Council surveys immigrants for BNP

Your local council is collecting the names and addresses of all non-English residents and passing them on to the British National Party. What a great idea!

That isn’t the intended plan, as far as I know, but most PC councils are doing it in the name of “diversity monitoring” or some such nonsense. Whether this is a justifiable use of taxpayers’ resources is one matter, but the fact remains that the databases they’re compiling will be making it in to the hands of every anti-immigrant group both now in the future. The government can’t keep a database like this secret for long – it requires the cooperation of every single council employee and councillor with access to the data, including the BNP councillors.

I was asked to fill in one such form today, when attending a council Easter-holiday event for kids. My usual response is to refuse to fill in this information on principle and explain, at length, why they shouldn’t be asking. I’ve never had any argument with this approach. Today, when I pointed out that this would tell the BNP where all the Muslims in the area lived, who was in the house and where their kids went to school, one of the ladies with the forms went quite pale.

Digital Economy Bill stitch-up

With any luck, this is the last piece of duff legislation in a long line of duff legislation passed by this partially inept government. It has been rushed through, with more haste than normal. To their eternal discredit the leaders of the Conservative and Liberal parties are complicit in allowing it through.

The only good news is that the tax on landlines has been dropped. This was to “pay for the next generation of Internet provision”, but with no explanation as to why taxpayers were supposed to pay for the infrastructure needed to make the larger ISPs still richer. If there’s a demand for it, the infrastructure will appear anyway because there’s money to be made.

The bad news is that the remainder of the bill is also a joke. It’s to do with protecting the rights of copyright holders (i.e. the music and media companies) by forcing ISPs to police what they’re downloading.

There’s some justice in this, on a theoretical level. ISPs are quite happy to make money from the ‘killer app’ that is media piracy, so they deserve the hassle of trying to clean it up. The problem is, as I need hardly tell you, that it’s unworkable.

The daft idea is to track pirates by their IP addresses. As anyone with an interest in cybercrime will tell you, this just doesn’t work. The criminals obscure their IP addresses, usually by hijacking the IP address belonging to an innocent third party. Under the Digital Economy Bill, it’s the innocent third party that’ll suffer.

There’s also the problem of identifying pirated content. Take it from me, this can’t be done, and the heuristics currently used to detect activity likely to be related to piracy (e.g. P2P protocols) can be rendered obsolete at any time.

Even if you could detect illicit traffic, you can’t possibly pin it down to an individual. Take one trivial example – “mobile broadband”. You can get this by walking into the mobile ‘phone shop of your choice, slapping some cash on the counter and walking out with a cellular modem with an Internet connection that’s completely untraceable. It even gets a different IP address from the service provider each time you turn it on. Are these to be banned? I don’t see it happening.

Pirates could also use one of the many free wireless hotspots found on any high street or hotel. Are these going to be closed down because pirates use them?

So, we have a bill that won’t solve the problem it sets out to tackle but will, instead, result in hassle for the law-abiding innocent computer users who have their IP addresses, and providers of publicly accessible Wifi networks.

You don’t have to be in favour of piracy to regard this latest piece of government nonsense as a very bad thing indeed.

Ted Relf – local hero

Ted Relf from Shadoxhurst (near Ashford, Kent) has got himself into a spot of bother with the local plod. His crime? Well he put up a sign warning people about potholes in the road outside his house.

Potholes are lethal. They’re bad enough in a motor vehicle, but for someone on a bike they’re murderous. If you can see them you swerve to avoid them and hope following traffic reacts accordingly. If they’re filled with water or it’s dark you’ll probably be thrown off, and you have to hope that following traffic will stop.

Mr Relf’s sign was a public service, but according to Kent police, someone complained. Why is it that police and council officials feel the need to act when someone complains? If anything, this guy deserves a commendation protecting the public. Face with a complaint about the warning sign, the police should have told the complainant where to go in stead of wasting time and putting the public in danger by taking action against Mr Relf.

