Taking Liberties

The British Library's "Taking Liberties" exhibition opens tomorrow, and will be open until March. It is free, and should be well worth a visit. There is an interactive online tool which examines a lot of the issueshere.

I previously wrote about this exhibition in August.

Combining this with the Royal Academy's Byzantium exhibition could make for a good day out in London.

You could be Johnny

I've just posted the following to this article about the tendency in the UK to see being bad at Maths (and Science) as a mark of pride.

It really annoys me every time a presenter on the news 'jokes' that they can't do maths or science. Melvyn Bragg on the usually excellent "in our time" is another. If you can't do it, then research your topic - or at least stay quiet!

I grew up with Johnny Ball. I really miss him on TV - he was enthusiastic and willing to find out about things which he didn't know about. Today's "science" shows are more about blowing things up in the microwave, or the caravan (yes, Braniac, that means you).

An honourable exception is discovery's mythbusters (UK site) - they don't always get the scientific terms right (misusing terms like force, pressure etc, the narrator in the UK is especially guilty of this) - but they have the sense of the scientific method, and of exploration.

On UK TV, there is no modern equivalent. We need a modern day Johnny Ball! (Maybe next year it won't be 'You could be Nancy', but 'You could be Johnny' - I can only dream)

I really like the idea. Each week, wannabe Johnny's would present a piece about some aspect of science. It'd need to be fun, accessible, as well as being good science. The panel would consist of, a non-scientist, a scientist (not Adam Hart-Davies!) and the 'Lloyd-Webber figure' - Johnny Ball himself.

Each week, Graham Norton would tell the contenders 'You could be Johnny'.

The theme tune would end with Jack Nicholson bursting through a door saying "Here's Johnny!"

The public would vote (usually on style over substance) and there'd be a 'present-off' between the two who had the lowest public vote, they'd explain some particularly gnarly bit of science or maths. Johnny would save one of them.

I could be a getting a little flippant here, but I'm deadly serious about the issue at hand. Personally, I think some sort of contest might be a lot of fun, as well as helping to increase interest in science and maths. It could work, couldn't it?

Labour got a bloody nose...

Ha! Labour's got a hammering in the local elections. I'm pleased. Why? Not because of the 10p tax rate, or because of the continual tinkering Labour has done to our constitution without a clear plan. Not because of the imbalance they've created in our constitutional settlement by giving each part of the UK a degree of self determination except England. Not because of the spin or the lies. Not because of the wars. Not because of the increased cost of living with house prices much higher than incomes.

Well, maybe I'm a little annoyed for those reasons.

Why am I mostly annoyed with Labour?

Mostly because of the way they've systematically undermined civil liberties in the UK. It's been a little chip-chipping away. Detention for 90 days without trial. No? 28 days then... let's make it 42... ID cards (if you have nothing to hide), terrorism bills used on people who shout 'nonsense' or wear a T-shirt in the wrong place, removal of the right to protest in central London (people have had problems having a tea party in parliament square, must have been the protest cake).

All done with the best of intentions, and, as it's to 'help the fight against terror', done in a way that the vast majority won't mind; until, like the proverbial lobster, they find the water temperature has been gradually increased and it has become too hot.

When I grew up, the IRA were regularly blowing places up (yes, I know about July 7, I was in London, that doesn't change the point). Regularly. They blew up central manchester in one of their last acts before the ceasefire. They blew up parades, children got killed. They even blew up the government of the day during their party conference.

The UK never took measures like the current lot feel are necessary. It's Orwellian... keep the populace scared of the 'invisible enemy' and you can keep power....

Gits. They've done more to disrupt the 'way of life' in the UK for the long term than any mis-guided bomber(*).

For that reason alone, they deserve to lose the power they temporarily wield.

Next week on More 4 at 10pm, a documentary called 'Taking Liberties' will be shown This is repeated at 11pm on more 4+1. Please try and watch it.

(*) Yes, it's true that really devastating attacks are possible, dirty bombs and all sorts. However, one can never totally shield against things like that. Even if we choose to live in a full-blown totalitarian regime. Is that truly how we want to live, on the off-chance that it might stop a theoretical risk?

By the way, I'm feeling much better now. It's all good. Thanks for asking (or not).

Electoral Reform in the UK

Democracy isn't Deskbound Make Votes Count has re-branded their campaign, and produced an action plan, which I reproduce below:

Continue on to the MVC WebsiteView the Campaign Launch Photos

6 Things you can do
1. Petition the Prime Minister. Sign our petition to Gordon Brown

2. Pledge to a Consultation. Sign the pledge and show people's willingness to be consulted

3. Write to your MP. Ask them to forward your comments to the Minister

4. Contact your nearest PR Politican. Enlist the support of your MEPs/AMs/MSPs

5. Have your say: Governance of Britain. Tell the Ministry of Justice that voting systems matter

6. Donate to the Campaign. Help us maximise what we can achieve

If you would like to post this to your website, see the previous post for the code.

