Thursday, March 29, 2007

Voluntary Code Free Zone

More rubbish from the BBC (here) on the need for a voluntary code for blogs.

Here are the two logos that I'm hoping people will adopt and put on their sites to signify their attitude towards the concept of a voluntary code.

Here is the main one:

And for those with a more sensitive disposition:

You can read more about the voluntary code here as reported by the BBC.

I have had some requests for a high res version of the middle finger logo. You can get that here. Please drop me a line if you decide to use any of these, so I can add it to my list of adopters.

Update: James Higham of Nourishing Obscurity has figured out the HTML for posting the polite badge. I can't figure out how to post the HTML to the blog entry without it turning into the image, so if you want the code then just email me.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Another Mii Round

Three more for you. I have to get out more!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Mii A Party Leader?

One of the features of the new Nintendo Wii is the ability to create your Mii. This is the digital representation of you in the game and online. Loads of websites have sprung up that focus on famous Miis. I've taken a crack at the UK political party leaders here:

Feel free to make your own political mii online here and I will post the best ones that are emailed to me. There will definitely be a prize for the winner.

Update: By popular request, here is Nigel Farage. I've given him the funny wine-purple colour from the UKIP website as his top. Unfortunately, he's quite tough to do as he has few distinguishing marks:

Update 2: This article has been linked to by Danny Finkelstein at Times Comment Central and so I've whipped up a Mii for him.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Crazy Ken And His Fantastic Police State

I'm not sure if this is an actual sign (I found it here), but if it is then we should be afraid.

Bush Bikes Through Bomb Drill

This from Think Progress:
“Dozens of high-level officials joined in a White House drill [today] to see how the government would respond if several cities were attacked simultaneously with bombs similar to those used against U.S. troops in Iraq. … President Bush went on a bike ride [this] morning and did not take part in the test.” (HT: Huffington Post)

It's just not surprising any more. Not long now...

Friday, February 23, 2007

Straw Tries To Out-Hain Hain

First it was the ridiculous call from Peter Hain to make city workers give up two thirds of their bonuses to charity and now it is Jack Straw calling for reduced ticket prices at football matches (here). As the Deputy Leadership contest for the Labour party gets fully underway, it is tugging the Blairite mask from the faces of the major contenders. Populist to the core and natural state interventionists, their response to everything is control and regulate. Has Jack Straw never heard of the free market? Football clubs, as businesses, should be allowed to charge whatever they like. If we then choose to pay those prices then so be it. Why does the government need to be involved? Is football "a basic human right that needs protecting"? Obviously not, so leave it alone.

Imperial Press Conference

Shock Deputy Leadership Announcement

In an announcement that is sure to stun his colleagues, Des Browne, Secretary of State for Defence, has revealed that he will not be running for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party. Political analysts and pundits will be shocked by this given the announcement by the rest of the Cabinet that they intend to run. A senior source close to Browne was overheard saying, "What a little shit. I don't understand why he doesn't just put his hat in. Even that fucking Blears is running." In other news, government ground to a halt today due to contrasting interviews being given by senior politicians who are looking to a future after Blair.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

White House Attacks Bloggers

There is a story here on Think Progress that appears to have been missed in the UK. Tony Snow, the White House Press Secretary, led a discussion with the MSM about how blogs and bloggers were affecting their role.

Tony Snow, White House Press Secretary:
“You’ve got this wonderful, imaginative hateful stuff that comes flying out. I think one of the most important takeaways is — it’s the classical line — not only should you not believe your own press, you probably shouldn’t believe your opposition blogs either.”
Watch the whole thing at Think Progress.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Extent Of Blair's ID Card Intrusion Revealed

In a response to the 27,000 people who have signed the petition on the Downing Street website opposing the ID card scheme, Tony Blair has revealed the extent to which our civil liberties will be slashed. You can read the full letter here. Blair's tone has become ever more defensive and I couldn't help but go through it paragraph by paragraph. Apologies for the length of the post it is almost Unity size.

The petition calling for the Government to abandon plans for a National ID Scheme attracted almost 28,000 signatures - one of the largest responses since this e-petition service was set up. So I thought I would reply personally to those who signed up, to explain why the Government believes National ID cards, and the National Identity Register needed to make them effective, will help make Britain a safer place.
Yes it's a big number. Not in the road pricing league, but a great response to an online poll. Good to see that the knee-jerk response isn't to reconsider the legislation, but rather to explain why it will go ahead anyway. As an aside, does anyone believe that Tony wrote this "personally"?