The police claim they’re under-funded; this proves the opposite – they’ve just lost their way.

I wonder if they were acting on orders from the local council, who may not have wanted attention drawn to the quality of the roads.

Kay Gilderdale prosecution was right

This is a very sad case. Kay Gilderdale’s 31-year-old daughter Lynn was seriously ill and wanted to end her own life. Her mother supported this decision and provided the means (morphine). When this was apparently not working, she herself injected air with the intention of killing her. Lynn actually died of the morphine overdose, but her mother’s intention was to kill her with the air.

I wasn’t there, and couldn’t begin to judge the rights and wrongs of whether a mother should be helping her daughter to die but I’m sure she had good reasons. These were clearly exceptional circumstances, before and after the jury decided to acquit her.

However, the judge, Mr Justice Bean, questioned the decision to prosecute her for attempted murder in the first place and now the newspapers and politicians are jumping on the band wagon.

I think we need a reality check here.

When someone deliberately kills someone else, or tries to, that’s murder. It’s not for newspapers or politicians to decide. When a murder is committed we have a long-established system where a jury (not judge) decides what should be done about it. On the face of it, the jury has come to a sensible decision; the system works and we shouldn’t be messing with it. All murders should be prosecuted and only a jury should decide if there’s any mitigating justification – not politicians, newspapers or journalists.

Yes, it’s been tough on Mrs Gilderdale and I have every sympathy for her. Perhaps the trial could have been hurried up, to reduce her ordeal. But this doesn’t mean we should be messing with trial-by-jury when someone’s been killed as only a jury should be deciding where to draw the line.

Dangerous killer still behind wheel

Yesterday Tracy Johnson walked free from a court after driving into two cyclists at a roundabout and killing one of them; mother-of-three Sharon Corless.

Newspaper reports make much of the fact she was driving a particularly expensive Chelsea Tractor and had just come off a mobile phone. You get the picture – totally irresponsible on all levels. However, her defence claimed that she might have fainted, and the prosecution couldn’t prove she hadn’t – although their medical examination had been unable to recreate the conditions.

David Porter described the events for the prosecution:

“For reasons that defy any reasonable explanation, the defendant’s vehicle began to accelerate towards the roundabout. The vehicle began to drift from the carriageway and then collided with the verge and drove along the vergeway(sic) with the near side wheels on the verge.

“It travelled along the vergeway for approximately 50 metres. Having collided with the verge the vehicle then collided with Mrs Corless who was dragged underneath the wheels of the Range Rover. She suffered fatal injuries and died later in hospital.

“Moments later there was a second collision with Peter Corless, who was thrown clear of the vehicle but nevertheless sustained serious injuries.

“The vehicle then carried on to the roundabout where it collided with a further vehicle – a Peugeot which was being driven by a young lady with her daughter.

“Fortunately they suffered no injuries. The vehicle then collided and came to a stop with a lamp post on the roundabout itself.

“Witnesses behind the vehicle said at no stage did they see brake lights come one; rather it appeared to accelerate.

“The defendant emerged from the vehicle in a shocked and dazed condition saying something along the lines of ‘what’s happened.’ Moments later she was asking for her mobile telephone, which she later said was to call her partner.”

Now, from what I’ve been able to read about the court case, it is certainly possible she fainted. However the family whose mother was killed have thus been denied a proper trial to prove this, and anyone wealthy enough to employ a good lawyer can just keep driving for a bit after killing someone and then claim they’d fainted in the knowledge that it won’t even go to court.

Either she’s lying, or she isn’t, and we won’t ever get to find out. However, one thing is telling – she was not banned for driving. This woman claims she’s prone to randomly losing conscious, and by all accounts, is still behind a wheel. Holders of a driving license have a duty to report various medical conditions to the DVLA, including anything that causes loss of consciousness, so that their license can be revoked.

