31 August 2007

A Shade too Sensitive

The Swedish embassy in Pakistan has "expressed regret" at a Swedish newspaper's depiction this week of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Really it's just an excuse for me to rerun this cartoon and before anybody starts, I'm atheist, I respect your beliefs, but I'm not going to respect your taboos:

In other news, will an October general election be announced next week? and watch out for suspicious blog entries here and elsewhere.

Diana: Still Dead

Today's top story, courtesy of pretty much every news outlet in the UK.


Diana before she died ten years ago

In Other News: Deaths in Darfur, Iraq, Palestine and Afghanistan continue.

Why I Love the Economist

Lib Dem Voice carries an extract from this week's Economist on Nick Clegg's immigration proposals:

… the plan looks more credible than the government’s commitment to deport all illegal immigrants, something which at the current rate would take at least 25 years. It may also be more humane: giving such migrants legal status should make it easier to protect them from people-trafficking, low pay and other forms of exploitation.

There are economic advantages too. Deporting people is expensive: the National Audit Office puts the average cost at £11,000 per person, including nabbing and detaining them and paying their legal fees. The taxes that would be generated by taking illegal workers out of the black market would help to pay for some of the public services that they use (the Institute for Public Policy Research, or IPPR, a think-tank, puts the extra taxes at £1 billion a year, though other estimates are higher). Local authorities are obliged to provide education for children aged from five to 16 regardless of their immigration status; illegal migrants are required to pay for treatment on the National Health Service, but this is difficult to enforce in practice. …

Mr Clegg admits that his party has often been quiet on the issue of immigration. Too lax a policy would lose votes, whereas a hard line would offend both the social-democratic and classically liberal wings of the party. Yet the perceived failure of the government to deal with immigration and the Tories’ relative reticence on the matter until now (David Cameron seemed to change tack a little this week when he said in a television interview on August 29th that immigration was “too high”) have given the Lib Dems an opportunity to take a lead on the issue. Mr Clegg’s idea, though some way from being fully formed, is an impressive attempt to seize it.

Perhaps the rest of the press should take note of the Economist's approach - eschewing the shrill rhetoric of the mainstream press (yes, even the Independent and the Guardian), the Economist offers cold, hard facts to support their analysis and not in-built prejudices or knee-jerk reactions.

30 August 2007

The Straight Line from Yahoo to Torture

 Did Yahoo! assist in torture? A court case is currently winding its way through the US courts in which Yahoo! is accused of aiding and abetting torture by Chinese authorities. Yahoo! handed over information to the Chinese which included emails from persons who were later detained and tortured.

Yahoo! have justified their action on the grounds that they were complying with the law, going on to say

"Free speech rights as we understand them in the United States are not the law in China. Every sovereign nation has a right to regulate speech within its borders."

 This is unfortunately true, as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights never found its way into 'hard' international law and China is predictably not party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

      I'm digressing from my main point of course, which is, did Yahoo! assist in torture? Well, yes they did. It's not a big secret that the Chinese State's officials torture those in their custody and Yahoo! must therefore have known that this was a strong possibility when handing over the files. It will be interesting to see whether this assistance finds itself transformed into any legal liability and the implications this could have for other web companies operating in China. There will be an inevitable tension between their US and China obligations if this comes down against Yahoo!.

      And also, a strip I found funny from Hoby Cartoons.

      (Click to enlarge)

      29 August 2007

      27 August 2007

      But committed no crime

      Liberal Legend II draws my attention to the case of Yuan Weijing, detained at Beijing Airport and her passport revoked when she attempted to travel to the Philippines to collect a human rights award on behalf of her husband, Prisoner of Conscience, Chen Guangcheng. Had she committed a crime? Well, no, but that matters not to the One Party State that has embraced a capitalist economy (hooray) whilst retaining a communist political structure, with all the individual suppression that it entails.

      If I were a more thoughtful and knowledgeable person I would ruminate here upon whether it is wise to engage with China in the hope that such engagement will lead to political reform. But I'm not, so I will leave it up to you as to whether we should.

      It also turns out that my blog isn't available in China. You can check if yours is here.

      26 August 2007

      The Final Script Draft

      I've put up the final draft of Newsroom on Windows Skydrive - a script I've been working on for the past six months. It revolves around the relationship between politicians and the media (primarily from the media's viewpoint). Feedback always welcome on Oberon2001@gmail.com, no matter how negative. Download the script here.