The petition disputes the idea that ID cards will help reduce crime or terrorism. While I certainly accept that ID cards will not prevent all terrorist outrages or crime, I believe they will make an important contribution to making our borders more secure, countering fraud, and tackling international crime and terrorism. More importantly, this is also what our security services - who have the task of protecting this country - believe.
I simply do not think that the views of our security forces are the most important factor to consider for an issue like this. Security services by their nature will always push for greater and greater powers. As a democracy, it is vital that the government hold these demands in check and prevents an overmighty police/security force. If we follow Blair's argument then we would allow all of the powers available to the former KGB if security forces thought this would prevent "international crime and terrorism".

So I would like to explain why I think it would be foolish to ignore the opportunity to use biometrics such as fingerprints to secure our identities. I would also like to discuss some of the claims about costs - particularly the way the cost of an ID card is often inflated by including in estimates the cost of a biometric passport which, it seems certain, all those who want to travel abroad will soon need.
Is it really wrong for us to assume that government figures that relate to large-scale technology projects will come in way over forecast? What evidence does he have that they can deliver projects on time and on budget?

In contrast to these exaggerated figures, the real benefits for our country and its citizens from ID cards and the National Identity Register, which will contain less information on individuals than the data collected by the average store card, should be delivered for a cost of around £3 a year over its ten-year life.
Comparing the ID card to a store card misses the entire point about compulsion. We can choose whether to have a store card or not. I also have more faith in the commercial pressures that would prevent Tesco abusing our data than the government as we shall go on to see in the rest of the letter.

But first, it's important to set out why we need to do more to secure our identities and how I believe ID cards will help. We live in a world in which people, money and information are more mobile than ever before. Terrorists and international criminal gangs increasingly exploit this to move undetected across borders and to disappear within countries. Terrorists routinely use multiple identities - up to 50 at a time. Indeed this is an essential part of the way they operate and is specifically taught at Al-Qaeda training camps. One in four criminals also uses a false identity. ID cards which contain biometric recognition details and which are linked to a National Identity Register will make this much more difficult.
There is not a system in the world that cannot be cracked. Terrorists and criminals will hack these systems and they will ultimately not be secure. The biometric passport has already been hacked and you can read more about this here.

Secure identities will also help us counter the fast-growing problem of identity fraud. This already costs £1.7 billion annually. There is no doubt that building yourself a new and false identity is all too easy at the moment. Forging an ID card and matching biometric record will be much harder.
But again, not impossible.

I also believe that the National Identity Register will help police bring those guilty of serious crimes to justice. They will be able, for example, to compare the fingerprints found at the scene of some 900,000 unsolved crimes against the information held on the register. Another benefit from biometric technology will be to improve the flow of information between countries on the identity of offenders.
This is an astonishing admission. The government is effectively going to trawl through the database and match old crimes to the information that we give them. Worse than that, this data will most likely be shared with all EU countries along with our DNA under an agreement discussed here last week. Mistakes will be made and innocent people will be implicated in crimes that they have not committed. This is a significant and unprecedented invasion of privacy. Where is the protection against crimes that might be put on the statute books by future governments that can be "solved" using the database? This information will be shared across government departments and ultimately abused. What additional information will be added to the card over time? How will this data be used?

The National Identity Register will also help improve protection for the vulnerable, enabling more effective and quicker checks on those seeking to work, for example, with children. It should make it much more difficult, as has happened tragically in the past, for people to slip through the net.
ID cards could speed up this process, but at what price to the rest of us? The government could start by fixing the mess that exists within the existing system. Why don't they know where paedophiles are today?

Proper identity management and ID cards also have an important role to play in preventing illegal immigration and illegal working. The effectiveness on the new biometric technology is, in fact, already being seen. In trials using this technology on visa applications at just nine overseas posts, our officials have already uncovered 1,400 people trying illegally to get back into the UK.
So why not just store biometric data for people who are trying to enter the country? Why do you need it for all of us?