Chelsea Tractor of type used (stock photo)

So anyone in Mrs Johnson’s home town of Warrington spotting her behind the wheel would do well to call the police – she’s driving with a medical condition that makes her unsafe. She said so herself in court.

It may be that Mrs Johnson has surrendered her driving license; this wouldn’t make everything aright but would stop her looking guilty. I’d be pleased to hear from anyone who knows this to be the case.

Gary McKinnon who has Asperger’s syndrome

The Home Secretary (Alan Johnson) has just answered an emergency question in the commons as to why he’s declined to block the extradition of Gary McKinnon to the USA for ‘hacking’ (whatever that means). He said that the medical evidence didn’t amount to enough, he’d admitted he was guilty, and besides, he hasn’t got any discretionary powers in the matter.

In some ways, I agree with him. McKinnon may very well have done what he’s been accused of; and as far as Asperger’s Syndrome goes – do me a favour!

Gary McKinnon
Gary McKinnon
He was diagnosed with this condition last year by Prof. Simon Baron-Cohen from Cambridge University. It’s a psychological illness, right? Well actually there are many who’d doubt that. He certainly seems to be the authority on the subject, based on the number of papers published and TV appearances – acceptable to academia and pop culture. He’s the country’s foremost expert on the condition. But is it an illness?

A few years back Prof. Baron-Cohen devised the A.Q. test, a series of 50 self-assessment questions for those wondering if they have the condition. Apparently the general population scores 28%. I score 76%. Do I have a mental illness? I don’t think so; in fact it’s often said that half the scientists in the world would score highly on the assessment too. Us nerds might be different, but so are gay people. Try telling them they’re ill! If you want to know more, just Google the subject.

Gary McKinnon is also, apparently, upset and depressed. Who wouldn’t be in his circumstances?

It might be worth reminding ourselves what he’s actually done (according to Alan Johnson):

He accessed US government computers looking for UFO evidence while smoking dope (as one does), and in the processes has damaged their operation. According to the Americans (and Mr Johnson) he knocked out all the military computers in Washington for 24-hours.

Apparently this was done by using perl to look for blank passwords, a technique a find entirely credible. That’s right – McKinnon is a script kiddie. He claims he was caught when using Windows Remote Desktop while the real user was still on the machine, which also fits.

Now for this he deserves to be prosecuted, the same as the morons who were prosecuted for criminal damage while attempting to thieve hereabouts. The difference is that Harrow magistrates decided just to give them a good ticking off after they’d made up some sob story about turning their life around. McKinnon’s treatment is on the other extreme.

Unfortunately for him, there’s an obvious political element. The American military has lost (more) credibility and they want someone, preferably foreign, to divert attention. They can’t catch Bin Laden, so he’ll have to do. Anyone in the data security game knows that any serious cyber-criminals will be able to cover their tracks, so IF serious deliberate damage was done and IF they traced it back to this script kiddie then the one thing you can be pretty sure of is that he wasn’t behind it. Either that, or all the computers in Washington were in such a fragile state that they’d fall over if you sneezed.

In spite of the Home Secretary’s assurances about the extradition arrangements between here and the USA being reciprocal, many will suspect that this case results from the special Labour-Bush relationship – the one where Bush asked and Blair gave.

If Alan Johnson is right, and he really does have no discretion to stop this charade, the real question David Burrowes (McKinnon’s MP) should have followed his answer with was “Why not?”

George Osborne – be very afraid

This Tuesday George Osborne gave speech at Imperial College London  explaining how the Conservatives are going to spearhead the green revolution with a recycling reward scheme. It’s complete madness, although Telegraph columnists seem to like it – or more likely aren’t clued up enough to see the problem.

Apparently he’ll cut carbon emissions by 10% within a year. Great! But how? He doesn’t say, but I’m sure we’ll all be interested to learn in good time. However, the incredible recycling plans that followed don’t exactly encourage me to believe he’s got any good ideas.

