

and

Freedom of expression online.

Charity Begins at Home

Monday, March 11th, 2019

So, it is a matter of days after I post a long post defending Walsall council, and having remained uncharacteristically quiet for a long time, Councillor Mike Bird has returned to form and made some… odd comments about charity shops. From the article (referring to the discretion a local council has over 20% of business rates):

Cllr Bird has suggested removing any discretionary exemption from charity shops, potentially forcing landlords to develop the sites into something more profitable.

also:

The charity shops obviously are endemic because once they’re in there then the owner doesn’t have to pay any rates. So therefore there’s no incentive for that individual to develop that site of that shop into something meaningful.

Now, as I said recently, shops are a commercial enterpise, a product of the capitalist system, and on that basis, the market decides what works. The charity shops obviously benefit from low, or none-existent business rates, and are staffed by volunteers at times, so they don’t need to turn over a lot to be viable- their costs are lower.

Does Cllr Bird really think there will be queues of people looking to invest their money in a retail shop in a town centre that is already visibly struggling (and has many empty units already)?

That’s before considering all the factors pointed out by the Charity Retail Association.

I really think that as a responsible authority, and indeed as a landlord of a large shopping centre, they really need to welcome any business they can; we might want nicer, more profitable, classier shops, but this is Walsall, and an occupied shop is better than an empty one, and charity shops have other benefits.

Bloody Useless Council

Monday, March 4th, 2019

Against my better judgement, I’ve become more active on Facebook. Under a pseudonym. I’ve got drawn into local groups, and there’s a predictable theme in many of them, something that reminds me of an old Alexei Sayle joke that I can’t find a Youtube clip for.

I’ve been using this toilet for 6 weeks and no-one from the council has been round to flush it for me.

The theme is largely “it is all the council’s fault”, where “it” could be anything from bus price rises, homeless and beggars, crime rates, to empty shops, to anything fucking else, to be honest.

I’m all for taking Walsall Council to task, but let’s be realistic here. People imagine that the council is rolling in cash from “all our council tax” (oh, apart from the proportion of that spent in overseas aid, apparently, despite that being proved as bollocks from the accounts), people think the council can approve or deny planning based on a whim, and that they control rent and business rates.

So then. Here we go:

1) Buses. Buses are run by private companies. National Express, mostly, round here, with a few others- notably Arriva in Staffordshire. They set the fares, and buy, maintain and run the vehicles. The bus stops are maintained by the West Midlands Combined Authority.

2) Homeless People. There’s no council housing. Thatcher sold it off, and councils haven’t been able to build houses for years; the only social housing gets built by housing associations. You can thank the Conservative government’s austerity measures and the bedroom tax for the fact that social housing is in short supply and expensive, and for the cutting of social care too,so the council’s powers are very limited. As to taking over empty buildings- as they don’t own them (see below), why should they take them over? If you owned a empty office lock, would you want it taken over and used as a shelter, or would you want the opportunity to rent it at a market rent?

3) Empty Shops. Shops shut down because there’s not enough money being spent to sustain them, plain and simple. The reason that you don’t have enough shops, or the wrong sort of shops (fast food, charity shops, pound shops etc etc), or no shops at all is called capitalism and market forces; if there’s not enough money coming in, then they can’t pay the rent and rates and their staff. (see 4 below) The shops that do survive survive precisely because people use them, enabling them to make money. You might want a nice focaccia bread and olive shop in Park Street, but unless it stands a chance of making money (hint: it doesn’t), then you’ve got fuck all chance of that. Retail is in decline and changing everywhere. There’s fewer butchers and bakers because we all buy from the supermarket; there’s fewer record shops because of Amazon, iTunes, and Spotify; the list goes on.

4) Rent and Business Rates.

The council should cut the rents and rates so shops could afford it.

The council do not own most of the shops. They do own the Saddler’s Centre (and they will in all likelihood be criticised for buying it, in the future, when the shops are all empty), but that’s about all. The majority of shops are owned (and therefore have rent set) by property investment firms like London & Cambridge. Business rates are set by Central Government, so no chance there, either. Also:

They built all those new shops at [location] and they’re all empty. Waste of council money.

Whoever built it, it sure wasn’t the council.

5) Begging. Again, the cuts in social care, the reduction in addiction support programs, and the basic all-round selfishness of our society means that some poor fuckers have nowhere else to turn. It’s funny how the people most offended by this are so often a close intersection with the bastards that voted for it.

