Tag Archives: Politics

Over 50 political accounts deleted in Facebook purge | UCL Occupation

…it is a scandalous abuse of power by Facebook to arbitrarily destroy online communities built up over many months and years. Ultimately, the anti-cuts movement in the UK will need to start organising through self-hosted, open source platforms to avoid reliance upon the very corporate power structures we are aiming to challenge.

via Over 50 political accounts deleted in Facebook purge | UCL Occupation.

Precisely. Don’t use privately held social media sites to host campaigns. Link to them, use them to gain support, but don’t trust them and don’t be surprised when the rug is pulled.

Of course, ISPs and hosting providers may be forced to shut pages down as well, but at least you control the content that way.

Facebook is not the open web. Facebook is a shiny enclave, brightly lit with advertising banners, overlooked by guard towers containing snipers. They have no obligation to support you or your campaigns. They just want your data.

What I Think About The Monarchy

Big discussion in the office about the wedding. Mine, obviously.

Also lots of talk about the wedding that took place today.

I’m English (by birth, I guess I should now write), and I find the idea of the monarchy sickening. While the huge majority of people in the UK support it, there is a growing belief that it should be abolished.

There are many arguments for why the monarchy is a good thing, but most of these can be easily debunked, and all of them are overshadowed by the simple archaic injustice of having a person given wealth, privilege and power just because they are born into a particular family. To me, it’s wrong, and should be changed. And in a lot of cases, the argument really just comes down to that.

My Mum was a big royal-watcher. I was waving a plastic flag in the crowd when I was five and the Silver Jubilee procession came through town. Since then the thought has been growing that this isn’t right.

Here are some of the arguments, and my responses. I’m no political scholar, or experienced debater, and this list is not complete. You could say, “Ah yes but…” to most of these points. It’s just my take, as has evolved over the past few years.

They help tourism.

People do come to the UK to visit the famous Royal sites – but how much of that is to see a particular person or family? France has no Royal Family, but it still has amazing palaces and sites. There is a long list of royal tourist attractions that do not depend on having a functioning monarchy. Not to mention the endless list of attractions and institutions which have never depended on the monarchy.

They don’t have any real power.

Oh yes they do. It’s vague, and rarely used, but there are various ways in which the unelected monarch can exercise power.

It’s tradition.

Tradition is rarely the best reason to do anything. A civilization progresses, a lot of traditional things are being left by the wayside, and rightly so. I hope that in the future, we can look back and say of the UK monarchy, “That was wrong, glad we stopped it.”

They help trade.

Andrew Windsor supposedly helps with trade delegations, except that recently leaked documents show that he is more of a liability, and he has a bit of a dodgy reputation which could damage UK interests. So no. And don’t get Prince Philip started on foreigners.

They work hard.

So do nurses, soldiers, engineers and everyone else. Working hard is not a reason to be given extraordinary privilege, or to avoid having that privilege taken away. William Windsor is a search-and-rescue pilot – good for him. His grandmother does a lot of visiting and public appearances – but this is only useful because she is the monarch. Her mother visited a bomb site in the 1940’s – woop-te-do. Ditto charity work – it’s almost like they should be applauded for selflessly doing stuff they’re expected to do.

A colleague told me that William and Kate asked that wedding gifts be in the form of charitable donations. That’s good, but I think this was the only reasonable way to do it. If they hadn’t, there would have been an outcry (albeit one that was drowned out by cheering).

What’s the alternative?

The exact alternative? To be decided. But the current situation is wrong, and should be changed. That’s what it comes down to.

Would you want President Cameron or Premier Blair?

Some people might. That’s democracy for you. It would help if AV went through. I don’t want charismatic figureheads running things – I want an efficient government that uses evidence to decide policy. Perhaps we could keep a figurehead, but remove any trace of power from them.

But you’d get a politician in charge.

What the hell does that even mean? Rather a politician with experience of the system and making deals than someone who was born into the right family and is used to getting their way in everything.

Change would cause chaos.

There would certainly be a lot of change that would take some time getting used to, and it would have to be done in stages. It need not be “chaos”, and anyway, the current situation is wrong, and should be changed. I can’t imagine people running through the streets screaming, “But who’s in charge?!”

Don’t like it? Leave.

Irrelevant. The current situation is wrong, and should be changed. There are many people in the UK who think the Monarchy is a relic which should be shut down. Should they all leave? Should this political movement be ignored, or worse, stamped out?

Yes, I now live in the US. My view is now the common “outside view” that people get when they leave their country of birth. The nauseating sugar-coated coverage of the Royal Wedding that’s everywhere in the US puts one fact into sharp relief – if someone tried to establish a Monarchy in the US, it would never be accepted. People would simply not stand for constitutional hereditary privilege. Yes, there is a class gap, and there are wealthy dynasties with power and money, but that is also the case in the UK.

