Tag Archives: EU

EU Exits Stage Left

I have removed my ‘EU’ page from the menu. I started with the best of intentions about giving an unbiased commentary on any lies, dodgy stats or logical contradictions I detected in the data put out by the opposing campaigns, while I decided how to vote.

I couldn’t do it. There was no data I knew was right but I found I distrusted the Brexit camp far more. The Greek ex-Finance Minister asked us to stay and fight for a better EU and that seems the least-bad option on offer. The Brexit folks mostly seem to believe that climate change is an EU plot, so I’m going to assume they’re wrong in their economic guesswork too.

I don’t even see any sign that the row will have made peace in the Conservative Party or shut up UKIP, which appears to have been the main point of the referendum.


The Snooping Bill

[ These are my notes on the talk by Jim Killoch, Executive Director of Open Rights Group, to https://birmingham.openrightsgroup.org/ on 14/10/2015 ]

ORG was set up in 2005. A current concern is ‘The Snooper’s Charter” or https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Draft_Communications_Data_Bill with which the government intend to legitimise digital mass surveillance. The intelligence services have always sought access to personal information about citizens but there were technical opportunities for step-changes in surveillance, first with telephones that could be bugged and then with electronics and the Internet. This has made communication far easier to intercept, reducing costs and reducing need to be so selective. Resources no longer have to be targeted on known or suspected criminals. The ‘Internet of Things’ such as automatic electricty metering and fitness monitors will give new sources of information about our lifestyles and movements.

The ORG has been trying to find what model of threats the security services use. They seem to have escalated to a state where any absence of information is regarded as a threat.

[Since the talk, the Chief Constable of the Metropolitan Police has used the example that when a 14 year old girl went missing, the police could get access to her mobile phone records. Now she is equally likely to communicate by social media or a ‘private’ messaging application; so they ‘need’ fast access to those too. When I was 14, I didn’t have a house phone. I don’t know if the police would have given up or just talked to my friends and the asked who else I knew. This might have been even quicker than applying for a court order or getting a judicial review. The police officer talked on TV news of “dark areas” where they didn’t have access to all information about the young person’s life.]

Jim suggested that technically uninformed government ministers would be asked “Do you want to be the government that…?”, to prevent them trying to block the requests for extra powers. Of course, there are genuine threats to national security but addressing these threats should be balanced with the human right to personal privacy. The ORG is trying to get this side of the argument discussed.

Internationally, the UK co-operates with the intelligence services of other countries. Ministerial warrants are required to target people overseas. Government representatives laughed at suggestions that all data leaving the OK woud be a target but ORG believes this has happened and that it has been denied. The process empoyed has been described as “collecting all the innocent hay to find the guilty needle”. As more compute power becomes available, checking can be automated. This is not seen to be a problem because no human listens to conversation unless there is evidence that causes concern. Until the Bill, all these changes have happened without parliamentary debate, or any otherĀ  reference to democratic process. The “If you have nothing to hide…” argument has been used many times but Jim asked if we should only be worried by a law that persecutes us personally. What if it is a government or health service whistle-blower or someone worried about the safety of a nuclear facility? Edward Snowden is a good example.
[The EU has recently offered him safe haven from his persecutors, the US government, having decided his actions were taken for public good. He believed his life and/or liberty were in danger from his own government.]

The government have been talking about banning encryption. Criminals may not be deterred by such a change in the law as they have sophisticated ways of hiding evidence. The government demand for weak encryption allows the same weaknesses to be attacked by criminals. The banking system is entirely dependent on encrytion. Our right to data confidentiality is not legally protected. During the ‘PlebGate’ scandal, police officers were identified by their phone records. Similarly, working police officers, putting pressure on a suspect might look for an attempt to contact a solicitor, increasing their belief in guilt without any further evidence having been discovered.

The law is constructed around the concept of Human Rights but you need privacy to exercise these rights. As parliament tries to legitimise mass surveillance, we need to be confident that legal controls will also be strengthened. The current draft was believed to give police similar access to what GCHQ already has. The more public debate that goes on about this, the better. We need to inform our MPs think they are stopping terrorism because that is how the argument is being put to them. We need to explain that w expect them to defend our rights, as well as our ‘security’. There is a serious disjoint between UK an EU law. The EU courts do not think mass surveillance is OK. They demand reasons for monitoring. This is causing a big row and the EU is striking out UK laws. [Is it a coincidence that the government is trying to discredit EU Human Rights law?]

The UK has been keeping all phone records for 12 months, in case any of us break the law. This is not proportionate to the threat. Why are they spending so much money watching people they have no reasons to suspect?

Our intelligence service works with the US. Under ‘Safe harbour’ rules, you have less right to privacy if you are not a US citizen. We need to remind our politicians and secret services that they work for us. Tom Watson and David Davis have campaigned to get the laws changed. Tom Watson may have more influence in his new role as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party but may have to be less vocal for party unity. There tends to be consensus politics between the parties on defence issues but there may be more of a debate this time and we should all encourage that by communicating the issues by contacting our newspapers, our MP and our friends.