6) Planning.

They shouldn’t allow planning permission for [x] because there’s too many of [x] and [optionally] I don’t like [x].

Typically, X will be a fast-food outlet or a takeaway.

Thankfully, councils don’t have the power to refuse planning on the basis that you don’t like something.

They granted planning for [y] and that ruined [z]

[y] might be an out-of-town shopping centre, for example.

Since national government reduced council’s powers on planning, they couldn’t refuse a reasonable request, so the developer of [y], if he’s clever, can just do it. All that troublesome red tape that we got rid of, see? Red Tape. That stuff that stops people doing exactly what the fuck they like, regardless off the impact on others? Better off rid of it.

I’ve not done an Evil Overlord post for a while. Evil Overlord 22: people who mindlessly blame the council for stuff they aren’t responsible for get to man the phones there for a few months.

It feels wrong to be be defending Walsall MBC, but I just wish people would get their facts straight and perhaps just think.

Independent Thought

Tuesday, August 14th, 2018

I picked up this article on Unherd via Twatter, bemoaning the loss of bus services in rural areas, and the general loss of non-profitable bus services, especially outside the capital.

It’s a good article, and you can see the impact, even around here, with a good, sensibly priced bus service. As I’ve commented before, some close-by areas in Staffordshire are now unreachable out of peak hours, even if we have gained a service to Lichfield.

Now, my blog was kind-of focused on my restricted opportunities for going on the piss, but also mentioning less well-off workers: the people that are out working for a living but can’t afford the considerable expense of a car.

The article mentions those, and adds another category: pensioners who either can’t afford a car, or indeed can’t drive (perhaps they never learned, perhaps medical conditions prevent it) even if they can afford it.

All of these people are being hit by reduced services and increased prices as subsidies are reduced and the non-profitable routes are stopped or limited. Getting to work, the shops, the job centre, medical appointments etc, and yes, the pub, suddenly gets harder, more expensive, and more time-consuming. People are getting isolated.

All of this because a route doesn’t stack up on a balance sheet. The real social cost of poor public transport acn’t be measured in cash terms. The private-sector model has its place, but it’s not here.

Password Authentication Protocol

Sunday, December 3rd, 2017

I’m not known for my love of politicians: I generally hold the opinion that anyone looking to become a politician should automatically be prevented from doing so. Politiciana, I feel, are generally out for themselves, are often involved in debates that they’re ill-qualified to speak in. I know there’s exceptions, I know some politicians are direct and work hard to represent their constituents.

But I also know that there’s also terribly ignorant people in the House of Commons.

Great example, this week. Damien Green is under investigation because a large quantity of e-smut was found on his PC.

Now, let’s be clear: I don’t care about the actual porn. Nothing was illegal, so if he feels the need to knock one out at at work, I don’t see the problem provided he’s alone and has sufficient tissue to hand, if you’ll forgive the expression- if indeed it was him viewing the pr0n.

And there are the problems. First of all, porn sites are famed for introducing malware, so somewhat ironically, if you go looking for Internet sex, you stand a higher chance of encountering a dose of the e-pox.

Secondly, there’s a question that it was him. Nadine Dorries was quick to leap to his defence:

and was then followed by a truckload of MPs saying similar things. Jumping over one another, in fact, to say just how shit they are.

So, essentially, it’s common practice for MPs to share their passwords with all and sundry. MPs that represent us, store our personal data, and make the laws of this country, showing an apalling lack of good practice. For a really good, in-depth analysis of just what is wrong here, take a look at Tim Turner’s Information Law Blog.

In the meantime, just take a while to think about these people who are too important to take your data seriously.

Breaking the System

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017

I’ve been in hospital again. Less involved than last time, but another reduction in mobility that sees me off work for a short while, and reduced mobility for a while. I’m grumpy too, because I can’t get out to the pub, and that dancing program is on.

What I’m going to whinge about this time is the running of the NHS at the moment, no, in fact, the systematic disassembly of the NHS by the current government.

Something happened that I’m fundamentally opposed to. Not opposed enough to refuse treatment, obviously, but something that sticks with me.

I was treated in a very nice Spire private hospital, just up the road in La-di-dah Little Aston. I hadn’t suddenly discovered untold riches, and got private insurance that would actually cover my fucked-up body, or tested the limit on my credit card by paying for it myself- the NHS paid. Very nice it was too, pleasant, seemingly unstressed staff, a comfortable private room, decent food after the op. Free parking for my other half to collect me (though there’s a question over if that’s a good thing or not at a large site).