Put it another way – if there were no Royal Family in the UK, and one family with money and influence tried to step forward and claim that they were in charge, and the political system had to be changed to make them the top dogs, they would be laughed down.

Another colleague put it well. Americans love the UK monarchy, and all its history and glamor, but they would hate to live with the consequences.

I wish the couple well, and hope their marriage is a long and happy one – not because of their position or status, but because they are people too. But no matter how magical the occasion, and how true and pure their love, the fact remains that they are part of an institution which is based on hereditary privilege, religious discrimination, sexism and racism. No amount of pomp and circumstance, or cheap soap-opera dramatics will make up for that.

EFF to San Francisco Entertainment Commission: Don’t Turn SF into a Police State | Electronic Frontier Foundation

EFF Logo

The Electronic Frontier Foundation joined civil liberties and privacy groups in criticizing a proposal from the San Francisco Entertainment Commission that would require all venues with an occupancy of over 100 people to record the faces of all patrons and employees and scan their ID’s for storage in a database which they must hand over to law enforcement on request. If adopted, these rules would pose a grave threat to the rights of freedom of association, due process, and privacy in San Francisco.

via EFF to San Francisco Entertainment Commission: Don’t Turn SF into a Police State | Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Public meeting tonight – I would definitely go if I wasn’t flying off to get married tomorrow. What is it with these government entities suggesting new sets of laws which are shown to be unworkable if given the slightest bit of analysis? And don’t say “straw man” to me.


Notes from the post-Republican underground – Dear Democratic base, part II

The Republicans are at war with the people of the United States: they are at war with minorities, they are at war with teachers, they are at war with unions, they are at war with women, they are at war with anyone under 55 and anyone whose income is under $100,000.

via Notes from the post-Republican underground – Dear Democratic base, part II. « Emily L. Hauser – In My Head.


Celebrate, Peasants

“I got married last year. Apart from my family and friends, no-one else gave a tuppenny shit. I felt this was perfectly reasonable.”I did not feel the need to label them ‘refuseniks’ or write lengthy newspaper articles asking why they don’t have souls.”

via The Daily Mash – Armed troops to ensure enjoyment of royal wedding.

It’s a little annoying that the wedding of Prince Charles’ only son and Weighty Katy (or whatever her nickname is, she looks within the normal BMI range to me) takes place so soon after my own wedding.

Cassie’s Dad has joked that if the two events had coincided, he may not have been able to make it to his daughter’s wedding, because it was likely he would be on the royal guest list.

It would be worse if I still lived in the UK, I guess. At least here when people ask about what I think of it, I get to explain that I am a Republican. This is usually greeted (at least in my peer group) by looks ranging from shock to bemusement, until I point out that I’m only a Republican in the UK sense, as opposed to a Monarchist. That is to say, I believe that the UK should be a complete democracy, with no hereditary head of state or sovereign.

There are lots of arguments for and against a UK monarchy, but my feeling that it comes down to a simple question of fairness. Should one family be allowed to run things (directly or indirectly) just through accident of birth? I know they have little power, but the structures set up around them ensure true democracy is impossible.

Not everyone responds to being told a Brit is a Republican the same way. At birthday drinks for toy collector and noted Anglophile Friend Brian last weekend at the Cat & Fiddle in Hollywood, I got talking to a couple who seemed nice until I told them I worked on the California HSR project – at which point they switched into TDE-believing “I run a business so deserve preferential treatment” libertarian “bike lanes get in the way of my car” mode, railing against the railway, and stating they were fiscal conservatives (meaning “tax breaks and spending cuts”) like that was supposed to impress me, to which I shrugged and moved away, wanting to enjoy the evening. Also in attendence was the Director of Cassie’s alma mater, the London Film School. Cassie tells me that he fell into debate with them, and really got heavily into the Marx with them. At one point he told them, “Of course, I’m a Republican”. One of them stood up and raised her hand for a high-five. He pointed out the differences between UK and US Republicanism, and I wish I’d been there at that moment to shake his hand. As it was I was enjoying a Boddingtons on West Sunset Boulevard.

Anyway. My wedding is first, and it’s the most important thing on my mind. After that, the most important thing will be my marriage.

My Own Research

I watched some of Bill Maher’s show on TV recently, in between sitting on the balcony hoping for a breeze and catching the odd stray alate that had flown in the open kitchen door. I don’t normally watch it because he annoys me, but one of his guests was Andrew Breitbart, a right-wing pundit. He talked the usual shit and made me angry, parroting the usual climate change denial wormery.