Nor is Britain alone in believing that biometrics offer a massive opportunity to secure our identities. Firms across the world are already using fingerprint or iris recognition for their staff. France, Italy and Spain are among other European countries already planning to add biometrics to their ID cards. Over 50 countries across the world are developing biometric passports, and all EU countries are proposing to include fingerprint biometrics on their passports. The introduction in 2006 of British e-passports incorporating facial image biometrics has meant that British passport holders can continue to visit the United States without a visa. What the National Identity Scheme does is take this opportunity to ensure we maximise the benefits to the UK.
Maximise the benefits? Nobody else is pushing this hard against civil liberties. The US will certainly not go there and have sensibly forced the issue back onto governments such as our own. In any event, do we need to blindly follow companies and other countries or should we chart our own path using the principles of freedom and privacy that have been ours for centuries?

These then are the ways I believe ID cards can help cut crime and terrorism. I recognise that these arguments will not convince those who oppose a National Identity Scheme on civil liberty grounds. They will, I hope, be reassured by the strict safeguards now in place on the data held on the register and the right for each individual to check it. But I hope it might make those who believe ID cards will be ineffective reconsider their opposition.
That is not the aim of this letter. Anybody who was opposed to ID cards will not have been appeased by these weak arguments. Most of the most powerful arguments have not even been addressed.

If national ID cards do help us counter crime and terrorism, it is, of course, the law-abiding majority who will benefit and whose own liberties will be protected. This helps explain why, according to the recent authoritative Social Attitudes survey, the majority of people favour compulsory ID cards.
I'm sure that this is true, but how were the questions asked and who was surveyed. I'm sure I could construct polling questions that could deliver the opposite result. In any event, isn't it Tony Blair who always tells us that public opinion shouldn't matter (e.g. Iraq) and that he makes his decisions based on principle.

I am also convinced that there will also be other positive benefits. A national ID card system, for example, will prevent the need, as now, to take a whole range of documents to establish our identity. Over time, they will also help improve access to services.
I would rather have a range of documents from a variety of sources than one piece that could be systematically abused.

The petition also talks about cost. It is true that individuals will have to pay a fee to meet the cost of their ID card in the same way, for example, as they now do for their passports. But I simply don't recognise most claims of the cost of ID cards. In many cases, these estimates deliberately exaggerate the cost of ID cards by adding in the cost of biometric passports. This is both unfair and inaccurate.
The government has no credibility on this point.

As I have said, it is clear that if we want to travel abroad, we will soon have no choice but to have a biometric passport. We estimate that the cost of biometric passports will account for 70% of the cost of the combined passports/id cards. The additional cost of the ID cards is expected to be less than £30 or £3 a year for their 10-year lifespan. Our aim is to ensure we also make the most of the benefits these biometric advances bring within our borders and in our everyday lives.
blah, blah, blah.

Yours sincerely,

Tony Blair
Bugger off.

Monday, February 19, 2007

I've Jumped On The Terry Kelly Bandwagon

I was sent to Councillor Terry Kelly - Socialist by Tom Paine and Not Saussure. It is absolutely brilliant and you should definitely check it out. He is a self proclaimed "man under siege" on his blog. He writes tremendous amounts of drivel and there are a number of other bloggers who love to wind him up. Who knew that such people still existed?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why Not To Live Alone

There is a story from Reuters here that is incredibly scary. Read the story and then think about all the things that can happen in a year.

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Police called to a Long Island man's house discovered the mummified remains of the resident, dead for more than a year, sitting in front of a blaring television set.

The 70-year-old Hampton Bays, New York, resident, identified as Vincenzo Ricardo, appeared to have died of natural causes. Police said on Saturday his body was discovered on Thursday when they were called to the house over a burst water pipe.

"You could see his face. He still had hair on his head," Newsday quoted morgue assistant Jeff Bacchus as saying. The home's low humidity had preserved the body.

Officials could not explain why the electricity had not been turned off, considering Ricardo had not been heard from since December 2005.

Neighbors said when they had not seen Ricardo, who was diabetic and had been blind for years, they assumed he was in the hospital or a long-term care facility.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Government Pledges Our DNA To The EU

It was, I suppose, only a matter of time before the European Union got its hands on our extremely intrusive DNA database. The Blair government doesn't give a damn about civil liberties and has now actively set about creating an EU-wide database that gives other governments access to our records. A large number of people on the database haven't even been convicted of a crime.

I have said it here before and I will say it again, we are evolving into a police state. The most worrying thing about the sharing of data across borders is the fact that DNA will become part of the passport application in 2009. DNA data can today be used for relatively few applications, but that is not to say that current scientific research won't yield greater uses. Feel afraid.
David Davis, the shadow home secretary, said: "The decision to share broad categories of information across the enlarged EU is deeply troubling. The information includes personal data, it is not limited to criminals and there are no reliable means to guarantee the safeguards on the use of that information by criminals gangs or those not entitled to use that data."