[ My observation of press coverage so far is:
Most of the press are supportive of the Conservative Party, who are currently ignoring traditional conservative values of liberty and personal freedom. Their current emphasis is on security and defence against terrorists. If that can be conflated with all foreigners and the EU then so much the better.

Even The Guardian has started to attack Labour since its members elected Jeremy Corbyn as Leader. They want him to fail and believe he is weak on pacifism and his anti-Trident stance, so are unlikely to attack Cameron on ‘Defence’. Anyone speaking up for us is likely to come from the far-Left, the Libertarian Right or the Centre and be completely ignored by the press, so it’s up to us ]

The next @OpenRightsBrum meeting is this Wednesday at BOM:
http://www.meetup.com/ORG-Birmingham/events/226325239/ on the subject:
“After TalkTalk, should government re-think storing citizens’ internet records?”

The Grexit Wave

There are 2 competing political visions for Europe:

  1. a loosely coupled trading conglomerate of nation states, an economic Masons, to keep our independent economies intertwined and shut out competitors.
  2. an integrated European nation with a single economy. The US of E.

Obviously there is a third option, much loved by Right Wingers and radical, idealistic Lefties who believe a one-world nation might still be possible if everyone would stop believing in the wrong imaginary friend and give up killing each other.

Perhaps the nations of Europe should have been more honest about the split of opinion and agreed which vision we wanted, before forming the unsustainable Euro-zone that assumed Option 2 and allowed the destruction of the economy of Europe’s oldest nation state. The unseemly fight to take ownership of the scraps started today. I’m not sure we can even save option 1 now but that hasn’t stopped the more blinkered supporters of option 2 trying to ignore the evidence and turn the crisis in their direction – another leap into the unknown.

I wonder if the people of an independent Scotland would still feel safer in Europe than in the United Kingdom. I imagine a lot of shaking heads across this whole Island and gratitude that our governments’ instincts were right for once.

The address of most 7 year-olds I’ve met was …, England, United Kingdom, Europe, the Earth. Kids know stuff.

See also: https://andywootton.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/european-skepticism-small-pieces-loosely-joined/

Binary chop, chop, chop

“There are 2 types of people, those who believe the world can be divided into 2 types of people and those who don’t.”

“There are 10 types of people, those who understand binary and those who don’t.”

“It isn’t a binary” – one of the catch-phrases of Megan Murray on the Shift podcast.
http://business-shift.com/about/ This post is dedicated to her.

There was recently an election in Scotland. UK citizens living there were asked to vote YES if they wanted to break away from the rest of the UK (they mainly wanted to break away from Westminster) or NO if they wanted things to stay as they were. I believe this election would have delivered an overwhelming majority for a “None of the above” option on the ballot paper.

It was not a binary question. There were a number of more viable options along a scale between the two extremes. For many questions there is a continuum.

Simple/manipulative people love binaries, as do IT consultancies, but consider who their customers are. I recall that chess players call forcing your opponent to choose one of two unpleasant choices, “a fork”.

Do you want to be in or out of the European Union?
Do you want this new flag for your city or this one?
Do you want investment in your area and a city mayor or not?
What’s it gonna be boy, “YES” or “NO”?

Complex decisions typically deliver scalar results, sometimes even vectors. They can have direction and distance, velocity or acceleration. They offer multiple, inter-related options.

And this brings me to The Point. My brain has done some subconscious pattern matching again.

Everything clicked into place when I saw a post about rating ‘mobile apps’ and a psychological profiling technique in close proximity.

I recognised an analytical technique I had first seen on a team building course several years ago. We were a mixed team of electricity traders and computer geeks. We were asked to rate ourselves along 2 scales. I remember that one was “formality”, mathematical rather than social. Given a problem, were we likely to guess or break out the spreadsheets. Once we’d rated ourselves, 1-10 we were asked to plot our result onto a graph, on which the two axes we’d unwittingly been using, were crossed at 5.5. Our results put us into a quadrant of the graph that defined the type of person we were. I was ‘analytical’. Shocker. A big cross had been drawn on the floor with tape to represent the graph and we were asked to go and stand in our quadrants. We were invited to look in the opposite corner where we would see all the people we had ever had serious disagreements with at work. They were right.

( I’ve received input from the Church of England that the other axis was Passive/Dominant, though I don’t think that was quite the terminology we used because that would have made me think enough to remember. Here are some slides on how to manipulate the 4 kinds of people in the world: http://www.slideshare.net/michellevillalobos/the-4-basic-personality-types, “Delivered by [a] Myers-Briggs-qualified test interpreter”
Thanks to the Rev’d Claire šŸ™‚ @Clairemaxim1 )

The mobile apps were rated for frequency of use and how pleasant they were to use, leading to e.g. ‘the quadrant of frustration’. I’ve seen the same technique applied with 3 and 4 axes in different psychological profiling tests.