The fault of low level civil servants?

Regarding the recent data leak:

The Conservatives say the crisis is down to "systemic" errors at HMRC - but the government insists it was the fault of low level civil servants.'


Rubbish - why was it possible for a low level civil servant to download the entire database in one go and burn it to CD? (i.e. the potential is there to steal it).

A low level civil servant should only be able to view a record at a time, and not export the records at all. This is trivial.

I still can't believe that they thought it'd be too expensive to drop sensitive fields.

Records on 25million families lost

This includes bank details for 7 million families, national insurance numbers and so on. The information was sent, by unrecorded delivery, through the post. This is information worth millions, if not billions, in the wrong hands.


The records include parents' and children's names, addresses, dates of birth, child benefit and national insurance numbers and in some cases, bank or building society details.

And then they wonder why I don't trust this government, or any government, with all of my personal information on a centralised ID database?

On the bright side, the discs are 'password protected'. That's all right then, dictionary brute force attacks have almost never been shown to work....

In other news, last week the Information Commissioner’s Office asked the UK to criminalise severe data breaches. Good job for the powers that be that this hasn't happened yet!

Even if this was the mistake of some underling, the fact that the systems were so lapse that this information could be burned to CD is a massive problem.

Update: The banks are advising that people don't need to phone them and say 'give me a new bank account number'. They would say that, it's a lot of work - but on the precautionary principle, there is no reason not to do this. In fact, if my bank said there was no need, I would respond by saying 'if you won't give me a new account number, I'll move my account'.

Update 2: Don't accept 'ID card database would be safe as it's protected by biometrics' - this is so much tosh, the biometric info is just another record in the database.

Update 3: No2ID now has this story

TV reviews?

I've had an idea running around in my head, for a collaborative Film/TV review website.

This would be

  1. UK based.
  2. Have several people contributing (I'd try to work out how to produce an RSS feed for each author, to make it easier for them to grab their own stuff and feed it to their own sites if they wish) - though all content would be published under some form of creative commons licence (probably attributions, non commercial use or some variant).
  3. Would hide spoilers where needed (sorry, Artela)
  4. Have different shows in different categories (to allow easy reference) - if a show has no category then it'd be posted in 'uncategorised' and would be moved rapidly to a newly created category.
  5. Would be quite capricious in which shows are followed (i.e. if the posters lose interest in a show, it is not followed, we won't feel obliged to follow a show past the point of interest just because we followed it in the past)
  6. US shows which haven't been shown in the UK yet would not be barred. If anyone has (somehow) seen an advance copy of the show, maybe they've recently been to the US and seen it there, detailed reviews would be future dated to appear after transmission (where reasonable), or even saved as a draft for later activation. This wouldn't apply if writing a preview...
  7. The site would have a ratings system of some kind (ideally, to allow easy rating of the episode.... possibly to give feedback on the post)
  8. Would encourage authors not to review an episode where a review has been written, but instead to comment on that review. In this vein, the first act when starting a review would be to save an empty draft, so that others can see if anyone is working on a review.
  9. Would tend to have authors who preferred the same sort of shows (e.g. SF like Stargate, Who - Drama like The West Wing, Studio 60 (if it ever gets to the UK!) and so on ....)
  10. Would have no bar on someone writing about other shows (e.g. if someone really wanted to write about the latest episode of Dick and Dom in Da Bungalow.....)
  11. Would invite people to register and submit their own reviews.
  12. Speculation about the future of a show, and rants about a show would be fair game.

I could set up most of the above relatively easily (the layout is the part that takes longest, but that can be done over time...). The thing is, if I were to set up such a thing, it'd rely on having a 'core' on known authors, who would have permission to publish immediately. The first authors would be restricted to people who I've had contact with over time (and so I can be reasonably confident that they'll not turn it into a site advertising pharmaceutical or marital enhancing products. Several trusted users would have the ability to affect user permissions and to delete posts if needed.

The thing wouldn't go for 'complete', it'd go for the sort of thing that the sort of people who currently make up the authorship like. I.e. It'd evolve....

Would there be interest in such a site?

Would there be interest in contributing?

The Friday thing on 'Going with the Crowd'

The Friday Thing has a nice take on the difficulty on maintaining a classically liberal perspective in the face of the propaganda that 'The evil-doers Want You Dead' all the time. (Note, original link broken, link amended)

The media can't help but be somewhat complicit in the terrorist agenda, because without the media we wouldn't know we're meant to be terrified...

...however often you remind yourself that you're vastly more likely to get hit by a bus than blown up on one, you're never immune to the threat of fear-based bigotry...