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Citizen Hain

Not so much a lurch as an opportunistic hop to the left by arch idiot Peter Hain. Not content with telling city workers to donate two thirds of their bonuses to charity or face a big fight, he has now suggested that television licences and bus passes should be means tested and given free to "the poor". If that doesn't contribute to a poverty trap then I don't know what will. Would we then need a sliding scale of television licence fees as people move out of poverty? It strikes me that a better move would be the removal of the subsidy for the BBC altogether. Then there would be no television tax and Eastenders could be paid for by advertising revenue. Do you see how less state intervention can actually be empowering Peter?

Let Peter's Westminster Popular Front come together for this "war on inequality".

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

More BBC Waste

The Telegraph has picked up on the fact that the BBC has spent £700,000 or the equivalent of more than 5,300 household license fees on the redesign of the BBC 2 idents. They look lovely, but what a ridiculous amount of money flushed down the drain. Do they really need to spend this money at a time when they are downsizing? Would a commercial enterprise spend this money?

To add insult to injury, they were filmed in South Africa due to cost and the weather!

The Tip Of The CCTV Iceberg

Is it surprising that CCTV cameras are being abused by staff at CCTV centres? Not really. There's an article in The Sun today that outs Tom Muff, who couldn't be more appropriately named, as spying on women using the police screens that he is paid to watch.
A POLICE CCTV operator has been carpeted — after security camera footage showed close-ups of the boobs and backside of a woman in the street.

Shocked detectives found a 20-minute sequence of saucy footage while checking the film during a probe into an assault.

The screen was filled by shots of a scantily clad woman’s breasts, bum and legs as she was “followed” by cameras in Worcester.

The Sun story, as you can imagine, is focused on the more salacious side of the incident, but there is a much larger issue at stake. Anybody who claims that this type of ubiquitous surveillance is only troubling to those of us who've done anything wrong is crazy. This is an occasion when an individual abused the system, but in the long-run there is no reason that the government can't undertake similar or worse abuses of our rights. Dizzy wrote yesterday about us not assuming that future governments will be as incompetent as the current one and he is absolutely right. This technology in the hands of an efficient state machine rather than a horny operator could be terrifying.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Russian Soldier Prostitutes

This story here on the BBC website is too bizarre for words. Apparently, young soldiers based in St Petersburg have been forced into prostitution. If that wasn't bad enough, one was beaten so severely that he got gangrene and had to have his legs, and wait for it... genitals amputated. Are you kidding me? Is this common?

Richard Dawkins Interviewed On CNN's Paul Zahn Show

This is not the best interview ever, but as usual Dawkins is extremely eloquent.

Petty Victories In The Blogosphere

In the US, the big blogging story today is that a blogging member of staff for Presidential candidate John Edwards has been forced to resign. This has been heralded as a huge coup for the Catholic groups that set out to achieve this. It's yet another example of the influence of blogging on mainstream politics. The key question though is what it has really achieved? For some it will be proof that their contribution to the blogosphere has been recognised. For others it will be the culmination of thousands of words wasted in defence of a fallen comrade. For yet others it will mean nothing as they continue to blog about Jessica Simpson's new brown hair do.

So why is a relatively small online group of bloggers so focused on this story? I think we all feel that the political systems in our vast liberal democracies are remote, unresponsive and difficult to influence. These victories show that we can influence and that we aren't just shouting into a void. It's the little guy reclaiming some power for a change and what a rush when one of your blogging campaigns leaves cyberspace and ends up on the front page.

Blogging as a medium of communication is well suited to those of us with a slightly obsessive personality. From the early morning newspapers to late night TV, everything around us becomes something that might make a good blog entry. You can post instantly on any topic, so the desire to maintain a dialogue and a somewhat unique perspective on the world for your 45ish daily readers can concentrate the mind on issues that to others would appear to be esoteric and bizarre. These little victories can take on mammoth proportions. Let's just hope that the desire to be "influencers" doesn't just lead to petty squabbles and victories that are anything but.

Monday, February 12, 2007

The Problem With Permanent Sucking Up

I've always been a big fan of being sucked up to and whether it's in a shop or on a plane, a bit of brown nosing goes a long way. In small doses it can make you feel special, warm and just a little bit powerful. I suppose it's a bit like a gateway drug. It starts with the occasional weekend excess, but in a short time you've moved on to Class A ego stroking and from there it's a risky business. An overdose can be fatal.