“Carrots work better than sticks. Instead of punishing people, as Labour do with bin taxes, the Conservatives want to encourage families by paying them to recycle.

This isn’t an idle promise – we’re actually making it happen on the ground in Conservative areas. Now we want to make it happen everywhere.”

Apparently they’re going to reward recycling households with vouchers to spend at, wait for it, Tesco and Marks and Spencer! One of the best ways I can think of to cut down non-recyclable domestic refuse is to close down M+S, who were easily the worst offenders when it came to stupid packaging (see blogs passim).

But it gets worse. Apparently they’re going to make this work with some new miraculous technology. Dustcarts will be fitted with a gizmo that scans the contents of the recycling bin, works out the address the items came from and allocates “recycling points” to your account in a special database. Methinks he’s been watching too much Star Trek. Why don’t politicians ever bother talking to engineers before opening their mouths and spouting such fantastic nonsense?

Incidentally, if you’re not an engineer, fair enough – but take it from me that this will never work as described.

However, whether it works or not, they’re spectacularly missing the point. Recycling isn’t the answer. They should be looking at ways for reducing waste in the first place, and there’s precious little evidence of that. In fact this encourages even more waste by rewarding people to manage to fill their recycling bin with £130. It’s potty! Anyone taking the incentive seriously might, for example, switch to disposable plates and cutlery just to ensure their bin is always topped up.

So who’s responsible for this nonsense? Well apparently the Conservatives now have Tesco, BT and B+Q (part of Kingfisher) on board as advisers on environmental issues. Need I say more?

Meanwhile Labour Health Secretary Andy Burnham launched a report saying we should cut down on livestock rearing and meat consumption to save greenhouse gasses and improve people’s health. Now Labour has the skids under them they’re talking sense, although I doubt they’d be so candid if they thought they’d actually ever have to sell the idea to the farming industry or those hooked on eating cheap meat.

Overdraft charges ruling

“The People’s” wonderful new Supreme Court has ruled that the Office of Fair Trading can’t investigate the rip-off fees charged by banks for unauthorised overdrafts. “Quite right”, chorus the smug idiots, “we’ve always got enough money in our accounts!”

The British Bankers Association is, of course, delighted. It had been putting out the propaganda that customers would be charged for simply having bank accounts if they lost, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to make a profit. Hello?!? That’s not how banks operate and they should be ashamed of themselves. And the smug rich people should be ashamed too – if their argument is correct then their free banking is being subsidised by the poor. (Incidentally, in case no one’s told you before, banks make a profit by paying savers a lower interest than borrowers, lending out considerably more than is deposited I might add, and pocketing the difference).

It’s a practical necessity to have a bank account if you live in this country, and banks are clearly exploiting this fact. Would the (old) Law Lords not have done something about this obvious problem?

And as for the numerous spokespersons for the banking industry trotting out statistics that this issue doesn’t affect most customers anyway, they must be joking! As well as the financially challenged, this affects everyone who’s paid in a cheque that’s bounced, everyone who’s suffered a bank error and everyone who’s employer has messed up the payroll run (often a problem with the bank themselves). It’s really easy to end up overdrawn on a current account, through no fault of your own, even if you have plenty of spare cash with the bank in a deposit account. This two-account approach is necessitated by the customer-unfriendly ‘financial product’ culture the banks themselves operate.

The people who are going to suffer from this are the normal hard-working types who operate through a current account and save a little for a rainy day. One simple mistake made by someone else and they’re stuck with a load of ridiculous charges. If you’ve got a lot of money in your deposit account, a quick call threatening to move your cash elsewhere gets rapid results. If you’re not in this happy position I wouldn’t rate your bargaining power.

The banks should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, but I expect they’re too busy pocketing their taxpayer-underwritten bonuses to even notice.

It’s no surprise that New Labour is letting them get away with it, but there’s a deafening silence coming from the other parties too. Scared to upset the bankers?