This annoys me in two ways:

Firstly, I would imagine that Spire made some cash out of NHS budgets.

Secondly, NHS hospitals could be more like this. Where it really counts. When I was last in, and the time before, my care was great. Staff were really good, but stressed, and overworked. I didn’t get that feeling in Little Aston- when I was in a bed that I’d bled over, it was changed with little fuss in about 10 minutes flat, simply because the staff had time to do it.

Despite what many would have you believe there’s no reason why the NHS couldn’t be like this. Much of the stuff we’re told about our “failing NHS” is manufactured, precisely to allow the privatisation-by-stealth I’ve played a reluctant part in, and it’s just plain fucking wrong.

If we didn’t have an NHS, I would not be here today. The circumstances of my birth not far off (not far enough!) 50 years ago meant that without the NHS I’d have died, simple as that: my family were not wealthy (not that poor, but not wealthy). I have family and friends who have been saved more recently than that. These same people would, like me, be told to go and fuck off by private health insurance.

Let’s not split hairs here: the objective here is to make money for the rich, and price anyone who isn’t rich out. Stop funding it properly, farm bits out to the private sector (because they’re always more efficient, huh?), preparing the ground to privatise the whole fucking lot. After all, it worked a fucking treat with the railways, buses, and energy, didn’t it- they’re all perfect examples of a well-run private-enterprise system working cohesively and efficiently for everyone’s benefit. The increased competition keeps prices down and efficiency up so well, and there’s no cases whatsoever of near-monopoly funded by the taxpayer to line the pockets of wealthy fucking twats.

If you think you’ll be fine because you’re healthy, you’re young, or you have a good job, take a good hard think: Life can have a good go at fucking all that up and showing you up to be a fool. If you have a hint of a prior health problem, the insurance companies will be off into the sunset before you know it. If you become ill, and lose that job, you’ll be unable to pay the premiums anyway.

Our NHS is one of the genius strokes of government policy (a decidedly rare thing), and we’re allowing it to be wrecked.

I do have a fairly decent job. I pay a reasonably large amount of income tax each month. You know what? I’ll willingly pay more if that is what it takes to fund the NHS properly, and if you don’t agree, you’re a fucking short-sighted idiot.

Bell Ends

Monday, August 21st, 2017

[Title shamelessly stolen from here]

So then, Andy wonders why i have no faith in the political system.

As part of refurbishments, Big Ben in the Queen Elizabeth Tower at the Houses of Parliament is to be silent for a while, and some of our wonderful representatives are crying, holding vigils and demanding that it doesn’t happen.

Politicians. Once more trying to change things with words because they don’t have the ability or talent to do anything else. Do they really think that the bell would be silenced if there was a viable alternative, given that we have to accept it’s huge symbolism?

We’re in the middle of one of the biggest shitfests changes since WW2. We have crises in care and welfare. We have the most inept Prime Minister for many years, and we have people still homeless from the stunningly mismanaged Grenfall Tower.

Our Prime Minister grasps hold of the really important issue, of course.

Are our representatives in the Commons really so inept or ignorant that this is what they consider a valuable use of the time we pay them for? It’s clearly evident that they know fuck-all squared about health and safety law, engineering, historic building restoration, or horology, but they’ll just make demands like a bunch of toddlers anyway. It just goes to show how impractical and out-of-touch they are.

*shakes head, wanders off*

Watching

Monday, May 29th, 2017

I happened across a tweet from CPMG last week,and retweeted it (amd, indeed, responded to it with both a reply and by completing the survey (which I’d encourage you to do). The conversation that resulted can be viewed on twitter by clicking the first link, but is also screenshotted below:

Screenshot 1 of 2- click to embiggen.

screenshot 2 of 2, click to embiggen.

An interesting conversation, rapidly joined by Livestream Data Systems, who, in their own words, provide backend systems for ANPR. Almost as if they were ready, watching for replies, huh?

They made the very valid point that a number plate (VRM) is public data, publicly visible all the time. This is true, of course, but it’s trivial for people to associate my number plate with me- especially should the “they” be law enforcement, who can look it up in seconds.

Continuing that, it’s pretty trivial to track me by combining ANPR with a few other things. A thought occurred to me as an example: I completed the survey from the holiday flat we rented. I checked the public-side IP of the broadband connection, and it geolocated to within a few miles of my location (I was in Torquay, it said Dawlish). So, taking only public or non-personal data along with potential ANPR data (the camera locations are not public) I follow CPMG on twitter. I completed the survey from a location near Torquay having clicked through from Twitter (this data could be obtained from server logs).