People who refuse to believe scientific evidence often use the phrase, “my own research”:

I’ve done my own research and I don’t think AGW is real

You should do your own research before you decide whether to vaccinate your children

So I googled the phrase “done my own research”, and found this excellent post about this very subject. I commented:

Good piece – I agree with you on both these counts. I googled “done my own research” to get here, because it makes me laugh as well. Do climate change deniers go to the South Pole and do ice core measurements, or launch satellites? Do anti-vaccination activists run drug trials? No, they use Google and read bias-confirming websites.

It’s ironic that Maher was taking the side of science and the climate change on his show on this occasion, because he has a rather unpleasant record of being a paranoid anti-vaccination conspiracist.

When anti-vaccination celebrities like Jenny McCarthy and Bill Maher say things like, “Do your own research before making a decision”, what exactly do they mean? Run your own drug trials? Experiment on people? Google “vaccines and autism”?

The “do your own research” thing is often very close to the “figure it out for yourselves, wake up sheeple” thing. For example, Jim Corr out of charming sanitized-Irish-folk-music-combo The Corrs uses several key phrases on his archetypal NWO conspiracy theory wesbite:

  • “My intention is not to sow fear, but understanding” (CRIB TO REEL THORTS: if you read my stuff, you will “wake up”)
  • “As you will discover with a little research…” (CRIB TO REEL THORTS: “…such as googling and watching grainy YouTube videos with slowed-down-zoomed-in bits”)
  • “I have been studying what is referred to as the New World Order…” (CRIB TO REEL THORTS: “I have been googling stuff and reading bias-confirming websites and self-published books”)

Another trope that crops up a lot is the “need for a debate”. There needs to be a debate. Why isn’t there a debate? Are you afraid of a debate?

Debate doesn’t change anything except opinions, and opinions can be wrong.

Imagine a live, televised debate between X and Y. X is a prominent and articulate climate change “skeptic” (read: denier). Y is a climate scientist, and climate change “believer”. During the debate, X makes several “gotcha” points, raising the UEA email scandal, the hockey-stick curve, sunspots etc. Y can debunk most of these, but in the atmosphere of live debate, X is able to score more points, and as a result, people walk away from the debate saying, “X won that debate. I don’t think I believe what Y says anymore.”

It makes no difference to the evidence. Even as the debate was raging, researchers and scientists all around the world were gathering data, and the vast majority of it supports the existence of anthropogenic climate change.

The thing is, science and the scientific method is a debate: a slow, step-by-step debate based on assertion and refutation. Someone puts forward an idea, creates experiments and models to find evidence to support or refute it, and publishes. Others then pile on, examining the theory and the data. If it works, it’s allowed to stand. For now. If not, it’s torn apart, and held up as an example. Later on, further data may help confirm the theory or help disprove it. It’s a process, not a big book of answers, and it’s always changing. As someone said, “Science doesn’t know everything. If it did, it would stop.”

As the US approaches the elections, there are a lot of ads and leaflets around which make claims about numbers of jobs, amounts of money, and actions by people. It should be easy to prove or disprove most of these claims, but in the end, you vote for who you want – never mind the evidence.

I can’t vote here, so I would ask you not to vote for Meg Whitman, because she would definitely cut funding for the California High-Speed Rail Project, despite the huge future job losses that would cause. She lives down the peninsula in one of the communities who are opposed to the project, so she’s bound to jump on that issue at some point. I have no evidence for this, but you can tell – it’s common sense.

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today, That We Went After The NSA

Had a fun and social time at the Electronic Frontier Foundation 20th Birthday party at SF’s famous DNA Lounge last night. Met up beforehand with foodie and antiques fan Adam at Tu Lan Vietnamese restaurant, which is a tiny grubby place, with amazing food at incredible prices. It was the first time we’d met after being that most modern of things, “Internet Acquaintances”, for nigh on six years, via Monkeyfilter, WTFIWWYP and so on. Great to finally meet.

After stuffing ourselves we went over to the venue, where the earlier VIP event was still winding down. But they soon let us proles in, and we had a look round the space. The DNA Lounge is pretty popular amongst the geeky set in San Francisco, and there are several club nights there I might take a look at. Then again, I haven’t been to a club proper in years – and an Industrial night called “Meat” may not be the best place to start.