Bank of England Fraudulant Accounts scandal

So, the Government/Bank of England lent £61,000,000,000 to prop up the Scottish banks last year and didn’t think we should know about it. It didn’t appear with any clarity in the accounts, and I’ve just been listening to “Lord” Myners, Gordon Brown’s “Treasury Minister” defending this on Today, saying that “…no retail bank customers lost out.” So that’s alright then?

As usual, he was let off lightly. The Bank of England is publishing cooked books, and the justification is that it’s for the greater good. What I’d like to know is: what’s the point of publishing accounts if they’re deliberately misleading? Or more accurately, dishonest.

The government seems to think it’s okay to lie to us whenever it feels that we’re better off not knowing something. And you can hardly call £61,000,000,000 a trivial issue that’s easily overlooked by mistake, can you? Well perhaps it is to Gordon Brown and his banking mates. No wonder they fail to see any problems with their expense claims.

According to Myners, the board of Lloyds was made aware of the loan at the time they were merging with HBOS in those murky circumstances. So what? Lloyd’s isn’t owned by the board – the Lloyds shareholders had every right to know, but they decided to keep quiet about it. They were tricked into voting for a merger with a bank that was only propped up by a massive secret loan.

Paul Myners is, of course, a New Labour Lord, given a peerage by Gordon Brown after donating £12,700 towards his leadership campaign in 2008. He hasn’t been elected by anyone other than the Labour Leadership.

The fundamental issue here is that if any company published cooked books, concealing a £61,000,000,000 transaction, they’d have the serious fraud office all over them – and rightly so. This government, on the other hand, thinks it knows best and will only tell us what it thinks we should know. Sounds familiar?

Of course, plenty of people must have known about it and kept quiet. So why has the news come out now? Presumably someone was about to spill the beans and they’ve published as the least-worst option.

Digital Economy Bill

As we all know, the Queen’s Speech yesterday was written by Gordon Brown and contained a fantastic list of things he’d do should the British public ever elect him as Prime Minister. While everyone was falling about laughing at the idea of new laws to make both budget deficits child poverty illegal, you might have missed some gems from Digital Economy Bill, which was announced today and will be published tomorrow (Friday).

In verbiage reminiscent of Wilson’s “White heat of technology” twaddle, the Queen was obliged to say:

“My government will introduce a bill to ensure the communications infrastructure is fit for the digital age, supports future economic growth, delivers competitive communications and enhances public service broadcasting.”

The actual bill appears to include such ideas as the £6/year tax on all land telephone lines (why not mobiles?) to ensure that everyone in Britain can get 2Mbps broadband by 2012. Do these politicians understand what the term ‘broadband’ means? Why should we be subsidising the infrastructure for ISPs who’ll be charging us whatever the like for the use of the new network we’ll be paying for in this extra tax.

Perhaps the biggest ‘idea’ is a clampdown on Internet based piracy. New Labour’s sleazy spin-doctor Peter Mandelson was on about this recently, and it’s going to be in the bill. Apparently persistent offenders will get a series of stiff letters and the ISP will eventually pull the plug on them. Get real! Anyone with the slightest idea how the Internet works knows that you can’t tell whether material transiting a network is subject to copyright. You can’t even tell what it is! No amount of legislation will change that.

On the same tack, children are going to be protected by making it illegal for video game retailers to sell games intended for over 12’s to under 12’s. That’s really going to work. The government can’t keep hard drugs out of a prison, so how are they going to stop anyone getting hold of dubious video games.

Another nice little earner for the treasury is switching over to digital radio by 2015. If you thought updating to digital TV was bad, they now want you to scrap all your radios too. Including those in cars? DAB radios use 20 times the power of simple FM receivers – not exactly a green idea either.

I do hope that whoever wins the election next year will ditch these stupid ideas, but do the conservatives have any better idea about what the Internet really is?