Website refresh

I thought it was about time I updated the website. I’ve moved it to a new, more reliable server (hopefully, no more of it regularly disappearing off the Internet every week!), put it behind CloudFlare to improve performance, and, finally, changed the design. It’s still running on WordPress, and eagle-eyed readers will spot that it’s now based on the default ‘twentyseventeen’ theme, but I’ve tweaked it a bit to look more the way I want it to.

All I need to do now is actually write stuff more often!

Christmas creativity needed

I was in Morrisons this afternoon, and noticed that they’ve already started playing Christmas songs. Modulo the usual complaint that the third week in November is too early, it occurred to me that we really need some new Christmas songs. It’s OK to be playing all the traditional favourites, but the problem is that all we seem to have are the old traditional favourites. The Christmas single used to be a staple of the musical season, but bands seem to have largely given up on them in recent years.

Personally, I blame Simon’s Karaoke Show. By creating a guaranteed Christmas number one that’s there on the back of pure marketing hype, not merit – or even unpredictable random popularity – it’s put other artists off trying to aim for the traditional year-ending chart topper.

Maybe the forthcoming demise of the show – it’s widely rumoured that this year will be the last, and not a moment before time – will open up the opportunity for a genuine battle for the Christmas number one, just like we used to have. If so, then maybe there’s an opportunity there for some of our current best-selling artists to come up with something suitable festive.

I’ve got nothing against the likes of Slade, Wizzard, Jona Lewie or Ella Fitzgerald, but they’re hardly contemporary. I reckon that Ed Sheeran or Adele could come up with a cracking Christmas tune. Heck, I’d even put up with something by Justin Beiber or One Direction, if it’s at least original and fresh. So come on, musicians, how about taking up the challenge for Christmas 2016?

Judge David Cameron on his record

The Huffington Post published a graphic attacking David Cameron which has become something of an Internet meme.

So, let’s look at what Cameron’s record actually is on the things it mentions…

“One million people using food banks” – because the law has changed to make them easier to run, easier to supply and easier to advertise. Presumably people complaining about this would prefer the food banks not to exist, and their customers to go without.

“Largest A&E department closure in NHS history” – because the current medical consensus is that concentrating A&E provision into fewer, but larger and better-equipped, units creates a significantly better overall outcome for patients. This is evidence-led policy, even though it may be counter-intuitive (and that’s precisely when it’s important to follow the evidence instead of public opinion). Incidentally, not that the moaning minnies will have stopped to think about it, this is simply a continuation of policy set by the previous Labour administration.

“Hundreds of thousands of new insecure and zero hours jobs created” – along with hundreds of thousands of new full time and secure jobs. More jobs means more jobs of all kinds. And any job is better than no job.

“Bankers’ bonuses protected” – or, to be more accurate, government not interfering in commercial contracts of employment.

“Debt higher than under Labour” – which would have been the case under the current administration, whatever its colour. David Cameron never promised to reduce the debt over the lifetime of this parliament, merely to reduce the deficit. Which is under way.

“Botched Royal Mail sell-off cost taxpayers £1bn” – OK, I’ll give you that one. Although that was overseen by Vince Cable, of course.

“3.6 million disabled people targeted by spending cuts” – is simply a false statement. There has been no such targeting.

“Introduction of the bedroom tax” – which, of course, doesn’t really exist as there is no such tax. And I personally support the real policy of reducing the cost of social housing by only paying for the space that people actually need.

“Midwives strike for the first time in 133 years” – which is a good argument for banning strikes in essential health-related services.

“£3bn tax cut for the top one percent of earners” – along with £billions of tax cuts for everyone else.

“3.5 million children living in poverty – and expected to rise” – a figure defined in relation to median earnings, so it actually increases as the median salary rises. Which is one of the daft things about using relative measurements of poverty.

So yes, I’m happy to judge David Cameron on his record.