      More on Second Life

      Lucrezia has asked on my previous Second Life post why I uninstalled the application so quickly. I was going to just post a reply on the original post, but the reasons are so fundamental to an enjoyable game experience, I've expanded it to a full post. So here they are:

      1. "Orientation Island" - Orientation Island is any newbie's first experience of Second Life, and it does not impress. The tutorial guides which appear in the top left of the screen are slow to load (reminding me of images in the early days of the internet) and the tasks fairly pointless. Is it too much to expect a bit of creativity?
      2. Graphics - A ridiculously low framerate, especially for the graphics you get, compared to other MMO games. I've just finished a trial with World of Warcraft (WoW), which has much better graphics, and it ran nowhere near as badly on my laptop as SL, so I can confidently say it wasn't my machine's fault.
      3. Slow chat - This is probably linked in to the poor graphics, but chatting on Second Life is nowhere near as instantaneous as it should be. Both bringing up the chat screen and typing in to the interface felt slow and unresponsive, with delays of a couple of seconds between typing or clicking and anything actually happening on screen.
      4. No point - there was no point to Second Life. I can go to Facebook for social interaction - both keeping in touch with friends and getting to know new people - and Second Life seems to offer no advantage over this. WoW is a good social interaction tool - I have friends that have built up real-life friendships after meeting people within the game - which shows that a good MMO should be both a good game, as well as a good way to meet people. If a game wants to meet just one of those objectives, it should be a good game before it tries to be a social interaction tool.

      Can anyone just another game or application which does what Second Life does but better?

      "No Simple Solution"

      At the beginning of this week I was a guest on Vox Politix on 18 Doughty Street and one of topics up for discussion (in fact, the main topic) was the perceived rise in violent crime* in the UK, in the wake of a knife attack on the previous Friday, and ministers' and Tory plans to tackle it. I felt embarrassed at the time (and still do slightly now) that I couldn't come up with some catchy, simple reason for the rising crime and so put forward my own panacea**.

      The great and the good, however, can't agree on what is the reason - they point to absent dads, or a lack of community responsibility and put forward solutions like a crackdown on the sale of alcohol to those under-aged coupled with acceptable behaviour contracts, when in truth, they don't know. They're grabbing around for some populist move in an effort to seem like they have this great catch-all solution which will turn Britain into a crime-free Utopia. This is why I was heartened by Menzies Campbell's reaction:

      Liberal Democrat leader Sir Menzies Campbell has warned that there will be "no simple solution" to deal with gang culture and knife and gun violence.

      "No simple solution" - at last, an admission of fallibility amongst all the headline grabbing initiatives of this week.

      * I've found out since that violent crime actually dropped in the past year - at least, if the Home Office are to be believed.

      ** The other guest put forward his own of a form of National Service which is community, rather than militarily, based and only applies to those who drop out of school at 16. An idea which has its attractions.

      25 August 2007

      Second Life

      My advice to anyone wants to login to this virtual world - don't. A mere seven hours since installing it, the application is clean off my hard drive. The only reason it lasted that long is because I couldn't be bothered to uninstall it after the first 30 minutes.

      Under what section?

      Via A Very British Dude:

      Ok, so the film-maker is a bit annoying, but he's making a good point. He's filming in his garden, and yet the Police act as though they are the law, declaring that an offence is taking place (although unable to specify the legal source of this offence).

      Aside from the obvious question of "where the hell did they learn that particular law?" this is an example of the police being a law unto themselves.

      I know that the job can be tough, that inner-city violent crime is a growing problem, but how exactly can their actions here be justified, other than saying that the pair of them were on an ego trip.

      PS. I love the recent changes to Youtube's video menu. Very Mac-rific.

      24 August 2007

      WikiScanner

      Making the news for the past week or two has been WikiScanner, a website that allows you to discover which organisations having been editing Wikipedia entries. As Slate reports today, it's been throwing up some interesting results.

      (This video will disappear on 22/09/2007 - blame Comedy Central)

      My favourite edit comes from my old friends the Scientologists, who edited Kurt Cobain's entry to include a link which suggests the singer's childhood Ritalin use led to his suicide. Way to push your agenda guys.