Judging by the last few weeks, Blair has been smoking the crack pipe of adulation for slightly too long. He's become a man obsessed by the hand of history and the "legacy" that he will leave after 10 long years in office. Jackie Ashley writing in the Guardian today has been the first to out Tony's post office plan. He will become to the global environment what Superman is to Metropolis. In Ashley's words it is "Tony to save the world".

If the Priory didn't have enough on their plate, what with Jade Goody's recent stint, it is becoming increasingly clear that Blair needs a bit of therapy and counseling of his own in order to beat his addiction. In cases like this, the intervention strategy might be appropriate. First of all Tony must be removed from his Downing Street buddies that lead him astray. Secondly he needs to understand the impact that his actions are having on those closest to him. It's only when he can admit that he has a problem that he can begin to change. C'mon Tony it's not too late.

New Look...

No, not the low end chain of high street clothing stores, a make-over for the blog. I thought that if it was good enough for The Mirror, The Times and The Appalling Strangeness then it was good enough for me. I've tried to keep it very simple and based it on the standard Rounders theme.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Worst Dressed?

Admittedly there were a lot of contenders at this year's BAFTA awards, but I think Eva Green wins. What the hell has she done to her hair?

Did the guys who redesigned the Mirror website style her for the night? I'm sure I recognise that red.

Expensive Mistakes

First The Times and now the Mirror. Who redesigned their site? It is awful and now officially the worst newspaper website in the UK, just ahead of The Times Online. From the bubbly buttons to the busy screen it is a travesty of crap design. I'm no designer, but does anybody want to hire me as a consultant on a newspaper redesign? I certainly wouldn't do a worse job than these guys have.

BBC Once Again Stifling The Media Industry

Good to see Kevin Bakhurst, the BBC News 24 Controller, writing here on the BBC's The Editors about competition being a fine thing for viewers. It is always fun when the word competition is used by an organisation that faces no competitive threats whatsoever due to its position as a taxpayer funded body. Yes, competition is a good thing for the audience, so maybe we can start by leveling the playing field.

Here are his comments:

It emerged late yesterday that from the Spring, if Ofcom approves, Sky News will no longer be available free to viewers on Freeview.

They currently get around 845,000 viewers a week on this platform out of their weekly total of 4 million. For us at the BBC, I think this is a double-edged sword.

Sky have already rather given up on viewing figures as BBC News 24 has moved substantially ahead of them (6 million a week versus 4 million). Whereas, a few years ago audience size was their preferred measure of success, it has now been quietly dropped. The move on Freeview will almost certainly be another big blow to their audience size.

I can fully understand why Rupert Murdoch and BSkyB have taken this decision on commercial grounds alone: you can make money out of movies and sport but not easily from news. However, I do think it's a real shame for TV News coverage in the UK.

We are very fortunate to have two thriving 24-hour TV News channels and I firmly believe competition is a good thing for the audience. Sky's decision will be a bad thing for news audiences, particularly those who can't afford subscription services and choose Freeview for that reason. I would just say that for us at BBC News 24, we put immense value on our audiences and their views - and will continue to do so whatever platform they watch us on.

Old Labour Rears Its Ugly Hain

You really need to read this interview by Peter Hain in the Daily Telegraph (here). In this imaginative return to the 70s, he calls for City bonuses to be given to the poor and needy.

"I don't believe that people will only work in the City because they get those sort of bonuses. They don't need to offer them. Why don't they give two thirds of that £8.8 billion and invest it in charity or invest it in regeneration schemes for unemployed kids who are living a mile away from the opulence that there is in the City?

"In the interest of the City, particularly if they don't want to invite attacks for greater regulation or changes in taxation, if they don't want to get into that kind of arena, then they have to show a lead.

"Let's work this out on the basis of consensus, let's not have a big fight, because it will come to a big fight otherwise.

"There's a debate starting and either it's done in a self policing way, a way that shows moral and socially responsible leadership, or people will look for other solutions."They may go down the regulation road. It's hard for me to see how that would work, but they may do."

Does Hain honestly believe that large banks and asset managers would be giving such whacking great bonuses if they didn't need to? And if they stopped, would they give it to charity or to shareholders? Hmmm let me think... Nice one Peter, now go and lie down for a while.