I’ve got a song going through my head…

Right! now
Oh oh oh oh oh oh…

I am an alarmist
I am a pessimist
Don’t ’bout a lot
But I know what I’m scared of
I wanna destroy confidence

‘Cause I think we’ll be all diseased
In the city

Ebola in the UK
It’s coming sometime, maybe
Into Heathrow on a dodgy airline
Your future dream is a manic scream

‘Cause I think we’ll be all diseased
You’re gonna have to flee

How many ways
To infect you and spread?
Some of the best, some of the rest
Outsiders are the enemy, outsiders are anarchy

‘Cause I think we’ll be all diseased
So run away from me

Is this the IFPI?
Or is this the BPI?
Or is this the NHS?
It’s epidemic in the US
And very soon in our country
Another council committee

I think we’ll be all diseased
And I think we’ll be all diseased
With EBOV
And I think we’ll be all deceased
No rest in peace

Just in case there are any irony-challenged individuals reading, the above is a parody of the tin-foil hat brigade’s response to Ebola, and not a reflection of my own views.

Meanwhile, in another reality…

September 2014. Boris Johnson selected as Conservative candidate for Uxbridge in 2015 general election.

September 2014. Scotland votes for independence.

May 2015. UK general election returns a Labour majority. Ed Miliband takes up residence in Number 10. David Cameron resigns as Conservative leader.

July 2015. Conservative party elects Boris Johnson as new leader.

March 2016. Scottish independence day. All Scottish MPs cease to be MPs.

April 2016. Labour government, now a minority administration due to the loss of Scottish MPs, loses confidence vote. Ed Miliband resigns as Prime Minister and calls general election.

May 2016. UK (minus Scotland) general election returns a Conservative majority. Boris Johnson takes up residence in number 10. Ed Miliband resigns as Labour leader.

September 2016. Everyone wakes up from a bad dream.

Or do they?

Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-O2

It’s Christmas day and I’m blogging about porn and censorship on the Internet. How sad is that? Anyway, there have been a lot of comments on social media about how various websites have been blocked by O2, including those by prominent campaigners in favour of filters.

Now, I’m not in favour of compulsory filtering either, for all sorts of reasons, as I’ve made abundantly clear in the past. But O2 is not the villain here, and the supposed over-blocking is nothing of the sort.

All the blocks that I’ve seen reported are blocked under O2’s “Parental Controls” setting. That is a whitelist-only setting, with all but a handful of specially selected sites blocked by default. Customers who use it have to explicitly add all other sites that they want to be able to access. The fact that a site is blocked by this setting does not in any way imply that it has been judged unsuitable for children, and in particular it does not imply at all that it contains porn or other unsavoury material. All it means is that it hasn’t been added to the whitelist.

As far as O2’s system is concerned, the setting which matters is “Default Safety”. That’s what you get if you enable filters and allow O2 to make the choice for you of what’s accessible. And the sites which are blocked by that are mostly the ones you’d expect: porn, gambling, alcohol, etc. I’m sure there are some sites which have been wrongly classified in that setting, but so far nobody has reported any.

O2 are also doing one important thing absolutely correctly, and I applaud them for it. Their unfiltered option is labelled “Open Access”. It’s not “Adult”, or “Explicit Material”, or anything which gives the impression that the only reason you’d choose it is because you want to look at dodgy stuff on the Internet. Instead, it’s labelled precisely as it is: “open”. Which is the normal state of the Internet, and what a large number of customers will prefer even if they have no desire to look at porn.

So, by all means, campaign against compulsory filtering. But don’t blame O2 for doing their best to meet customer demand at both ends of the scale, by offering a whitelist setting for those who want it, a basic filtered option for others and a properly labelled unfiltered option for everyone else.

Anyway, I’m off to watch Doctor Who. Happy Christmas, everyone!

What’s special about it?

The decision by parliament not to support immediate military action against Syria has led to much speculation about how this will affect the so-called “special relationship” we have with the US. Most of which is utter guff.

The special relationship between the UK and the US isn’t based on politics. It’s based on history, culture and geography. The US was founded by settlers leaving England. When the US fought for independence, it was the UK that they fought against. England gave the US its language, its legal system and its concepts of democracy.

The UK’s history as a leading maritime nation also resulted in trans-Atlantic trade and communication links between the UK and the US that easily surpassed any links between the US and other European nations. The UK and the US between them are the world’s leading suppliers of popular culture: movies, music and TV. There are, quite simply, more common ties between the UK and the US than between either of them and any other country in the old or new world respectively.