CPMG probably don’t have many followers on the English Riviera, as they’re a Midlands unit.

Now search the ANPR data for cars travelling between the Midlands and the South West. Add in from the server logs that I used Linux, google a bit, and you have me, most likely. You know where I am, what car I drive, and you have my opinions on ANPR, without having to apply for a court order or similar. Analyse ny tweets, dig over this blog and there’s plenty to learn (of course, what I tweet or post here I’m voluntarily supplying, thank fuck I don’t use Facebook).

That might sound a little paranoid, but it’s an example, and it’s why we should all remain vigilant and wary. I don’t have anything to hide, and you could therefore take the view of “who cares”, but are you comfortable with being tracked?

There’s going to be a lot of pressure in coming times for greater surveillance, especially given recent terror events: but one thing to consider here is that if a terrorist is willing to kill or injure many people with explosives, I don’t think using false plates and/or changing vehicles is going to bother them, whereas the majority of us use one or two vehicles regularly, so it’s far easier to track ordinary citizens than the criminals. Most of us voluntarily carry a tracking device (smartphone), use bank cards: do the bad guys do that?

I’d like to make it clear I fully support CPMGs work, keeping the road safe for us all, but I’m a bit concerned about data use (and misuse) here, and this isn’t the first time. It’s the work of seconds to reveal misuse of anti-terror legislation for things as trivial as school catchment areas, and there’s prior cases of ANPR misuse. That’s even before we consider that companies like Livestream- a private company- may be providing the back end and processing for the national network (I don’t know exactly who does), and therefore we could be trusting their systems and employees with this data.

A quick Google search revealed a supplier of services to councils who apparently encrypt ANPR data with SQL.

Errrm?

Oooh- what’s that black helicopter overhead?

Thirteen

Sunday, January 1st, 2017

This blog has just passed it’s thirteenth birthday, and we’re at the start of a new year, a year that’s to be honest, brought little to be happy about in many ways: the loss of many celebrities (and for once, the word celebrity is actually valid here), and, perhaps more importantly for some of us, the unexpected loss in November of Steph Clarke, who should be an inspiration to anyone wanting to do stuff in their community. I was lucky enough to meet her a few times, and her energy and commitment to help people was just unreal. A sad loss to the local community, both online and off. I usually use this post to say how strong the online community is (which is still true), so it’s sad to lose such a big part of it. There’s an ongoing drive to do something good, however small, in her memory- #stuffforsteph, which I’d urge anyone to take part in.

2016 has, generally, been pretty poor- personally, nothing major at all- but we’ve had the idiocy of Brexit, with the corresponding rise of hate crime, a quite spectacularly inept prime minister, and the election of a dangerous halfquarter-wit in the US. In the computing world, we saw the IP Bill pass into law, so someone besides me knows you’re reading this, and the Digital Economy Bill is on its way. The future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.

Looking forward to 2017, I’d like to wish everyone a happy new year: let’s hope for a better one: as Brownhills Bob said online recently, we can at least hope that Trump might fall out of an aeroplane and hit Farage on the way down.

Simple Productivity

Wednesday, May 27th, 2015

There’s been an article on the BBC website that’s caught a bit of Twatter attention, with a few people saying “right on”, notably homeworkers and people working for themselves.

I can see their point, and some of the article’s point, but really, given the author’s credentials, I’d expect a bit better: as per usual for BBC Magazine articles, it’s an over-simplification, and a lot of puff, and air, and light on facts, analysis, or thought. Maybe that’s the problem; articles here are generally low on content, high on bollocks, and perhaps his recent book would make a better read, though a recent Guardian article is, IMO, similarly flawed, and making assumptions.

If I’m interpreting the articles correctly, one of the things they’re saying is that if you’re detached from the direct production environment, your job has become worthless: i.e: If you’re making something or directly providing a service, you’re valuable, if you’re backroom staff, you’re not: so a postman is valuable, the person that administrates his salary isn’t. This is both (a) wrong, and (b) a rather odd thing for an academic (who surely is a long way from a direct production process) to say.

Perhaps I have that wrong, but one very clear message from the article is that:

The average British worker spends 36 days a year answering work emails. London workers in particular receive close to 9,000 emails each year.

and the inference seems to be that that time is wasted.
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