I got to meet lots of cool people. Adam is friends with the EFF’s Rebecca from way back, a symptom of what he described was the incredible way that in SF, there only seems to be 3 degrees of separation (is that why lots of guys in San Francisco are big fans of The Three Degrees?). He introduced me, and it was nice again to meet someone who I follow on Twitter. Hearing my accent, Rebecca in turn introduced me to Veteran Of A Thousand Cyberwars Danny O’Brien, who was working the room like a pro after his on-stage antics, and he seemed pleased that I was wearing my old “Elite” NTK tshirt. We had a chat about the old NTK days, how it started, why it stopped, and why it’s no longer needed. I contributed a couple of tiny things to the site “back in the day”, including the Paunch tshirt of which I am not really that proud.


Here’s a couple of Flickr sets from the evening, including clips of the hilarious “Legends of EFF” theatrical production, which told the story of the EFF, from the first case of the US Secret Service raiding an RPG manufacturer because they thought it was a cybercrime cell, through the incredible antics of AT&T and the NSA (just a block away from my office!), to the court battles over the Broadcast Flag.

Great evening, good fun, good cause, and it’s spurred me on to dump the evil (and under-performing) AT&T and get a better phone – so much of the social whirl seems to be driven by iPhones and Androids, and my battered Centro just doesn’t cut the mustard anymore. Plus I want a new toy.

Discovery Institute Abuses DMCA To Censor Critic

After posting a video taking apart the arguments of The Discovery Institute’s Casey Luskin (who appeared on Fox News without an opposing view – fair and balanced my arse), Youtube user Donexodus was hit with a cynical DMCA claim from the Institute to take it down, citing copyright infringement. The twisted nature of the DMCA means that it was immediately taken down despite the source video being the property of Fox News, and it clearly falling under the “fair criticism” rules.

Here’s a replacement video. The Discovery Institute are a creationist tribe who dwell in Seattle, and peddle their blinkered blind nonsense to anyone who will listen, which includes Fox News.

And here’s a call to action:

Vacated Sockets And Hope

I had my follow-up with the nice Dr Eckstein this morning, where he told me that all was well in the jagged splintered holes in my jaw. The nurse praised me for my post-op home cleaning and so on, but stopped short of patting me on the head and giving me a lollipop. Probably not good practise for a dentist. Perhaps some crudités? They gave me a syringe device for squirting warm dilute mouthwash in the crevices to clean them out, and sent me on my way.

Before I left for the appointment, most people in the office were gathered around the TV usually reserved for the company project showreel. Some had been there, wrapped up in their dress shirtsleeves, since the office opened, some 1 hour before. I went to watch the new President’s oath and speech, and it was impressive. The dude can orate.

It was a great speech, and I picked out a few buttons he pushed:

  • a nod to non-believers, but still in that “in addition” sense, hmm
  • civil rights
  • science!
  • the environment
  • we’re great the way we are, but we still may need to change
  • greed was a factor in the crash

Good luck to him and to America. It’s nice to be here. 

In other news, my apartment is carpeted (not my choice), so I had to buy a vacuum cleaner. I went the value route and got a <$100 model, which I hope will suck. Amazon delivered it to my office on Friday, so I’m taking home tonight for an evening of getting to know each other.

Yes, But Who Is He?

While driving back to LA from Las Vegas after Thanksgiving, a process which took a lot longer than usual due to the holiday, we tried listening to the local AM stations for traffic news. Along with sparse info along the lines of “This traffic is normal for Thanksgiving Weekend, suck it up” we also heard a right-wing phone-in show getting themselves in a right froth about Obama, and how his right to be President is in question. The host and her guest were both blithering on about how they had read all the information, educated themselves about the situation, and were still not happy about the validity of an Obama Presidency. They claimed that if the evidence they wanted could be shown to them, they would be happy, and would shut up and go away.

Sure you would.

This article from David Weigel in Slate describes the extent of the conspiracy about Obama’s citizenship. This fringe movement, based around earnestly hysterical blogs, petitions and talk radio shows, has all the hallmarks of the other dumb conspiracy theories*, including the classic “Despite all the talk, some questions still remain unanswered.” Answer these questions, and ten more will spring up, usually at a tangent to logical discourse. And on it goes, like a child asking “Why? Why? Why?”

In the radio show, caller after caller came on to ask some weird question or make some crazy observation, to the enthusiastic interruptions of the hosts. Once, a guy came on to dispute what was being said, and was effectively told he wasn’t welcome because he didn’t agree. The host cut him off before saying smugly, “I have the button”. It was like the old James Whale late-night TV show, only marginally less sickening.

Philip J. Berg, who filed the first lawsuit asking for Obama to be ruled ineligible, also ran cases for 9/11 Truthers (this is true). He also has a case pending in the US Supreme Court about the Earth being flat. The globe we see in pictures from space is just effect of a fisheye lens, apparently, and the oceans are kept in place with magnets (this is not true, sadly).