All of that is established fact. You can’t change history just by disagreeing about the present. So why should it matter that the UK has decided not to join the US in a military adventure? Did it damage the special relationship when the US initially stood back from getting involved in WWI? Or WWII? Or that the UK didn’t get involved in Vietnam?

So why all the hand-wringing over the fact that, for once, the UK has decided not to do what the US wants? If some politicians (on both sides of the Atlantic) are under the impression that the special relationship means that when the US says “jump” we ask “how high?” then, frankly, the sooner they are disabused of that idiotic notion the better. The special relationship will be a whole lot more special without being used as an excuse for riding roughshod over democracy.

Those Facebook government requests, in full

As reported in the media, Facebook has published data on the number of requests it has had for user information by government agencies around the world.

The full list is online at Facebook, but it’s on a page that you need to be logged in to view. So, for the benefit of people without a Facebook account, here’s the list in full:

Data Requests

Country

Total Requests

Users / Accounts requested

Percentage of requests where some data produced

Albania 6 12

83 %

Argentina 152 218

27 %

Australia 546 601

64 %

Austria 35 41

17 %

Bangladesh 1 12

0 %

Barbados 3 3

0 %

Belgium 150 169

70 %

Bosnia and Herzegovina 4 11

25 %

Botswana 3 7

0 %

Brazil 715 857

33 %

Bulgaria 1 1

0 %

Cambodia 1 1

0 %

Canada 192 219

44 %

Chile 215 340

68 %

Colombia 27 41

15 %

Costa Rica 4 6

0 %

Croatia 2 2

0 %

Cyprus 3 4

33 %

Czech Republic 10 13

60 %

Denmark 11 11

55 %

Ecuador 2 3

0 %

Egypt 8 11

0 %

El Salvador 2 2

0 %

Finland 12 15

75 %

France 1,547 1,598

39 %

Germany 1,886 2,068

37 %

Greece 122 141

54 %

Hong Kong 1 1

100 %

Hungary 25 24

36 %

Iceland 1 1

100 %

India 3,245 4,144

50 %

Ireland 34 40

71 %

Israel 113 132

50 %

Italy 1,705 2,306

53 %

Ivory Coast 4 4

0 %

Japan 1 1

0 %

Kosovo 2 11

0 %

Lithuania 6 7

17 %

Macedonia 9 11

33 %

Malaysia 7 197

0 %

Malta 89 97

60 %

Mexico 78 127

37 %

Mongolia 2 2

0 %

Montenegro 2 2

0 %

Nepal 3 3

33 %

Netherlands 11 15

36 %

New Zealand 106 119

58 %

Norway 16 16

31 %

Pakistan 35 47

77 %

Panama 2 2

0 %

Peru 13 14

15 %

Philippines 4 4

25 %

Poland 233 158

9 %

Portugal 177 213

42 %

Qatar 3 3

0 %

Romania 16 36

63 %

Russia 1 1

0 %

Serbia 1 1

0 %

Singapore 107 117

70 %

Slovenia 6 8

50 %

South Africa 14 9

0 %

South Korea 7 15

14 %

Spain 479 715

51 %

Sweden 54 66

54 %

Switzerland 32 36

13 %

Taiwan 229 329

84 %

Thailand 2 5

0 %

Turkey 96 170

47 %

Uganda 1 1

0 %

United Kingdom 1,975 2,337

68 %

United States 11,000 – 12,000 20,000 – 21,000

79 %

This is pretty much how it appears on the Facebook page, except that their table is prettier.

What the government should have said in response to David Miranda’s detention

There’s been a lot of comment on the web about the detention at Heathrow of David Miranda, the partner of Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald. Whether questioning him was necessary or not is still a matter of debate, but it seems to me that the government has been caught a bit on the back foot by events. If I was writing the press release on behalf of the coalition, here’s what I’d say:

The decision to detain and question Mr Miranda was an operational matter for the police, and the government had no input into that process. We were kept informed throughout Mr Miranda’s detention, but we did not seek to influence the actions of the police in any way.

Clearly, it would be inappropriate to comment on an operational matter while aspects of it are still in progress. However, the incident has led to widespread public concern over this legislation introduced by the previous Labour administration. We will, therefore, be reviewing the law as soon as possible in order to ensure that it better serves freedom and justice for both British citizens and visitors to the UK.