Natwest Three

The Lib Dems have started a campaign about the US/UK lopsided extradition treaty. Essentially the US can extradite a UK citizen without presenting probable cause. For the innocent, this can mean a multiple year trial (as well as expensive defence) in the US. In the case of the Natwest Three, as I understand it the alleged crime would have taken place in the UK, by UK citizens against UK interests. The employers (who are the alleged victims) have not wished to press any charges. As there is a loose connection to Enron, the US want to press charges but have not presented a probable cause to the UK. If the UK want to extradite a US citizen then the same arrangements do not apply. A special relationship indeed.

This case has been on the slow burn for some time now, the esteemed Boris wrote about it back in 2004, but it's in the past few days that it has come to the fore of public awareness.

This treaty was originally presented as a bill which would aide the extradition of terror suspects (also without probable cause, but in these days the concept of evidence seems secondary when we have terror suspects) - and yet it's scope is wider than was originally spun. This is a good case in point why legislation should be tightly drawn and why 'trust us' isn't enough.

In domestic law, the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Bill is such a piece of legislation. As is the ID card bill. There are also domestic laws designed to punish contain terror 'suspects' - not convicts - which could suffer the same problem.

The bottom line here is this: why should any UK citizen be deported without a prima facae case being made by the USA?

I suppose that this is the special part of the special relationship that we keep hearing about?

Here are the other articles which Boris wrote, (I knew the Boris Plugin for Firefox would be handy!) from May 2005 and July 3rd 2006. This isn't the only case out there, there are others. My issue is not that I think there's no case to answer, I don't have anything like the information needed to make a judgement - and have no opinion on the individual cases.

My problem with all this is that these extraditions are being made to a foreign power without evidence being presented to support the allegation that there is a case to answer. There is a new business setting up to insure executives against the possibility of extradition to the US.

The fact that the treaty is not reciprocal adds insult to injury, but it isn't the main issue - if the treaty were reciprocal it would not make it right.

In parliament, the Lords have voted for a suspension until it is reciprocal, and there has been a debate in the commons - and a protest vote passed at 246 to 4. Not that this is likely to change anything.

Tony Blair has defended the treaty saying that the UK and America have "roughly analogous" grounds for extradition.

It adds a twist to the story that a potential witness has been discovered dead - that should keep people speculating wildly.

Update: Boris has posted an extract from the westminster debate.

Guy Fawkes Day

Remember, Remember; the Fifth of November,Gunpowder, Treason and Plot. I see no reason why gunpowder, treason Should ever be forgot...

Today is the 400th anniversary of the plotto blow up parliament. The plot involved Thomas Bates, Guy Fawkes, Robert Wintour, Christopher Wright, John Wright, Thomas Percy, Robert Catesby and Thomas Wintour.

This would have been one of the biggest terrorist acts in history, as the building would have been destroyed taking a large chunk of London with it, the government and the monarchy. This is as parliament was prorogued until the 5th November, and on that day the monarch would be in attendance.

Guy Fawkes was the guy in charge of the explosives in the Gunpowder plot, he is the person most well known as he was discovered beneath parliament and tortured before being hung, drawn and quartered.

The plotters sought to redress the persecution of Catholics which was being present in 16th and 17th Century England.

Euan Blair Graduates

Euan Blair, the Son of a Labour PM, is off to intern for a Right wing Republican, David Dreier, in Washington. He is to work on the powerful Rules Committee. Euan is about to graduate from Bristol University. Dreier was, apparently, given the Roy Cohn Award, "in recognition of 24 years of working against gay and lesbian rights while living as a gay man for 24 years".

What an interesting matchup.

BBC seat predictor

A response from the BBC:

We are sorry you feel the application is deficient by not having a section for calculating seats in England.

For budgetary and technical reasons we had to keep the number of options on the seat calculator to a minimum and, as in other areas of our election and general political coverage, decided to give priority to parts of the UK with a representative institution - Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and of course the whole of the UK.

However, we have already decided we need to review this decision should we use the seat calculator again, and views like your own will be taken into account in that review.

Where's England?

The otherwise excellent (and scary) BBC Electoral seat predictor for the UK election has subdivisions for Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland, but not England. Why not? Even though England is governed in part from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (all with national bodies), it would be good to see a breakdown for this part of the UK. The subdivisions are for the westminster vote, not for the various assemblies and parliaments.

I've asked them this question and will relay any reply I receive - even if it is my error!

I note that your excellent 'seats predictor' has subdivisions of the UK offered. These are Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.

Unless I've read it incorrectly, the subdivisions all relate to the Westminster vote and not to the Scottish parliament, welsh assembly etc. Why is England not represented seperately as well in this case?

I look forward to any response, and will update to reflect your reasons.

Update: A reply from the BBC