      Kowtowing to Beijing

      In a striking blow against free speech, Yahoo and MSN have signed up to China's euphemistically named "Public Pledge of Self-Regulation and Professional Ethics for China Internet Industry". This agreement further tightens Chinese control over the domestic blogosphere, with signatory companies pledging to “encourage” real-name registration, and to “safeguard state and public interests” (i.e. anything the Chinese don't like).

      This snippet from The Telegraph's report shows the extent to which an obsessive China is willing to regulate the monitor Internet users:

      "Information obtained on users must be stored in case the authorities should seek to obtain it - as they did with Shi Tao, a journalist jailed for ten years two years ago for sending information to a human rights group by email after his details were passed on to police by Yahoo."

      Of course, these companies that co-operate with China (and they include Google, whose motto is "don't be evil") justify their decisions on commercial grounds - they say that without this type of co-operation they wouldn't be able to operate in the market, but shouldn't we be demanding that they use their immense economic clout for good and stand up to China. Imagine the impact of Microsoft, Google and Yahoo pulling out of China - they'd be back in there within a month, with restrictions greatly relaxed or maybe even completely lifted.

      And hey, if it doesn't work, they can move back in and at least they would have tried, rather than bent over backwards to accommodate this hideous regime.

      23 August 2007

      From around the blog-o-sphere

      In the laziest possible way, an unordered list:

      21 August 2007

      My First Two Days at 18 Doughty Street

      Well, they've been good. It's a good office to work in, full of people interested in politics (as you would expect from a political TV channel), making a nice change from my last workplace.

      I've made my first contribution to their Newsblog* and even appeared on Vox Politix which was a mistake for two reasons:

      1. I didn't get home until 12.30am.

      2. I was hopelessly inarticulate and ill-informed compared to the other guest, thus ensuring embarrassment and slip-ups.

      If you fancy a laugh at my expense, go to the Doughty Street player, scroll down to Vox Politix and select last night's show (20/08).

      * The title might have been inspired by listening to Jennifer Saunder's rendition of "Holding out for a Hero" for Shrek 2, I don't know.

      18 August 2007

      A Note to Our American Friends

      Just back from the beautiful (and beautifully cheap) European city of Prague* and I've got a pointer for our friends across the pond based on my experience with them over there. To start off with, let's take a look at this picture:

      Can you tell what all the people in this picture are doing? Yes, that's right, they are queuing. Queuing is something polite people doing when there are too many of them to be served at once. It works on a first come, first served basis, meaning the person who turns up first is the person who is served first. It's all very fair and ensures that nobody gets angry and, say, punches somebody else in the face.

      Now, just a thought, and I'm not going to ask you to do this when you're at home, but do you suppose when you're abroad, surrounded by lots of other people who don't know the American way of "every man for himself", that you could queue. I know I'd appreciate it. Thanks for reading.

      * If you're ever there, Prague Castle , the Jewish Museum and the Museum of Communism are all worth the entrance fees.

      13 August 2007

      All Quiet on the Blogging Front

      It will be all quiet on the blogging front from me until at least Saturday as I'm off to the wonderful Czech Republic capital Prague, armed only with a Rough Guide and £250 in koruna*. Here's hoping the cheap beer doesn't prevent me seeing being a tourist during the day.

      * To check I'd got the spelling right on this (I was going to put "krona", as in the Swedish currency) I came across this nifty Google facility - only converts to US dollars though, for some reason.

      11 August 2007

      Here's Why...

      Caroline Hunt explains why George Galloway shouldn't be elected MP for Poplar and Limehouse (he announced he is standing yesterday), after his appalling performance for the people of Bethnal Green and Bow.

      I'm sure he'll come out at some point soon attacking her personally in order to defend himself, as he did with the US Senate and the House of Commons Standards and Privileges Committee.

      Breaking News

      From The Onion:


      Breaking News: All Online Data Lost After Internet Crash

      10 August 2007

      More Naked Chicks

      Today, the 10th August, is Naked Chicks Day, marking 96 years since ladies threw off the shackles of clothing and went naked for the first time. Make sure you read all about it. If you want, you can also join the Naked Chicks Facebook group.

      Windows Live Skydrive and a Script

      In my attempt to try out everything Windows Live, I accessed my Windows Live Skydrive account for the first time today. It's an online storage facility (formerly called Windows Live Folders - a better name if you ask me) which gives users 500mb of space to put up whatever they want, either privately, semi-privately (open to family and friends only) or publicly.