A model doesn’t have to be correct; it only has to work? The logic appears flawless. But who decided that the middle was the tipping point? What if there are 2 tipping points, maybe around a bell-curve, around that place we sometimes call normal? What if the area of the graph had been split into 9 instead of 4? Is it just the weirdos up the corners causing all the trouble? Has anyone even thought about this or do we just jump to invalid conclusions, like lemmings?

We could take any number of apparently independent scales and apply this technique: skin colour, left or right handedness, shoe size and ‘gender of the person most recently attracted to’ then make pronouncements that some people would believe.

There are 2**n types of people and none of them are binary.

Devolution, Federalism and … Oh Grow Up!

Scotland, Wales and, in my alternate universe, the country of Midland want “independence”; like a 14-year old asking for more pocket-money. UKIP wants to leave Europe because, “Sir, they keep picking on me and making me eat straight bananas and human rights!” But UKIP also think Scotland needs to know its place in ‘the union’ because they don’t feel the need to have logically consistent opinions. Scots have told me I can’t have Midland independence because only Scotland is a real country. Well, so was Mercia.Ā  How far do we want to go back? Maybe we favour tribal groups, fighting for land (now with added AK-47s)?

‘The grown-ups’ are discussing an English parliament to make things fairer. What does that mean?
I worry about child poverty alongside an ever more wealthy ‘Rich List’ not whether I have fair voting rights. I know I don’t. How many English people feel they have an English identity that is different from their British or UK identity? If we don’t know then clearly we have imposed our English identity on Wales and Scotland, so no wonder they are upset. Well, do you know what? I identify more strongly with Scottish people than I do with the London parliament. I’m angry at injustice too. I think people in the North West, North East, Midlands, East, South West, South EastĀ  and London have more differences than similarities, compared to our Britishness.

“England” was a union to stop wars and gang up on outsiders, just like the European Union and the UK. Like the Euro Zone it cannot continue to function while there are huge economic disparities between regions. If the Euro Zone wants to survive then the rich countries of the North have to support the poor countries of the South while they are on completely different economic cycles. National interests seem unlikely to allow this. The same is true of London and the rest of the country. ‘England’ is barely holding together in the face of the greed which festers in the rich areas of London.

These unions will only survive if the poor look after the rich; if they devolve wealth as well as power. If the UK is to be split up then it should be into regions about the size of Wales and Scotland, coming together as the United Kingdom because we share an island. Similarly, these British isles instinctively rebel against greater integration with EU but that doesn’t mean we want to leave it. I don’t think anyone who has really thought about that possibility understand the repercussions.

“Small pieces, loosely joined” is a philosophy I believe in for software. I don’t see any reason it wouldn’t be the best way to run world politics – the WHOLE world, not just the rich bits like Europe.

Why I Didn’t Vote For UKIP (Then)

Nigel Farage appeared to be a racist. Even if he wasn’t, it was clear that he was courting the votes of racists and that disgusts me. I listened to the media and got the impression of a party probably full of other people also harbouring feelings of xenophobic hatred. I thought Farage being the only face of UKIP suggested that those hiding behind the scenes must be even worse.

I watched the debate with Nick Clegg. I came away from it furious at some of the things Farage had said but well aware that someone who was thinking of voting for UKIP would have considered him to have won. It was clear to me that Nick Clegg was also incensed by some of the thingsĀ  said but his politeness and his care not to say the wrong thing, left him looking weak and ineffective, by comparison. What I saw as Farage’s rudeness would be seen as honesty and forthright expression of the views of ‘ordinary hard working people’ by those who wanted wanted to “blame the immigrants” for all our woes, and as a far Right-Wing, anti-Europe international Free Market extension of the Conservative Party by those who are better informed and found it refreshing to see the Working Classes coming to their senses at last.

After the election, when Farage said that UKIP had done less well in London because people were younger, educated and cultured, it was clear that UKIP’s offering was indeedĀ  aimed at the old, ignorant and uncouth and that he, as aĀ  Londoner and ex-City trader had considered an explanation of UKIP’s position on Europe to be above them. Instead, he’d agreed that it was obvious we were better off before we joined Europe (irrelevant), supped beer in pubs and been dismissive of the Con-Dem Eton old-boys club that had let them down. I thought he’d betrayed that he was only a temporary traitor to The Establishment, when he appeared in the floods donning a wax jacket and green wellies from the high seat of his Land Rover but the euphoria of having someone new in the game who was talking such obvious sense provided sufficiently rosy goggles to obscure that. Maybe that ‘country weekend’ uniform was a nod to the crusty majors not to take anything he said for the benefit of the oiks too seriously.

Like most people, I suspect, I voted against parties rather than for one but the party I was most against was UKIP. My vote was designed to hurt them because I thought they were dangerous. I failed and I wasĀ  disappointed in many of the people I share a country with and the media for failing to allow us to make an informed decision .

The only part of the UKIP offering I might have supported was if they could have explained why we should leave Europe but they didn’t bother trying. Why give people facts that might be disproved when you can rely on prejudice? What I didn’t realise is that the media also gave a false impression of UKIP and my decision was based on some significantly misleading informationĀ  but more on that next time.