      Anyway, I've uploaded a script I'm working on to my public folder, it can be accessed here* if you fancy reading the mediocre drivelings of an amateur playwright. Feedback always appreciated, either as a comment here, or you can email me at Oberon2001@gmail.com.

      * RTF format, should be openable by most word-processing applications... even Wordpad.

      09 August 2007

      Job-ful

      After six weeks of searching I finally have a summer job, and most excitingly of all, it's as a researcher with the political internet TV channel 18 Doughty Street.

      08 August 2007

      They Want This Now?

      The US have sought assurances that 5 former British residents that the UK wants released will be dealt with humanely once they are back on British soil.

      Dignified: Waterboarding -
      an approved CIA interrogation technique.

      The thought strikes me - why is it only now that they are worried about treating these people humanely? Or is "humane" just a code-word for something more sinister?

      07 August 2007

      More Top LibDem Blog Lists

      Norfolk Blogger has published his top 50 Lib Dem blogs in which this blog comes in a gratifying number 20. Liberty Alone has gone one step further and published his top political bloggers covering all UK political blogs. I, alas, feature not, but don't let that put you off looking it over.

      She's Turned Off Too

      I've written before about how the behaviour of some MPs at PMQs, the so-called "theatre" of the House as they jeer and cheer, can put the public off the political process. Well, it would seem at least one MP finds it equally disdainful.

      05 August 2007

      Top of the Blogs

      This week's Lib Dem Voice Top of the Blogs features one of my very own offerings, so I get to add this natty button to my blog:

      Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice
       
      * Yes, I'm a person under the age of 40 using the word "natty"

      04 August 2007

      His Top 100 LD Blogs

      Stephen Tall has posted his top 100 Lib Dem blogs - this blog comes a middling 40th. The list is worth a glance over, and I generally agree with at least his top 10.

      Iain Dale is running a far bigger project over at his site, asking people to send in their top 20 political blogs, from which he will compile a top 100. It'll then be published in a book printed on paper, with real black ink and everything.

      03 August 2007

      A Free Office?

      Microsoft, benevolent ruler of all that is technology, announced yesterday that its next version of Works* (9, for those keeping score at home) will be available for some consumers as a pre-installed, advert-packed freebie on new PCs... which is effectively what it is now anyway, except for the adverts bit.

      Why do I find this interesting? Aside from it following in the slip-stream of Google Docs & Spreadsheets (web-based) and the veteran Open Office (open-source, hard drive installed), the initiative is to see whether a new business model could be found to support the funding of software (or so the last line of this story hints - and the Yahoo! story linked to above also implies) which obviously has implications for other applications developed by Microsoft - or even others. Could we see a free (or at least subsidised) version of Office in the future, provided we could put up with the adverts?

      * A piss-poor version of Microsoft Office which is good enough if you're not interested in doing anything really advanced.

      02 August 2007

      Leaning to the Right

      Not personally and politically, you understand, but definitely in the blogs that I read on a daily basis - Iain Dale, Caroline Hunt, Guido Fawkes, A Very British Dude: all right-wingers of varying hues. I gaze sometimes over LibDemBlogs and LibDemVoice, but there's an element of preaching to the converted when I read them, which dampens my enjoyment - although occasionally a true gem will pop up which challenges and engages me, and so keeps me coming back.

      Why are my reading habits so Tory bias? Well, it is as Steve Richards observes today in The Independent:

      Probably part of the reason for the blogging hyperactivity on the right is the current turmoil in the Conservative Party. When a party seeks a new sense of direction after three election defeats there is scope for endless debate, heightened by fleeting moments of fuming anger and joyful euphoria.

      Presumably in the late Seventies and and early Eighties, there would have been addictive blogs putting the case for Tony Benn. They would have been countered perhaps by must-read sites from those heading for the SDP. I guess left-of-centre bloggers would have flourished when Labour was overwhelmed by civil war. Now Labour is more settled and will be thrown into blog paradise/crisis only if it loses the next election.

      Although this isn't the whole story for me - I like to be challenged, I like to read viewpoints that are not my own and respond to them - and the majority of liberal blogs out there at the moment can't offer that. This is probably inevitable, as being of the same political persuasion, we'll agree on most things (or at least more than I would agree with a Labour or Tory supporter).

      See also: